The Best Practices for Teaching ESL Students to Speak Fluently

By Joel Barnard, eHow Contributor

The primary goal of a course in English as a second language is for students to speak fluently. Achieving this takes time and effort on the parts of both the students and the teacher. While reaching this goal is by no means easy, it becomes much simpler when the ESL teacher has a sound knowledge of good classroom practices.

Choose Appropriate Fluency Activities

A good fluency activity should challenge and stimulate ESL students to speak using language with which they are already familiar, but should not introduce new language. Hence, a discussion on the merits of the public health care system might be entirely suitable for an upper intermediate class, but of little value to an elementary class. Conversely, an activity requiring students to name and describe their favorite animal might be suitable for beginner and elementary pupils, but would not stretch or interest intermediate students.

Use Task-based Activities

All fluency activities should be task-based, meaning there is some meaningful goal or purpose to the activity. This gives students a proper reason to speak and reflects the way English speakers use the language in real life. For lower-level students, this task can be as simple as speaking on a topic for two minutes without stopping. For higher-level students, it might be to win a debate or present a group project. Avoid trite or obvious goals such as, "to improve your English" or "to practice the present continuous."

Encourage Students to Speak Without Fear

Students should feel comfortable speaking within their class. You can achieve this by promoting a classroom atmosphere that is warm and friendly. Never criticize students for making mistakes, and avoid showing any frustration. Explain carefully at the start of any course, and before fluency activities, that mistakes are a valuable part of the learning process. Indeed, encourage students to make mistakes by stretching their use of the English language.

Give Timely and Appropriate Feedback

In general, you should correct the student's language at the end of an activity rather than when it is ongoing. Choose carefully how you do this. It is important to acknowledge good use of English as well as bad so students know what is correct. Differentiate carefully between simple slips of the tongue that you would expect during a challenging fluency activity and errors that demonstrate a more serious misunderstanding of English usage. For example, an intermediate-level student forgetting to add the "s" sound to a third person singular verb is rarely worth correcting. But for the same student to habitually form the comparative incorrectly indicates a fundamental error that you need to address.

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