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Review: Balancing Fluency and Accuracy Activities in the Classroom
“Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.”
—Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), German novelist and 1946 Nobel Prize winner
What’s the difference between speaking English fluently and speaking accurately? Which one takes priority in the classroom? How can we, as educators, create a balanced curriculum with more targeted in-class fluency activities?
In an October 2015 article for the TESOL Blog titled “Fluency and Accuracy Activities: Striking a Balance,” author and Boston-based educator Rob Sheppard addresses how to do just that. Too often, we unintentionally place so much emphasis on accuracy that students feel incapable and uncomfortable speaking English both inside and outside our classrooms. Yet at the same time, accuracy activities are the bedrock of a good language education, which fluency is often built upon.
The solution? Boost both student competency and confidence by integrating more fluency-focused activities into the curriculum, and creating authentic, positive English conversations in our classrooms.
Practice makes progress
With fluency activities, the goal is “to encourage and support rapid speech, [and] to lower inhibitions and anxiety related to making mistakes,” says Sheppard. Including even one casual activity per class helps students simply exchange ideas and engage in low risk, safe communication between themselves. Fluency requires practice, and practice makes progress.
Yet what makes a great fluency-building exercise? According to research cited by Sheppard in the article, there are three main qualities to look for when selecting activities for your lesson plans:
- The students must already be familiar with all the parts of speech involved.
- Communication – not form – is the focus.
- Supports must be in place for students to outperform their normal proficiency.
Sheppard then outlines a sample activity where students prepare a short speech describing their dream homes. Afterwards, they exchange descriptions with several partners in succession, shortening the speech each time. This activity works on multiple levels – students, already familiar with some crucial vocabulary have the opportunity to learn more while sharing their personal dreams and experiences
Bringing it back to the classroom
The following Search and Share developed for Compelling Conversations – Vietnam expands on Sheppard’s dream home exercise. Since everyone lives somewhere and has seen many more homes, it’s a natural topic. (I also like to emphasize the difference between a house and a home with students).
Feel free to reproduce for your own classroom as needed.
Search & Share
Airbnb: My Dream Home
Student name: ________________________________ Date:________________________
What is your dream home? First, go to www.airbnb.com and choose your dream destination. Second, search for your dream home. How many bedrooms? How many bathrooms? Does it have a view? Now describe the dream home that you would like to live in. Use the vocabulary you learned in this lesson. Use your imagination.
- What does the outside of your dream home look like?
- How would you describe the neighborhood?
- How many rooms are there?
- What does the living room look like?
- Describe the kitchen:
- Describe another room:
- What else makes this home special?
- What other information or details can you share?
- Who will live with you in your dream home?
In other words. . .
From my perspective, it doesn’t matter if students choose a penthouse, a villa, a loft, or a cave. They will find and share personally meaningful information while learning many new, specific vocabulary words – and have a chance to immediate use them in an authentic conversations and discussions.
Casual, ungraded classroom conversations also increase student confidence, demonstrate their ability to convey ideas, and create a more lively ESL classroom. When students share authentic information and have positive experiences in English, they also enjoy class more and develop closer relationships with fellow students. Everybody becomes both a teacher and a student.
You can find more Search and Share exercises from our various fluency-focused ESL & EFL books here!
Do you find it difficult to strike a balance between fluency and accuracy in your English classes? Which fluency-focused activities have been successful with your students? Please share your successful classroom teaching stories.
Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.