Bringing a guest speaker into your class is an opportunity you should seek out. Your students will be exposed to a different style of spoken English, and they might also learn content that will benefit their educations. Just bringing a guest in and letting him or her speak, however, is not always enough.
Here are some tips to make sure your students are getting the full benefit of the guest speaker experience.
How To Get The Most From Your Guest Speaker
Prepare Your Students on the Topic
All students will benefit from some preparation as to the subject matter your guest will discuss. However, the level to which you should prepare your students will vary greatly depending on the language level of your class. For more advanced students, a brief introduction to the topic will be enough. You will want to challenge their listening skills and test their comprehension, so minimal information as to what they will hear from the speaker is best. For beginning level students, you should be intentional about giving them most of the information ahead of time. If your students are unable to understand the speaker, their natural response will be to disengage and stop paying attention. To prevent this, give them the information that they will hear before the speaker comes to class. Then when the guest speaker presents the information again, your students can focus more on understanding how the speaker is presenting the information rather than the content itself.
Prepare Your Students on the Speaker
It is also a good idea to give your students some advanced information about who will be speaking to them. Is he an expert on the subject? What makes him an expert? What is his speaking style, or does he have an accent? What challenges might they have listening to this speaker? How is his speech different from what they are accustomed to hearing? The more you can prepare your students on what they will hear and experience, the less anxiety they will suffer. Not only that, they will be on guard for specific struggles and this will decrease their stress when they encounter them. Encourage your students to do their best to understand your guest speaker and to let it go when they do not.
Prepare Your Students on Behavior
If you are like most ESL teachers, you encourage your students at every turn to speak and use their language in the classroom, but the behavior you encourage on a daily basis may not be ideal for a guest speaker. Communicate with your students ahead of time what behavior is expected when listening to a guest speaker. They should listen quietly to the guest speaker. They can ask questions, but it is most polite to wait until the end of the presentation to do so. They should make eye contact with the speaker, and it is appropriate to take notes while the presenter is speaking. Once your students understand this, they will be ready to listen to a guest speaker attentively and respectfully.
Prepare the Speaker on Language Level
Not all speakers are familiar with speakers of English as a second language. In fact, it will probably benefit your class more if your guest speaker is not an ESL teacher. With this in mind, it is not a bad idea to prepare her as to the language level of your students before she comes to class to speak. Again, for more advanced students this may not be as crucial, but for beginning level students, you may want to prepare your guest for your students’ level of vocabulary, what verb tenses they have studied, and what constitutes slang or lingo. Doing this will help your speaker present fewer grammatical and linguistic challenges to your students and perhaps give both her and your class a better overall experience.
Have Your Students Prepare Questions
Thinking of questions for a guest speaker can be very challenging to most ESL students, especially if you ask them to do it on the spot. Therefore, it is beneficial to have your students write some follow-up questions for your speaker before the day he is scheduled to come to class. After presenting your students with information about the speaker and the topic which he will discuss, have each student write three to five follow up questions for your guest. They can be questions that ask for additional information on the topic or questions that look for clarification about something else. Make sure your students bring the questions on the day the speaker comes to class. You can also encourage your students to write questions they may have as the presenter speaks to the class. Then, when he is finished, encourage them to ask the questions they wrote earlier in the week as well as the ones they wrote down as he was speaking. By doing this, your students will not be dumbstruck trying to think of questions immediately after the presentation.
Engage Your Students
This may be understood, but the more your speaker can engage your students the better. They may choose to do this with responsive questions during the presentation, visual aids, humor or other means. Encourage your speaker to engage your students as she speaks, and select those guest speakers who you think will be able to do this for your class. The lower the language level of your class the more important this engagement is. To help your speaker, make sure you have everything she will need for the presentation including a projector or television if necessary. Make sure you talk with your speaker ahead of time to see what she will need so you are not scrambling when she shows up at your classroom door.
Debrief Your Students
Debriefing is important both for making sure your students understood today’s presentation as well as preparing them for future presentations. After your speaker has left and your class has asked their questions, ask your students how they felt about the experience. Did they enjoy the guest speaker? What was the most enjoyable part for them? What was most challenging? Did they understand what the speaker said? Did they notice the differences in language and style that he used? The more you talk with your class about the experience, the more benefit they will get. Individual students will be encouraged to know that everyone in the class had struggles understanding the speaker and that none understood everything that he presented to the class.
Develop Ongoing Relationships
If you can, your class may benefit by developing an ongoing relationship with your speaker or speakers. If you can and they are able, invite the same speaker to come to your class on multiple occasions. Your students may feel more relaxed if they already have experience with a given speaker, and they may be more willing to ask her questions or clarify points while she speaks. Repeated visits will also help your students see their language improvement as understanding your guest becomes easier over time. Not everyone is able to take time away from their lives to come to your class on multiple occasions, so do not let that stop you from inviting guest speakers. Just keep in mind that if someone who has spoken to your class is willing to return and speak again, you should take advantage of it.
Tie Your Speakers Into Class Topics
Likewise, the more your speakers tie into the topics you are covering in your class, the better. If your students already have experience with a subject and its vocabulary, they will have higher levels of comprehension and a greater level of comfort as they listen. With this in mind, if you are doing a unit on sports, think about anyone you may know that can come and speak to your class about sports. If you are doing a unit on food with your students, ask a chef, restaurant worker or home chef to come and speak to your class. Make the most of any connections you can between your curriculum and your guest speaker to benefit your students.
Who to Invite
Before you even invite a guest speaker, think about what kind of speaker from whom your students would most benefit. Try to bring in speakers of different ages with different ethnic and geographical backgrounds. It is also helpful if the speaker is not a teacher of English since his or her speech patterns will be more realistic even if more challenging for your students.
With these in mind, the next time you bring a guest speaker into class, do not let the experience end when he walks out the door.
Working with your students before he comes and then again after he leaves can make a good experience for your students even better.