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How did I tackle the main issues of a speaking lesson and learn to successfully conduct one?

Describe a successful lesson 

How did I tackle the main issues of a speaking lesson and learn to successfully conduct one? 

Diary submitted by Gabriella A, Erasmus+ internship in Valencia

Although it is evident that practicing speaking is crucial to one’s linguistic development, I discovered throughout my teaching experience that conducting a speaking lesson can prove to be very challenging. By its very definition, a speaking class implies that students are expected to engage and speak a lot, which is something that students are not always comfortable with, specifically those who are more shy. Finding the right amount of teacher talking time (TTT) was therefore tricky at times as more participation was often required from myself in order to get the students to engage. Furthermore, another difficulty that I encountered whilst leading a speaking lesson was determining the appropriate amount of error correction I should be giving the students. Knowing that it would be counterproductive to correct the student at every mistake they made, I had to select what truly needed to be rectified. What did I therefore focus on improving? In this reflective diary, I shall develop how I tackled both of these challenges. 

It is thought that the most desirable amount of teacher talking time is around 30% per class (link 1). However, I noticed that this is not always achievable, particularly in speaking classes in which I would often end up speaking close to 40%. Indeed, when I was faced with a group of shy students who struggled to participate, I had to find new ways to inspire them. However, this was problematic as it often resulted in an increased amount of TTT. Based on first hand experience, I discovered that a way of tackling this issue and elicit more engagement from timid pupils is to make the students feel comfortable and at ease. I established this by adopting an approachable attitude, with for instance a few minutes of small talk at the beginning and end of each class. I would therefore begin each class with a few general questions to get the students chatting about various personal topics such as the latest movies that they had seen, their plans for the summer, etc. This makes the students feel more comfortable and therefore pushes them to get more involved in class conversations.  It should be noted that praising the students will also increase their confidence and thus encourage them to participate more (link 2). I therefore systematically tried to incorporate positive points in my general feedback at the end of each speaking class. Another solution to this problem could be to focus on a topic that the students are more likely to be interested in (based on their age-group, their culture, etc.). Choosing a subject that is interesting and that the students can relate to is paramount in getting uninterested or idler students to take part in the class discussion. For instance, if I noticed that the assigned topic for the speaking class was not that interesting, I would slightly divert the class to a more relatable topic based on my students. 

Moreover, a second challenge that I was faced with when teaching a speaking lesson was discerning the most suitable amount of error correction. Indeed, finding the right balance between letting the student express themselves without interrupting their flow of thoughts and correcting their mistakes proved to be quite difficult. Initially, I attempted to correct the student as much as possible but however quickly realised that this had a negative impact on the student who would lose their train of thought. I gradually came to the conclusion that it would be detrimental to the students’ linguistic development if I continued to call them out on all of their mistakes and therefore decided to focus on only a few of their errors. Specifically, I concluded that it would be best to solely concentrate on their errors of pronunciation as this is an aspect that can much less be rectified in any other class (writing, reading, listening). Their grammatical or syntactic errors can be studied more closely in classes of writing, reading, and listening. But pronunciation, which is key to learning and mastering a language, can be improved to a much greater extent through speaking classes. As a result, I would try to correct most of the students’ errors of pronunciation and not so much those of grammar, syntax, etc. 

To conclude, as well as being a productive and rewarding experience, I discovered that conducting a speaking class could be quite challenging at times. The students’ shyness, idleness or disinterest coupled to the necessity of balancing the amount of error correction made it somewhat difficult. However, I believe that I have discovered ways of efficiently tackling these issues. Putting the students at ease and finding ways for them to relate as much as possible to the class topic enables them to sufficiently engage, resulting in a suitable amount of teacher talking time. Finally, mainly focussing on the students’ pronunciation mistakes, as opposed to other types of mistakes, is a productive way of balancing the students’ flow of expression and error correction. 

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