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A study in small talk in class
Scris de mihaiela lazar   
Vineri, 08 Februarie 2019 00:00

A STUDY IN SMALL TALK IN CLASS

Prof. Adriana- Maria Ştefănescu

Liceul Tehnologic Energetic „Regele Ferdinand I”, Timişoara

When it comes to studentsof all ages, they do have something to say; that is, they enjoy talking about themselves, their families, their interests, backgrounds, jobs, plans, dreams and frustrations; about what they had for lunch, where they do their shopping ... about anything.

One of my favourite classroom stratagems is to elicit a handful of unconnected topics from the students: discotheques; mobile phones; neighbours; the bus strike; tennis rackets and cloning human beings, for example. I then let pairs choose what they want to talk about. Totally unstructured.

Just like real life. This is the way it should be: genuine interaction about a common interest. It is simply not the case that a conversation has to be structured in order to be valuable, with the topic introduced, developed and recapitulated. Here we are concerned with the free stage. No matter how trivial or obscure a topic, if it gets the students talking English we will have succeeded in creating conversation.

Breaking the ice

This tage is for warming the students up and encouraging them to start talking to each other, losing their inhibitions and using English as the vehicle for classroom communication. Some activities are intended for students who have not been in the same class before. Others are intended for groups returning after a holiday or similar period when they have not been together.

The icebreaking stage should never be overlooked if you want your students to develop a sound basis for constructive conversation. When students get to know each other better, it helps them to relax and work efficiently, and while they are getting acquainted they are already speaking in English. Everyone has something interesting to say, whether it is expressing an opinion, exchanging information, answering questions or giving advice. Students are given opportunities for discussion, ranging from commenting on the lives of famous people to talking about where they would like to sit. The activities should aim to engage the students’ interest through constant reference to their own lives and personal experience.

Materials

Make your materials more or less elaborate as you require. Rely on common sense. If cards are called for, slips of paper can almost certainly be used. If it is difficult to obtain photocopies of the worksheets, in many cases the students can easily make a rough copy themselves.

If pictures are to be used, they can be presented in a number of different ways: drawn on the board; on the overhead projector; on cardboard; photocopies, posters and so on.

Accuracy and fluency

This relatively unstructured approach raises the issue of when and where to correct students. Obviously, you should pay close attention to students’ errors and consider carefully the most effective moment and manner to correct them. Equally obviously, when students make mistakes, you should not constantly interrupt them to put them down in mid-sentence. It is far more effective to echo the correct version back to them. More important than rigorous correction of their errors is paying attention to the students themselves and creating a feeling of self-esteem amongst them. When they are working in pairs, you should move around the class listening and responding to what they have to say, not just checking the quality of their language. They should not be given the impression they are being obliged to do pairwork simply to fill the time.

Creating conversation focuses on fluency, not accuracy, which is dealt with in a myriad of other

sources. Fluency, accuracy and substance all have a place in language learning. Correction is important, particularly to those students who believe they learn from being corrected. But it is debatable whether the value lies in the correction itself or in the students’ perception that their errors have been recognised. There is even a danger that by paying repeated attention to errors you could unintentionally be reinforcing them. The crucial factor is establishing yourself as a teacher who is in tune with your students and aware of their needs.

Learning to learn

It is important for students to be aware of their learning preferences and the teacher can make this awareness into the subject of extremely interesting and creative conversations. Study skills don’t have to be dry and prescriptive. They, too, can be developed creatively by the teacher and become part of the art of creating conversation.

References:

1. Bailey, K.M., & Savage, L, 1994. New ways in teaching speaking. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

2. Brown, H.D, 1994. Teaching by principles: an interactive approach to language pedagogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.

3. Burns, A., & Joyce, H, 1997. Focus on speaking. Sydney: National Center for English Language Teaching and Research.

4. Rivers, W.M, 1981. Teaching foreign language skills (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 

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