Modern Language Speaking Final: From Memorized to Spontaneous

I have talked with many modern  language teachers about their final  and, specifically, about the speaking part of the final.  They all agree that speaking is important and  that speaking needs to be tested.  Sometimes, they give the students a few possible topics, give them a week or a few days to prepare, then, in class, the teacher picks one of the  topics for the students to talk about.  The students think about the topic, write out the sentences, memorize the sentences and  recite the sentences during the speaking final.

However, this type of speaking final contradicts actual speaking. Since during the speaking final,  the students recite what they have previously written,  the exercise is really a writing exercise.   Secondly, in no normal target language conversation, does someone walk up to a person, say give me a topic, and, then, return the  next week to talk about that topic. In a real conversation  when the conversation turns to a new topic, the people  begin to instantly speak about it. There is no time delay in talking about a new topic.  Thirdly, this type of speaking resembles presentational speaking and not interpersonal speaking.  The students just recite  their sentences, they do not  really interact with the other student. Usually their conversation becomes a memorized dialogue. They do not show language  fluency but they do show the ability to memorize.

Some suggestions
–  Have students speak spontaneously about a topic.  They may have a list of 30 topics such as restaurant or 30 situations such as  problems in the classroom  but they do not know which topic they will have.  Students can practice talking about any topic by asking  and answering  questions about any topic.
– Have students talk based on a picture. They do not describe the picture but use it as a context for their speaking. For example, they see a picture of a soccer game  and pretend to be a player in the game. Or one student interviews another student who knows about the situation.

Let’s make speaking assessments include the speaking for the final to be ones in which students speak spontaneously to more closely represent real-life speaking.


My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (25+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask partner a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers: I have a series of modern language visual stories (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students. Can use in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at