Encourage Genuine Fluency: Give Students a Chance to Ask and Answer Re
Dec 4, 2011 English Language Teaching (ELT) 2994 Views
Students need a role play in which answers are unknown to their conversation partner, regardless of how well they might know each other. The problem, however, is that a role play often takes too much time to create, set up, explain and initiate in class.
Teachers need an easy-to-understand, easy-to-expand, free-flowing role play where the creation of a role-play "persona" or personality calls upon students' use of English and allows for genuine fluency with the new skills, vocabulary, themes, topics or tasks that have led to the planned fluency practice.
When I want students to practise fluency, I provide each student with a different picture of a non-Thai individual. For this purpose, I have sets of 50 pictures mounted on 10cm by 15cm cards, conveniently packed in a small plastic box. Such cards and plastic containers are available at most stationery stores.
Although they are found in a variety of glossy magazines readily available in Thailand, I avoid using pictures of models, actors and politicians in favour of pictures more typical of people students are likely to meet. Ideally, pictures should be about 8cm by 12cm, making them easy to see, and should often include clues as to occupation, places of origin and interests.
Using the cards in class
I distribute the cards early in a class to allow students time to think about who they are, to trade ideas with friends and to ask me for vocabulary and pronunciation advice.
I have a mix of pictures in terms of age, occupations or activities and gender and I distribute them carefully. In the early stages, I ensure that the person in the photo is close to the age of the student and, most importantly, is of the same gender. This should make it easier for each student to create a role-play persona. If I know their abilities, I give stronger students pictures that demand higher language production.
Once students become familiar with using the cards, I vary the age of the person in the photo and that of the student. If an activity requires a spouse, I provide a second card. Later, particularly in a class dominated by one gender, I give students cards with photos of persons that do not match their gender, or I mix and match.
I also clearly colour-code the cards so that I can give a small group that has been reticent to talk to other students the same colour cards, and make it known they can only talk to people with cards of a different colour.
Before the students begin, I make it clear they (the people in the picture) have never been to, and "unfortunately" do not know anything about, Thailand. As such, I do not expect to hear anything - from city names to foods - in Thai.
This makes monitoring the use of English much easier, as the use of any Thai words will not be accepted in the role play. If students, for example, want to talk about food, they are encouraged to think about what they already know, e.g., pizzas, hamburgers or doughnuts. In turn, this often leads to other related vocabulary moving from passive knowledge to temporary active usage.
Building vocabulary and skills
In the early stages, students may have trouble creating their persona, but once they realise a self-produced persona is useful each week, they begin to have fun and they experiment. They begin to research the different information that they want to use and will ask for help in spelling and pronouncing vocabulary they want to incorporate.
In addition, depending on the students' level, the material previously covered and the lesson's fluency practice goal, I instruct them to move around the room and talk to different sets of students.
As they gain confidence, and using a different picture each week, their active vocabulary begins to expand; and as new ideas are covered in class, the students can add these to the role play, thus leading to increasingly longer and more involved conversations.
In using role plays and picture cards, most textbook-based conversation activities begin to resemble "English conversation" that give students an opportunity to practise fluency and to experience and deal with the resultant conversational norms, patterns and problems.