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5 Ways to get your EFL/ESL Students to Speak More in Class

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Language teachers often lament about how difficult it is to get their students to speak in class.  Their complaints can range from students relying on their native language all the way to individual students being silent when called upon, or even having a class that is completely quiet unless they have to answer a question.  In this article, we’ll look at 5 ways to get your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class.  Since part of learning a language is learning how to speak, oral communication must be used and practiced often if your students can hope to develop into well-rounded language users. Continue reading below for 5 ways to get your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class.

Get to know your students, ask what keeps them so quiet

The first of the 5 ways to get your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class is getting to know them.  If your students are reticent to talk in class, the first approach you can take is to get to know them.  At the start, you are a stranger to them and, in the best case scenario, only a teacher. Neither of these leaves the door open for them to feel comfortable enough around you to talk and possibly make mistakes.  Likewise, with the exception of a handful, the students in the class may not all be friends. This puts even more pressure on them, makes them more nervous, and decreases the likelihood of them speaking freely in the class.  Getting to know your students and allowing them to know one another can build the rapport between everyone in the classroom and the more comfortable the teacher and students are with each other, the easier it will be for students to express themselves openly.  

After you’ve built rapport with your students (and they have done the same with each other), you can also take the next step and ask them why they’re so quiet in the classroom.  Are they shy? Have they had bad experiences with teachers in the past? Are they lacking in self-confidence in their language skills? Whatever the problems are, once you understand it clearly, you’ll know how to tackle it effectively and hopefully, you (and your students) will be able to overcome that hurdle and speaking in the classroom will become a normal part of the experience.  

Encourage making mistakes

Encouraging your students to make mistakes is the second way to get your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class.  Before these learners came to your classroom, they might have been the students of someone else.  In their previous classroom environment, they may have dealt with teachers who constantly criticized them, made them feel incapable of being successful, and essentially placed them in a box that limited how far the student was willing to allow themselves to go.  As a teacher who wants his or her students to speak more, you’ll have to undo the damage that was done before. Encourage your students to make mistakes. Let them know that making mistakes is part of the learning process and that by making mistakes, it means that they are trying something new.  Furthermore, tell your students that it’s okay if they forget sometimes. Words, tenses, anything. In general, when it comes to learning, we have to be exposed to a thing multiple times in different settings before it finally sticks, so if they forget something, let them know that it’s natural. Encourage them to make mistakes and encourage them to try.  

Make speaking a regular part of your class.  Stress it!

If you want your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class, you absolutely have to make speaking a part of your class.  For a period of time, you’ll present an idea or lecture some point. You might then ask your students to do a written task.  Maybe afterwards you’ll have them either answer questions orally or give you the answers that they have for their tasks. However, you have to also include a period of time where your students are engaged in continuous oral communication.  Ideally, speaking should be included everyday to the point where it is normal in the eyes of the students and they’ll know that it’s an expected component in the class.  

Regular short reports with Q&A

Another way to increase the speaking in the classroom is to have students regularly give reports.  You can choose different students for particular days and rotate through the week or month until all students have had a chance to do this.  How can these reports be done? Perhaps you’ll have your students focus on current affairs. The night or a few nights before, the student who has to give the report will read a news article (or watch a broadcast) and take notes on the information that was presented.  The student will give a report to the class on their assigned day and a Q&A session can follow afterwards. However, it doesn’t have to always be something related to the news. For example, your student can watch their favorite TV show and report on what happened in that episode and what they think will happen with the characters in the coming episode.  Allow flexibility. The focus of this is to have the students speak in the language that they’re learning and the more they enjoy the topic, the more involved they’ll become.  

Anonymous topic box

Your students may be very creative, innovative, and ready to try new things or talk about exciting topics.  You’ll want to give them a chance to voice their opinions and to feel as if they have a role in structuring the class.  Having an anonymous topic box is a good way to do that. On the last class of the week, you can have your students write down topics or speaking activities that they’d like to try in the upcoming week.  They can put these topics in a box (anonymously of course) and after class, you (the teacher) can choose two or three topics or activities to do in the coming week. This is especially good for those students who may be quite shy or afraid of criticism, but who have great ideas, are creative, and would like to speak more in class.  

These are only 5 ways to get your EFL/ESL students to speak in class.  Of course there are many more available and the more you try, the more you’ll find.  Hopefully, at least one of these tips will be useful to you (although it would be much better if all 5 are).  If you’d like more ideas on speaking activities that you can do in class, then enroll in my free Udemy course “5 Speaking Activities you can do in your ESL/EFL Classroom.

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