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Developing ELL Speaking Skills for Social & Academic Purposes

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  • 0:04 Academic vs Social Speaking
  • 0:47 Social Speaking Areas
  • 2:41 Academic Speaking Areas
  • 4:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

The differences between social and academic speaking skills are often overlooked in an ELL classroom. This lesson includes instructional practices and strategies for differentiating and delivering content for both types of speaking.

Academic vs Social Speaking

Speaking, particularly in an English language learner (ELL) classroom, is perhaps the most immediate skill students develop. In this type of environment, students are often required to speak to each other and their teacher in English.

One of your roles as an educator is to facilitate the development of ELL speaking skills for both social and academic purposes. Academic speaking, or speaking about and reading aloud academic concepts, typically requires more details and supporting information. By comparison, social speaking is more about delivering a message than bolstering a point of view. As a result, both types of speaking require different approaches to content and methods of training in the classroom.

Social Speaking Areas

Let's now take a look at some of the key areas that you can focus on when developing your students' speaking skills.

1. Small group work

As you develop your learners' social speaking skills, you'll want to focus on a few key areas. First of all, social speaking begins with understanding what the other party is saying and then responding in an appropriate manner. If a student doesn't understand what's being asked of him or her, it's nearly impossible to reply appropriately. One effective way of encouraging social speaking skills is to organize students into small groups and provide them with some social topics to discuss, such as current events, new music or movies, hobbies, and favorite celebrities.

When speaking socially, ELLs don't necessarily need to defend their viewpoints or opinions the way they may need to when speaking about an academic subject. Practice with social speaking in small groups gives students a safe place in which to make mistakes, and because of the lack of formality, they may feel more comfortable trying out new vocabulary words, grammatical patterns, and pronunciations. It can be helpful to have students correct each other rather than always looking to you for guidance. If students are able to work together to fix errors, they become better able to self-regulate. This approach may seem a bit daunting at first, but students will quickly learn that helping each other is an effective way to grow and learn.

2. Casual Conversation Time

It's important to allow social speaking skills to develop naturally. Give students time to just sit and chat, or better yet, set aside some time each week or month to have a casual conversation with each student about topics that interest him or her. Once students graduate from high school, the majority of their speaking opportunities will be social. The more practice you can give them in a relaxed, judgment-free environment, the better prepared they will be to engage in casual, social conversations with others.

Academic Speaking Areas

When ELLs speak in order to satisfy an academic purpose, they're demonstrating their abilities to use English to convey information, ideas, and opinions. Giving a formal presentation or speaking authoritatively on an academic subject not only gives students an opportunity to show off, but also provides them with a platform for increased scrutiny and constructive criticism from both teacher and peers alike.

Like before, let's take a look at some examples of academic speaking areas.

1. Feedback vs. a grade

Sometimes it can be more helpful to provide students with specific feedback than to simply assign them a score or letter grade. While students do appreciate grades, they're more likely to learn if they understand the specifics of how to improve.

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