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TEFL Masterclass – Teaching Speaking: More Than Grammar Practice!

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Neil Harris – Teacher Trainer & Director of Marketing @CELT Language School.

Neil Harris started his career in ELT in 1993 after completing a CTEFLA with IH London. He quickly realized that language learning and teaching was his true passion. Neil has worked in a variety of roles in the UK and Italy, including as a teacher, Senior Teacher, EAP Lecturer, DoS, Teacher Trainer, Business Development Manager, and Director of Marketing. Currently, Neil focuses on developing online ESP medical English and teacher development programmes in his role in agent-based marketing and course development.

What you will learn

Speaking lessons and lesson stages often fail to provide purposeful input for the development of the speaking skill. Instead, the focus is too often on the activation of a target language point such as a lexical set or an item of grammar.

This workshop argues for the need to repurpose speaking stages which focus on speaking sub-skills as the way to improve our learners’ speaking proficiency. It begins by showing why language activation stages, which are critical for the learners’ acquisition of the target language, nevertheless should not be seen as a speaking segment (or for that matter as a writing segment).

It then shows how a basic understanding of the design of common speaking tests such as the Cambridge suite of General English exams can help us to understand what a speaking skills lesson and course may look like.

Finally, it proposes the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) as an invaluable tool for identifying level appropriate input for purposeful speaking skills development.

Workshop Summary

Introduction to Speaking Skills Enhancement

This masterclass aims to revitalise how speaking skills are taught. It emphasises the need for a strategic approach in teaching speaking, applicable across various educational contexts, including private language schools and state institutions.

Core Principles of Speaking Classes

Speaking classes should focus primarily on enhancing fluency, functional language range, and interactional competence, rather than on grammar and vocabulary. The masterclass underscores the importance of understanding and respecting cultural communication norms, such as turn-taking and conversational pauses, which vary across cultures.

Focusing on Functional Language and Interaction

The session highlights the necessity of teaching students to express opinions, justify them, and handle agreements or disagreements effectively. This approach is distinct from merely focusing on lexical skills, encouraging teachers to integrate these functional language skills into their speaking lessons.

Utilising Educational Resources and Frameworks

Resources like the Cambridge English Preliminary for Schools Handbook provide valuable guidance on structuring speaking lessons. Different teaching frameworks, such as ‘test-teach-test’ or task-based learning, are recommended for varying student levels, focusing more on speaking skills than on grammar or vocabulary.

Concluding Thoughts on Speaking Skills Development

In conclusion, speaking skills should be treated as a distinct area in language teaching. Lessons should prioritise speaking skills development, using test designs and CEFR descriptors to inform lesson content. Teachers are advised to evaluate and adapt course book lessons to focus more on speaking soft skills, ensuring that lessons are purposeful and meet students’ language learning goals.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. To what extent are my speaking lessons focused on teaching speaking rather than on activating grammar and vocabulary?
  2. Should I have pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar development sub aims in a speaking class?
  3. Should speaking skills be taught separately in dedicated speaking lessons or as part of an integrated skills lesson?

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