When creating a speaking activity, the objective should be based on a a proficiency target or, more concretely, on what the students are trying to accomplish or communicate with the language. The ACTFL Can Do Statements are a valuable resource for crafting speaking prompts based on proficiency levels and goals, rather than grammar points and vocabulary themes.
In addition to working towards speaking proficiency, it’s important to teach students that there are different ways to communicate and that their speaking should reflect this goal as well. In everyday speaking, we communicate for different purposes and all these different ways of speaking should be explicitly explained to students so that they are aware of the manner of speaking in which they should engage. The following concepts (based on the work of Brown and Yule, 1983 and Jones and Burnes, 1998) will help in this area.
The fist type of speaking involves interaction or conversation of some sort. In developing these types of speaking activities, the teacher should make sure that students are aware of the identity of the speakers (adult, child, family, unknown, etc), as this will lead to a decision about formal or informal language use.
In contrast to an interactive conversation, where the goal is to respond and interact in some manner, transaction involves giving and receiving information that is only possessed by or needed by the other person. AN example of this conversation may be asking about food in a restaurant. The person working on the restaurant is not creating information to share, but rather knows the answers (i.e. the menu and prices) and he/she is providing this information when asked.
One additional type of speaking involves performance or some sort of “public talk.” This will tend to more of a monologue rather than a dialogue. These activities may include giving a class report, or a speech of some kind. This will involve choosing a speaking format, language register, and appropriate vocabulary.
Teachers are teaching more toward proficiency, but we need to remember that language is social by nature and these social interactions lead to particular language choices. For this reason, it’s important to create speaking opportunities for students in which they have a chance to practice their language skills in a social context. This also allows for opportunities to engage students in discussions of culture.
Brown, Gillian and George Yule 1983. Teaching the Spoken Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Burns, Anne 1998. Teaching Speaking. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 18, 102-123.
Jones, Pauline 1996. Planning an Oral Language Program. In Pauline Jones (ed.) Talking to Learn. Melbourne: PETA 1996 12-26