…to the website of the Speaking Cyclist, an English Language teacher, trainer and author who believes the best teaching material is the students themselves! A speaking cycle is a simple template for highly-personalised speaking practice with students at any level. The first one – ‘Speaking in public’ – can be found at the bottom of this page. New cycles, all following the same template and useable immediately with minimal preparation, will be posted regularly and can be found at the top of the page, below this introduction.
In the meantime, ‘Speaking Cycles – A Brief Introduction’ and ‘Speaking Cycles – Behind The Scenes’ provide further details.
Speaking Cycles – A Brief Introduction
These notes explain the concept of ‘speaking cycles’. These are structured free speaking activities which follow a specific framework aimed at maximizing the attention of students, whether in the role of listeners or speakers. The concept of ‘speaking cycles’ was the basis of a presentation I gave with Ceri Jones, a former colleague and fellow ELT author, at the 2000 TESOL Spain Conference in Madrid. I have recently been inspired to revisit them for two reasons. Firstly, the DOGME ELT movement led by Scott Thornbury & Luke Meddings encouraged me to question the extent to which students are truly engaged by most commercial ELT teaching material. Secondly, having worked as a Director of Studies in the past I am well aware of the pressure which many DoSes, and indeed teachers, are under to teach at short notice, with no time to put together lesson plans or to source material. In this respect, speaking cycles are the perfect solution. I hope time-stretched teachers everywhere will find speaking cycles helpful in this respect.
The following notes are divided into two sections – Rationale and Procedure.
Two key concepts/techniques provide the theoretical foundation for speaking cycles:
1 The ‘Pushed Output’ Hypothesis
This theory, put forward by Swain (1985), asserts that learners acquire language when their linguistic knowledge is pushed to the limit during meaningful interaction. In the context of free speaking activities, then, learning is more likely to take place when speakers know that they are being listened to.
2 Process Writing
A ‘process’ approach to writing is based on the notion that the benefits to learners of carrying out writing tasks are largely the result of the learning which takes place during the writing process (i.e. brainstorming ideas, structuring and organising content, and editing and peer-correction) rather than through ‘correction’ of the finished product. The same principle can be applied to speaking tasks, so that the framework outlined below can be described as a “process speaking cycle”.
Stage 1: Activating
Students are asked to brainstorm key language relating to the topic of the lesson. This language is written on the board.
Stage 2: Sharing
Students are asked to think of personal experiences relating to a specific aspect of the topic. They are then organised into groups and are asked to share their experiences within their groups. Students are given a listening task here which requires them to listen carefully to what their colleagues say.
Stage 3: Preparing
Students are asked to choose one member of their group to talk to the rest of the class. The nominated student will tell the rest of the class about one of the personal experiences they have been talking about as a group. It doesn’t matter if the person who speaks is the person who had the experience or if they talk about the experience of someone else in their group. The groups are given 15 minutes to prepare what their nominated speaker will say to the class. They should focus on both information content (e.g. the experience itself; when and where it took place; how the speaker felt before, during and after the experience etc.) and the organisation and structure of what the speaker will say.
Stage 4: Performing
Each nominated speaker talks to the rest of the class. The rest of the class are given five listening questions which require them to listen carefully to what the speakers are saying (these questions can either be dictated or copied and pasted onto a handout). Four of the questions should focus on identifying specific information, and one on their own response to what they hear. The teacher makes notes of errors, good use of language etc. for use in the later feedback stage.
Stage 5: Reporting
When all the nominated speakers have spoken, students check the answers to their listening ask questions with the other members of their group. As a group, they are then asked to rank the experiences they have heard about according to a criteria given to them by the teacher.
The teacher conducts a feedback session. This has two sections: a) checking the answers and following up any interesting information revealed during the performance stage; and b) focusing on language used – this should include both mention of good use of language and highlighting of errors or use of inappropriate language.
For an explanation of the rationale of each stage of the speaking cycle procedure, see Speaking Cycles – Behind The Scenes.
Speaking Cycles – Behind The Scenes
These notes explain the rationale behind each stage of the speaking cycle.
· generating interest in the topic
· whole-group brainstorming of ideas and useful vocabulary
· activation of background knowledge
· relating the experiences of peers to oneself
· identification of common experiences
· personalisation of the topic
· promotion of attentive listening within peer group
· promotion of mutual interest and curiosity
· development of a positive group dynamic
· encouraging group investment in the task
· peer group negotiation and decision-making
· selecting appropriate language
· organisation of ideas
· asking peers/teacher for new language
· refining of language through self-correction and peer correction
· rehearsal in a ‘safe’ environment
· attentive listening for gist and specific information
· comparing performance of other groups with one’s own group
· ‘pushing’ speakers to optimise their performance by speaking to an audience
· monitoring performance of peer group ‘representative’
· checking and correcting answers with peer group
· relating all the experiences to each other
· ranking and cognitive decision-making
· (teacher-led) clarifying of meaning, if necessary
· (teacher-led) correcting and refinement of language
· (teacher-led) highlighting and drawing of attention to noteworthy use of language