These notes explain the concept of ‘speaking cycles’. These are structured free speaking activities which follow a specific framework aimed at maximizing the attention of students, whether in the role of listeners or speakers. The notes are divided into two sections – Rationale and Procedure.
Two key concepts/techniques provide the theoretical foundation for speaking cycles:
1 The ‘Pushed Output’ Hypothesis
This theory, put forward by Swain (1985), asserts that learners acquire language when their linguistic knowledge is pushed to the limit during meaningful interaction. In the context of free speaking activities, then, learning is more likely to take place when speakers know that they are being listened to.
2 Process Writing
A ‘process’ approach to writing is based on the notion that the benefits to learners of carrying out writing tasks are largely the result of the learning which takes place during the writing process (i.e. brainstorming ideas, structuring and organising content, and editing and peer-correction) rather than through ‘correction’ of the finished product. The same principle can be applied to speaking tasks, so that the framework outlined below can be described as a “process speaking cycle”.
Stage 1: Activating
Students are asked to brainstorm key language relating to the topic of the lesson. This language is written on the board.
Stage 2: Sharing
Students are asked to think of personal experiences relating to a specific aspect of the topic. They are then organised into groups and are asked to share their experiences within their groups. Students are given a listening task here which requires them to listen carefully to what their colleagues say.
Stage 3: Preparing
Students are asked to choose one member of their group to talk to the rest of the class. The nominated student will tell the rest of the class about one of the personal experiences they have been talking about as a group. It doesn't matter if the person who speaks is the person who had the experience or if they talk about the experience of someone else in their group. The groups are given 15 minutes to prepare what their nominated speaker will say to the class. They should focus on both information content (e.g. the experience itself; when and where it took place; how the speaker felt before, during and after the experience etc.) and the organisation and structure of what the speaker will say.
Stage 4: Performing
Each nominated speaker talks to the rest of the class. The rest of the class are given five listening questions which require them to listen carefully to what the speakers are saying (these questions can either be dictated or copied and pasted onto a handout). Four of the questions should focus on identifying specific information, and one on their own response to what they hear. The teacher makes notes of errors, good use of language etc. for use in the later feedback stage.
Stage 5: Reporting
When all the nominated speakers have spoken, students check the answers to their listening ask questions with the other members of their group. As a group, they are then asked to rank the experiences they have heard about according to a criteria given to them by the teacher.
The teacher conducts a feedback session. This has two sections: a) checking the answers and following up any interesting information revealed during the performance stage; and b) focusing on language used – this should include both mention of good use of language and highlighting of errors or use of inappropriate language.
For an explanation of the rationale of each stage of the speaking cycle procedure, see Speaking Cycles - Behind The Scenes.