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‘My life’: Recounting Stories while Working on Fluency

Updated: Apr 2

When working with a student who wants to improve conversational skills and build confidence, how can we help them with fluency? Accuracy is always important, but often, as a speaker’s mind concentrates on getting the ‘right’ word and correct grammar, they can find themselves producing halting speech and uttering non-word sounds (uh, uhm, ehh, etc.). Sometimes, it’s a fun change of mindset and a freeing exercise to put those accuracy concerns aside and encourage a student to just "let the language flow".

Tutor Eada R (Montreal) suggests using open-ended prompts or questions to give the learner a leg up to get the language to flow. We are accustomed to beginning sessions by asking a student about their week, what's happening at work, or even just, “what's new?”. Those questions are certainly a nice way to keep abreast of what's going on in your student's life and world. Taking it one step further can generate conversation with a language target.

One way to encourage students to develop fluency is to ask them to recount a story or report on a past event or experience. If you think about it, this is what we do in everyday speaking as well as in the context of a job interview, so it all contributes to skill-building.

I know from my own personal experience speaking Hebrew that there are topics I'm very comfortable with and others that challenge me where I feel less confident speaking freely.

To structure this exercise even further, you might want to consider a timed speaking approach. By setting both a speaking goal (fluency) and a timeframe (3 to 4 minutes for a lower-level speaker to give time to collect thoughts or 2-3 minutes for a higher-level speaker), the student is likely to produce more language and pause less. Timing them might feel like added pressure so you’ll have to gauge whether it’s appropriate in your case; you know your student best.

Eada suggests reminding your student not to worry about making mistakes and giving your student a sentence stem (prompt) to get them started.

Examples of such prompts are:

One of the happiest memories from my childhood is ….

At my school, there was / there were ….

I always dreamed of….

I was very good at / very bad at….

My first job was….. One of the biggest influences in my life was…. One experience that really changed my life was….. One word I would use to describe my life would be….

Tutor Feedback and Reflection

We, as tutors, also have something to gain from this exercise. Because we have asked our student to speak for a couple of uninterrupted minutes, we get the opportunity to hone our active listening skills. While listening, we are:

  • identifying all the language our student demonstrated well (‘catch them doing it right’) and preparing how we will deliver that positive feedback. It may reflect on their fluency, but our feedback may also commend other successful language points that we hear.

  • identifying one or two errors that we consider priorities to clarify (sentence structure, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, etc.), keeping in mind that the target was fluency, not accuracy.

  • thinking of open-ended follow-up questions to prolong the conversation.

Ideally, if you can note down the language the student actually used, you can use that to illustrate corrections.

Eada has shared a lesson plan (attached and downloadable) for English B'Yachad tutors interested in new strategies to engage in conversation with their students.

Life story - lesson plan
Download PDF • 146KB

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