Last week I posted about an Excellent Speaking Activity, one that I learned from Paul Nation. Here’s an excerpt:

He calls it the “4-3-2″ Fluency Activity. In it, students line up (standing or sitting) facing each other. Each one must be prepared to speak on something that they are already quite familiar with. First, they speak to their partner for four minutes about the topic. Then, they move down the line, and say the same thing for three minutes. Next, they move and speak for two minutes. Then, the students on the other side do the same thing.

It’s a great idea, and I think Katie Hull (my co-author on an upcoming book on teaching English Language Learners) and I were able to build on it and make it even better in the class we co-teach.

Here’s what we did:

We told students they were going to pick any topic they wanted, and prepare to speak about it first for three minutes, then two, and finally one (we thought that reduced time was more realistic for a first try). We first asked students to think of a topic they knew a lot about, and to write down as much as they could think about the topic.

The next day, we went to the computer lab, and students spoke for one minute on Fotobabble on their topic, with their notes in front of them. You can hear their recordings on our class blog.

Next, students were allowed two minutes to review their notes, and were told we would begin the the 3-2-1 activity — without their notes in front of them. The key new addition we made to the lesson (it was actually Katie’s idea), though, was preparing students to ask questions of their partner if he/she seemed “stuck” on what to say next. Katie and I modeled that situation in front of the class, and then the class was divided into two lines.

It turned out great, and the question-asking helped a lot.

Afterwards, we asked students write a reflection on the experience by answering two questions:

1) Did you like this activity? Explain why or why not.

2) Think about the first time you spoke about the topic and compare that time to doing 3-2-1 this period. How did it change? Easier? Harder? Did you improve?

Here are some of their responses:

I like it because it’s fun and we get to communicate with our friends and with new person. Also, it’s a good thing for your brain because this activity is a game to test your brain to see if you can still remember.

I like this activity because is fun and we can get time to communicate in English to each other.

Yes, I liked this activity because it help to do better for my speaking and also know more knowledge.

I nervous when I did first time because I didn’t do that before. It easier for me when in class because I more used to it.

The first time I spoke about the topic in the computer lab is hard because we don’t do it before. I am more improve when we talk in class.

I really improve doing 3-2-1 this period.

I improve in class because I talk more good than last time.

Because of logistics, we couldn’t get back to the computer lab last week. When we do this activity again, though, we’ll plan it so we can. That way, students will be able to listen to themselves speak the first time and then see how much they have improved the second time around.