Creating Speaking Assignments with Purpose

Mar Clavijo

As language teachers and tutors, we tend to relate any Speaking Assignment purpose to a communicative goal (informative or persuasive). However, it has more to do with identifying the gears that make up the target language system (words, how they sound and the way they are put together in a sentence). Such key elements will help us define the right purpose for any Speaking Assignments we create for students.

With this in mind, it's on us to help them understand how such language gears are combined to form a clear message. That can be achieved through the right Speaking Assignment purpose. In order to find out what it is, you'll want to ask yourself: What's the main final goal I want my students to pursue? It could be for them to:

  • Improve pronunciation.
  • Review or learn new vocabulary.
  • Practice certain grammar concepts or sentence structures.

As has been noted, you can help them get used to the length of the words, stress location, vowels and consonant pronunciation or to recognize parts of the sentence. Whichever purpose you choose, it's important that students feel they have a pathway that leads them to eventually speak in the target language.Let's now navigate through 3 core language gears so you define Speaking Assignment purpose smoothly.


Since this is a constant need, it's important to be aware of the use it has according to the intention and the context that is applied to it. Here's an example through a common speaking activity, which is introducing oneself. In order to be able to do that, students need very specific vocabulary (verbs, conjugations, nouns, adjectives and numbers) and phrases to help them accomplish the task."Me llamo Alan. Tengo 14 años y soy estudiante de español. Nací en Miami, Florida en 2008 y vivo en el barrio Coral Way. Me encantan las matemáticas y jugar video-juegos".Feel free to add whatever you consider to make it easy to understand how to use certain words within a sentence. For instance, adding articles to nouns help students to identify both gender and number in Spanish.

Take a glance to a practical approach to teaching vocabulary here.

Grammar & Sentence Structure

Putting words together in a certain order generates a complete idea that makes sense. That's how we're able to communicate. As a matter of fact, getting students to become conversational is a process that takes time, patience and practice. However, as their vocabulary expands they'll be prepared to start building little sentences around the third or fourth week.Since grammar is the glue that binds blocks (words) together, it is key to practice the way it's applied to sentence structure. For example, in languages such as Spanish, grammar is in its most part similar to what we're used to in English. Being aware of how sentence structure works will lead our students to be familiarized with it.

Sentence: Alan juega video juegos.Structure: SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT.

Phrases in Flashcards

Flashcards are often used for isolated words only. Nevertheless, they're also a great resource for complete sentences. A good way to make the most out of flashcards is by you pointing out 3 to 4 words that are frequently put together to communicate very specific things. Let your students see the patterns so they use them when speaking.

Sentence: Tengo que ir a la escuela.Pattern: Tengo que ir a + article + place.

The Art of Paraphrasing

Luckily for us, we can always simplify a sentence without affecting meaning when it's a long one. Paraphrasing is all about expressing the meaning of something (written or spoken) by using different words. Its' especially aimed to achieve greater clarity and shorter length.Original: A las jirafas les gustan las hojas Acacias y el heno y pueden consumir 75 kilos de comida al día.Paraphrase: Una jirafa puede comer hasta 75 kilos de hojas Acacia y heno por día.

Pronunciation & Ear Training

Pronunciation is one of the language elements that tend to be more challenging when acquiring a new one. Getting used to all the different sounds we might find and being able to produce them, along with developing a natural accent ensure that the speech is clear.But none of what's mentioned above is taking place without good ear training. We, humans in general, often overestimate our ability to speak. Good news is that we can help our students to be aware of the fact that we have two ears and only one mouth. So we should hear twice as much as we talk.Last but not least, make sure to keep a healthy balance in terms of difficulty. We don't want our students to feel frustrated or discouraged because the words are too hard to pronounce. At the same time, it's about making them feel challenged enough so they go through the Speaking Assignment.

Avoid these Common Mistakes

  • Having more than 15 words per set. Keep it simple and straight to the point, which is towards the purpose you choose. A huge amount of flashcards tends to get students demotivated.
  • Adding lots of words in a single flashcard like this:
  • Can you tell the purpose for this Speaking Assignment? In terms of pronunciation, a single word per flashcard works better in this case.
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