Practical tips and favourite activities from the Book of Scott Thornbury “How to Teach Speaking”

Practical tips and favourite activities from the Book of Scott Thornbury “How to Teach Speaking”

Scott Thornbury is an internationally recognized ELT expert with over 30 years’ experience in English Language Teaching. You can read more on Scott Thornbury and his works here. In this article, we will discuss some tips and my favourite activities in his bookHow to Teach Speaking“. In general terms, Scott Thornbury considers speaking to be more a communicative process rather than a mere reproduction of grammatically correct sentence. Therefore, speaking must be developed as a skill and the study of the written grammar may not be an efficient means of preparation for speaking. In his book, Scott mentions three important activities leading to spontaneous and fluent speaking. They are awareness-raising activities, appropriation activities, and activities leading to autonomy. 

  1. Awareness Raising activities are aimed at filling in the knowledge gaps to fulfil a certain speaking task. Through these activities, the learners gain certain knowledge of how to express a certain function (suggestion, request, disagreement), how to make the shift in the conversation (by the way, well, that reminds me of...), etc. Listening to audio scripts, live listenings, may help a lot to enlarge the language knowledge to be further used in the speaking tasks. As a part of awareness-raising activities the learners may listen to some recordings and 
  • brainstorm possible scenario for the recording;
  • focus on language features (connect the pronouns in the text with their referents, identify and classify different discourse markers, count how many times this or that expression is used, what kind of fillers are used, etc);
  • produce a talk on a certain topic, tell a story and listen to a better language performer’s speaking to mention those language items they would like to incorporate into their speech. After listening they reformulate what they have heard by using the items they had learnt.

2. Appropriation activities are aimed at providing learners with controlled practice. Through these activities, the students gain certain knowledge of different language patterns through repetitive use. Among appropriation activities, we can mention:

  • drilling, when the learners listen to a  recording and repeat in unison some important phrases (for example, it suits you, that would be nice);
  • classroom surveys when the learners move around the class to interview peers on a certain aspect (who is the most adventurous person in the class). Each learner prepares 3-4 questions which fit this frame: Would you ever…..?

For example, “Would you ever eat a snake?”,  “Would you ever jump with a parachute?”  These type of activities not only help to remember the frame but also require the mental and physical skill of remembering and noting the peers’ answers. Later on, they report the answers to the class which will reinforce the use of other grammar forms.

  • Dialogues have always been a nice way of developing the speaking skill through repetitive use of the language items. They can be played both as an open class and in closed pairs. Here are several ways they can be performed:
  • Each student takes one role and they read the dialogue from the book. Then they swap the roles. As a third step, they try to roleplay the same dialogue with books closed. 
  • Students are given visual clues to role-play the dialogue. Clues can be presented by pictures stuck on the board or through flow diagrams

  • Headlines. Students create a headline referring to their recent life experience (“Frustrating Shopping Trip” or “Interesting new restaurant experience”). Some students show their headlines written on sheets of paper and need to answer their peers’ questions aimed at revealing the story behind the headline. At the end of the activity, the class votes on the best story.
  • 4-3-2, when the learners need to retell a story in 4 minutes. Then they tell the same story in 3 minutes and once again in 2 minutes, This is fun and also it helps the learners to focus on the most important language phrases while repeating the same story. 

3. Activities leading to speaking autonomy concentrate on creating meaningful tasks which help the learner focus on his fluency and ability to construct his speech spontaneously in real-time. Some great activities leading to autonomy are :

  • Chain stories in which the learners create a story in the group by continuing their peers’ sentences. 
  • Shopping around where half of the class represents schools, half of the class takes up the role of parents who are looking for a good school for their children. Each school comes up with its principles and rules. Each parent pair has their insight into the school. They visit all schools until they find the most appropriate one for their kids. Variants to this activity can be choosing a holiday package, a roommate, conducting a job interview, choosing a language course. 

  • Balloon Debate when the class imagines that they are on an overloaded hot-air-balloon. To be saved one of the passengers must be jettisoned. Group members represent different professions, famous people from history, famous living people. Each student puts a case as to why he/she should be saved and another student must be sacrificed.  

The three types of activities mentioned in this article will successfully develop speaking skills and provide students with an opportunity to speak fluently and spontaneously.

Which of the activities will you use for your upcoming lesson?

Лиза Мардоян

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