Silentium est aurum (“silence is golden”).

Or is it?

Speaking might seem easy for non-professionals – first you learn words, then you form sentences with words, sentences go into paragraphs…and, voila, you’ve reached the level of a “speaker”. However, things are not so easy as they might seem. The formula “grammar+vocabulary” does not work here. As Daniel Tammet, the linguistic savant who managed to learn Icelandic in a week,  says, “Though some might complain about the Icelandic grammar, that isn’t the point. Icelandic is not grammar, Icelandic people don’t speak grammar. If you learn the language, the grammar will follow. I find that the complexity of Icelandic mirrors the complexity of human thought and nature, and the rich tension within the fabric of everyday life. When paint is cast within a portrait, it becomes something more for being part of something bigger than itself. Blue and grey becomes a sky, green and white becomes a landscape, pink and orange and black becomes a human face. So it is with words which become sentences, like raindrops which form a sea.” (If you have not watched this amazing video about the ‘impossible for a human’ linguistic challenge, watch it and show it to your students to discuss what learning a foreign language is about)

If we google “teaching speaking + English activities”, we’ll get over 91,200,000 search results with numerous tips, ‘fabulous’ games, tricks how to get them speaking, magic formulae of success – all pointing out the same frustrating fact that many learners of English are either timid speakers reluctant to speak, or that despite doing a great number of grammar and vocabulary exercises in class (with which they have little difficulty), their speaking still lacks fluency and coherence.

The latter is sometimes ignored at lower levels. However, we should note that speaking is not about fluency, but fluency and coherence. Below, you will find some suggestions how to help our learners form the “sea” and organize what they say into a coherent speech.

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.

Today I will show how to use a four-square method to teach speaking. Although it is mainly used for teaching basic writing skills (usually to primary level school kids), it can be successfully applied to teaching different forms of speaking as well.

The 4-square method is a graphic organizer that helps organize concepts, vocabulary and grammar in a way that is easier and much simpler for our students to grasp.

What do we start with?

We’ll need 4 squares.*

(* Please mind 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).

Step 1.

Choose a main idea (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.

Step 2.

Now we will add supporting ideas (2, 3, 4).


These supporting ideas will be used to wrap up our speech.

Step 3.

Now we need to add details (reasons, examples and explanations) supporting our ideas.


Step 4.

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.

Practice tips:

  • 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 because the 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), listen to what they said, think about more detail to add in, focus on connecting ideas, and repeat until they have something they are happy with.
  • 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.

Please leave me a comment if you want to learn more about the use of this graphic organizer in the classroom.

Read more:

On coherence – Coherence in IELTS speaking – some approaches | http://www.dcielts.com/ielts-speaking/coherence-in-ielts-speaking-coherence-approaches/#ixzz3W8Uh93Mv

On the use of the 4-square method to teach writing http://www.lorenzeducationalpress.com/foursquare.aspx

Guidelines to effective presentations with some tips and tricks I’m using to teach public speaking.

Image credit: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, Creative Commons

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