When it comes to classroom speaking activities, I try to give emphasis to real-life situation, authentic activities and meaningful tasks to promote communication. To develop this productive skill, students need intensive and constant practice.
But unlike other macro skills such as Listening, Reading and Writing including teaching vocabulary, it is more difficult to come up with speaking activities that are interesting enough to motivate students to produce the language. Sometimes, a little creativity from the teacher is needed.
So in response to the queries I’ve been getting from my blog readers, I listed down some speaking activities that I use in my English class including some downloadable PowerPoint to help you get started. These classroom speaking activities can be done in a variety of ways such as individual tasks, pair works or group activities.
Classroom Speaking Activities
This is a fun conversation activity that, although they talk in pairs, involves the whole class!
The scenario is that a virus has attacked the world and everybody is turning into a zombie! The virus is contagious – it affects everyone it touches – and students have to reach the safe zone before it’s too late!
First, prepare some strips of paper with either Z or H which stand for zombie or human; then let students pick their role. They shouldn’t let anyone know.
Students will go around the classroom asking and answering questions. After they have asked and answered, they will shake hands. The zombie will infect the other student by secretly scratching the inside part of the other student’s hands.
If a student shakes 5 people’s hands without getting infected, he/she enter the safe area and humans will win the game! Otherwise, zombies will take over the world! This is surely one of those speaking activities that students will have fun doing!
This speaking activity is based on a system designed by Edward de Bono with an ESL twist. Basically, 6 Thinking Hats is a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving 6 colored hats. Just like de Bono’s idea, each color represents a mode of thinking which allows the students to expand their views on a particular thing or issue. I love this speaking task because it helps students to think logically and become better speakers.
You can see the PowerPoint I created with instructions on how to do this speaking activity. To ensure that every member participates during discussion and presentation, you may also use the role cards included in the member resources page.
Activity Type: Individual, Pair, Group
Would You Rather
This conversation activity is about student preference. Students are given a question that starts with “Would you rather…” followed by two equally good or equally bad options. For example, “Would you rather be beautiful but poor or less attractive (ugly) but rich?” Answering “neither” or “both” is against the rules so students must choose 1 and justify their answer. Sometimes, students’ answers will crack you up! One student said that she’d rather be rich but ugly because if she’s rich, she could afford plastic surgery!
Just like other speaking activities, Would You Rather will be a success if the questions are age and proficiency level appropriate. Due to file storage issues, I can only upload a sample copy. However, you can find more Would You Rather questions here and use the template I created to see how it looks like.
Activity Type: Individual, Pair
TED Ed Riddles
This one uses video prompts such as the riddle videos from TED Ed. These are brain teasers presented in a professionally animated video that hook students and keep them engaged in our speaking activities! Each riddle is divided into two parts – the problem and the answer. I show my students the first part, pause the video and make sure that they understand every detail of the riddle. I provide them a mini-whiteboard and give them time to discuss the problem in their group and come up with possible solutions. When the time is done, I ask each group to discuss their answer to the whole class.
Activity Type: Group
This is a drill conversation activity where you pair your students up to practice the dialogue you show on the screen. Simply show your slide and have students read out loud. After two rounds, you will start deleting words in the dialogue and replace it with blanks. Do this in sequence until the entire dialogue is just a series of blanks.
You get the idea, right? You can also see these 3 beginner sample dialogues on PowerPoint then you can go ahead and create your own missing dialogues based on your lessons! This speaking drill is absolutely effective!
Activity Type: Pair
Have you always wanted to assess your students’ speaking abilities but you have no time to do it in your classroom? Then FlipGrid is for you! This activity is sort of a homework if students have access to computers at home.
FlipGrid is video discussion platform where you can (1) create a grid for your classroom; and (2) add a topic to spark discussion. Students can respond with short videos (up to 1 minute and 30 seconds only) without creating an account as long as they have the code to access your topic.
FlipGrid allows you to create unlimited topics/discussion and unlimited video uploads for all your speaking activities and tasks!
Activity Type: Individual
Well, everybody knows what a tongue twister is! It is a series of words or sounds that are usually repetitive and are difficult to pronounce quickly and correctly. I use tongue twisters as one of our speaking activities to develop my students pronunciation and accent; or sometimes just for the sheer fun of doing it. I often get my students to memorize this and ask them to say it out loud in class as a group and in pairs.
You can download this tongue twister PowerPoint I created.
Activity Type: Pair, Group
In this activity, you will create two different versions of a dialogue and hand out version A to Student A and version B to Student B. The idea behind this is all the B section sentences that are missing on version A appear on version B; and vice versa.
Student A: How are you today?
Student B: _____________________!
Student A: ____________________?
Student B: I’m fine, thank you!
During the speaking task, students have to read out loud and listen to and write down sentences from the other student’s paper. You have to make sure though that students are really having a conversation and not just sharing and copying each other’s dialogues.
Activity Type: Pair
If you don’t want all your kids to have a conversation at the same time, then conversation cards is just the answer! In this speaking game, you will only have up to 10 to talk in front of the class per round. I usually use this activity when teaching positive/negative question or sentence but I think you can adapt this one to your lesson.
To do this speaking activity, you need to prepare cards that have conversation starter sentence or question, such as “What did you do last weekend?” or “Do you like watching cartoons?” and so on.
- To start the game, give 1 different card to 5 students and let them go in front.
- Tell the rest of the class to close their eyes or put their heads down.
- The 5 students you chose will quietly put their card on other students’ desks and then come back to the front.
- Tell the class to open their eyes.
- One by one, ask the student who has a card on their desk to stand in front of the student who they think has given them the card and read the prompt written on it aloud.
- (You can change this last part according to your prompts) If the card does not match the person who gave it, that person will give a negative response to the question or statement and the other student will go back to his/her desk.
- If the card matches that person, the person will say a positive response and the two people will switch places.
Game Type: Pair
Speaking of cards, I also use traditional playing cards for a conversation activity. The regular size will do but I love using the giant version which I got for $2 from a stationery store. Basically, I make groups of four and let each one pick 1 card. Each suit (shape) will represent a topic, for example, students who got a “heart” will talk about love and the students who got a “diamond” will talk about money, and so on. You can assign any topic for each suit as you wish.
Activity Type: Group
I saw this activity on Pinterest and I thought it was fun to do in my class too! To do this game, give each group their Jenga blocks and play as it is supposed to be played: stack the blocks in sets of three until they have built a tower that is 18 blocks high. They take turn picking 1 block from any level until the tower collapses. Just write a question in the target language, and have students answer as they pull the blocks out. You could also write verbs and pronouns on each block and make a game adaptable to any tense you are working on.
Activity Type: Group
Other common speaking activities that I do in my English class
So much for creativity, I believe we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Below are some common activities that we also shouldn’t ignore.
Discussions or Brainstorming
In groups, students share ideas, ask questions or find solution to an issue or problem that you give them. To make discussions work well, it is suggested to assign each member a specific role such as leader, time keeper, recorder, challenger, etc.
Students pretend they are in a different social setting taking on a different social role. To make role plays successful, it is important that students understand their role and the context of the situation. For example, students can be the waiter and the costumers in “In a Restaurant” role play, and so on.
Students can interview foreigners about a certain topic to allow them to use the language outside the classroom. Another way to do this is to provide an opportunity to talk with some experts via Skype and have students prepare their questions beforehand.
Debate doesn’t have to be formal and serious. In my experience, ESL students don’t have the drive to do extensive research about a topic and then talk about it at a later date. I modify debate to make it easy and not tedious, for example, I do 30 seconds Debate where I group the class into two: For vs Against. I flash interesting and sometimes funny statements like “Soda should be banned” or “Students should not watch TV.” Each student-representative from each group will give their stand in 30 seconds per round.
Class Presentation or Reporting
There are many ways to do class reports in the classroom. Students can do a presentation about a project or you can provide opportunity for each student to teach the class about whatever topic that he/she is interested in. I did this activity before where everyday, one student got to talk for 5 minutes before I started the lesson. My colleague called this activity as “Students Can Teach Too!“
Sometime ago, I wrote about how I use Classroom Performance Activities. These are activities which students need to prepare for before presenting in front of an audience.