Were given significant input before speaking

“I give the students instructions for the activity, they know what to do, but they end up using L1 or not speaking at all”. “I can’t get my students to speak, unless it’s a very controlled activity”. “I have already ‘taught the language’ and they don’t use it!”

These are all problems we have faced as EFL or ESL teachers, struggling to get students to use L2. As we go through the syllabus we need to cover, students seem to forget all about the language seen in the previous units. When we assign the tasks, even to say something as simple as “I like it” or “I think it’s…”, they resort to L1.

I believe the problem is that we assume students will use the language we want them to use in that speaking activity. We end up forgetting that learning is not a linear process, but instead, it has its ups and downs, and students need to be constantly reminded of the language they have studied in order to use it in the appropriate situations. It is a lot of work for the teacher, though, but it is extremely necessary, especially for lower levels.

Here are two practical examples of how I have been trying to approach this issue with my students:


In the example above, as I have posted here before, my students have been studying there + be to talk about cities. They have created a “perfect city” and made their drawings. Then, I got each student individually to describe their drawing to me. That was when I had the opportunity to scaffold language and have them go deeper in the description. I made it clear that they we going to talk like this again to their friends. After that, I elicited the language that I wrote on the board above. Students “had” the language, but they needed to be reminded that they could use it in the activity. Finally, in a traditional revolving circles activity, the students could repeat the speaking activity many times and I could – for the last time – remind the ones that insisted on using “have” instead of “there is” or using L2. In the final rounds, they were all using L2 and did a very good job!


In this quite untidy board, we had a Cambridge Flyers prep class and the focus was on Speaking, part 1, where students need to find the differences between their picture and the examiner’s picture. I used a barrier game where each student would place their own small pictures on the big picture and find the differences between their own pictures A x B. The language I needed to elicit from them: “In my picture, there is…” and prepositions of place. As I had many different sets of pictures, they repeated the activity many times. Again, students used the language well and had fun with the game.

Classroom Language Flashcards

Since the beginning of the semester, it has been one of my main teaching goals to get my students to speak only L2 in class. I have already shared some strategies I have tested, and today I brought something different.

Captura de Tela 2017-05-16 às 20.24.08

A very valuable thing I have learned from other teachers was to teach students Classroom Language in the very first day of class, especially for beginner students. There is a lot of material available online, but I have never found something that was truly useful for my context. I needed just a few phrases students can use for asking for the page, going to the restroom, etc. Having a little drawing ability – just enough to doodle things students can understand what they are – I have come up with eight drawings to represent:

  • Ms Duda (teacher, whatever you’re called), come here, please?
  • I’m sorry, I’m late! May I come in?
  • What’s the page, please?
  • May I have a pencil, please?
  • May I go to the restroom?
  • I don’t understand. Can you repeat, please?
  • How do you say ‘casa’ in English?
  • May I say something? / May I go next?

You can download the flashcards by clicking here 🙂

Of course, the language can vary, depending on how formal your school is, or what you want to teach them. The drawings are in black and white so that young learners can colour them. Here’s an example of how I use them in my classroom: