Larry Ferlazzo - Using a "Three-Two-one" Speaking Activity

This blog looks at using a 'three-two-one' speaking activity for all levels.

Using a "Three-Two-One" Speaking Activity

English-language teacher trainer and author Paul Nation has developed the “4-3-2″ Fluency Activity.
In it, students line up (standing or sitting) facing each other. Each one must be prepared to speak on something that they are already quite familiar with. First, they speak to their partner for four minutes about the topic. Then, they move down the line, and say the same thing for three minutes. Next, they move and speak for two minutes. Then, the students on the other side do the same thing.
It’s a great idea, and I think my colleague Katie Hull Sypnieski (my co-author in The ESL/ELL Teacher's Survival Guide) and I were able to build on it and make it even better in our classes.
Here’s what we do:
We tell students they are going to pick any topic they wanted, and prepare to speak about it first for three minutes, then two, and finally one (we thought that reduced time is more realistic for a first try, though extend it the next time). We first ask students to think of a topic they knew a lot about, and to write down as much as they could think about the topic.
The next day, we go to the computer lab, and students spoke for one minute on Fotobabble on their topic, with their notes in front of them. You can hear some student recordings on our class blog.
Next, students are allowed two minutes to review their notes, and are told we will begin the 3-2-1 activity — without their notes in front of them. The key new addition we made to the lesson, though, is preparing students to ask questions of their partner if he/she seemed “stuck” on what to say next. Katie and I model that situation in front of the class, and then the class was divides into two lines.
It always turns out great, and the question-asking helps a lot.
Afterwards, we ask students to write a reflection on the experience by answering two questions:
  1. Did you like this activity? Explain why or why not.
  2. Think about the first time you spoke about the topic and compare that time to doing 3-2-1 this period. How did it change? Easier? Harder? Did you improve?
Here are some of their responses:
I like it because it’s fun and we get to communicate with our friends and with new person. Also, it’s a good thing for your brain because this activity is a game to test your brain to see if you can still remember.
I like this activity because is fun and we can get time to communicate in English to each other.
Yes, I liked this activity because it help to do better for my speaking and also know more knowledge.
I nervous when I did first time because I didn’t do that before. It easier for me when in class because I more used to it.
The first time I spoke about the topic in the computer lab is hard because we don’t do it before. I am more improve when we talk in class.
I really improve doing 3-2-1 this period.
I improve in class because I talk more good than last time.
We then return to the computer lab and students re-record their "presentation" and compare it to the first time - they are able to see for themselves how much they have improved, and it becomes a real confidence-booster.
Any ideas on how we can make it even better?
Larry Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California.  He has written six books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher, and has his own popular resource-sharing blog. He writes a monthly post for the New York Times on teaching English Language Learners.
Average: 1 (5 votes)

Research and insight

Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

See our publications, research and insight