Reviving Show-and-Tell among Adult Language Learners

There needs to be a variety of speaking formats in the conversation classroom. Teachers should find an appropriate balance between open discussion and structured speaking activities. Also, students should be asked to speak for a variety of purposes: to inform, to argue, to entertain, etc. In my previous entry I offered an alternative to the kind of speaking that requires students to share personal views by suggesting they create TV ads.  Now let me suggest how an oral presentation can be meaningful in a very personal way. I’d like to make a case for show-and-tell.

Do any of you recall show-and-tell in elementary school? For me, it didn’t end in kindergarten. I have a clear memory of this activity in the third grade. To this day I remember my classmate Holly showing us how to repot a houseplant. She explained the process in detail and with an impressive degree of authority for a third grader. We learned how much soil to prepare in the new pot, how to protect the roots during the transplant, and how to pat down the soil around the plant once it was in its new and bigger pot. It was informative, and it likely gave Holly a thrill to know she pulled off a successful demonstration before a crowd of about 25 kids or more.

Who says a similar experience can’t be had in the ESL classroom? Imagine your students making informative presentations on topics that are personally meaningful to them. It can be done at any level. These presentations can be of two types: informative (e.g., talking about an item of personal interest) or instructional (e.g., demonstrating a skill). Here are some suggested guidelines:


LEVEL             PRESENTATION LENGTH                           LANGUAGE FOCUS

                                                                     INFORMATIVE       INSTRUCTIONAL

Beginner                 30 sec.                    Use of “because”       The imperative

Intermediate           1 min.                     Verb tenses                Sequence markers

Advanced                2-3 minutes           Time expressions       Use of modal verbs

                                                                                                            for advice/



VARIATION: If no advanced preparation is possible, you can focus entirely on pronunciation skills and have students learn the transcript from an instructional video. I once borrowed a video from the library on how to do magic. It was for children, so the language was simple and the tricks weren’t complicated. (I selected one trick with coins and one with paper clips.) For each trick, students viewed the video clip, read the script, memorized the script, practiced performing for a partner, and then took turns demonstrating the trick before the class.


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