Oral Presentation vs. Free Discussion: Iranian Intermediate EFL Learners’ Speaking Proficiency and Perception

Document Type : Research Article


Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran


Speaking is a significant skill that many foreign language learners are trying to master. In this study, the effectiveness of two different speaking activities, i.e. oral presentation vs. free discussion, was investigated from quantitative and qualitative points of view. To achieve this purpose, 44 intermediate learners from a language institute in Tehran participated in the study. Half of the participants experienced oral presentation while the other half (22 in two other classes) experienced free discussion for eight sessions. The two activities were exchanged between the two groups after the end of the quantitative phase of the study for eight more sessions. The results of an independent samples t-test performed on the scores ofthe speaking section of a sample Preliminary English Test (PET, 2012 ) after the first phase of the study (the first 8 sessions) indicated that the learners who experienced oral presentation significantly outperformed the learners who experienced free discussion though both activities proved to be significantly useful. Furthermore, the results of the interview with 10 participants from each activity through purposeful sampling, after the second phase of the study (the second 8 sessions) through thematic analysis indicated that both free discussion and oral presentation activities had some merits and demerits. Based on the results it can be advisable to include the two activities as complementary. 
چکیده: مهارت گفتاری مهارتی مهم به شمار می­رود که زبان­آموزان تلاش بر فراگیری آن دارند. پژوهش حاضر به بررسی کمی وکیفی کارآمدی دو نوع فعالیت گفتاریِ ارائه شفاهی و بحث آزاد در مهارت گفتاری زبان­آموزان پرداخته است. به این منظور چهل و چهار نفر از زبان­آموزان سطح متوسط در یکی از موسسات زبان تهران مورد مطالعه قرارگرفتند. در طول هشت جلسه، نیمی از زبان­آموزان  ارائه شفاهی داشتند در حالی که نیمی دیگر (22 نفر در دو کلاس دیگر) به بحث آزاد پرداختند. در پایان تحقیق کمی هر گروه برای هشت جلسه دیگر فعالیت دیگر را تجربه کرد. نتایج آزمون تی مستقل از بخش مهارت گفتاری نمونه آزمون PET(2012) پس از مرحله اول تحقیق (8 جلسه اول) حاکی از آن بود که زبان آموزانی که ارائه شفاهی داشتند در مقایسه با گروهی که به بحث آزاد پرداخته بودند، در مهارت گفتاری به میزان معنا داری پیشی گرفتند. به علاوه نتایج مصاحبه ی حاصل از تحلیل تم ها پس از مرحله دوم تحقیق (8 جلسه دوم) با 10 نفر از افراد هرفعالیت که به طور هدفمند انتخاب شدند ، حاکی از آن بود که هردو فعالیت  دارای مزایا و معایبی هستند. بر اساس نتایج پیشنهاد می شود هر دو فعالیت به صورت مکمل با هم مورد استفاده قرار گیرند.
کلمات  کلیدی: بحث آزاد، ارائه شفاهی ،نظر زبان آموزان، مهارت گفتاری


Main Subjects

1. Introduction
Among the different English language skills, the speaking skill has the  most prominent and
significant  position.  Achieving  oral  proficiency  is  clearly  one  of  the  main  interests  and

dreams  of  many  English  language  learners.  They  believe  having  the  ability  to  speak  a
language  is  synonymous  with  knowing  that  language  and  regard  their  speaking  proficiency
improvement as their success in language acquirement (Richards, 2008; Ur, 1996). 
However,  speaking  in  English  as  a  foreign  language  is  a  complex  and  multi-dimensional  phenomenon  and  providing  a  concise  definition  for  it  is  very  hard  (Bygate,
2009;  Thornbury  &  Slade,  2006).  The  difficulties  and  problems  in  managing  speaking  skill
are due to different factors. There is never the chance of revising and editing the output since
it  always  takes  place  in  real  time;  in  addition,  it  has  unpredictable  and  transient  features
(Bailey, 2006; Bygate, 2009). Shumin (2002) refers to the lack of sufficient exposure to the
target language and contact with native speakers as the major source of difficulty in speaking
skill mastery.
It is clear that this lack of interaction and exposure to authentic oral communication in
the  foreign  language  contexts  has  overwhelmingly  increased  the  importance  of
communicative and appropriate activities in the classrooms (Shumin, 2002). There are many
researchers (Nunan, 1989; Thornbury, 2005; Ur,  1996) who highlight the  significant role of
effective oral communication activities in the classrooms. According to Dornyei and Thurrell
(1994), many of the problems and difficulties in the conversation classrooms are the result of
the lack of appropriate syllabus and activities in the classroom.
In the process of curricular and activities planning and designing, different learners’
factors  and  their  individual  differences  especially  their  language  proficiency  and  their
perception  have  important  roles,  and  the  activity  designers,  teachers,  and  the  learners  can
benefit  from  being  aware  of  them.  In  fact,  the  more  the  learners’  perspectives  are  paid
attention  to,  the  more  opportunities  for  language  improvement  and  achievement  will  be
provided  (Barkhuizen,  1998;  Gentry,  Gable,  &  Rizza,  2002).  However,  unfortunately,
evaluation of classroom activities from the students’ views is not much dealt with (Bada &
Okan, 2000; Gentry et al., 2002).  
Among all the different activities which can be effective in spoken language, discussion
and oral presentation can specifically target aspects of speaking skill (Thornbury, 2005). Oral
presentation  and  discussion  are  two  different  types  of  seminar  that  participating  in  them  is
one of the most problematic and difficult issues for EFL learners (Jordan, 1997). Looking at
these  two  different  activities  more  meticulously,  it  can  be  concluded  that  they  have  some
features such as different types of learners’ interaction, competition to take the floor, turns,
and spontaneous talks (Padilha & Carletta, 2002;  Ur, 1981, 1996) that sometimes may bring 
 the  possibility  of  considering  them  as  two  activities  which  are  at  the  opposite  ends  of  a
Based  on  these  features,  oral  presentation  and  free  discussion  may  have  different
effects  on  the  learners’  speaking  proficiency,  especially  regarding  the  perception  of  the
learners.  This  study  investigated  the  effects  of  these  two  activities  on  the  speaking
proficiency of the learners; moreover, it explored the EFL learners’ perceptions of each of
these two activities qualitatively. 
2. Literature Review 
2.1. Speaking Proficiency
Two  important  features  of  speaking  proficiency  are  accuracy  and  fluency.  Whether  the
priority  should  be  given  to  fluency  or  accuracy  has  always  attracted  second  language
teachers’  and  learners’  attention  (Tavakoli  &  Foster,  2008).  Fluency  refers  to  the  easy
connection  of  different  speech  elements.    In  fluent  speech,  the  words  are  linked  smoothly,
rapidly,  and  without  hesitations,  and  the  pronunciation  and  the  paralinguistic  elements  such
as  stress  and  intonation  patterns  are  used  appropriately  and  correctly  (Hughes,  2002;
Thornbury, 2000). However, accuracy refers to the correct and acceptable use of vocabulary,
grammar, and pronunciation (Harmer, 2001). 
As  a  result,  appropriate  and  effective  activities  for  oral  communication  improvement
are  integral  and  crucial  components  of  speaking  classes.  Communicative  and  suitable
activities which are organized and designed properly  can provide  a supportive and effective
environment  for  language  learning  through  providing  a  proper  relationship  among  the
learners  as  well  as  between  the  learners  and  the  teacher;  furthermore,  they  reduce  the
learners’ anxiety and stress, and consequently, improve their achievement and success widely
(Oradee,  2012).  According  to  Thornbury  (2005),  among  different  activities,  discussion  and
oral presentation specifically focus on dimensions of speaking skill.
2.2. Oral Presentation
Oral presentation is a learner-centered activity which is mainly implemented in the classroom
for  the purpose of improving the learners’ speaking proficiency (King, 2002; Miles, 2009).
Al-Issa  and  Al-Qubtan  (2010)  assert  that  “an  important  feature  of  the  EFL  classroom  in
different  parts  of  the  world  today  is  oral  presentations”  (p.  227).  Oral  presentation  is  a
learner-centered  activity  which  is  mainly  implemented  in  the  classroom  for  the  purpose  of
improving the learners’ speaking proficiency (King, 2002; Miles, 2009). They can be referred 
to  as  beneficial  tools  to  make  the  learners  prepared  for  their  future  careers  and  real  life
speaking  (Al-Issa  &  Al-Qubtan,  2010;  Nakamura,  2002;  Thornbury,  2005);  however,  even
from the most confident learners’ point of view, presenting a talk to the public may be a
source  of  anxiety  and  stress.  It  can  be  a  bothering  and  fearful  activity  and  reduces  the
learners’  self-esteem  (Al-Issa  &  Al-Qubtan,  2010;  Dryden,  2003;  King,  2002;  Webster,
2002).  Giving  oral  presentation  is  a  complex  activity,  especially  for  the  foreign  language
learners. It requires a wide range of sociolinguistic, cognitive, field, and linguistic knowledge
(Adams, 2004; Morita, 2000; Yu & Cadman, 2009).
In  spite  of  the  fact  that  oral  presentation  may  be  difficult  and  demanding  for  both  the
learners  and  teachers,  it  can  be  very  beneficial  for  intermediate,  upper  intermediate,  and
higher  level  learners  (Lee  &  Park,  2008;  Meloni  &  Thompson,  1980).  It  integrates  all  the
different language skills, activates the meaningful oral language, and facilitates the complex
process  of  speaking  mastery.  Oral  presentation  improves  the  learners’  cooperation,
responsibility,  autonomy,  and  decision  making  which  are  so  limited  in  teacher-centered
classrooms and improves an independent and dynamic atmosphere in the classrooms (Al-Issa
& Al-Qubtan, 2010; King, 2002).
To show the role of oral presentation in language learning, Choi, Joh, and  Lee (2008)
conducted a study which indicated that the development of discourse competence, learners’
confidence,  linguistic  knowledge,  discourse  knowledge,  and  the  whole  proficiency  in  the
language resulted from the preparation for weekly presentations.
In another study, Otoshi and Heffernen (2008) investigated Japanese learners’ opinions
about the most important and effective aspects of oral presentation. The elements which were
shown  to  affect  the  view  of  learners  about  the  effective  oral  presentations  were:  language
accuracy,  speech  clarity,  quality  of  voice,  and  right  connection  and  interaction  with  the
audience. Otoshi and Heffernen (2008) concluded that the teachers should inform the learners
about the importance and effects of these elements on the oral presentations and remind them
of the importance of their practicing.
The results of Lee and Park’s (2008) study revealed that most of the participants saw
oral presentations as interesting activities that led to learn new vocabulary and expressions in
English.  They  preferred  classes  with  oral  presentations  to  the  completely  teacher  lecturer
Furthermore,  Miles  (2009)  investigated  the  purpose  of  the  learners  for  attending  oral
presentation classes. The results indicated that their main purpose was to  improve their oral 
proficiency,  to  obtain  confidence  in  speech,  and  to  challenge  themselves  to  talk  more.
Interestingly, the teachers had the same language purposes as the learners.
According to Soureshjani and Ghanbri (2012), oral presentations provide a move from
teacher-centeredness toward learner-centeredness. In fact, it is the learners who play the main
role in the classrooms during the oral presentations. 
2.3. Discussion
Discussion is one of the most efficient and beneficial ways of practicing oral communications
freely  with  the  major  purpose  of  cooperation  and  relationship  improvement  among  the
learners.  Whenever  learners  talk  in  the  classroom  and  use  the  language  individually,
purposefully, and creatively, they are participating in a discussion (Ur, 1981).
Dunbar  (1996,  cited  in  Fay,  Garrod,  &  Carletta,  2000)  highlights  the  importance  of
discussion  and  claims  that  it  is  through  discussion  that  the  most  important  decisions  are
made.  According  to  Richards,  Platt,  and  Weber  (1985),  there  are  four  different  kinds  of
discussions, mainly based on the teachers’ amount of control. The first type is  recitation
which  is  totally  structured,  arranged,  and  completely  controlled  by  the  teachers.  Guided
discussion  is  less  structured  in  comparison  to  recitation,  and  reflective  discussion,  in  which
the participants have reflective and critical thinking, is the least structured one. Finally, it is
in  small  group  discussion  that  the  learners  have  the  most  autonomy  and  responsibility.
According to Ur (1981), the most advantageous and successful types of discussions are those
that lead to the most possible amount of learners’ participation. They are widely motivating
and  appealing  with  interesting  topics  and  have  both  a  challenging  and  success-oriented
Fay  et  al.  (2000)  refer  to  group  discussions  as  unstructured  conversation  made  of
different  numbers  of  participants.  Depending  on  the  purpose  of  discussions,  different  group
sizes are appropriate. Small groups are more advantageous when all the learners’ opinions are
important and have an influential role; however, if the aim of discussions is to inform all the
learners about a particular opinion, the large groups are more preferable.
In addition to group size, topic is an important and effective issue in the progress of the
discussions.  Certainly,  if  the  participants  have  some  knowledge  about  the  topic,  they  can
handle the language better (Zuengler, 1993). It is recommended that the topics and materials
be tangible, i.e. close to the life of the learners. In this case, they will help the learners to use
and  activate  their  background  information  and  experiences  appropriately  (Ur,  1996).
According to Jamshidnejad (2010), lack of a safe topic for discussion  can be  an obstacle in 
 L2 speaking. He mentions that unfamiliarity with the topic is harmful for both speakers and
listeners.  He  recommends  free  topic  discussions  which  will  be  beneficial  for  the  learners.
However,  Hatch  (1978)  believes  that  although  at  the  beginning  the  learners  are  only
comfortable  with  known  topics,  they  can  gradually  go  beyond  this  boundary  through  some
practice. In fact, all the learners need to become familiar with different topics in order to be
successful speakers. 
Considering discussion  as an activity, Oradee (2012) conducted a study on the effects
of three different communicative activities, i.e. discussion, problem-solving, and role-playing
on  the learners’  oral  proficiency  and  their  perception  of these  three  activities.  Forty-nine
students at a secondary school in Thailand took part in this study. They were categorized in
small  groups  which  according  to  the  researcher  increased  their  self-confidence,  enjoyment,
self-monitoring, support, help, and consequently, the participation among the learners and, on
the  other  hand,  decreased  their  fear  of  making  mistakes  while  speaking.  The  results  of  his
study  indicated  that  these  activities  were  effective  in  oral  proficiency  improvement,  and  the
learners’ had positive attitudes toward them.
The  results  of  another  study  conducted  by  Katchen  (1995)  about  group  discussions
revealed that since one student or one group was not the focus of the teacher’s attention for a
long time in a discussion activity, the pressure to speak was not high; however, this kind of
activity  required  spontaneous  speaking  so  that  those  who  were  brave  enough  spoke,  while
others spoke little or remained silent. 
Clearly,  the  significant  role  of  both  discussion  and  oral  presentation  activities
(Thornbury,  2005)  requires  the  teachers’  attention  to  the  learners’  perception  of  the  two
activities (Gentry et  al.,  2002). Moreover, these two focused  activities, i.e. oral presentation
and free discussion, which are two problematic and difficult activities and seem to have a lot
of opposite features (Furneaux et al., 1991, cited in Jordan, 1997; Thornbury, 2005), are not
analyzed comparatively which is the purpose of this study.
2.4. The Language Learners’ Perception of Different Activities
The  language  learners’  perception  has  a  very  prominent  and  significant  role  in  language
learning and teaching process and learners’ achievement (Williams & Burden, 1997). The
groundwork  for  inquiry  and  investigation  of  learners’ perceptions  was  mostly  laid  in  the
1970s  and  1980s  (Wesely,  2012).  There  are  two  significantly  different  types  of learners’
perception: their perception of themselves and their perception of the learning situation. The
former type of perception encompasses how the learners make sense of themselves and their 
own learning, whereas the latter type can be defined as how the students experience different
aspects  of  the  classroom  such  as  different  activities  (Brown,  2009;  Liskin-Gasparro,  1998;
Williams  &  Burden,  1997).  It  is  worth  mentioning  that  most  researchers  believe  that  these
two types of perceptions are totally interwoven.
According to Schulz (1996), “while opinions alone do not necessarily reflect the actual
cognitive processes that go on in language acquisition, perceptions do influence reality” (p.
349). Obviously, the more we are aware of the learners’ perception, the better our chances are
to improve the conditions of language learning and use. The learners’ view toward different
activities and curriculum will provide valuable and beneficial information for the researchers
and educational planners. They can use this information in order to improve the learners’
motivation  and  achievements  and  the  educational  system  in  general  (Gentry  et  al.,  2002;
Hawkey, 2006).
Nunan (1988a, 1988b)  and Kumaravadivelu (1991) refer to the discrepancies between
teachers’ and learners’ perception. According to Eslami-rasekh  and  Valizadeh  (2004),  the
teachers should always consider the learners’ perception and preferences in order to promote
a more inclusive climate that would enhance learning.
This study aimed to focus on the learners’ perception toward two different specific
activities,  i.e.  oral  presentation  vs.  free  discussion,  in  the  qualitative  phase  of  the  study;  in
addition to the quantitative phase which deals with the effects of the activities on the learners’
speaking proficiency.  
3. Research Questions
This study aimed at addressing the following research questions:
1.  Is  there  any  significant  difference  in  the  speaking  proficiency  of  the  Iranian  EFL
intermediate learners who practice discussion and those who practice oral presentation?
2. How do Iranian EFL learners perceive discussion versus oral presentation as two different
kinds of class activities?
4. Method
4.1. Participants
Forty-four  intermediate  female  Iranian  foreign  language  learners  from  four  different  intact
classes in one of the branches of Kish Language Institute in Tehran participated in this study.
In  order  to  have  an  equal  number  of  participants  in  each  of  the  experimental  and  the 
 comparison group, two of these classes, consisting of 22 learners (one with 12 and the other
with 10 learners) were considered as the comparison group (dealing with free discussion) and
the  other  two  classes,  including  11  and  11  learners,  were  considered  as  the  experimental
group of the study (dealing with oral presentation). 
4.2. Instrumentation
In order to  conduct the  present study, the speaking section of a sample Preliminary English
Test  (PET)  (2012)  and  a  semi-structured  perception  interview  were  implemented  for  the
quantitative and qualitative phases of the study, respectively. 
To  measure  the  foreign  language  learners’  oral  proficiency  before  and  after
experiencing the two different focused class activities, a speaking sample of the Preliminary
English  Test  (PET)  (University  of  Cambridge  ESOL  Examinations,  2012)  was  utilized  as
both pre- and post-test in the quantitative phase  of the study. The pre-test was administered
with  the  purpose  of  both  ensuring  the  homogeneity  of  the  learners  and  measuring  their
speaking  proficiency  before  the  treatment,  and  the  post-test  was  administered  in  order  to
measure the effects of the two activities. In this study, the reliability of the speaking part of
the sample test was estimated through test-retest. The reliability correlation coefficient of the
test-retest was  estimated using Cronbach’s Alpha and turned out to be  0.820, which was
acceptable from a statistical point of view (Larson-Hall, 2010). 
To  investigate  the  second  research  question,  i.e.  a  qualitative  analysis  of  the  Iranian
EFL learners’ perception of oral presentation vs. discussion, a semi-structured interview was
conducted, which according to Dornyei (2007), offers a  compromise between the structured
and unstructured interviews. Despite the fact that there are some prepared guiding questions
in this popular kind of interview, the whole format of the interviews is flexible, open-ended,
and not rigid. 
To  carry  out  this  part  of  the  study,  a  purposeful  sampling  was  used.  Creswell  (2012)
states “in purposeful sampling, researchers intentionally  select  individuals  and  sites  to  learn
or understand the central phenomenon” (p. 206), and the major criterion for their selection is
the participants’ potentiality of providing rich information.
The approach of conducting these interviews was one-on-one in which the participants
were  interviewed  individually.  This  approach  of  interviews  is  popular  but  time-consuming
(Creswell, 2012). It is worth mentioning that for the purpose of achieving proper data, all the
interviews  were  conducted  in  Persian  (Mackey  &  Gass,  2005),  and  they  were  recorded  and
transcribed meticulously by the researcher for the further analysis.  
 4.3. Procedure
As the first phase of conducting the quantitative part of the study, four intact classes with 44
learners at the intermediate level based on the criteria of the institute were selected. Two of
the classes including 11 and 11 students were selected as the experimental group to deal with
oral  presentation,  and  the  other  two  classes  with  12  and  10  students  were  assigned  as  the
comparison group of the study to deal with free discussion. 
In order to ensure the homogeneity of the two groups and their intermediate proficiency
level,  the  speaking  part  of  a  sample  Preliminary  English  Test  (2012)  was  conducted.  The
results of an independent samples t-test indicated that all the participants were homogenous.
It is worth mentioning that the scores of the speaking part of PET (2012) were also acting as
the pre-test scores which indicated the learners’ oral proficiency at the beginning and before
the treatment. 
The pre-test was scored twice. Firstly, it was scored by the one of the researchers and
her  colleague  who  was  also  present  during  the  test  session.  The  former  acted  as  the
interlocutor  and  managed  the  interaction  by  asking  questions  and  setting  up  the  tasks  and
scored based on the global assessment scale, while the latter acted as an assessor and did not
get  involved  in  the  conversation  and  scored  based  on  the  analytical  assessment  scale.  The
analytical scale covers grammar and vocabulary, discourse management,  pronunciation, and
interactive  communication,  and  each  part  has  five  points,  whereas  the  holistic  scale  covers
the global achievement with five points, which makes the total grade of 25 for speaking part.
Secondly, it was scored by two other experienced teachers who had been given the recorded
and transcribed conversations. They followed the Cambridge assessment rubrics) (University
of  Cambridge  ESOL  Examinations,  2012)  and  the  same  process  as  the  researcher  and  her
colleague. One of them scored holistically (from five points) and the other scored analytically
(from  20  points).  Ultimately,  after  checking  the  inter-rater  reliability  of  the  scores,  the
average of the two sets of scores was considered as the learners’ pre-test score. 
Throughout the term, the learners of both the experimental and the comparison groups
studied  the  Total  English  Intermediate  (Clare  &  Wilson,  2013)  which  was  assigned  by  the
institute  for  the  intermediate  level.  The  book  includes  10  units  which  should  be  taught
through five semesters, i.e. intermediate 1- intermediate 5. Each semester lasts for about one
month and a half (21 sessions), and each session takes about 90 minutes. The 44 participants
of the study  were  at intermediate level 1, and the first two units of the book were taught to
them.  Throughout  these  two  units  which  were  about  friends  and  media,  different  sections 
dealing with reading, writing, and listening skills were covered by their teacher based on the
syllabus.  It  is  worth  remarking  that  for  the  purpose  of  this  study,  the  teacher  gave  the
responsibility of dealing with speaking skill mostly to the researcher. 
For the purpose of this study, the participants in the experimental group experienced the
oral presentation activity, while the participants in the comparison group experienced the free
discussion activity in the last 30 minutes of each first eight sessions. The two activities were
conducted by the researcher without their teacher presence. The teacher mostly tried to keep
the procedure of both classes as it was supposed to.  In other  words, in the oral presentation
group, based on the number of the participants and the number of the sessions to be held, one
and sometimes two participants were assigned to present a lecture, based on a topic selected
(Appendix  A)  for  the  next  session.  After  presenting  the  lecture,  she  was  asked  some
questions either by the teacher or the audience.  In the free discussion  group, the same topic
but  its  parallel  form  suitable  for  discussion  rather  than  for  presentation  was  discussed
(Appendix  B)  It  is  worth  mentioning  that  the  topics  of  the  both  activities,  i.e.  oral
presentations and free discussions, were similar, and they were pre-selected and fixed for the
next session by the  researcher (they  were not impromptu).  In the process  of topic selection,
the  researcher  consulted  with  some  teachers  having  the  experience  of  teaching  at  the
intermediate level for more than five years and chose topics which were more suitable for this
level  of  language  proficiency.  In  addition,  she  took  the  nature  of  oral  presentation  and  free
discussion activities into consideration and chose the topics which were suitable for both of
the activities (Appendix A & B). 
In the next phase, in order to become aware of the effect of the treatment (use of free
discussion  vs.  oral  presentation)  after  eight  sessions,  the  speaking  part  of  the  same  sample
Preliminary English Test (2012) was utilized as the post-test. It is worth mentioning that all
the stages of pre-test scoring were exactly followed in the process of post-test scoring; it was
scored both holistically and analytically twice and after checking the inter-rater reliability of
the scores, the average of the two sets of scores was considered as their post-test score. 
To  investigate  the  second  research  question,  i.e.  how  the  learners  perceive  oral
presentation  vs.  free  discussion  activities,  the  two  activities  were  exchanged  between  the
groups after the end of the quantitative part of the study for eight more sessions. Finally, after
the  treatment  of  the  qualitative  part  and  all  the  participants’  experiencing  of  the  both
activities, from among those who were more eager and preferred each activity, based on their
oral comments and degree of participation in each activity during the 16 sessions, 10 in each 
were  selected  purposefully  to  be  interviewed  based  on  the  criterion  of  providing  rich
A  semi-structured  interview  was  conducted  with  the  20  learners.  Following  the
analytical  stages  recommended  by  Braun  and  Clarke  (2006),  the  analytic  process  of  the
present  study  was  conducted  through  thematic  analysis  and  the  following  phases:  at  first  to
understand the data completely, the  whole audio  recorded interviews with the learners were
transcribed meticulously. Then the transcription was read and reviewed several times, and all
the parts that were relevant and revealed important patterns about the learners’ perception of
the two activities (oral presentation vs.  free discussion) were underlined and highlighted.  In
the  next  step,  the  interesting  and  important  features  of  data  were  coded  systematically,  and
the  initial  codes  were  generated.  Afterwards,  the  codes  were  collocated  to  potential  themes.
Later,  all  the  themes  were  reviewed  and  checked  whether  they  worked  in  relation  to  the
whole data set. Ultimately, all the themes were defined and named, and the production of the
report,  including  relating  back  the  final  analysis  to  the  literature  and  research  question,  was
5. Results and Discussion
5.1. Results and Discussion of Research Question 1
To investigate the probability of any significant difference in the speaking proficiency of the
participants  who  practiced  free  discussion,  and  those  who  practiced  oral  presentation  an
independent  samples  t-test  was  applied  to  post-test  scores  of  the  experimental  and  the
comparison  groups.  To  ensure  the  homogeneity  of  the  learners,  one-sample  Kolmogorov-Smirnov  test  was  conducted.  The  results  revealed  normal  distribution  for  both  the
experimental (Z= .596, p=.870) and the comparison group (Z=.786, p=.568). The descriptive
statistics of these speaking pre-test scores are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics of Speaking Pre-test Scores


As  indicated  in  Table  2,  the  mean  of  the  post-test  scores  of  the  experimental  group  is
higher  than  the  mean  score  of  the  comparison  group.  To  check  whether  this  difference  is
significant  or  not,  an  independent  samples  t-test was conducted. Levene’s test shows equal
variances (F = 1.415, p = 0.241) and the results of the t-test [t (42) = -4.550; p < 0.05] reveals
that  the  experimental  group  (dealing  with  oral  presentation)  outperformed  the  comparison
group (dealing with the free discussion) significantly. 
It  is  worth  mentioning  that  though  the  oral  presentation  group  outperformed  the  free
discussion group significantly, the descriptive statistics (Table 3) shows improvement in both
groups comparing before and after treatment.

To  see  if  this  difference  was  significant  or  not,  two  paired  samples  t-tests  were
conducted.  The  results  showed  a  significant  difference  between  pretest  and  posttest  in
discussion group [t (21) = -6.750; p < 0.05] as well as the oral presentation group [t (21) = -9.912; p < 0.05]. 
Comparing  the  results  of  this  study  with  the  relevant  ones  conducted  before,  one  can
say that it partially supports the prior research conducted by Jing (2009) who investigated the
effect of oral presentation on EFL learners’ speaking skill, in which the results indicated that
oral presentation improved the learners’ speaking proficiency. Furthermore, it supports the
results  of  other  studies  by  Lee  and  Park  (2008)  and  Meloni  and  Thompson  (1980)  who
indicated the positive effects of oral presentation and report on the English language learners’
English  and  academic  skills.  However,  the  result  of  this  study  is  contradictory  with  what
King  (2002)  believes  about  the  oral  presentations.  He  believes  that  sometimes  the  language
skill will not improve with the help of oral presentation activity because of the learners’
problems with this activity.
There  are  many  different  researchers  (King,  2002;  Webster,  2000)  who  refer  to  the
advantages  of  oral  presentation  activity.  King  (2002)  and  Meloni  and  Thompson  (1980)
believe  that  structured  and  organized  oral  presentations  will  be  so  advantageous  for  EFL
learners  in  their  career  and  their  different  school  courses.  The  results  of  this  study  also
confirms their idea with the only difference that both activities, i.e., oral presentation and free
discussion  can  be  beneficial  for  speaking  skill  though  the  former  is  stronger  and  more
influential than the latter. Hence, in the context of Iran as an EFL context where there is not
much opportunity  for the language learners out of class to practice speaking, either of these
activities  can  be  used  as  a  chance  for  practicing  oral  communication.  Of  course,  depending
on the specificity of any context, either of them can be given priority. 
5.2. Results and Discussion of Research Question 2
The  second  research  question  of the study  dealt  with  the learners’  perception  of the two
focused  activities,  i.e.  oral  presentation  vs.  free  discussion.  The  merits  of  oral  presentation 
 and demerits of free discussion from the viewpoint of the 10 learners who liked and preferred
oral  presentation  rather  than  free  discussion  activity  and  the  merits  of  free  discussion  and
demerits of oral presentation from the viewpoint  of the 10 learners who liked and preferred
free discussion activity are presented in the following table:

The  advantages  and  merits  of  oral  presentation  from  the  viewpoint  of  the  10  learners
who  preferred  this  activity  generated  five  themes.  Most  of  the  interviewees  in  this  group
referred  to  the  effective  role  of  this  activity  in  the  improvement  of  the  language,  specially
speaking proficiency. Some of them stated since they were the teacher’s and their classmates’
center of attention for a specific time in the oral presentations, they tried to be well-prepared
for the presentation and do researches on various issues through surfing the net, and reading 
books, which they believed were so helpful in the improvement of their language proficiency.
In  relation  to  this,  Al-Issa  and  Al-Qubtan  (2010)  point  out  presentations  encourage  and
promote  learning  through  research  and  discovery.  Many  researchers  (King,  2002;  Miles,
2009; Webster, 2002) confirm the effective role of oral presentation activity in the language
proficiency  of  the  learners.  This  confirms  the  results  of  the  study  conducted  by  Gu  and
Reynolds  (2013)  who  indicated  that  extensive  speaking  activities  such  as  monologues
enhanced the quality of learners’ output, positive attitude, and perception of speaking. 
In  addition  to  the  beneficial  role  of  oral  presentation  in  the  improvement  of  the
language ability, especially the speaking proficiency, some of the interviewees believed oral
presentation was effective in the improvement of the presentation skills since they practiced
standard  delivery  skills  to  convince  the  teacher  and  the  audiences.  They  believed  being
skillful  in  presentation  was  a  required  skill  in  different  arrays  of  education  and  career.
Noticeably,  oral  presentation  can  be  referred  to  as  an  advantageous  medium  to  make  the
learners prepared for their future careers and real life speaking (Al-Issa & Al-Qubtan, 2010;
Nakamura,  2002;  Thornbury,  2005).  However,  the  learners  valued  and  focused  on  the
effectiveness  of  oral  presentation  on  the  improvement  of  their  language  proficiency  rather
than  presentation  skills,  which  confirms  the  results  of  the  study  conducted  by  Miles  (2009)
who  indicated  students  considerably  perceived  presentation  classes  as  an  opportunity  to
improve their English proficiency rather than learn how to give presentations.
According  to  many  interviewees,  one  of  the  most  advantageous  characteristics  of  oral
presentation was providing an equal chance of participation for all the learners. They stated in
free discussion activity, the talkative and high self-confident learners were the learners’ and the
teacher’s center of attention, and they always won the turns and did not pass the floor to others.
Many  of  the  learners,  especially  the  shy  ones  (they  referred  to  their  shyness),  had  no  or  very
little speaking opportunity which decreased their self-confidence; however, in oral presentation
classes, all the learners had an equal chance and approximately equal time for speaking. These
results lead support to the prior study  conducted  by Kayaoglu and Saglamel (2013) about the
EFL leaners’ perception of anxiety, in which the researchers concluded that the participation of
the learners should be considered and controlled more carefully “so as not to make a few shine
and  let  others  take  care  of  themselves.  Addressing  to  a  particular  group  might  kill  the
willingness of others. The teacher should feel the pulse of the classroom when delivering turns”
(p.  156).  According  to  Ur  (1996),  the  class  activities  that  lead  to  the  same  opportunity  and
chance of speaking and participation for all the learners are the most appropriate activities.  
There  were  some  interviewees  who  stated  their  language,  general  self-concept,  and
self-confidence  were  developed  after  having  the  same  chance  of  participating  and
experiencing  the  speech  in  oral  presentations.  This  is  similar  to  what  Liu  and  Littlewood
(1997) found out in their study. They discovered that the more the learners practiced and had
opportunity  to  speak  in  foreign  language,  the  more  they  felt  confident  about  their  oral
proficiency  and  had  positive  attitudes  and  self-perception  of  competence.  However,  it  is
against what King (2002) believes. According to him, public speaking sometimes undermines
students’ confidence.
Moreover, some interviewees referred to having the same and adequate time and floor
to  speak  and  not  being  interrupted  by  others  before  the  termination  of  their  speech  as  a
considerable, important, positive feature of oral presentation activities.
There were many interviewees who referred to the obligatory nature of oral presentation
activity  and  the  catalyst  and  pushing  role  of  the  teacher  in  this  activity.  These  interviewees
believed that this obligatory nature was beneficial for the shy learners.  It is worth mentioning
that many interviewees referred to their shyness and low self-confidence. They emphasized the
importance and benefits of having the activities which had a kind of obligatory nature in which
the turns were delivered and fixed by the teacher, and it was the teacher who called the learners
and  asked  them  to  initiate.  They  mentioned  considering  their  shyness,  they  needed  a  push  in
order to make them participate in the activities; otherwise, they could not. These results of the
study  support  the  research  by  Kayaoglu  and  Saglamel  (2013),  in  which  most  of  the  learners
believed that the teachers should sometimes push the learners. 
In spite of the fact that some interviewees referred to the main and controlling role of
the  teacher  in  oral  presentation  activity,  Al-Issa  and  Al-Qubtan  (2010)  refer  to  oral
presentation  as  a  learner-centered  activity.  Furthermore,  some  interviewees  who  referred  to
their  shyness  in  their  interview  mentioned  that  they  had  lost  their  motivation  before
experiencing the oral presentation activities in the class. They said oral presentation activity
with its obligatory nature encouraged them to make more attempts and study which obviously
had positive effects on their language and speaking improvement. Ushioda (2001) asserts that
one of the most important and successful motivational routes for the language learners is the
learners’ positive experience. It seems that the oral presentation activity helped them have the
positive experience. 
Some  interviewees  mentioned  in  spite  of  the  fact  that  making  the  learners  may  be
anxiety-provoking,  especially  as  they  had  to  perform  in  front  of  the  class,  this  anxiety  was 
normal,  beneficial,  and  facilitating  which  would  assist  them  to  be  able  to  cope  with  the
tension  of  public  speech  that  they  may  experience  in  different  situations  and  improve  their
self-confidence. As Dornyei (2005) asserts “anxiety does not necessarily inhibit performance
but in some cases can actually promote it” (p. 198). 
On the other hand, these interviewees referred to the disadvantages of free discussion.
Some  of  them  stated  the  voluntary  nature  of  free  discussion  let  the  learners  remain  silent
which  hindered  their  making  attempts  to  be  prepared  to  speak  in  class;  consequently,  their
language  and  speaking  proficiency  would  not  improve.  According  to  Liu  and  Littlewood
(1997),  “students’  lack  of  experience  in  speaking  English  is  especially  serious  because
frequency of practice opportunities alone seems vital to their confidence and proficiency” (p.
376). They declare that free discussion, specifically small group discussions, let the learners
hide  themselves  in  the  group  and  completely  remain  silent.  However,  we  should  take  into
consideration that many of the learners are used to the teacher-centered classes and activities
that they have experienced a lot in the past.
In  addition,  most  of  the  interviewees  believed  that  free  discussion  lacked  an  even
chance  of  participation  for  the  learners  which  led  to  the  shining  of  a  limited  number  of  the
learners  who  were  mostly  talkative  and  high  self-confident.  Katchen  (1995)  declares
discussion  activity  requires  spontaneous  speaking;  therefore,  those  who  are  brave  enough
speak, while others speak little or remain silent. According to Liu and Littlewood (1997), the
educational  systems  that  do  not  provide  the  learners  with  adequate  opportunities  to  practice
and speak English and have at the same time socialized them into adopting passive roles, will
have negative effects on the leaners’ spoken proficiency. 
Some of the shy interviewees (they  had referred  to their shyness) referred to the turn-taking  as  the  most  difficult  part  of  the  free  discussion  activity.  They  said  they  were  not
adequately self-confident to take turns and start talking without being pushed by the teacher,
especially  in  the  case  that  most  of  the  high  self-confident  and  talkative  learners  were  their
tough competitors. Clearly, giving any kinds of feedback was difficult for the shy learners.
The shy learners referred to their unwillingness to speak, their passiveness, and lack of
participation or very limited and little participation during the free discussion activity in spite
of  their  beliefs  in  their  acceptable  speaking  and  language  proficiency.  Dornyei  (2005)
believes that “there is a further layer of mediating factors between having the competence to
communicate and putting this competence into practice” (p. 207), that is why there are many
people  who  avoid  participation  or  even  entering  communicative  situations  in  spite  of  their 
high communicative competence. 
These  confirm  the  results  of  the  study  conducted  by  MacIntyre,  Baker,  Clément,  and
Donovan  (2002)  who  indicated  that  different  factors  mainly  communication  anxiety  and
perceived  communication  competence  were  the  predictors  of  the  learners’  willingness  to
communicate.  Therefore,  it  seems  that  shyness  and  lack  of  self-confidence,  which  some
learners  were  suffering  from  (based  on  their  talks  and  the  researcher’s  observation),  had
negative  effects on the learners’ willingness to participate in discussion. However, this is
against what Ur (1981) believes about discussions. He believes it is easier for the shy learners
to speak and express themselves in a small group discussion rather than to the teacher.
The  possibility  of  change  in  the  free  discussion  topic  was  another  problem  posed  by
some of the participants. Free discussion had an arguable nature, and its topic could change
by a learner’s comment or question and as a result the learners had to speak spontaneously.
Ortega (2005) declares having extra time for pre-planning has various benefits. It brings the
possibility of collecting and digesting one’s thoughts, identifying language problems ahead of
time,  engaging  in  lexical  searches,  and  finding  helpful  and  appropriate  vocabularies  which
cannot be followed in free discussion when the trend of the discussion is changed.
Moreover, some shy interviewees mentioned that they were very sensitive about receiving
negative feedbacks. They were worried about the rejection of their ideas, and it was the source of
their silence. Liu and Littlewood (1997) believe “if this feedback is done with great sensitivity to
students’ self-esteem in a trusting and supportive environment, it should enhance their confidence
and proficiency rather than inhibit their desire to speak English” (p. 380). 
The  other  10  interviewees  who  liked  free  discussion  more,  had  their  own  justifications
for  preferring  it  to  oral  presentation.  Some  of  the  interviewees  stated  since  they  had  more
chance of speaking in free discussion activities, and they could speak freely after a simple turn
taking, their language proficiency was improved. As Ur (1981) asserts, discussion is one of the
best and most beneficial ways of practicing oral communication freely in the EFL contexts. 
Furthermore,  most  of  the  interviewees  asserted  they  felt  totally  relaxed  in  free
discussion since they could speak voluntarily while sitting in their seats. In fact discussion is
an  activity  which  provides  a  low-risk  environment.  Clearly,  it  is  a  learner-centered  activity
with the voluntary nature that fills the gap between the learner and the teacher on one hand,
and the learner and peers on the other hand.
There  were  some  interviewees  who  referred  to  free  discussion  as  the  activity  which
triggered and improved their creative, critical, innovative, and systematic thinking. It helped 
 the learners be able to contradict or support others’ views and to express and defend their
opinions  with  logic.  As  Pally  (2000)  claims  these  critical  thinking  activities  including
questioning  and  discussing  are  widely  needed  and  used  in  different  academic  and
professional settings. 
In addition, many of the interviewees believed that the free discussion activity provided
a  more  supportive  learning  environment  and  a  high  level  of  interaction  among  the  learners.
They could be familiar with their classmates’ opinions. Enhancing interaction, cooperation,
and  friendship  among  the  learners  are  the  very  points  mentioned  by  Ur  (1981)  as  the  main
aims of free discussion.
Many  of  the  interviewees  referred  to  free  discussion  as  an  interesting  and  enjoyable
activity.  They  said  they  had  a  lot  of  fun  during  this  activity.  According  to  Ur  (1981),  free
discussion is one of the most appealing, enjoyable, and motivating activities.
On  the  other  hand,  the  very  participants  referred  to  the  disadvantages  of  oral
presentation. Many of them believed oral presentation was a stressful, anxiety provoking, and
face- threatening activity, especially for the shy and low self-confident learners. According to
the  shy  interviewees,  they  were  always  worried  about  making  mistakes,  losing  face,  and
failing  in  front  of  the  teacher  and  their  classmates.  King  (2002)  also  believes  that  oral
presentation can be a source of extreme anxiety and a face-threatening activity. 
Moreover,  most  of  the  interviewees  said  that  they  felt  bored  to  listen  to  mostly
memorized and monotonous speech. It seemed that the main or even the only audience who
was  paying  attention  to  the  presentations  was  the  teacher.  Some  participants  in  Yu  and
Cadman’s (2009) study also thought that it was only the teacher who listened and cared about
their presentations. Yu and Cadman (2009) emphasize the importance of a coherent speaker–
audience  relationship  and  audience  engagement  in  oral  presentation.  King  (2002)  asserts
“reciting from passages copied down from references makes the presentation sound canned,
machine-like, and dull” (p. 405). 
Besides, there were some interviewees who referred to the difficulty of being the center
of  attention  for  a  specific  time.  They  said  this  feature  of  oral  presentation  caused  them  to
focus on themselves rather than concentrating on their speech. Daly (1991) argues about the
difficulty  of  stage  and  its  fright  and  states  being  self-focused  might  result  in  a  lower
concentration on the audience, speech, and the surrounding.
Ultimately,  some  of  the  interviewees  mentioned  that  they  felt  a  hierarchal  distance
between  the  teacher  and  themselves  in  oral  presentation  activity.  They  mentioned  that  they 
felt  the  controlling  role  of  the  teacher.  However,  this  is  against  what  King  (2002)  believes
about oral presentations. He states oral presentation is a learner-centered activity in which the
teacher has the role of a facilitator of learning rather than a controller. 
6. Conclusion
This  study  was  an  attempt  to  shed  some  lights  on  the  effects  of  oral  presentation  vs.  free
discussion on the EFL intermediate learners’ speaking proficiency; moreover, it explored the
EFL learners’ perceptions of these two activities.  The  results  of  the  first  research  question
indicated the significant superiority of oral presentation to free discussion activity; however,
both  free  discussion  and  oral  presentation  activities  could  affect  and  improve  the  speaking
proficiency. Furthermore, the result of the second research question indicated that both of the
activities had some merits and demerits from the learners’ point of view. Hence, since we
usually  deal  with  learners  who  have  different  personalities  in  the  same  class,  it  can  be
recommended  to  include  both  activities  as  complementary  in  classrooms  though  either  one
may not be to the favor of some of the students. In this way, using one compensates for the
shortcomings of the other. Elaborating the objectives of including each activity can help the
learners to be more cooperative in class activities.

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