Preparing EFL Learners for Oral PresentationsJane King
jane [at] mail.scu.edu.tw
Soochow University (Taipei, Taiwan)
IntroductionThis article provides tips and advice to reduce EFL learners' anxieties for oral presentation. Step-by-step procedures of how to prepare students for oral presentations are included: (1) handout guidelines; (2) grouping learners; (3) choosing topics and gathering information; (4) handling technical problems; (5) holding Q & A sessions; and (6) preparing peer and teacher evaluation forms.
Oral presentation is an effective communicative activity that has been widely adopted by EFL conversation teachers to promote oral proficiency. However, when oral presentations are assigned in class, the teacher will get either complete silence or grumbles from students who find the idea of oral presentations frustrating and intimidating. Students are overwhelmed with the research and communication skills that are necessary for a successful presentation. Some serious students who invest time and effort into an oral presentation do not always get the intended outcomes. Other students try to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible, but do not improve their speaking skills under such stressful situations. Thus oral presentations can be a time-consuming project with no guarantee of a satisfactory performance.
The question of whether the adaptation of a mainly student-centered approach would be appropriate in EFL context, especially in Asia, where are still basically teacher-centered is often raised. Many Asian teachers wonder how many students can learn from such experience because oral presentations take quite a large of amount of class time. An obvious gap between the current level of performance and the intended learning experience often results in a breakdown of language production and frustration for students.
The need for establishing a comfortable and low-threat learning environment, from the perspective of second language acquisition, has long been emphasized and recognized. The less anxious and more relaxed the learner, the better language acquisition proceeds. The delivery of an oral presentation is a source of extreme anxiety. Anxiety causes performance to deteriorate and affects novice speakers' self-esteem and confidence. Particularly for Asian students, oral presentations are a face-threatening activity.
However, oral presentations, if properly guided and organized, provide a learning experience and teach life long skills that will be beneficial to learners in all school subjects as well as later in their careers. Among the many advantages of making oral presentations for the students are: bridging the gap between language study and language use; using the four language skills in a naturally integrated way; helping students to collect, inquire, organize and construct information; enhancing team work; and helping students become active and autonomous learners.
In addition, with the availability of new technology both at school and home, students incorporate video cameras, slide projectors, PowerPoint, VCR/DVD and other visual aids into their presentations which become more exciting and interesting.
Coping with Speech Anxiety and Practicing Presentation SkillsSpeech anxiety and limited presentation skills are the major problems that lead to learners' oral presentation failures. In order to help students effectively cope with their fear of oral presentations, it is essential for teachers to acknowledge that speech anxiety is perfectly normal. Having an open discussion on speech anxiety will assist students to feel that they are not alone. Fortunately, we can get some insights from psychotherapy and speech communication literature, which can be used to assist students to overcome their public speaking anxieties. The following tips and advice to reduce their anxieties will certainly better prepare students for oral presentations.
1. Emphasize the Difference Between Spoken English and Written English.A total dependence on memorization is the pattern followed by most EFL presenters who usually have trouble adapting information to spoken English for the audience. The reading of written English, with complex sentences and low frequency words, further impedes audience's listening comprehension. Instead of using a conversational tone and communicative English, they have long pauses while fiddling with their notes. The audience feels bored when they have to listen to a tedious reading or word-for-word memorized speech from a presenter who reads rapidly and monotonously throughout the presentation. Reciting from passages copied down from references makes the presentations sound canned, machine-like and dull. A listener's attention span shortens when he/she cannot follow the speech and the speaker gets worse when he senses that his listeners are inattentive and losing interest in his presentation. Thus presenters often lose command of their voice, tone, and pacing. Students should use note cards as reminders of what they are going to say. It is much easier to establish rapport with the audience by only referring to the note cards occasionally and make eye contact with the audience.
2. Explain the Purpose of Visual Aids.There are many advantages in using visual aids during the presentation. Visual aids can create a powerful effect, help keep students' attention, and illustrate main ideas. The basic rule is to use visual aids to support the presentation, not to dominate it. However, the disadvantage of overusing visual aids is that the attention of the audience will be divided and students may stand aside and have visual aids take their place.
3. Help Students to Conquer the Fear of Making Grammatical or Pronunciation Errors.Inform the learners that they will not be graded by the mistakes they make. Hand out the grading criteria to all learners while assigning this activity. Good English learners are willing to take risks and accept errors. Poor English learners like to use only language that they are certain is correct.
4. Develop Students' Summarizing and Outlying Skills.If students' past English learning experiences have been basically teacher-controlled and test-oriented, they used to work on memorizing detailed grammatical rules, vocabulary out of contexts and isolated phrases or expressions by which their test grades based on. Learning to produce a well-organized and coherent outline can be very helpful to learners since an outline can give audiences a clear and concise overview of the key points of the talk.
Preparing students these prerequisite skills is important in getting them ready for any project work, otherwise students will feel that the teacher has just dumped them into the sea to struggle for survival. They may feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Passive resistance and grumbling are common signs manifested by students who do not appreciate and are even hostile to this project. Lack of experience is usually the main producer of student stress and nervousness. Experience builds confidence, which is vital to effective oral presentations.
The Teacher's RoleWorking with students on oral presentations is a challenging job for teachers because it not only involves training in other disciplines such as speech communication and public speaking, but also demands more of teachers in terms of time and effort in lesson planning and teaching strategies. On the student's part, the student-centered activity asks students to be responsible for their own learning. When a teacher moves from the traditional role of teacher as an authoritative expert to the new role of facilitator of learning, students feel a drastic change. With such a student-led activity as oral presentation, teachers need to have some psychological preparation for meeting the resistance from students, since some of them are not receptive to project learning and are uncomfortable when given autonomy. Furthermore, the importance of creating a supportive learning atmosphere, acquiring interaction skills, incorporating project work, developing cooperative learning skills and applying computer/technology in enhancing teachers' facilitative skills should be emphasized. The teacher is the guide, organizer, consultant, resource person, and supporter.
The teacher's role in oral presentations not only involves preparing detailed guidelines, organizing groups, helping students to select topics, guiding their research and helping them learn the use of various visual aids, but also the holding of Q & A sessions, providing feedback on the sequencing of ideas, and evaluating their performance. Step-by-step procedures of how to prepare students for successful oral presentations are as follows:
Step 1: Handout GuidelinesSince oral presentations involve multi-skills, a carefully planned and constructed guideline will help develop students' receptiveness to oral presentations. Listing instructional objectives and explaining reasons for this activity can increase student participation and may always result in a heightening of satisfaction and achievement.
- Hand out assignment forms (Appendix A) to organize students and help them distribute jobs among themselves.
- Stress the time limit of presentations. If it is a twenty five-minute presentation, it will probably be thirty-five minutes in class, allowing for pauses, operating machines, and receiving questions from students. The teacher may need another five minutes of class time to have students fill out peer evaluation forms.
- Offer students a choice of giving the presentation in class or taping their presentation on a video. However, live presentations work much better than video presentations that usually detach the audience from the presenter.
- Grading criteria clearly states the teacher's expectations for presentations.
Step 2: Grouping and Scheduling Student PresentationsIt is challenging to plan presentations for a large EFL class. Group projects with 4-5 students in one group will save class time, develop cooperative learning skills and reduce the anxiety of being a single presenter. In order to have a dynamic group, with a feeling of cohesiveness and togetherness, even though learners come from diverse learning styles, the teacher needs to be familiar with a variety of cooperative group techniques.
- Groups of 4-5 students in a class of 50 work best1 and scheduling two groups every other week throughout the semester is a good plan..
- Have students choose their own partners, since it is much easier for students to work out their own schedules for getting together outside the classroom. If the teacher groups students from different departments together, there can be time conflicts among them.
- One student is chosen as the coordinator or leader, responsible for evenly distributing the assignments among members.
Step 3: Choosing Topics and Gathering InformationProjects provide opportunities to study interesting topics in detail, and to
explore factors of successful presentation planning. Learners are free to choose any topic they prefer in three categories: event-or goal-oriented; student-initiated; and in-depth topic studies, in order to enhance their self-expression and creativity. Low-level students are not required to choose a topic that necessitates research, although they are encouraged to do so. It is interesting to see the variety of topics presented by students. Some students enjoy making skits of fairy tales. The reason for that may be their limited English proficiency, maturity and interest. Some advanced students' topics deal more with issues pertinent to university students or current events.
Topics presented by students in the past were categorized as follows: performing arts, culture and customs, fairy tales and short stories, current issues, sports, holidays and American culture, the student's field of specialization, hobbies, scripts from the TV shows, entertainment and shows, traveling and tourist spots, and newspaper articles.
- Inform students where the resources are --English newspapers, magazines, websites, questionnaires, surveys, interviews, library research, radio programs, English teaching institutes, travel brochures, and video.
- Show topics chosen by students in previous classes and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of them. Use some previous students' videotapes as demos.
Step 4: Handling Technical ProblemsIt is important for students to know in advance how to handle the
equipment themselves. A discussion about the equal importance of both the rehearsal and the performance will prevent students from technical surprises and panic on the day of the presentation. Usually, students concentrate all their energies on performance and forget to check machines in advance and assume everything will happen as they plan or expect. Often they expect the teacher to fix their technical problems at the last minute. However, wasted class time in fixing facility machinery can adversely affect the presentation, and even be a cause of failure at worst or the need for presenters to represent their material on another day.
- Show supporting materials they can use, such as posters, videotapes, props, artwork, costumes...etc.
- Tell students what facilities are available in the language lab and the school such as data viewer, VCR/DVD, tape recorder, PowerPoint, and slide projector etc. Answer possible problems that they may come up with their equipment. For example, for outdoor V8 shooting, students need to be aware of sound effect.
- Students should know how to handle the equipment themselves and make sure everything is working a week before the presentation. They need to come to the class early to set up the equipment and become familiar with it.
- Have time count for reviewing video clips and wind them to the correct spot.
- Make sure writings and illustrations are big enough to be seen from the back of the room.
- Prepare a microphone for learners in advance to make sure good voice quality, so the teacher does not need to ask shy presenters to project their voice in a big room.
- Ask students to keep eyes on the audience when talking about transparencies or PowerPoint. If possible, control the lighting by not turning off the lights completely and always leave a light on in the back of the room, so the audience can still remain eye contact with the presenter.
- Also remind students to refer to the image or texts on the projector. Allow time for the audience to read longer texts, otherwise there is no point putting them on.
Step 5: Holding Q & A SessionsThese short sessions are like quality control that is necessary and helpful in ensuring effective presentations. Teachers can spot possible difficulties students might encounter and prevent the problems.
- Check with the group about what they are going to do a week before their presentation.
- Encourage students to contact the teacher if they run into any problems; for example, students may have difficulties pronouncing words.
Step 6: Preparing Peer and Teacher Evaluation FormsThe peer evaluation form (Appendix B) provides the presenters with feedback from other students. Students will not only evaluate their peers, but also learn each group's strong and weak points from presentations. The teacher evaluation form (Appendix C) should be given to students while assigning the work. It can be used as a guideline for students to prepare their presentations. In this way, students are informed in advance of the criteria by which their presentations will be evaluated. It is helpful for students to know the teacher's expectations and grading criteria.
- Individual accountability and grades based on the average of the team's individual scores can help to avoid "free-rider effect" and the "sucker effect" these pitfalls of using cooperative learning.
ConclusionEven though there are some arguments about the appropriateness and constraints of oral presentation in an EFL learning environment as mentioned earlier, however, with structured planning and organization, oral presentations can be a beneficial and enjoyable activity with learners. Both teachers and students are expecting a break away from textbooks. Each week, students come to class with great anticipation and excitement. It is a rewarding experience for low achieving students who had either given up on English or were intimated by past English learning experiences.
The introduction of oral presentations to EFL classrooms provides a rewarding and stimulating experience both for teachers in developing facilitating skills and for students in training themselves to have confident presentations in public.
Note1The oral presentation activity was developed for sophomore listening and speaking lab classes at Soochow University, Taiwan. It is a one-year required course for all majors. Usually, a class of forty-five students will have a mixture of students from five or more departments.
Assignment FormGroup Number:_________________Presentation Date:______________
Summary of Content:
Name Role Assignment Grade
Student Evaluation FormTopic______________________________________________________
What did you like best about this presentation?
What are some ways to improve this presentation?
Did you learn anything new? What skills or advice could you use in the future?
Teacher Evaluation FormGroup Number____Date____Topic___________________________________________
- ___came to the class early to set up equipment
- ___made sure all equipments in working condition
- ___turned in assignment sheet
- ___clear introduction
- ___logical development
- ___strong conclusion
- ___typed and clear outline
- ___variety of resources
- ___amount of research conducted
- ___held audiences' attention
- ___spoke with note cards
- ___Eye contact
- ___time control
- ___volume of voice
- ___effectiveness of visual aids
- Oral skills
- ___adapted the information for the audience (communicative English)
- ___clarity & fluency
- ___provided discussion questions or class activities
- ___involved the audience
- Overall Group Rating_____________
- Teacher comments__________________________________________
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 3, March 2002