In the second part of the series on teaching speaking online, ELT teacher trainer and author, Ceri Jones, discusses which activities work well in an online environment and other considerations for teachers preparing an online speaking lesson.
What types of speaking activities/practice work in an online environment?
I think clarity and simplicity are really important, as well as staging. I always like to start off with simple brainstorming exercises, maybe with students typing their answers in the chat box, or writing them on a shared whiteboard on the screen. Quick word games are useful too, things like finding words in a word square and then asking students to make up sentences or definitions for those words.
It’s also important to give students thinking time first, and maybe to offer a model answer yourself before nominating students to answer specific questions. Discussion questions work well in breakout rooms too, especially if you ask students to make notes of their answers and report back on them at the end of the activity. Tasks like: find three things your group like to do at the weekend / you all did last weekend / you’re all planning to do over the holiday are very simple tasks which work well in the breakout rooms. I like image-based activities too. For example, I may share a photo from my weekend and ask the students to ask me questions about it. I then ask them to share their own photo and talk about that.
Posters of movies, covers of books, images of famous cities and landmarks, these are all great for scaffolding and stimulating conversation too. I prefer to ask students to make recordings of presentations and share those in a forum for discussion. I think live online classroom time should be used as much as possible for short exchanges where everyone can take part.
Are there any additional considerations for the teacher in preparing or planning speaking practice online?
Managing the conversation equitably is one of the most difficult challenges. It’s important to have clear protocols for turn-taking (maybe using the chat box or the hands-up icon) and to keep a track of who has and hasn’t spoken. Plan tasks where everyone has a chance to say something, and ensure they’re not all repeating the same thing. Tasks with a personal element are really useful, where there are no right and wrong answers, but everyone brings something new to the activity.
Tasks that keep the listeners tuned in are also really important. For example, you could have a circular story-telling task where one student starts then hands on to another and so on, and everyone has to be paying attention in case they’re called next. A good trick is to call on someone different to summarise what has been said every minute or so, to keep everyone on their toes.
One of the most important things to remember is that you need to balance variety. Plan 3 or 4 different tasks per lesson, with simplicity; don’t try and pack too much into one class. And remember to make the most of the screen to support all stages of the lesson. Have a welcome screen for the beginning, and a thank you screen at the end. Use images, icons, tables and illustrations to support your instructions and tasks. Prepare all of this beforehand and the lesson will flow easily, leaving you free to monitor the conversations!
In case you missed it, you can catch up on the first part of this series here: An introduction to teaching speaking online – part 1.