We study, We teach, We learn

I have been an English teacher for almost 23 years. I also worked as a pedagogical coordinator at language schools for many years. After all this time, these experiences have helped me understand what students needed to get the most out of speaking activities and how teachers could help them take part in speaking activities successfully.

When I started working as a teacher, I was fifteen and could not tell if the way I was teaching was actually helping my students achieve their goals and mine, as well. Some years later, I began noticing, among other things, that sometimes my students were reluctant to work on speaking activities or would talk very little during these activities. Only then did I realize I had to know more about the profession I had chosen and started reading more about ELT and attending more conferences, thus sharpening my teaching skills.

One of the books which helped me a lot is named The TKT Course by Cambridge University Press. By reading it, I learned that students need three key features to perform speaking activities well. They are function, exponent and context.

The authors state that a function is a reason why we communicate. Every time we speak or write, we do so for a purpose or function. Apologizing, disagreeing, inviting, refusing, etc., are some examples of functions.

They also say that the language we use to express a function is called an exponent. How do these five different exponents of inviting someone to lunch differ from one another?

Coming for lunch?

Come for lunch with us?

Would you like to come to lunch with us?

Why don’t you come for lunch with us?

We would be very pleased if you could join us for lunch.

These exponents express different levels of formality formal, neutral and informal.

It is important to use the level of formality that suits a situation/context. This is called appropriacy, they add.

After all this theory, it was time I put it into practice. It was not enough to tell my students that they had to work on a speaking activity from the book or have them read the instructions and role play a situation. My role as a teacher was to analyze if these activities had these three key features. If they did not have these features, it was up to me to change them. Another thing which was really important was to let my students know about these features. From there on, it was much more likely that they would succeed when working on a speaking activity.

Following these steps have contributed to a better understanding of what students need in order to successfully work on a speaking activity and how teachers can help them become better and more confident speakers.

Next month, I am going to share an activity called Like, Comment, Share whose focus is to talk about dilemmas. It has the three key features to teach speaking giving students, regardless of their level of proficiency, the necessary tools to perform it really well.

Reference: Spratt, Pulverness & Williams. The TKT Course. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Paulo Torres

Paulo Torres has been in ELT for over 20 years. He is currently working on the implementation of the Educate Bilingual Program as a bilingual academic coach in several regions of Brazil. He is a certified leader coach by Sociedade Latino Americana de Coaching (SLAC). He is also the president of the BRAZ-TESOL Espírito Santo Chapter and Cooperativa dos Professores de Línguas do Espírito Santo (COOPERLING).

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