Students need language input as they start out in the language. A major goal of the modern language classroom is for students to speak (Krashen’s comprehensible output or Swain’s students learn to talk by talking), therefore, students need to talk more. However, they can only speak more when the teacher speaks less. The more the modern language teacher talks, the less opportunity the students have to speak.
Furthermore, the more foreign language students speak in pairs, the more they speak. If students only talk when the teacher calls on them, then they get to speak every 26th time (if there are 26 students in the classroom). On the other hand, if the modern language teacher has the students work in pairs, virtually all students are talking at the same time. Some quick math will reveal the efficiency of pair work. If the teacher has each of 26 foreign language students speak individually for one minute, it takes 26 minutes or 52% of a 50 minute class period. If the teacher has students speak in pairs, then 26 students can each speak for one minute for a total of two minutes or 4% of the class.
The listing shows some spontaneous speaking activities that I have developed for paired speaking. They are available at http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle
My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at http://is.gd/tbook