I recently heard a modern language teacher brag about how much speaking her students did in the classroom. She said that her students orally did every book grammar exercise. She was amazed at how much they were speaking. Yes, the students were orally saying the grammar exercises but they were not spontaneous speaking. They could do the exercises perfectly but they could not use those grammar concepts in their own conversation about a topic. I asked her how closely the exercises resembled a real world conversation and she countered that the students had to know every grammatical form to be able to communicate.
To change grammar exercises to real speaking, we have to ask ourselves, “How would a target language person use this grammar point in an authentic conversation?” and try to duplicate that in the classroom. We can start our students off with just responding to their partners. For example, in teaching the Spanish preterite tense, students can start on their path to spontaneous speaking by seeing a long list of common verbs, selecting 10 verbs that describe what they did do in the past and then saying a past time word like yesterday or the past week and the verb in the “I” form. I always have my students do at least a three part sentence (Past time word +subject/verb +what or where or how such as “Yesterday I ate at McDonalds.” As a student says the sentence to his/her partner , the partner agrees or disagrees by repeating it or modifying it; a modification may be “Yesterday I ate at Burger King.”, “Last week I ate at McDonalds.”, or “Yesterday I ate two hamburgers and French Fries at McDonalds.” Once students realize that their partners are listening and responding to what they say, they begin to make more realistic sentences. Then the partners say a sentence and the listening students respond. They alternate until they each have said eight sentences. By saying their sentences and having their partners respond, they find out more about their partners. They start to use language in an interactive manner where they have to listen carefully to their partner and respond accordingly.
Harry Tuttle has over 15 Spanish spontaneous speaking activities at Teacherspayteachers: http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle
Tuttle’s formative assessment books: http://is.gd/tbook