Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Developing Fluency in the Classroom

This was the title of the first presentation at the recent Cambridge Day in Ho Chi Minh City.  I went to the same day last year with a small group of colleagues and we all found it to be very beneficial.  So, this year I arranged for the majority of my teaching team to attend.  I have to say that, overall, the day wasn't as pertinent as last year's, but there was still enough information shared to make it worthwhile attending.

So, back to the first session of the day.  The speaker was David Bohike, a very experienced teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer currently based in Singapore.  What follows is a summary of his talk.

What is fluency?

Fluency is generally accepted to be the ability to speak with a good, but not necessarily perfect, command of intonation, vocabulary and grammar - to be able to produce spoken language with ease.

Factors affecting fluency

Cognitive factors

  • familiarity with the topic
  • familiarity with the genre (presentation, debate, discussion, etc.)
  • familiarity with the other speakers (to promote fluency, it is often a good idea to allow friends to sit together)
Affective factors
  • feelings towards the topic
  • feelings towards other participants
  • self-consciousness
Performance factors
  • planning time - we need to give students time to think before expecting them to speak.
  • discourse control - where possible, give students control over what they say and how they say it.
  • time pressure - be aware of this; some students perform well when given a time limit, others don't.
Developing fluency in class
  1. Automaticity of chunks - teaching and drilling chunks of language (sentence starters, functional phrases, idiomatic expressions, etc.), so that students can produce them automatically.
  2. Support the learner - by pre-teaching vocabulary, for example.
  3. Knowledge support - give background information about the topic.
  4. Strategy support - for example, teach students how to paraphrase if they don't know the word they need.
  5. Provide planning time - fluency and accuracy improve when students are given time to think.
  6. Repeat tasks - task repetition allows the learner to practice and improve - to have a second chance.
Avoid predictability
  1. 3 - 2- 1 - this is a great activity to improve fluency.  Give students a topic and ask them to speak about it for three minutes.  Repeat the exercise with the same topic, but this time asking the students to speak for two minutes.  Repeat for a third time, but reduce the speaking time to one minute.  By the time students speak for the third time, most of the errors and much of the hesitation will have been eliminated.  It's a great confidence-booster for students.
  2. Speak about new but similar topics.  For example, speak about classroom rules first and then about canteen rules.
  3. Gradually increase the task complexity.
  4. Introduce new audiences as students become more able.

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