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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Nov 15th, 2006, 06:47 am
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Default How to get middle school students talking.

Okay, I have a problem with my last class. They seem to enjoy English and I've taught them for about a year now. They have good knowledge of English and seem to study during their freetime. However, their conversational skills are lacking. The main problem I have is getting the students to answer in sentences rather than one word answers (Q. What is it? A. Living Room) or question words (Student - "this what????").

How on earth can I get the students to start talking in class rather than sitting down in class looking at their desks when I throw up a conversational topic in the air for students? Ohh by the way, there are four students at the moment and they are all female.

If anyone has any ideas for this class, please suggest as I am all ears. This truly is the hardest class for me due to me getting them to answer in full sentences and me trying to manage the silent lemon treatment from students to start a conversation.
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Unread Nov 15th, 2006, 03:38 pm
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Default Re: How to get middle school students talking.

I would start with very structured activities, which need only simple English, which are preceded by a clear model (this is verry important), and which in some cases they can prepare in advance, but which on no account mean giving a limited answer to one question from you.
For example, a questionnaire : When you were small, what was your favourite toy? ....Did you spend much time with your grandparents? ... Were you frightened of anything? etc. In the first lesson give them the questions and some model answers eg Yes, I was frightened of the dark which all have a Yes/No + comment structure. They have to match the questions and answers. For homework they then have to prepare their own answers and in the next class, ask each other and answer the questions . Other questionnaires, depending on the structures they've covered include : present simple - What do you usually have for breakfast? What do you do after school? etc; present perfect - Have you ever eaten curry? Have you ever seen a lion? etc; and would like - Would you like to visit the States? Would you like to go into space? Would you like to be a doctor? Would you like to learn another language? etc. You can create a questionnaire for any structure they know.

Once they're doing these simple question/answer type activities happily, move on to more extended speaking activities, but always focused on something concrete and, at first, preparable. In another post someone suggested Show and Tell. This would also be ideal as you can encourage them to keep the object very simple, but they can prepare before the lesson. Again, give a couple of examples yourself in the first lesson so they understand what you want and that it only has to be very simple. In all of these prepared activities, don't let them read out a prepared script, but for the first few times at least, don't worry if they appear to have memorised what they say. The important thing at this stage is that they are speaking in sentences and gaining confidence.

Once that confidence has been gained, but only then, move on to activities where they have to speak spontaneously - but still with something very concrete to talk about. Kim's Game, where you place a number of objects on the table, then cover them with a cloth and ask the students to remember what was there is one possiblity, or the very similar Picture Memory Game.

These are only a few examples of the games and activity types you could use. You'll find lots more on this site and other sites which link to it. The principles to keep in mind are : keep it really simple at the beginning and increase the difficulty step by step; always provide the students with a model of what you want; and give preparation time wherever possible.
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Unread Nov 15th, 2006, 07:03 pm
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Default Re: How to get middle school students talking.

The way you described it, you are asking them questions and expecting long answers, which may not seem appropriate to them in that situation. I would suggest giving more peer-to-peer work, such as conversation worksheets, and leaving them to it. With a small group of four, you could even leave the room altogether if they promise to complete the task in English.

The other suggestion is just to sit down with them and explain in detail why it's important for them to speak in complete sentences. Maybe you could talk about turn-taking in speech and communication skills, show some video clips.

some conversation worksheets
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Unread Nov 16th, 2006, 07:47 am
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Default Re: How to get middle school students talking.

Funny thing happened yesterday. I had this new class of middle school students, about 8 students from all grades and of course they were super shy. I started to ask some basic questions and there was mistakes everywhere so I decided that we would have a writing exercise - My Life Story.

I wrote up the sentences on the board and they copied it. I left blanks for their name and we had covered name, age, family, school, grade, and now moving onto favourite food. Of course naturally I asked the class what is your favourite food? A few seconds of silence pursued but it was finally broken when one kid said, in a hushed voice, spaghetti. I said very good and wrote it on the board. Any more I asked the class. No answer. So everybody's favourite food is spaghetti? Everybody laughed and the same continued for jobs (they all want to be a dentist ), their father is an office worker and mother is a house wife and they all hate bugs! Haha it will just take some time for them to open up to me.
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Unread Nov 24th, 2006, 07:46 pm
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Default Re: How to get middle school students talking.

That class is getting harder and harder to teach. The students only say hi and that's all. I asked a student what's his name and he said "no." They just seem to be sitting there, waiting for the time to go. It's very hard to have motivation when the students give no responses. I think I will have to change my plan and just do listen and repeat after me stuff just so there is some response from them. I don't like doing it but I can't see any other options
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Unread Nov 24th, 2006, 09:31 pm
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Default Re: How to get middle school students talking.

It's a lot easier for them to talk abouyt someone else. I generally get them to tell me about something someone else did or about a friend.

In general, Japanese culture dictates that you should answer questions with just the info and nothing more. Also, children are taught not to say anything during class. Those kinds of things are working against you (I assume that Korea is similar.)

BUT, try talking about someone or somethin they're interested in. They may be a little less insecure about the information, as it's not them.
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Unread Nov 24th, 2006, 10:07 pm
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Default Re: How to get middle school students talking.

Or LiK you ask "Who are you?" and they answer "Fine thank you, and you?". I have ammended the study plan and have given the students the planned study schedule for December to give them a chance to prepare and study at home.

I have also concentrated on listening material as well from the BBC Learning English website (www.bbclearningenglish.com) and download some material for listening, such as London Life, and get them to do some comprehension and speaking afterwards.

I have had to slow down quite a bit though.
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Unread Nov 29th, 2006, 01:59 pm
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Default Re: How to get middle school students talking.

1. When students try to give one word answers, probe them for more information. For example: T: What is this? S: Living room. T: living room, what? Where?
At first, the student will probably point or give another one-word answer. If they point...pretend not to understand until they answer the question in words. If they insist on giving one word answers, say the full sentence and make them repeat after you and say it again on their own in response to the question. It is very time consuming, but they will get the idea.

2. Regarding student questions in the classroom. I have made slips of paper with questions commonly used in the classroom. (The students have already learned the question words and the structure of most of the questions). I am going to pass them out at the beginning of class. The person who has a question must try to use it at some point during the class. Also, along with giving them the questions to ask, I am keeping track of how many times questions words are used (of course in English) in class. If they use each question word a specific number of times, they will get a prize.

I hope that all makes sense and hope that some of it helps.
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