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TEFL Masterclass – The Alpha and Omega of Speaking

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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

For many students, one of the main motivations for learning English is the ability to communicate with others, be it for study, work or travel. And for many of these purposes, speaking will be a major part of the interaction. It is important therefore that we are clear as teachers how to make the most of speaking segments and speaking lessons so that our learners have the best opportunity to use English effectively, not just in the classroom but more importantly in real life, too.

That is what this session is all about, setting you and your learners up for success and clarifying what to do at the beginning, during the middle and at the end of each speaking session.

Workshop Summary

Overview of Effective Speaking Strategies in Education

Neil Harris introduces his Gallery Teacher’s Masterclass, titled “The Alpha and Omega of Speaking”, focusing on enhancing students’ speaking abilities. He emphasises the importance of differentiating between form-focused language speaking, where grammar is the priority, and meaning-focused communicative speaking, which centres on idea conveyance. Harris asserts that teaching speaking involves more than grammar, advocating for a broader approach to develop speaking skills.

Designing Speaking Activities: Form and Meaning Focus

Harris discusses the distinction between form-focused and meaning-focused interactions in speaking activities. Form-focused activities concentrate on grammatical accuracy, while meaning-focused ones prioritise effective communication. Both types are essential in language learning, but they require different approaches and feedback methods. Harris stresses the importance of having a clear purpose when setting up speaking lessons, which can follow either a task-based learning approach or a presentation-practice-production model.

Utilising Speaking Sub-Skills and Resourceful Teaching

Harris advises explicitly teaching speaking sub-skills like fluency, interaction, and repair strategies alongside grammar. Before class, teachers should consider the relevance and authenticity of the topic and the appropriateness of tasks for students’ levels and interests. He encourages teachers to communicate lesson objectives clearly and establish success criteria for effective student reflection. Harris also recommends utilising existing teaching materials, such as Gillian Porter Ladousse’s book on role play and Sue Kay’s Reward Resource Pack, and adapting them as needed. For those creating their own materials, resources like Sarah Cunningham’s writings are suggested.

Practical Speaking Activities and Classroom Dynamics

The masterclass continues with a focus on practical speaking activities, including discussions, interviews, surveys, and role plays. Harris highlights the need to adapt these activities to different learning levels, using information gaps as an example. He then discusses the structure of a speaking class, emphasising the importance of clear planning, instructions, and flexibility in the lesson’s beginning. During the middle, he advises on monitoring and note-taking, recommending discreet methods like Post-it notes for guidance. In the concluding part , he stresses aligning feedback with the lesson’s focus, whether it’s language accuracy or communication effectiveness.

Encouraging Real-Life Speaking Practice and Utilising Technology

Harris encourages real-life speaking practice outside the classroom. In English-speaking countries, interaction with host families or local communities is beneficial. In non-English speaking areas, technological tools like voice recording apps and AI tools like ChatGPT can be used for interactive language practice. He suggests finding English-speaking buddies and ensuring safe communication practices, especially when sharing personal contact information.

Conclusion: Planning and Feedback for Speaking Lessons

In conclusion, Harris reiterates the importance of well-planned speaking segments or classes with clear objectives. He emphasises balancing the focus between language activation and speaking skills development, tailoring feedback to these objectives. 

Reflective Questions

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

  1. How important is it to you to distinguish between meaning focused and form focused output when your students speak?
  2. What matters to you when setting up a speaking segment or class?
  3. What do you do as the teacher when your students are taking part in a speaking segment or class?
  4. What happens in class after the students have completed a speaking segment or class?

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