• ESL Student-Presentations (Part 2): An Effective, Modified Presentation Activity

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

In Part 1, I analyzed the assumptions teachers have made about having students do class-presentations. (See ESL Student-Presentations (Part 1): Questioning the Reasons for Doing Them

As I concluded in that post, there seems to be weak support for having students do class presentations. However, many ESL teachers would like to give each student the experience of speaking to a small group of classmates. These are the challenges:

  • The students should clearly understand how to carry out the activity.
  • The activity shouldn’t take up a lot of class time preparing.
  • What the “presenters” talk about should be of high interest.
  • The activity shouldn’t give the “presenters” increased levels of stress, but rather help them develop confidence and let them experience success.
  • The “presenters” should receive natural feedback on how well they were understood, but at the same time, the “audience” classmates should not be expected to be evaluators.
  • The “audence” classmates should not be simply passive listeners. They need to be motivated to be engaged during the activity.

In brief, first, the teacher will model a “presentation and discussion” to the whole class. Next, each student will “present” a short, high-interest story or article to a group of between 3 to 5 (or possibly more) classmates. After telling the article, the “presenter” will ask some “Factual Questions” (comprehension questions) and “Reaction Questions” asking the classmates for their opinions and about their experiences with the topic.

Here are more details about the activity through the five challenges above.

Challenge 1) The students should clearly understand how to carry out the activity.

Teacher models discussion leader.

  1. Teacher preparation: The teacher finds some high-interest articles that students can choose from. (*See link to samples under Challenge 3 below.)
  2. The teacher begins by telling students that s/he will read a short article to them and that they should try to politely interrupt at any time if they don’t understand something. Also, after they hear the article, s/he will ask some Factual Questions and some Reaction Questions, which they should volunteer to answer. *
  3. S/he reads the short article to the class, occasionally stopping to ask confirmation questions (eg, “Did you understand?” “Got it?”)
  4. S/he asks the Factual Questions about the content of the article but doesn’t call on any student specifically giving them a chance to practice volunteering to answer.
  5. S/he asks the Reaction Questions about their opinions and experiences, and students volunteer to answer, try to answer with some details and ask each other follow-up questions.

*(Here is a sample that you can use with your students Teacher models using article_Cheating

Challenge 2: The activity shouldn’t take up a lot of class time preparing.

  1. The students get in groups of 2, 3 or 4 students. You will want them to lead discussions with at least 3 students, so this preparation group size will depend on the size of the class.
  2. The preparation group chooses one of the article topics that the teacher has provided. Each group must choose a different topic.
  3. The group members read the article and help each other understand all the words.
  4. Together they write about five Factual Questions based on the teacher’s model. The teacher will have supplied several Reaction Questions for each article, which the group can use, but they can also add their own.
  5. They should practice reading the article aloud. The teacher tells them that they will not present together, but instead, each member will lead a different group.
  6. The teacher provides them with a schedule of when they will serve as discussion leaders.

Here is the link to the directions that I give my students: Preparation group directions

Challenge 3: What the “presenters” talk about should be of high interest.

(Ideally recent, to maximize on students’ engagement, the articles will about some research. ) For example, here is a list of articles that I’ve used: Sample research articles for group leaders

(For more examples, in the right-hand margin of this site, see CATEGORIES > ESL Discussions: Free Small-Group Discussion Units.) The articles, which the teacher may want to rewrite, should be about one page long. See “Cheating” in the teacher model above for an example of a rewritten article.

Challenge 4: The activity should not give the “presenters” increased levels of stress, but rather help them develop confidence and let them experience success.

Because the articles and questions that the leaders will present have been provided by the teacher and worked on with their preparation group members, the presenters will feel not only confident but also enthusiastic about their role. Here is a link to Discussion leader directions

Challenge 5: The “presenters” should receive natural feedback on how well they were understood, but at the same time, the “audience” classmates should not be expected to be evaluators.

As the presenters read their articles, the group members will be given opportunities to ask for clarifications when the presenters ask, “Do you understand?” or “Got it?” Also, they can politely interrupt the presenter if they didn’t understand something.

For practice asking for clarifications, see • ESL Students Won’t Progress In Conversation Skills Without This Technique. AND • A More Sophisticated Technique Than Just Saying, “What did you say?” and “I don’t understand.”

For practice discussing whole class, see Guaranteed Active Whole-Class Discussions (3rd Technique: Redirecting a question to a classmate when you don’t know what to say)

Challenge 6: The “audence” classmates should not be simply passive listeners. They need to be motivated to be engaged during the activity.

The group members want to be able to answer the Factual Questions after hearing the article. Thus, they are motivated to be focused and to ask for clarifications if they don’t understand something. In addition, they know that they will want supportive group members when they are the leaders. Here is the link to Group members directions

For practice volunteering to answer, see • Helping Students Overcome Hesitancy to Volunteer an Answer in Group Discussions AND Guaranteed Active Whole-Class Discussions (2nd Technique: Volunteering to Answer)

In conclusion, according to the research of mainstream college instructors that I discussed in Part 1, “…ONLY TWO instructors out of the 35 included oral presentations in their course. Not surprisingly, the course was Communication. Both of them said that EAP teachers could best prepare students for their courses by giving them some exposure to talking before a small group.” I have found that the activity described in this post provides a user-friendly, student-centered and time-efficient way to do just that.

David Kehe

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