Speaking in a foreign language is one of the fastest ways to master it. It’s also one of the most desirable skills people want to learn as our modern world rapidly becomes operating primarily on vocal communications.
However, it isn’t always easy to encourage our ESL students to practice their conversation skills. Many students are morbidly shy, aren’t confident in their skill or plainly don’t know what to talk about.
Enabling them opportunities to practice verbal communication is a challenge to all teachers. Therefore, to make things easier for you, we’d like to share this list of 10 tested activities that get any type of student engaged in a speaking task.
Level: B1 and above
I often use this exercise to assess my new student’s fluency level. Throughout the years I found that this is a great warm up speaking exercise for students in the intermediate and advanced ranges as it really challenges all their vocabulary and speaking skills.
It’s also probably the simplest one to do on this list.
1. Explain that you are a UFO visitor to Earth and that you don’t know anything about anything. You basically need the students to introduce you to the simplest of concepts, such as:
What is water?
What is a car?
Why do animals eat?
How does sleeping work?
What is a t-shirt and how do you use it.
Good thing about this is that questions you can ask are boundless and the more familiar the subject the better. Everyone knows that a car is so how do you explain it to someone who doesn’t?
2. Pick a student to explain one concept to you and allow them 2-4 minutes to give you the summary.
Note: if some students struggle with things to say, inquire further into the last thing they’ve mentioned. For example:
You eat food with a mouth.
Mouth? What is a mouth?
3. Move on to the next person and ask them about something else. Play as long as you see fit.
Level: A1 and above
Resources: 1 Sticky Ball
1. Draw a large circle on the black board. Next draw 2 or 3 smaller circles inside, creating a crude version of the ‘dart board’.
2. Toss the sticky ball to one student and ask them a question (perhaps one relating to the lesson).
3. If student answers correctly, they get to throw the sticky ball at the board.
4. Write down their name and score on the board next to the circles and toss the ball to the next student.
Level: A1 and above
Introduce the scenario in which the school desk is a taxi car and one of the partners is the Driver and the other is the Passenger going from the airport.
Taxi Driver’s task is to keep a conversation going. They will ask questions such as:
The Passenger’s task is to answer the questions, while at the same time make sure the driver does their job properly.
Level: B1 and above
Resources: deck of cards
Put your students into pairs and give each pair a set of min 10 cards (or a full deck if you have so many).
The students will be having conversations with each other. The Twist is that the content of the conversations will be largely influenced by the card each person draws.
Every card rank has a different scenario attached to it:
Black Ace – You don’t like your partner.
Red Ace – You’re in love with your partner.
Black 2 -You want to share a secret but you don’t trust your partner.
Red 2 – You’re too honest and share too many secrets.
Black 3 – You only talk about yourself.
Red 3 – You only talk about other people.
Black 4 – All you talk about is your car accident 7 years ago.
Red 4 – You have a cute new kitten and that’s all you want to talk about.
Black 5 – You’re very stressed because of your work.
Red 5 – You’re very relaxed because you’ve discovered meditation.
Black 6 – You’re late for the next meeting and want to finish this conversation.
Red 6 – You enjoy this conversation and don’t want it to finish ever.
Black 7 – You forgot your partner’s name and are trying to get them to say it.
Red 7 – You think they have the most beautiful name in the world.
Black 8 – You’re paranoid and only talk about conspiracies.
Red 8 – You’re relaxed about everything (but it’s annoying).
Black 9 – You’re the voice of the Devil and give only evil advice.
Red 9 – You’re the voice of God and give only good advice.
Black 10 – You’re poor and need to borrow money.
Red 10 – You’re rich and would like to invest in your partner.
Black Jack – You’re a bad influence and try to get your partner to drink, gamble and be irresponsible.
Red Jack – You’re a good influence and try to get your partner to have a healthy lifestyle.
Black Queen – You’re very jealous of your partner.
Red Queen – You love all people and want the best for everybody.
Black King – You feel weak and complain A LOT.
Red King – You feel strong and boast A LOT.
Suggest a general conversation topic:
Business meeting between two coworkers,
Catch-up coffee between two friends,
A romantic date,
Random conversation on the bus,
1. Put 2 minutes on the timer and ask your students to draw 1 card each without showing it to their partner. Instruct them to start conversing.
2. After 2 minutes have passed, ask partners to try to guess each others’ cards.
3. Provide another topic and set the clock for another 2 minutes.
4. Play until it gets old.
Level: A2 and above
Resources: a handful of pieces of paper with descriptions (printed or handwritten, 5 min prep)
I present to you a superbly entertaining speaking exercise. The preparation will take you about 5 minutes before the lesson but the payoff is 20 minutes of insane fun for your students. Best done with teenagers and adults.
Descriptions might include:
I have a large spider on my shoulder, be afraid!
I am deaf, you need to speak very loudly.
I am a foreigner, speak to me very slowly.
My face is painted like a clown, laugh when you speak with me.
I am very attractive, fall in love with me!
I remind you of someone but you can’t remember who!
I look like I’m sick, don’t come close!
You think I’m dangerous, be careful when you speak with me.
My T-Shirt is inside out.
1. Distribute the descriptions among your students, but make sure that they don’t see what’s on them. Use the sticky tape to attach the descriptions to the front of your students’ t-shirts.
2. Let them talk to each other while taking cues from the cards. You may suggest a general conversation topic such as a movie premier, birthday party, charity fundraiser, etc.
3. Whenever someone guessed their description, either let them continue the game without one or give them another one.
4. Play until everyone guesses their cards.