Teaching ESL students how to speak fluently and accurately is an often neglected part of English language lessons. TEFL courses and exercise books don’t provide teachers with many teaching tools to help their students improve their fluency. Yet anyone who has taught or tried to learn a foreign language knows that one of the obstacles to speaking is the fear of sounding stupid. If you can speak fluently, you feel more confident speaking so you speak more, practice more and improve. So how can ESL teachers use fluency exercises in the classroom?
What is the difference between fluency and accuracy?
Fluency is the ability to speak with a natural flow and rhythm. Accuracy is about using the correct grammar and sentence structure. Reading aloud is a good way to help students improve their pronunciation and phrasing; at the very least, it exercises those parts of the vocal chords that help in pronouncing the sounds of English correctly. But speaking fluently is more than just pronouncing the words and being grammatically correct. Communication is just as much about intonation, facial expressions and body language.
How do the English Evolution fluency exercises work?
You will find many free ESL resources on our website to help your students improve their fluency. Most of these are simple exercises that involve using fluency scripts. Each of the fluency exercises use sets of sentences and phrases that elicit a controlled response from the student. The process works like this:
- Pre-teach the grammar rules for each exercise, highlighting the structure on the board. You may need to use written sentences on the board for the first few examples, however, it is important that students practice their listening and speaking skills, so go ‘off the page’ as soon as possible.
- Elicit a response from the student, initially focussing on grammatical accuracy: It is important to correct mistakes as they occur so that the student does not learn the error!
- Students repeat the response sentence up to three or four times until it is correct. Help the student by modelling the sentence after the first one or two attempts. If the student is struggling after three or four attempts, do not dwell on that phrase or sentence as this could adversely affect their confidence. Instead, pose the example to another student in the class. They will typically find it easier having had the benefit of more time to think about it and hearing it. If that fails, write it up on the board and model the correct delivery, though be mindful that you should try to maintain a good pace whilst doing these exercises so it could be better to simply move on to the next one.
- When the student has responded fluently and accurately, it is very good practice to give them some motivation. So for the last response, use your imagination and give the student something to add context and meaning to the sentence in order to encourage a more natural intonation. For example, the following exercise is a B1 exercise practicing ‘used to’ when referring to the past…
Original prompt: My father played professional football.
Response (rephrased): My father used to play professional football.
With this example, you could tell the student that they are replying to someone and expressing surprise at the coincidence. This means that they would stress the words ‘My father’ and maybe add, with rising intonation, ‘…too!’ at the end. This is a method used by actors to give their performances more authenticity and it can be used just as well with ESL students.
- When you have done each example, move on to the next sentence and repeat.
It’s that simple!
The English Evolution fluency exercises are not intended to be used for an entire lesson. ESL lessons should always contain a variety of exercises to engage learners. To complement fluency lists teachers should elicit student examples. They should also use the lists with new vocabulary and words that students have difficulty with. Additionally, use the target grammar and vocabulary in conversation and task based exercises.
Students can be given fluency lists as homework and asked to write the correct responses to help them with their grammar. There are a variety of ways to use fluency scripts in your lessons, but what is important is that the exercises are delivered with pace and energy. With groups of students, alternate randomly who you are going to select to respond so that they are all alert and listening. Use all your personality and performance skills as a teacher to make the lesson engaging.
Fluent speakers use a variety of intonation, pitch and pace in order to sound connected to what they are actually saying. Without fluency, language can sound dull and monotone as it lacks any emotional emphasis. By regularly implementing fluency exercises in your English lessons, your students will not only improve their fluency, but also their grammatical accuracy, giving them more confidence when speaking. The vocabulary used in the fluency scripts is very general, but when you become used to using them, you can make the vocabulary more topical and relevant for your students.
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