My B1 students weren’t in the mood today again; everything was boring, useless, the weather was weird, not warm nor cold and “who needs reported speech anyway?”. I admit feeling a bit worried at first, but I wouldn’t let it get me down. In such cases, I prefer to close the books and engage in conversation – no, it’s never a waste of time. In fact, some of my most interesting and productive lessons have been the “open speaking” ones.
So we put our books and notebooks and pens away, we turned off all those gadgets that can sometimes drive us mad and we sat on the carpet. That was on its own an uplifting experience, not to mention more comfortable. And we started talking.
It’s incredible how young students use language, native or other. You can see it there and then, how their brain functions, why they choose one word over the other to express themselves, what they find interesting, amusing or dull – things that sometimes as a teacher you don’t have the time to notice during a lesson and you have of course forgotten that you probably thought the same way once upon a time. Yes, they still make mistakes and yes, you still correct them. It’s not some sort of magic recipe – “Don’t use coursebooks and media – just talk”, not at all! But it’s good to stop and listen to what your students have to say from time to time. Keeping in mind that a teacher is not just someone who shows students how to read, write and speak, but a person who should inspire them, show them the way to learn what they want, someone who is sometimes their friend and sometimes their parent, shouldn’t we all take more into account what our students want to do?
I’ve had quite a few “open speaking” lessons so far and to be honest we’ve enjoyed them immensely as a class. It’s not that we do something extremely different; we always speak English, we review our vocabulary and grammar, we learn new functions, we do everything we’re supposed to do. But it’s different on how the students approach it. Some of them come prepared; the’ve already thought through which subjects they want to talk about, they’ve done their background search and come to class in exceptional mood. Others prefer to not prepare at all but are equally eager to participate in open conversation and exchange views with their classmates.The results are always amazing.
We try to have two open speaking sessions every month, arranging them for Fridays so we can review what we’ve worked on during the week – I’ve realised that making open speaking a regular part of my courses really helps students improve their skills and doesn’t affect our time schedule and the material we have to cover; it just takes good planning. Above all, it’s another fun way to learn and that’s what I’m looking for!