This is the third in a series of five posts about ways to supplement your coursebooks with extra (and hopefully innovating) speaking activities.
The first article in the series began by looking at a variety of different warm-up activities that focus particularly on speaking and interaction. The second showcased some ways we can creatively use speaking dialogue models that appear in our coursebooks.
In this third article, we will look at some of the ways in which speaking drills can be used and expanded based on content in coursebooks.
3. Expanding speaking drills
Many coursebooks feature drill-style practice activities using target language phrases from the initial model alongside new vocabulary or phrases that can be integrated into the patterns presented. Here is a typical example from my own Boost! Speaking coursebook series:
Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of speaking drills, but I have to acknowledge that:
1. They suit the style/expectations of many learning contexts
2. They can be useful ‘mouth openers’ to get the speaking juices flowing in classes that are shy or not used to spontaneous-style speaking activities
3. Publishers usually insist on having them for the reasons listed above!
The general aim with drill patterns (if they are going to be used) should be to facilitate spoken fluency and expand the potential content that can be accurately used within set ranges of key sentences. Even if your coursebook doesn’t feature speaking drills, you may want to make some of your own using the example given above. While audiolingual style activities like this are generally frowned on by the greater TEFL cliché (these days), the fact remains that many learning contexts find them motivating and helpful. If they are employed in coursebooks to stimulate memory of set (but highly adaptable and pragmatic) phrases, and form an extension from real contextualized speaking models, they can be useful and worthwhile additions to a teacher’s repertoire of different activities and teaching techniques.
However, drills by themselves can be rather dry and boring if they are applied in the same limited fashion every time. The following activity ideas can help to make speaking drills more dynamic and productive in your classroom.
3.1. Adaptive memory
Following basic application of one of the drills (students listen and repeat, then change the sentences using the suggested input options), ask the students to cover the initial model with their hands or a piece of paper. This will allow them to see the suggested changes but not the model sentence. Their challenge now is to say the sentence from memory, but applying the new content.
Following some application in this fashion, the same style of activity can be applied again, but this time the students need to include their own new content. Seeing the previous options will give them a hint as to what kind of word or information can be added, but they are still required to remember the initial sentence model and now it is up to them to add the missing content.
3.2. Classic audiolingual-style drills
Speaking drills can be applied in a way that is very similar to the classical audiolingual method. Note that audiolingual techniques are not (on their own) the most effective way to learn how to speak and communicate, but they can be a useful technique to use in moderation within a range of other speaking activities.
In this technique, students are asked to close their books. The teacher then reads one of the drill sentences, and students repeat. The teacher then states the word (colored in blue or green in my own example at the start of this post) he/she wants them to insert into the sentence. The students then reproduce the sentence with the new word inserted into the correct place, replacing the colored word that was originally there.
Teacher: There aren’t many parks around now.
Students: There aren’t many parks around now.
Students: There aren’t many hospitals around now.
Students: There aren’t many schools around now.
This can also work (though it is significantly more challenging) with what are called progressive and multiple substitution drills:
Teacher: A theme park will be popular with many people.
Students: A theme park will be popular with many people.
Teacher: sports center
Students: A sports center will be popular with many people.
Students: A sports center will be popular with children.
Teacher: library / students
Students: A library will be popular with students.
Most of the drills in my own coursebook materials are much more oriented around substituting content-based elements than the traditional audiolingual method drills are/were (focusing more on adapting and substituting grammatical elements). A more traditional/classical approach to the audiolingual method can still be facilitated, though the general position should be that we want the students to concentrate more on meaning and expression of meaningful content.
If - for variety - you would like to create drills with more grammar focus, here’s how a drill could be used:
Teacher: There aren’t many parks around now.
Students: There aren’t many parks around now.
Teacher: weren’t / last year
Students: There weren’t many parks around last year.
Teacher: won’t be / next month
Students: There won’t be many parks around next month.
This example shows how the drill now focuses more on specific grammar variations rather than adapting communicative content.
3.3. Roll around drills
This is a simple application of the drills that allows them to be “shared” around the classroom or a larger group of students, creating variety for each student but also helping to maintain class attention to the practice.
Basically, the teacher goes around the class, with each student reading out a sentence in the order they appear (including variation options). Once the example has been set, the students can also be divided up into groups of 4-8 students and then the roll around drill applied within each group.
As an example, the following drill set from Boost! Speaking 3 (Unit 5):
1. This is where the gladiators used to fight, isn’t it? live, stay
2. They didn't really fight with lions, did they? train in special schools
3. There were other colosseums too, weren’t there? temples, palaces
This drill set applied as a roll around drill in a group of 6 students would sound like this:
Student 1: This is where the gladiators used to fight, isn’t it?
Student 2: This is where the gladiators used to live, isn’t it?
Student 3: This is where the gladiators used to stay, isn’t it?
Student 4: They didn't really fight with lions, did they?
Student 5: They didn't really train in special schools, did they?
Student 6: There were other colosseums too, weren’t there?
Student 1: There were other temples too, weren’t there?
Student 2: There were other palaces too, weren’t there?
Student 3: This is where the gladiators used to fight, isn’t it?
Student 4: This is where the gladiators used to live, isn’t it?
Student 5: This is where the gladiators used to stay, isn’t it?
Student 6: They didn't really fight with lions, did they?
The roll around drill can be repeated until each student comes back to the exact sentence they first started with, or it can be continued for an indefinite amount of time! It is certainly a great way to get a large class active with the drills, with the rhythm contrasting with the variety of both sentence models and content elements it ensures.
Note that this activity can also be adapted to feature the “adaptive memory” elements described in 3.1 above.
3.4. Private Practice
It can sometimes be a positive experience for students to practice on their own without any outside stress from partners, groups or the class as a whole. The format of some drills allows students to practice the sentences and adaptations (provided and/or included by themselves) on an independent individual level. While it can make for a slightly noisy classroom if everyone is speaking to themselves at the same time, this is just the kind of environment some shyer students want in order to not “stand out” from other students. It also can give a teacher some time to move about the class and monitor or give assistance to students on a one-on-one basis.
3.5. Adapting the speaking model using adapted drill sentences
This application assumes your drill patterns come directly from a model speaking dialogue (for example, as shown in Part II of this Supplementary Speaking Activities series).
Ask students to get into pairs or small groups. Have them select (or create) an adapted version of each sentence presented in the speaking drill practice section.
Their job now is to go back to the original speaking dialogue model from which the initial speaking drills have been drawn. They need to find the initial drill sentence/phrase in the dialogue and then adapt it using the version they selected from the drill sentences (see above).
From there, students will need to think about what else needs to be changed in the dialogue or speech so that it now fits the new sentence variation they have inserted. They could be encouraged to write out the conversation or speech, including the sentence variation they have inserted, plus any other necessary changes to make the overall dialogue ‘work’ and make sense.
Students could then perform their new conversation model for the class, with the teacher giving feedback on how well they have managed to adapt the overall speaking model to fit well with the inserted sentence. This kind of activity is very effective for additional ‘noticing’, but also for encouraging more awareness of spoken discourse, topic development and cohesion.
3.6. Mini dialogue creation
Ask students to get into pairs or small groups. Have them select an adapted version of two different sentences presented in the speaking drill practice section.
Their job now is to create a new mini dialogue between two people that at some point features the adapted sentences mentioned above. It doesn’t need to be very long – something in the order of 2-4 exchanges between the two speakers should suffice. However, it needs to make sense and have a logical situational basis that can be understood by listeners to the conversation. They can then perform their little dialogue/skit for the rest of the class.
This activity is good for helping the students to get a deeper understanding of the sentence models in real conversational use, and gives them more active role in their own speaking practice.
3.7. Sentence Scramble
This activity requires a small amount of preparation by the teacher. Using the sentence drill models from the unit being studied, write the colored words and phrases (or the parts that are to be substituted or inserted into the sentence patterns) on individual cards.
After application of the drills based on the textbook, the teacher can write the sentence models out on the board with any variable words/phrases missing from the main sentences. The teacher then selects two students to come out and compete in a sentence scramble.
The prepared cards featuring the missing words/phrases are then distributed randomly to other students (not competing in this particular scramble). These students can look at the words on their cards, but they shouldn’t reveal them to the students competing in the sentence scramble.
When the teacher says “go” the two competing students have to survey the sentence models and then dash about the classroom finding a word/phrase that can fit one of the sentences. To do this, they’ll need to ask students which word/phrase they are holding. Once they have found one they believe will fit a sentence they can take it from the student, dash back to the board, place it over what they believe to be the appropriate gap and then state the sentence out loud. The first student to do this both accurately and with good spoken delivery is the winner for that round.
Two new students are selected to compete and the cards re-distributed amongst the other students (minus any cards that have already been found and correctly applied in previous rounds).
An activity like this gets students moving and potentially involves all or most of the class. It also adds an element of excitement to using the drill patterns.
Do you have other suggestions on ways to use speaking drills in the TEFL classroom? Perhaps you just have strong opinions about whether drills should be used at all in language teaching classrooms...! Either way, please go ahead and add a comment below.
All of the Supplementary Speaking Activities articles will be added to the Speaking Activities section of this blog, so if you'd like to see previous articles or want to know where to go to get the future ones, please check there first!