Teachers in charge of language classrooms have to consider both the overall plan and goals of a particular course and also the very concrete exercises and activities that will be used to help students move toward those goals. In our July 2 workshop, Terry Yearley of Saitama University and West Tokyo JALT helped us think about both.
Terry first introduced Nation’s four-strand framework for language courses (meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency development) which Nation believes should receive equal time under a syllabus, and then led specific speaking activities, namely “432” and “Talking Zone.” JALT participants used “three interesting things about me” as the topic for the repeated speaking practice in shorter time frames of 4, 3, and 2 minutes. For “Talking Zone, we worked in pairs to match descriptions with pictures.
After the speaking activities, we reflected on how they fit into Nation’s framework. There was some discussion about how to distinguish the first two strands (meaning-focused input and output) from fluency development. According to Nation’s definitions, all three strands are meaning- and usage-focused, and all three revolve around familiar topics and language. The key point of fluency development seems to be 100% known vocabulary (as opposed to 95% for meaning-focused input and output) and an attention to speed. However, since most classrooms include students of different levels, a fluency speaking task for one student is likely to be a meaning-focused input activity for the listener.
Shinshu JALT would like to thank Terry for highlighting a framework for creating a well-balanced language syllabus and for raising our consciousness about the differences among speaking activities.