When engaging our students in speaking activities we can move from general to specific or from specific to general. Ideally, the latter is a much more productive strategy. For instance, we can ask the students:
- What’s your favourite food? (from general to specific)
- Have a look at these photos (an orange, a hamburger, a chili pepper, an ice cream). Tell any five people in the classrroom one good thing and one not so good thing about each (from specific to general).
We can ask:
- Are you a good cook? (from general to specific)
- You have red peppers, rice, olive oil, cheese, macaroni pasta, garlic, onions, prawns, tomato sauce and ground beef. Feel free to use any of these ingredients. What would you cook? Tell a partner (from specific to general).
The more specific the question or task, the more likely it is to raise interest, spark curiosity, connect with students’ interest and activate schemata. One can always tackle the more general questions What’s your favourite food? or Are you a good cook? at a later point.
Another good way to generate lively discussions and, once again, moving away from general questions is by formulating hypothesis.
Rather than asking “Do you like to eat junk food?”, we can say: Imagine you work at McDonalds, Burger King/Domino’s Pizza, etc. What changes would you introduce to your menus to attract customers who don’t usually go to fast food restaurants?
Rather than asking “What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?”, we can say: Imagine a friend from (pick a country) comes to visit you. What is the strangest thing to eat that you would offer your friend? What is the strangest thing to eat from your friend’s country? (here the students might need to do some research on the Internet, not a bad thing as long as it is conducted in the target language).
These hypothetical situations will ultimately lead to the general questions.