On Teaching Speaking: Extemporaneous Speaking

This TESOL Blog series focuses on teaching speaking to English learners.
In this TESOL Blog series, Julie Vorholt, editor of New Ways in Teaching Speaking, Second Edition, interviews contributors to the volume and gets some tips from them on teaching speaking to ELs. See Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 hereand Part 4 here.

Meet TESOL veteran Dr. John Schmidt and prepare to use his extemporaneous speaking activity with your students! “On Your Feet” is his flexible, ready-to-use, and engaging speaking activity published in New Ways in Teaching Speaking, Second Edition.

Students practice answering questions through short, impromptu speeches in “On Your Feet.” Participation in Toastmasters inspired John to create this activity, which he describes as “…a classroom variation of ‘Table Topics,’ conducted in club meetings of Toastmasters International around the world” (p. 155). Students from high beginner to advanced levels of English proficiency can participate in “On Your Feet.” Preparation takes the instructor only 5–10 minutes.

On Your Feet: Classroom Activity

As a busy teacher myself, I greatly appreciate the flexibility of “On Your Feet.” It can be the focal point for the day or an activity used at different points in a lesson, such as the warm-up or conclusion. Also, it can be repeated throughout a course by using questions about different themes or topics. So here I would like to share with you an overview of John’s activity to try in your classroom.

Before class, write at least five short question prompts and also write each student’s name on a strip of paper. Keep the question prompts and the names in two separate piles. During class, explain the system of “timing lights”; the “lights” will be cards or sheets of paper. Select a student to volunteer as the timekeeper. Then choose and read one question. Draw the name of a student and repeat the question as the student walks to the front of the room. The student answers the question by giving a 1- to 2-minute extemporaneous speech. The timekeeper shows the time cards at the specific points listed in the following chart. Continue the activity by posing new questions to new speakers.

Color of “Light” When the “Light” is Shown Meaning of the “Light’s” Color
green   at 60 seconds speaker may conclude or continue; speaker has reached the minimum amount of time
yellow at 90 seconds speaker should begin to finish
red at 120 seconds speaker may continue through the red light but must stop within 30 seconds

“On Your Feet” offers many options for teachers to choose based on their students, context, and environment. For example, questions may be asked that differ in “ …verb tense, complexity, and type from broad, basic prompts (“What is your favorite…?,” “Tell us about…”) to hypothetical ones (“If you could…?”)” (p. 156). Changing how the speaking is organized provides additional variety. For example, students might speak to the entire class or to small groups.

In addition to “On Your Feet,” which is published in the Interviews and Questioning section, John has two more activities that are also published in New Ways in Teaching Speaking, Second Edition. They are

  • “Presenting Poetry and Prose” in the Suprasegmental Phonemes section
  • “Lights, Camera, Action in Autos” in the Developing Fluency and Accuracy Using Technology section

About Dr. John Schmidt, our Featured Contributor

Sri Lankan sunset over the Indian Ocean, November 2018

John works in Austin, Texas, as an administrator and instructor at the Texas Intensive English Program (TIEP) of the Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC).  He has volunteered for the TESOL International Association and its affiliates in a variety of roles, including on the TESOL Board of Directors, Convention Program Chair, and Associate Convention Program Chair. I interviewed John online to learn more about him, his work as an English language teaching professional, and his experience in writing for New Ways in Teaching Speaking, Second Edition.

Inspiration: Writing “On Your Feet”

To answer this question, I’ll focus on the “On Your Feet” activity. When I joined Austin Toastmasters club fifteen years ago, I was inspired to develop adaptations of speaking techniques that I learned about, beginning with club meeting activities, including “Table Topics,” the basis of this lesson, “On Your Feet.”  Clubs occasionally vary the standard Table Topics format; the university club that I founded a decade ago (see photo) often comes up with clever variations, creatively gleaning lively ideas from TV shows and other sources.

Current Professional Work and/or Projects

In addition to working in Austin as an administrator and instructor at the Texas Intensive English Program (TIEP) of the Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC), my work has involved training EFL teachers on five continents. Much of my professional service has involved TESOL International Association and TESOL affiliates. It’s been a particular honor to serve on the TESOL Board of Directors and to serve as convention program chair (2014) and associate convention program chair (2012, 2013, and 2016). Related to my lessons in New Ways in Teaching Speaking, I was pleased to chair a session in the 2019 TESOL Convention Electronic Village in Atlanta, entitled “Public Speaking Skills Development Online,” since Toastmaster International now charters clubs conducted around the world in an online format, including a prospective club for TESOL educators. The 45-minute Electronic Village session can be viewed on YouTube. Having contributed lessons and chapters for four other TESOL Press publications, I look forward to the publication of New Ways in Teaching Creative Writing.

Teaching Speaking Tip: For New Teachers

“Keep it simple.” As a new teacher, I often developed speaking activities that involved extensive teacher preparation and complex instructions for students. In time, I realized “Less is more,” meaning less time for the teacher preparation and more time in class for a very student-friendly activity.

John in Austin with TIEP students from Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University in Saudi Arabia –Raid, Ali, Alwaleed, Aziz, and Ali (from left to right), October 2018

Teaching Speaking Tip: For Veteran Teachers

Develop a repertoire of diverse types of speaking activities that maximize student participation. With more than 100 lessons, New Ways in Teaching Speaking, Second Edition, for example, offers a wide variety of activities, categorized five ways—to develop fluency, accuracy, and pronunciation, as well as to focus on specific contexts and technology.

Favorite Blog, Book, App, or Other Resource

My favorite resources for teaching ESL/EFL and training instructors are titles from TESOL Press’s New Ways series. My favorite resources for teaching speaking are Toastmaster club meetings, as well as Toastmaster contests and conferences. Attending, observing, and participating in these events inspires me to develop diverse ideas for classroom techniques and activities. I regularly invite students or teacher trainees to join me as guests at these events or to attend on their own. An additional favorite resource is the official organization website, which offers a wealth of resources and ideas, as well as websites of some of the 16,600 Toastmaster clubs in 143 countries, which I surf or search with a key term or phrase.

Perspective on Teaching Speaking: Changes Over the Years

I’ve come to appreciate the significance of incorporating the most appropriate speaking activity into a specific lesson, based on my instructional objectives for a given class, which tend to align with the 19 subcategories into which editor Julie Vorholt has divided the book’s lessons. I often involve students in the development or preparation of aspects of the activities, which engages them from the outset and saves me time. Additionally, I try to plan activities that have specific relevance to students’ lives and experiences—in other words, real-world application. Thus, students value and enjoy these opportunities to put their English to practical use.

Free Time

I’m most inspired when I’m overseas, exploring diverse cultures, meeting local people, and trying to communicate in their language, if possible. I started my career as a Spanish instructor after learning Spanish and other Romance languages while studying and teaching in the United States and in Spain. As a member of the Travelers’ Century Club, I’m always ready to venture out for work, study, or pleasure, visiting an unfamiliar country or returning to a familiar country, culture, and perhaps language.


If you have any comments and/or questions, please share! What opportunities do you offer students to speak extemporaneously in your classroom? How have you motivated and encouraged their speaking?

You can connect with Julie via LinkedIn
You can reach John at: jrs78705@yahoo.com

Dr. John Schmidt is an administrator and instructor at the Texas Intensive English Program (TIEP) of the Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC) in Austin, Texas, USA. Much of his professional service has involved TESOL International Association and TESOL affiliates. He has served on the TESOL Board of Directors and as convention program chair (2014) and associate convention program chair (2012, 2013, and 2015). In addition to three activities published in New Ways in Teaching Speaking, Second Edition, he has published activities in several other books in the New Ways series.


Series Conclusion

This post concludes the five-post “On Teaching Speaking” series (for now!). I appreciate the opportunity that TESOL International Association has given me to write about this topic and to know more about some of the contributors to New Ways in Teaching Speaking, Second Edition. Their comments have been interesting, informative, and useful; their tips on teaching speaking to ELs have improved my classroom teaching. I wish the best for all language teachers as we continue collaborating and supporting each other as we teach speaking in new ways.

About Julie Vorholt

Julie Vorholt
Julie Vorholt is the editor for New Ways in Teaching Speaking (2nd edition). She has taught ESL and English to learners of all ages and trained language teachers in the USA and internationally for more than 20 years. She has edited and written a variety of pedagogical materials in both print and online formats to support teaching and learning in speaking, listening, and writing. Julie is active in TESOL International Association as a presenter, a past chair of the Materials Writers Interest Section, and a past member of the Awards Committee. She currently teaches ESL in the intensive English program at Lewis & Clark College.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.