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Impact of Icebreaker Tasks on ESL Speaking Ability

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2013 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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Background and Purpose

  1. Introduction

Speaking is the most demanding skill among English learners and over the past decades, increasing interest in different aspects of improving speaking ability has triggered a variety of investigations, and theoretical discussions that have shed light on improving this ability. Icebreakers will be used in this study to improve speaking ability in adult upper-intermediate EFL learners. Ice breaking means breaking the ice between learners and using ice breakers to encourage students to interact all together.

  1. Statement of Problem

The lack of proper speaking activities to improve oral production in adult EFL students of upper-intermediate level, results in a poor performance when speaking. This project expects to find valuable information that contributes to overcome the problems adult EFL students of upper-intermediate level face when speaking in the target language in the classroom.

  1. Theoretical Framework

Speaking skill is as crucial as any other language skills. Shumin (1997) states that learning to speak a foreign language requires more than knowing its grammar and vocabulary. Learners should acquire the skill through interaction with each other. However, it is difficult for EFL learners to speak appropriate English in the classroom because of the limited language use in their real lives.

Ice breakers are discussion questions or interaction activities used to help participants relax and ease in learning situation (Dover, 2004). The primary goal for an ice breaker is the development of an environment that is anxiety reducing and, which allows individuals to “break the ice” or get acquainted with having fun.

Pillai (2007) mentions the purpose of ice breakers as helping new and shy students strike a conversation, developing communication skills and team building, breaking cultural barriers among students, promoting a sense of trust and friendship between students, encouraging students, and preparing them to learn by stimulating their minds and/or their bodies.

Forbes-Greene (1984) defines icebreakers as tools that enable students to foster interaction, encourage creative thinking, challenge basic assumptions, explain new concepts, and introduce specific material. According to Varvel (2002) ice breaker is an activity used to help individual ease into the group setting. Also, Wright (1999) defines ice breaker as opening communication among students as between teacher and students.

Jenkins (2011) argues that ice breaker should be dynamic and simple so as to satisfy students need to establish an appropriate social relationship with other students and teachers and also preview the style and content of the classroom event.

According to Sapp (2007) principles of successful ice breakers are as follows:

  1. Simple
  2. Non-threatening
  3. Open ended
  4. Relevant
  5. Energizing

Witkowski (2000) states that some elements should be considered in designing an appropriate ice breaker in the classroom. He listed these elements as follow:

  1. Objective
  2. Audience
  3. Time management
  4. Control

As a matter of fact, we can say that how well students do in class depends mostly on how well teacher breaks the ice between them. From this point of view, English teachers should reconsider the methodology they can apply in their classes and try to improve their teaching ability.

  1. Purpose of the Study

In terms of skills, producing a coherent and fluent piece of speech is probably the most important thing there is to do between EFL learners. The present study investigates ice breaking tasks as activities that presumed to play a role in EFL speaking classes. The first question this study tries to answer is whether or not providing students with ice braking tasks as their classroom activities will exert any impact on their speaking skill. According to Peterson (2010), “beginning your lesson plans with a five-minute ice breaker can serve to focus your students on the topic, open up creative thinking and help them to apply the learning in new ways”. According to Leblanc (2011) ice breaking activities will help students to turn off the outside world and focus on the task at hand. By the end of the ice breaking activity, every student will be ready to learn and being able to focus on their language lesson. Then, a teacher will reach every student and will help their students achieve their language goals.

In any classroom, there always are students who are more reticent and are willing to let others do all the participating. By engaging students to take part in a low-risk, ice-breaking activity, teachers will reach every student and will help their students achieve their language goals.

Based on the problems and purpose of study, the following research questions were proposed:

  1. Does providing students with ice- breaking tasks have any effect on their speaking ability?
  2. To what extent ice-breakers improve speaking?
  3. What factors can be considered in testing speaking ability of EFL learners?
  4. What is the effect of using ice-breakers in improving every factor that considered in testing learners’ speaking ability?
  5. What is the correlation between using ice-breaker activities and students’ gender?
  6. When teachers use ice- breaking as a strategy to improve oral ability in English classrooms?

1.5. Significance of the Study

In the age of internet and information technology, speaking English has become so important and many EFL instructors and supervisors understand the essence of the speaking process. Learning to speak English fluently is important to most of the students. Thus, helping students to develop speaking skills is a demanding enterprise for teachers. Using a good ice breaker is important to an English language lesson, as it sets the students up for success on many different levels.

According to Flanigan (2011) performing ice breaking activities in English class will help students be in the right frame of mind to learn. Also proper ice breaking activities ensure that students will get the most from their class and they will have fun.

1.6. Research Design and Methodology

1.6.1. Research Design

Since real random selection of the subjects is impossible, the researcher made use of intact groups based on the results of students’ previous general English test scores. Therefore the design which can fit this study is the quasi-experimental design with the pre-test, post-test pattern.

In the current study ice breakers are the independent variable and speaking is the dependent variable. Thus the effectiveness of ice breakers, the amount of improvement, factors that can be considered in testing speaking ability, and effect of using icebreakers in every factor will be analyzed quantitatively by data analysis of pre-test and post-test, and qualitatively by analyzing teachers’ view point about the usefulness of ice-breakers.

1.6.2. Setting and Participants

After administering the sample speaking IELTS test, on the basis of the result, 100 students, whose homogeneities is confirmed-will be selected and divided into two groups ,one as the control group and the other one as the experimental group. Coming from different departments such as Science, History, Literature, Computer Science and Civil Engineering, Both groups will attend English classes two times a week throughout the semester (about 18 sessions, 3hours each session).

1.6.3. Data Collection Instruments

For collecting data, two instruments have been used in this study. The first ones are different kind of ice breakers that have been gathered from related standard sources. The second instrument is interview with teachers. As we will explain latter, it will elaborate in order to identify some aspects related to the teachers’ point of view about the usefulness of ice-breakers in upper-mediate level, and the students’ reaction to these kinds of activities.

1.6.4. Data Analysis

As it was mentioned earlier, there is a six fold purpose that will promote the present study. This research is mainly an attempt (a) to examine the probable effect of ice breakers on the speaking ability of EFL students at upper-intermediate language proficiency level, (b) to investigate the amount of ice breakers’ effect, (c) to investigate factors that are considered in testing speaking (d) study the effect of using ice-breakers in improving every factor,(e) measure the correlation between using ice-breaker activities and students’ gender,and (f) the conditions in which the teachers use ice breakers to cope with reticence in oral English language classrooms.

Data for this study obtained from pre-test, post-test, and interview with teachers. Then in order to do statistical analysis, the SPSS software is used.

1.7. Limitation and Delimitations of the Study

1.7.1. Limitations

As many other studies, this study suffers from some limitations, “those conditions beyond the control of the researcher that may place restrictions on the conclusions of the study and their application to other situations” (Best & Kahn, 1989, p.38). It seems that the following factors have limited this study in one way or another:

1. As a matter of fact, in order to give every single member of a population an equal chance to be included in the sample, random sampling is needed. Yet the type of sampling, which was employed in this study was the available group selection, i.e.

instead of individual subject selection, there was group selection.

2. Subjects’ social classes were certainly ignored as well.

3. Teachers’ age, gender, and social class were ignored, too.

4. The number of subjects was limited to 100 and the extension of the experiment was limited to one term.

5. The generalizability to other language proficiency levels needs further research.

1.7.2. Delimitation

In order to meet the criterion of manageability and to permit a satisfactory analysis of the results, narrowing down and delimiting the problems in any study have proved to be inevitable. This study is no exception; therefore, through a number of delimitations, the researcher tried to set the boundaries of this study:

1. What this study aims to investigate is the impact of “ice-breakers” on speaking ability of EFL Turkish students, not on any other aspect of their proficiency.

2. The participants were chosen from amongst the male and female undergraduate Turkish learners who are improving their English level in the American Culture Institute in Erzurum.

3. To reduce the subject anxiety during the speaking, the examiner was the students’ own teacher.

1.8. Outline of the Study

Chapter one provides a general introduction to the study. In this chapter the purpose of the study, research questions, hypotheses, and limitations of the study were discussed and key terms were defined. In chapter two, the researcher reviews the literature related to the theoretical and empirical background to speaking, ice-breakers, and their effects and functions. Chapter three deals with methodological issues such as participants, data collection, procedures, research questions and hypotheses, etc. Chapter four is concerned with data analysis and discussion of the results. In the final chapter, we draw some conclusions from our analysis, discuss conclusive results, and provide implications for further research.


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