Silentium est aurum (“silence is golden”).
Or is it?
If we google “teaching speaking in English”, we’ll get over 66,300,000 search results with numerous tips, fabulous games or tricks how to get learners speaking – all pointing out the same frustrating tendency showing that many learners are either timid speakers reluctant to participate in any conversation, or that despite mastering the language, as attested by a great number of grammar and vocabulary exercises thoroughly done by the learners in class, their speaking still lacks fluency and coherence. The latter is sometimes ignored at lower levels. However, speaking is about both fluency and coherence.
Coherence is about linking ideas together – just like in a paragraph or essay. This means organising what you say so that your answer is “a whole“. All the bits within it fit together. This should be familiar from writing. The difference in speaking is that the structure is looser.
This blog post gives some ideas on how to help learners organize what they say into a coherent speech using the Four Square Method. Although it is mainly used for teaching basic writing skills (usually to primary level school kids), it could be successfully applied to teaching speaking with a focus on coherence. The Four Square Method is a graphic organizer that helps organize concepts, vocabulary and grammar in a way that is easier and much simpler for learners to grasp.
What do we start with?
We need 4 squares.*
(* Please note that I’m using a different order of squares than in the original method. You can find the classical 4-square method description here. As I use this organizer to teach public speaking as well, I find it more convenient to devote 2 squares to the Introduction and Conclusion, and put them close together).
Choose a topic and put it the center box.
Boxes 1, 2, 3 and 4 will contain the introduction, reasons, examples, and explanations that support the topic, and conclusion.
Now we will add supporting ideas (2, 3, 4).
These supporting ideas will be used to wrap up our speech.
Now we need to add details (reasons, examples and explanations) supporting our ideas.
Once we have made a general outline of our speech, we should bridge the gap between our ideas with the help of transition words (connectors and linkers).
Your speech is ready. Practice time.
- Keep it simple. It is important for students to understand the relationship of ideas in the four square format before moving on to some more elaborate forms of speech.
- Do not introduce all the points and forms of details at once – do it gradually by adding one additional supporting point in each square.
- Introduce variety – show different supporting points that may be used by students, e.g. stories, statistics, jokes, etc.
- Use the same prompt repeatedly when introducing the steps – familiarity aids instruction.
- Practice linking words. Do not provide a long list of linkers, introduce them gradually.
- Make it fun and build in surprises – it will boost students’ memory. Give some interesting topics like “Daytime naps in the classroom/at the working place”.
- Get your students to record their speeches (put their cell phones to good use), think about more detail to add in, focus on connecting ideas, and repeat until they are happy with their speeches.
- Provide for peer and self-assessment.
- Work on delivery.
- Don’t limit creativity. This tool is just an organizer of thoughts and ideas.
You can use this method further to work on storytelling (by placing particular questions in the squares), public speaking (making presentations) and 4 corner debates.
British Council Voices – A few discussion activities for English language students by Tekhnologic
Guidelines to effective presentations with some tips and tricks I’m using to teach public speaking.
Image credit: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, Creative Commons