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- Tips & Strategies
Speaking clubs are an extremely popular way to learn a language. Sometimes even more popular than lessons themselves!
And for a reason: they are usually seen not only as a learning format but also as a form of entertainment and an opportunity to meet new people. Most students love speaking clubs, but let’s face it: preparing and running a speaking club can be a real pain in the neck for us, teachers! It doesn’t have to be, though.
We are going to have a look at some aspects of speaking clubs that may be considered challenging, and some suggestions on how to deal with them.
As a rule, clubs are added to courses as a practical element. The number of attendees can vary and is usually hard to predict with 100% accuracy. The best thing we can do about it is to anticipate as many problems as possible and be ready with the solutions. For example: if an activity requires working in pairs or groups, we would ideally expect at least four students to participate.
However, if only three participants turn up, they still can work together, but the teacher should think about how to monitor them without distraction. One of the possible ways to do this is to rearrange the sitting differently in an offline format or mute yourself and turn off the camera if you’re working online.
It may sound counterintuitive, but good speaking clubs are not just about speaking. They are aimed at providing students with some input, albeit lesser than in a regular English class. Therefore, to make the club really informative, we should come up with the teaching aims and possible outcomes for the participants.
The challenge here is, what can we teach within such a limited period of time, with the learners who have different backgrounds and abilities, and who probably see each other for the first time? Naturally, it wouldn’t be a good idea to focus on new complicated grammar or too many lexical items. However, it is possible to introduce some topic-related vocabulary which would be particularly useful during the discussion stage later.
What is more, functional language could be a great solution. For instance, expressing opinions, agreeing and disagreeing for higher levels, or giving advice or suggestions for lower levels will always be relevant for the learners regardless of the topic. Having learnt something during the speaking club, students will leave it with a greater sense of achievement.
Unlike regular courses, speaking clubs are attended by learners of various levels. Of course, the approximate level will be given, such as A2/B1 or B2/C1, but we must be prepared for a mixed-ability class. While preparing the materials, it would be useful to design activities in such a way that they could potentially be done by all the participants.
While running a speaking club, monitoring is especially important since it will allow you to identify stronger and weaker students and then plan their pairing and grouping.
Features of a mixed-ability class
Wouldn’t it be great if there were more textbooks with ready-made speaking club materials? Certainly, such books exist. Take Instant Discussions by Richard MacAndrew, for example. It has a great variety of topics with texts, glossaries, and engaging tasks.
However, in most cases, teachers are expected to plan their speaking clubs. It is time-consuming, but it certainly has a great benefit: we are allowed to be creative and flexible in designing activities as well as to use authentic texts.
Looking for the right materials can be a tough task. In fact, your source of inspiration can be anything, from articles and videos to social media. Once I stumbled across this viral video the author of which heavily criticises the traditional education system.
It inspired me to run a speaking club for B2/C1 students on the topic of education. Another time, I found some amusing and touching commercials, which gave me the idea of planning a club on the topic of advertisement. I used my favourite video commercials and promotional posters to spark the discussion and create team activities for the participants, such as guessing what product is being promoted on each poster. As long as the topic and materials are relevant, you can experiment and adjust them to your and your students’ needs.
Even though most speaking clubs are more flexible than regular English classes, it is still very helpful to prepare all the stages. It will help you ensure that the session will run smoothly, and if not, you will be ready to improvise.
So here are the steps that I usually follow when planning a club (for higher levels):
For example, this is how I delivered the speaking club on Education (B2/C1), which I mentioned in the previous point. First, the participants discussed their experience as schoolchildren, their favourite and least favourite subjects, teachers, etc. Then we moved on to the vocabulary stage: there was upper-intermediate and advanced lexis. The next stage was discussing quotes about education in general. Then we watched the abovementioned video, after which the students had a heated discussion about the ideas from there.
Afterwards, I had them design their perfect school with their partners in a group. We finished on open-class feedback, when they presented their schools, and Grade from my side.
What does it mean to be a ‘good’ teacher in the modern world?
I hope you find my suggestions helpful and inspiring. Remember that not only students are allowed to have fun at speaking clubs — teachers can enjoy them too!
CELTA certified teacher of General English, Teenagers
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