5 great books for teaching speaking in the English language classroom

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willliam_howard_taft_cr.jpgA recent thread on the TESOL English as a Foreign Language Interest Section e-list discussion group raised the issue of teaching conversation in the EFL classroom. I came up with the following list of useful books for those interested in teaching speaking.

Folse, K. S. (2006) The art of teaching speaking: Research and pedagogy for ESL/EFL classroom. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Keith Folse gives an overview of teaching L2 conversation and presents fundamental factors for planning and teaching a conversation class. After outlining some of the research on teaching the spoken language he presents 20 brief case studies of what a conversation class might look like, followed by a list of 20 successful activities and 10 unsuccessful activities. There is a section on the assessment of speaking and a number of helpful appendices.

Zelman, N.E. (2009) Conversation inspirations (3rd. ed.). Brattleboro, VT: Pro Lingua Associates.
This classic resource has been around for 25 years now. Nancy Zelman presents 2400  conversation topics including role plays, interviews, talks, group creativity, and discussions. Each section is preceded by a description of suggested procedures for the teacher. There are also suggestions for the teacher on how to monitor conversations between students and how to offer correction. Many of the situations and issues are designed to be somewhat controversial in order to inspire discussion, but this is intended as a teacher resource book, so the teacher can choose which topics to use and which to omit.

Bailey, K. M. & Savage, L. (Eds.). (1994). New ways in teaching speaking. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.
This is a “cook book” of recipe ideas for ways to teach speaking. The activities are divided into activities for fluency, accuracy, pronunciation, and for speaking in specific contexts such as oral presentations or English for academic purposes. Each “recipe” follows a similar pattern: first it explains the level for which the activity is intended, then the goals or aims of the activity are briefly outlines. The estimated time that the activity will take is listed as is the preparation time. Then the necessary resources to complete the activity are set out.  The procedure for the activity is listed in a step-by-step manner. Finally some caveats (warnings) and options are given and there are often references and further reading on the topic if you would like to explore it in greater depth.

Ur. P. (1981). Discussions that work: Task-centred fluency practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Another old chestnut. Ur begins with general principles about discussions and describes the factors involved in a good discussion, then focuses on the task that students are required to do and discusses the organization of the lesson. She then lists a number of practical examples including brainstorming activities, organizing activities, and activities composed of different types of discussions.

Underhill, N. (1987). Testing spoken language: A handbook or oral testing techniques. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
It is hard to teach the spoken language without thinking about assessment. Nic Underhill outlines the basic ideas behind testing spoken language in this slim and readable book.  The book is quite practical and describes test types and elicitation techniques, then talks about different types of marking systems. A brief section at the end describes some of the basics of test evaluation such as reliability and different types of validity.

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  1. Paresh Kumar Bhoi Reply

    Thanks for the list of books. i am working on developing learners awareness of discourse strategies in speaking as interaction. The above list is really a valuable one in developing speaking skills.

  2. Keith Folse Reply

    Joe, Thanks for the good words about The Art of Teaching Speaking. I just stumbled upon your posting because I was looking for book reviews for my grad course that starts next week. See you, Keith

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