5 tips for preparing and running an English speaking club

English speaking clubs: how to run

English speaking clubs: how to run

03.01.2023

4652
20
minutes
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Speaking clubs are an extremely popular way to learn a language. Sometimes even more popular than lessons themselves! 

And for a reason: they are usually seen not only as a learning format but also as a form of entertainment and an opportunity to meet new people. Most students love speaking clubs, but let’s face it: preparing and running a speaking club can be a real pain in the neck for us, teachers! It doesn’t have to be, though. 

We are going to have a look at some aspects of speaking clubs that may be considered challenging, and some suggestions on how to deal with them.

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1. Number of participants

As a rule, clubs are added to courses as a practical element. The number of attendees can vary and is usually hard to predict with 100% accuracy. The best thing we can do about it is to anticipate as many problems as possible and be ready with the solutions. For example: if an activity requires working in pairs or groups, we would ideally expect at least four students to participate.

However, if only three participants turn up, they still can work together, but the teacher should think about how to monitor them without distraction. One of the possible ways to do this is to rearrange the sitting differently in an offline format or mute yourself and turn off the camera if you’re working online. 

2. The teaching aims

It may sound counterintuitive, but good speaking clubs are not just about speaking. They are aimed at providing students with some input, albeit lesser than in a regular English class. Therefore, to make the club really informative, we should come up with the teaching aims and possible outcomes for the participants

The challenge here is, what can we teach within such a limited period of time, with the learners who have different backgrounds and abilities, and who probably see each other for the first time? Naturally, it wouldn’t be a good idea to focus on new complicated grammar or too many lexical items. However, it is possible to introduce some topic-related vocabulary which would be particularly useful during the discussion stage later. 

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What is more, functional language could be a great solution. For instance, expressing opinions, agreeing and disagreeing for higher levels, or giving advice or suggestions for lower levels will always be relevant for the learners regardless of the topic. Having learnt something during the speaking club, students will leave it with a greater sense of achievement.

3. Level

Unlike regular courses, speaking clubs are attended by learners of various levels. Of course, the approximate level will be given, such as A2/B1 or B2/C1, but we must be prepared for a mixed-ability class. While preparing the materials, it would be useful to design activities in such a way that they could potentially be done by all the participants. 

While running a speaking club, monitoring is especially important since it will allow you to identify stronger and weaker students and then plan their pairing and grouping.

Features of a mixed-ability class

4. Materials

Wouldn’t it be great if there were more textbooks with ready-made speaking club materials? Certainly, such books exist. Take Instant Discussions by Richard MacAndrew, for example. It has a great variety of topics with texts, glossaries, and engaging tasks. 

However, in most cases, teachers are expected to plan their speaking clubs. It is time-consuming, but it certainly has a great benefit: we are allowed to be creative and flexible in designing activities as well as to use authentic texts. 

What tasks can be effectively used in English lessons?

Here are some examples

Looking for the right materials can be a tough task. In fact, your source of inspiration can be anything, from articles and videos to social media. Once I stumbled across this viral video the author of which heavily criticises the traditional education system.

It inspired me to run a speaking club for B2/C1 students on the topic of education. Another time, I found some amusing and touching commercials, which gave me the idea of planning a club on the topic of advertisement. I used my favourite video commercials and promotional posters to spark the discussion and create team activities for the participants, such as guessing what product is being promoted on each poster. As long as the topic and materials are relevant, you can experiment and adjust them to your and your students’ needs. 

5. Staging

Even though most speaking clubs are more flexible than regular English classes, it is still very helpful to prepare all the stages. It will help you ensure that the session will run smoothly, and if not, you will be ready to improvise.

So here are the steps that I usually follow when planning a club (for higher levels):

  • Warm-up / lead-in: it’s meant to break the ice, introduce and raise the participants’ interest in the topic. It would be a good idea to have them discuss some general personal questions, whether they are or aren’t related to the main topic. Some popular websites with a great selection of questions are here and here. I also like using The Complete Book of Questions by Garry Poole, which contains funny or less common questions on various topics. 
  • Pre-teach vocabulary: provide the attendees with a list of topic-related vocabulary. This would equip them with the lexis they may need to express their ideas in the further stages.
  • Discussion: this is when you can use your creativity and decide which type of activity they will do. It can be discussing more questions, watching and analysing a video, talking about pictures, agreeing or disagreeing with statements/quotes, etc. Make sure the students are working with partners (I usually put them in pairs at this stage), monitor, and micro-teach. If you have time, it can be more than one activity. Don’t forget about some feedback at the end of each task.
  • Collaborative task: now it’s time to add variety to the interaction patterns. I have students work in groups and reach a certain decision together. It can be a little project, a debate, or a game. 
  • Feedback: this includes feedback on the collaborative task, delayed error correction, and feedback on the session as a whole. If you wish, you can provide the students with additional sources to explore on their own. 

For example, this is how I delivered the speaking club on Education (B2/C1), which I mentioned in the previous point. First, the participants discussed their experience as schoolchildren, their favourite and least favourite subjects, teachers, etc. Then we moved on to the vocabulary stage: there was upper-intermediate and advanced lexis. The next stage was discussing quotes about education in general. Then we watched the abovementioned video, after which the students had a heated discussion about the ideas from there. 

Afterwards, I had them design their perfect school with their partners in a group. We finished on open-class feedback, when they presented their schools, and Grade from my side. 

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I hope you find my suggestions helpful and inspiring. Remember that not only students are allowed to have fun at speaking clubs — teachers can enjoy them too!

Article authors & editors
  • Olha Lavrentieva

    Olha Lavrentieva

    Author

    CELTA certified teacher of General English, Teenagers

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Comments

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Miguel Ángel Gregorio Estrada

20.06.2023

This is great! Thank you so much for the help!

Yulia Chorna

Grade Support

20.06.2023

Thank you for your feedback!