How often do your students do presentations in class?
Some teachers shy away from them. After all, many ESL students panic just as the thought of standing up front. And students in a panic aren’t students who can speak well. Few students enjoy speaking from up front in class. It doesn’t come naturally. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many classes on public speaking.
But just because your student’s don’t like talking from up front or they feel they are not good at it does not mean you should shy away from presentations in class. In fact, having your students present from up front actually holds many benefits for them and their classmates. Here are some of the positives that come from getting students up in front of their peers.
5 Benefits of Having Your Students Up Front in Class
When students present from up front, they get uninterrupted speaking practice, and that isn’t always easy to come by. Navigating discourse is a skill that ESL students need to learn, but having a conversation with someone doesn’t mean both parties will get equal speaking time. One student is bound to talk more than the other. And some students shy away from jumping into a conversation completely. When students present from up front, they are the only one speaking. They must speak clearly and audibly and cannot hide behind a chatty conversation partner. This is especially valuable for your shier students who are more than willing to let their partners do all the talking.
Speaking and Pronunciation Evaluation
The best teachers do informal evaluations of their students’ speaking abilities on a regular basis. When you listen in on conversations happening around the room, you get a good read on a student’s instinctual speaking abilities. But evaluating students’ speech during upfront presentations is a good policy, too. Students who are presenting are more careful about their pronunciation and diction. They may speak with more confidence, or at least feign it. When you evaluate their speaking in these circumstances, you get a read of the best their spoken English can be. And when you have an idea of their potential, you can compare it to their actual use of spoken English during class.
By comparing the two, you will have an idea of how much language your students have acquired, that is how much of it is coming naturally. When there is a large gap between their potential and their actual, you know students need more practice speaking. They need practice so their best spoken English becomes their informal spoken English. When their best English and their informal English are more similar, you can be confident that your students are internalizing much of the theoretical language skills they are learning.
Sometimes it is a challenge to have a conversation with an enthusiastic speaker. Perhaps that is why some students get a real confidence boost by talking up front. They have the time and the attention of their fellow students, and they can feel good about expressing themselves using their best English. They don’t get interrupted. They don’t get shut down. Sometimes that is all some of your more quiet students need – a chance to speak without being interrupted – and they will shine like they never have before.
The benefits of up front presenting aren’t limited to the speaker. The rest of the class gets valuable listening practice. One of the greatest benefits is listening to students with accents different from their own. Despite what people say, everyone has an accent. And that includes you, their English teacher. When students listen to their classmates present, they must exercise their listening skills with less familiar accent patterns. This will help prepare them for post scholastic English when they interact with native speakers from all over the world or nonnative speakers who use English as their lingua franca.
I love to have students share their opinions from up front. Not only does it give them speaking practice, it sparks thoughts in the students who are listening. And when two people are in a room, odds are you’ll get two different opinions on any one subject. Differing opinions in the ESL classroom equates to valuable conversation, conversation in which students must discuss even when they don’t agree. This gives them practice with discourse skills that might not otherwise come up in more typical classroom activities. So let your students disagree with each other. It’s conversation gold.
6 Ways to Help Students Present
There are plenty of ways you can help your students present from upfront.
- Make sure they are presenting about something that interests them. Asking students to share something from their culture is always beneficial for the entire class. They get to know their classmates better and also get to know more about people from around the world. Plus students generally love to talk about things related to home and their people.
- Define time limits for the presentation. When you are a student giving a presentation, five minutes can be a very long time. Start small, but make sure your students know what you expect. For longer presentations, let students know when they are getting near the end of their time by holding up a sign in the back of the room with their remaining time.
- Encourage students to use notes when they present, but do not let them read off of a transcript. Some students will want to write out to every word they will say before they take the podium. This doesn’t give them speaking practice as much as it gives them read aloud practice. Limit students to incomplete sentences and using notecards rather than typing out extensive notes or a transcript from which to read.
- Give an opportunity for the class to ask questions afterwards. Answering these questions will give additional speaking practice to your presenter, but it will also encourage the rest of the class to listen more closely throughout the presentation. If you like, award extra credit to anyone who asks a relevant question after a classmate’s presentation.
- Give each student peer feedback as well as teacher feedback. After your question and answer session, give students a chance to tell their classmate the best parts of their presentation as well as areas they may need to work on. Also be sure that you give each student detailed feedback on their presentation. Consider grading with a rubric and letting your student know where he or she falls on each evaluation point.
- Record each presentation and have students do a self-evaluation. Something as simple as a smartphone is all you need to let students get a real measure of how they speak from up front. Give your student his or her recording as well as a blank copy of your rubric and let them evaluate their own presentation before giving them your feedback. Also, take time at the end of the semester to view a presentation from the beginning of the semester to point out how much your students have improved throughout the school year.
Presenting from up front might not be your students’ favorite way to use spoken English, but it is a valuable experience for them and their classmates.
Making presentations a regular part of your lesson plans will ensure each student has uninterrupted chance to speak and get feedback on their speaking skills and ultimately, it will make your students better speakers overall.