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ESL Speaking: Why Simplicity is Key for Online Presentations

Public speaking is no easy task for students at any age, but perhaps even more so for young ESL learners who are only just beginning to develop their command of English while coming from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Couple that with having to deliver the presentation through a screen—it could very well turn out to be a recipe for disaster.

Students may often show up with too much text or too many graphics on their slides, detracting from the main message of the speech. Running into technical difficulties is also a possibility and could make them even more anxious about executing the presentation. Or they might be tempted to devise a script, especially for the online setup, and become monotonous in their speech when they read off what they have prepared. Indeed, it is highly likely that they would feel overwhelmed, striving to have proper grammar, pronunciation, tone, flow and organization of ideas all at once.

Of course, that's the last thing teachers would want to see in their class; it could all too quickly drain the students’ confidence and shy them away from trying to speak up and develop their communicative competencies.

When creating in-class speaking activities, here are some aspects that English teachers can simplify to help their students become comfortable with delivering presentations online.

On Skills and Learning Outcomes

Developing speaking skills, especially for learners of another language, is most definitely a gradual process that will take time and multiple activities. There is no need to try and check all the boxes with one presentation. The first set of presentations can focus more on phonology, while the next set could check for correct verb tenses, and the third can be about appropriate conjunctions. This way, students would be given plenty of practice opportunities to build up their skills without dwelling on every single mistake and worrying about mastering all areas of English speaking.

On Structure and Content

Especially for younger students, it would be a good idea to give them an outline or template to follow. This could follow the introduction-body-conclusion or the point-reason-example-point format, for instance. In either case, the principle stays the same: start with the main idea or statement, then expand it with details, and finally close with a simple summary or restatement of the main idea.

By keeping it formulaic, emphasis is placed on fundamental speech production. Transitions are standardized and predictable, so students would not feel pressured to overdo it on the impact factor or wonder how to provide answers that are fully aligned with prompt. These creative twists can come later for more advanced learners.

On Length

Time should be managed carefully by the teacher, in consideration of the class size and schedule. Is there sufficient time available to accommodate each student in one session or would the presentations be held over several days? In the online setup especially, technical difficulties can disrupt the flow, and moving from one speaker to the next can take up a lot more time than in face-to-face classes. Young learners would more so become restless. Therefore, in most cases, what is more important is giving everyone the chance to practice speaking, even if only for a minute or two at most.

On Expectations

Finally, make sure to communicate all these aspects to the students. Give clear instructions and provide examples on what to expect, such as using only five slides containing only one key word and image each or identifying cue words to be incorporated to facilitate transitions. Telling students that it is okay to make mistakes and that they only need to focus on varying their sentence structure but not tone, for instance, can be reassuring for learners and can prompt them to express themselves in class.

For successful presentations, ATI-Phils definitely recommends keeping it simple to gradually build towards achieving these learning objectives and speaking skills.

Did you know that our program includes an online English teaching module? Enroll in our Advanced TESOL Online Program to discover more strategies for helping ESL learners acquire the necessary linguistic competencies to thrive on the global stage.