Tools for Achieving Oral Fluency

Marsha Appling-Nunez finds help for the multilevel ELL classroom

Many new English language learner (ELL) instructors first begin teaching with the idea that their students will be terrified to speak English. Like many other teachers, these instructors may have even imagined that each of their students would have the same level of reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills; that the students would never ask, while the instructor is explaining a task, if they can go to the bathroom (code for using their cell phones); that they would be eager to participate, never arrive late nor leave class early. For these perfect students, these same teachers would create a safe learning environment, offering creative, engaging, and most importantly meaningful classroom activities. Then the miracle would occur: suddenly the instructors’ passion for teaching and learning would rub off and their students would become fluent speakers, readers, and writers.
But the reality is that these new ELL instructors walk into their first classrooms and discover that half the students’ reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills are either above or below the level at which they have actually been placed. Worse yet, the students also find their cell phones more interesting than their teachers’ PowerPoint presentations. This all comes as a shock to the teachers, who have spent hours brainstorming and prepping materials for class, sincerely believing them to be meaningful to the students.

They quickly figure out that not all ELL placement tests are created equal and that even ELL students can guess a right answer. Additionally, teachers figure out, hopefully sooner rather than later, that not only do they need to differentiate every lesson plan and/or classroom activity based on a few previously identified students with exceptional needs but also to differentiate a lesson for each student by scaffolding every student, regardless of actual skill level and the one in which the student has been placed. This matter of differentiated instruction becomes even more critical when dealing in IELP or adult ELL programs, where no identification of exceptional students is conducted and ELL student placement is one size fits all. Program directors don’t want to hear complaints of misclassification or claims of student shortcomings, so what can be done?

Maintaining a student-centered classroom where the instructor is a facilitator can become a tad more manageable when ELL teachers shift from Bloom’s original Taxonomy to the revised taxonomy by Anderson et al. and fire up the ol’ laptop. That’s when the real instructional fun begins.

Get Your Head in the Cloud
Glogster offers a graphical blog that is used as an interactive poster ( Glogster can be used to highlight a grammatical point such as the simple present or a writing style such as descriptive or compare-and-contrast. With Glogster, ELL educators do not have to reinvent the glog — other awesome instructors and students crossing all content areas have created glogs of various qualities and depths. Instructors can borrow glogs and/or edit a glog to fit their classroom needs, eliminating the daunting task of fully learning a new technology software application, or app, before actually using the technology in class. Teachers can learn and share as they go. Most importantly, students, regardless of their reading, speaking, or writing skill levels, are provided with a platform in which they can all participate and teach one another. Teachers can ask students to use a glog when giving oral book reports, to present their family trees, or to give mini-lessons on metaphors of their choice. Students will begin to rely less on short-term memorizing for a presentation and concentrate on learning about the subject of their presentation. As a result, students’ reading, speaking, and even writing skills begin to improve — on top of which audience participation and listening levels improve.

Teachers looking to develop oral presentation skills while fostering ELL students’ listening, speaking, and writing language-acquisition goals, regardless of skill level, should consider PechaKucha Prezi ( A prezi is a cloud-based, dynamic method of presenting content. PechaKucha is a method of presenting information using pictures only. A traditional PechaKucha is done in a 20 by 20 format — that’s twenty images by twenty seconds. However, the number of frames will need to be lowered according to students’ levels and instructors’ grading; for example, beginner-level students present in a seven by 20 format. A PechaKucha prezi is a concise, web-based, nonlinear presentation or mind map. For ELL students, prezis may aid in harmonizing learning and producing oral fluency. For teachers, prezis offer a way to differentiate ELL instruction and reach nontraditional students. Prezi permits users to manipulate images and/or text in a way that offers viewers visual and auditory stimulation, because the observer never knows what is next. It allows the presenter to manipulate and show the general topic or summary and zoom in for details, providing an interesting effect. In the PechaKucha mode, each picture or frame is presented for four, ten, or 20 seconds using a built-in timer before advancing to the next picture or frame. As previously mentioned, the number of frames varies based on the class level, while 20 seconds gives a fair amount of time per frame for students to speak without feeling rushed.

Using the PechaKucha mode on Prezi requires focusing on good pronunciation, filler reduction, and vocabulary. It encourages students to learn key talking points, and to do that requires that students read, take notes, and edit. For prezi observers, a picture is worth a thousand words because it allows for a visual flow of concepts offered by the presenter. Yet, for instructors, being able to observe students’ comprehensibility during a given task is essential.

When teachers and students use prezis, ELLs form a connection between Bloom’s Taxonomy and Anderson’s revision of 1990. This connection is essential for students to achieve oral fluency. When ELL students perform below established performance indicators, they often claim they could not remember their English — these students were unable to successfully make the link between knowledge and memory. Teachers using PechaKucha prezis and/or Glogster combine auditory and visual aspects with materials scaffolding the students to the first stage of cognitive taxonomy and permit students to transition naturally and independently through the stages of understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and finally creating.

Marsha Appling-Nunez is a lecturer on the Foundation Program at Qatar University. Having earned an MEd in curriculum and instruction-TESOL from Cleveland State University, she has taught English as a second language in university and high school settings for four years in the U.S. and Doha, Qatar. She has recently given presentations at the Ohio TESOL Conference and TESOL 2013 in Dallas, Texas, on using technology in ELL classrooms to achieve oral fluency. She can be reached at [email protected].