Show and Tell: A Practical Approach to Lower-level Speeches

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Athenee Francais


  • Key Words: Public Speaking
  • Learner English Level: Beginner to Low Intermediate
  • Learner Maturity Level: Junior High School to Adult
  • Preparation Time: 30 to 60 minutes
  • Activity Time: 1 to 5 minutes per student

Presentations are standard activities in upper-level EFL/ESL classrooms. In lower-level classes, it is possible to have students give speeches if the standards and expectations are set to the language level of the students. "Show and Tell," from elementary schools in North America, provides a workable model for presentations by beginning through pre-intermediate students. The purpose of this paper is to present an approach to Show and Tell that has been very successful.


Introducing Show and Tell

I explain that Show and Tell comes from an elementary school activity in which students bring something from home to show the class and talk about. I mention that it is also an idiom for a meeting where people share things they have been doing. I also emphasize that it is not "Tell and Tell"; they must have something to show. Next I do a Show and Tell from a trip Ive taken to Pennan, Scotland, the location of the movie Local Hero. I include large photos of the village, a short segment of the movie that shows the town, and a map of Scotland.

I list types of things they could show with actual examples from what other students have done. I emphasize that whatever they choose should be interesting and that their presentations should be from one to three minutes long.

Things they can show:

Something from a Trip: One time a student showed us a ring that a woman he met in Paris had given to him and told how they met.

Something from a Hobby: One student first showed us her collection of cat figurines, then reached in her book bag and brought out one of her live cats!

A Video Tape: One student, a ballet teacher, showed us a video of ballet and stopped the tape to explain different dance steps. Another brought in his snowboard and after telling about his hobby showed us a video of himself snowboarding. Two students have shared videos of themselves on national TV. For video and audio tapes, I make it clear that no more than one minute of tape should be used.

Photographs: One student did a presentation on an outdoor theater in Ireland that he had been to. As he presented his photos, he joined them together on the board until they made a montage of the theater. There is one strict rule: no small photographs. I show a small photograph to make my point: "Can you see it? Is it interesting?" Photographs must be at least B5 size. Enlarged color photocopies are quicker and cheaper than prints.

Recipes: One student showed us how to make miso and then let us sample her homemade product. Many have treated us to cookies and cakes.


Next I explain that they need to be able to explain why they are showing the thing to us. I give this example: A student brought in a chunk of masonry. We thought that a piece of rock wasnt interesting at first, but then he said, "I want to show you this because it almost killed me." He went on to explain that he had been walking through the Familia Basilica in Barcelona when he heard a crash behind him and turned around to see a pile of rubble. If he had been a little slower, he would have been killed.

Show and Tell Calendar

If possible, I recommend that students give their presentations to the whole class throughout the school term. Best is one or two presentations per class session. In a large class with limited time, students could give presentations to small groups of four or five, simultaneously. However, doing a presentation in front of a large class leaves the students with a greater feeling of accomplishment.

The Presentation

As the student comes to the front, most are nervous, so I take a few minutes to talk to the student in front of the class:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Marie. Marie, what is your family name? What does it mean? Where is your hometown? Do you still live there? Where do you live now? Do you like living there?

It's almost always the same, but for those that are more nervous I may stretch it a little to give them a chance to get composed. Then I introduce the student and say, "Let's welcome her." The other students and I give a welcoming round of applause. We applaud again at the end.


The best evaluation is the applause of ones classmates. For our classes at Athenee Francais, there are speaking and listening tests, so Show and Tell is merely for fun. If evaluation is needed, I recommend that students be rated Excellent / Very Good / Good in two categories, Interest and General Presentation. The main point is to let them have a chance to see what they can do with the English they have.

Audience Participation

During a presentation students are encouraged to listen. I choose a different person each time to listen and ask a question at the end of the presentation. Other students are encouraged to ask additional questions. In most cases, the Show and Tell object is passed around the room.

At The Finish

At the end of class I make a point of thanking the presenters again for their Show and Tell. The message is that they have given us something of value and we appreciate it.

In Conclusion

Students have told me at class parties and on other occasions that, at first, they hated Show and Tell, but after they did it, they found it a wonderful experience. It gives them and me a chance to know more about the others in the room. Just recently, two dull-looking businessmen surprised us with their presentations. One was a glass blower on weekends and showed us 10 professional-level pieces he had made; the other was a racecar driver in his spare time!