Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Speed Dating

by AJ

Today I discovered a fantastic way to encourage speaking English. Ive been very frustrated recently with my classes. When I put them into groups, many speak only Thai. This means they are getting absolutely no English practice... neither listening nor speaking.

But today I had my students-- ALL my students-- speaking non-stop English for one hour.

The idea came to me during a conversation last night. I was describing an experience with "Speed Dating". Speed dating is a matchmaking technique. A large number of men/women come toegether. They are put in rows, men on one side, women on the other.... facing each other. The moderator then says "go" and each person talks about themselves for 2 minutes or so. After two minutes, the men stand up, shift down the line one space, and everyone does it again.

I modified this for my classes. I put them in two facing lines in their desks. I then gave them a mini-situation. For example, "You are interviewing for a job and must talk about yourself for one minute..... talk about your strengths.... you have one minute... go!" One side then starts talking like crazy. Meanwhile Im pacing back and forth and encouraging them, "dont stop speaking,... faster..... keep going". After sixty seconds I yell "stop". Then the opposite row talks for a minute. I give them no time to think or pause. I say, "stop".... and then yell "switch" and then "go".

Then I have one row stand and shift one desk down the line. I give them another mini-situation such as "You are applying at a matchmaking service, in 60 seconds tell why you would be a good boyfriend/girlfriend.... go!"

Both my classes did this for one hour today. No one spoke Thai. No one stopped talking. After this activity, I put them in their groups and they easily and willingly spoke in English.

Why I think this worked:

1. Very short time period: The students only have to speak for 60 seconds. At this level, all of them can easily do that.

2. Speed and Excitement, no time for thought (monitor): I purposely rushed them. There was no pause... they were either talking, listening, or moving to the next chair. This gave them no time to think or be nervous.

3. Anonymity: Because everyone is talking at once... there is no focus on any particular student. This creates a very noisy class, which is good. It means more shy students can speak loudly but still not be noticed by the class at large.

4. Focus on confidence, not language: I told the class to imagine that the listeners were evaluating them on confidence, not language. I stressed that eye contact, posture, and speaking volume were most important. I joked that they could say, "Me very good. You like me. Me smart"... so long as they said it clearly, loudly, and confidently.

5. Variety: I changed the mini-situations. Some were serious (job), some not (dating). Sometimes I told them to lie as much as possible... or to exaggerate as much as possible.

All of this worked better than my wildest dreams could have imagined. The activity destroyed the "affective filter".... no anxiety, no hesitancy, no shyness. And once they had done this for an hour... and hour of talking confidently and quickly in English... they were ready to speak English in their smaller groups.

I plan to use this technique often from now on. Its a great way to break the fear of making mistakes.