Spoken Fluency

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Without further ado…
Click the image to watch the videos (and don’t forget to choose an ending)


Last but not least – remember that often the best way to develop your students spoken fluency is by interacting with them as people rather than students. When you ask them about their weekend concentrate on what they tell instead of how they say it!

Now pick your ending:

1. off the cuff:

2. reserved and restrained:

3. positively over-acting:


The following tasks are meant as a starting point only. If you have any further suggestions – or questions and requests – please comment below!



The more students understand what native speakers actually do when they speak – and perhaps most importantly that speaking is not writing – they can feel more comfortable with mistakes and concentrate on communicating meaning.

Having students watch or listen to real conversations can provide useful authentic texts. A lot of materials don’t actually feature much authentic interaction. Programmes featuring interviews – and spontaneous rather than scripted speech – often give the best range of features to consider.

Sites like:


offer a range of interviews with figures from the worlds of film, music, art, business and technology.


A video sharing website – features great content and you can search for specific films e.g. ‘Occupy London interviews’, ‘Reaction London Riots’ etc


can be useful for longer more developed talks on specific areas, but – they are pre-prepared and often have only a single speaker – and therefore no interaction.


You could even make your own (you can borrow the point and click camera from a DOS) or use one of the videos we looked at in our video

Iffy & Jonathan – Stallone vs. Schwarzenegger

Jo & Jonathan – France & Lisbon

Liam & Jonathan –Motivation and difficulties for Exam students


Check Meaning

First things first – you need students to process the text for meaning. You can even make this a game/competition. Play 5-10 seconds and see if they can work out what’s being talked about. Play the next part to confirm.

If you want to know more about how to developing listening – check out Jo’s fantastic post here



This can also be made into a prediction activity – once they know the topic, can they guess how the conversation will develop. This helps them realise the underlying patterns in conversation. And helps them follow conversations.


Noticing Features of Spoken Interaction

Can the students identify why listening to native speakers is difficult / and what allows native speakers to communicate so easily and quickly – a general discussion can help students share their ideas and confirm them by watching a real example.

Consider the aspects covered in the video:


False Starts


Ums and Errs



Taking Turns




Written conversations

Hand out a few sheets of paper (or mini whiteboards) and get students to have mini conversations – only they have to write instead of speak.

I have found this particularly useful to point out the differences between how we write and how we speak. It is good when you have an uncomfortable mix of silent (but accurate) students vs loud (and inaccurate) ones. You can show how more complex grammar like relative clauses and formal discourse markers (However, Moreover, In addition) are very rare in typical spoken interaction. You can also highlight things like ellipsis (missing stuff) which allows speakers to communicate quickly without repetition.

It can also be good to show how conversations develop in terms of script patterns. You can look back at the development of the conversation and ask students to notice any gaps where there was an obvious question that didn’t get asked.



Planning Time

One way to give students the chance to use language you’re giving them is to build in a planning stage when students prepare what they want to say. This can be practising a drilled conversation with partners before have to perform in front of the class with prompt cards or less controlled.

This need not be prescriptive.

E.g. Give two groups the chance to prepare arguments for a debate – they don’t know what their opponents are going to say – but they can predict and prepare how to counter it.

This can be a very useful opportunity for students to ask for (or look up) language they want/need. Debates are useful for introducing fixed and semi-fixed phrases:

I see what you mean but…
I’m not sure I can totally agree with you…
I fail to see how that…



These are great because they are often familiar to students and allow for repetition. Especially transactional roleplays (buying tickets, returning items in a shop, making complaints).

These are great at low levels to show students how certain situations follow set scripts.

For higher levels you can maintain engagement and interest by throwing a spanner in the works. You can set the scene and then change it – the students have to react to any events.

1. You are waiting for the bus and your friend arrives, you haven’t seen them since last week’s party.
2. You get the feeling that you did something terrible at the party and feel like you should apologise but you can’t remember what you did.
3. You realise you are now late for work – the bus arrives but there is only room for one person.

You can adjust the situation or the events to suit your class and level. It provides a continuous chance for students to speak and provides ample opportunity to explore interaction.

Roleplays for Today (Jason Anderson) in the staffroom is a great source of readymade (and ready to adapt) activities


Looking at chunks

Using any spoken text you can ask students to pull out language that can be useful for them.

Depending on the level you can give them more or less help.

e.g. Fill in the gaps – “To tell you the ______” “Yeah but c______ on…”

Or for more able students ask students ‘What phrase does Iffy use to talk about Rocky?’

An important stage is then getting students to use this in other situations (Britney Spears vs. Lady Gaga, Barack Obama vs. David Cameron, Wayne Rooney vs. Cristiano Ronaldo).  Very open ended and easy for students to come up with their own questions.



One way to introduce patterns in conversation is to get students to order a sequence of questions and answers – looking for what links one answer to the following question.

e.g. Order the following:
What were you doing?
Did you get good weather?
Erm, Well, My partner’s mum has a house there
So Jo, you were in France recently

So we just went for a few weeks
Yeah, I went on holiday

Just chill out, relax by the pool, go swimming, that kind of thing

Again you make this more difficult by removing the linkers (so, yeah, well). Or removing any reference words (this, that, there, here etc) And even asking students to add them back into the dialogue before listening to the ‘real’ conversation to check. This encourages lots of debate between students which can only be a good thing to better their understanding!

Again this can be done for formulaic transactions like going to the post office (lower levels) and looking at more complex personal conversations (higher levels).


  1. Melissa says:

    Live Commentary from the TD Session:

    It can sound really false when students try and chuck in phrases like ‘yeah, but…’

  2. Liam Cooke says:

    I disagree

  3. Martin Oetegenn says:

    you’ve got a point there, but….

  4. Jess Luby says:

    Spiffing TD old chap 🙂

  5. Catriona says:

    ‘Yeah, but…’ is more natural than ‘I take your point, but…’

  6. Justin Vollmer says:

    Fantastic session / film – very amusing and thought provoking. Sorry to have missed the live screening in the SAC.

    One thing that strikes me is that oddly it is often the extremely controlled and repetitive tasks that actually help oral fluency. I remember trying to develop oral fluency of an incredibly advanced class by doing a near-authentic dialogue builds which had many of the errs and ums and repetition / pausing etc that you mention here.

  7. Colin Paton says:

    Hi everyone!

    I really loved the films – very amusing, informative and slickly put together. They remind me what a great medium video is for getting complex or dry concepts across in an engaging way (if well conceived as these ones were).

    It was also a great methodological refresher for me after all these years out of EFL! I now know what spoken fluency is…er…I think.

Leave a Reply