Ways of encouraging Students to communicate in English in the EFL classroom

While L1 is becoming more accepted in the EFL classroom we still hope our students are communicating as much as possible in English. Here are some of the methods I use to ensure they speak English as much as possible:

– Visual Reminders

I have a laminated card with a Union Jack on one side and a French tricolour flag on the other (French is the native language of most of my students) which I stick on the board, if the Union Jack side is up then it’s English only. Giving them the opportunity to use French  at certain moments actually encourages them to play the game when it’s English only. A nod at the flag is often enough to get students speaking in English.

-Play Dumb

“Sorry?”, “Pardon?”, “I don’t understand” are usually enough for at least one student to point out to the “offender” that they will have to rephrase their comment or question in English if they expect a reply.

– Give them the necessary language

You can’t actually expect them to communicate in English if they don’t know the necessary lexical items to convey what they want to say.

Our school has a policy of weekly vocabulary lists and tests, so early in the school year I give them a list of useful phrases, “may I have a tissue?” “How do you say XXX in English?”

There are posters up all around the classroom with useful classroom phrases, such as “What does XXX mean?” etc.

Be sure to pre-teach or revise all necessary vocabulary before an oral activity.

If during an activity a student needs to look up a word they need I ask them to write it on the board (with translation;) as their classmates are bound to ask for the same word two minutes later.

-Give them a safe place to learn

This classroom is the place to practice English, mistakes are a useful part of the learning process. The only accent we will laugh at is the teacher’s when she tries to speak French! (The other day I told the class my pencil case was full of lovers, I meant magnets obviously!) There is an important place for just ensuring an enormous quantity of oral participation, we will deal with quality later, and perhaps have a feedback/correction session at the end of the activity, but definitely be very careful correcting students individually in front of their peers, especially teens.

– Give them something to say

There are loads of speaking activities, use as many as possible as often as possible.

With my year 9 and 10 classes we have installed NO FRENCH FRIDAY, which does just what it says on the box. I make sure we avoid new grammar items on this day and do as many oral activities as possible, such as these, but they especially enjoy lessons like this  – things to do with marshmallows and spaghetti.

-Rewards

In a teen school class using a piggy bank to fine L1 speakers is out of the question, and I’m always uncomfortable punishing someone for speaking a language, it’s far to extremist in my opinion, you never know, some of your students may actually come from places where they are really punished for speaking a certain dialect.

We all know that rewards work better than sanctions so here are a few I’ve put into place:

Marks – in many European countries students need a certain grade average to pass into the next class, so marks and results are very important to them. During no French Friday all the students start with 20/20, the rules are very simple – every time they speak French (or another language apart from English) I take off one point, and the end of the lesson this mark goes into their grades. I give back points to those who participate a lot and take off points from those who think that their best bet is to say nothing. Nothing else is marked, they can make as many mistakes as they want, these activities are to encourage spontaneous communication in English – and they work!

Send out spies – to ensure everyone plays the game, I send out spies from each group to check on the other groups, you need a healthy class atmosphere for this, and it’s a good idea to check which spies go to which groups, but done in the right spirit this works well and the students love it.

One of the best ways to get your students speaking English is to allow the use of L1 in the class at certain times, this allows students to communicate what they want when they really need to, and encourages a general interest in languages, any language. In my opinion that has to be a good thing.

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About fabenglishteacher

I've been teaching English for a few years now and this blog is part of my never-ending quest to make learning English more fun, and easier for my students.
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