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How to teach conversational lessons

Hello, there. This post was written to share my favourite resources aimed at conversational lessons – both online and face-to-face. I hope you find it useful.


The first minutes of the lesson are meant to arouse your students’ interest. You want to ‘hook them’ into conversing with you. Setting the scene can be done through a short fascinating video or an interesting image. 


In order to maintain your students’ interests, attempt to pick topics or situations that appeal to their age and if possible interests. Set the language and content of the task at this stage, for example, ask them what their favourite films are or the genre of music they enjoy. 


After a topic is selected it is important to ensure that your student(s) do not write down their ideas. Their options at this stage are to either rehearse it orally or in their minds.  At this stage, the teacher should listen to students carefully.


At this stage the teacher should monitor the student’s production, taking into account the content and form. This is also the time to assess the effectiveness of your lesson and identify gaps in your student’s knowledge. Take notes if possible.


At this stage focus on the content and probe your student’s comprehension and new language discovery. For example use questions such as,  What did you find out today? What did you learn from each other? ( if there is more than one student).  Attempt to make this conversation as spontaneous and natural as possible.


Give feedback – It is crucial to provide feedback that is oriented to the student’s goals. Focus on the new language that emerged. Systematise the emergent language to make it memorable to your student. Highlight the sub-skills they have used that make them good communicators, for instance, the use of pauses or fillers to gain time. By the end of this stage, students should feel a sense of accomplishment.


Give the opportunity for your student to do the speaking task again or do a similar task. 

And the sub-skills? Don’t forget them!

  • Pausing
  • False starts
  • Back-channelling devices
  • Pronunciation (rhythm, intonation, pace etc)
  • Body language ( yes, it is possible via the computer!)
  • Register
  • Adjacency pairs


Ready-made speaking lesson plans

1.  Viralelt is excellent for listening and speaking practice. All Viralelt posts consist of three parts: an embedded viral video, 10 conversation questions (Question time) and a listening activity (Sitting comfortably?). The only drawback is that it is aimed at intermediate and advanced students.

2. Cristina Cabal is a talented and creative teacher from Spain. You can find lessons for all ages and levels.

3.  One Stop English offers Guardian news lessons, Life from London videos among other lesson plans. Most of them are freely available, but some might require a paid subscription login.

4.  If you enjoy Videotelling, you will certainly love Jamie Keddie‘s lesson plans.

5. Rachael Roberts offers excellent lesson plans, some covering controversial topics.

6.   Film English won a British Council ELTons Award for Innovation in Teacher Resources, and the most prestigious European media in education prize, the MEDEA Award, in 2013, and an English Speaking Union Award in 2014.

7.  Teaching English British Council offers a wide range of lesson plans for adult language classes.7.

8.  Ricardo Barros offers a great collection of lesson plans on different levels and topics. Ricardo also designs lesson plans on controversial topics. 

9. Cecilia Nobre ( yours truly!)designs lesson plans for her online lessons focusing on speaking skills. 
10.  Off2class is a comprehensive platform of ready-made lesson plans divided into levels, topics and skills. 

Speaking lesson ideas

1.  Elllo has an array of audio and video activities with transcripts, quizzes and fill-in-the-blanks exercises that work well as a warm-up activity.

 2.  Guess the story. Give students a set of pictures of a real article/story and they have to come up with the story. You can give hints, ask questions or challenge them. Display the pictures on a powerpoint presentation, Canva or Google drawing. 

3.  Audio recordings such as SoundCloud or Vocaroo for several purposes, given a time limit. Upload it directly to their Google Drive Folder and save its link. Ask your students to:
 ● To explain their favourite recipe 
● To talk about their least/ favourite group, hobby, mobile phone, outfit 
● To describe traditional games, unusual customs…etc. 
● To give a book/film review 
● To talk about the latest picture or status they posted on their social media. Or the latest picture they took with their phones. 

Other ideas using audios
● Give them a set of pictures and ask them to create a story ( use drawings.google.com, https://www.canva.com/ or ppt to display the pictures and download it as a file)

 ● Give feedback on their writing 
● Set up an oral diary
 ● Give them some words and expressions and ask them to create a story
 ● Give them some pictures of a given text ( without giving the text) and ask them to guess what the story/text is about. It’s great for controversial or unusual stories. 

4.  Speakout Youtube channel on different topics and levels. Ask your student which speaker(s) they agree with, which speaker they disagree with, ask them the same questions the reporter asked. 

5. British Council sites 




6. Role-plays 
● With different tones of voices and intonations     ● With a few blanks to be filled 
 ● Jumbled up and they have to reconstruct the dialogue      ● Finish the dialogue 


Which websites or resources do you use for your conversational lessons? Share them in the comments!


An ELT picture is worth a thousand words -Five ideas for using images in class


Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words…how about a picture with cool funky effects made especially for classroom use?

That’s worth a few hours planning! 🙂

I love playing with images, as you can clearly see on these “masterpieces”:

Here are 5 activities to get your students engaged and willing to speak in class. They are suitable for all types of classroom dynamics: pair work, group work or private students.

1. Let’s Ikea the house

Have you seen Ikea’s brilliant advertising campaign where they renamed some of its products according to the most common relationship problems that were googled in Sweden? How creative is that?

This activity is ideal for A2 students and above. The teacher selects some household appliances and objects or even pieces of furniture ( tip: prepare a  worksheet or flashcards) and each pair/group is in charge of renaming the objects based on relationship problems. Teachers might give some examples from Ikea website:


How? This can be played as a guessing game, where each group says the new chosen name and the other has to guess its original name. Encourage your students to name the objects by using full sentences rather than a phrase.

2. Give Me Four Pictures

Using an online Photo Editor ( https://www.picmonkey.com/#collage or https://www.befunky.com/create/collage/ ), the student should prepare a collage using 4 types of pictures, then students are supposed to tell a story of each one in the classroom.

This is mine:


Pictures Categories

a) The last picture they posted on Facebook or Instagram

b) Their most recent profile picture on Facebook

c) The last picture they liked on Facebook or Instagram 

d) The last picture they took ( but didn’t post on any Social Media website)

They are supposed to answer: When was the picture taken? Where was it taken? What context was it? Why did you take/ like that picture?

3. Funny Picture Caption

The title is self-explanatory. Choose funny or intriguing pictures and show them to the student, who will then come up with an amusing caption. Some of the terms I googled image to find interesting pictures:

Funny wedding photos/ Dogs wedding pictures/ Celebrities talking / Weird News / Funny celebrities pictures 


4. Picture in Focus

The idea is to focus on one single element of the picture and describe it. Encourage your students to guess its environment and the story of the focused object.

Eg. 1st Picture ( don’t show the original picture). Where do you think the man is? What is he doing? Why is he there? Is he with anyone?

Give students some minutes to analyse and describe the mysterious picture, then show the original picture so that they can check what their right guesses.

This is how you can create the same effect I did:

  • First, go to http://www.picmonkey.com and upload your picture in “Open.” My source for both pictures was http://www.eltpics.com/.
  • On the left-hand side choose Effects.
  • Go to Area and choose Focal Pixelate. Select the Pixel size and then Focal size. Change the image so the pixels are big enough to change the outlines of the objects and choose the focal size according to the object size you want to stand out.
  • Then go to Focal Zoom, then select Zoom blur. You want to make the surroundings unclear to your students.
  • Finally, apply the Focal B&W and save your picture.


5. Once upon a time

In this activity, teachers ask students to choose one personal picture and age it by using http://www.youroldpic.com/. Students are supposed to imagine what it was like back in time ( choose a time frame) and describe the image as if it was taken years ago.



You may also want to check out  Hancock Macdonald’s blog post  and ELT-Connect.com on the same subject. They are brilliant!

Thanks for reading and Have a wonderful Christmas!

PARSNIP Conversation Lesson: Dear Daddy, I will be called a whore

Warning: This lesson plan contains strong  and explicit language related to rape and domestic violence. 



I have meant to create this lesson plan for quite a long time, I must admit. I usually tackle PARSNIP issues in my classes, and I like it very much, though I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea. For this lesson, I used CARE Norway’s viral video: In a spoken letter to her father, a girl tells her dad what her life is going to be like because of misogyny.


Obviously, this is not a lesson that should be used with any student or group. Not only should the teacher feel comfortable with the topic but also know their students very well before deciding to use it.


I feel very strongly about the issue of slut-shaming, domestic violence, rape and women’s right – I believe they are topics everyone has strong opinions about, and we should not turn a blind eye to such controversial issues. I tried my best to prepare an unbiased lesson plan, but it is impossible not to give away my position about women’s rights. The statistics are shocking, and I believe that, as educators, we should cater for a wide range of feelings, opinions, and choices – without downplaying our own because our beliefs make us who we are.
This lesson is aimed at students with B2 level or above. I hope you find it useful and I’d love to hear your feedback.


Lesson Plan as PPT –  Here 

Lesson Plan as PDF file – conversation-lesson-b2-dear-daddy

Teachers’ Notes and Suggestions – Here

Student’s Worksheet – deardaddyworksheet



Thanks for reading.


Fluency is a Beast in its own right – from Obama to Snoop Dog

Hello, everyone.

Today’s blog post was written by a special guest Alex Tamulis, a friend who loves Linguistics, but not so much about how languages change, because they do change, but how it all began in the first place, which conditions were optimal for language to emerge, so he’s mostly concerned with the origins and the interface between language and mind.

Alex is an Academic Consultant at Macmillan Education and Linguistics major at USP ( Universidade of São Paulo, Brazil). With regard to teaching, he’s interested in how L2 speakers store sequences in their mental lexicon and what to do in order to foster a cultural and fluency-laden environment in the classroom.

To find more about fluency in the ELT setting, please check out his article “Fluency in ELT” available on issuu.com/alextamulis and academia.edu 


Fluency in ELT

What is fluency in the first place? Since the definition of a fluent speaker may rub up against the definition of what a proficient language user really is, I’m going to try to briefly mention these two concepts so we can establish a dichotomy and tackle it accordingly.

Fluency is not easy to define. Some scholars define it as an ability to use language accurately, focusing on content rather than form per se (Hartmann, 1976), filling time with talk, without long pauses, using coherence and phrases that are semantically dense (Fillmore, 1979).

Fluency is related to how retrieval of data is done in the brain. If a string is retrieved whole from memory, they are usually produced with faster speed and more confidence than completely fresh sentences. It is real-time communication, filled with timely pauses, hesitations and false starts.

There are some avenues that we can take in order to help our students become fluent; delving into the components of effective communication and understanding how fluency impacts it can help the process tremendously.

Let’s have a look at pronunciation. We usually focus on phonemes and leave prosodic features and reduced forms aside, to the detriment of real spoken English. Prosody is crucial for both interlocutor identity and for a true sense of community and commonality to be reached amongst users, whilst not leaving out the own ‘self’ image of the speaker.

Exposure and Awareness to Spoken Discourse


Let’s consider the fact that an utterance like “Hey, you look great today!” can be said in many ways: you can sound as if you were bored, or convey the same message ironically, sarcastically, sexily and probably in many other ways, depending on how these prosodic features come into play at the time of the utterance.

I really don’t agree with people who say that slurred speech and the use of contractions and reduced forms show signs of careless or lazy English. There is ample evidence that reduced forms are used in all kinds of  “world Englishes”, from Obama speeches to Snoop Dog rap lyrics. Listening exposure to them is what’s at stake here.

Why is it that coursebooks don’t scratch the spoken discourse surface, then? On top of that, some teachers seem to prefer to cover coursebook written language and assume that students will automatically be able to understand and produce the spoken language that’s appropriate for the context. But spoken English is a beast in its own right!

Utterances like whatduyawannado? (What do you want to do?) are tricky for non-native students during a binge-watching session on Netflix because they’re heard as one big pack of sounds and not as isolated, neatly uttered words like the ones you hear on a Class Audio CD.

Teachers are usually eager to teach minimal pairs and phonemes in general. However, important generalizations about real spoken English are forgotten in the midst of the process. A very important feature that cannot be stressed enough (no pun intended!) is the fact that unstressed vowels in English become the famous “schwa” (ə) in many environments, which makes it the most common vowel in American English. This would take hours to be taken care of, since it’s not only a matter of phonetics (articulation) but also of phonology (teaching your brain new rules of the language system).

Practicing Prosodic Awareness


The truth is that in most cases spoken discourse does not require complete sentences, as it can be seen in most real-world encounters. We do know that the persistent use of complete sentences will sound a bit robotic and unnatural. Let me give you a more concrete example of that:

Teacher:   Hey, howzit goin?

Student:  I am fine, thank you.

T:   Your mom and dad?

S:  They are doing very well, too, thank you.

T:   Whereya going?

S:  I am walking to the pub. Would you like to come with me?

The “S” part of the dialogue would be much more natural if the rules of spoken discourse and pronunciation were applied, as follows:

Teacher:   Howzit goin’?

S:  I’m good, thanks.

T:   Your mom’n’dad?

S:  They’re good, too.

T:   Whereya goin?

S:  The pub. U wanna tag along?

Encouraging Fluency


From now on, teaching grammar should include teaching conversational grammar, as has been pointed out by Thornbury on his blog (“F is for Fluency”). The rules of utterances in spoken discourse are crucial for smooth communication to take place within any speech community. Adding spoken features to speaking situations in ELT will make classes more interesting and useful for students.

We can foster fluency in the classroom setting. We’re facilitators of learning, we provide opportunities for people who are motivated to engage in those opportunities and grow personally, professionally and academically.

In a sense, the student’s responsibility in fluency development is to bring the level of their spoken English production up to the level of their knowledge of lexis and grammar (a mixture of words and rules, such as storage in the mental lexicon and rules to generate new utterances, as Pinker puts it).

If we want our students to stand a chance at improving their fluency status, we have to go out of our way in terms of accuracy, and shed light on communicative language tools that they must be able to use, and strategies they must use to compensate for the fact that, in most cases, they’re not sages of the language, they are users of it.



To find more about fluency in the ELT setting, please check out my article “Fluency in ELT” available on issuu.com/alextamulis and academia.edu. If you want to contact me, feel free to get in touch via alex.tamulis@macmillan.com.br  or https://br.linkedin.com/in/alex-tamulis-025583b1


Thanks for reading.