The 4-3-2 Technique
First described in 1983 (Maurice, 1983), the 4/3/2 technique is claimed to have a number of benefits. These include improving fluency in speaking, as well as accuracy and complexity, by having students repeat a similar talk three times.
In 1989, Nation put this technique to the test (Nation, 1989). While he found that the gains in accuracy were perhaps negligible at best, he did note gains in fluency and complexity. A further study (DeJong & Perfetti, 2011) also noted considerable gains in fluency which they attributed to proceduralisation. In other words, the 4-3-2 technique helps students to chunk previously produced patterns of language so that they are more automatically able to produce these chunks.
The basic idea of this speaking activity is to have students trying to say more in a decreasing amount of time. The decreasing time should benefit students as in order to say the same content they will need to speak more fluently (at a faster rate with fewer hesitations and false starts), using more complex sentences and more specific vocabulary.
1: Set a topic and give students time to make notes about it. Depending on the topic this step could be collaborative – for example if the topic is the advantages and disadvantages of using technology in education, one half could brainstorm the advantages, while the other half brainstorm the disadvantages.
2: When students have sufficient notes, line students up in two rows facing each other. Tell students they will tell their partner about the topic for four minutes. Designate the two rows as A and B – As will start, and Bs will speak second. Tell students not to switch until you tell them.
3: After both students have spoken for four minutes, move one row of students one place so that everyone has a different partner. Tell students they will now repeat but with only three minutes. Emphasise that they should still try to say everything they said before.
4: Move students a final time and have them repeat with only two minutes.
5: Students may now return to their seats and reflect on their performance in the task.
S (first time): I think that technology is good to use in education because teachers are people and so they can do mistakes. But technology can decide about the progress of students.
S (third time): One advantage is that technology can make fewer mistakes than teachers when deciding about students progress.
1: If students are unlikely to be able to talk for four minutes about a topic, shorter times can be used. Similarly high-level students could be asked to speak for slightly longer. You could try for 2/1.5/1 for a lower level student, or 5/3.5/2 for a higher level student.
2: You could flip this activity and ask students instead to talk for longer about the same topic by adding in more information each time. While this may help students who struggle to talk for extended turns, it is also likely to see some of the gains in fluency, accuracy and complexity due to repetition and the natural tendency to simplify language.
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Maurice, K. (1983) The fluency workshop. TESOL Newsletter 17, (p. 429)