Strategies and Techniques for Teaching Speaking

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Педагогика и дидактика

In the communicative model of language teaching, instructors help their students develop this body of knowledge by providing authentic practice that prepares students for real-life communication situations.



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Strategies and Techniques for Teaching Speaking

Many language learners regard speaking ability as the measure of knowing a language.  These learners define fluency as the ability to converse with others, much more than the ability to read, write, or comprehend oral language. They regard speaking as the most important skill they can acquire, and they assess their progress in terms of their accomplishments in spoken communication.

Language learners need to recognize that speaking involves three areas of knowledge:

  •  Mechanics (pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary): Using the right words in the right order with the correct pronunciation.
  •  Functions (transaction and interaction): Knowing when clarity of message is essential (transaction/information exchange) and when precise understanding is not required (interaction/relationship building)
  •  Social and cultural rules and norms (turn-taking, rate of speech, length of pauses between speakers, relative roles of participants): Understanding how to take into account who is speaking to whom, in what circumstances, about what, and for what reason.

In the communicative model of language teaching, instructors help their students develop this body of knowledge by providing authentic practice that prepares students for real-life communication situations. They help their students develop the ability to produce grammatically correct, logically connected sentences that are appropriate to specific contexts, and to do so using acceptable (that is, comprehensible) pronunciation.

Goals and Techniques for Teaching Speaking

The goal of teaching speaking skills is communicative efficiency.  Learners should be able to make themselves understood, using their current proficiency to the fullest.  They should try to avoid confusion in the message due to faulty pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, and to observe the social and cultural rules that apply in each communication situation.  To help students develop communicative efficiency in speaking, instructors can use a balanced activities approach that combines language input, structured output, and communicative output.

Language input comes in the form of teacher talk, listening activities, reading passages, and the language heard and read outside of class.  It gives learners the material they need to begin producing language themselves.

Language input may be content oriented or form oriented.

  •  Content-oriented input focuses on information, whether it is a simple weather report or an extended lecture on an academic topic. Content-oriented input may also include descriptions of learning strategies and examples of their use.
  •  Form-oriented input focuses on ways of using the language: guidance from the teacher or another source on vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar (linguistic competence); appropriate things to say in specific contexts (discourse competence); expectations for rate of speech, pause length, turn-taking, and other social aspects of language use (sociolinguistic competence); and explicit instruction in phrases to use to ask for clarification and repair miscommunication (strategic competence).

In the presentation part of a lesson, an instructor combines content-oriented and form-oriented input.  The amount of input that is actually provided in the target language depends on students’ listening proficiency and also on the situation.  For students at lower levels, or in situations where a quick explanation on a grammar topic is needed, an explanation in English may be more appropriate than one in the target language.

Structured output focuses on correct form.  In structured output, students may have options for responses, but all of the options require them to use the specific form or structure that the teacher has just introduced.  Structured output is designed to make learners comfortable producing specific language items recently introduced, sometimes in combination with previously learned items.  Instructors often use structured output exercises as a transition between the presentation stage and the practice stage of a lesson plan. Textbook exercises also often make good structured output practice activities.

In communicative output, the learners’ main purpose is to complete a task, such as obtaining information, developing a travel plan, or creating a video.  To complete the task, they may use the language that the instructor has just presented, but they also may draw on any other vocabulary, grammar, and communication strategies that they know.  In communicative output activities, the criterion of success is whether the learner gets the message across.  Accuracy is not a consideration unless the lack of it interferes with the message.

In everyday communication, spoken exchanges take place because there is some sort of information gap between the participants.  Communicative output activities involve a similar real information gap.  In order to complete the task, students must reduce or eliminate the information gap.  In these activities, language is a tool, not an end in itself.

In a balanced activities approach, the teacher uses a variety of activities from these different categories of input and output.  Learners at all proficiency levels, including beginners, benefit from this variety; it is more motivating, and it is also more likely to result in effective language learning.

Strategies for Developing Speaking Skills

Students often think that the ability to speak a language is the product of language learning, but speaking is also a crucial part of the language learning process.  Effective instructors teach students speaking strategies – using minimal responses, recognizing scripts, and using language to talk about language – which they can use to help themselves expand their knowledge of the language and their confidence in using it.  These instructors help students learn to speak so that the students can use speaking to learn.

Using minimal responses

Language learners who lack confidence in their ability to participate successfully in oral interaction often listen in silence while others do the talking.  One way to encourage such learners to begin to participate is to help them build up a stock of minimal responses that they can use in different types of exchanges.  Such responses can be especially useful for beginners.  Minimal responses are predictable, often idiomatic phrases that conversation participants use to indicate understanding, agreement, doubt, and other responses to what another speaker is saying.  Having a stock of such responses enables a learner to focus on what the other participant is saying, without having to simultaneously plan a response.

Recognizing scripts

Some communication situations are associated with a predictable set of spoken exchanges – a script.  Greetings, apologies, compliments, invitations, and other functions that are influenced by social and cultural norms often follow patterns or scripts.  So do the transactional exchanges involved in activities such as obtaining information and making a purchase.  In these scripts, the relationship between a speaker’s turn and the one that follows it can often be anticipated.   Instructors can help students develop speaking ability by making them aware of the scripts for different situations so that they can predict what they will hear and what they will need to say in response.  Through interactive activities, instructors can give students practice in managing and varying the language that different scripts contain.

Using language to talk about language

Language learners are often too embarrassed or shy to say anything when they do not understand another speaker or when they realize that a conversation partner has not understood them.  Instructors can help students overcome this reticence by assuring them that misunderstanding and the need for clarification can occur in any type of interaction, whatever the participants’ language skill levels.  Instructors can also give students strategies and phrases to use for clarification and comprehension check.

By encouraging students to use clarification phrases in class when misunderstanding occurs and by responding positively when they do, instructors can create an authentic practice environment within the classroom itself.  As they develop control of various clarification strategies, students will gain confidence in their ability to manage the various communication situations that they may encounter outside the classroom.


Developing Speaking Activities

Traditional classroom speaking practice often takes the form of drills in which one person asks a question and another gives an answer.  The question and the answer are structured and predictable, and often there is only one correct, predetermined answer.  The purpose of asking and answering the question is to demonstrate the ability to ask and answer the question.

In contrast, the purpose of real communication is to accomplish a task, such as conveying a telephone message, obtaining information, or expressing an opinion.  In real communication, participants must manage uncertainty about what the other person will say.  Authentic communication involves an information gap; each participant has information that the other does not have.  In addition, to achieve their purpose, participants may have to clarify their meaning or ask for confirmation of their own understanding.

To create classroom speaking activities that will develop communicative competence, instructors need to incorporate a purpose and an information gap and allow for multiple forms of expression.  However, quantity alone will not necessarily produce competent speakers.  Instructors need to combine structured output activities, which allow for error correction and increased accuracy, with communicative output activities that give students opportunities to practice language use more freely.

Structured Output Activities

Two common kinds of structured output activities are information gap and jigsaw activities. In both these types of activities, students complete a task by obtaining missing information, a feature the activities have in common with real communication.  However, information gap and jigsaw activities also set up practice on specific items of language.  In this respect they are more like drills than like communication.

Information Gap Activities

  •  Filling the gaps in a schedule or timetable: Partner A holds an airline timetable with some of the arrival and departure times missing. Partner B has the same timetable but with different blank spaces.  The two partners are not permitted to see each other's timetables and must fill in the blanks by asking each other appropriate questions.  The features of language that are practiced would include questions beginning with “when” or “at what time.” Answers would be limited mostly to time expressions like “at 8:15” or “at ten in the evening.”
  •  Completing the picture: The two partners have similar pictures, each with different missing details, and they cooperate to find all the missing details.  In another variation, no items are missing, but similar items differ in appearance.  For example, in one picture, a man walking along the street may be wearing an overcoat, while in the other the man is wearing a jacket.  The features of grammar and vocabulary that are practiced are determined by the content of the pictures and the items that are missing or different.  Differences in the activities depicted lead to practice of different verbs.  Differences in number, size, and shape lead to adjective practice.  Differing locations would probably be described with prepositional phrases.

These activities may be set up so that the partners must practice more than just grammatical and lexical features.  For example, the timetable activity gains a social dimension when one partner assumes the role of a student trying to make an appointment with a partner who takes the role of a professor.  Each partner has pages from an appointment book in which certain dates and times are already filled in and other times are still available for an appointment.  Of course, the open times don’t match exactly, so there must be some polite negotiation to arrive at a mutually convenient time for a meeting or a conference.

Jigsaw Activities

Jigsaw activities are more elaborate information gap activities that can be done with several partners. In a jigsaw activity, each partner has one or a few pieces of the “puzzle,” and the partners must cooperate to fit all the pieces into a whole picture.  The puzzle piece may take one of several forms.  It may be one panel from a comic strip or one photo from a set that tells a story.  It may be one sentence from a written narrative.  It may be a tape recording of a conversation, in which case no two partners hear exactly the same conversation.

  •  In one fairly simple jigsaw activity, students work in groups of four.  Each student in the group receives one panel from a comic strip.  Partners may not show each other their panels.  Together the four panels present this narrative: a man takes a container of ice cream from the freezer; he serves himself several scoops of ice cream; he sits in front of the TV eating his ice cream; he returns with the empty bowl to the kitchen and finds that he left the container of ice cream, now melting, on the kitchen counter.  These pictures have a clear narrative line and the partners are not likely to disagree about the appropriate sequencing.  You can make the task more demanding, however, by using pictures that lend themselves to alternative sequences, so that the partners have to negotiate among themselves to agree on a satisfactory sequence.
  •  More elaborate jigsaws may proceed in two stages.  First, students work in input groups (groups A, B, C, and D) to receive information.  Each group receives a different part of the total information for the task.  Students then reorganize into groups of four with one student each from A, B, C, and D, and use the information they received to complete the task.  Such an organization could be used, for example, when the input is given in the form of a tape recording.  Groups A, B, C, and D each hear a different recording of a short news bulletin.  The four recordings all contain the same general information, but each has one or more details that the others do not.  In the second stage, students reconstruct the complete story by comparing the four versions.

With information gap and jigsaw activities, instructors need to be conscious of the language demands they place on their students.  If an activity calls for language your students have not already practiced, you can brainstorm with them when setting up the activity to preview the language they will need, eliciting what they already know and supplementing what they are able to produce themselves.

Structured output activities can form an effective bridge between instructor modeling and communicative output because they are partly authentic and partly artificial.  Like authentic communication, they feature information gaps that must be bridged for successful completion of the task.  However, where authentic communication allows speakers to use all of the language they know, structured output activities lead students to practice specific features of language and to practice only in brief sentences, not in extended discourse.  Also, structured output situations are contrived and more like games than real communication, and the participants’ social roles are irrelevant to the performance of the activity.  This structure controls the number of variables that students must deal with when they are first exposed to new material.  As they become comfortable, they can move on to true communicative output activities.

Communicative Output Activities

Communicative output activities allow students to practice using all of the language they know in situations that resemble real settings.  In these activities, students must work together to develop a plan, resolve a problem, or complete a task.  The most common types of communicative output activity are role plays and discussions.

Role plays

Students are assigned roles and put into situations that they may eventually encounter outside the classroom.  Because role plays imitate life, the range of language functions that may be used expands considerably.  Also, the role relationships among the students as they play their parts call for them to practice and develop their sociolinguistic competence.  They have to use language that is appropriate to the situation and to the characters.

Students usually find role playing enjoyable, but students who lack self-confidence or have lower proficiency levels may find them intimidating at first. To succeed with role plays:

  •  Prepare carefully: Introduce the activity by describing the situation and making sure that all of the students understand it
  •  Set a goal or outcome: Be sure the students understand what the product of the role play should be, whether a plan, a schedule, a group opinion, or some other product
  •  Use role cards: Give each student a card that describes the person or role to be played. For lower-level students, the cards can include words or expressions that that person might use.
  •  Brainstorm: Before you start the role play, have students brainstorm as a class to predict what vocabulary, grammar, and idiomatic expressions they might use.
  •  Keep groups small: Less-confident students will feel more able to participate if they do not have to compete with many voices.
  •  Give students time to prepare: Let them work individually to outline their ideas and the language they will need to express them.
  •  Be present as a resource, not a monitor: Stay in communicative mode to answer students’ questions. Do not correct their pronunciation or grammar unless they specifically ask you about it.
  •  Allow students to work at their own levels: Each student has individual language skills, an individual approach to working in groups, and a specific role to play in the activity. Do not expect all students to contribute equally to the discussion, or to use every grammar point you have taught.
  •  Do topical follow-up: Have students report to the class on the outcome of their role plays.
  •  Do linguistic follow-up: After the role play is over, give feedback on grammar or pronunciation problems you have heard. This can wait until another class period when you plan to review pronunciation or grammar anyway.


These succeed when the instructor prepares students first, and then gets out of the way.  To succeed with discussions:

  •  Prepare the students: Give them input so that they will have something to say and the language with which to say it.
  •  Offer choices: Let students suggest the topic for discussion or choose from several options.  Discussion does not always have to be about serious issues.  Students are likely to be more motivated to participate if the topic is television programs, plans for a vacation, or news about mutual friends.  Weighty topics like how to combat pollution are not as engaging and place heavy demands on students’ linguistic competence.
  •  Set a goal or outcome: This can be a group product, such as a letter to the editor, or individual reports on the views of others in the group.
  •  Use small groups instead of whole-class discussion: Large groups can make participation difficult.
  •  Keep it short: Give students a defined period of time, not more than 8-10 minutes, for discussion. Allow them to stop sooner if they run out of things to say.
  •  Allow students to participate in their own way: Not every student will feel comfortable talking about every topic.  Do not expect all of them to contribute equally to the conversation.
  •  Do topical follow-up: Have students report to the class on the results of their discussion.
  •  Do linguistic follow-up: After the discussion is over, give feedback on grammar or pronunciation problems you have heard.  This can wait until another class period when you plan to review pronunciation or grammar anyway.

Through well-prepared communicative output activities such as role plays and discussions, you can encourage students to experiment and innovate with the language, and create a supportive atmosphere that allows them to make mistakes without fear of embarrassment.  This will contribute to their self-confidence as speakers and to their motivation to learn more.


Material for this section was drawn from “Spoken language: What it is and how to teach it” by Grace Stovall Burkart, in Modules for the professional preparation of teaching assistants in foreign languages (Grace Stovall Burkart, ed.; Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1998)

Practical Suggestions


Having good oral skills means that you can show competence in the following abilities:

  •  to understand and communicate quite complex information;
  •  to organize and present opinions, ideas and facts in an orderly and persuasive manner;
  •  to choose and evaluate relevant information from given material for particular purpose;
  •  to talk effectively about personal experience;
  •  to respond to other people’s opinions and to be able to recognize particular arguments and   opinions;
  •  to speak in an appropriate tone in various contrasting speech situations;
  •  to speak clearly, audibly and using appropriate language.

You are expected to communicate effectively in a wide range of speech situations.  These can be fairly formal or informal discussions; they could be stimulated by written texts, visual material, television or tape, or a prepared talk given by one of your group.  You may be asked to take part in a one-to-one situation (e.g. in a conversation with one other person or in an interview situation), in a role-playing exercise (e.g. taking on the role of an interviewee at a job interview) or to improvise in drama.

A Store of Speaking Activities

  •  Giving a prepared talk to a group.  Preparing a talk of two, three or four minute’s duration needs careful thought and planning.  
    1.  Once you have chosen your topic, start planning your talk.  A talk must have:
      1.  A beginning: the introduction in which you inform your audience what your subject is and how you are going to deal with it in your talk.
      2.  A middle: the development in which the main body of your talk takes place. You may divide aspects of the subject you are dealing with in each section to your listener(s).
      3.  A conclusion: this should consist of either a brief summary of the main points of the talk or a number of recommendations you would like to make concerning the topic. Never just tail off limply. Always have a definite ending so that the listeners are in no doubt that the talk has ended.

  1.  You must use notes to help you plan what you are going to say.  It is best to use a card for your notes.  Keep the notes very brief.  Brief phrases and/or key words will do.  Use headings to remind you of the main points to talk.

  1.  You must make sure that the delivery of your speech is clear and audible.

  •  Example I: “My Summer Holidays”. A card of note on the topic might look like this:


     Booked package holiday Las Palmas; with parents; fortnight in the sun; my          account of the “ups and downs”.


     First time flying: first time abroad; nervous but controlled nerves after take off.

       First few days: sunburnt – too much sunbathing; tried local foods – enjoyed; beach, trips to interesting sights; disco in evening. Made new friends.

       Leaving: very sad; exchanged addresses; flight home; presents, duty free; pouring on arrival.


       Would go back; learnt from experience – strange customs, different ways. Hope to go abroad every year from now on.

  •  Example II:  Argumentative expression on the topic “Banning Smoking”.  Its purpose to allow you to voice your own opinions and to argue the case you believe in.  You must also deal with the arguments opposed to your own view.  Draw up “For” and “Against” lists for the given topic.  You should include at least six arguments on both sides.


  •  Smoking great danger to individual/public health
  •  Even non-smokers suffer from ‘passive’ smoking
  •  Non-smokers need to be more forceful about their rights
  •  Personal freedoms dependent on doing harm to other people
  •  Medical evidence shows that non-smokers can get lung cancer from cigarette smoke around them.



  •  Smoking matter of personal freedom
  •  People against smoking are selfish
  •  Individual freedoms gradually cut down in country.
  •  Amount of smoke non-smokers inhale is minimal
  •  Mere propaganda by anti-smoking pressure groups


  •  Dialogue Building Technique helps students to develop their ability to take part in sustained conversation through activities which give controlled practice in the building blocks of conversation using dialogue building techniques such as cloze dialogues, by paying attention to exchange structure, and the short responses known as gambits, as well as through grammar practice.

  •  Example I:  Split Exchanges gets students to focus on exchange structure.

  1.  The teacher prepares cards with one part of exchange for each student in the class.  Here are some examples:
    1.  What are you doing?

    Why do you ask?

  1.  What’s up?

    I’ve lost my contact lens.

  1.  What was the film like?

    The acting was OK.

  1.  I can’t find my notes.

    Don’t worry they’ll turn up somewhere.

  1.  The problem with teenagers today is they don’t respect the age.

Oh, listen to you talk!

  1.  Jack’s leaving on the tenth.

As far as I know.

  1.  How’s he feeling?

    No idea.

  1.  I’m meeting someone on the flight from Delhi.

   Oh, I think it’s just come in.

  1.  Dinner’s ready.


  1.  Gosh it’s hot here today.

    I’m used to it.

  1.  Then he/she gives each student half of an exchange on a sheet of paper & gives them one minute to memorize what is written on the sheet before the class circulates freely.
  2.  The teacher asks each person to say aloud only the words they have been given and then listen to what is said by the others to see if anyone might have the other part of their exchange.  The students must speak to everyone.
  3.  After five minutes the teacher asks those students who think they have found a partner to move to one side of the room.  Those without the partner call out their half of the exchange to the whole group and invariably two or three people will have parts of exchanges which go together.  

  •  Example II:  The Best Years Of My Life gives students practice in the simple past forms.

  1.  The teacher asks the students to list five particularly personal significant dates on a piece of paper.
  2.  When they have done this he/she divides them into pairs and asks them to exchange information using the following basic model which you should introduce before they start:

A: I remember 2003. It was the year I had my accident. Do you remember?

B:  Yes, it was the year I … / No, not really.

  1.  The teacher goes through with a few examples with the whole class.

  •  Cooperative Activity requires the participation of each group member. All students need to participate since each student’s contribution is essential for completion of the activity.

  •  Example: Jigsaw. Each member of a group has responsibility for a specific portion of a lesson.  These members work with the members of other groups who have been given the same assignment.  They form expert groups.  Eventually, each member must learn the whole lesson by sharing information with others in his or her group.

  •  Fluency Activity provides the experience of using English in real time (i.e. people do not wait for the right or the appropriate answer in real life, as is often the case in the classroom) and the opportunity of using the language for a specific purpose (i.e. there is a genuine need to achieve something through using the language and therefore mistakes matter).

  •  Example: I hated Math – did you? The teacher prepares a task sheet along the following lines, and make photocopies for his/her class.     


Look at this list of subjects we study in school:

English                      Mathematics                   Art

Geography                 Physics                           Physical Education

Chemistry                  Biology                          Literature


 Students work individually for five minutes. They choose one of the subjects they particularly like, and list three reasons for liking this subject.  They choose one of the subjects they particularly disliked, and list three reasons for disliking this subject.  Now the teacher goes round the class and finds out if anyone liked or disliked the same subjects as the teacher.  The teacher finds out the reasons people gave for liking or disliking a subject and makes a list under the headings below:

Reasons for liking a subject                   Reasons for disliking a subject


  •  Simulation is an activity for advanced ESL learners.  Simulation simulates a real-life situation.  Students are asked to participate in a simulation concerning an actual decision-making situation.  Based on the students’ analysis of the data, as well as their experiences, readings, interviews with others, students recommend a solution to the problem.

  •  Example: Students need to decide whether to loan money to open a shoe store.


        Bob Smith 

The first national Bank Littleton, Massachusetts, has received a loan application from Bob Smith.  He wants to borrow $20,000 to start a shoe store in his hometown.  From the application itself and from conversations with people in Bob’s hometown, the loan officer has the following information to consider.

  1.  Born on a farm in western Massachusetts.
  2.  Mother died when he has six years old.
  3.  Delivered newspapers after school as a boy.
  4.  Worked while in high school as a grocery clerk every Saturday.
  5.  Bought his first car at age 18 for $300.
  6.  Used his car to deliver groceries for the local store.
  7.  Served in the army as a private for two years; no promotion.
  8.  Fined once at age 19 for speeding; no other traffic violations.
  9.  Applied at age 22 to a bank for loan of $10,000 to start a shoe store in his hometown; bank refused him the loan.
  10.  Worked as clerk in shoe store for six years; promoted to assistant manager after three years.
  11.  Has just applied at age 28 to bank for loan of $20,000 to start a shoe store in his hometown.

  •  Topics and Stories. Through stories and related activities, students can develop their understanding of the world around them and of their own ability to explore that world by hypothesizing, comparing, grouping, sequencing, etc. in different subject areas, such as: geography (e.g. describing climate, map making), science (e.g. describing habitats of animals, the food they eat, ecology), history (e.g. awareness of time and human development), art and crafts (e.g. making pictures, designs), drama and music (e.g. telling stories, miming and acting, finding music to accompany stories).

  •  Example: “Mice can…” is an activity for pre-intermediate ESL learners.
    1.  The teacher prepares pictures of a cartoon mouse and/or mice.
    2.  Then the teacher plays “Twenty questions” with the students.  The children can ask up to 20 questions to find out who the teacher is thinking of.  The teacher can help the students by sketching parts of a mouse on the board as he/she answers the questions.
    3.  The teacher discusses with the students the actions of the mouse. For instance, he/she discusses what mice and humans can/can’t do.  The following language will be useful:

            What can mice/humans do?

            Can mice/humans …?

            Can mice/humans … very well?

            Mice/humans can …? Etc.

  1.  The teacher asks the students to list all the sentences in their notebooks and to add any others they wish.
    1.  The teacher asks the students what they think of mice. Has their opinions about mice changed?

By Lindsay Wilbanks

After receiving some feedback on the newsletter, I have decided to change the organization of this section.  Instead of telling you where you can go to get the information, I have provided the information right here in the newsletter.

From Dave’s ESL Café (www.eslcafe.com):

  •  Scrambled Eggs – It works well with any age level.  First, tell the students you are labelling 3 lucky chairs on your seating chart.  Tell the students if they land in one of those seats at the end of the game they receive a prize (candy, no homework, etc.).   I begin by selecting a student to start.  That student must get out of his or her seat and approach another student and start a dialogue.  It works well for greetings. For example, the students use hello, good morning, good afternoon, How are You? Fine. Bad. Goodbye. etc.  After the conversation is over the student who began sits in the seat of the child he/she approached.  Now that student is out of a seat and must start a conversation with another student.  This continues until everyone is in a new seat.  I then reveal the winners and hand out the prizes.  Kids love this and it gets them talking.

  •  Just a Minute

Goals: Listening-Speaking; reducing stutters
Level: Intermediate-Advanced  

First, the teacher prepares some discussion topics.  The class is then divided into groups of 3-4 students.  Each group will get a number and a topic that all members have to talk about in three minutes.  The first group starts with their topic; let’s say its favourite foods, while the other groups listen.  The group members should talk about their favorite foods without stutters.  If they happen to talk out of the topic or produce any stutters, the other groups may say "just a minute!" and the group who caught them continues talking about favourite foods.  Once the three minutes is up, whichever group is speaking gets some points.  Continue with the second group and keep going until all of the groups have had the chance to start their topics.  Whoever has the most points wins.

  •  Poster for Small Talk – One big problem can be getting the students to talk to each other in English both inside and outside of class.  First, make a poster with common “small talk” questions on it.  Things like “How was work today?” or “Did you have a good day at school?” or whatever topics your students are interested in.  After explaining what you want the students to do, at the start of class, point at the poster and stay silent for 5 minutes.  The students should talk to each other, not to you, and practice their conversation skills.  Once the students are used to the idea, encourage them to speak to each other before the class begins, encouraging them that whoever is speaking in English when the teacher walks in will get a prize.

  •  The Lying Game (Variation) - Here is game for Advanced Learners. Each student (and teacher) has to create three lies about themselves and one truth.  A grid is drawn on the board (see example below) with the students’ names in rows going across, and lies/truth 1 to 4 going down.  The students then fill in their 4 statements and after all of the grid is filled, the “Interrogation Phase” begins.  The students one by one ask questions about each subject, trying to discover whether s/he is lying or not.  It requires focused listening skills and lying well requires a high level of speaking ability.  The winner is the one whom nobody guesses his truth.  Second place goes to the one guesses most of the truths. Tell your students ahead of time about the activity and give them a few days to come up with lies/truth, this way they really come up with some great stories.

Sally May

Jon Smith

Bob Green

Peggy Sue

Statement #1

Statement #2

Statement #3

Statement #4

  •  Making Up Stories - A way of learning English for intermediate/advanced students is to make up stories in a team effort.  Just divide your class into groups of 3-4 (or whatever).  Give them a set of 7-8 pieces of paper with a word on each card.  These words have preferably no connection whatsoever at first glance.  You can colorfully illustrate your words on the card with drawings, magazine cut or other pictures.  Then, have them make up stories using ALL the words provided.  The funnier, the better!  For instance, the following words were given to a group of students in our class: beer, bicycle, padlock, coffee maker, ice chest, camera, baby wipes. Their story came out to be like this (no editing or corrections added!): "Sam and Betty wake up to the smell of coffee from the coffee maker.  Sam who likes beer, put some beer in the ice chest.  He goes by bicycle to the beach and locks the bicycle with a padlock.  Betty goes by bus with the baby, bringing the baby wipes and a camera to take photos."  

  •  Rapid Fire Question/Answer Routine - Make picture cards the size of business cards containing a variety of pictures such as trains, tennis players, sushi etc.  Each game set should contain between 70-90 different pictures.  One set may be used with a group of 6 students so you will need to make a lot of cards.  The students spread all the cards out in front of them.  The students begin a simple conversation about a card: A: “How do you come to work?” B: “By train.”  All of the students would then search for the train card.  The first one to touch/slap it keeps it.  The person with the most cards at the end is the winner.  Sharp students can anticipate the answer before it is read and have a slight, but not great advantage over slower students who hear the answer about 3 seconds after the question is read.  On the other side of the cards make a different game containing answers to questions written out.  For example; No, I won’t. Yes, I have, etc.  A student asks a question and the first person to find the answer keeps it.  After the first game is over have the students rotate so that all the first place winners compete with each other and all the second place winners compete with each other and so on.  Winners of the second game get an award.
  •  Talkathon - It is a game in which one student is called to the front of the class and is handed or pointed out an object.  The object could just be a common classroom object (e.g. pencil) or it could be a personal object of the student’s (e.g. necklace).  The student is then timed as he/she talks as long as possible, without stopping for more than 5 seconds, about this object.  For example, ‘This is a pencil. It is made of wood. It has a sharp point. It is used for writing, etc....’ or, ‘This is my necklace. I got it from my grandmother when I left my country to come here, etc...’  The winner is the student who can speak the longest, or who is able to reach the time limit (3 minutes?).  To maximize the talking in the class, the class can be put into small groups, and each group member can take a turn at the game.  The other group members could agree on the object to be talked about.  This is a fun game for developing fluency of speech and creativity, as the students eventually figure out ingenious ways of extending their conversations.
  •  Cup of Conversation Variation - Make slips of paper with questions or statements on them and put them into a cup or basket.  Go around the class and have each student choose one slip of paper.  Give them a minute to think about their answer or opinion about the statement.  Students then find a partner and tell them about what is on their paper.  After each partner has talked about what is on their slip of paper they trade papers and find a new partner.  This activity is a good ice breaker or general warm up activity.
  •  You're so Moody! - Go through the list and make sure students understand the “moods”. Cut up the list and place moods in a hat. (It helps to give the students a copy of the list also to help them remember all of the different moods.)  Give each student a sentence (listed on the right).  Students have to say or act out the sentence in the mood that they took from the hat.

Happy    You are my best friend.
Angry    I really love apple pie.
Sad    Angela is the best teacher.
Surprised   No one is going on the trip.
Distressed   I studied all night long.
Lovingly   You hurt my feelings.
Ashamed   My dog is named Pepper.
Tired    I hate going to the doctor.
Excited   My sister is in Jamaica.
Bored    Do you like your classes?
Mysterious   You shouldn’t say that!
Cowardly   Who told you that?
Unsympathetic   Is that true?
Agitated   I can’t believe it!
Hopeful   Why are you bothering me?
Enraged   Why is the sky blue?

  •  I Saw a Thief!

Level: Lower-intermediate
Time: 20-25 minutes

This is a lesson on describing appearances.  It even works well in large classes!  First teach/ revise vocabulary: parts of the body, hair color, eye color, clothes etc.  Add distinguishing features for fun: scars, tattoos, earrings, etc.  Next, explain the job of a Police Artist - this person creates a drawing from a witness's description.  Then, ask the class to form pairs. Student A is the Police Artist, Student B is the witness.  Tell all the witnesses they have just seen a thief rob the bank!  They must describe the person to the artist, who draws the picture.  Finally, ask the artists to hold up their pictures and describe the thief to the class.

*Another idea is to call an artist to the blackboard.  Different students can add to the description as the artist draws.

  •  Question Relay for Huge Classes

Level: beginner-intermediate
Time: 5-15 minutes

First, review question words: who, what, why, when, where, how etc.  The teacher asks a student a question.  Student answers, then calls to another student and asks them a question.  Rules: The students can’t ask the same question twice and they can't begin with the same question word twice in a row.




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