Modern Foreign Languages Teaching

Improving Speaking Skills: MFL Classroom Activities

Picture to improve speaking skills
How can we make speaking more successful?

Developing pupils’ speaking skills

In another post, I discussed the need to develop confidence in our students. This helps them to have a go at speaking in a foreign language, a task that is daunting for many. So many pupils feel overshadowed by their more boisterous counterparts and as teachers we need to find ways of helping them work towards improving speaking skills.

Pupils develop at their own pace, so we should be mindful to build in differing levels of challenge. There needs to be adequate support as well as the necessary challenge for those gifted linguists in our midst.

One of my favourite activities

One of my favourite activities for speaking is the trapdoor game. I have continued to enjoy using it with classes at all levels since I was a trainee. I think it is something that has continued to stay in my repertoire, given its versatility as a classroom tool.

Firstly, I construct a number of sentences, usually 3 – 5, with a range of options for certain parts. Then the pupils have to try and guess what answer I have selected. When a correct statement is completed, they can proceed on to the next box, and so on. It makes a class listen, as they usually want to win the prize at the end! This certainly engages the more boisterous and channels their energy into something productive!

The next step is usually for the pupils to practice this in pairs. They see and repeat the language and can do so without a whole-class audience. Then I circulate around the classroom to see how the pupils are doing and to correct pronunciation if needed.

Taking this a step further, I then use the speaking frame as a means of helping students with their written work. Again, it builds on the idea of repeating structures and vocabulary in as many different guises as possible. The eventual hope is that pupils take ownership of the language and can re-use it on a more independent basis.

Recall and retain language

I started thinking about how I can encourage pupils to use language more spontaneously. The phrases that they have come across before when they are speaking, as well as writing. This sometimes presents a challenge and something that many pupils find a bit difficult. So, I have been getting my thinking cap on a little bit with this.

I have seen many twitter posts and read some blog articles about retrieval practice. There are some great examples that exist. So, I have borrowed the idea from @MissMeyMFL, where I have looked to revisit structures and vocabulary from previous weeks, months and years. Year 10 were very open to this and great at having a go. It has been paying off when speaking with our French assistante. Year 7 and 8 are taking a little more time to come around, but I think they are slowly getting there!

More than one skill

The retrieval practice grid is not just for speaking. However, it has been effective at improving speaking skills with my pupils, insofar as their confidence and use of language has been improving. Speaking has often fallen foul to gamification in MFL with very little focus on the long-term skills development.

That’s not to say that I am fun averse, but I think the fun comes from a sense of achievement with something that can be seen as difficult. Besides, many MFL speaking activities are fun and provide pupils with the opportunities to develop and improve their speaking skills. I will come back to retrieval practice and gamification at a later stage.

Many thanks for reading and resources are below:

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