5 Tips for Encouraging Students to Speak in Class

One of the most frequent frustrations that I hear from the teachers I work with is that their students are not willing to speak the target language in class.  While there are many reasons that students hesitate to speak, I have found the following practices considerably improved my students’ willingness to participate in the frequent formative interpersonal speaking assessments that are included in my curriculum.

  1. Provide frequent opportunities for low stakes speaking tasks. As those that use my materials know, I include frequent interpersonal speaking activities in my units. As a result, the majority of my students quickly became comfortable speaking with a partner.  
  2. Make it clear to students that the purpose of the oral interpersonal tasks is to speak.  Most of the tasks include a written component upon which the conversation is based.  However, I make it clear to students that I don’t ever grade the written aspect of the activity.  This clarification removes the student’s temptation to avoid speaking by covertly showing their papers to their partners, speaking English, etc.
  3. End the activity as soon as the first 2-3 pairs have finished (or provide enrichment for early finishers). Since the goal of these tasks is to provide feedback on interpersonal communication, it is not necessary for every student to complete the entire task. Setting a time limit both encourages the students to remain on task and avoids having several students without a meaningful task to complete while their classmates finish their work.
  4. Circulate among the students as they complete the task. In addition to encouraging the students to stay on-task, this practice allows the teacher to provide individualized oral feedback to students. This coaching guides students to make progress toward proficiency as well as normalizes the teacher as an observer during interpersonal tasks.
  5. Provide written feedback. Depending on their own philosophy and school culture, teachers may or may not regularly provide grades on formative tasks.  Because I had a category in my gradebook for formative tasks, I felt it was important to record occasional scores for these interpersonal tasks. However, I found that I could not possibly grade every student during a 15-minute task.  Instead, I simply chose 5-7 students to formally assess during each activity.  By the end of a week, I had a grade and written feedback for every student.  Click here for a generic interpersonal rubric can be used with students of various proficiency levels to quickly provide feedback and/or a formative grade.  

If you’d like to provide additional opportunities for your students to engage in interpersonal speaking tasks, you might consider incorporating one of these spring-themed mini-units:

  • Click here for a 6-day mini-unit on secular Easter traditions for French 1 students.
  • Click here for a 90-minute lesson on Saint Patrick’s Day for French 1 or 2 students.
  • Click here for a 4-day mini-unit on Saint Patrick’s Day for French 2 or 3 students.
  • Click here for a 90 minute lesson on Ramaddan and Aïd-al-fitre for French 2 students.
  • Click here for a 7-day mini-unit on rainy day activities for French 1 or 2 students.

Please share your own tips for encouraging students to speak the target language in class by clicking on Leave a reply at the top of this page!

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