Speaking practice is a vital part of teaching English as a second language. ESL students need the practice of hearing themselves speak English to improve, even if they are shy about it at first. Encourage your students to speak as much as possible, not neglecting reading, writing or listening in the process.
When students work in groups, they have a chance to practice their English on each other and to correct each other's and their own mistakes. Speaking activities that involve students working in pairs or small groups are a good way to practice speaking English. The teacher is there to correct major errors and to guide students during the activity. Avoid overcorrecting students. If you hear a mispronunciation of a word related to the lesson, wait until a student finishes speaking to correct it. Do not require perfect sentences during speaking practice. The goal is to focus on speaking the words in the lesson correctly, not to make students feel that they are not progressing in their speaking abilities by overcorrecting them.
Students can copy down on index cards role play-conversations that they will use during small group or paired practice. This is especially helpful for lower level ESL learners. The conversation is scripted, and students practice set questions and answers to build their vocabulary and to learn to use a particular grammar element correctly. With more advanced students, questions on a conversation card can be more open-ended, encouraging students to create language verbally and to think through their answers. Students can also be given a piece of paper with a situation written on it that requires them to produce their own conversation around the topic. For example, "job interview" might be written on the paper given to two students. Students then have to use their knowledge of job interviews and the questions typically asked in them to create a meaningful conversation that would occur in a job interview.
Although repetition does not lead to creative thought and expression in itself, it is a useful tool to help students practice new vocabulary. It is particularly helpful to spot pronunciation and intonation errors. Teachers can use repetition exercises to help them identify students who need more help in these areas. Repetition also helps students memorize how to say words and sentences so that they can draw upon that knowledge in the future with more ease when they are outside the classroom.
Students might use their conversation cards in assigned pairs, or in small groups assigned by the teacher. Teachers should pay close attention to the make-up of the group as one student may dominate the others by constantly correcting their mistakes, telling them what to say or not letting others speak. Other students in the group may be very shy and not want to participate. Another idea is to rotate pairs or change groups a few times during the speaking activity to give students practice with others in the class. An activity should be fun and engaging, encompassing a few minutes of speaking practice at a time before moving on to another activity.
Leyla Norman has been a writer since 2008 and is a certified English as a second language teacher. She also has a master's degree in development studies and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.