To get shy students speaking …

One of our ex-participants, Catherine Lee, contacted us through our Facebook page this week asking for some advice. She has a private student with a good Intermediate level of English; a girl who will be moving to the USA to study next year. She is shy and not used to expressing her opinions in English, which she will be required to do in the U.S. education system. Her teacher asked for some ideas on what she could do to help improve her student’s confidence and communicative ability, especially in private lessons.

This is a common, but tricky situation. I would love to hear other people’s suggestions. Some (a lucky 13) suggestions I have that might be worth a try are:

(1) The first thing I would do is find out what interests her. What does she do in her free time? What are her hopes and dreams? What is she passionate about? These can then be topics you can use for discussion topics.
(2) She is coming to the U.S., so she might be interested in learning about American culture. Introduce some cultural information and then put her in a role play situation about that aspect of culture.
(3) Think about common situations in which she could be in the U.S. and think about functional language that she might need for those situations. Teach the functional language and then role play those situations.
(4) Have her research some aspect of American culture (or something else that interests her) and then present that information. If she is willing, record her and then play is back, noting any areas of improvement, positive things she did etc. She could then do it again, incorporating that feedback.
(5) Have a debate with her on a non-serious topic. Which is better – ketchup or mayonnaise? Cats or dogs? Etc.
(6) Do a project with her. Have her create a campaign for something at her school. A marketing campaign for her favorite pop star. A research project that she has to survey people (maybe a couple of the teacher’s friends, in English, even via Skype – she can interview us!), and then report back to her teacher etc.
(7) Have her bring in photos (or share the photos on her phone or on Facebook/ Naver etc.) and describe the people, the events etc.
(8) Do information gap activities – students HAVE to talk to complete the task.
(9) Use short video clips – show the clip and have her create the dialogue.
(10) Set a minimum time limit for discussions and set a clear rule that she can’t stop talking before the time limit is up. You can lengthen the time limit as she starts to gain more confidence.
(11) 3-2-1: Have her prepare a short speech on a topic she likes. She should prepare short notes only. Then she has to speak for 3 minutes on the topic. Give her feedback. Then she gives the same speech, but this time in 2 minutes. Give her feedback. Then she gives the same speech, but this time in 1 minute. When she gets more comfortable with this activity, you will notice that both her fluency and accuracy improve. (Note: the time given can vary, but it should be three times, and each time, the time given should decrease)
(12) “Yes but …” activity: Every time you say something in a discussion, she has to say “Yes, but …” and then argue against it. You do the same, until she can’t think of anything else to say.
(13) Fluency line (variation): This can be adapted for pair work. Give a general topic and she has to ask and answer questions on that topic (e.g. travel, family, food, movies, school, the U.S.A., Korea etc.). Model asking different types and questions and follow up questions. Talk for 5+ minutes, and then change the topic. You can brainstorm topics with her beforehand or come up with your own.
Do you think these ideas will work? Do you have any other suggestions?


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi! U’ve listed great ideas! I’d also suggest watching and discussing somebseries or tv shows with her, smth that’s really interesting for her -there is a lot of room for speaking, predicting, remembering the previous series’ contents, etc..,

    1. Autumn says:

      Thanks. That’s a great suggestion.

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