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The Best Practices for Teaching ESL Students to Speak Fluently

by Christopher Cascio

While speaking is only one aspect of ESL instruction, a student's ability to speak fluently corresponds directly to listening and reading fluency, according to experts Linda J. Spencer and Jacob J. Oleson. Incorporating lessons that focus on both listening and reading will also work to develop speaking skills. For these lessons to be maximally effective, however, you'll need to deliver them while addressing the specific needs of your students through modeling, guidance, immersion and individualization.

Performance Modeling

Perhaps the most effective strategy for helping students of English develop speaking fluency is to model fluency for them. Modeling means simply to demonstrate how something is done, and your students will need to know what fluent speech sounds like before they can produce it themselves. Whenever you assign a speaking task -- whether it's a recitation or an improvisation -- take a minute or two to demonstrate how you would like them to speak. Include factors such as tone of voice, speaking tempo, emotion and body language into your modeling. After all, your students can only work with the tools you give them.

Focused Reading

Focused reading is a technique that works harmoniously with modeling and helps to build confidence, expressiveness and fluency while speaking, regardless of the specific objective of the lesson. Pass out passages of a text and explain what the passage is about, so your students know what to expect. Then read the passage aloud. Read it again, but read only one sentence at a time, and have the class repeat each line after you. You can then address issues that arise with each sentence or phrase, and guide your students through the cadences and clustering of phrases that will improve their reading and speaking. This technique can work well with entire classes but is best suited for small groups or individual work.

Language Immersion

While many specific fluency-building techniques are effective, having your English learning students immersed in English language environments enhances all these techniques. For example, if you are the only fluent English speaker in the classroom, then you are the only person at that time influencing how your ESL students hear the English language. However, if an English learner is surrounded by native English speakers, that learner will be able to acquire the language in a way more similar to how that person acquired his or her first language, according to Andrea Maurer for Scholastic, who cites language acquisition expert Stephen Krashen.

Individualized Attention

Acknowledging that each of your learners is different and embodies a unique set of learning needs is crucial. Actively seek to discover these needs by constantly monitoring your students' performances, strengths and struggles so you can provide appropriate attention. Specific strategies for individualizing instruction might be to challenge an advanced student by asking him or her to read a little faster than normal. Likewise, you might want to allow another student extra time to process phrases in English. Ultimately, you want to stress that while all students share the same goal of achieving fluency, they will each have their own path and timetable. Making them aware of this perspective can also help them relax and focus more easily on their individual and immediate goals.

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."

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