Articles for Teachers
Some students will not talk in class because they are too shy or anxious. This is not only true for beginners, but also for some students who are fairly advanced in their listening, reading, and writing abilities. Perhaps they are anxious because they have not had many chances to speak or because teachers in the past have been critical of their English. Whatever the reason, when faced with quiet, anxious students, the problem for the conversation teacher is, how can we get these students to talk?
Before anything else, we need to gain their trust. The students need to know that we are on their side, that we do not expect them to speak perfect English, and that we realize it takes time and effort for them to learn to converse in English.
As teachers, we also need to provide opportunities for students to feel at ease in the classroom. One way to do this is through warm-up activities. In fact, the objective of using warm-up (or icebreaker) activities is to relax students, to help get them over their classroom apprehensions. There are, of course, a great number of possible ways to warm up students for a conversation class. One way is through the use of techniques drama teachers use to get anxious students to relax and to provide an inviting atmosphere. Here are a few examples.
A Breathing Warm-Up Exercise: The students and the teacher close their eyes, breathe slowly in through their nose for three seconds, hold that breath for nine seconds, then slowly release it through their mouths for six seconds. This is repeated several times.
Walking Warm-Up Exercise: The teacher and students clear away furniture from the center of the room. While standing, they form a circle. They then begin to walk in a circle in their usual way. After a turn or two around the circle, the teacher then class out commands, such as “Walk like you are chest high in water,” “Walk on clouds,” and “Walk like you are on hot sand.”
A Voice Warm-Up Exercise: While sitting or standing in a circle, the teacher begins by whispering a word or phrase, for example, “hello!” The next person says the word a little louder, but still in a whisper, the next a little louder, and so on, until the word comes back to the teacher, perhaps even as a shout. A variation is to slow down or speed up the way the word or phrase is said.
The use of dialogue practice, can also engage “quiet” students in speaking. As students are able to rely on context and print, they are sometime more willing to speak. As students become more and more comfortable with these pre-communication activities, we can coax them to participate in the fluency-type activities, such as problem solving, skits, and buzz groups. And, success builds success. From my experience, as students feel the success they have at negotiating meaning, the more risks they are willing to take in expressing their ideas in English.
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