As is often the case in second language teaching, speaking activities are offered
to compensate for the lack of communicative opportunities in the students
environments. In recent years, more and more non-English majors have been enjoying such an
advantage in China. Consequently, the need for English teachers has increased, especially
at colleges and universities.
Teaching oral English classes gave me an excellent opportunity to organize a
communicative English class. I began by analyzing the learning background of my students
and trying to find a way to eliminate the students psychological barriers so they
would speak voluntarily in class. This article discusses some activities I used to
encourage speaking in my classes.
Language learning background
Chinese students are very self-conscious when asked to express their views in
public. This is true even if their language abilities are comparatively good.
Due to the large class size in high schools and the emphasis on examinations,
students learn language skills so they can pass tests. Therefore, developing
students communicative abilities is not emphasized. As a result, college students
are not as competent in speaking, and almost all have difficulties in pronunciation. This
makes them unwilling to communicate in the target language for fear of being ridiculed.
Since most language teaching in China still focuses on national tests, language is
treated as a knowledge subjectanalyzed, explained, and practiced in much the same
way as other subjects. The communicative skills, which require learners to practice in
real situations, are totally ignored. Oral English is taught and learned mostly in reading
and reciting activities.
Since their previous experiences had inhibited the students, I initially
concentrated on teaching them correct pronunciation to improve their confidence.
I also focused on motivating my students. According to psychologist Hebb
(1992:260), It is motivation that initiates behavior, directs it, and is also
responsible for its cessation, and motivation can be triggered by outside
factors. To do this, I told students at the beginning of the course that 50% of
their final score would be based on their in-class participation. Those who spoke in every
class would get the higher scores, regardless of what
their utterances might be. Hoping to increase their grades, the students eagerly began
speaking in class, making the class lively.
However, scores are rarely enough to motivate the students. According to cognitive
theory, it is intrinsic motivation that generally directs peoples behavior. So I
designed interesting and meaningful activities to motivate students so that they would
participate voluntarily in the activities.
Using the materials from English books edited by the foreign language department at
Dalian Maritime University, I created challenging tasks for the students. For example, the
main idea of one text was smoking, so students had to summarize and explain the text.
Then, I assigned group activities. Group one practiced an interview between a journalist
and several customers buying cigarettes in a drug store. Their task was to discuss how
cigarettes harmed peoples health. In group two, the task was to discuss the reasons
why many people smoke and what benefits smokers think they get from smoking. Group three
had a role play situation in which a boy tries to persuade his girlfriend to start
smoking. The last group debated the pros and cons of banning smoking in public places.
In a second activity, I introduced the topic of expensive weddings to my students,
asking each to imagine his/her own wedding and give his/her personal view on luxurious
Often, romantic relationships can be a discussion topic. In one lesson, related to
a text on marriage, I had the class form three groups to debate the problem. Everyone
discussed the topic enthusiastically, but they did not have to reveal their personal
Teachers can also use any unexpected occurrence that happens during class. No
matter how interesting the class may be, some students become distracted by outside
noises, sights, even changes in the weather. Whenever I notice this happening, I try to
attract the students attention. Once while preparing for a discussion, I noticed a
student gazing outside. In following his line of sight, I saw a colorful setting sun. It
was so beautiful that I asked the whole class to enjoy the beautiful sight and the
distracted student to describe it.
Although classroom activities are usually based on texts, I have tried to create
activities that provide students with speaking opportunities and at the same time,
motivate them. To accomplish this, I have used themes of interest to my students that
stimulate discussions and debates, and that overcome students fears of speaking.
Hebb, D. 1992. Classroom connections. In Windows on the classroom.
Ed. P. Egge and D. Kauchak. Educational Psychology.