Q: Quiet Conversations: Taking a Softer Approach to Speaking Class [Teacher Tips from A to Z]

Q: Quiet Conversations: Taking a Softer Approach to Speaking Class [Teacher Tips from A to Z]

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 12,727 views

Asking your ESL class to be quiet almost seems counterintuitive. After all, isn’t the goal of a foreign language class to speak the target language?

You can achieve this goal of fluent speech even when you are doing quiet themed activities. Take a look at the following possibilities to get inspired to get quiet.

Q: Quiet Conversations. How To Take A Softer Approach To Speaking Class

  1. 1


    If you have ever studied phonology, you may know that the sounds that make up spoken words are not the same sounds used in whispered words. While spoken English uses a complete set of voiced and voiceless consonants (b versus p, g versus k, etc.) whispered English uses only voiceless consonants (p instead of b, k instead of g). When a native speaker whispers, the pronunciation of words is very different. Give your students some practice deciphering whispered English with a little class activity. Introduce the following conversational pattern. In a conversation between two people, the first person asks, “Can I tell you a secret?” with normal pronunciation. The second responds, “Yes.” Then the first person whispers a secret to his listener. For example, he might say, “I forgot to brush my teeth this morning.” The listener should then check his understanding of what his partner said. “Did you say you forgot to brush your teeth this morning?” If that person heard right, the first person should say, “Shhh, yes.” If the listener did not hear the secret correctly, the first person should whisper, “No, I said…” and then repeat the secret. The two students should continue until the listener has correctly heard and repeated the whispered secret. Then the two speakers change roles and play again. Students will likely find this activity very challenging, but for a true fluency in English, speech of this type should be addressed.

  2. 2

    Quiet Music

    There have been many studies on the effect of classical music on the brain. The conclusion is consistent that people are more creative when they listen to classical music. Give your students a chance to respond to music with either a writing or a discussion activity. To practice your students’ writing, dim the lights in the room but do not turn them off completely and then put on some classical music. You can choose whatever style you want, or give your students some variety by playing several selections during the class period. Ask your students to write while they listen to the music. They may write a fictional story as they listen, they may write about experiences they have had in the past, or they may write about how they feel at the moment. The most important thing is that your students write. Encourage them to be creative and get in touch with how the music makes them feel. If you would rather practice speaking, play short selections of the music and then break your class into groups. Each group should discuss how the music made them feel and why each person thinks they felt that way. Then students can discuss if they liked the particular selection or what type of music they would rather listen to. Repeat with as many musical selections as you have time for in class.

  3. 3

    Quiet as a Mouse

    A quiet unit can be a good time to make sure your students understand what a simile is. A simile is a phrase that compares two objects using the word like or as. One example might be, “He is as quiet as a mouse.” Challenge your students to think creatively as your class makes a list of similes. Start by brainstorming a list of adjectives. Then, in groups, have your students use those adjectives to make similes. She is as loud as a train. He is as busy as a beaver. After the groups have finished, give them a chance to share their creativity with the class. Did any two groups come up with the same similes? Are there any consistencies across cultures?

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    Not as Quiet as You Think

    Our lives are very noisy. At any given time, we are bombarded by so many sounds that we do not even notice them most of the time. Challenge your students' powers of observation by taking some time out of typical class activities to listen quietly. For example, as I write this I can hear the fan on my computer, the washing machine in my basement, and my roommate breathing as well as the air blowing through the vents in the back of the room. Normally, we do not notice the sounds around us all the time, but by focusing for just a few minutes we can hear a completely new world. If you can take your students to an unusual place, a courtyard, a park, some nearby woods or a stream, do so and then take some time to listen to the natural sounds around you. If you cannot leave the school, your students will still benefit from this activity in the classroom. After spending a given amount of time listening, have your students share what they heard either through discussion or in writing. This might also be a good time to teach the word onomatopoeia – a word that is structured to sound like the noise it represents. Examples that you can give might include bang, bark, meow and crash.

Just because your class is being quiet does not mean they are not learning and practicing English. These activities may decrease the volume of your typical class period but they will also increase your students’ proficiency in English.

Through whispering, listening and simply taking time to let creativity flow, your students will benefit from this quiet class time.

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