In most of my speaking and listening lessons, I lacked a lot of focus. I was never sure what outcome I wanted at the end of the lesson and I was even unsure what excellent speaking and listening looked like from a student's perspective. In writing, I faced the same problem until I created a menu that helped guide the lessons. I thought about doing the same for speaking and listening.
In the speaking and listening menu, the five strands are further broken down into goals that students have to work on. You can find a downloadable version of it here.
Each week, I focus on and model ONE of these aspects with a concerted effort. However, I usually select a goal from content, mechanics, or language because I know that most of the students are usually able to get three or four on the presence and listening strands.
The menu provides some clarity on how to move forward with a lesson, especially in regards to moving the students towards a more outcome-oriented lesson. Having them learn new sentences is not enough to consider it a strong lesson. There has to be a structure that provides them with the skills to build their own thinking to come up with ideas, sentence structures, and other important speaking techniques. There is part of a quote by Marilyn Monroe that I really believe in: "Madness is genius." I called all of my students in on a Sunday once to spend two hours going over the speaking menu and to practice our speaking and listening structure. We usually do presentations, roleplays, debates, and other activities throughout the week, but I wanted to sharpen the focus for the students and tie everything back to the menu. I thought they would not turn up. They all showed up. They had seen and used the menu over the last year in third grade, but it was not done consistently. And even with only a month left in fourth grade, I wanted them to be prepared for the following year with their new teacher. We went through the menu for ten minutes to understand the different components (do not worry if you cannot explain everything). I remember going through the listening strand and explaining the importance of taking notes when someone speaks. One student, Giyan raised his hand and said, "Now I know why teachers come to our class and write in a notebook." Do you know when your students and their responses light up your world? Giyan's response did that for me on that Sunday afternoon. It made me more confident in using a menu and showed me the purpose of the tool. Hopefully, you will find the same purpose for its use in your own classroom and students.
FAQs Around the Menu
How do I communicate the menu to the students?
Introduce the menu at the beginning of the week by putting a blank chart paper on the wall with just the columns of the main strands of speaking and listening (e.g. content, mechanics, language, presence, and listening). Do not write the different aspects under each one yet. Add the different aspects as you introduce and teach them. For example, if I focus on main idea for two weeks, I would have that written under content. If I then move onto logical flow, I would add that accordingly. That way, the menu becomes a reminder of what we have learned.
How do I decide what to focus on each week?
I recommend taking a speaking and listening assessment before deciding how to prioritize the strands unless you already know, which is the case for many teachers. You can also tell through even a sample size of assessments or conversations as to what most of the class requires. Move forward at the pace of the students rather than moving the students at the pace of the menu. At times, some aspects of the menu may take longer than a week to model. It may even take a whole unit for some classrooms. You may even have to revisit later. Everything is based on the students and our role is to make tweaks according to what they learn and produce.
How do I explain to students the different aspects (e.g. logical flow)?
You have to do some research here. I like to work backwards. Think of what an ideal conversation, presentation or whatever forum for speaking and listening you are teaching, looks like. For example, think by saying, "For a presentation, I want my students to speak one sentence after another that makes sense without being all over the place." This would be a logical flow for me in words that are appropriate for my students. Then I would break that down into an example and non-example:
Non-example: The book is nice. I like it. I also like playing. Playing is so much fun. I like to eat as well.
Example: I really enjoy to read. My father tells me that reading allows us to learn new information. I think this is true because when I read non-fiction books, I learn about things I did not know.
Give non-examples that your students are evidences from their own speaking. It is not to ridicule them, but to show them evidence that this is rooted in something they are struggling with. Now I know someone will wonder, "How can I go from a non-example to an example?" The menu is a guide to get there and a lesson where these sentences are readily modelled is the most effective way to make those changes in the way our students speak. It takes time to get the students from their sentences to the examples we want them to eventually reach.
What happens if I cannot complete the whole menu?
The goal is NOT to "finish" or go through the whole menu. The goal is to use the menu, as a way guide students towards what strong speaking and listening looks like in our classroom and the world beyond. Obviously, there has to be a pace to lessons so that we do cover ground on the menu. This means that listening to students when they speak and taking notes on their progress is important in planning what part of the menu to teach or reteach.