In an oral communication class, it is always at the forefront of my mind how to maximise students’ speaking time. This is a challenge in my current role because I have limited time with my students each week, and often have large classes (more than 50 at times). There are also challenges because many of my students have a lack of experience in speaking without pre-prepared dialogues, and so are often lacking in skills and confidence.
I have tried several strategies over the past few years to get students talking in the target language more. Last year I experienced some success with speed chat. As a teacher who likes to learn and gather ideas from others, this year I have taken the advice of my colleague Neil Millington, who runs Dreamreader.net, and have used posters to facilitate regular student-centred presentations.
This is not a new idea, but it is something that I have tried for the first time. This blog brings you details on how I have integrated poster presentations in my oral communication classes, how I deal with logistical issues, and the benefits and challenges that I have observed and experienced.
How I use poster presentations
For me, poster presentations are embedded into the course, and occur every second lesson (after several introductory lessons of developing relationships, developing some communication skills, and practicing speaking without planning). Thus, every second week is dedicated to discussing a particular topic, anything from favourite music to unpaid overtime, to build not only students language knowledge but also their content knowledge. Every other week is dedicated to students planning and presenting short presentations. The presentations make up the bulk of the students’ grade for the course, the aim of which is getting students actively communicating in English.
Students, in groups, pairs, or as individuals, are given a predetermined amount of time to prepare a presentation, including a poster that will help support that presentation. This poster will be used as a tool to guide them through the different sub-topics they may wish to talk about, to remind them of recently acquired vocabulary and phrases, and to provide stimulus for discussions with their audience.
The time that students are given to prepare will depend on a number of factors including the language level of the students and their self-management skills. I allow a little longer the first time as it can take some time for students to get started, but I gradually decrease the time as the semester goes on.
I think there are two important elements features the planning phase. First, it is important that planning and presenting occur in the same lesson. Second, it is important that students are not given too much time in this phase. This means that students will have time to discuss some content, to consider sub-topics, to put together a simple poster, but they will not have enough time to write a complete and ready-to-read script.
By mid-semester, a presentation class might start with 30 minutes of preparation time. During this time students are creating their posters, researching information on their smartphones, and discussing with their group members about the content and format of their presentation. During this time I myself wander about and join each group for a quick chat about their topic, and answer any questions they may have.
Below is an example of a poster created by first year English major students.
Getting ready to present
The presentations are conducted in two sets of rotations. So, if there are 10 groups in the class, five groups will present first, and five groups will become the audience, with roles swapping at the halfway point.
The five presenting groups will each find a wall/window space around the room. I give my students blu-tac to mount their posters, which generally causes some fuss and amazement in the first lesson, as I explain that it’s not gum but a temporary wall adhesive!
Next, the remaining five groups will each join one of the presenting groups to become their audience. The audience members rotate around at the end of each presentation. This means that the presenters will present multiple times, but to different classmates, as hopefully illustrated by my crude illustration.
The start of presentation time generally requires a very explicit prompt. I use a large display of an online stopwatch, and also start some quiet but energetic music to signal the start of presentations.
The students, both presenters and audience members, aim to use only the target language for the entire duration of the time, which again will depend on a range of factors. I encourage presenters to engage with their audience, and also encourage audience members to be active participants, rather than passive viewers.
As such, presentations are generally a noisy affair, with a lot of to and fro banter, which resembles a conversation more than a traditional presentation.
While the presentations are going on, I am flitting about from presentation to presentation, making sure I see all groups several times, and at different stages of their presentations. I make mental notes of students’ TL use, as well as their use of strategies for overcoming any gaps in language knowledge. The period after the lesson is spent getting these notes to paper, but during the lesson I aim to come across as an interested but non-threatening and non-judgemental bystander.
I feel that over the past two terms of implementing poster presentations, the length of time that students speak solely in the target language has increased, and the length of time needed for preparation has decreased. This is one sign of success. The excitement in the room on presentation day is another.
The advantage of this idea is that it provides students with a ‘buffer zone’, time where they can think about the things they want to talk about, and a tool that they can refer to for assistance. It is not really spontaneous, but it isn’t exactly fully planned either. In any case I observe that generally after several rotations the plan usually gets put aside and students are more likely to be engaged in the banter that more closely resembles real, unplanned conversation.
For me, the poster presentations work better for my non-English majors, who seem to want and need the support and time that this activity allows. It works well to overcome the issue of large classes, where it can be difficult to get all students participating at once, let alone effectively observe each of them speaking on a regular basis. However, for my English majors, where classes are generally smaller in size and students have a higher level of motivation to use the target language, both in and out of the classroom, I think that the speed chat activity I used last year better facilitated more opportunities for speaking.
OVER TO YOU …
*Have you used posters to facilitate presentations and dialogues in your classes?
*What tips do you have for managing classes during poster presentations?
*What other activities do you have for promoting communication in the target language?
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Image courtesy of Lordjiew at FreeDigitalPhotos.net