Independent Work of Pupils in Teaching Speaking

Научная статья

Педагогика и дидактика

Today English is the language of globalization, international communication, commerce and trade, the media and pop culture, and this affects motivations for learning it. With the development of science and technology...



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Independent Work of Pupils

in Teaching Speaking

(from teaching experience of Oksana Matkovska,

a teacher of Ternopil secondary school #21)


1. Introduction

2. Teaching speaking.

3. Kinds of independent work.

4. Project work with teenagers.

5. Multimedia presentations.

6. Informational Technologies

7. Conclusion.

“Children have to be educated, but they

have also to be left to educate themselves.”

~Abbé Dimnet, Art of Thinking

Today English is the language of globalization, international communication, commerce and trade, the media and pop culture, and this affects motivations for learning it. With the development of science and technology, knowledge is being replaced faster and faster. The pupils nowadays must be cultivated into lifelong learners to adjust themselves to the times of knowledge explosion. Therefore, individual learning is becoming more and more important in learning, especially for the students at college or university.

Speaking has always been a major focus of language teaching; however both the nature of speaking skills as well as approaches to teaching them have undergone a major shift in thinking in recent years. Speaking some years before usually meant "repeating after the teacher, reciting a memorized dialogue, or responding to a mechanical drill", reflecting the sentence-based view of proficiency prevailing in the methodologies of Audiolingualism and Situational Language Teaching. The emergence of the constructs of communicative competence and proficiency led to major shifts in conceptions of syllabuses and methodology, the effects of which continue to be seen today.

The main purpose of a teacher is not to teach, but to teach how to study, and to prepare the student to further education.

Effective teaching combines a number of techniques so that the experience of the student is varied and the different learning styles of students can be catered for. Individual work is necessary to hone the skills of the pupil and ensure that they address weaknesses, learn facts and rules for later use and prepare for exams.

For many pupils, individual work is getting through an exercise without making too many mistakes. Some talented individuals will absorb the ideas and others will flounder. We as teachers need to support individual work effectively both in the classroom and when the student is completing homework. Independent learning helps pupils be responsible for their own learning climate, develop their self-consciousness, vision, practicality and freedom of discussion. These attributes serve to aid the pupil in his/her independent learning.

Nowadays, a large number of people learn English in Ukraine. English has become one of the most important subjects that the students must take at school. I’m now teaching in a middle and high school. My students take 2 or 3 English lessons per week. I observed my students seldom spoke English out of class. They had their lessons passively, not actively. When they were asked questions, they seldom raised hands and just kept silent even if they knew the answers. Though my students have learned English since they were year 2 pupils in the primary school, they cannot speak English fluently. When they were asked to write a short passage of at least 70 words, they made a lot of grammar or spelling mistakes. Sometimes they made the same mistakes again and again. So it’s quite difficult for students to learn English well and it’s also quite difficult for us teachers to teach English.

Confucius believed that it was important for students to learn of their own initiatives as learning should be a process of independent exploring and understanding but in reality greater importance has been attached to the teacher’s role as the only source of knowledge, the instructor, the authority and the judge. Students in Ukraine are generally very teacher-dependent and lack the initiative to implement learning on their own. To many of them the classroom is the only place where they learn English.

Independent learning is relatively new concept to EFL teachers in Ukraine. What should we English teachers do to help our students to cultivate autonomous learning both in and after school? How can we (teachers) help children to make full use of the information from the Internet? I think it’s a serious and important problem for English teachers.

In order to know the students’ attitude toward learner autonomy, a survey was made through a questionnaire among my students. The results are satisfactory enough because learner autonomy is attractive to learners. The majority chose partial autonomy. First of all, as teachers, we should first cultivate learners’ self- confidence. A person without confidence cannot succeed. So I always encourage my students to ask me, or each other questions.

With the development of science and technology, the introduction of computer assisted learning, which provides not only the words but also the sounds, the pictures and the supplementary materials from different resources, makes autonomous learning by the pupils possible. But the pupils at present have been used to the teacher-centered teaching model, and may not make them accept the pupil-centered teaching model totally without any trouble because sometimes they are so at loss that they don’t know what to learn. So after one year’s experiments and observation in regular classes, I think it necessary to establish a semi-autonomous learning in classroom teaching.

As a result of the change in teacher’s role, the pupils’ role in classroom teaching has changed, too. First, the pupils should be active learners rather than passive receivers. They must know what to do and where to go under the guidance of the teacher. They must be industrious enough to consult the reference books or surf on the internet so as to gain some knowledge on their own. Second, the pupils should be active participants or performers in class. In tradition, the teachers play the absolute lead in the classroom teaching, and they are the only protagonists. But it isn’t the case now. It’s time for the students to show themselves and to give a full play to their abilities. They should pluck up their courage to speak out their own opinions or to make a heated discussion with others.

It is important for teachers and students to recognise the diversity of ability and learning styles within any classroom. Some students may be competitive and be motivated by recognition for achievements, others may prefer to think quietly and work alone, while others may be non-participants. Within any classroom, there will be pupils who work best in the morning, others in the afternoon; some who are impulsive, others who are reflective; some who like groups, others who enjoy working independently.

During my teaching I don’t always tell the class what they mean, and have the students try to work out the meaning of the new words for themselves, using context clues. Whenever possible, I ask pupils to find answers themselves, in groups and pairs as well as individually. Then I ask them for their conclusions.

There are lots of different types of activities to promote collaborative work, e.g., some types of pair work based on the development of complementary roles. Particularly interesting is the use of project work, where pupils have to develop both individual and group work to achieve a final task. Project work is becoming an increasingly popular feature within the ELT classroom. Common projects are class magazines, group wall displays about different countries or cultures and designs for cities of the future. A project involves pupils in deciding together what they want to do to complete a project whilst the teacher plays a more supporting role.

I let students catch and correct each other’s errors; I do not always give them the correct form, encourage pupils to make lists of their common errors and work on them on their own.

Pupils do not only practice writing, but also reading (which is recorded, and then they can practice it at home), speaking (while presenting media projects) and listening (their classmates presentations after pupils are supposed to answer comprehension questions).

Finally, pupils are growing accustomed to using English on computers - which is a skill they will certainly use in real life, having in mind that the default language for most programmes is English, as well as most of the pages on the Internet. Apart from that, children learn to make presentations, which is also a skill they will need in future. The biggest benefit of all is that pupils personalize the content of the syllabus. While creating the presentation children use the language they are taught not only to practice the language but to present themselves and express their ideas and feelings. Thus the process of learning English is made more personal and more interesting.

Since creating a multimedia presentation is something new and interesting for the pupils, they are motivated to participate in the creation of the presentation. It is important to note that children do not see the presentation as the way to practice English; they see the learning of English as a necessary step (or a tool) in order to make the presentation. Thus, the motivation to make their personal presentation (i.e. the presentation of their class) is transferred to the learning of English.

One of the most important points, which should not be overlooked, is that pupils should always have a copy of the presentation at home. That reinforces their feeling of personal achievement, but they also practice English at home, at their own pace and time. After showing the presentation a few times to their parents and friends, they will have mastered the structures and vocabulary better than if they were supposed to write those structures and words for their homework (and they will not feel that they were obliged to do it). The fact that this presentation has a personal value for them will motivate them to use it (thus practicing English) even if they were not asked by the teacher to do it.

It is often difficult to involve pupils who are beginners (especially if they are young children) in a project such as creating a school magazine in English because they do not have enough knowledge. A paper presentation, on the other hand, can look quite appealing even with only a few words (such as "My name is ***. I like to sing”or “This is my favourite actor ***" etc.)

The fact that the students themselves have created something gives them a great feeling of personal achievement. Since the presentation can easily be burned on a CD and taken home, students have something to show to their family and friends and to be proud of the fact that they are the authors. The fact that the new content is added once or twice a month reinforces that feeling of success in students.

It should be understood at the very beginning that pupils should be the authors of the presentation. That implies that the teacher must allow them to make free choices concerning the design of the presentation and its contents. The role of the teacher should be the one of organizer - he / she should be the one who instructs the children what to do and then intervenes only if necessary. However, the teacher must have a clear idea what the final outcome will look like and what purpose it will serve to.

The choice of the material can be rather difficult. Some teachers believe that pupils (especially young children) are not capable of selecting what to add to the presentation and therefore they take the role of the controller and order pupils what to add. On the other hand, some teachers believe that, since this is pupils' presentation, those students are the only ones who are allowed to make any choice and thus they allow students to make any kind of presentation they want without any interference. I believe that the best choice is to be between those extremes. On one hand, if the teacher makes all the choices, pupils will lose their interest (this will become the teacher's presentation of the class, not their own) and they will not have the feeling of personal achievement. On the other hand, if the teacher permits them to do whatever they want, it is almost certain (despite the qualities that such a presentation has) that they will not practice English the same way they would if the teacher was involved (they would probably drift from the subjects and structures the teacher would want them to practice). In both cases the teacher's goal is not achieved: to motivate the children and to help them learn English effectively. Thus, the teacher should make the outline of the presentation, always having the learning of English in mind, and let the children choose the rest and he / she should be there to monitor the process and to return it to the tracks if students start drifting away.

Examples of project work

  •  A project based on readers

First I chose 4 different readers that had also been made into films – Romeo and Juliet, Notre Dame de Paris, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Each group were given copies of their reader. The learners were then given free reign to do whatever they liked as long as it was somehow connected to the reader. Examples of the work produced were:

  •  Summaries of the story.
    •  Crosswords / word searches of vocabulary from the story.
      •  Reviews of the book.
      •  Information found about the history of Dracula etc.
      •  Filmed scene from the book.
      •  Presentation of a clip from the film of the book compared to a scene in the book.
      •  Biographies and photos of actors from the film.
  •  Music Project
  •  If your class loves songs this could be a motivating project.
    •  Make a CD Cover.
    •  Invent the band and the names and biographies of the band members.
    •  Video an interview with the band.
    •  Record a song. (Students often borrowed the music and wrote their own lyrics)
    •  Write gig (rock or pop concert) reviews.
    •  Photo shoot of the group.
    •  Design a poster advertising concerts.
  •  British Painting Project
    •  16th (17th, 18th, 19th) Century Painting
      •  London Art Galleries
      •  Modern Art

Pupils are expected to select their own topics for the investigation according to their personal interests. This provides a more stimulating approach and an increased motivation for the exercise. Projects related to hobbies or to famous people seem to be very popular. Students are also expected to work individually or in groups.

Projects need to be seen, read and admired so we practice every project session as a presentation. I ask the group to prepare a task for the others in the class to do connected to the project: it could be a quiz with questions for a wall display, a crossword using vocabulary for the project or comprehension questions for a video that learners have made.

Each pupil is given 5 to 7 minutes to present his/her report in the class (10 -12 minutes for a group), followed by a short discussion. The obvious objective is to develop the pupil’s ability to converse on a given issue.

The best outcome is at the level of motivation. This kind of task provided the pupils with the required framework to work and learn with a sense of purpose. Pupils read articles, summarise texts, jotte down ideas (in groups) and re-write them in a better style, correct each others' spelling and pronunciation mistakes. Besides the four traditional basic skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening), pupils practise a variety of study skills (e.g. searching in the library or the Internet for information.)

Project work develops pupils' autonomy in learning. They work at their own pace and at the same time feel comfortable and secure in the team as they choose their partners themselves. They also develop a sense of ownership towards the project as they see it gradually takes shape.

As with any piece of work a project needs to be acknowledged and evaluated. It's not enough to just say 'that's great' after all the work learners have put in. I use a simple project evaluation report, which comments on aspects of the project such as content, design, language work and also evaluates the oral presentation stage of the project.

Teacher’s task consists of creating conditions of practical using language for each student, choosing such method of teaching to allow pupils to show their activity, their creativity.

New technologies and above all, the Internet have revolutionized the whole process of teaching and learning. They have made our students think of another way and now, they can see the importance of English and they feel more motivated to study it.They can communicate with different people from all over the world and they can access different information, videos, songs, art, history,etc..and everything is in English!

Using informational technologies in educational process will form positive motivation. Contemporary ways develop higher requirements to learning practical acquirement of foreign language in everyday communication and professional sphere. Using informational technologies allows to expose a large amount of possibilities of computer as one of the means of teaching. Computer teaching programs have many advantages before traditional methods of teaching. They allow to train different kinds of speaking activity, to form linguistic skills, to make up communicative situations, to stimulate pupils’ for further individual learning the language.

Example Task

  •  Go to the website: http://www.karaokeparty.com/en
  •  (You don't have to register or have a microphone, but if you do it will be more fun)
  •  Find a song which you like.
  •  Look at the lyrics (words of the song) at the bottom of Each page.
  •  Try to sing along.

Activities so far:

  •  Learn a Song in English
  •  Try a TOEFL Reading Test
  •  Improve Your Vocabulary and Make Friends
  •  Exercise Your Ears With Authentic Film Clips
  •  Record Yourself Reading a Poem
  •  Take a Quiz Adventure Journey
  •  Create a CV in English
  •  Create Text to Speech Movies

An excellent source of material is the Internet, specifically movie preview or trailer clips. Movie trailers are short segments (usually two to three minutes) of key scenes that provide interesting linguistic input and action accompanying the language; they offer us an innovative way to teach English. They can be viewed by students on an individual basis in a computer classroom, using an Internet browser and video viewer such as QuickTime or Windows Media Players, for example. The language in the clips can be used in exercises and the scenes for generating discussion and answering-questions. There are several sites on the Internet that have movie trailers (e.g: www.apple.com/trailers).

Movie trailers offer an exciting and innovative way to study English as a Second or Foreign Language. The movement toward digitalized video and their increasing availability makes them ideally suited for a class with Internet access, though the methodology would work with videotape or DVD material, as well. This activity provides the pupils with current, meaningful and relevant content, and the combination of both an autonomous learning environment and collaborative, communicative, task-based interaction.

Teaching speaking is a very important part of second language learning. The ability to communicate in a second language clearly and efficiently contributes to the success of the learner in school and success later in every phase of life. Therefore, it is essential that language teachers pay great attention to teaching speaking. Rather than leading pupils to pure memorization, providing a rich environment where meaningful communication takes place is desired. With this aim, various speaking activities such as those listed above can contribute a great deal to students in developing basic interactive skills necessary for life. These activities make children more active in the learning process and at the same time make their learning more meaningful and fun for them.

At the end of this term, I found the students become more interested in English. They were more active in class. They’d like to raise questions both in and after class. I felt glad to cope with them. Students used libraries, books and the Internet for the required materials. They tried every means to get the knowledge themselves instead of waiting for it. In addition, they analyzed the information and selected what material best fitted their presentations.

In conclusion, I can say that the learner-centered approach is generally accepted by EFL teachers. Teachers are no longer in their dominate position as lecturer in class while learners are not passive receivers any more. Teachers must play different roles in class as guides, facilitators, organizers and anticipators. The teachers’ job is more challenging in helping pupils grow up as creative and independent learners for life. Teachers should design and organize various activities to prepare children for more independence and responsibility. There’s an old Chinese saying: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a life time.”


  •  Celce-Murcia. M. 2001. Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (3rd ed). USA: Heinle&Heinle.
  •  Chaney, A.L., and T.L. Burk. 1998. Teaching Oral Communication in Grades K-8. Boston: Allyn&Bacon.
  •  Harmer, J. 1984. The Practice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman.
  •  McDonough, J. and C. Shaw. 2003. Materials and Methods in ELT: a teacher’s guide. Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell.
  •  Nunan, D., 2003. Practical English Language Teaching. NY: McGraw-Hill.
  •  Nunan, D. (1992). Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  •  Stern, H. H. (1991). Fundamental concepts of language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  •  http://www.ctu.edu.vn/centers/cfl/learning/speaking/conversation
  •  http://www.eslgold.com/speaking/
  •  http://www.karaokeparty.com/en/


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