B2 is a scary level. It is the boss level in a video game that you and your students have been painstakingly practicing for years. You have trained your champions; you have groomed them to victoriously face any challenges. They have gone through the grind. They came to the school, young and bright and hopeful, copying “apple” with chubby fingers, toiling over words like “queen” and “purple” before moving on to conquer the scary Mount of Irregular Verbs and defeat the monstrous Passive Voice. Up to now, they have been used to stricter lesson plans and well-calculated learning regimes that leave little to chance. They have had task-oriented sessions that have hopefully taught them the ropes. And now they stand before the scariest monster of all; The Real World.
Text by: Lazaros Alexakis
They can feel it themselves. You are letting go of their hand. Exercises are not guided anymore, not to the extent they were. Writing is more freeform, and so is speaking. Some are too eager to bungee jump into the unknown, others are more hesitant, structuring their sentences in a subject-verb-object fashion, never wanting to leave the warm nest of Predictable Syntax. And it is us that need to help them make that transition as seamless as possible, to boost their confidence.
How do we do that? How do we encourage speaking? How do we keep them engaged and motivated when the dreaded exam looms large?
The exam is seen by most as a stressful performance benchmark, an “objective” measure of knowledge, a score given by an impartial observer. And it is so tempting to give in to this performance mentality, to assign numbers to their every effort, to make the road to the B2 test a grueling uphill struggle strewn with percentages and marks.
A lot of educators choose that path, and for good reason. Results is the name of the game. A 100% pass in our classes means our job was done well. We want that, our students want that, our students’ parents want that. This is the goal. If we focus too much on it, we fail to give our students leeway to brush up their skills.
We must remind ourselves that we prepare speakers and writers, not exam takers. We prepare language users who will travel and communicate and express themselves, will read literature and prose and poetry, will watch movies without the need to read subtitles, and will sing along to the lyrics of their favourite song. We prepare them not just to distinguish the finer nuances of meaning between synonyms, but to be citizens of the world.
To work towards this goal, we need three things.
The first one is, quite predictably, the easiest, and the one that has been exhaustively analyzed. We will focus on the other two, which seem to be more elusive.
Motivation is a matter of personal relevance. It is a matter of finding the pot of gold that every student has, the one hobby, interest, pastime, obsession, or fad, that makes him or her tick. And exploit it to no end. It is something that they want to talk about. It is what they are dying to tell the world. It is who they want to be, and what they want to do. As the saying goes, everybody has a thing. Once you give them time, and assessment free space to express it, they will shine. Oh, there will be grammar errors galore. Tenses will fall bravely on the battlefield, syntax will often succumb to its wounds, and pronunciation is in for a bleak future.
How do we structure such a learning process in the classroom? We do it through presentations, through public speaking.
Presenting a topic they are interested in is invaluable, and it is a learning process we heavily emphasize through our curriculum, more so in B2.
Public speaking is not just about the language, it is about personal development and growth. They overcome their fears and insecurity and feel a sense of accomplishment that will bolster their confidence. The positive feedback of their peers will help them do even better next time and improve their oral communication skills. They will hone their critical thinking by delivering a clear message and tailoring it to fit the needs of their audience. They will become more aware of how others perceive them and work on their posture, tone of voice, hand gestures, interjections like “uh” and “um” and long pauses. Furthermore, and that is a great benefit, it will help them be calm in stressful situations and retain control of the room. Last but not least they will be advocates for causes they care about!
It does not stop there. A good public speaker will be hired for a job more easily, will be able to persuade colleagues, influence decision-making, to be effective. Needless to say, all those benefits will trickle down to their writing, their vocabulary, to their overall feel for the language.