Applying information-Gap activities to an efl speaking class to improve students’ speaking participation - an action research on 1st year english majors at haiphong university

The objective of this research was to improve the speaking participation and performance of the

students in class English Major 5 – K17 (EM 5 – K17) - Foreign Language Department (FLD) - Hai

Phong University (HPU) by using information gap activities.

The research was divided into two cycles: Cycle 1 included four meetings and Cycle 2 included two

meetings. The data were quantitative and qualitative. The qualitative data were obtained through

classroom observations and interviews with the teachers and the students. The quantitative data were

obtained from observation checklists and tests (the pre-test, the progress test, and the post-test). The

actions implemented in this research were described as information gap activities which included

implementing classroom English in the teaching learning process, improving students’ vocabulary,

retelling a story in front of the class, and rewarding students or groups who gave the best performance.

The result of the research showed that the implementation of information gap activities could improve

the students’ speaking participation and performance.

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93TẠP CHÍ KHOA HỌC, Số 35, tháng 07 năm 2019
APPLYING INFORMATION-GAP ACTIVITIES TO AN EFL 
SPEAKING CLASS TO IMPROVE STUDENTS’ SPEAKING 
PARTICIPATION - AN ACTION RESEARCH ON 1ST YEAR ENGLISH 
MAJORS AT HAIPHONG UNIVERSITY
Phan Thành Nam 
Khoa Ngoại ngữ 
Email: nampt@dhhp.edu.vn
Ngày nhận bài: 09/4/2019
Ngày PB đánh giá: 14/6/2019
Ngày duyệt đăng: 31/6/2019
ABSTRACT
The objective of this research was to improve the speaking participation and performance of the 
students in class English Major 5 – K17 (EM 5 – K17) - Foreign Language Department (FLD) - Hai 
Phong University (HPU) by using information gap activities.
The research was divided into two cycles: Cycle 1 included four meetings and Cycle 2 included two 
meetings. The data were quantitative and qualitative. The qualitative data were obtained through 
classroom observations and interviews with the teachers and the students. The quantitative data were 
obtained from observation checklists and tests (the pre-test, the progress test, and the post-test). The 
actions implemented in this research were described as information gap activities which included 
implementing classroom English in the teaching learning process, improving students’ vocabulary, 
retelling a story in front of the class, and rewarding students or groups who gave the best performance. 
The result of the research showed that the implementation of information gap activities could improve 
the students’ speaking participation and performance. 
Key words: Information Gap activities, Speaking participation, Speaking performance, Action research.
ỨNG DỤNG HOẠT ĐỘNG KHOẢNG TRỐNG THÔNG TIN NHẰM TĂNG VIỆC 
THAM GIA NÓI – NGHIÊN CỨU CẢI TIẾN ĐỐI VỚI SINH VIÊN CHUYÊN ANH 
NĂM NHẤT TẠI ĐẠI HỌC HẢI PHÒNG
TÓM TẮT
Mục tiêu của nghiên cứu này là cải thiện sự tham gia và hiệu suất nói của sinh viên lớp Ngôn ngữ Anh 
5 - K17 (EM 5 - K17) - Khoa Ngoại ngữ (FLD) - Đại học Hải Phòng (HPU) bằng cách sử dụng các 
hoạt động khoảng trống thông tin.
Nghiên cứu được chia thành hai vòng: Vòng 1 bao gồm bốn cuộc gặp và Vòng 2 bao gồm hai cuộc gặp. Các 
dữ liệu đã được định lượng và định tính. Dữ liệu định tính thu được thông qua quan sát trong lớp và phỏng 
vấn giáo viên và học sinh. Dữ liệu định lượng được lấy từ và danh sách kiểm tra quan sát và kiểm tra (thử 
nghiệm trước, thử nghiệm tiến độ và sau thử nghiệm). Các hành động được thực hiện trong nghiên cứu này 
được mô tả là các hoạt động khoảng trống thông tin bao gồm triển khai thực hành tiếng Anh trên lớp trong 
94 TRƯỜNG ĐẠI HỌC HẢI PHÒNG
I. INTRODUCTION
1.1. Rationale
English is becoming more and 
more essential in many fields such as 
business, education, politic, and social 
communication. As a result, more and 
more non-native English speakers, 
including Vietnamese people, are trying 
to master this language in order to meet 
the demand at work and in everyday life. 
The emphasis on learning English can be 
seen from the education curriculums of 
both general and tertiary education where 
English is a core subject and is given 
considerable time and efforts.
The mastery of speaking is the first 
concern for most of foreign language 
students. Consequently, the success of 
foreign language learners sometimes 
bases on their improvement in speaking 
(Richards, 2008).
However, the importance of speaking 
is not generally backed up by the speaking 
participation of students in reality. This 
condition also occurs in Foreign Language 
Department (FLD) at Haiphong University 
(HPU). By observing and interviewing 
the English teachers and some students 
that the researcher had worked with, 
he discovered many problems related 
to students’ psychological factors, the 
English teachers’ teaching techniques 
and the teaching/learning media. Many 
students are unable to express their ideas 
and opinions in English. They usually find 
help from notes, memorize the texts or 
read them in front of the class. They are 
hesitant, worried, nervous and anxious 
when they have to present in English with 
teacher or in front of the class. Because 
of insufficient vocabulary and lack of 
practice in pronunciation, they can not 
express what they want to say in English 
or even pronounce words correctly. As 
a result, they were lack of confident to 
speak English, especially in front of the 
class and get stuck with the low speaking 
performance. 
Moreover, during the observation 
in class English Major 5 – K17, the 
researcher saw that many students did not 
seem attentive to and enthusiastic enough 
with the teacher’s instructions in the class. 
Many students were caught chatting with 
their classmates or doing personal business 
instead of paying attention to their lessons. 
In other words, these students showed their 
physical participation but not their oral 
and mental involvement in their lessons.
In addition, sometimes communicative 
situations were not created by the teacher in 
the class. In spite of the fact that the teacher 
could convey the materials well, she did 
not give enough chances for students to 
practice their speaking. Most of the time, the 
exercises were teacher-centered in the sense 
that the teacher spoke and gave instructions 
to the students. Moreover, modern learning 
media and equipment were not used in the 
lessons to support the teaching process 
and to make the lessons more attractive. 
quá trình dạy học, cải thiện từ vựng của vinh viên thông qua việc kể lại một câu chuyện trước lớp và có trao 
thưởng cho sinh viên hoặc các nhóm có thành tích tốt nhất.
Kết quả nghiên cứu cho thấy rằng việc thực hiện các hoạt động khoảng trống thông tin có thể cải thiện 
sự tham gia và hiệu suất nói của sinh viên.
Từ khóa: Hoạt động khoảng cách thông tin, tham gia nói, hiệu suất nói, nghiên cứu hành động.
95TẠP CHÍ KHOA HỌC, Số 35, tháng 07 năm 2019
Consequently, the students felt bored and 
tired of repeating the same learning activities 
and they passively took part in the speaking 
activities in speaking classes.
From the observation above, the 
researcher attempted to find an effective 
approach to enhancing the speaking 
participation of students. Speaking 
activities should create enough time for 
students to practice the target language. 
The activities need to motivate students 
in order to boost their enthusiasm by 
engaging them in the learning process. It 
is the duty of the teacher to provide the 
appropriate feedback that helps students 
while doing the activity (Harmer, 1998).
The researcher decided to choose 
information gap activities namely 
telling and retelling folktales beautifully 
illustrated with video clips in English 
to enhance the students’ speaking 
participation because they were familiar 
to the students in their mother tongue. This 
made it easier for the students to practice 
their speaking when they complete their 
speaking tasks. Information gap activities 
in such a form also can help the learning 
and teaching situation more entertaining. 
The students are not just listening to the 
teacher’s instructions, but they can also 
interact with their classmates and practice 
speaking English. Finally, information 
gap activities may improve students’ 
confidence and help them to gain better 
motivation in speaking. As far as the 
problems the students have in speaking 
and the advantages of using information 
gap activities in boosting students’ 
speaking participation are concerned, it 
is crucial to conduct an action research in 
class EM 5 – K17.
Due to limited time and knowledge, 
the study mainly focused on measuring 
the effectiveness of applying information 
exchange activities in increasing the 
students’ oral participation. This was 
shown by the data collected from 
observation, interview and tests: the 
increase in the number of the participating 
students in the speaking activities in class, 
the decrease in the number of the students 
with negative psychological problems in 
speaking classes and the improvement 
in the students’ speaking performance. 
The study was carried out in class EM 5 
– K17, who shared the same curriculum 
with the other six classes and who was 
also the class the researcher used to teach 
Speaking 1 and witnessed their learning 
problems before he started the MA course. 
In order to gather information for the 
study, observation, interviews and tests 
were implemented and the study lasted 
nearly a school year.
The research aimed to answer the 
following questions:
RQ 1: To what extent do information 
gap activities in speaking lessons improve 
the speaking participation of EM 5 – K17 
majors at HPU? 
RQ 2: To what extent do information 
gap activities help improve the students 
speaking performance?
II. LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1. The nature of speaking
Many definitions related to speaking 
are mentioned by experts in the field of 
language learning. According to Richards 
(2008), speaking involves the situations 
where the point is on what is said or done. 
96 TRƯỜNG ĐẠI HỌC HẢI PHÒNG
The message is the central focus along 
the side of how they interact socially with 
each other. Then, another definition said 
that speaking involves using speech to 
express meanings to other people (Spratt, 
Pulverness, and Williams, 2005).
Thornbury (2005) gave another 
definition which states that speaking 
requires the ability to cooperate in 
organizing the speaking turn. It also 
normally happens in real-time. Thus, he 
also claims that speaking consists of three 
stages: conceptualization, formulation, 
articulation and also self-monitoring.
From those definitions above, it can 
be said that speaking is the productive 
skill that needs participants to actively 
participate in speaking so that they 
can interact and express their intention 
with others. The speaker needs to have 
confidence and also competence in order 
to make a good conversation with others.
2.2. Teaching speaking
Speaking is the English skill that 
students should master in the language 
learning process which makes it the skill 
most needed to be mastered (Nation & 
Newton, 2009). Richards (2008) also 
states that the mastery of speaking skills 
in English is the first concern for many 
ESL or EFL students.
Teaching speaking needs to involve 
the participation of learners. The students’ 
involvement can be created by many 
speaking activities. Harmer (1998) states 
that it needs to have a task requiring the 
students’ use of language to complete and 
perform the task.
According to Richards (2008), there 
are three core issues need in planning 
English speaking activities. The first thing 
to do is finding out the focus of the speaking 
skills. The second issue is identifying the 
teaching approaches. Lastly, the teacher 
needs to determine the expected level of 
the speaking task and the criteria that will 
be used to test students’ performance.
In teaching speaking, the teacher 
needs to consider many principles so that 
they make the tasks fit to the students’ 
needs. Bailey (as cited in Nunan, 2003) 
mentions five principles for teaching 
speaking as below.
Firstly, the teacher should be aware of 
the differences between second language 
and foreign language learning contexts 
and determine the position of English in 
their own teaching situation whether it is 
teaching English as a second language or 
teaching English as a foreign language. 
For example, at HPU, English is taught as 
a foreign language
Secondly, students should be given 
enough opportunities to practice with 
both fluency and accuracy. The teacher 
is expected to provide students with 
many fluency-building practices in which 
making mistakes and learning from them 
are parts of their learning experience so 
that they can develop their fluency and 
accuracy.
Besides, students should be 
provided with opportunities to take 
part in such learning activities as group 
work or pair work because these offer 
opportunities for students to negotiate 
the meaning of what their partners say, 
ask for and give clarification, give them 
more time to practice their speaking. At 
the same time, by using these activities, 
the teacher can wisely limit the speaking 
97TẠP CHÍ KHOA HỌC, Số 35, tháng 07 năm 2019
time and give more time for students to 
speak in the target language during the 
learning process.
Finally, the teacher is expected to 
design classroom activities that involve 
guidance and practice in both transactional 
and interactional speaking so that students 
will have to speak the target language in 
both transactional and interactional settings.
According to Brown (2001), the 
teacher has some different roles during the 
speaking activities.
He stated that the first role of teacher 
is as prompter. The students sometimes 
cannot think of what to say next or in some 
way lose the fluency. The teacher can help 
them by giving suggestions. If it can be done 
supportively, it will stop the frustration that 
some students feel when they come to a 
dead end of language or ideas.
The second role of teacher is 
participant. The teacher should be a good 
animator when asking students to produce 
a language. At other times, however, the 
teacher should take part in the discussion 
or the role-play themselves. Thus, the 
teacher can elicit covertly, introduce new 
information to keep the activity forward, 
guarantee continuing student engagement 
and generally maintain a creative learning 
environment. However, the teacher needs 
to understand the limit which they should 
not participate too much.
The final role he mentioned is 
feedback provider. When students have 
finished an activity, it is important that the 
teacher allows them to assess what they 
have done and that the teacher gives the 
feedback on what the students have done 
well and what they have not completed.
2.3. Participation
Students’ participation is an important 
aspect of classroom interaction and has 
various definitions. As defined in Collins 
English Dictionary, student participation 
is “the extent to which students participate 
or involve themselves in a class, course, 
etc.” It can also be defined in terms of 
three kinds of interaction, namely students 
to their teacher, students to students, and 
students to materials.
Students who are considered to 
maintain a good interaction with their 
teacher always take part in the classroom 
activities as well as contact the teacher by 
listening to what he/she says, responding to 
his/her questions or even making questions 
to ask him/her whenever they do not 
understand anything in the lessons. They 
become involved in what is happening in 
the classroom by asking for information or 
explanation, sharing personal experience 
in relation to the topics, or volunteering to 
perform an activity. 
Unlike the student–teacher interaction, 
the interaction between students themselves 
is established by their group discussion 
or other group activities. The kind of 
interaction between students and materials 
can be understood as students’ success in 
completing assigned activities.
2.3. information gap activities
An information gap is a situation 
in which the communication happens 
between two or more people and the 
information is known only to some of the 
people present (Li, 2005). More exactly, 
people normally exchange information 
with each other to get information which 
the other one does not know but they have 
98 TRƯỜNG ĐẠI HỌC HẢI PHÒNG
to acquire it. An information gap activity 
is a type of gap activities that forces the 
participants to think. It is an activity that 
requires the learners to share or exchange 
information or opinions in order to 
complete a task.
It involves a process of transferring 
the information from one person to 
another in which each of the participants 
owns the information that is not shared by 
another. The problem can only be solved 
if they exchange and place the information 
together.
An information gap activity needs at 
least two different versions of materials. 
Learners work in pairs or groups, then 
they get different information on their 
pages so that they have to communicate 
with other students to complete the task of 
join the information together.
The information gap means in 
real life conversation, people usually 
communicate to get information they do 
not have (Richards, 2006). As a result, the 
information needed to reach an outcome 
is divided (evenly or unevenly) between 
the students. This divided information 
has many effects (Li, 2005). First of all, it 
provides each student a reason to take part 
in. Secondly, it makes each student need to 
understand the others’ talk. Thirdly, it gives 
a huge impression of group cohesiveness, 
because the success of completing the task 
of each student depends on the other one. 
Furthermore, the dividing of information 
is mostly effective for raising the amount 
of negotiation of meaning in an activity 
(Long & Porter, 1985 in Li, 2005). The 
gap can also generate the highly need 
to communicate as well as the need to 
cooperate (Lee and VanPatten, 2003). 
III. RESEARCH METHODS
3.1. research design
Action research contains many stages 
that demonstrate the process of the actions. 
In this research, the researcher formulated 
problems related to the students’ speaking 
participation and then took the actions to 
solve the problems.
In order to improve the students’ 
speaking participation, the researcher 
used an action research that comprises 
four steps as presented by Kemmis and 
McTaggart (in Burns, 2010: 7-8).
Figure 1: Action Research Cycles by Kem-
mis and McTaggart
According to the model above, the 
first step is planning. The researcher 
formulated some problems found in the 
class and then began to solve the problems 
after planning the actions. Along with 
taking actions, the researcher also 
observed the teaching learning process 
to identify the effect of the actions. This 
is also the period when the researcher 
gathered as much information related to 
the application of the actions as possible. 
The final step was reflection when the 
researcher assessed and reflected on what 
he had done.
99TẠP CHÍ KHOA HỌC, Số 35, tháng 07 năm 2019
The subjects of the research were the 
first year EFL students of class English 
Major 5 – K17 (EM 5 – K17) at Hai Phong 
University. There were 30 students including 
7 male students and 23 female counterparts, 
most of whom come from the northern rural 
areas and had not had many opportunities 
to practice speaking skill at high school. 
Coming back as a researcher, he made a 
classroom observation and interviewed the 
English teacher and the students of EM 
5 – K17 to identify the problems and saw 
that the students got low participations in 
speaking activities in speaking lessons.
3.2. Procedures of the research
Using the action research’s model 
of Kemmis and McTaggart, this study 
consists of four steps in each cycle as 
follows.
3.2.1. Planning
In this step, first the researcher 
conducted classroom observations in 
order to identify the problems. Then 
he conducted interviews with both the 
students and the English teacher to know 
more about the problems in the class. 
After that, the researcher and the English 
teacher asked to have the group meeting 
with the other teachers of speaking skill 
in the Division to discuss the problems in 
the speaking skills and found out the most 
appropriate solutions to solve them.
Observations 1 and 2, made by the 
researcher and the collaborator, aimed at 
identifying the problems of the students 
had in learning E

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