Vocabulary and grammar dominate language teaching courses and textbooks. Unfortunately, this means your students are getting short-changed. They’re missing out on other key skills. And it’s easy for them to get sucked into an accuracy-is-everything mindset. But don’t worry — there are things you can do to give your students well-balanced language lessons. In this article we’ll cover one important, but often overlooked, kind of activity: fluency development practice.
This the third article in our series about Paul Nation’s Four Strands of effective language teaching. If you haven't already, read part 1 about the importance of comprehensible input and part 2 about the benefits of meaningful output.
Fluency development is helping students become fluent users of the language they’re learning. And we’re not only about talking about fluent speaking — this is for all 4 skills. Learners can become fluent listeners, readers, writers, and speakers.
In previous articles you learned about the importance of comprehensible input and how to encourage meaningful output. Well, fluency development is another important part of the language learning puzzle. Here’s why:
• It increases fluency. Common sense says the best way to become fluent is to practice being fluent. But fluency practice is missing from many language learning courses and textbooks in favor of grammar or vocabulary learning. Fluency development activities give learners the opportunity for lots of practice and should be a key part of a language learning course.
• It increases accuracy. This benefit is less obvious. But research (see Arevart & Nation, and Nation) shows fluency practice also makes your learners more accurate users of the target language.
There are lots of proven fluency practice activities that will benefit your students. Let’s take a look at the principles of fluency practice and some activities you can try.
To make fluency practice work in your classroom, it’s important to stick to the following principles:
• Focus on meaning and not form. Learners should be trying to communicate. Fluency development activities revolve around students giving or receiving messages. So avoid learners focusing on language features.
• Encourage learners to produce or receive the language faster. It’s not enough for learners to use the language. You need to introduce added time pressure to the tasks. This is what turns a standard activity into a fluency development activity.
• Include language that the learners already know and understand. Fluency practice isn’t about learning new things. It’s about students getting good with what they already know. Unknown language can get in the way of fluency by slowing down the process.
Here are some proven fluency development activities that you should add to your lessons.
As the name suggests, this activity is about reading quickly. You give students a text (see Sonia Millet’s speed reading materials) and some questions to answer within a time limit. Don’t worry about your learners increasing their vocabulary — the only focus here is reading quickly.
For this activity there’s no time limit. Instead, get your students to re-read a passage several times. They can do this silently or aloud. They can even do it while listening to the audio of the text. If you want to track learners’ progress, you can record them reading aloud, making a note of the time and pointing out any mistakes. Do this each time they read the passage and they’ll see real fluency progress.
Timed writing has lots of variation. But they’re all about getting students to write quickly. For example, you could give learners 5 minutes to write about a given topic. Remember the key is speed so remind them quantity is more important than quality. With this kind of freewriting, the focus is on fluency and the flow of ideas rather than accuracy.
In this activity you give your learners decreasing time limits to talk about the same topic. Let’s say their topic is environmental issues. After having preparation time, they talk about environmental issues for 4 minutes. Give them a break and get them to change partners. Next they talk about the same topic but only for 3 minutes. Repeat one more time for 2 minutes. This technique works because each step leads to fewer pauses.
PechaKucha presentations were invented by a Tokyo architect firm to get their designers to talk less and show more. PechaKucha presentations have strict limits. They must include 20 slides that last for 20 seconds each. And slides must change automatically.
This added time pressure means they’re also great for increasing fluency. Of course, 20 slides is going to be difficult for beginner students so you need to adapt it to your class’s needs. But don’t let their difficulty put you off — they can be a great way to reduce hesitation when speaking. Just be sure to give your class plenty of time to practice.
Quicklistens use the audiobooks of graded readers to give learners easy to understand and quick listening exercises. Play a chapter everyday or every lesson. And give your students simple tasks to complete before the recording finishes.
ZenGengo can give you the tools you need to encourage fluency. By using the Audio Recording assignments, you can easily do 4/3/2 speaking exercises with your students. Here you can see a demonstration of using ZenGengo for 4/3/2 speaking. You can also use Audio or Video Recording assignments for repeated reading activities, and Text-to-Test assignments for combined reading and listening practice.
Sign up for a free trial of ZenGengo to learn more about how it can boost your learners fluency.
You can adapt all of ZenGengos language learning features, assignment types, and content library to help your learners with fluency development.
No. Here at ZenGengo we’re big believers in balanced courses. We think fluency practice, comprehensible input, and meaningful output are all equally important and should equally share time in language classes.