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:

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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!

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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.

Learned about London

For many Brazilian ELT teachers, teaching there is / there are to describe places can be a challenge simply because students do not get the concept. In Brazilian Portuguese we use the verb ‘to have’ to do this. So, for example, instead of saying ‘There is a bakery near my house’, we would translate ‘Has a bakery near my house’ (ouch!) – also, sentences without subjects are accepted in our language.

Following the syllabus defined by the course book, I had to teach my students vocabulary related to places in a town followed by the grammar ‘there + be’. Being a Dogme advocate, I decided to bring a ‘London Children’s Map’ to see what they could already do and what would come out of seeing a map of a different city.

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When I spread the map on the floor and had them sit down and observe it, they had so many questions! Where’s the Big Ben? Where does the queen live? What’s this man doing on the map? Where did you live in London? What’s that thing (pointing to various things on the map)? To the point I had to stop them, and had them take turns to ask the questions. Some of them were so eager to ask things they didn’t even wait for me to finish my reply!

This took almost the whole lesson. However, we did had time to cover some of the vocabulary planned in the syllabus and to say some sentences comparing our city to London using the target language. The class ended with me trying to explain why Kate Middleton couldn’t be queen and why Phillip isn’t a king????? They were very enthusiastic to learn about the royal family.

Even though things were a bit rushed and we didn’t get to record vocabulary items on the notebook or to produce any written language, it was very productive in terms of English culture and introducing vocabulary in a meaningful way.

Image via Google and this is the map I’ve got!