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Dissecting a lesson: speaking

This is a short extract from my new book Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher. The book, primarily aimed at new or newish language teachers, features a number of examples of detailed descriptions of interactions between the teacher and students. These are effectively blow-by-blow accounts of how you might run specific lessons - what the teacher might say, what the pupils might say. Each of these descriptions is accompanied by a running commentary of tips.

This particular example is from the chapter on developing speaking lessons. It is aimed at intermediate students and uses a text about Cinderella as the stimulus.

First, here is the text (you would translate it into your chosen language):


There was once a beautiful girl, an orphan, who lived in a big house with her father. Her stepmother had two daughters who were ugly and unkind. The stepmother and the two sisters forced Cinderella to do all the housework every day. She had to do the laundry, wash the dishes, do the ironing and prepare all the meals. Each day she also had to remove the ashes from the fireplace. This is why she was called Cinderella.
One day the prince of the kingdom organized a ball because he wanted to find a bride. All the girls in the realm were invited. Cinderella’s two step-sisters, helped by their mother, made all the preparations for the ball. Cinderella was not allowed to go to the ball. She was sad not to be going but did not dare ask permission to go. She cried so much that her fairy godmother heard her and suddenly appeared. The fairy used her magic to turn Cinderella into a beautiful woman. She created an amazing dress, slippers made of glass and a coach and horses.
So Cinderella could go to the ball, but she had to promise to return before midnight. When she arrived at the ball everyone was amazed by her beauty. The prince invited her to dance. At the end of the evening she was so happy that she forgot the time. In her haste, she lost a glass slipper. The prince was determined to find his loved one, so he went to visit all the girls in the kingdom and asked them to try on the slipper. He promised to marry the girl who was able to wear the shoe.

When he arrived at Cinderella’s house, the step-sisters tried on the slipper, but it didn’t fit. Then he asked Cinderella to try on the slipper. The prince was amazed to discover that poor Cinderella was the girl he had met.They soon married and lived happily ever after.

Next, here is how you might build the lesson to get students to talk. Note how this is also a multi-skill lesson featuring plenty of listening and reading too. Each skill reinforces the other.

Pre-reading: display some key words on the board (prince, king, shoe, glass, housework, step-sister, ball, coach and horses). Ask students to guess what they are going to be working on.
Students listen and then work out what they are going to be talking about. Easy!
This immediately raises interest and provides some key vocabulary which students will hear, read and use later. Any unfamiliar words which are not clear cognates (depending on the language) can be explained by definition, gesture or translation.

Display and/or hand out the story to be read. Read it to them.
Students follow the text. A class with poor literacy might be asked to follow with a ruler beneath each line.

Scan the class now and again to check students are following.
Ask students to read aloud short sections of the text. Make any corrections to pronunciation. Make sure any reader repeats a mispronounced word. Correct sympathetically
Hands up or no hands up for this. Individuals read short sections.
You could use whole group reading aloud if the class is well trained in this. This keeps everyone involved. You could use this opportunity to focus on intonation, an often neglected area in language lessons. Teach the class any patterns you know, e.g. the rising intonation and slight phrase-end stress in French.

Make false statements for the class to correct. You can make these as silly as you want to hold interest: The fairy godmother created a Ferrari.
Hands up, with occasional teacher choice of student. Students can essentially re-read sections of text to do this activity.
At times like this you need to be really vigilant about who is listening carefully. Use eye contact, choose any student who appears to be inattentive. Keep the whole class on the ball.

Now tell the class you’re going to give them true/false/not mentioned statements. You can make these as subtle or as outrageous as you want, depending on the class.

Hands up or no hands up.
This tests your skill at judging precisely what you think the class can do. Pitching this sort of task accurately is vital.
Ask TL questions on the text.
Hands up or no hands up.
This demands more from the class as they have to decode the question, then use a different structure to answer. Even so, they can still lift from the text. Note how much recycling of language is already taking place.

Get students into pairs. Tell them that each partner has to make up true/false/not mentioned statements of their own. Give a time limit to add a sense of urgency.

Students work in pairs alternately testing their partner.
By now there has been enough input for students to talk, but they’ll still be lifting from the text to a large degree.
Tell students to hide their text or just hide your displayed text. Get students, in pairs, to make as many statements as they can about the story in TL. Tell them that the first partner who can’t say something is the loser. Tell them not to worry about making mistakes.

Students make up statements from memory. Some will no doubt improvise a bit at this point.
Monitor the pair work carefully. Accept hardly any chatting in English. Warn them specifically about this if necessary.
If the class still has enough energy, tell them each partner has to try to tell the story to the other. The partner must listen and make any corrections as they see fit.

More pair work. Students produce longer stretches of speech, mixing remembered language and improvising a bit more.
If this part is beyond your class, you can provide a gapped summary on the board for students to refer to. Make this as easy or as hard as it needs to be. You’ll know in advance what your class’s capabilities are likely to be.


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