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Using Short Talks in English Teaching

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What are short talks?

Short talks are a way to improve a student’s pronunciation and to increase their English speaking confidence in a manner that promotes their learning. They are one to three minute talks on any topic that the student wants to present in front of the class, or, when they are more advanced, they can be impromptu talks. In order to be effective, the student should give a short talk in front of the class every two to three weeks.

The original idea for using short talks in class was given to me by Ryan Jones (MA TESOL), a fellow teacher at ITI. I listened to the way he did it and then made some changes in how I did it, but I essentially followed what I learned from Ryan. I added recording my feedback for them about their pronunciation and intonation, and I think I added the student correcting their grammar in writing after they transcribed exactly what they said from the audio recording.

What is the result from doing short talks?

My expected results are increased comfort when talking in front of people, an awareness of their own errors, more focus on their English, and improved pronunciation. The more chances someone has to speak in front of people usually the easier it gets. As well, it is harder to speak in front of your peers than strangers, so it is more stressful to practice in front of your classmates. Forcing them to look and correct their grammar errors should improve their written and spoken grammar usage. I find that if they have to find and fix their own errors, they are less likely to make the same error again. If I correct their errors, they tend to make the same errors again and again.

How to do short talks

The student prepares a short talk for class and gives it in front of the class and it is recorded. I give them some feedback after they are finished and you can also have the other students give some feedback, or have a few students assigned to give feedback. The student takes the recording and transcribes exactly what they said. Then the student corrects their grammar and writes some feedback on how they thought they did and what they need to improve upon in terms of pronunciation as well as grammar. The finished document with their transcript and corrections is emailed to me. I take the transcript and correct any remaining grammar problems, and I also listen to the recording and give recorded feedback on intonation and pronunciation.  My recording may include some further verbal comments on the grammar to supplement the written comments. I may also include some exercises for them to do to help with grammar and pronunciation.  If there are a lot of common grammar mistakes I would cover these in the next class for all the students. If you are using impromptu short talks, you follow all the above steps except that the student does not prepare a short talk for the class.

Why it works

The students have to listen to themselves and think about how they are saying things. When they are writing and correcting their transcript they have to focus on catching their own grammar mistakes and this will lead to improved grammar usage by the student (if they can learn from their mistakes). The student later gets a recording from me that helps them with their pronunciation including intonation.  By having to speak in front of their peers the pressure on them is increased and it makes them more nervous. After doing this a few times it should make them more comfortable speaking in front of others (presentations, meetings, etc.).

How would short talks work in one to one situations?

As an online one to one teacher I am wondering how this would work in one to one situations. I know that they worked in a classroom situation because I have used short talks for many courses at ITI including general Business English courses and especially in English Presentation courses.  Will it work as well as it does in a classroom situation? I think it will be similar except the student will not experience speaking in front of their peers, so there may be less pressure on them. This can possibly be duplicated by having the student gather some friends and give their short talk in front of them while at the same time recording their short talk. You can then follow the same process as with a classroom of students in the way you give your written and oral feedback.

The keys to this learning exercise are the feedback they have to give on themselves, including finding their grammar mistakes, and the recorded feedback you provide to them on their pronunciation and intonation. It forces them to listen to themselves and think about what they need to improve on.  Short talks are something a teacher can use to help students improve their pronunciation and make them more comfortable speaking in front if others.

A teacher’s workload is increased by the use of short talks because they need to check the transcripts and provide grammar and pronunciation feedback to the students. So, the use of short talks might not be for every teacher, but if you really want to help the students identify and understand their grammar and pronunciation problems I would suggest that they use this technique.

 

For more information on pronunciation and intonation see http://johns-online-english.com/general-english-course/ and http://johns-online-english.com/intonation-in-english-pronunciation/.

You will find my videos on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk7wrbiwHTkuMK85G0eanTg

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