Developing oral skills in young learners
Oct 10, 2010 Young Learners 6988 Views
DEVELOPING SPEAKING SKILLS IN YOUNG LEARNERS
We all know how much children enjoy singing songs and saying chants and rhymes. Many teachers take advantage of this and use lively songs, chants and rhymes in their English lessons where children have fun while they use the target language. These activities are great resources to teach English to young learners provided they have a clear purpose and are part of a structured lesson plan which ends with free speaking activities.
The final goal of teaching oral skills to children should be to enable them to interact in real life situations in the target language. Many times, however, learners spend too much time doing controlled practice activities. Controlled practice activities are activities in which learners can only use the language they have been taught and repeat fixed phrases. “These are a very limited kind of speaking because they just focus on accuracy in speaking and not on communication.” (Spratt, M. et al, 2005, p.35). Many students start learning English in kindergarten, and we can see proud parents asking their kids to sing and say rhymes in English. They repeat these songs and rhymes year after year but do not seem to progress. Probably, this is because they are not asked to move from controlled practice activities to freer interaction situations.
Children will obviously need time to learn the new language before they can use it. “Language has to go in before it can come out”( Scott & Ytreberg, 1990, 34).Therefore, the first step in the lesson plan should be an introduction to the topic and activities focusing on the new language. Most teachers working wih young learners teach parts of the body and a lot of children know the song Head and shoulders, knees and toes. This song can be a nice way of introducing parts of the body. The teacher can use the song to teach the vocabulary by miming and check the correct pronunciation of the new vocabulary. In the following activity, the teacher can use TPR to practice the vocabulary of the song and to introduce new vocabulary. The teacher can give commands faster and faster as students feel more confident. In this way, the teacher introduces the topic and new vocabulary in a fun way.
After the lead in, students are asked to use the new language in controlled practice activities. Controlled practice activities “provide the basis for oral work, but do not always produce ‘real’ language at once”( Scott, W.A. & Ytreberg, L.H.,1990, 38). Games can be used as controlled practice activities. We must remember, “one important part of language development is vocabulary development, and fun vocabulary activities can be used to develop a positive affect in the young learner English language classroom” ( Schindler, 2006,p.8). In the next activity to teach parts of the body, children can play bingo with different parts of the body. Children can have written words, so they can identify the word with the pronunciation. In the next activity, students working as a whole class could be asked to describe a picture. The teacher helps by writing these expressions on the board: He/she has got a ……/He she has got ……(s). His/her …/s is are … The teacher can first check pronunciation of the sentences and then ask students to describe a big picture orally. Students are using fixed expressions but they can find meaning in the language they are using.
The next step is guided practice. “Guided practice usually gives the pupils some sort of choice , but the choice of language is limited” ( Scott, W.A. & Ytreberg, L.H.,1990, 38). To continue with parts of the body, the teacher divides the class into two groups. One group facing the back of the classroom and one group facing the front of the room. Each group sees a different picture. Again, the teacher gives the expressions: He/she has got a ; /He she has got …(s); His/her …/s is are … Each student should describe his/her poster and his/her partner should draw it on a piece of paper. Then the teacher takes both posters and students check their drawings. Finally, the teacher practices stress patterns. This type of activity is closer to real life communication because students are sharing information.
The last step is free activities. In this step “children say what they want to say”(Scott, W.A. & Ytreberg, L.H.,1990, 42). Following the previous activity, students are told both have pictures. The pictures are very similar but there are four, five, six, etc. differences between them. They have to find out the differences by describing their pictures. This time, students are asked to work on their own using the vocabulary and expressions they have learned. When students have finished, the teacher asks students to tell the differences. To help children, the teacher can write on the board: In picture A, he/she has got…., in picture B, he/she has got…In this last activity, students use fixed expressions in combination with different words to create new sentences and to convey real messages.
In conclusion, using songs, chants, rhymes and fixed expressions with young learners are useful ways of starting the process of developing oral skills. The important point is to move on from controlled practice to freer activities where children can use the language in situations which resemble real life oral communication.
Scott, W.A. & Ytreberg, L.H. (1990.) Teaching English to children (Chapter 4). New York: Longman.
Schindler, A.(2006).Channeling children's energy through vocabulary exercises. English Teaching Forum, 44(2), 8-12.
Spratt, M. et al. (2005). The TKT teaching knowledge test course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.