What are the best speaking activities that every English Second Language (ESL) teacher should know? The following ten speaking activities have been tried and tested by experienced educators.
Top 10 Speaking Activities for English Class. Teaching ESL games and activities.
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Questions to a Partner
Make a list of questions for student A and a list of different questions for student B. They ask each other these questions and they get to answer and to respond. This is probably one of the best speaking activities because it maximizes student talking time and engages all the learners in class.
Students do a survey
This is a famous speaking activity. The teacher makes a list of questions. The students then walk around the class and ask each other a question at a time. Students love this activity because it allows them to walk around and have English conversations with their friends.
Make a list of questions and students sit down with a partner for a minute or two. When their time is up, a bell rings and they have to switch partners. What makes this different from a survey is that it’s not only one question that they have to ask, it’s a few questions. That gives them the opportunity to practice these questions and improve their fluency whenever they have to repeat an answer. Students can also choose which questions they ask their partners. At a more advanced level, encourage students to ask follow-up questions so that they practice a more natural way of speaking.
English learners have to continue the sentence or add an idea or story. One student will start with a story and then stop. The next student then has to continue followed by the rest of the class. This exercise can also be used as a writing activity, where someone writes the beginning of a story, followed by the next and finally someone writes the end. This exercise is also great for conditionals: If one student says: “If I had a million dollars I would be happy,” then another student continues, “If I was happy I would live in a big mansion.” A third student says, “If I lived in a big mansion I would have a butler” and so on.
Ask students to draw a picture of some object, anything. Once they’ve finished, reveal to them that they’re on a deserted island and only half of them can survive. They have to try and persuade their friends to pick them. Give them some time to prepare by writing reasons why they should be selected to survive. When it’s their turn, they must plead their case for survival. Students really like this activity, because they imagine that they are actually fighting for their lives.
Scaffolding the Taboo game
Give students a word, let’s say “politics”, they then should try and explain that word to the other students without using the exact or some similar words. The teachers can then show the word on the screen/whiteboard. Show them a word and say okay listen you can’t use these words. Personally, I have a stack of cards that I use, by putting the students into groups and start off by saying: “Okay everyone, explain this word to your friends. You can use these extra words underneath to help you explain.” Then, because these activities should be scaffolded, I would say: “Okay stop! This is too easy for you. Let’s make it a little bit more difficult. I want you to explain the word without using the words below.” Why do we scaffold activities? It’s like playing a video game: When you start playing the game you’re first going to play it on the easy level. Then you’re going to progress to normal/ standard and, eventually advance to the expert level. That’s the way for students too. With most speaking activities we want to make it easy for them to understand at the beginning and then add rules or extra material to increase the difficulty. A lot of inexperienced teachers start at the most difficult level without considering their student’s needs or abilities.
Two Truths, One Lie
This is a fun activity. Ask students to write down two things about themselves that are true and then one thing that is false. Tell them to make it interesting and not boring. For example, to demonstrate the activity, I tell students: “I have three brothers; I can’t eat seafood and my favorite color is red.” The class then asks questions to find out which one is the lie. Tell students not to use your examples and that they should try and create their own original ideas.
Split them up into groups so that they can practice with their friends in order to maximize learner talking time and to prevent the rest of the class to get bored. Engage the students as much as possible by making them part of the activity. When they’re in their groups tell the students to remember to ask each other extra questions to try and find out which one is the lie. For example, they can ask me the names of my three brothers and how old they are.
This is a really fun activity. Tell the students that a crime was committed yesterday and they need to find the guilty student/group who was responsible. In the case of a class of twenty students, make groups of four. They then have to nominate the student they think is the brightest in their group to play the role of an investigator in the first round so that they can ask good questions.
Give the group’s a few minutes to create an alibi, a story, and details of where they were at the time the crime took place: Where were they? What were they doing? At what time? What were they eating? What was the weather like? Once they’re done, each of the four investigators will interview the other groups and ask them questions. They can give each group a score on how plausible their story was. To make it easier, you can also write some example questions on the board for the investigators to ask. They interview each group for a few minutes and then move on to the next. Afterward, the detectives in each group should say which group do they think was responsible. Students like this game and without knowing it they’re practicing their English skills.
Hot Seat game
With this game, the teacher has to put the students into groups of four or so students. One student leaves the class and the teacher then tells the group’s remaining students a word or phrase. They have to explain the word or phrase to the student who was outside and now sits in the Hot Seat. Put the groups against each other to encourage energetic competition. Give the groups the same list of words that they have to run through to see who finishes first. This game can get a little loud, so set rules before starting with what is a lot of fun.
This game is well-known, the teacher thinks of something and the students have to ask Twenty Questions to figure out what it is. Is it alive? Is it big? What color is it? Is it on a farm or in the zoo? The students can ask any questions they like. In the case of big classes, the students can be placed into groups to make sure that everybody gets a chance.
Secret Zombie game
Number ten is called Secret Zombie. Before class, the teacher makes small strips of paper and write either “H” for human, and “Z” for a zombie on it. In a group of twenty students, one would typically have three playing the role of zombies. The students walk around in class and have conversations with the other student, asking standard questions like, what did you do last weekend? What’s your favorite food? The teacher may provide some sample questions from recent lessons. While the students are talking to each other, the zombie players should secretly wink at some of the other students. When they do that person is a zombie. After that conversation ends they should find someone else to talk to and infect them as well. Do this for 4 or 5 conversations then you say stop. All the zombies raise their hands to reveal themselves and the rest of the students see who remained uninfected.
These ten speaking activities have been tried and tested in many classrooms and provide students lots of imaginative and exciting ways to practice their ESL skills. Teachers should scaffold these games and put students in groups in order to maximize participation while avoiding boredom in class.
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