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Oral Performance Anxiety in the Classroom: Implications for ESL


Instructors
Introduction
Fear of public speaking is a common feeling many fluent speakers of a language
admit to having. It is to be expected that non-native speakers are going to experience
heightened stress when asked to formally speak in a language in which they are not fluent.
Oral performance anxiety can affect second language learners to various degrees
depending on their personality, their willingness to communicate in the second language,
and the classroom environment. Heightened anxiety can be detrimental to a learners
progress in developing second language pronunciation and oral fluency, along with
inhibiting conversation practice. This review examines research on oral performance
anxiety in second language learners and this research has informed the pedagogical
developments created to remediate oral performance anxiety in the classroom. In addition
to supplying a ten week lesson plan targeting oral performance anxiety, and preparing
students for a presentation, this paper also analyzes the success of these activities at
remediating learner anxiety and provides modifications.
Overview of Previous Research
Oral performance anxiety is defined as a situation-specific anxiety that negatively
affects foreign language learners ability to produce the language under certain conditions
(Onwuegbuzie, Bailey, & Daley, 1999, p. 88). State anxiety refers to when the learner only
feels anxious before particular situations (Ansari, 2015, p.40). This differs from trait
anxiety, which refers to stress embedded in a persons personality (Dornyei, 2005, p. 613).
For many students, these forms of anxiety can affect them during oral presentations in
front of the entire class. A learners heightened anxiety level can be used as a predictor for
possible difficulties in future language acquisition, depending on if the anxiety is a trait of
the individual or caused by a specific task/situation. A lack of verbal participation caused
by these anxieties may impede progress in students oral performance abilities in the target
language.
This paper focuses on anxiety regarding student output, more specifically oral
performance, and ways to measure and decrease it in second language learners.
Onwuegbuzie, Bailey, and Daley (1999) created an Output Anxiety Scale to measure 258
college students anxiety level when producing in their target language (p. 91). This scale
measured the amount of anxiety present when a student must recall and produce
previously learned material orally for the first time. The process of transferring receptive
knowledge to productive knowledge can cause anxiety in students of any proficiency level.
This study concluded that output anxiety was ranked higher than both input anxiety (e.g.
tasks when students are receiving information) and processing anxiety (e.g tasks when
students must comprehend information) in the vast majority of participants. However, all
three types of anxiety appeared to correlate with one another including their causes or
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triggers. In the classroom these forms of anxiety can impact a students participation and
therefore learning, so strategies must be taught and used to overcome stress-inducing
situations, such as presentation reading out loud, and role plays.
Willingness to Communicate
A willingness to communicate (WTC) plays a role in the social and educational
success of individual learners. This concept has to do with a learners desire to participate
in oral interactions or communicative situations. There are two variables that contribute to
a persons WTC, communicative apprehension and perceived communicative competence.
Communicative apprehension is anxiety that learners have about interacting with others
(Baker & Maclntyre 2000, p. 541). This can affect second language verbal skills because
anxieties towards communication can lead to avoidance making acquiring oral skills a
challenge. Apprehension can correlate with a students perceived competence in that if
they perceive their speaking abilities to be inadequate they will be apprehensive towards
speaking.
Perceived Communicative Competence
Perceived communicative competence is the second variable that can influence a
learners willingness to engage in speech acts. A students perceived communicative
competence is the level they believe their speaking ability to be at. Their perceived
competence can be very different from what their actual communicative competence. If a
student believes their speaking ability to be lower than it actually is this can lead to a
decrease in their willingness to communicate and contribute to oral performance anxiety
(MacIntyre et al., 2003, p. 141). Also, if learners perceive themselves to be at a lower
proficiency level than their peers it will adversely affect their performance, especially in
situations where they must display their oral skills in front of the class. MacIntyre, Noels,
and Clement (1997) found that second language learners who experience oral performance
anxiety perceived their language competency to be lower than it actually was (p. 268). This
inaccurate perception can be a source of anxiety related to an individuals faulty
expectations and need for academic perfection (Gregersen & Horwitz, 2002, p. 562). A
skewed self-perception is one of the anxiety factors that teachers need to focus on changing
in their learners by positive reinforcement of good habits and constant encouragement.
Sources of Anxiety
According to Young (1991) there are six sources of anxiety, categorized as: personal
and interpersonal characteristics, learners beliefs about language learning, instructors
beliefs about language teaching, instructor-learner interactions, classroom procedures and
language testing (p. 427). This paper will analyze and use personal and interpersonal
anxieties, along with the learners beliefs about language learning to guide the approaches
and activities combatting learners oral performance anxiety in the language classroom.
Personal Anxieties
Personal anxieties can be related to an individuals self-esteem, expectations, or fear
of negative evaluation. If a student is afraid of receiving negative feedback it is likely that
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they will not initiate communication, especially if a learner has an introvert personality on
top of high self-expectations and a fear of negative evaluation. Hoffman (1986) claims that
introvert learners who already focus more attention on receptive learning than on
production skills will participate even less if they lack confidence in their verbal abilities (p.
252). Second language learners who are able to interact with native speakers in casual
conversational activities greatly improve their oral skills because anxiety of being judged is
remediated by an audience ready and willing to communicate. Teachers must recognize
these characteristics in their students and incorporate teaching strategies to make sure all
students are taking part in oral practice equally, not one learner speaking while the others
listen (Dewaele & Furnham 1999, p. 511). It is important as teachers to facilitate oral
performance activities that students are adequately prepared for and can accomplish with
little stress so they are encouraged to speak more and increase their verbal abilities in the
target language.
Interpersonal Anxieties
Interpersonal anxieties can be generated through competitiveness and fear of
judgment or scrutiny. Kitanos (2001) study on Japanese language learners showed that
classroom anxiety is amplified when students perceive their oral performance skills to be
worse than their peers (p. 550). This type of anxiety can cause students to refrain from
communicating with students they feel have a higher proficiency level than their own. This
dynamic can lead to an unhealthy and uncooperative learning environment. To combat
learners comparing themselves to others, teachers can focus on facilitating communication
by placing students in arranged small groups and providing tasks that require students to
collaborate with one another. Teachers should encourage cooperation and teamwork in
their activities so as to make sure competition between peers is not causing anxiety in their
students.
Anxiety and Motivation
The learners view of language learning greatly affects their oral performance
anxiety levels. The Acculturation Hypothesis claims that a learner who understands and
adapts to their target language culture will find more ease in learning the target language
(Gass et al. 2013, p.464). For learners studying in an ESL environment, being surrounded
by their new languages culture and people will help their verbal skills simply due to
constant input. However, this is only effective if the learner is interested in expanding their
knowledge of the target language and culture. For example, if a student does not care about
or have motivation to succeed in acquiring the language they will not be nervous about
failing during a presentation and will therefore not be anxious and undoubtedly perform
poorly. Furthermore, if a student is motivated to learn and wishes to progress, a little
anxiety before a presentation is normal and possibly constructive (Foss & Reitzel, 1988, p.
132). However, there is a point when beneficial anxiety becomes debilitative and can be a
direct negative factor on meaningful communication if it inhibits the learner from
participating (Hoffman, 1986, p. 246). Gass, Behney, and Plonsky (2013) postulate that too
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much anxiety in social situations can hinder meaningful communication by causing a


language learner to either disengage from the conversation, or revert to using simpler
forms out of fear that they may mispronounce the more complex versions (p. 462).
Student-to-student interactions in the second language classroom can be disrupted by
speech anxieties if a student is too nervous or insecure about their language skills to
participate in an activity. If one member of a group is too nervous to contribute to a
discussion all members of the group may suffer.
Oral Performance Anxiety in Second Language Learners
Even native language speakers face anxiety that can negatively affect their oral
performance. This stage freight is amplified when a second language learner must try to get
their ideas across using terminology and pronunciations they are unfamiliar with (Hewitt
and Stephenson, 2012, p. 274). For many students oral presentations in front of an entire
class are the most intimidating aspect of language learning. As teachers the importance of
these oral presentations is obvious in terms of student assessment, and it is not necessary
to eliminate these forms of student production entirely. However, creating frequent
situations where students are engaging in mini dialogues with their peers can give them
the confidence and practice to feel better prepared and less anxious for larger
presentations. In-class teaching techniques that address our learners anxiety such as small
group interactions vs. students having to engage with the entire class, have been found to
reduce students anxiety levels (Arnold, 1999, p. 435). Positive feedback from the teacher
along with a high comfort level with fellow students may reduce student oral performance
anxiety as well.
For language learners, anxiety in oral performance is double the native speakers
because they not only have to perform in front of an audience, but also struggle to
accurately represent their ideas in a new language. Foss and Reitzel (1988) theorize that if
L2 learners can identify their rational fears, they will be able to approach the situation
rather than avoid it (p. 140). Overcoming possible outcomes requires that learners
acknowledge the challenges that oral performance entails and practice in less intimidating
situations such as small group activities and partner conversations.
Ways to Decrease Oral Performance Anxiety
The activities, approaches, and techniques discussed in this paper are modeled after
the Relational Competency Model of Spitzberg and Cupach (1984, p. 132) and incorporate
techniques from Arnold (1999, p. 429-454). The Relational Competency model argues that
competence is cultivated through a learners impression of him or herself. Five competency
components may be emphasized in second language classrooms to decrease oral
performance anxiety: motivation, knowledge, skills, criteria outcomes, and context, and
accompanying these are strategies for implementation. Using the rational emotive therapy
to guide a lesson is one way to increase students participation in oral communication. This
therapy promotes a learning environment that gives students opportunities to share and
foster solidarity. One activity influenced by this therapy requires the students to write
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down a list of their fears about speaking in the second language. The teacher then collects
the lists and writes those that are mentioned more than once on the board. Students can
see that they are not alone in their struggles and fears and this can help alleviate their
anxiety knowing their peers have the same worries. Activities constructed around
principles of competency cultivation such as rational emotive therapy, helped to guide the
following activities and lesson plans as well as develop informed pedagogical classroom
contributions.

































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Lesson Plans with Activities


Brief description of classroom setting:

17 intermediate level learners of Arabic, Chinese, Turkish, and Korean L1


backgrounds
90-Minute classes, Monday-Thursday, for 14 weeks

Week 1 and 2
Activity 1: Getting to Know You! (25 minutes)
Purpose: Students break the ice by getting to know each other. They must practice
listening during the dictation, speaking by asking their partner the questions, and
practice presentation skills by presenting something they learn to the class. Teacher
will also introduce some presentation skills expectations. Students are more likely to
be less anxious to perform if they are comfortable and familiar with their teacher and
classmates.
Procedures:
Tell the students to get out of piece of paper and number the paper 1-10,
skipping two lines between each number.
Dictate the 10 interview questions to the students. (see Materials, p. 14) In
this way, the students are giving fixed attention to each word and the pronunciation.
Repeat each question two times. Remind the students that they are not answering
the question, but writing down exactly what you say.
When finished, pair each student up, trying to mix native languages as much
as possible. The students must now ask each other each question and write down
their answer. Tell them that when they are finished, they will choose two interesting
things they learned about their partner to present in front of the class.
When they have all finished, prepare the students for the presentations by
modeling. Stand in front of the class and say, Id like to present.to you. Two
interesting things I learned about her is that she likes to run and she speaks French.
Ask the students what they noticed about your body language and how you spoke.
Exaggerate and model again, speaking too softly, or too quickly, or looking down at
your shoes. Explain to the students that they must speak clearly and make eye
contact with the class.
As each pair presents, write down one item presented on of each student.
When everyone is done presenting, ask the class about these items, such as Who in
here likes to run? for comprehension.

Activity 2: Metacognition
Purpose: Students will write down their listening and speaking goals for the semester
in order to motivate the students towards thinking about how their success in the
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course depends on their efforts in meeting these goals. The teacher will then keep a
copy of the goals and check in on the student throughout the semester.
Procedure:
Hand out Semester Goals worksheet (see Materials, p. 15)
Discuss the course objectives and mention future presentations. Ask the
students if any of them have any goals for this course, or their English studies in
general. Motivate students by connecting this class with their ultimate goals
(studying in the US, getting a job that requires English proficiency, etc).
Give students a few examples of what their goals might be, and mention that
oral presentations will be a part of the assessment in the class. Do they struggle with
presentations, and what are some goals they would have to address this area?
Give them time to reflect and write their answers, and collect the next day.

Activity 3: Shared Self-awareness
Purpose: When students reflect on their fears and struggles, and what they have done
to overcome these in the past, it will boost their confidence and ease classroom
anxiety. Sharing these experiences and learning about their classmates experiences
will also reduce stress in the classroom.
Procedure:
Hand out Self-Awareness activity worksheet (see Materials, p. 16)
Introduce the activity by asking the students if they have experienced a life
change or difficulty. If nobody volunteers information, remark on how each of the
students is now studying in the US, so they all have a common life change. Talk
about your own life change or difficulty.
Tell the students that they will answer the three questions on the right-hand
side chart on the front page. Go through each question and answer each for yourself
in regards to the life change/difficulty you shared with the class. Tell the students
that they should not write about moving to the US, since they all have had that
experience, but have them try to think of something unique. Give the students a few
minutes to reflect individually and write down their own answers.
Next, pair up the students and have them ask their partner those three
questions, recording their answers in the left-hand side of the chart.
When the students are finished, move on to the Predict section which
includes three questions. Discuss what the word predict means. Have a student read
each of these questions to the class and go over possible answers. For questions 2
and 3, mention classroom presentations and ask if those will be difficult for any
students. Give the students a few minutes to answer these questions individually.
Next, discuss the Imagine section. Discuss what the word imagine means,
even making them maybe close their eyes and painting them a picture of what they
will feel like at the end of the semester when they have passed the class - all in good
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humor. Have the students reflect on their own and decide two things they will have
done to ensure their success or overcome difficulties in this class.
Next, the students will go around the room to interview other students and
fill out their chart. They will ask their fellow students what they did to be successful
or what they did to overcome a problem in a past experience. After everyones chart
is filled out, discuss answers as a class. Remark on similarities and differences, but
help students to make the connection that all of them have difficulties that they then
must work to overcome this semester. Tell the students that you want to be
available to help them be successful and that they should feel free to come to you
with any concerns.

Week 3
Activity: Individual Conferences
Purpose: Build the students ease with the teacher and increase their personal
motivation and accountability. Now that the students have been in class for a few
weeks, they might have some concerns to share with you.
Procedure: During the class period when students have conversation partners,
conference with each student for a few minutes, pulling them out of their
conversation partner group in alphabetical order. Discuss their goals that they wrote
out during week one and how they want to accomplish them. Now that you are more
than two weeks into the semester, how do they feel about the course? Do they have
any questions or concerns? The teacher should jot down short notes on the students
thoughts.

Week 4
Activity: Mini-skits
Purpose: Students in groups of 4 will prepare and present 2-3 minute skits based on
a topic from the current thematic unit. This will be their first graded presentation, and
since it is in a group and not individual, it could possibly ease the tension and anxiety
of an oral presentation.
Procedure:
The teacher groups students and displays the options for topics. The teacher
should plan groups of students ahead of time so that students are placed in groups
that the teacher believes will work well for each student.
Each group picks a topic from a list of topics related to the thematic unit.
The teacher goes over the directions and rubric. Make sure the expectations
are clear. While going over each category, the teacher reminds the students of
presentation skills. Students will be graded on content, fluency, pronunciation...etc.
Encourage the students to pay special attention to this and help out a fellow student
if you think they arent pronouncing something correctly, etc.
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Students are then given time to work on the dialogue in class, and once they
are finished, students must have the written dialogue approved by a teacher for
grammatical accuracy.
The students must then practice the skit as a group two times, with the
teacher circulating and making comments on pronunciation and intonation when
possible.
Charge the students with the homework of practicing their lines and give
them ideas of what to work on.
Give the students time to practice the skit the next day at the beginning of
class, and then present them.

Activity: Mini-skit Follow-up (10 minutes)

Purpose: Give feedback to the students on their presentations and allow them to
reflect on their performance. Having students reflect on their fears, share them as a
class, and see that they have similar fears will hopefully help to dispel some
performance anxiety.
Procedure:
Ask the class about the mini-skits they did. What was easy? What did you
learn? What was the most difficult? What would you have done differently next
time?
Next, have the students individually write down any fears they faced in
performing the mini-skit. Give students examples of what those fears might look like
in the sense of cognitive, somatic, or avoidance.
Ask the students to share their fears and the teacher writes them on the
board. The teacher makes the connection that they have similar fears that are
irrational.

Week 5
Activity: Introduce Idiom Presentations
Purpose: Introduce the next graded presentation students must make, which is an
individual presentation on an English idiom with accompanying visuals.
Procedure:
The teacher presents the students with an example of an idiom presentation
with a Powerpoint slide.
The teacher then gives them the assignment guidelines and goes over rubric.
The presentation will be next week.
Have the students sign up for an idiom and a time.
Give the students a mini-outline to fill out as homework.
Activity: Idiom Presentation Preparation
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Purpose: Guide and direct students progress in preparing for their idiom
presentations.
Procedure: During conversation partners, teacher meets individually with students
to go over their outlines and to check up on their progress, and to ask if the students
have any questions or concerns about the presentation.

Week 6
Activity: Idiom Presentation Reflection Selfie
Purpose: Students reflect on their idiom presentation to help motivate them to
approach their own weaknesses and improve for next time.
Procedure:
Hand back the students rubrics with feedback on their idiom presentation.
Make sure everyone has a smartphone & the Canvas app.
Go through the recording/uploading process together.
Have everyone do a short practice video submission in class (so the teacher
can check and make sure everyone is doing it right)
Go over first Selfie Video assignment due Thursday: Self Reflection about
your presentation (see Materials, p. 18)
Review rubric together.

Week 7
Activity: Introduce Final Speaking Assessment Presentation
Purpose: Model and explain assignment and expectations for the final speaking
assessment presentation.
Procedure:
Place the assignment directions on the doc. cam and read through guidelines
with students. Go over the rubric.
Next, model a 5-7 minutes presentation to the students, complete with slides.
Hand out a rubric to each student and have the students take note of your body
language, your content, etc - did you meet the expectations in each area? Have them
take notes and give you a grade.
After the presentation, discuss the students feedback.
Students choose thematic units from which they would like to find a
presentation topic and then in groups discuss what kind of subtopics they would be
interested in presenting on.
Go over outline.
For homework, students must decide on the subtopic they will present on.
Activity: Conversation Partners
Purpose: Students get more feedback and help by discussing their presentation
topics with native-speaking conversation partners and their classmates.
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Procedure: Group students according to their thematic units and have them discuss
presentation ideas further.
Students must choose and have you approve a subtopic in class the next day.
Once subtopics are chosen and approved by the teacher, students must fill in their
outline by the time you have conversation partners next week.

Week 8
Activity: Conversation Partners

Purpose: Students get more feedback and help by discussing their presentation
outlines with native-speaking conversation partners and their classmates.
Procedure: Group students according to their thematic units and have them discuss
presentation outlines with the conversation partners and their classmates.
Teacher collects outlines to approve and give feedback, and hands back the next day.
Homework - prepare your presentations and be ready to practice presenting them to
classmates next week.

Week 9
Activity: Practice Presentations
Purpose: Students practice presentation skills and receive feedback from a partner in
order to prepare them for the presentation which will be in front of the class.
Procedure:
Discuss presentation skills with the class and write a list on the board as
students come up with good skills.
Have students practice presenting to one other classmate. They tell each
other two good things and two things they could think about improving, using the
list of presentation skills as a guide if needed. Have the students do this two times,
switching partners for the next practice.

Week 10
Activity: Presentations
Purpose: Student present in front of the class as their achievement assessment.
Procedure: Encourage the students that they are well prepared and will do a great
job. Break up the tension by making jokes! Students will now give their presentations.






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Materials
Week 1, Activity 1:

Getting to know each other!

Ask your partner these questions. You will present your partner to the class.

1. What is your name?

2. Where are you from (city and country)?

3. How long have you been in the United States?

4. How long have you been in Fort Collins?

5. How many brothers and sisters do you have?

6. What is your favorite holiday and why?

7. What is you favorite food?

8. What do you do for fun?

9. What three words best describe your personality?

10. Why are you studying English?


Week 1, Activity 2:
Listening & Speaking Goals

This semester I would like to work on and improve

Speaking:
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________
Listening:
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________

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Week 1, Activity 3:

Name _________________
Self-Awareness Activity
Reflect
Talk to your partner about a time when you faced a life change or difficulty. Then, listen as
your partner describes a time when he or she faced a life change or difficulty.

Think about what your partner said. Think about what you said.
My partner said: I said:

The time of major change or difficulty was My time of major change or difficulty was
when when

My partner said these things helped I said these things helped me be successful:
him/her be successful:

When the change or difficulty was over, my When the change or difficulty was over, I
partner said he/she gained these said I gained these strengths:
strengths:


Predict

What is something that may be difficult for you about living in the US?
______________________________________________________________________________
What do you think will be most difficult for you in your classes?
______________________________________________________________________________
What do you think will be most difficult for you in this listening and speaking class?
______________________________________________________________________________

Imagine
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Now think about December 2015. The semester is over and you have passed this course.
Why were you successful? What did you do to overcome any problems that occurred?
Record those thoughts in the chart below.
I was successful because I/This is what I did to overcome my problems
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________

Share

Walk around and ask your classmates why they were successful and what they did to
overcome their problems. Record your classmates ideas in the chart below.

_____________ was successful because _________overcame________ problems by


_____________ was successful because _________overcame________ problems by


_____________ was successful because _________overcame________ problems by



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Week 6, Activity 1:

Selfie Video #1
For this first Selfie Assignment, wed like you to reflect on your presentation. Be sure to
speak for 1-2 minutes and upload your video to the assignment created on Canvas.
Due:
Ideas to reflect on:
a) What was easy and what was difficult about your presentation and/or topic?
b) What is something new that you learned about your topic while doing research about it?
c) What did you do well during your presentation?
d) Whats one (or more) thing that you would like to work on and improve before your next
presentation?
e) You may also add any extra thoughts or ideas you have to share.


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Discussion of Implications and Modifications


The activities in the appendices were chosen and sequenced to relieve oral
performance anxiety in students through multiple smaller groups configurations and
exercises that encourage peer feedback and camaraderie. Following is a discussion of the
implications and suggestions for improvement for the ten week lesson plan, as well as an
explanation of how each activity works to reduce ESL learners oral performance anxiety.
In Week 1, Activity 1, Getting to Know You
This activity has students ask each other questions, write down their partners
answers, then stand in front of the class and present their partner to the class. Activities
such as this one can be constructive as they have language learners become comfortable
with each other as well as the teacher, thus reducing anxiety levels early in the course.
These activities may also reduce communication apprehension, or anxiety/fears of
interaction with others (Baker & MacIntyre, 2000, p. 540). A modification that might
further reduce anxiety levels during this introductory activity would be to have students
present their partner from their desks instead of standing up in front of the class, perhaps
by also requiring them to establish eye contact with the rest of the group. This kind of
activity can then be incorporated regularly into the first few weeks of the course, with
more requirements being added to each presentation to gradually build up to presenting in
front of the class. This getting to know you activity would achieve the objective of
introducing the oral presentation expectations slowly, so as not to overwhelm students and
possibly trigger negative reactions.
Week 1, Activity 2, Semester Listening and Speaking Goals
This second activity, where students are asked to write down their listening and
speaking goals, was designed to activate students metacognitive awareness of their
language learning objectives. It was constructed to address language learners expectations
of their own abilities, related to what Young (1991) calls personal anxieties. In this
exercise, students are not only able to define their goals, they were also able to set limits on
the goals they wanted to achieve, thus cutting down greatly on the possibility of having too
high expectations for their language learning, which could give them a false level of
perceived competence. A variation on this activity would be to have students write down
how they feel about speaking in front of a group in their second language (English). For
example, when discussing an oral presentation requirement, the teacher could have the
students reflect on and write down what they think about their oral language ability at the
present moment, and how much they would reasonably like to see that ability improve by
the end of the course. The teacher could then hold a discussion where the whole class
decides on a reasonable goal for oral language ability improvement. In this way, an
atmosphere of sharing is established in the classroom, which may lead to lower anxiety if
students feel that they are all moving towards the same goal together. In addition, this
could work as an formative assessment of students wants, needs, and lacks, which the
teacher could use to inform future lesson plans. Following the guidelines of Foss and
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Reitzels (1988) rational emotive therapy, the teacher could also have students write down
what most intimidates them about oral presentations. The teacher could then write the
fears on the board, and have students discuss possible ways to address and overcome these
fears. The discussion could take the form of small group work where the students
brainstorm ways to overcome these fears first in pairs, then as a whole class. Students
could write creative strategies they come up with on chart paper and display them on the
classroom walls.
Week 1, Activity 3, Shared Self-Awareness
In the spirit of Spitzberg and Cupach's Relational Competency Model (1984), which
posits that by looking closely at themselves and what they have achieved, learners can
determine their own competency levels. In this activity, students reflect on a difficult
period in their lives and how they succeeded in overcoming the difficulty. A possible
extension to this activity would be to have students clearly reflect on how they felt before
overcoming the difficulty, by answering questions such as Did they feel they would be able
to do it? Were they afraid of what might happen? Did they have any doubts in
themselves?. Then students could consciously think about, write down, and discuss the
steps they took to overcome their fears and doubts. A follow-up activity might be to have
students attempt to apply those success strategies to informal oral presentation scenarios
in the classroom, the intent being to apply those same strategies to formal classroom
presentations.
Week 3, Conversation Partners
This weeks lesson includes students being paired with native English speaking
conversation partners. This activity speaks directly to findings by Dewaele and Furnham
(1999), who say that the opportunity to have regular conversations with native speakers of
the target language can vastly improve language learners' oral communication skills. They
claim that language learners will not feel inhibited to speak in front of a native speaker
whose sole purpose it is to communicate with them. Arnold (1999) states that receiving
positive reinforcement from and increasing the comfort levels with not just classmates, but
also the teacher, serves to reduce learner anxiety levels as well.
Week 4, Mini-Skit
This week, small groups of students present 2-3 minute skits for the class. Having
students perform short, small-group skits regularly is directly related to Arnold's (1999)
postulation that learners who frequently engage in short communication activities such as
role plays and conversations amongst small groups of classmates are much more confident
when asked to present in front of a larger group. One modification for this activity would be
to have students engage in a few casual, ungraded skits in front of small groups before
having them present in front of the whole class. In the Mini-Skit Follow-up activity, the
students are asked to reflect on how they felt presenting the mini-skit. Reflection activities
are beneficial for helping to gradually reduce anxiety, because students can actively think
about their feelings both before the activity and after. Writing these thoughts and feelings
Grattan 18

down, perhaps in a weekly reflection journal, would offer a chronological timeline of the
strategies the learners may have employed to reduce their anxieties and perhaps assist in
making those strategies more automatic.
Week 6, Reflection Selfie
The teacher had the students create a reflection selfie regarding their feelings about
the oral presentation they did on idioms the week before. Although an activity like this one
may initially produce anxiety in learners because it is a video recording of themselves
speaking, if conducted with enough frequency, and supplemented with positive feedback
on the video reflection, reflections selfies may alleviate fears of negative evaluations
(Hoffman, 1986, p. 248).
Conclusion
Throughout the course, the teacher had the learners reflect on their different oral
presentation activities and their feelings toward them. Having students do reflections
contributes to lowering anxiety levels because they can think about not only what they
want to improve upon, but what they did well on. Asking a learner to reflect on what they
did well may relieve personal anxieties that are often tied to low self-esteem (Young, 1991,
p. 433). Similarly, MacIntyre, Noels and Clement (1997) found that language learners who
perceived their second language abilities to be lower than they actually were exhibited
heightened levels of oral performance anxiety. Regular reflections may assist learners in
the perception of their abilities because they can more accurately think about how much
improvement they have made, which may increase their confidence levels. Discussing their
reflections with a teacher or native English speaker might further serve to increase
confidence levels due to the validation of improvement. These activities and those similar
to them can have an impact on lowering students anxieties if delivered with preparation,
scaffolding, and a focus on student reflections, thus allow students to move forward
confidently in their language learning process.
Grattan 19

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