Intelligibility in English presentations: A peer feedback task

Ian Willey, Kagawa University

Intelligibility in English presentations: A peer feedback task
Ian Willey,
Kagawa University

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Presentation skills, vocabulary, peer feedback
  • Learner English level: Intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Activity time: 30-60 minutes (Over two class meetings)
  • Preparation time: Little to none
  • Materials: None

I often have my medical and nursing students write out their English speeches before delivering them, a necessary skill if they become researchers and present their findings in English. One thing I have noticed is that even well-prepared speeches can fall flat when the presenter includes words that are difficult for the audience—and perhaps even the presenter—to comprehend. This activity aims to help students recognize the importance of using audience-friendly vocabulary in speech scripts and to practice the compensatory strategy of rewording. It can be done in any course where students deliver English speeches.

Step 1: In the lesson before the activity below is conducted, have students practice rewording. On the board, write a few difficult vocabulary items in context (e.g., The medicine ameliorated his condition; English presentations should be intelligible).
Step 2: Encourage students to think of simpler ways to express these sentences. They may need to consult their dictionaries. Discuss this as a class.
Step 3: Stress the importance of using vocabulary that audiences will comprehend in speeches.
Step 4: Instruct the students to prepare a one-page speech on a selected topic (e.g., Why I chose my major). Students should bring two copies of their speech to the next class.

Step 1: Divide students into pairs. Have paired students sit next to each other and then give the below instructions.
Step 2: Instruct one student (the reader) in each pair to give one copy of the script to the other student (the listener). Listeners should have a pen or highlighter in hand.
Step 3: Have readers read their scripts aloud, slowly. Listeners should read along, highlighting or underlining any words or phrases which they either do not understand or think may be difficult for other students.
Step 4: Direct readers to read their scripts aloud a second time at a more natural speed. Listeners should check to make sure they have marked all difficult expressions.
Step 5: Ask students to switch roles and repeat Steps 2 through 4.
Step 6: When students have finished reading their scripts aloud, have them give the scripts they have marked back to their partners, and discuss ways to reword difficult expressions.
Step 7: Request students to write alternative wordings on their scripts, either in margins or directly above difficult expressions.
Step 8: Have some students share examples of difficult words with the class by writing them on the board. If students have difficulty finding easier rewordings, the class can think together to find solutions.
Step 9: Instruct students to take their scripts home, revise them, and print out a new copy. Have students bring both the original and new version to the next class, when they will deliver their speeches.
Step 10: When students submit their speech scripts after delivering their speeches, check to see how their original scripts have changed as a result of this activity.

If time does not permit this activity, you can let students know about the Globish website <> established by Jean-Paul Nerriere. Globish is a simplified form of English with a core vocabulary of 1,500 words. The website has a page to input text; words not included in the 1,500 word vocabulary list will come up highlighted. Many of these words may be difficult and require rewording. Instructors are encouraged to visit and experiment with this site before showing students, via projector and providing a demonstration, how to use it to identify difficult words and make their scripts easier to understand.  
Finding the words to express oneself simply and clearly is notoriously—that is, very—difficult, requiring years of practice even in one’s first language. Students will have difficulty finding ways to reword vocabulary and may only be able to simplify a few words per page. However, this activity will make students aware of the need to attend to the difficulty level of vocabulary in their speeches, and more importantly, the communicative nature of oral presentations.