The Internet TESL Journal

A Genre Approach to Oral Presentations

Fiona Webster
webster [at]
Nagoya University (Nagoya, Japan)


Standing in front of a group and presenting a talk can be a daunting task for even the most confident of us, and even more so for language learners. What is the best way to approach oral presentations with Japanese university students? When sifting through my class's needs analysis results, it became obvious that many of my students may eventually be called on to give oral presentations. The target contexts include international research forums, conferences and post-graduate study abroad in English-medium institutions.

Theoretical Framework

In an article by King on students at a Taiwanese University there appear to be several similar features. In particularly, "oral presentations are a face-threatening activity" (p1), and "speech anxiety and limited presentation skills are the major problems that lead to learners' oral presentation failures" (King:2). Certainly having learners share their worries and concerns before tackling their oral presentations has proved a useful step, as has eliciting from the learners prior experience of presenting to a group.

When we use language, we employ particular genre, which are like pre-determined linguistic formulae for achieving an outcome. Therefore, learners need to be equipped with these formulae in order to communicate effectively, in this case in the context of an oral presentation. Taking the cue from Halliday's genre approach, analyzing generic staging of various texts (in this case the oral presentation genre) is an essential step in the so-called teaching-learning cycle (Hammond et al:17), consisting of four stages:

Whilst not following this cycle to the letter, it certainly underpins most classroom activities I do with learners, and an understanding of Stage 2 (Modelling of the Text) is absolutely imperative.


Rather than devoting an entire semester to this genre, I instead include several steps throughout the semester to gradually develop skills for oral presentations, as a component of our negotiated syllabus. Following is an outline of the process and product of the oral presentations component of the Advanced English communication classes. I am indebted to my former workplace colleagues at the University of Western Sydney's language centre (SWIC) for the overall idea for the assessment grid and procedure for preparing students for oral presentations.

Fluency Practice

During the semester, learners are given three minutes, then two minutes, then one minute to speak on any topic of their choosing. The learners are instructed to focus on fluency rather than grammatical accuracy. This requires overt explanation, as learners are generally not familiar with the differences between these two skills. After the initial three minutes with a partner, the pairs are rearranged and learners asked to speak about the same topic in two minutes, then with a new partner in one minute. The feedback from this preparatory activity is immediately positive ? all feel they really need and enjoy the opportunity to speak uninterrupted for a set period of time.

Class Handout

The next focus is the staging of a typical oral presentation. This is achieved by giving learners a copy of the actual assessment handout (Appendix A) to be used for final grades. The length of the presentation depends on the level of the learners. The space to the right of the table is left blank on purpose for learners to jot down useful words and phrases to use in their talks, in line with the various stages in the oral presentation genre. This section of the procedure needs quite a deal of explanation and elicitation, so we spend most of one lesson going over the assessment sheet. Below are comments pertaining to each section as presented on the handout.

Field, Tenor and Mode

Field (area of vocabulary to be used), tenor (register) and mode (oral versus written language) of oral presentations are identified. Some or all of the following activities can be done in class.

The remainder of the "language" and "physical features" sections of the handout can then be discussed, with examples and explanations where necessary.

Modelling of the Text

The teacher can then present a model talk to the class. After asking the learners for gist and main ideas, the staging of the presentation is analyzed using the handout (see "genre" section).

Joint Construction

Individual Construction


By analyzing oral presentations from a genre perspective, learners can grasp the basic scaffolding of this particular text type, and tailor it to their particular context. The activities mentioned in this discussion may of course be developed and expanded further, especially in the area of presentation tools, such as PowerPoint, overheads, or handouts. Those students aiming at longer talks should also practice question elicitation techniques for discussion time, and strategies to have questions rephrased should they not understand them.

With the experience of at least one oral presentation in English, learners can forge ahead in their English studies with more confidence, and the skills and strategies required to develop other similar presentations. In this era of increasing internationalization, opportunities for students to study or work abroad are growing steadily, and being able to speak to a group with confidence and ease is an essential skill.

Appendix A

7-min. speeches: results and comments

Genre (10 Points)
  • State topic clearly
  • Outline talk
  • Define any difficult vocabulary
  • Enumerate or signal each point
  • Reiterate your topic
  • Give examples and/or anecdotes
  • Give statistical information if relevant
  • Restate your topic
  • Summarise your talk
  • Give suggestions for future, recommendations for more research
Language (9 Points)
  • Grammatical accuracy
  • Vocabulary
  • Fluency
  • Appropriate spoken language (ie: not written language)
  • Pronunciation (rhythm, intonation, word stress, sentence stress, linking, sound articulation)
Physical Features (6 Points)
  • Eye contact
  • Audience interaction
  • Gestures
  • Notes
  • Stance


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 7, July 2002