Saturday, March 20, 2021

Developing speaking skills and oracy at KS3

 

Speaking is the second language skill, after listening, that we acquire in our native language. It is also known as a productive skill as it requires us to use our vocal tract and brain to correctly produce language through sounds.

Most of us will be in agreement that the ultimate goal for learners when learning a new language is the ability to speak it. Let's face it, we are rather unlikely to write in foreign language when we travel abroad, especially when travelling for pleasure! Naturally, when travelling for business or as part of our profession that is then a different scenario. 
However, for many language lovers and enthusiasts it is not just about the language acquisition but also about the culture and opportunities to explore different ways of life. Speaking another language allows us to communicate with a variety of people, express our ideas freely and become an active member of a new community. 
I love the Czech proverb below (it is even on our curriculum map), it really resonates with me. I am sure that many linguists out there will concur with me saying: 'We become almost a different person when we speak in another language' - the choice of expressions, our voice, our jokes, our thinking, our whole manner changes... all influenced by the little cultural nuances that we have consciously or unconsciously learnt during the language learning process and experiences of the countries we have visited, spent time in or lived in. It definitely applies to me!


So how can we nurture oracy in the classroom?

 
Firstly, to get my students' point of view when it comes to language learning, I have decided to conduct a short exit ticket survey with my KS3 and KS4 classes to find out what they consider to be essential when learning a new language. I have asked all of them the same question: 
  • How do you decide whether you are good at this subject, what is the most important skill when learning a language?
The responses from students have been pretty consistent in terms of what they class as the top priority when learning a new language. 92% of my students at KS4 and 86% at KS3 measured their success in learning a new language by their ability to speak it. 
When we discussed the results  in more detail next lesson, they also voiced their biggest concerns about speaking - such as perceiving it to be very difficult, their lack of confidence, worries about making mistakes and being laughed at...

Speaking is a skill which often can get neglected in classroom. It is also a skill in which students lack confidence mostly. Developing good oral skills takes a lot of practice and a lot of time which can be a real challenge for us - educators as the content of the National Curriculum is so vast and the time given for languages on the timetable so limited and not taking into account that lessons need to be spaced out more evenly (i.e. not having a 5 day gap between the lessons)! 
Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely to change, unless there is some major development on part of the DfE where the status of modern languages becomes more prominent and valued in the U.K. education.

How can we move forward and support our learners?


The practice that I will outline below is my approach on how I support my students in developing oracy and building their confidence when speaking. During my teaching career, I have observed over and over again that many students struggle to speak or are very hesitant to speak, so over the past 3-4 years, I have spent time reading about and researching different approaches on how to support their speaking skills and as a consequence this is the route that I have taken... 

Starting from day one, it is crucial that my students learn to produce new sounds as accurately as possible, so developing speaking goes hand in hand with listening - students hearing the sounds and imitating them back by saying them aloud. I am afraid, there is no room for hiding in my classroom. 

If you are wondering how I get the reluctant or anxious learners to speak - well, I talk to them about learning and about how memory works, I talk to them about forgetting which is natural and inevitable and why making mistakes is so important, I totally take advantage of the fact that I am 'foreign' - explaining to them that even after 20 year of living in the U.K., I still make mistakes and mispronounce words and even have some embarrassing moments. 
I work hard on building an environment where my students feel safe to take risks and build up their confidence. It has been a slow journey, but it is working, with more and more of my quiet students feeling happy to volunteer or even be 'cold-called'. They know, if they don't know the answer it is ok to say (in TL): 'I don't know that yet.' - something I have learnt from Patrice Bain and her 'Powerful Teaching' (co-authored with Pooja Agarwal). 

Since September, we have been using E.P.I - a methodology developed by Dr. Gianfranco Conti, which has been proving highly effective so far, especially at KS3. The first step when re-designing our SoW we have reduced the content and pretty much stopped using the textbook (we still loosely use some of the topics for guidance making sure the National Curriculum requirements are covered and some of the listening activities). 
I introduce new vocabulary within a chunk using a Sentence Builder (however, what ever model you use - parallel texts, text book course etc. - the principles should be the same). We model and practice the new language extensively ensuring students know it really well before we move onto more spontaneous speaking without scaffolding. The MARS EARS sequence provides a natural progression. 
I use Retrieval Practice in all of my lessons, not just at the start of the lesson (I think there is a bit of a misconception about it, some educators thinking it is a new fancy word for the old starter activity). Retrieval can happen at any point in the lesson and the various activities we have at our disposal offer a plethora of opportunities for it naturally. 
To re-enforce  learning and recall, I regularly set learning (retrieval) HWK for my students - see my post on Making Homework meaningful and purposeful. This is, in my opinion, the key for ensuring my students have the necessary vocabulary and structures for practising first scaffolded and then un-scaffolded speaking tasks.
I don't set any writing for HWK as many students often resort to 'cheating' via google translate so learning is very limited. 

At KS3 these are some of the activities I use rather regularly:

  • Narrow reading - flooded input - used as a listening but also as reading aloud activity - supporting pronunciation. Could be also used as translation activity - the teacher saying the text in L1 and the students matching it to L2.
     
  • Oral ping - pong - this could be done as a written translation task, but I often use it as oral activity - students translating the sentences verbally taking turns and checking the accuracy and me - the teacher their pronunciation.
  **
  • Trapdoor - is a great game which offers students opportunities to rehearse and practise the same structures over and over again.
                                                                          * adapted from a resource shared online
  • Battleships - students creating combinations of sentences - verbally - ensuring correct verb conjugation. Can be used to practice various grammatical structures such as tenses, adjectival agreements etc. Walk thru 'Say it better' could be used to make it more challenging.
  **
  • 'Catch the dog game' - I have been using this game for years - it could be used as RP/speaking practice at any stage in the lesson. I have a bank of interleaved questions (various topics) that I use with each year group. Soft toy dog is thrown to a student with a question he/she has to answer on the spot, firstly led by me - the teacher, later on the student picks another student asking him/her a question. This is a great way for students to practise not only answering questions but also asking questions which is a very important skill too. I often use it for practising tenses.
  • Board games - snakes and ladders, connect four, dice games - the first template I would use with my KS3, the other two are from www.teachitlanguages.co.uk which are more suitable for KS4.
** 

  • Digital tools - with all of the recent changes in teaching, I, like many of us have become much better at using technology to our advantage and to enrich our delivery, they certainly can be great for enhancing learning and motivation - my favourite ones are - Wheel of names - I usually use key words and students need to make a sentence using the key word or a question which students have to answer and Flippity. I like to use 2 or 3 tools trying not to overload my students.                  The key for me is that they serve the purpose of learning and are not just a new gimmick. Some tools can be engaging and 'fun' but have a very low value in terms of learning and acquisition, so we should be wary of it.
                   * template was shared on social media
 

The work we do at KS3 in terms of oracy is a vital stepping stone for developing fluency and automacy at KS4. It is an essential skill and as mentioned above rated by my students as the one on which they measure their success in the subject as well as one of the most important criterion for motivation and whether the students chose the subject for their GCSE. The whole purpose of language is to serve as a communication tool which is in its most primary form executed orally.

In my next post I will concentrate on how I develop my students' oracy at KS4. I have put a lot of work into how we approach and coach students in independent speaking which has been positively commented on during learning walks conducted by the SLT and the CEO from within our Academy Trust.


I would be very interested to hear what strategies colleagues use to develop speaking skills and oracy, so please get in touch as I am always keen to explore new ideas and to learn from fellow professionals.

Credits:
* If the original template/resource was shared by you, could you please let me know so I can credit you. Thank you.
** other templates created by Flo Rence and  board game resources from http://www.teachitlanguages.co.uk/














3 comments:

  1. Hi, yes absolutely agree that the structured practice is what gives pupils the confidence to produce language spontaneously later. I love trapdoor and battleships too. I do lots of quiz quiz trade too in the non-covid classroom, still love information-gap activities from the communicative approach. Also whole-class reading activities are also useful, like a ping-pong reading or using the spreeder app to paste in a text and the class reads, gradually getting faster each time. Thank you for your blog, I do always read it. @snowball331

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you very much for your time and for sharing your great ideas! I am honoured that you find my blog useful. I have not heard about the speeder app so will definitely look into it. It sounds interesting! πŸ˜€

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