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“Empowering voices: strategies for encouraging pupils to speak”

This blog post was written by Jennifer Wozniak-Rush.



 

About the author of the post:



Jennifer Wozniak-Rush is an Assistant Headteacher for Teaching and Learning, Expert Leader in Education (ELE) and Specialist Leader of Education (SLE) in Teaching & Learning (T&L) and Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) at The Hollins in Lancashire has a wide experience of teaching French from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4 (age 4 - 16). She also teaches Key Stage 3 (age 11-14) Spanish. Jennifer has a real passion for teaching languages and loves sharing ideas with others.


 

Introduction


None of us will disagree with the fact that a language is meant to be spoken! There is no greater joy in my teaching than hearing pupils speak spontaneously, but how can we encourage confidence? How do we encourage pupils to speak in the target language? To me, the work starts from day one in Year 7 and by creating a safe, supportive environment where pupils know they will never be judged when speaking in the target language.

 

Who speaks the most target language in your lessons: you or your students?


Speaking skills can only be enhanced if students are given adequate opportunities to speak since, “Watching expert acrobats does not lead to the audience performing somersaults, even if they might be able to recognise one” (Barnes in Teaching Modern Foreign Languages in the Secondary School, Pachler and Redondo, 2007).


Starting from day one, it is crucial that pupils learn to produce new sounds as accurately as possible, so developing speaking goes hand in hand with listening. Begin each lesson with a brief, low-pressure speaking activity. As pupils become accustomed to this ritual, they’ll feel more comfortable with the expectation of speaking every day, even if it’s short and low risk.

 

From my experience, it’s important to create as many opportunities as possible for pupils to speak in each MFL lesson, so teach pupils the classroom language at the beginning of Year 7 so that they can tell you they have forgotten their book or that they would like to go to the toilet. Start by using phrases such as ‘Can I have’ as well as high frequency core language that you can use with the class when doing the register and throughout the lesson. Plan opportunities for pupils to not only speak to you but alongside their peers, by using a range of pair work activities and/or some Kagan strategies such as ‘quiz, quiz, trade’, ‘talking chips’, ‘think pair share’ etc. so that pupils can practise saying the language you are teaching them as well as some interaction language, which will develop their spontaneity over time.

As teachers, we can easily monitor what pupils are saying, how the language is being used and how pupils are developing their spoken language skills collaboratively, providing appropriate support when needed and correcting misconceptions as they arise.


If we provide as many opportunities as possible for our pupils to speak at KS3, then it becomes so much easier at KS4, and pupils will already be more confident. Teach pupils chunks of vocab that they can reuse in all contexts. Think about situations which crop up naturally and regularly, just by virtue of being in a lesson in a classroom, which can be exploited in the target language for linguistic purposes (e.g. some pupils arriving late to lessons, pupils being absent, a teacher coming to your room whilst teaching, asking pupils to comment on their partners after a pair work or group work activity, etc.) If you exploit those moments and guide pupils to reuse vocabulary and structures from other contexts by showing them that they can extend them, adapt them, it will help them to be able to say what they want to say, over time. Encouraging pupils to ask for language that they want to know is important, but make sure that you reuse them lesson after lesson to help them stick.


I strongly advise looking at James Stubbs’ blog on his use of target language (https://jamesstubbs.wordpress.com) James Stubbs' blogs about using routines and the target language in the MFL classroom focus on practical strategies to enhance language learning by fostering an immersive and engaging environment. He emphasises the importance of establishing consistent classroom routines conducted in the target language, as these routines help students acclimate to hearing and using the language regularly. This approach not only aids in normalising the use of the target language for everyday interactions but also reduces the reliance on the students' first language, thus promoting better language acquisition and fluency.

James suggests that routines can include simple activities like taking the register, discussing the date and weather, or managing classroom transitions, all performed in the target language. He advocates for the use of visual aids, cues, and repetitive structures to support understanding as pupils become more familiar with this approach. By integrating the target language into these daily routines, teachers can create a predictable and supportive environment that encourages pupils to speak and understand the foreign language more naturally and confidently.


The physical classroom environment should reflect and promote the use of the target language. This can be achieved through displays of foreign language posters, labels, and instructions, which continuously expose pupils to the language in a meaningful context. As highlighted in Interact, equipping pupils with functional language toolkits that include phrases for common classroom interactions (e.g., asking for help, requesting a repetition) encourages them to use the target language spontaneously and appropriately. This practice builds their confidence and fluency over time.

 The consistent use of the target language through well-established routines not only enhances language learning but also helps in building a culturally immersive classroom where pupils can practice the language meaningfully and effectively.

 

To illustrate here is an example of routines that I use. When I have introduced new vocabulary and done some repetition with the class, I always make pupils practise the vocabulary by doing a pair work activity. After the pair work activity, I will ask the class how their partner was. Pupils will then tell me if their partner was excellent, good, ok, bad etc…


When pupils are confident with that, we had simple reasons.


 

Then, we build on the vocabulary and start hiding some of the parts.


 

When pupils are confident, we add some more, and we keep building and building. It’s a great opportunity to also reuse some vocabulary or grammatical structures introduced within a topic that can easily be reused with the interaction language. In addition, it’s another way of always practising phonics.


 

At KS4, we also use structures such as ‘I get on well’, ‘I argue with’ within the interaction language as it was introduced within the topic but by reusing it over and over with the routines, it becomes second nature to my pupils.


 


By Y11, I only use this slide below and pupils can use a range of sentences, complex structures, give reasons with no more support.

 

 

That was just one example of routines that can be used but there are a lot more than we use in my school. Because the interaction language is important, this is something that we have also include in our Schemes of Work.

 Looking at the topics covered at KS3 is also key.


Do you teach topics that interest your pupils? Will that make them want to speak?


Give pupils something they want to talk about, something to make them tick.

We know that the principles of effective speaking practice are modelling through listening, developing speed and accuracy of production through extensive practice, and moving from structured practice to spontaneity. For pupils to speak spontaneously, we need a lot of structured practice first, using target language as explained previously but also by using speaking activities regularly with the different topics we teach.


Group Talk


For example, Group Talk progression chart by Greg Horton is an example of how speaking might develop. The aim is for pupils to be able to use the language over-time.


Stage 1: Introducing and responding to simple opinions.

Stage 2: Taking part in a short discussion.

Stage 3: Exchanging reasons and preferences / talking across time frames.

Stage 4: Developing a line of thought / sharing points of view / balancing an argument.

 

You could also have two images of a mobile phone. Whilst you play some music, the mobile phones go around the class, when the music stops, the two pupils with the mobile phone speak to each other in the target language. In Y7, it starts with “Bonjour, comment ça va?” but then over time you can add a list of core questions you wish your class to answer as they know more vocabulary, grammar and key structures and increasing the time they are speaking for. It’s all about practice! You can use recordable speech bubbles to encourage less confident speakers. Pupils can write an answer onto the speech bubble with a marker pen and record it afterwards.

For homework, you can ask pupils to use snapchat to record themselves answering questions as a dog or a broccoli, or use technology such as flipgrid, padlet, vocaroo to record an answer to a question, and you can then give them personalised feedback on pronunciation and vocabulary/grammar used. You could also ask them to create videos describing themselves, their town, or their school that you could send to partner schools abroad so that pupils think that there is a real purpose.

 

Other ideas for speaking activities:


*Describing a photo using real photos from your holidays, family or even using famous paintings.

*Using role plays, speed dating or using puppets.

*Pupils could act using a script.

*Pupils can also pretend to interview celebrities such as actors, footballers from French speaking countries for example.

*‘Find someone who’, pupils go around the room asking each other questions to find the people who meet the characteristics. To increase challenge, at the end, ask pupils to describe who the pupils are, using the third person.

*Have four photos on the board and pupils need to decide which one is the odd one out and give a reason for it in the target language.

*Pupils work in pairs with a stimulus and a time limit to come up with as many statements/utterances using one or more of the picture or verbal prompts given.

*Keep talking activity from Rachel Hawkes is very useful at KS4 (see picture). Pupils click on ? to roll the dice. A player from each group then has to talk for 1 minute on that theme, the others listen and make notes in English of what has been said. In this way, all engaged simultaneously.



*Catch the spy from Vincent Everett: pupils have to interview the others in the class by asking them a range of questions to try to find out who the impostor is. 

 

Encouraging pupils to speak in another language is key but let’s not forget that we need to build pupils’ confidence so creating an environment where pupils feel safe and not judged as well as rewarding pupils when they speak are very important.


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