This thesis is about the class room activities that are fashioned for the method of teaching speaking for second language learner. In the coming pages various class room activities have been identified in relation to the desired aim of making learner(s) speak the concerned language, their importance is being discussed followed by the difficulties that arise during their practical implementation. The paper starts with a brief introduction followed by different questions that arise about the class room activities that take place in the learning environment that engulfs the method of teaching speaking for second language learners. These questions have been tried to be answered in that which follows.
Classroom Activities for Speaking Classes
Introduction: When any language is being taught to the students as a second language they are really not supposed to exhibit literary brilliance in that language but certainly are required to show a good deal of understanding of that language. All the activities in the classroom for them should thus aim at this very objective to let students start listening first, reading second and understanding third followed by their own expression in the language concerned. These activities therefore are generated around the out-of-the-class experiences the students have related to teacher’s use of the said language.
We must proceed in the direction of formulating certain questions regarding these class room activities:
What actually do these classroom activities aim at?
What are the best alternatives to reach the required objective?
What are the easiest of those alternatives?
What are the most important of these classroom activities so as to ensure not to skip them?
What are the drawbacks in their real time application?
In the coming chapters we shall take each of the questions stated above one by one and then discuss their significance followed by the possible answers. All the coming chapters are based on the practical problem sets for each question discussed in details. Chapter II deals with identification of the aims of these activities. In chapter III the specific activities that are possible options to reach these aims are discussed elaborately. In chapter IV the easiest alternatives have been sorted out followed by most important ones that are highlighted in chapter V while in the next chapter the real time difficulties are briefly pointed out while concluding.
What actually do the classroom activities for the second language learners aim at?
Trivial development of the mindset regarding this question is an array of thoughts that move around making the learner know about the language first as stated before. That learners are supposed to listen to the teacher and the whole activity initially rests with the teacher who should first gain attention of the learners by making use of the most popular quotations from the elementary texts that are available for second language learners. But this may not really work at all because simply the second language learners have no insight of that language, or at least we may assume that they are not interested in it to the extent of the first language for various reasons. To enumerate some, they may not have it as their mother tongue, or medium of instruction in their school, or they may not really find the language important enough to be studied as the first language (this is a special case in some countries where students opt for some foreign language as their first language just for the practical purpose of advancement in their careers). Further language, which is a trait of its own culture, really draws concerns for the learners while trying to adapt and adopt the thinking process that related culture brings with it. So it’s really difficult to choose the text to initiate the listening process in the students of the second language. Thus what is required in the beginning is identification of the cultural gaps, if any, the learners may find in their own culture and the culture associated with the language they are learning, after which works related to the students’ culture in the studied language should be searched by the teacher first and his textual quotations used in the classroom deliverance should start here. For instance if Indian students are being taught English as a second language they should first be made to listen to the works of Tagore, R.K.Narayan etc. which reflect the Indian culture but in English language. Now when the students get acquainted with the language in relation to their own thought process they may be supplied with the simplest prototypical works in the concerned language related to that culture to which the language originally belongs. This is done so that the students get an awareness of roots of the language. All the above discussed activities are originated by the teacher as the first step and the learners should simply but listen to the teacher’s discourse in the initial stage.
Now having the students acquainted with the words and their sounds and the culture associated the next step forward should be to make them read themselves. Several reading sessions may be organized in the classroom taking the textbooks previously selected for the purpose, periodicals, storybooks of interest to the students’ age group etc. The learners may be asked to read a topic of their own choice aloud, or they may be distributed such one act plays etc. and roles may be prescribed to be read separately by various students to bring about a lively performance in the class. Again the courseware prescribed for reading purpose of the learners should have the concerns well discussed above pertaining to the student’s interest and culture. Muslim girls instead of being given the romantic series of Mills and Boons for reading should rather be advised to read some translation of the Holy Qur’an and they shouldn’t be made to read some passionate love poems in the class room that gives them a cultural shock, and the teacher should himself try to understand the psyche of the audience in the class room. It should be clearly borne in mind that utopian desire about apprehension of the language for the second language learners is to be replaced by realistic outlook. And this outlook should govern the whole choice of class room activities and their aims.
After both making the learners listen and then read we should turn towards evaluation of whatever that’s being done so as to know what exactly the students understand. In the beginning and most importantly for a long period of time the teacher is supposed to know the mother tongue of the learners and should let them answer the questions in their mother tongue first. So there may be small viva which the questioner may schedule for the learners in which simple trivial questions should start followed by a higher degree of difficulty. When sufficient degree of understanding in the students is established and verified using their mother tongue the process of expression in the language learnt, the most difficult one, should be addressed. Getting into this stage should not be hurried and the whole class should take time in lengths and breadths to make sure the students really are able to comprehend what is being told to them in the concerned language. As told earlier expecting a great performance from the students in this regard is really utopian. So it can be assumed that students may have learnt their usage of that language in making simple sentences without clauses and conditions in the beginning and then using ifs and buts according to the construction of the question itself. While evaluating students’ expression in the said language the set of questions that may be used initially should have a major part of the answers in the very body of the questions so as to facilitate the vocabulary and grammar for the learner and bring about encouragement in him. Then should the students be asked for writing small compositions about the topics they may choose in which they should be given plenty of freedom to even use their text book language ditto. Afterwards they should be given topics to write about experiences concerned with their daily life. This gradually should be supplemented with any reading text they find interesting and they be told to develop their own questions and answers out of those texts of their choice. These texts may range from fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, to opinions etc. When the students are gaining well in composition they can be expected to think in that language. This thinking process may be ignited by a lot of methods, for instance topic of hot current concerns according to their age level may be discussed in the class room with the help of teaching assistants as well as those students who are really able to speak a bit. The debates may be boiled to the extent that all the learners whether silent or eloquent become part of it. This will be supplemented by speaking of the language by the learners as a natural outcome.
Thus the main aims of the class room activities may be summarized again as follows:
1. Making the students listen to the language with choices restricted for the teachers according to educational as well as cultural status and standards of students.
2. Letting them read the selected topics themselves as per their interests and choices.
3. Evaluating their ability to apprehend the language by seeking answers in their mother tongue.
4. Further encouraging expression in the studied language by asking simple questions first and gradually proceeding towards complex ones while making them write small compositions regarding their daily experiences.
5. When sufficient comprehension of the language and ability of expression is generated among the learners they are supposed to use the language under study to think earlier and speak later.
What are the best possible alternatives to reach our objective(s)?
The aims of class room activities which have already been established in the previous sections need to be addressed separately here.
(a) While choosing the desired material for the classroom listening sessions in the early as well as later stages of teaching second languages its worth mentioning that the material should be easily available for the learners too although they are not likely to read in the beginning, but whenever they resort to give a try they should not be totally relying upon the teacher for the resources. Now the teacher should first have a study of the socio-cultural background of the learners before selecting the text to be used for teaching language. The material whether print or electronic should be chosen both with the consideration for the mores and ethics the community to which the learners belong have, as well as for generation of acquaintance about the exact associated psyche of the originally speakers of the language by the simplest of methods. To elaborate this point the text books for example should contain topics of interest from the culture to which the students belong in the initial chapters and then should gradually amalgamate those typical features of the society and culture of those exactly related to roots of the language studied. Having selected the resources the class should start up with some paraphrases the teacher has chosen to initiate the discourse, which shall be a monologue in the beginning, and hence the teacher has to be cautious enough not to be monotonous. A legend well known among the students’ parental culture may be used to start so that the words may seem familiar to the learners. A lot of proper nouns selected from the language already known to the students may construct the earliest of sentences the teacher throws upon the learners’ mind to curiosity. Later when it is desired to develop awareness among the students about the language’s associated culture the most remarkable of traits of that culture which generate admiration in human mind irrespective of the region of the globe concerned, need to be presented to contrast. Thus start out with similarity and move towards contrast. When the learners become quite familiar to listen to the sounds of the words they may be asked to find similar words and simply pronounce them in the classroom with the teacher’s help. A lot of language text books serve the purpose but the choice of topics should be based upon the previous thesis regarding the selection of material. A large range of texts really does good to provide variety for every body as Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis(2007) regarding children suggest:
When students read and respond to text that provokes thinking, they are much more likely to become active, engaged readers. We flood our classrooms with text of all different types and on tons of topics, so have a better shot at reaching all of our kids. How we choose text and how kids choose their own makes a difference in their literate lives. (p. 61)
(b) Now for the students to read they must be given sufficient attention on part of the teachers in the class room so as to remove difficulties which are inescapable part of the reading sessions. Here a lot of role playing reading sessions become very beneficial. One can never assume at this point that the learners are really understanding what they are speaking but definitely they may be explained the meaning using their mother tongue, thorough knowledge of which is necessary for the teacher who is involved in teaching speaking for a second language learner, as stated earlier. Apart from the textbook(s) prescribed the students should be encouraged to read materials out of the class room and then repeat them in the classes where the teacher is always attentive enough to rectify their pronunciation difficulties and their comprehension of those topics. This is supposed to develop industry and innovation regarding learning among the students. The choices regarding this out of the class room study material should be totally vested in the students who may just be suggested to find material they find interesting and easy to apprehend in accordance with the very socio-cultural environment that surrounds them.
(c) After a lot many reading sessions followed by their explanations on part of the students as well as the teachers in the class room comes the evaluation of all that has happened so far. Without being too enthusiastic the teacher should frame simple situations for the students to be questioned in the language studied and let them answer in the language of their choice which is likely to be their mother tongue. There should be no mysteries about the pace of the process because when one is learning a second language he never follows the course of actions he did while learning to speak his mother tongue and we can never let him unlearn to make him follow that course of action. So the kinetics of learning process shall follow a slower pace. This evaluation is meant to know about the level of comprehension learner has about the language concerned. And the best of evaluation is the one which satisfies its objective by least complex methods for practical purpose.
(d) Having established that the learners are successful in gaining an understanding of the language, the next step further and the most ambitious one is to make them express in the desired language. The beginning is not clearly demarcated but rather overlapping with the previous evaluation of their comprehension of the language. At moments the students may show willingness to answer questions in the language under study and those moments are to be capitalized by the teacher. The initial difficulties may be minimized by asking them questions which are having simple subject-predicate systems such that the learner may simply substitute the interrogative words by assertions. When the teachers finds encouraging responses they should gradually ask complex questions in such a manner that it lets students write their answers using text book language. At this stage small original compositions may also be sought from the background of day to day experiences the learners have. Planned writing workshops shall work well now and educators have mentioned about their importance. Emilie Lowrey Parker and Tess Haysham Pardini(2006) write:
We keep the second language learner in our mind as we plan daily a writing workshop that encourages and allows for group talk during story time, writing time and sharing time. We develop a format that provides children opportunities to have one-on-on time with an adult who listens to their oral descriptions of their pictures and helps them as they learn to write letters, sounds, and words. All of this individual time, individual talk, and individual teaching challenges the second language learners to grow as writers as they are learning to speak and read English. (p. 58)
(e) After a lot of reading and writing sessions the learners definitely become aware of the linguistic traits but for speaking they should be made to think in that language. To develop thinking, hot issues of concern in accordance with the students’ age level, psyche, social, cultural and political environment that influences them, be discussed before them and they should be encouraged to get involved in that as much as practically possible. The topics chosen should be striking enough to generate reaction among the learners so that they are forced to think. They should be presented with a regular set of topics to read out of the class room and be asked about what they did about it. An extensive library should be maintained for this purpose and small reading clubs can be formed within the class room with students having identical interests. Internet pen pal programs have also been suggested by some educationists in this regard. In the “Final thoughts” in a Journal article Nancy Charron(May,2007) summarizes “Teacher and student comments indicate that the Internet pen pal program facilitates communication through the use of authentic tasks and teaches students about different cultures” (p.768). The teacher should remain updated with the concerns of the students to be able to spark discussions, provide suggestions and develop alternative opinions among them. A lot many extempore rounds can be organized in which topics should be very carefully selected by the anchor so as to make the class progress in the desired direction. Group discussions and personal interview work great at this moment provided the required settings are there. Juli Kendall and Outey Khuon(2005) say, “Providing opportunities for students to talk with a partner and then share with the group encourages oral language development”( p. 49). A simple thumb rule in this regard is that the more students are subjected to read, the more they think and the more do they find themselves bound to speak. Hence these courses of actions should be planned, processed and implemented. And all the classroom activities should be administered to focus around these very actions. No activity should be entertained without proper planning and thought process about its applicability as well as usefulness to make students speak which is the ultimate goal of all these exercises.
Having discussed many but not all of the possible alternatives to reach the desired objectives a simple intelligible question may be asked about them viz.
What are the easiest of those alternatives?
This question arises out of the demands these alternatives pose before the educators, teachers etc. So to say that all those options discussed may be easy for some and difficult for others is true but helps little. We definitely need to sort some of them out so that they may be implemented at a pace fast enough to gain something rather than nothing. A few of them are enumerated without much consideration for exact sequence of their application at different stages of teaching speaking for second language learners.
Selection of material for study may be helped easily by asking the students themselves to find material in the concerned language giving briefs or details of their own culture. Paying attention towards the students and solving their difficulties during reading sessions, question-answers, class room discussions are also easier for a teacher who is experienced and involved in the profession. Framing simple questions that are supposed to be answered in the studied language which have elementary subject-predicated constructions might also be called easy alternatives for evaluation of the students’ ability for expression in the concerned language in initial stages because a lot many elementary texts help in this regard and are easily available resources. Further if the teacher keeps his eyes and ears open for whatever that is happening around, it does not seem difficult to remain updated with the concerns of the students and hence to turn out to be a good anchor of the class room activities that are intended to make students think, speak and hence discuss issues of hot interest.
After a brief outline of easiest of choices which was difficult to sort it is easier to find the most necessary alternatives that cannot be skipped as we have discussed a lengthy chapter about all of them. So we come to answer the question:
What are the most important of classroom activities that cannot be skipped?
The choice of study material or the resource is very important to be re-stated here and it cannot be replaced by tailor made available in the educational market. The concerns regarding cultural ties & linguistic background of the students require no less than serious considerations.In a Journal article Lori A. Helman(2004) says, “It is imperative for educators who are concerned with meeting all their students’ instructional needs to consider how a Spanish-language background may affect students’ progress”. The educators will have to take the pains simply if really they wish to get success of any degree. Paying attention towards the learners’ reading sessions, removing their difficulties regarding pronunciation and explanation in the mother tongues is necessary part of practice for the teacher. This simple exercise is not to be taken half heartedly or overconfidently by the teachers, but a keen approach is needed in this direction. During early reading and explanation sessions knowledge of mother tongue on part of the educator is much necessary and the procedure should be compulsorily applied during initial stage evaluation of the students’ understanding of the language. Juli Kendall and Outey Khuon (2005) depict Outey Khuon’s classroom for Cambodian students learning English as follows:
The first graders parade into the classroom as Outey organizes the plastic fruit and easy concept books on her table. Her goal is to teach these Cambodian students about opposites in English. she starts by previewing the concept of opposites in Khmer, which is spoken in Cambodia. She wants English Language Learners to make connections between what they already know in Khmer and what they are learning about opposites in English.
The Preview-Review strategy allows Outey to check with students before the lesson starts to make sure they understand the concept of opposites in Khmer. Then at the end of the lesson, she’ll review what they have learned about opposites in English, using their primary language. Primary language support… allows the teacher to provide background information before the lesson in English and review for understanding at the end of the lesson. (p.39)
Here students’ freedom to answer in the language(s) of their choice must be definitely respected for encouraging them to progress in early stages. For making the students speak in the desired language a lot of reading support, extensive libraries, extempore rounds, group discussions, personal interviews and a lively class room atmosphere have got no other alternatives. And it is indispensable part of the exercise if one has taken the task of teaching speaking any language, be it first or second for the learner. Moreover the teacher’s involvement of a quite personal nature is trivially required at every stage of the learning process who has got zero passive moments in all regards. Alison Mackey(2006) of Georgetown University briefs about the importance of interactional feedback “Researchers have suggested that interactional feedback is associated with L2 learning because it prompts learners to notice L2 forms”(Volume 27, Number 3, p. 405-430).
Finally we turn to find out the difficulties that are expected to arise during the real time application of all that has been discussed before. Hence we seek answer to the question about the possible alternatives for these class room activities:
What are the drawbacks in their real time application?
The selection of resources, the study material that is presented at every stage draws great difficulty on part of the educators because as discussed before, the considerations for the socio-cultural background of the students are evident. Lori A.Helman(2004) in the article outlines the difficulty Spanish speaking learners pose while learning English, “The sound system of Spanish may influence the beginning writing behaviors of English-language learners who come from Spanish-speaking backgrounds”. Further finding such a teacher who is bilingual or multilingual for being able to understand the mother tongue of the students may not be impossible but quite near to it. Paying attention to the reading and removing difficulties is easier said than done because it takes a larger proportion of time in relation to the output it generates. In an NY times article on education Samuel G.Freedman(July,4,2007) tells about a new ESL teacher’s problem of lack of time to teach sufficiently, “The only problem, she quickly discovered, was that the avalanche of paperwork and other assignments meant she actually got to teach only sporadically”. Finally while getting into the stage of conversation all the difficulties multiply. Students may vary in their degree of expression on account of several psychological reasons too and here individual differences are the most effective factor in making them speak. Constructs of socio-cultural nature may hinder their eloquence, which is counter active towards their learning to speak. The teacher had to take all the necessary pains to find them comfortable enough to say something. Many a times the debates on current issues turn violent which instead of being constructive generate regressive sentiments among some of the learners. So while maintaining enthusiasm and zeal among the students all these activities will take a lot of controlling measures on part of the teachers and their energies too. Remember language in the most developed form is typical of humans and it reflects the very human nature. Making humans learn to speak a language must definitely engage all the life processes humans are involved in.
Charron, N.N.(May,2007) “I Learned That There’s a State Called Victoria and He Has Six Blue-Tongued Lizards!”. The Reading Teacher,60(8),768
Freedman, S.G.(2007, July 4). So Much Paperwork, So Little Time to Teach. New York Times, On Education
Harvey, S. & Goudvis, A.(2007). Stategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension. Portland(Maine): Stenhouse
Helman, L. A.( 2004). Building on the Sound System of Spanish: Insights from the Alphabetic Spellings of English-Language Learners. The Reading Teacher,57.
Kendall, J. & Khuon, O.(2005). Making Sense: Small-Group Comprehension Lessons for
English Language Learners. Portland(Maine) : Stenhouse
Mackey, A.(2006). Feedback, Noticing and Instructed Second Language Learning. Applied Lingusitics,27(3), 405-430, Oxford Journals, Oxford University Press.
Parker, E. L. & Pardini, T. H.(2006). The Words Came Down: English Language Learners Read, Write, And Talk Across the Curriculum K-2. Portland(Maine) : Stenhouse