In this guest post, Sam Pealing shares a lesson plan that can reduce anxiety when speaking in English. Take it away, Sam…
We’ve all had students who refuse to speak more than a few words.
But even the most talkative students in class can freeze up when they get outside of class.
This is normally due to a number of factors, such as:
- Not enough working language
- Few chances to use English
- Lack of need to use English
- Anxiety about using English
The last point on that list is the one that this class focuses on.
As teachers, it’s important for us to create a safe and productive environment for our students. But usually, the environment becomes so safe and secure that the students become too comfortable with the classroom setting.
This results in English learners who are not hardened enough for the outside world. When they are faced with native English speakers, who are equipped with idioms, phrasal verbs, and thick accents, our English students fall apart.
What Can We Do To Help Them?
This is not something that you can completely solve for your students, no matter how much you want to. It requires effort from both you and your students. I’ve recently explored this issue from an English learner’s point of view on my own website (see below).
We can build on our students’ language and understanding of speech, but that’s not always enough.
We also need to help our students to break down their own barriers – the barriers that prevent them from leaving their comfort zones.
That’s where this lesson comes in.
The aim of this lesson is two-fold:
1. To practice using structures for advice: “You should/could”
2. To make students aware of how they can decrease their speaking anxiety.
What Does The Lesson Look Like
The overall lesson can take between 15-40 minutes depending on how many students you have. I have successfully used this activity with groups of four up to 15 students and in one-to-one situations.
Warm up: Choose any warm up activity that gets your students talking.
Transition: Start a small discussion in pair or groups. These questions work well:
- “What is fluency?”
- “Why is it difficult to speak English?”
The aim isn’t to get a definite answer, but to get them talking about the issue.
Language Review: Review the language & elicit the kind of language that you use to give advice: “You should + verb” / “You could + verb” is fine. You could also encourage students to give reasons. For example, you should go to bed early, so that you don’t feel tired the next day.
Main Activity: Put your students in groups and give them the ‘query cards’ (explained below). Let them discuss each card, and give advice for each card. They can write down their answers.
At the end of the activity, do a plenary feedback session.
Explanation Of The Task
So, how exactly do you do this task?
The answer is in the ‘query cards’. These are cards with a single ‘barrier’, ‘obstacle’ or opinion on them. Rather than explain them, it’s easier to show you some that I use:
- Manuel from Spain: “I try to speak English, but I always get shy because I think people will laugh at my pronunciation”
- Fabio from Italy: “I want to speak in English, but I’m always afraid that I won’t remember the words, so I don’t say very much.”
- Yumiko from Japan: “I don’t speak to many British people. I don’t speak to them because I don’t think they would be interested in speaking to me.”
As you can probably see, each of these cards has one big issue that can be a discussion point.
The main aim is to get your students discussing solutions and advice for each of the issues on the query cards. In turn, your students will be solving their own problems.
To make the cards, you can survey your students a few classes before this lesson, but you probably already have a few ideas on what holds your students back.
If your students are especially advanced, you can get them to create a three-step plan for each ‘query card’.
Why Does This Work?
Aside from having good practice of using the structure could/should and having good fluency practice, your students will also indirectly discuss their own problems without feeling like they are being targeted.
This is a great way to help them to break down their own speaking barriers which would normally remain untouched.
You can even ask your students to choose one problem/solution that they identify with and follow the advice from it.
If your students are at the stage where they should be speaking more outside of class, then this is a great lesson to use. It can indirectly address their own fears of speaking and should help you to facilitate their progress on their English learning journey.
If you use this lesson plan, please let me know how it goes. You can either leave a comment here or contact me through my website.
About Sam Pealing
Sam Pealing is an English language teacher, lecturer, and founder of English For Study, a website for frustrated English learners. If you’re a language teacher who is taking their first steps into online teaching, come and look over Sam’s shoulder as shares his successes and failures in his Building From Scratch newsletter.