Motivating students to speak outside of class with ZenGengo and Padlet

The challenge

Motivating Japanese university students to speak English outside of the classroom and keeping them engaged with the language in a meaningful way can be a challenging task. This is especially the case when students perceive their efforts to have no direct effect on their grade.

The solution

Context

The project described in this case study was implemented at Sojo University in Kumamoto, where all undergraduate students take a compulsory course of English for the first two years of their undergraduate degrees. The majority of Sojo students are science majors, whose English ability falls into the A2-B1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). The main goal of the compulsory English course at Sojo is to improve students’ spoken and conversational communication skills.

Submission of audio recordings

In order to motivate students to practice their speaking skills outside of the classroom, a “30-day English Speaking Challenge” was devised. The challenge required students to respond to a variety of open-ended speaking prompts by submitting audio recordings through the ZenGengo platform. Teachers would later listen to the recordings and give verbal feedback also in the form of audio recordings.

An image of Padlet with links to ZenGengo Audio Recording assignments
An image of one of the ZenGengo Audio Recording assignments from the 30-day challenge

Feedback on audio recordings

ZenGengo allows teachers to give different types of feedback, including written comments, audio recordings, and video recordings. Prior to the commencement of the project, students were asked what form of feedback they would prefer, and most indicated a preference for audio feedback, which was deemed to be more “conversational” in nature.

An image of student feedback page from a ZenGengo Audio Recording assignment

Results

This project aimed to provide students with a platform in which they can:

  • Quickly and simply practice speaking English
  • Practice without time or space restrictions
  • Receive conversational-like feedback on their submissions
  • Practice often in small quantities for an extended period of time.

Lessons learned

As with all projects, especially first-time interactions, there can always be room for improvement. Student numbers decreased over time. To keep student participation consistent, one teacher suggested that, rather than a daily challenge, “a 30 week challenge might be more appropriate, where students are asked to make a longer, more extensive response once a week” would be preferable. This would perhaps relieve any perceived restrictive time-constraints of doing the activity daily and could allow the students to focus more on production. Another suggestion would be a narrower, more structured approach, such as a monthly 7-day challenge. This would allow short bursts of production by students over a concentrated period of time. It could also allow for “themed weeks” and where each day builds up to a more extensive production on the last day.

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ZenGengo

ZenGengo

ZenGengo is a simple yet powerful online assignment platform for busy language teachers. Assignments are easy to create, and delightfully simple to administer.