Speeches have many benefits for English language learners. First, they provide ELLs an opportunity to share their own personal knowledge. This helps other students to get to know them and builds connections and community. Next, they are a unassigned writing and grammar task. Many English learners will write down their speech and check it for correct grammar. In addition, student speeches are a great way to develop pronunciation and reduce accents. English Language Learners strive to pronounce each word clearly and accurately. Lastly, speeches create active listening practice. Speeches can be shared both in a regular or virtual classroom. Beginning to advanced English learners are able to give short speeches. Speeches are a common curriculum component in many European and Asian schools.
A successful student speech has four critical elements. First, the topic must be familiar and interesting. Second, the length must be limited. Three minutes is a good length of time. In addition, having an object to hold or point at helps to calm students' nerves and enables them to stay on topic. Lastly, their classmates must be engaged and encouraged to ask questions. Class participation encourages and reassures the speaker.
One of my favorite speeches is the 'Name Speech'. I demonstrate by using a poster board with my full name and the meaning and origin of each name written on it. In addition to this information, I explain how and why I received each name and who gave it to me. I also mention famous people and notable novels, movies and songs with my name (Rebecca in the Bible and the book/movie Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier).
Students receive instructions for components of the speech and are given one week to prepare. They sign up for a day to give their speech. Two or three students from different nations/backgrounds give their speech each day at the end of class. Listeners ask questions or give encouraging comments at the end of each speech. Because each culture/family has different customs for giving names, these speeches are fascinating and informative. After the class, students will often approach the speaker and relate a similar experience. This is often the beginning of a friendship.
Speech preparation often turns into a grammar, vocabulary, and writing exercise. Students want to sound natural and in some cases, professional. They often contact their families for additional information and consult with their teacher or classmates for editing help.
Another favorite speech is the 'Three Items Speech'. I model this speech using a paper lunch bag with three small items. First, I take out a small toy and talk about my family. Next, I show a golf ball and talk about how I like outdoor activities such as golf, hiking, camping, and canoeing. Lastly, I show a coin from another country and talk about how I like to visit other countries and try new foods. My students usually have very few possessions which they have brought to America, so each object is a representation of their topic. Pictures, phones, or computers are not allowed as items.
Again these types of speeches help to create connections among students. Those who love cooking begin to share recipes. Others talk about similar experiences. One class formed a soccer team because of this assignment. Having friends in a new country can never be underestimated. This provides friendship, support, and many opportunities for speaking English outside of class.
I am constantly surprised by my adult ESL students. Some are bold while others are timid. When you least expect it, a student will become a comedian and cause the whole class to burst out in laugher. Another will be vulnerable and elicit empathy and compassion from their classmates. Students ask very perceptive questions and are actively engage as listeners.