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Motivating speaking activities

Sheryl Carvalho, Portugal

The students must be motivated to speak, or need to speak in order to complete the activity. For the last couple of years, I've specialised in teaching children aged 6-10 (mainly at beginner level), but I don't see why some of these basic principles can't be applied to learners of any age. At this age, the learners aren't motivated by new language, they're motivated by an activity. It can be very difficult to get them to speak if they really don't see the point. You can approach this by focussing on the following.

1. The function of the language and use an authentic or near authentic task (e.g. get them to sit back-to-back to practise speaking on the telephone).

2. A motivating task, which uses the language you want them to practise (e.g. students write questions on small squares of paper using the target language, then form the papers into a board game to be played using dice and counters. )

Here are some possible examples, which apply to one or a combination of the above.

A popular, well-known type of activity is the information gap. In this type of the activity, one group has half of the information required to complete the task and the other group has the other half (or pairs of students). The two groups need to exchange information to complete the task. Possible examples of tasks are:

  • Making an arrangement: each group has a diary, with appointments already filled in. They need to exchange information in order to agree when they can meet.
  • Giving/receiving directions: 2 sets of maps, each with information missing. 2 sets of directions for these missing places. The students again need to exchange information in order to complete their maps.
  • Crosswords: each group has some of the answers. They need to make up appropriate questions and then exchange, or ask appropriate questions. Hopefully, the students will be more concerned about completing the crossword, rather than worrying about speaking.
  • For a listening text, in which the students would normally listen to a tape in order to fill in the gaps. Why not give each group half of the answers? They are then given the opportunity to exchange information. They can listen to the tape afterwards as a final check.
Here are some examples of other activities I use with my younger learners.
  • Secretly put an object in a paper bag (or hide it behind me, or write the word, or draw a picture). I then get the students to guess what's in the bag, by asking an appropriate question. The student who guesses correctly takes over from me. Do this a couple of times, and then let the students take over. Group vs group, or in pairs.
  • Find your partner. Information is written on slips of paper, which can be matched in some way. Each student receives a paper, then the class mingle and exchange information in order to find their partner. E.g.. for a group of 10 students, to practise colours. Colour in 5 slips of paper and write the words for these colours on the other slips. Students ask each other "What colour have you got?" in order to find their partner. (The point of this activity from the students perspective is finding their partner, not necessarily the practice of the language.)
  • The following example may be appropriate for more advanced students. I call this activity 'Find someone who'. Each student writes the end of the sentence on their own piece of paper. The students then mingle and hopefully conversations are started. (The students can also use questions for this activity e.g. When was the last time you….?)

I hope that the suggestions and examples given are useful and practical for your situation, or inspire you to invent others.