Tips needed for working with small, quiet classes

Help, tips and advice in teaching English

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Tips needed for working with small, quiet classes

Unread postby Chocmonster » 01 Oct 2009, 14:58

Dear Lucy

You answered one of my questions before and were very helpful.

Now I need your advice again…

The situation:

My new class is very reticent to speak English aloud - either to themselves, to partners or to the class. How can I change this? In fact, they hardly like to speak at all - in any lesson…


8 students aged 17-20, completing an apprenticeship in technical work.
First year (of 3) covering English, total of 40 hours a year.
No exam, but students are expected to become competent in listening, speaking and reading (less so writing) to deal with English customers, colleagues, business trips, e-mails, technical instructions and the like.
All students have had between 4 and 7 years of English at school.
Next week they will have their second lesson with me.

About me:
Trinity qualified (1 month course) June '07
Freelance in Germany from Sept '07 - Sept '08 (Technical college)
Full time employee at FE Vocational college since Sept '08
Modern language department of 1 (me)
2nd year of teaching Business English

What happens in class (English and, according to my colleagues, other subjects as well):
Absolute minimal talking or noise. In my first lesson I nearly always use a game to get my students back into using English. The game involves asking and answering questions in groups of 3. The game was completed, but the loudest sound was the dice falling on the table top… Everyone was very quiet, and clammed up immediately if I got closer. I tried to monitor from a distance, but even when I pretended to be busy, I couldn't hear them!

Direct questions were never answered, whether in front of the group or one-on-one.

Since I'd very much like to improve their speaking skills, what tips do you have to promote their speaking confidence/speaking in class?

What works and what doesn't? Pre-printed dialogues? Narration?

I'm open to all ideas - likewise, if other readers wish to share their tips, please PM me.

I hope this message is clear enough to understand my dilemma. If not, please ask!


p.s. I have the students again in a week's time - prompt answers preferred!

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Re: Tips needed for working with small, quiet classes

Unread postby Lucy » 03 Oct 2009, 12:32

Dear Edd,

I think this could just be a group of shy people who need time to settle into the class and to get used to their teacher and classmates before they start speaking. It obviously isn’t a language problem that we’re dealing with here. The fact that teachers of other classes say that they don’t speak illustrates this. As it’s not a language problem, I don’t think tackling language is the right way to go now. I think you just need to help students to feel comfortable in the classroom and wait for the rest to come.

It seems that the activities that usually work with classes don’t work (yet) with these people. So, you need to do something different. I suggest that in the first few classes, you work mostly on the other skills that they need to learn. Start by advancing in the other areas of the curriculum; you have plenty to be working on. You can introduce short speaking activities; say 5-10 minutes at the end of a lesson. You will be able to decide when to start doing this; it might even be appropriate to end the second lesson with a speaking activity after spending the rest of the lesson on other things. Go at the pace of your students; when you see they’re ready to talk, start doing longer speaking exercises. In the meantime, be very encouraging of all speaking activities and try not to correct too much.

I think your approach to monitoring is good; hovering around students can make students feel more uncomfortable. Also, your ideas for using pre-printed dialogues will help them to start speaking. I think that with time, most exercises will work; you just need to wait.

You can look at the following posts for activities that work and ideas for quiet classes:



you can also look at my reply to Alex on 10 November 2004.


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