Rehearsal, Performance, Debriefing: An Investigation of Speaking Strategy in EAP

Wakhid Nashruddin


The improvement of speaking skill as the goal of English language learning has been an interesting area to study. Rehearsal, Performance, and Debriefing (RPD) as a sequence of teaching and learning speaking attracted my attention. The three stages in teaching speaking were observed, and the result was quite promising. The study I conduct is only as a “preliminary” one, to see to what extent this strategy may be applicable in ESL/EFL classes. The way I analyze this technique is first, by reviewing the nature of speaking, and then explaining what steps may be used for scenarios. The next step is discussing and matching the technique with relevant theories that support or doubt the use of it. After that, the application of RPD is put in the picture. Finally, I will come to the reflection, conclusion, and suggestion related to the use of this technique.

Key words: speaking, teaching, EAP, rehearsal, performance, debriefing

Speaking is, as a productive skill, a purpose of many language learners learning a new second or foreign language. When teachers ask their students about the main reason why the students learn English, the answer, mostly, is because the students want to be able to speak English. The speaking skill is the first skill that learners want to master. It is the main concern of second or foreign language learners (Richards, 2006). Speaking is what students usually refer to “second language ability” (Folse, 2006: 4).

Many English as a Second Language (ESL)/English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners fail gaining their competence in speaking because speaking is a very complex activity. The process of acquiring a skill in second language learning is not simple, and may take lots of time (Nashruddin: 2009). ESL/EFL learners have diverse problems in speaking, from different vocabulary, different pronunciation, to different cultural aspects compared to their native/first language. Then, research in the field of teaching speaking has been conducted by many professionals. Noom-ura (2008), Otoshi & Heffernen (2008), and Kalantari (2008) are some of them.

Noom-ura (2008: 175) conducted a study for developing a course which focuses mostly on listening and speaking, with a specific purpose creating enjoyable activities for improving students’ motivation. One of her study goals was to give students adequate input and simultaneously support output both inside and outside class (Noom-ura, 2008: 179). The result of her study was the successfulness of her course design in improving students’ ability in English, mainly in speaking. The successfulness of the course was because of the varied activities; games, puzzles, songs, competitions, collaboration, and roleplays (Noom-ura, 2008: 179). Concerning the result of this study, teachers should fill the students’ activities in the classroom with wide-ranging activities so that their achievement in the study will be high.

Another previous study on speaking was a survey. Otoshi & Heffernen (2008: 65) investigated what factors EFL learners believe to be significant when making presentations. The result reveals that the following three factors as the major criteria for successful English oral presentations: clearness of speech and voice excellence; accuracy of language; and contact with the listeners (Otoshi & Heffernen, 2008: 65). Regarding the result of the investigation–in training students’ speaking–, teachers should train the students for uttering clear voice, for delivering grammatical sentences, and for creating interactive and interesting presentation.

Kalantari (2008) investigated the effectiveness of “the strategies of classroom interaction to improve the learners’ conversation performance and develop their interest in English language learning.” The strategies he tried out were questioning technique, modification (to negotiate meaning), and cooperative learning (Kalantari, 2008: 2-3). Using the three techniques in the conversation class has been proved to be effective and beneficial. The students’ performance is improved using the three strategies of classroom interaction. It is clear that working together in groups can help learners learning speaking in English.

Looking at the previous studies, I am interested in trying to find out if a technique goes with their findings. Then it comes from Anderson, Maclean, & Lynch (2006). In their book entitled Study Speaking: A course in spoken English for academic purposes (2nd ed.), they offer a technique (I am not sure if I should use this term) to help students cope with situations that EFL/ESL learners are probably to face in their lives as students (Anderson, Maclean, & Lynch, 2006: 7). They provide scenarios in the first part of the book and give suggestions how to use the scenarios in teaching and learning speaking EFL; by using three stages: rehearsal, performance, and debriefing. I am not going to investigate the content of the scenarios, rather, the steps or stages in using the scenarios.

The study I conducted is only as a “preliminary” one, to test to what extent this technique may be applicable in ESL/EFL classes. The way I analyze this technique is first, by reviewing the nature of speaking, and then explaining what steps may be used for scenarios. The next step is discussing and matching the technique with relevant theories that support or doubt the use of it. Finally, I will come to the reflection, conclusion, and suggestion related to the use of this technique.

The Nature of Speaking

There are at least four approaches in the field of learning and teaching speaking, they are (1) within an environmentalist approach, (2) an innatist approach, (3) an interactionist approach, and (4) a communicative competence framework (Martínez-Flor, Usó-Juan & Soler, 2006: 140-150). By understanding the four approaches, teachers can find the principles underlying speaking activities in language learning classrooms.

According to an environmentalist, the ability of speaking is based on the environment, what happens in the environment, what kind of activities are in the environment, and what environment stimulates speaking. In second or foreign language learning, speaking are made up from repeating, imitating, and memorizing the input (Martínez-Flor, Usó-Juan & Soler , 2006: 140). The process of learning a language, in this view, according to Gass & Selinker (2008: 91), “… is the practical reaction (response) to some stimulus.” Without stimulus, people will not ever talk.

An innatist will see speaking in a different way from an environmentalist. Rather than having repetition and making habits, this approach claims that learners also have their own ability in thinking. This approach is under cognitivism (Brown, 2000: 9-10). Learning is not only to set up as stimulus-response activities, but also to introduce structures of the sentences in order to make internalized system in the learners. Learners also think to produce the language (Martínez-Flor, Usó-Juan & Soler , 2006: 141).

Another point of view, in speaking development, comes from interactionists. Brown (2000: 11-12) calls interactionist’s approach as constructivism. Learners need to construct their idea following some steps. Without following the steps, students will not master the language perfectly. Learners need to have a plan to speak, and the plan is made up by four processes; 1) conceptualization; 2) formulation; 3) articulation; and 4) monitoring, in which the key is the speakers’ automation going through these four processes (Martínez-Flor, Usó-Juan & Soler , 2006: 142-143).

The latest approach is a communicative competence framework. Under this framework, speakers should have communicative competence, they are: (1) Discourse competence, (2) Linguistic competence, (3) Pragmatic competence, (4) Intercultural competence, and (5) Strategic competence (Martínez-Flor, Usó-Juan & Soler, 2006: 146-151). These competences are necessary in building students’ ability in having effective communication.

The first competence is discourse competence. It is  someone’s competence “which  enables  speakers  to  engage  in  continuous discourse, e.g., by linking ideas in longer written texts, maintaining longer spoken  turns,  participating  in  interaction,  opening  conversations  and closing them” (Littlewood, 2004: 503), while the second competence, linguistic competence is “the knowledge of language possessed by each normal speaker” (Chomsky, 2006: 55), the “knowledge of a language” (Chomsky, 2006: 62). Littlewood (2004: 503 specifies that an aspect of linguistics competence is “linguistic competence, which includes the knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, semantics, and phonology that have been the traditional focus of second language learning.” The third competence, pragmatic competence, is competence “which  enables  second  language  speakers  to  use their linguistic resources in order to convey and interpret meanings in real situations, including those where they encounter problems due to gaps in their knowledge” (Littlewood, 2004: 503), whilst the fourth, intercultural competence, grips both cultural and non-verbal communicative aspects. Usó-Juan & Martínez-Flor (2006: 17) explain that cultural aspects are “concerned with sociocultural knowledge of the target language community, knowledge of dialects and cross-cultural awareness,” while non-verbal communicative aspects “refers to non-verbal signals such as body language, use of space, touching or silence.” The last but not least is strategic competence. It refers to the ability to know when and how to take the floor, how to keep a conversation going, how to terminate the conversation, and how to clear up communication breakdown as well as comprehension problem (Shumin, 2002: 208). Using these competences, speakers will be able to communicate effectively.

Rehearsal, Performance, Debriefing in Scenarios

After reviewing the nature of speaking, I will try to identify the scenarios and the technique to use them. Eight scenarios in the book are in academic setting, they are Language centre, Library, Finding accommodation, Deadline for an essay, Examination results, Changing accommodation, Project results, and Research proposal. Every scenario has its own special characteristics, but generally involves negotiation between role A and role B. For example, in Deadline for an essay, role A (always students) demands students to be in the position of a student who will be late in submitting an essay, and role B (this time is a teacher) is as a teacher who has a rule for students in submitting their essays. They will have a kind of negotiation.

The steps of using the scenarios are taken fromAnderson, Maclean, & Lynch (2006: pp. 139-142). It has three stages; rehearsal, performance, and debriefing, with some modification in performance stage, procedure 4 and 5. The explanation here is to show step by step activity in the learning process. The steps are varied from sharing ideas, eliciting expressions to use, finding strategies for negotiation, and trying out the knowledge they have already got from the discussion. Since the procedure is not strict, I try to modify some steps.

Stage 1: Rehearsal

In this step, students are grouped into two groups, the first group reads the text for Role A (always the ‘students’ role) and the second group reads the text for Role B (the office-holder or member of staff). Ask the students to study their text carefully, and to discuss any questions about the information or the language in their role text.

Stage 2: Performance


1.When the A and B groups have completed their preparation, get them to form up in A+B pairs with someone from the other group.
2.All the pairs then play the scenario ‘privately’, simultaneously, so that everyone in the class is working in parallel.
3.When all the pairs have finished, ask them to come back to their original group.
4.In their group, they may share and discuss what they have experienced in their pair play (second rehearsal).
5.Changing partner, students re-present the scenario in front of the class. They have a public performance.

Stage 3: Debriefing

After the public performance, begin by asking the students for their general reaction to what they have seen. This stage should also talk about the best way to persuade someone to take your view, and not just the correction of individual language errors. They should consider some aspects in the performance: strategy, information, communication, and language. Teachers should encourage the students to raise queries and points themselves rather than take the lead in listing the students’ errors during the performance.

After seeing the steps in using the technique, in the next part of the article, I would like to discuss briefly the power of each stage; rehearsal stage, performance stage, and debriefing stage. I will try to find the strengths and the weaknesses of each.



Rehearsal Stage

Dawes (2008: 2) suggests that the direct teaching of speaking and listening is by asking students to talk, to listen, to think, and to learn. In the rehearsal stage, students do these activities. By interacting with their group members, students will have many idea and input about what they are going to say in the performance stage. Even after their ‘private performance’, they still can do the second rehearsal and get more input from their partners. Haynes (2007: 32) states that students need a forum to share their ideas. Dawes (2008: 3) explains that the important of discussion is also to support the growth of critical thinking. Hopefully, by having such critical thinking, students will be more able to negotiate the message.

Rehearsal stage also contributes a lot to the planning and preparation. By having such steps, students are expected to have much input from their partners. Planning is important in speaking practice. Nation & Newton (2009: 154) mention that to come to a higher level of competence, students need to plan and prepare the performance. This planning step can be done independently or with the help of students’ partners (in pair or groups) or teacher.

Haynes (2007: 6) explains that students cooperate in groups is one way for them to receive plenty input and output, as a small-group setting allows students to have more comprehensible input since their partners adjust or change their idea suitable to the listener’s needs. Input is an important aspect in language learning, and without it, learners will never learn anything; as Ellis (2003: 5) states that “language learning cannot occur without some input.” Haynes (2007: 6) assures that more opportunities for oral practice and for repetition of information occur in the group as peers help each other converse meaning. In this stage, students are asked to speak a lot and practice expression they may need in the next stage.

Perhaps the disadvantage for this step is for silent students. They will be not participating enough during the discussion. However, this is also the strength of this stage. The silent students will get much idea from their friends. Hopefully, they will be ready for the performance stage. Teachers should also support the students’ creativity, but if they have no or small amount of input, the speaking will be very difficult to do (Harmer, 2007: 352).

Performance Stage

Students need to have new experiences in using their language. After rehearsing, having discussion, and receive much input, now students should be ready to use the language. In this stage, students will interact with their partners from different (opposite) group. Nunan (1991: 47) believes that “in any interactional speaking task, communication is a collaborative venture in which the interlocutors negotiate meaning in order to achieve their communication ends.”

In the previous stage, students have been “prepared” to come to this stage. Teachers will not force students to speak until they are ready to do so. Because the teachers do not force them, students will feel safe and comfortable in stepping to this stage.

What interesting from this stage is that students will have a new experience regarding exchanging information, as well as negotiating. The principle applied here is information gap. Gap information means that there is something (information) missing—gap—in the communication, so people involved in that communication will try to find out what the missing thing is. As a result, they exchange idea/information. One reason why information gap is important is the motivational reason (Johnson, 2001: 254). When students do not know something, it will be more interesting and challenging to exchange idea and opinion rather than talk about something they have already known (Johnson, 2001: 254).

In the teaching of speaking, the exchange of information is important for speaking or conversation in communication (Folse, 2006: 48). Furthermore, the exchange of information will add to negotiation of meaning (Folse, 2006: 49), another important thing in communication.  This kind of activity will go with what Brown (2001: 276) mentions in the “principles for designing speaking techniques” that is to “encourage the development of speaking strategies (e.g. asking for clarification, asking someone to repeat something, and using fillers).” In other words, Harmer (2007: 343-344) calls speaking strategies as conversational strategies; conversational rules and structure (e.g. Sorry to interrupt, but … ), survival and repair strategies (e.g. It’s a kind of …), and real talk (e.g. Did you say impossible?). This stage, however, demands students’ creativity and problem solving to really think and consider situations during the speaking occurs.

Debriefing Stage

The relationship between language and thought is, in specific, on talk-in-interaction, as a practical, social action, situated in settings, taking place between people, used in practice (Potter & Molder, 2005: 1). Students may not realize that talk is the medium through which they learn something; and yet they may not realize why their contributions to classroom talk are so important (Dawes, 2008: i). Through this debriefing stage, their awareness of the importance of speaking is raised.

In this stage also, students will have peer correction, another speaking task which will help students “acquire and practice TL” (Coleman & Hauge, 2005: 50). The debriefing will also have some (or perhaps a lot of) error corrections. So that it would not to discourage students, the correction itself should not directly be given when students made mistakes (Lewis, 2005: 170). This is important because Lewis & Hill (1990: 91) suggest that correction should involve the class and teachers should give students chance to correct themselves. To let them find their own mistakes, to let them try to fix the mistakes, and to do the correction not in the middle of their speaking will make students realize their mistakes and will make them be aware and mind their language. In this case, teachers should be able to guide their students not to make rude or discouraged corrections and comments.

The Application in the Preliminary Study

This strategy had been applied in a preliminary study. I tried it in a 90-minute session. There were 10 students in this study, all are in the intermediate level (their TOEFL prediction scores range from 450-520; a student scores 570 but passive in speaking). The following is the result of my observation in the first meeting.

Before starting, as usual, I introduced the topic and explained how the class would run. I explained Rehearsal, Performance, and Debriefing stages and answered students’ questions about not clear explanation. The most important is explaining each stage. After every student got a clear idea how to do this, we moved to the main stages. This part lasted 10 minutes.

In the rehearsal stage

The scenario was in a language centre of a university. In the first stage, students were assigned into two groups, the first group read the text for Role A (student) and the second group read the text for Role B (language course director). The students were new students in a university. Their English matriculation test scores were good enough that they did not have to join any language course, but they wanted to. On the other hand, language course directors were not allowed to let such students to join the courses.

As students, they had to think about what they would face during the performance stage. They had to think about reasons so that they could join the language course, because they needed it to improve their language skill. However, they also were aware that the language course director would not let them.

On the director side, they had commitments with the regulations that they could not let qualified students join the course because of the maximum seats and instructors available. Still, there were some seats because some students withdraw themselves from the language course program.

The students studied their texts carefully in each group, and discussed any questions about the information or the language in their role text. They set up strategies to convince each others. In each group, they also rehearsed or practiced the expressions that probably occurred during the performance.

As a teacher, I elicited the expressions that might be used in the next stage and added some more important expressions that students did not know yet. In chorus, students practiced the expressions following my instruction (repeat after me). In group, they also practiced the expressions suited to their need. This stage lasted about 15 minutes.

In the performance stage

When the A and B groups had completed their preparation, I got them to form up in A+B pairs with someone from the other group. They sat as far as possible from each pair but still in the room.

All the pairs then play the scenario ‘privately’, simultaneously, so that everyone in the class is working in parallel. They used what they had got from their discussion in their own groups. This first performance lasted 10 minutes. I limited the time because of the time allotment. Whatever the result, this first performance was stopped.

When all the pairs have finished, I asked them to come back to their original group. They brought the result of the discussion. Some looked satisfied; some looked disappointed (with the result of the negotiation).

In their group, they shared and discussed what they had experienced in their pair play (second rehearsal). They practiced again anticipating problems using inputs from the first performance. It was expected that the students had more strategies for their next (second) performance. The students were eager to share what they had experienced before. For those who succeed in convincing their opposites, they gave some tips; for those who failed, they shared their obstacles and their opposites’ reasons. Here, the students did problem solving and expressions practice as well. This part needed 10 minutes.

Changing partners, students re-present the scenario in front of the class. They had public performance. Each pair only had 5 minutes, so this part lasted 25 minutes. Again, whatever the result, when their time is out, they had to stop.

In the debriefing stage

After the public performance, I asked the students for their general reaction to what they had seen. The first thing was to discuss the best way to persuade someone to take your view. Again, they share their opinion. After this step, students did the corrections of individual language errors. I encouraged students to raise queries and points themselves. I listed the errors based on students’ responds and gave comments when necessary. This stage took 15 minutes.

Closing the class, I asked my students’ opinion about this strategy and they thought it was very helpful for them. They had chances to prepare everything, to practice the expressions to use, and to perform. Yet, some of them said that they need more time in each stage.

Reflection and Conclusion

The entire activities in the use of scenarios is in line with what Nation & Newton (2009: 152-153) mention as characteristics of fluency development, they are: (1) The activity is meaning-focused, (2) The learners take part in activities where all the language items are within their previous experience, and (3) There is support and encouragement for the learner to perform at a higher than normal level.

The steps or stages fulfill the nature of speaking whether within an environmentalist approach, an innatist approach, an interactionist approach, or a communicative competence framework. Students will make and develop their habit in speaking, use their internalized system or knowledge of English language in speaking, construct their idea in speaking, and make use of their communicative competence in speaking.

The stages in using the scenarios are also corresponding to the study conducted by Noom-ura (2008), Otoshi & Heffernen (2008), and Kalantari (2008). The use of scenarios has collaboration and roleplay activities (as suggested by Noom-ura (2008)), the support for delivering grammatical sentences and for creating interactive and interesting presentation (as proposed by (Otoshi & Heffernen (2008)), and questioning and cooperative learning (as recommended by Kalantari (2008)). If the teaching of speaking following these principles, I think it is possible for students to be able to speak English fluently and accurately.

In this article, I have explained the steps to use scenarios in the teaching and learning English as a second or foreign language. The conclusion is that the use of Rehearsal-Performance-Debriefing in simulation and role-play scenarios may benefit students in improving their ability in speaking. The advantages vary from the increase of motivation as students get much input during the study time, the increase of students’ awareness to their own mistakes, the increase of confidence because of their readiness before speaking time, to the reduction of students’ anxiety during the speaking performance. However, since this analysis uses qualitative approach, further research is needed to test whether or not the conclusion is appropriate and whether or not the technique is effective, especially for larger classes or lower-level students.


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(Nashruddin, Wakhid. 2009. Rehearsal, Performance, Debriefing: An Investigation of Speaking Strategy in EAP. Paper presented in The 56th TEFLIN International Conference, Batu-Malang Indonesia, 8 – 10 December) 


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