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.
1. PARTY INVITATIONS
Level: A2 and above
This ESL activity requires no preparation from you and is simple to explain yet will keep your students engaged for a good 10 to 15 minutes.
1. Instruct your students to draw a 1-week calendar in their notebooks.
2. Next, each student schedules 3 events in their week (all on different days).
- The party they are organising.
- One evening when they need to go to bed early.
- One evening when they have to stay home and study..
For example, Chloe is organising her party on Tuesday, needs to go to bed early on Thursday and is studying on Sunday.
3. Students walk around the classroom inviting their peers to their parties.
The dialogue would go like this:
Hi Mark, can you come to my party on Tuesday?
No, sorry I need to go to bed early then
No, sorry, I already am going to Vicky’s party.
4. At the end, the student with the most guests to their party wins the game!
2. SPEED DATING
Level: B1 and above
Needless to say, this endlessly fun exercise works best in bigger classrooms. Also needless to say adults will find it more engaging than young teenagers.
Divide your class into two groups.
Members of one group will all sit individually at their own tables (with a single chair on the opposite side).
The other group will be circulating between the tables.
Note: I find that it helps students to get into a character if they can invent new names for themselves and have them displayed somewhere.
1. One group are all sitting at their tables with names displayed. The other group members join one table each.
2. Put 3 min on the timer and instruct students to have a conversation with each other to see if they connect with the other person.
3. After 3 minutes have passed, rotate the ‘mobile’ group one seat to the right or left. Do this until every student in one group has a chance to speak with every student in the other.
Note: the next step one is optional.
4. Everyone writes down 3 names of people they’ve connected and would like to meet again. Write down students’ names on the board and give one point every time a name was mentioned.
3. WAVES OF QUESTIONS
Level: A1 and above
Here’s a simple activity you can do for any age and level. It is especially effective in large classrooms with students who don’t like to talk much.
1. Go to the student sitting in the left (or right) corner of the first row and ask them a simple question, i.e. What’s your name?
2. After they answer, instruct them to ask the same question to the person next to them. Their classmate will answer and ask the same question the next person sitting closest to them. The action repeats between all students in the class. That way the question will circulate the entire classroom.
3. After 3 or 4 students asked/answered the question go back to the first one and ask them another, slightly harder question, i.e. How old are you?
4. In the end, there will be multiple questions circulating the classroom at the same time, while you’re creating more; each new one slightly more difficult than its predecessor.
- What’s your name?
- How old are you?
- What’s your favourite colour?
- Where do you live?
- What are the names of your parents?
- What did you eat for breakfast?
- What’s your favourite film?
- What did you do yesterday?
- What will you do this Summer?
- What are your hobbies?
- How often do you do them?
- What sports do you like?
- What’s your favourite food?
- Where would you like to travel?
- Who is your favourite person?
4. SPEAKING STATIONS
Level: A2 and above
Resources: a handful of pictures
This is a very effective exercise to get your students talking. While it does work on the Upper Beginner level, I find it the most effective for the higher levels.
For this to work best you need to divide students into a handful of (precisely measured) groups.
Start with the Leaders Group, these should be your most extroverted and gregarious pupils.
1. Ask them all to form one group and stand on the side, waiting for further instructions.
2. Then move the desks and chairs around to arrange a precise number of ‘Speaking Stations’ around the classroom. The number of Stations corresponds with the number of students in the Leaders Group.
3. Each member of the Leaders Group will position themselves at their own Speaking Station behind the desk.
4. Next, arrange the rest of the class into pairs or groups of 3.
So for example if your classroom has 21 students then:
Speaking Stations: 7
7 pairs of students
If the classroom is 12 people then:
Speaking Stations: 4
4 pairs of students
1. Give each Leader one photo as they sit at their station. On the other side of the desk there should be two chairs for the pairs to sit, facing the leader.
2. Instruct all pairs to go and sit at one of the stations.
3. Put 3-5 minutes on the timer, in that time the Leader is going to ask them questions about their photo and the pairs will answer the questions.
4. After 3-5 min tell the pairs to switch stations. Best to rotate all pairs one station to the right or left, otherwise it will be hard to keep track of them.
5. Do this until every pair had a chance to speak to every Leader.
5. SHARK TANK
Level: B1 and above
Resources: fake money (make it from scraps of paper)
This exercise is based on the ever so popular TV program the Shark Tank. The original show features a panel of business moguls (the Sharks) who patiently listen to presentations by aspiring entrepreneurs of their million dollar ideas. If any of the Sharks likes a particular idea they may decide to invest their money into it.
Adopting this as an ESL exercise will enable your students to practice giving convincing presentations as well as giving feedback.
1. Put students into groups. Provide a general theme: making an exhibition, organising an event, creating a new product, futuristic technology, making a film, etc.
2. Assign distinct roles to each group member, for example, in the case of making a film:
The Producer – responsible for organising the shoot
The Director – responsible for the film, how it looks and for work with the actors
The Writer – responsible for the story and characters
Animator/Music Composer/Special Effects – responsible for the final look of the project
Note: this should take at least 10 minutes with every group preparing to present their idea. Begin the Shark Tank exercise only when every group is well prepared.
3. After the groups are all ready, arrange the desks so that you have long rows of desks (like a press conference panel), or if that’s too tricky then at least rows of chairs.
Note: Numbers of rows should be half of the number of groups. So if you have 4 groups then arrange 2 rows. If you have 8 groups then arrange 4 rows.
4. Next, one group of students will sit at the rows acting as the Sharks while the other will stand in front of them presenting their idea. The Sharks all have money (limited amount each) which they may or may not grant to the presenting team.
5. After that they’ll swap roles. The groups who have initially presented their ideas can now retaliate by being Sharks while the first sharks will present their ideas.
6. In the end, the group with the most amount of money wins.
Note: make sure that the students understand to ask specific questions to specific roles. For instance to the producer: How much would it cost? What locations will you use? etc.
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