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ESOL Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.


How to use 4/3/2

4/3/2 is a useful technique for developing oral fluency. Learners give the same talk to three different learners with decreasing time to do it.

The learners work in pairs. Learner A talks to Learner B and has a time limit of four minutes to do this. B just listens and does not interrupt or question. When the four minutes are up, the teacher says, "Change partners". Learner A then moves to a new Learner B. The teacher says "Begin" and Learner A gives exactly the same talk to the new partner but this time has only three minutes. When the three minutes are up, the teacher says "Stop. Change partners." With a new partner, Learner A now has two minutes to talk. During the three deliveries of the same story, the B learners do not talk and each listens to three different people. When the A learners have given their talk three times, the B learners can now go through the same sequence, this time as speakers.

"Research on this activity shows that the learners' speed of speaking increased during the talks (as measured by the number of words per minute), the hesitations they make decrease (as measured by hesitations per 100 words), and surprisingly their grammatical errors in the repeated parts of the talk decrease and they tend to use several, more complex grammatical constructions in the last of the three talks than they did in the first talk" (Nation, 1989, p. 381).

These features of 4/3/2 develop spoken fluency:

  1. The activity involves known vocabulary, grammar, and discourse.
  2. The learners have a high chance of performing successfully at a higher than normal speed.
  3. There are repeated opportunities to do the same thing.

The first time that learners use this technique they will need to recount something that happened to them. This is because the chronological order of the events will make it easier to recall and repeat because the time sequence provides a clear structure for the talk. Fluency development tasks need to involve language items that are already familiar to the learners, need to involve largely familiar content, and need to include some kind of encouragement to perform faster than usual.

Watch this video to see a year 5–6 social studies class using the 4-3-2 strategy

Teaching and learning sequence examples

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Published on: 18 Dec 2017