6 Tips for Getting your ESL Students Speaking

There are few things more draining to ESL teachers than always feeling like you are pulling teeth to get students speaking.  And for your students, speaking up in any class can be intimidating enough – when it’s in a completely new language and they are afraid of mispronunciation or grammar mistakes, it’s an even trickier situation. 

Georgia-0416Luckily, there are some easy things you can do to help your students feel more comfortable using their English in class.

Play Games

When students are having fun, are engaged, and are using English in a low-stress situation, the words flow much more freely. You want to give them opportunities to use the language naturally and in context, not simply as part of a classroom drill.

ESL games that use a simple grammar pattern frequently are great – for example, Go Fish basically drills a very common grammar pattern  (“Do you have any (x)” “No, I don’t have any (x)”) – but in a way that is fun, stress-free, and doesn’t feel at all intimidating.

Work in Small Groups

Speaking in front of a whole class is pretty intimidating.  Most students feel much more comfortable practicing their English with a partner, or in a small group of three or four peers.

This also takes away a lot of the pressure of speaking with a native English speaker, which, for some students, can increase the fear of mispronunciation or bad grammar.

Make sure you pay attention to group dynamics and moderate groups so that each student has a chance to speak.

Know Your Students

Every quiet student will have a slightly different reason for not speaking out.  Some are afraid of making a mistake, some are just painfully shy, some are just lacking confidence.

The more you get to know your students as individuals, the more you can understand what it is that keeps them from speaking out.  This means that you can then understand what it is that will inspire them or give them the courage to talk more during class.

Avoid Overcorrecting

If you make it a habit to correct your students’ grammar and pronunciation frequently, you might think that you are doing them a favor by making each sentence that they speak perfect.

What you are actually doing is inhibiting fluency. Many students are afraid of making mistakes. Click To Tweet Knowing that the teacher is likely going to find something “wrong” with their answer is enough to keep most students from raising their hand.

Learning a new language will be fraught with mistakes, bad grammar, and mispronunciations. A big part of communicating in a foreign language is simply doing the best we can with the grammar and vocabulary that we have.

Rather than focusing too much on the nuts and bolts of their grammar and pronunciation, focus on whether your students are effectively using English to communicate their point.

Engage their Interest

People light up when they have a chance to talk about something that interests them, and this can be a great way to get your students willing to speak up – and maybe even enthusiastic about it.

Try to incorporate examples of things that are relevant and interesting to them into your lessons – for example, as a way to introduce past tense, talk about the plot of a recent popular movie; or as a way to introduce descriptive verbs, let them talk about their favorite celebrities and sports stars.

The more familiar and engaged the students are with the subject matter, the more comfortable they will feel using English to talk about it.

Don’t Pressure Them

The worst thing for a quiet, shy or insecure student is to be singled out.  If you pressure them to give an answer, the attention of the whole class will turn to them and will likely make them less comfortable speaking up.

If you are doing an activity that requires everyone to speak, be patient with the quiet students, but don’t pause for too long to coax them into speaking louder or speaking a complete sentence if they are obviously struggling.

Instead, focus on ways that you can engage the student and make them feel comfortable speaking up on their own – whether that means pairing them up with a friend to practice conversations, or spending some one on one time with them while the class is doing a worksheet or activity.

The most important thing to remember when you are trying to get your students speaking more is that it can be incredibly difficult and intimidating thing for them.

The more you create an environment where they feel safe to make mistakes, engaged in the material, and are having fun using English, the more your students will open up and start speaking during class.

Do you have anything you would like to add? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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