Speaking time

Let them Speak

In today’s post I am going to share with you something I did with my learners to get them to speak a bit, to take a long turn, a short monologue if you prefer. My students are intermediate level learners who feel a bit intimidated/challenged when they speak. Today though, was a completely different story, my learners had a lot of fun and actually spoke like they never had before! I was really pleased with today’s session. They went from talking about something ordinary to something extraordinary. So, what did I do? 
Normal everyday pics- Stage One
I gave my students two A4 cardboard sheets with four pictures stuck on them. The pictures were of people doing everyday activities. There were lots of details in the pictures. I then gave my students some instructions.

  • Choose 2 of the pictures you feel you can talk the most about. Tell me what you see and whatever else you think connects to the picture.
  • I will give you 5 minutes to plan and make notes BUT when you start talking about your pictures I don’t want you to be looking at your notes.
  • I will not help you with any words. Use the vocabulary you know and paraphrase whatever you don’t know.
  • There is no time limit. Speak for as long as you can.
I also wrote a few questions on a sheet of paper and put it in front of them. I said, ” You can use these questions to get ideas if you want.”

                           Wh  Questions:
                                      What/who do you see in the picture?
                                          What are they doing in the picture?
                                              When was this picture taken?
                                                  Where was this picture taking
                                                      How do the people feel? How does this picture make you feel?

Five minutes later…
I told them that they should close their notebooks and just talk about the pictures. If they got ‘stuck’ , they could then open their notebooks to get ideas. That’s what they did. After each student spoke we had a short chat about things that had been said incorrectly and they also asked me about words they did not know. They took notes (these notes have been linked to the next session).
Stage two- A painting with people
After they spoke about the everyday pictures  I showed them this painting.
Picture taken from Pablo Picasso org. Link found here
I told them to do the same thing again. The instructions and questions were the same but I gave them an extra task. I told them that this was a painting and that they had to give it a title. This is when they started turning their heads, turning the pic upside down, and trying to figure out what they see. This time my students were a bit impatient saying things like, ” tell us miss what is this?”  ” I can see this and that but.. hmm… what is the other thing” They were extremely engaged.
Five minutes later….
Of course they spoke to me about what they saw in the painting and they were very amused with what they were describing. I then told them what the painting was called. It’s the Three musicians by Picasso. They loved it! They then tried to figure out where the musicians were, what they were playing and so on. There were a lot of Uh hu moments today.

Final thoughts
Using pictures to get your learners to speak is a great start, especially when they are not mature enough to answer questions related to ‘hot topics’ or when they are quite weak. Prompting them is also important and this is why I used a few questions. I did not give them any vocabulary help because I thought that it is necessary that they rely on their own language to speak, and because paraphrasing skills are important and these tasks give them the chance to do so. I started with everyday pictures to make them feel comfortable and then moved to cubism (abstract art) to challenge them and to make them use their imagination. On the plus side, you can do this with ANY learner, no matter what the context is!
The outcome
My students had a lot of fun, spoke a lot and said, ” When are we going to do this again?”
What I learnt today? Maybe the most rewarding lessons come from the simplest ideas + bring abstract art into the classroom : )
Till next time…..

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