- Key Words: Speaking Fluency
- Learner English Level: Intermediate to Advanced
- Learner Maturity Level: High school to Adult
- Preparation Time: None
- Activity Time: Varies
Although the hosts of talk shows in the U.S. (Oprah Winfrey, Montel Williams, Geraldo, to name a few) are notorious for sometimes being too sensational and bizarre, they continue to prevail on American television. Typical shows address a certain topic every day with a panel of invited guests including experts in the field and ordinary people talking about their own experiences. What is striking about the shows is that they have studio audiences which express themselves actively on the air.
Despite the poor reputation of talk shows from the States, Japanese students have a lot to learn from the participants' eagerness to join the discussions as well as the diversity of their voices, and they are also a great source of cultural and social information. What's more, I have found the talk show format very effective in getting my students to talk on topics informally and without inhibitions. While debate trains students to form good arguments and present them logically and formally, this format allows them to speak out in a lively yet relaxed "show" where spontaneity and amount of participation matters more than correctness or form. Here is how we go about "The Talk Show Project" in my classes.
Step 1- Preparation
A. Comprehension Tasks
Show a couple of videotaped talk shows to familiarize students with the format. Then focus on segments of a certain show using worksheets with a list of key vocabulary and expressions and comprehension questions to answer. While this is an overwhelming experience for most students, you can adjust the tasks according to the level you're teaching. For lower level students who have a hard time just following the flow of discussions, simply cut the listening exercises or make the tasks simple; for instance, have them catch information about the guests (for example, What are their names and backgrounds? Why are they on the show?) or let them just guess the issue being discussed. For advanced levels, have them list or summarize the opinions of the guests and audience. It's also fun to focus on non-verbal aspects or conversation strategies which could be quite different in Japan and the U.S.
After eliciting general reactions from the students, in pairs or groups have them freely discuss the topics dealt with in the shows they watched. If it's a controversial topic with divided opinions, you can have them debate the issue in groups. Next, do a series of discussions or debates on topics of your choice or those chosen by the students. They tend to speak up more when the topics are most relevant to them. For example, we once had a successful discussion on the use of ELT vs. non-ELT teaching materials, which gave them a chance to reflect on their own English learning. To sum up, students discuss what they think of talk shows perse, and compare them with Japanese talk shows.
Step 2-Planning the Show
A. Grouping and assignment of roles Divide the class into groups of five or six people, and make them choose one person to be the host, and others to be the guests. The project can be done with a minimum of 10-12 students in total, with two groups (two shows).
B. Deciding on a topic
Group members decide on an interesting and controversial topic they'd feel comfortable and motivated to talk about, and discuss the topic within their groups. They usually have a great time trying to come up with the best topic in the class. We've had a variety of topics, from capital punishment to men's toupees. At this point, they are encouraged to do some research on their topic and study any vocabulary they need to discuss it.
C. Getting ready for the show
Groups create an interesting background and character for each guest on their show and assign the roles to the members. Then the guests prepare their opinions and the host prepares what he/she will say, including opening and closing comments. Since we want to make the shows look spontaneous, I advise them not to make detailed scripts. For lower levels, however, it may be inevitable. In that case, tell them not to read from their scripts during the show. I also ask them to prepare a brief presentation of their topic by presenting background information and important vocabulary or performing a skit that illustrates the topic. Now they are ready to do a couple of rehearsals before the actual performance.
Step 3-Simulating the Show
Each group presents their show (15-20 minutes) in front of the camera and the class. Videotaping their shows is optional, but students seem to enjoy the idea of performing them as "TV shows." They open the show by introducing their topic and guests. Led by the host, the guests present their arguments and discuss the topic freely. Then the audience (the rest of the class), who weren't informed of the topic beforehand, are invited to join in on the spot by asking questions or giving their opinions voluntarily or when asked. Finally, the host sums up the show.
Step 4-Reviewing the Show
Students watch their videotaped shows and comment on each one. This is not only fun but also gives them a chance to look back on what they learned from the whole experience.
The whole project can take from a month to a semester of a course that meets once a week for about 90 minutes. I have been enjoying this project for several years in courses for juniors and seniors that stress listening skills, but it should also be useful in cross-cultural communication courses or content-based courses to discuss issues relevant to the field, not to mention conversation or debate classes.
Speaking in public is something most Japanese students are not trained to do, and many of them are nervous or reluctant at first. However, they somehow get rid of their inhibitions as they exchange ideas and opinions within their groups, so as to prepare a fun show. By the time they present their shows, you'll be surprised to see even the shy ones get involved as if they take on a different identity, willing to join actively as a member of the audience as well.