This is an excerpt of a post by Julie Vorholt that was originally published 5 February 2019 on the TESOL International Association website. 

On Teaching Speaking: Academic Presentations for ELs

How well are your students able to state and support an opinion, respectfully disagree, and engage an audience? Making presentations and communicating in an academic setting are necessary skills for students’ success. Thus, presentation and discussion facilitation exercises are popular in advanced and academic English courses because students can practice these skills.

When I was reviewing submissions for the newly released New Ways in Teaching Speaking, Second Edition, I read about an activity developed by contributor Kia Dennis. Her activity has students present to their classmates and lead a discussion that includes a variety of question types.

Although Kia’s activity is for students at an advanced proficiency level, it could be modified for students at other levels. Begin the activity by asking each student to select a video or audio clip. Then explain that each student should prepare three types of questions about their clip. On presentation day, the student presents his or her prelistening questions to the class, shows/plays the media, presents the comprehension questions, and presents the discussion questions.

Here I would like to share with you an example, for the topic of global warming, of how the three types of questions from Kia’s activity could be used:

  1. Prelistening Questions: At least two initial discussion questions about the topic in general, including at least five vocabulary items with explanations or definitions.
  • Examples
  • (1) What is global warming?
  • (2) What are the effects of global warming?Key vocabulary items: global warming, climate change, greenhouse gas, emissions, and renewable energy.
  1. Comprehension Questions: At least two questions to check student comprehension. Questions should not be simple multiple-choice or yes/no.
  • Examples
  • (1) Think about the first person who was interviewed. What was that person’s reaction to the suggestion that people should reduce their water waste?
  • (2) Think about the final person who was interviewed. What concerns did she express about getting people to change their behavior in order to reduce climate change?
  1. Class Discussion Questions: At least three questions intended to encourage class discussions. Questions must be open-ended; they will deal with belief and opinion rather than simple fact.
  • Examples
  • (1) According to the video, current emissions levels must be at least 25% lower in the next 10 years. How likely do you think it is that this will happen?
  • (2) What behaviors are people in our local community willing and/or unwilling to change to help reduce global warming?
  • (3) To what extent are people taking the global warming crisis seriously? Give evidence to support your opinion.

About Kia Dennis, Our Featured Contributor

Kia works in Washington, DC, with foreign trained lawyers getting their Master of Laws degree from Georgetown University Law Center. She is the director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law. I interviewed Kia online to learn more about her, her work as an English language teaching professional, and her experience in writing for New Ways in Teaching Speaking, Second Edition.

Inspiration: Writing “Discussion and Facilitation: Leading a Presentation”

Presentation skills are something that even the most advanced English as a Second Language speakers struggle with. In the graduate law program, students are called upon frequently to present in both short presentations of information and longer more traditional presentations, so my colleagues and I make a point of incorporating exercises that give students the opportunity to practice these skills.

Current Professional Work and/or Projects

I am currently working on the design and development of online legal English courses for our program. The number of students that are seeking quality courses in legal English and English for academic purposes is constantly growing. The goal is to develop online courses that are both sufficiently interesting and challenging to push students beyond their current language skills but still be accessible and relatable to a variety of students.

Perspective on Teaching Speaking: Changes Over the Years

Speaking is really so much more an art than a science. There are certainly rules that students need to know, but the reality is native speakers break those rules all the time and without rhyme or reason sometimes. How we speak also changes quite rapidly. For example, I had a student mention that he was watching a television show where someone said something was bad, but from the context he deduced that the person meant the thing was good. It struck me how fast language changes and that students have to not only figure out current slang and colloquialisms, but true fluency requires that they also internalize older, no longer used, slang in order to navigate in their second language.

If you have any comments and/or questions, please share! Have you tried a presentation like this in your classroom? What activities worked well with your students?

You can connect with Julie via LinkedIn

You can reach Kia at

Kia Dennis is the director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law. She has experience as both a teacher and student in online learning environments and extensive experience teaching ESL in traditional learning environments. She has presented at various conferences on the topics of legal English, English for specific purposes, legal writing, and online course development. Prior to joining Georgetown, Professor Dennis was an attorney in government practice and private practice. Professor Dennis obtained an AB in economics from Princeton University, a JD from Georgetown Law Center, and an MA in applied linguistics from the University of Massachusetts.