REASONS FOR CHOOSING THIS TITLE In my learning context, most classes use a core text. While students enjoy the books, as a teacher I find myself more interested in ways to teach things more originally. In coursebooks, speaking tasks are often used to set up a listening, reading or writing task, or to provide some personalisation: they can lack the sort of challenge which would really engage learners. I would also like to learn more about how I can give students the scope to improve their speaking strategies. ANALYSIS 2.1 Defining and Understanding Speaking When looking at the skill of speaking from the perspective of teaching it as a second language skill, it is useful to categorise it within a number of frameworks. Speaking can have a transactional or interpersonal function, be planned or unplanned, and be interactive or non-interactive. (Thornbury 2005: 14) Type of Speaking Definition Example Has a transactional function The goal is to transmit information and enable the exchange of goods/ services The conversation with the sales assistant when you go into a shop to return a pair of jeans Has an interpersonal function The goal is to establish and maintain social relationships The conversation you have with your friends over coffee Planned You think about the speaking you will do, making notes or perhaps scripting. Giving a presentation (this can be planned or partly planned) Unplanned You do no previous planning before you speak A casual conversation with a friend Interactive Conversation is jointly constructed, consisting of questions, clarifications, responses A job interview Non-interactive Conversation is one way, monologic, no response is needed by the listener Listening to a song As different types of speaking will require different skills and strategies, defining speaking in this way helps us to clarify what skills we will need to teach our students in order successfully complete a given task. As Burns (1997: 29) states: “These concepts give us a framework for categorizing texts we wish to introduce to our learners and we can use our knowledge of their generic patterns to help learners increase their understanding of predictable stages.” 2.2 What are collaborative tasks? Collaborative tasks are any task where students need to work together to come to a consensus, or construct a product. They can be quite diverse, but they share key features with regards the categorisation in 2.1, in that they are always interactive, and the speaking within them tends to be unplanned. Depending on the task, they have a more transactional or an interactional function. Examples of collaborative tasks are matching or sorting items in pairs or groups, coming to a decision together (as in Cambridge PET/FCE/CAE speaking) and also include whole class activities, such as ‘trial’ roleplays where each member of that class is assigned a role of witness/ lawyer/ accused, etc. 2.3 Why should we use collaborative tasks? Collaborative tasks create a need to communicate towards a single goal. Teaching through collaborative tasks guides lessons towards teaching communicative competence as a whole, allowing us to consider not only linguistic competence, but other elements too (see figure from Juan 2006: 147). Using a task as a starting point, we can think about what strategies our students need to be able to complete it, considering not just linguistic competence, but strategic, pragmatic and intercultural competencies too. By looking at tasks from this perspective, we as teachers can keep in mind these other competencies as we teach, and this will make is easier for us to identify exactly what a student is missing when a failure of communication takes place. 2.4 Skills L2 speakers need to exchange opinions Students need a wide variety of skills and strategies to be able to effectively exchange opinions. 2.4.1 Turn-taking skills Skills such as holding the floor, asking others for input, interrupting, summarising and checking understanding are all things that a teacher needs to watch out for when facilitating students in how to effectively exchange opinions. Often students can be helped by providing them with prefabricated chunks (2.4.5). Turn taking is important – as Hughes (in Juan 2006: 229) states, it ‘can significantly affect the impression they give to other people as to their level of interest and engagement in the discourse.’ 2.4.2 Signalling skills In some contexts, it may be necessary to make students aware of some of the sociocultural elements of signalling, for example in Latin America it is more acceptable to signal interest by placing one’s hand on someone’s arm during a conversation. This is very infrequent in UK/ USA, unless the conversation is between close friends. 2.4.3 Clarification/ confirmation strategies Students will sometimes need to check that the information they have heard is correct, or whether they have correctly understood the main point of an argument. 2.4.4 Compensation strategies Students often use circumlocution, mime or code-switching to L1 as compensation strategies. Students can be taught to more effectively use circumlocution as a strategy, ideally so they don’t have to employ code-switching as a strategy. 2.4.5 A bank of lexical chunks A chunk of language is “a sequence of words which native speakers feel is the natural and preferred way of expressing a particular idea or purpose.” (Boers : 7). Thornbury (2005: 23) suggests that that the use of prefabricated chunks is a key element in speaking fluency. Because we don’t have to construct a chunk in our minds before we speak, we can use this time for processing new ideas. Using these chunks of language are, in my opinion, a key consideration when teaching students about exchanging opinion. We can use expressions such as “yeah, that’s a good point, but…” or “yeah, but on the other hand…” To help us introduce new, contrasting information. If students can learn to repeat these phrases without having to think about them, they can focus more on the construction of their main point. 2.4.6 An ability to use discourse markers Students need to learn how discourse markers (lexis such as well, oh, yeah, so, I mean, right?, kinda) can be used to help their speaking fluency. When engaging in collaborative tasks, students have the opportunity to construct utterances which may be longer than they would make usually, with more ideas to be linked together, therefore giving students more opportunities to use a range of discourse markers. 2.4.7 A knowledge of appropriate register For some students, especially business students, an appropriate use of the language specific to different contexts is important. Exchanging opinions informally in a café or bar will be different to exchanging opinions in a business meeting. The discourse of business meetings can be very industry specific, each having their own fixed expressions when giving/ responding to opinions. Students can be taught to notice and use these expressions. Showing students how we use different language in different contexts can be helpful to them. For example, the act of disagreeing, in some settings, can sound so vague in English, a non-native speaker could miss it entirely: Disagreeing…. ….with a friend, informal conversation Is it, though? …strongly with a friend, informal conversation That’s rubbish! …with a colleague in work I’m not sure about that …with a colleague at a formal meeting I’m not sure that’s in line with best practice 2.4.8 An awareness of features of connected speech It is important for students to be aware of how the lexical chunks discussed in 2.4.5 are pronounced, and to be able to reproduce them naturally. We can do this by drilling new language with students. 2.4.9 An awareness of how we use intonation in English We use variations in tone to show interest, to be polite, to mark what is important in a sentence and to introduce new information. (Thornbury 2005: 24). It is useful for students to know when they can employ these strategies. Page Break COMMON LEARNING PROBLEMS AND SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHING COMMON LEARNING PROBLEMS SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHING 3.1 In my experience, there are many learners who have problems ‘taking and holding the floor’, i.e. they are not confident in turn-taking skills (2.4.1). This means that quiet students, weaker students or less confidant students don’t benefit as much from speaking exercises. Young people can be shy and not want to speak up in class, especially if the other students are a little older. I have found that European and South American students are very confident with turn-taking, sometimes to the extent that in a mixed nationality class, other nationalities (Japanese students, in my experience) don’t know how to get a word in. When I teach mixed nationality groups, I find it is useful to give every student a quota of expressions to use. This can be as simple as giving groups a set of tokens (or sweets or chocolates) and telling students they can have one for every expression they use to agree, disagree, or introduce new information. In groups the most talkative student can be ‘in charge’ and given the tokens to award to each member of the group who uses and expression. This gives the talkative student an incentive to listen to – and encourage – the others. 3.2 Students can sometimes avoid using the new vocabulary we teach them, favouring expressions which they have become comfortable with. They use the circumlocution strategies they’ve been taught to avoid pushing themselves. Apart from giving the students more chocolates to reward the use of new structures as described in the previous suggestion for teaching, I have found that: Firstly, students need positive reinforcement. When one of my students uses new language they’ve been taught, I tell them – “Hey, you used that new expression, that’s great!” Even if they get it wrong, I explain it’s wrong but praise them for being adventurous. If you only reward being correct, you create correct but highly conservative speakers. Secondly, we shouldn’t give students very long lists of expressions to use, as they can be overwhelming. I like to listen out for opportunities to teach new lexis at the point of need. When a student uses an expression they often use, I can be ready with a variation – giving students expressions when they need them makes them more memorable. Lists like those in Appendix 1 might be good for recapping, but they are not very memorable for students: very little context is provided and a student cannot hope to remember so many. 3.3 Coursebooks don’t always give learners the scope they need to really get talking on a topic. Often, coursebook speaking exercises are only ‘quasi-communicative’, i.e. they exist only to practice or consolidate the narrow grammar focus of a chapter. (Thornbury: 2009). Because we use speaking for lead ins, for personalisation, for pre-reading tasks, etc., it’s easy to think that students get lots of speaking practice, but course book exercises like these don’t give students the space they need to work holistically on the various skills listed in 2.4. Appendix 2 shows a speaking exercise designed to practice comparative structures. These kinds of exercises are quite limited in terms of what they help students with. While I was teaching a group of teenagers in Spain, I found that they were a little bored by the usual coursebook speaking exercises. They were a high level, very good B2 and our core text was ‘English in Mind 5’. When answering questions about their favourite music, their hobbies, their family, etc. I got the impression that they had already answered all these questions in English in Mind 1 to 4. To engage them with something different we did a courtroom roleplay very similar to the one described in appendix 3. A crime is invented, something light like “a student’s pencil case has been stolen” and the whole class engage in a role play based around a trial. Students were hugely engaged and it allowed me to teach a number of discourse markers (2.4.6) in a natural, contextualised way. 3.4 Coursebooks don’t always provide realistic examples of language. For example, Inspiration 4 (Appendix 4), misses out on two very common words native speakers use when responding to requests: sure and sorry. Often our perception of how natural English is spoken is different to the reality. I find it helpful, if I’m watching an interview or documentary on TV, to note down the expressions / language that people actually use. This helps me to critically analyse coursebook exercises when I am thinking about how I’d change them for a particular group of learners. 3.5 In my experience, unless they have the motivation of needing to take an exam for school/ university/ immigration, a lot of students plateau at B2 – they achieve this level and get no further. In my school in Dublin, for example, we have 6 B2 classes, but only one C1 class. I believe this is because before B2, students still struggle with everyday speaking situations, whereas at B2, students have ‘a sufficient range of language to be able to give clear descriptions, express viewpoints on most general topics.’ (B2 level descriptor, North: 2007) – this makes the need to improve, the need to have a wider linguistic repertoire, less obvious – A2/B1 students often complain about total communication breakdowns in work, B2 students don’t. One needs to be a little discerning when using this tactic, but in my experience, it is often helpful to take students out of their comfort zone for some speaking exercises. As I mentioned in 3, above. Coursebooks tend to cover the same themes repeatedly at different levels, they avoid controversial topics generally. For example, the British referendum on leaving the EU was covered extensively in the Irish press, and so I brought in some short articles for one of our B2 classes and used them as the starting point for a formalised debate where three students argued for Brexit, and three against. Students had to quickly learn a large amount of unfamiliar vocabulary to do with politics and use it repeatedly in the debate. After, we looked at passive structures, which had emerged organically. Students were energised by the challenge of a totally new topic. 3.6 Students don’t want to disagree with each other. Students in classes are often friends who meet outside of class. When teaching language for agreeing / disagreeing, they may not want to disagree with each other. In my experience this is especially true with students who have come abroad to study in an English-speaking country – their classmates are often their only friends in a new, strange country, and they will avoid disagreeing at all costs. I frequently use roleplays in class to get students talking. Because they are ‘acting’, not being themselves, disassociation is created and students are more comfortable disagreeing with each other. Often students find it amusing to go to extremes with their opinions on such occasions, which makes them very engaged in the topic and allows them to use lexis for strong disagreement that they may avoid when expressing their own opinions.