Once students evolve into intermediate level speakers, they are ready for a lot more natural language practice.
It might seem daunting to veer students away from the safety of scripted or very predictable language, but revving students up about utilizing natural language isn't as hard as it seems.
How to Achieve Natural Language at the Intermediate Level
Small Talk Openers
When students begin to speak with some amount of fluency and have mastered some really tough grammar topics, they are definitely ready to learn the art form of small talk. Providing small talk amongst students at the beginning and end of every class can be a very organic way to get them speaking naturally. Step back from goal-setting with students for these warmers or wrap-ups and simply begin some small talk casually and conversationally. It is common for people to talk about their weekend plans or experiences, ask how someone is feeling that has been ill, or ask for a restaurant reference. You can have goals in the back of your mind for your small talk exercises, but don't control the conversation; let if flow.
Using small talk openers can also teach new expressions in a natural way and students can choose to write them down, use them outside of class, or utilize them in-class. You may also want to have conversations about small talk. Define what it is, ask them to point out times in the class when they have experienced small talk, and ask them if they use it in the real world. Brainstorm small talk openers with students, and then sprinkle those in to your warmers and wrap-ups. There are a lot of options for also creating lessons around situational small talk if you would like students to delve more deeply into it, or in challenging them to come up with new ways to utilize small talk.
Some great openers to consider introducing or bringing up are:
How's it going today, class?
What's happening this weekend?
Did you know there is ...(a concert in the park.)..this ….(Saturday)?
Is this seat taken?
Do you mind if I ask you where you got that....(blouse, purse, etc)?
This weather is crazy. Is it always this hot in the summer?
There are so many variables as to how you can phrase small talk, and what you might come across to introduce. Students should learn how to politely answer unexpected questions, ask for clarification if they don't really understand, and employ strategies to continue a conversation that begins this way. Let your students take the lead on small talk, and make it a usual occurrence in the classroom.
Have you noticed that intermediate level students love to ask questions? They are curious, want to find out personal details, and enjoy showing off their language skills. Use this to your advantage and do varied exercises with open-ended questions. So often students are accustomed to asking yes or no questions which really doesn't jump-start any kind of thought-provoking conversation. One example that you could bring in to illustrate what you mean is to role play a teenager talking to his or her parent. This can be fun to do whether you have a class of adults or teens. It will drive the point home that you will only get substantial information if you use open-ended questions. It also displays how in conversation, we need to really listen to the other person, ask follow-up questions, and show interest in what the other person is saying. For the teen to parent role play, simply ask for two volunteers. One student will be the parent, who really wants to connect with their teen. That student asks a lot of closed questions. Student Two is the bored and annoyed teenager who just wants to evade the questions, give non-answers, or the shortest answers possible.
Here's an example of what your volunteers might say:
Parent: “How was school today?”
Parent: “Did you enjoy gym class?”
Teen: “No.” (eye roll)
Parent: “Are you hungry?”
Teen: “A little.”
This could go on for a little while until you tell them to stop. Ask the class for their observations. Discuss what the parent did wrong, and the missed opportunities to get more information or to engage their teenager. After a good discussion, have students do another role play with this scenario and see how it changes when open-ended questions are used. You could first brainstorm with the class things the parent could have said differently, and get them thinking about how to phrase open-ended questions.
A few examples could be:
What did you do today/at school/? Why didn't you enjoy...?
What was the best/worst part of your day?
I'm sorry you didn't have fun in gym class. What was so horrible about it?
After the introduction of open-ended questions, make a point to have students practice this with one another as often as possible. Point out missed opportunities, or ask them how they could get more information when they forget to use this method.
Task-centered speaking gives students the freedom to craft language that is all their own, while still carrying out a task or accomplishing an outcome. Get into the habit of formulating activities that allow students to use language in this way as often as you can manage it. Outcome-based speaking works really well for mingling activities, small group discussions, and games. Define the outcome clearly for the students either as a group or individually, and give students reminders throughout the activity. If you are giving individual outcomes to students, it can be entertaining to keep those private until the end of the activity. Challenge students to discern what all the tasks were. Don't forget to address the tasks during the wrap-up of activities. You could also sometimes have students formulate tasks for themselves or one another. Examples of task-driven work might be challenging, creative, simple or adventurous.
Include things like:
Speak only in the third person for this whole exercise.
Use tag questions as much as possible
Get information using conditionals
Speak quietly/loudly/angrily/romantically (fun to assign each student a different adverb)
Achieving natural language within perimeters is challenging, but doesn't have to be boring.
Excite students by implementing these strategies to produce natural language and see them take off in all kinds of interesting directions.