3-2-1- Speak: Combining Peer Feedback, Accuracy, Fluency, and Academic Speaking

Practice makes perfect, right? It’s not as simple as that, but there is some evidence that doing something again and again does lead to improvement. I’ve just been reading research about repeated readings leading to improved comprehension. As interesting as that is, this particular post is not research-based, per se. Instead, I’d like to describe an activity I have been doing in an advanced listening and speaking class, one which I first read about on twitter and then actually got to experience myself at the 2017 TESOL convention in Seattle. This activity, based on repeated speaking, combines a range of different skills: content and critical thinking, listening, accuracy, feedback, fluency, and academic discourse for a winning combination of great practice that students enjoy (so much so that I was inspired to write this post).

I can’t remember the first time I encountered this activity, but it was definitely on Twitter and it had a name like 3-2-1 (another version here). The idea is to give students three minutes to speak on a topic, then two minutes, and then one minute. students get multiple opportunities to communicate while refining their message until it is both fluent and concise.

The session I attended, called “A Little Help From My Friends: Peer Feedback for Speaking” (by Alice Llanos and Amy Tate from Rice University), combined this activity with peer feedback. During the session, we stood in two large circles: inner and outer. For the session activity, we had to summarize the plot of a movie. We faced our partner and spoke for 60 seconds. Then, for 60 seconds, our partner would either ask us follow-up questions or give us feedback (grammar, pronunciation, content) to improve the summary. Then, we would change partners by rotating the inner circle clockwise, and then we would speak for 55 seconds, followed by feedback. Change partners and do it once more for 50 seconds, followed by our partner summarizing what we said. Then, we’d do it all again, but this time, we would provide feedback and our partners would do speaking. All together, this activity probably took 10 minutes. The purpose of the activity was, just like 3-2-1: multiple opportunity for fluency and, combined with peer feedback, accuracy.

I took this idea back to the classroom, tweaked it, and saw that it actually works. Not only do students provide pretty good feedback that helps them improve, they enjoy the multiple speakings, and to some extent, the challenge of increasing time pressure. How did I tweak it?

In my class, we have been following a speaking model that I learned from somewhere – not sure exactly where but I think it was TOSCON 16, from a participant during one of my sessions – called Claim, Evidence, Commentary (CEC). CEC is a speaking model we have been using to answer  critical thinking questions. It involves stating a claim (discourse markers: I think…, It seems that,… To me,..), using evidence (According to the text…, According to the lecture,…, The professor said….) and then including a commentary that often links the claim and evidence and then expands on it. This was the model used for group discussion and audio diaries, and I decided to try it out with 3-2-1.

Here’s an example:

  • Set-Up
    • After watching a lecture on the topic of abolition, hearing about both the Nat Turner slave rebellion and William Lloyd Garrison, I asked on the board: “What do these two men have in common? Use the CEC Model.”
  • Planning and First Feedback
    • Students first had a chance to write out their answer. This allowed me to offer feedback on both content, organization (for the CEC model), grammar, and pronunciation. I made sure to give each student feedback on their writing.
  • Activity
    • I divided the class into two rows of four students each. I designated one row as speakers and one row for giving feedback. I then put 1:10 on the timer and let the activity run. Students could use their writing as notes, but they already knew it should stay face down in front of them. I listed as they spoke, making mental notes on what they were saying. I gave 60 seconds for the feedback and walked around, listening and assisting on feedback when needed.
      • I was surprised at home accurate the feedback was, picking up grammar errors that I missed or pronunciation errors that were no problem for me but that were confusing for the listeners.
    • We changed partners, and did it again for 1:05 and once more for 1:00. Then, we switched roles and did the cycle again.
      • I noticed that by the third time, students were very confident in what they were saying, relying very little on their notes if at all. And, there was pretty good uptake of the peer feedback to the point that the third repetition was much more accurate than the first.
  • Debriefing
    • After the activity, I asked students to tell me whether they thought they had improved by the third time. Almost all said they did, though one or two said they actually added more detail rather than becoming more precise. They also said they felt their grammar definitely improved and the feedback was useful.
    • I also asked for specific examples of what they improved and they offered me examples of grammar, pronunciation, and some organization.
    • Finally, I asked if they enjoyed this activity and there was a resounding “Yes!”

I have done this activity once or twice a week for several weeks now. I have made tweaks here and there depending on the question or purpose. For the last few times I have done it, I have removed the diminishing time frame and just given 60 seconds each time. No matter what version, I always get a positive response from students and do see clear improvement during the task. Whether or not this improvement translates to better general improvement is not clear, however.

Overall, I have found that this activity is quite holistic in terms of skills practiced: grammar, pronunciation, organization, discourse markers, content, fluency, listening, giving and listening to feedback, uptake, and confidence building, to name a few. The fact that there is some theoretical support behind repeated practice, combined with the fact that students enjoy it, and that I find it anecdotally effective means that I will continue to use it in the classroom and make it an integral part of my own teacher toolkit.

2 thoughts on “3-2-1- Speak: Combining Peer Feedback, Accuracy, Fluency, and Academic Speaking

  1. Kamila says:

    Hi Anthony,

    I first learnt about 3-2-1 from a Paul Nation video on YouTube in which he explained how it works and it has been in my teaching repertoire since then. I used it as a fluency exercise the way he suggested, not daring to change anything, but after I read your post I really liked the idea of the peer feedback. I used it in my Czech class. The students are currently preparing for final B1 exams where they’re supposed to respond to questions on general topics (transport, my home, family, etc.) Over the year, they have prepared mind maps on each topic, so when I set up the exercise, I said Step 1 was to study the mind map, or write down some notes if they didn’t have it. I said they could choose any topic they felt they needed more practice on. Then I just let it run the way you did: 1:10, 1:05, 1 min, with about 45 -60 secs for partner feedback. Changed partners after each round. I was really busy with the clock so didn’t have much time to listen myself. The final feedback was very positive. Just like you said – they thought they’d become more fluent, and had appreciated the feedback from their peers. I guess something to keep in mind is that lower than B1 students may not be able to provide peer feedback. I do this exercise with lower levels, but just as a fluency exercise. And my colleague runs it this way: she puts Ss in mixed level groups of three. The lowest level student starts, talks for a minute, another one takes over for another minute (must not repeat ideas), and then the third one speaks for the last minute. This is also very effective.
    Cheers
    Kamila

    • Kamila, thanks for your comment. I appreciate the feedback and I’m so glad that it worked for you.
      I have run it once in a intermediate/pre-intermediate level class (sorry, we don’t use CEFR but maybe a B1). I didn’t ask the listeners to provide feedback, only follow-up questions. However, I could see it working at lower levels if the focus is on using a specific grammar point and getting listeners to notice that grammar point in use. This is just in theory, however, not in practice.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to comment!

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