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Keep Them Talking: Ideas for ESL Class

By Leyla Norman

Speaking activities are an important part of ESL speaking lesson plans. They give students the chance to practice and become more confident. These tips and ideas for speaking activities will liven up your lessons.

English as a second language students have to be able to communicate verbally in English in their everyday lives. Encourage your students to speak aloud during class by incorporating a variety of speaking activities into your lessons. Students will learn from each other in paired and group speaking activities, further enriching the lesson.


Each speaking activity must have objectives for learning. Students will utilize the language that they learn during the lesson; ask questions and answer them on the topic discussed. They should also confidently use grammar points and vocabulary learned in the lesson.

Tasks / Assignments

Role-plays can be as structured or as free form as you want them to be. Students can read directly from a set script in pairs, or they can even develop their own scripts related to a teacher-provided prompt. Another option is to give students cards with different scenarios on them. Students then use the vocabulary and grammar introduced during the lesson to form their own dialogues. This can be especially useful during lessons about invitations or answering job interview questions, which requires students to think and speak within a short period.

One example of using role-plays is to have students tell each other in partners a story that could or could not be true. This is a good way to practice using the past tenses, and to keep students paying attention. Students who guess correctly whether their partners are telling the truth could win a prize. Do this as a whole-class exercise. The student who has the most correct guesses wins.

Higher-level students can practice using agree/disagree vocabulary during class by debating a particular topic. An entire class period could be devoted to a debate. Split the class into two opposing teams. Tell each team to research and prepare arguments for or against a topic. Students will then present those arguments to the other team. Spontaneous speaking will occur when students have to answer arguments from the other team. They will not have time to prepare their rebuttals before hearing them. Debates can take less time if done in pairs or small groups. Students can take a couple of minutes each to debate a subject, and then other students can answer. This is most appropriate for advanced-level students.

Job interviews or interviews about students' lives could be other speaking activities. For example, pair students up, and have them interview each other about their lives using a set of pre-determined questions. After the students finish interviewing in pairs, each member of the pair or a few volunteers tell the rest of the class what they learned about their partners. When students tell the rest of the class their partner's answers to different questions, you, as the teacher, can take note of answers that need working on. If a student answers, "Because I'm awesome" to the question, "Why should I hire you?" you can spend time helping students develop more elaborate and specific answers.

At the beginning of class, have each student ask a question to at least two other people. You could list more than one question on the board that students have to answer when they speak to each other to provide more practice. Do this at the beginning of class. For example, students can talk about their pet peeves, activities they hope to accomplish someday, or businesses they would like to own.

Keep students moving throughout different speaking activities in order to get and keep their attention. Practice using the same types of vocabulary and sentence structures in various situations. Single speaking activities work well for entire ESL speaking lesson plans. Debates and interviews can take some time to prepare for and complete, for example. The point is to keep students talking and practicing English.


At the end of the lesson, check students for understanding by striking up a conversation with each one using the vocabulary learned during the lesson. Check to see how quickly and clearly, students respond to you. Listen for correct use of vocabulary and grammar points. Another option is to pair students up, have them practice the conversations they learned, and move about the room, listening to each pair to see how each student is doing. If several students have trouble with the lesson, spend another class period on it. If just a few students are having trouble, pair them up with a volunteer tutor or have them attend lab sessions with you for extra practice.




Source: author's own experience

ESL Flow,

Image: Richard Stallman speaking.jpg by Wikimania 2009 Beatrice Murch under CC by 2.0.