Getting ready for your speaking LSA? Maybe this will come in handy!
From what I hear, most Delta candidates seem to think that choosing speaking for their productive skills assignment is a safe bet. That it’s an easy lesson. When I was doing Module 2 with IH Barcelona, I heard that most of the summer DELTA trainees had failed their speaking LSA. Why? As my tutors explained, it’s not easy to prove that your learners have actually improved the target sub-skill, e.g. fluency, or turn-taking and so on. As you know, it’s all about evidence, about what you can prove.
As usual, this made me want to teach speaking even more. I wasn’t interested in doing writing, anyway.
Why spoken narratives?
When it came down to choosing a topic, I didn’t think twice. I chose spoken narratives for a number of reasons. Here’s my essay intro:
This essay focusses on helping intermediate learners produce spoken narratives.
Thornbury and Slade (2007) categorise narratives as a sub-genre of storytelling, like anecdotes, exempla and recounts (appendices 1-3). I would define narratives as a:
- problem-solution story (Macarthy, 1991)
- from the teller’s perspective (Labov referenced in De Fina and Georgakopoulou, 2015).
Since many authors fuse story and narrative or treat one as a subgenre of the other (Garson, 2013; Lambrou, 2017), both terms will be used interchangeably in this essay.
I agree with Haven (2000) and Wood (2009) that spoken narratives are productive and challenging, thus providing many opportunities for teachers to upgrade learner output at intermediate level. Learners find them enjoyable and motivating; factors that lead to more effective learning, as Krashen (1982) accurately suggests. Brown also (2000) agrees that storytelling is an ideal technique at intermediate level.
I have observed that most language schools prepare intermediate learners for written but not spoken narratives, which is odd in my view; we are more likely to tell narratives than write them. Intermediate learners can benefit from telling narratives as they can use a range of grammar and lexis in their stories, while developing fluency and confidence in their speaking ability.
I read about 30 books/journals; I must admit that although it was rewarding, it was rather exhausting! I wrote a really thorough analysis and all my points were supported throughout by background reading, examples and appendices, thus gaining a distinction for my essay. You can find my bibliography at the end of the post. I included 5 issues and solutions:
- Affective problems
- Guiding the ADHD learner to structure and articulate narratives
- Back-channelling and cultural differences
- Style and appropriacy
Teaching issue: helping learners produce fluent narratives
Since most candidates choose fluency as their main aim, here’s one of my BE issues that you might find useful.
Teaching issue: helping learners produce fluent narratives
When I was observing teachers in Spain, I noticed that in order to improve intermediate learners’ fluency, teachers used this sequence:
- Teacher tells learners a story.
- Teacher asks learners to prepare their own narrative.
- Learners deliver their story once in an open-class stage.
I found that this one-delivery technique was a rather deep-end technique for intermediate learners and did not improve fluency. On the contrary, articulation was hesitant, learners often paused to look at their notes when forgetting information. They did not seem to enjoy they task; they were anxious about narrating in open class and making mistakes in front of everyone.
As mentioned in 2.6.3, students are more likely to sound more fluent after repeating their story; just like native speakers, Therefore, to address this issue I encourage task repetition.
Procedure: After the teacher models a narrative, students plan their own and share them in pairs or triads, while the teacher monitors and applies immediate correction. Next, learners repeat their narratives in different groups; the teacher provides feedback when necessary. Finally, learners tell their stories in an open-class stage.
Evaluation: At intermediate level, teachers can input a lot of language while monitoring. Ongoing correction makes learners feel more confident about the language they will produce in their narrative. However, I contend that as Kerr (2017) suggests, overcorrecting might stress teenagers in my experience. As a result, they might still be reluctant to tell their narratives in an open-class stage. Hence, selective correction and specific praise will contribute to more confident telling.
Thornbury (2005) also believes that repeating narratives increases fluency, automaticity (2.6.3) and confidence. Every time students retell their stories, they monitor themselves (Krashen, 1982), i.e. focus less on form and more on meaning; thus, sounding more natural.
Nevertheless, repeating narratives may under-challenge stronger learners. Increasing the degree of challenge with Nation’s (1995) 4/3/2 technique may be effective, i.e repeating their narrative while reducing the time of delivery:
first telling in four minutes.
second telling in three minutes.
third telling in two minutes.
The plan and the lesson:
My main aim was speaking fluency but I had a linguistic aim as well; learners would understand and use phrases that open and end a story, as well as evaluative comments. I had taught spoken narratives in a previous lesson, so I didn’t have to model the structure.
It was a task-teach-task lesson.
- I gave learners a mind map and 5 minutes to prepare their story.
- I asked them to share their stories in pairs. While they were doing so, I monitored and provided feedback where necessary.
- I boarded some language on the whiteboard, to make sure I help everyone with some of the language they were struggling with.
- I presented my lexical items (story openers/ endings and evaluative comments) and asked students if they knew them or if they had used any. Differentiation: stronger learners were asked to think of more similar phrases they might have heard.
- I modelled and drilled the phrases. Next, they matched the phrases with their purpose, e.g. Did I ever tell you – to start our narrative
- I asked them to retell their story to a different partner and use also some of the expressions to open, end stories and add dramatic effect. This task repetition didn’t only help them sound more fluent; it was also a chance to upgrade their stories, by using some of my corrections, e.g. the language on the board or any feedback I gave them while monitoring the first telling.
- Finally, a student shared his narrative in open class.
Well, it’s not easy to give advice on how to teach your speaking LSA, as it depends on the area you choose. It can be interactive speaking, like turn-taking for instance. Mine was mostly monologic; however, my students had been taught to back-channel before, so some of them practised this sub-skill as well. Here’s some ideas that may help no matter what area you choose:
Give learners enough time to prepare for the task: No matter the level, and topic, always give learners some time to prepare. Naturally, more advanced learners will not need as much time as elementary. You do the math, but do give them some planning time. Don’t assume they can talk about things. I’ve observed teachers who thought that intermediate learners could just talk about matters, such as recycling, without any preparation in order to practise turn-taking, but learners didn’t know enough vocabulary to talk about this topic! Be careful!
Repeat the task a couple of times and change pairs/groups: not only do students get to hear more language input but they also repeat their own output, thus becoming more fluent and confident.
Monitor and give feedback: never sit down! Monitor and listen to what they’re saying, help them if they’re stuck, feed in language at the point of need! Don’t overcorrect though; find the balance. And don’t monitor just for them but for you, too! Write down examples of what you hear, for two reasons:
• to do a post-task feedback session
• to include them in your post-lesson reflection. When you’re writing your own evaluation, it’s crucial to mention examples of what students said.
Do a freer task: Depending on your area, once they’ve practised in a controlled task, e.g. using tables, or notes, or worksheets, have them do a free task without any visual aid. Hopefully, if they’ve practised enough and you’ve helped them with accuracy at the first stage, they’ll be able to do their task independently. If possible, ask them to do it in open class, so you can show the examiner that you’ve achieved your aims. Of course, if you have more than 5-6 students, you may not have time for that.
Emergent language: I believe that dealing with emergent language in a speaking lesson is super-important. Especially if your aim is fluency, you need to get them to notice how they can upgrade their stories after the first telling. Make sure you praise learners for good examples of output and correct any inaccuracies, as well as model and drill where needed.
My teaching and planning, although I met all the criteria, got a Merit. I managed to get students to tell their stories to two different partners, and also use the target sentences appropriately. I finished earlier than planned, so I invited one student to tell his story in open class.
My essay was awarded a distinction.
I had to do a lot of micro-teaching! Some pairs finished before others, so I had to constantly check everyone was busy and if not, give them a task.
Some students over-relied on their mind maps. These were basically my 2 senior students. I was told I should have taken their mind map and pushed them to tell their story with no more visual help but …I couldn’t. I couldn’t simply tell my 65- year-old and not-so-confident student that she was no longer allowed to look at the mind map. But perhaps, if I had anticipated that this would happen and stated in my plan that I would allow her to keep her mind map in order to be sensitive to her age and needs, I might have got that distinction! Another reason to be careful when writing your anticipated problems!
I hope you found this post useful! If you have any questions or even answers, feel free to leave a reply or send me a message!
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