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Fluency Enhancers for Adult One-to-one ESL Lessons

Being able to speak in a foreign language is always a difficult task, especially if one gets little practice. So for ESL teachers, fresh activity ideas for speaking practice are always welcome in order to give students as much scope to interact verbally as possible. Here are some fun and spontaneous fluency-enhancing exercises that not only work to get a student talking but also keeps him engaged till the very end.
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Tip to Break the Ice:
Start the session with a warm-up activity with real-life props or realia.

For example, tell your student that you are planning to go to the Shaftesbury Theatre in the evening, so you need his help to understand exactly how to get there. Then give him a map and ask him to give you driving directions from Tottenham Court Road to Shaftesbury Avenue in English.
There are many benefits of conducting one-to-one ESL lessons, or private lessons, for adults. You can:

⇒ Focus on the learner’s specific needs.
⇒ Alter the pace of the lesson as necessary.
⇒ Digress whenever it is appropriate.
⇒ Get direct feedback and ideas from the learner.


Of course, one-to-ones are more challenging in some ways than classrooms with multiple learners. Teachers are constantly working since there are no group activities that offer a few minutes of rest. The teacher also needs a strong ability to mentally multitask in order to monitor the student’s progress, follow the thread of a conversation, and assess the progress of the lesson and the curriculum all at the same time.

One-to-one Speaking Practice

If one-to-one learners need a lot of work on reading, listening, writing, and grammar, teachers have no trouble helping them improve their language skills as a whole. It’s when speaking is the primary focus that one-to-one lessons can become a tad difficult to conduct. Of course, speaking is almost always the focus of one-to-one lessons because adult learners feel that they will get more speaking practice if they study privately with an instructor. This notion is correct to a certain extent, but there exists a flip side to this. Group lessons allow for much more authentic speaking practice opportunities because different people introduce different perspectives and angles into every conversation that is initiated by the instructor. So, the scope to learn is far greater.

Since there are only two people in a one-to-one classroom, and one of them is the instructor, there will always be a certain degree of inauthenticity in any conversation that occurs. This is because the instructor can never let her guard down and simply engage with the student as a conversation partner. A responsible instructor will always be monitoring progress and guiding the conversation in ways that will benefit the learner. For this reason, instructors should strive to incorporate activities that promote authentic fluency practice rather than simply having open conversations.

Storytelling Activities

There are many good ways to practice fluency in adult one-on-one ESL lessons, but storytelling activities are some of the best. In contrast to topical conversations, storytelling activities have several advantages. Because stories are supposed to be engaging, they give the learner an opportunity to practice diction, tempo, tone, and delivery in addition to expressing ideas. Also, storytelling activities exercise creativity, which keeps the learner engaged intellectually and verbally. Too often, normal one-to-one conversations tend to become unproductive after a point because the learner "tunes out" when the interaction becomes boring or it gets laborious to express already-formed ideas in English. Storytelling does not have this drawback because the learner is constantly engaged in creating something new mentally as the lesson progresses.

Spontaneous Stories Using Realia
There are several ways to encourage spontaneity and creativity in storytelling fluency lessons. One excellent activity involves collecting random pictures or small objects/trinkets and incorporating them in the course of a story. Here's how you go about it.

The student chooses a picture or trinket and uses it to tell a story. Now, before adding every new sentence to the story, he must choose an object/picture in front of him (in whatever order he wishes) and then incorporate his choice in the narrative itself. For example:

→ A learner could choose a small dog figurine and say, "Once upon a time, there was a dog."
→ The next object could be a rock, so the learner chooses to add, "One day, the dog found a magical rock."

And so on until all trinkets or pictures are exhausted. Countless variations are possible with this activity, including versions where the instructor chooses the next picture, or alternates with the student in contributing to the story.

Retelling a Story
Story retelling is another excellent fluency exercise for one-to-one ESL/EFL sessions.

The basic idea here is as follows.

→ The instructor either narrates a tale or plays one on a CD player.
→ The student then retells the story in his own words.

This activity not only works to improve the speaking skills of a person but also enhances his auditory comprehension abilities.

These were a few activities that have been tried and tested in one-to-one ESL lessons with success. You can suggest other such constructive activities for fluency improvement in the "Bouquets and Brickbats" section given below.
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Published: September 25, 2013
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