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All’s Well That Ends Well: Perfecting the Report Phase of a Speaking Activity - by Hall Houston

Many ESL/EFL teachers enjoy assigning speaking activities and watching students practice English in groups and pairs. However, going abruptly from one fluency activity to another can end up with students uncertain of what the point is.

One crucial phase of a speaking activity is the report phase, where each group gives a summary of what they did during the activity.(A report phase is part of Jane Willis and Dave Willis’ task-based learning cycle.) In this article, I would like to suggest some general principles for a smooth, productive report phase, along with a number of ways to liven up this important part of a speaking activity.

A report phase has several functions. First, it can help the teacher see how much each group has accomplished. If one group has not done the work, it will be abundantly clear in the report phase. Second, it helps the students clarify their work, as well as the work of other groups. Third, it helps students recycle the words and phrases from their speaking activity, but in a new context, giving an oral report to the entire class. Finally, it rounds everything off, providing a satisfying conclusion to the activity.

Some general tips for the report phase:

Before the activity starts

  • Make the class aware that when they are finished, each group will be expected to present a summary of their ideas to the class. This encourages students to pay attention when they are doing the activity.
  • Consider assigning one student to take notes that can be used during the report phase.
  • Use concept checking to be sure they know what you’re asking them to do.

After the activity ends

  • Insist that all groups pay attention to the other groups’ reports. Make eye contact with students who are not tuned in. Alternatively, you can assign students to listen to the other groups’ reports and note two similarities and two differences between their group’s report and the other group’s report.
  • Listen carefully to each group as they present their ideas. It’s far too easy to drift off and think about your plans for next weekend, but make every effort to pay attention.
  • Give abundant praise, but make your praise specific. Instead of simply saying “Good job!” or “Great!” Tell them exactly what made their report so strong.
  • Tell students what they could have done better. Let them know what needs improvement, and give them clear advice on how to improve.
  • Invite students to add their own opinions.

In the next part of this article, I’m going to suggest some creative ways to spice up the report phase of two types of speaking activities: discussions and mingles. However, these techniques can work with other types of activities as well.

Discussion Questions

Coursebook pages often contain discussion questions for generating conversation related to topics in the coursebook. In the post-activity stage, it’s tempting to just read out the questions again and randomly choose students to respond. However, these alternatives might generate more interest.

Two Truths and a Lie

Assign each group to create three sentences based on their discussion. For example:

Carlos said that he plans to stay single forever.

Maria said that she is going to get married in the next five years.

Andre said that he likes to attend weddings.

Two of them will be true statements, and one will be a lie. When each group gives their report, the other groups must listen attentively and guess which statement is a lie.

 After The Break Quiz

Ask each group to report several interesting things that people in their group said. Take a few notes as they speak. When it’s time for a break, put the notes into a series of 7 statements about students in the class, changing a few to false statements. Then, when the break is over, dictate the statements to the class, telling them to write the statements down, and write a T or F next to each one. Check answers by reading out the sentences and asking the students named in the sentences to tell the class the answer, providing additional information if necessary. (Alternative: if you would like to make this more challenging, type up the quiz after class, and distribute to the students during the next time you meet them.)

Guess His Answer

Divide the class into two groups. Bring a student from each group to sit in front of the class. Give each one a small portable whiteboard, or tablet of paper and a marker. Read out one of the discussion questions. Then ask each student to write down what the other student probably wrote as a response. Read the question again. Ask the first student to answer, and tell the second student to reveal his guess. Next, read another question, ask the second student to answer, and have the first student reveal her guess. Continue with two more questions, and then play again with two other students. Variation1 : Put the students into pairs to continue the activity. Variation 2: Turn the activity into a competitive game. Each correct guess earns a point for that student’s team.

Mingle

In a mingle activity, students move around the classroom interacting with many other students. Usually, students are using the same language and repetition of the same words and phrases can help them use the words and phrases more naturally. Unfortunately, the post activity stage might seem like a bit of a letdown, since everyone is no longer moving around the room. The following are a few suggestions for making things a little more interesting.

Bar Graph

After the mingle has ended, ask students to put their information into a bar graph. (Remember to tell each group before they begin the mingle that they will need to keep track of the answers they receive.) Hand out large sheets of paper for them to write their graph on. They can write down the different answers they got for one of their questions in the form of a bar graph, with higher bars representing more frequent answers. When each group has finished their graph, they can put their graphs on the board for the entire class to look at. Ask them to compare the different bar graphs. Once everyone is sitting down again, ask them to work in pairs and describe some of the differences they noted. Variation: Instead of a bar graph, you can ask students to create a pie chart.

Graffiti

Another post-task activity that works well here is the graffiti wall. Invite each group to come to the board and write down one interesting or surprising thing they learned from the other students during the mingle. Make sure that they use reported speech. Ask everyone to read the others’ comments and add their own questions and reactions.

Surprise Tasks

Before class, write down a few simple tasks that could be done after a mingle activity. You should have one for every student in your class. Here are several examples:

Which answer did you hear the most often during the mingle?

Which classmate did you enjoy talking with the most? Why?

Which question would you like to ask your teacher?

Rephrase one of the questions and an answer you received, using different words.

Which question was the most interesting? Why?

Think of one thing you liked and one thing you didn’t like about doing a mingle.

How do you think we could make this mingle activity even more fun? Think of two ideas.

You can change these or write your own. It’s fine to use a task more than once.

Put each task on a small piece of paper and put them into envelopes. Put each envelope on a student’s desk during the mingle. When the students are sitting down again, ask students to open the envelopes and take a few minutes to answer the question. Put students into pairs to share their answers. Finally, call on students to read out their questions and answers. Variation: You can make this even more of a surprise by taping the envelopes under the students’ desks, before the students arrive.

In summary, I would like to emphasize that the report stage provides an unbeatable opportunity to reflect on your own students’ strengths and weaknesses. While a speaking activity is in progress, it’s hard to determine how students are doing, especially in large classes where many students are speaking at the same time. The report stage allows you to hear the learner’s language and make a quick assessment of their progress.

I encourage you to use this article as a springboard to generate your own ideas for improving the report phase of a speaking activity. How can you use a report phase to help students learn English? What other ways can you think of to make the report phase more enjoyable for your students?

Author’s Bio:
Hall Houston is a language teacher in the Department of Applied English at Kainan University in Taoyuan, Taiwan. He has a Master’s degree in Foreign Language Education from The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of several books about language teaching, including Provoking Thought and The ELT Daily Journal. His latest book is Brainstorming, co-authored with Gerhard Erasmus, and published by the round. His practical articles have been published in English Teaching Professional, EFL Magazine, and One Stop English. His professional interests include second language listening, materials development, creativity and critical thinking. He is a Cambridge English teacher trainer and presenter.

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