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Speaking Activities for ESL, ESOL & TEFL Students

By VIPKid  |  December 26, 2017

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I always tell online ESL teachers – who come to me for tips – to consider ESL Speaking Activities and games as an important teaching tool while helping their students develop speaking skills. These games can allow us to achieve what text-based content cannot.

Here are some of the reasons why I think speaking games and activities must be included in your lessons;

  • Activities and games are more interactive – Speaking is all about interaction. As a teacher, you simply cannot expect your student to learn from books and your lectures. Their speaking skills can only develop through practice and students can only do that when they are allowed to communicate and interact with the teacher. This interaction can be facilitated with the help of interactive games and activities.
  • Games help overcome the language barrier – One of the biggest barriers of teaching students where English is not their primary language is the language barrier. It is quite possible that your students may not be able to understand English, which means you cannot communicate with them during the lesson. In these situations, you can use games and activities to overcome this language barrier. Once they learn the basic words and sentences, you can focus on more advanced content and help the students develop their speaking skills.
  • Games can make the students more confident – One of the major reasons why students are unable to speak fluently in English is the fear of making mistakes. This fear cripples their confidence and the students fail to speak the language properly. Confidence is one of the keys to developing effective speaking skills. The fun element in games and activities allows the students to be more relaxed, which encourages them to communicate with the teacher more and the more they speak, the more confident they get.
  • The learning process becomes more enjoyable – Your students can only perform well when they retain the information you deliver. In order to make your lessons more memorable, you have to make them enjoyable by adding relevant games and activities. The element of fun motivates the student to learn faster and retain more information.

Speaking is the most important part of teaching English to kids, and speaking activities can be a huge help in the learning process. During speaking exercises, students are able to activate their vocabulary and practice what they have learned so far.

Therefore, it is crucial to organize ESOL speaking activities so that they are both fun and engaging, even if it can be a real challenge. ESL students do not always enjoy the speaking activities that much, because some students feel shy and awkward, especially when working with people they do not know. In this article, we will share some exciting ESL speaking activities that could break the ice and encourage the students to start speaking another language without being afraid of their mistakes.

Learn the different styles and approaches in teaching English to kids.

ESL Conversational Games for Students

1. Acquaintance Speaking Games

esol speaking activities

This is especially appropriate for students who are learning English in a group and do not know each other yet. There are plenty of quick and fun TEFL conversation games that let the students get to know each other, and practice the language at the same time. You can also do this one-on-one as a student-teacher game, but it’s more difficult to get the student to engage.

One speaking game is as follows: the students stand up in a circle and the teacher tells them his or her name and an English word that begins with the same letter that is somewhat related to the teacher’s personality. For example, “Terry – teacher”.

A student who is standing next to the teacher should repeat the teacher’s name, the word, and then say his or her own name with a word. For example, “Steve – student”. The next student should repeat the names and the words, i.e. “Terry – teacher”, “Steve – student”, and then again say his or her own name with a word, and so on.

This is an engaging way to introduce students to ESL conversation activities.

2. Yes/No Speaking Activity

During this ESL speaking activity, students work in pairs and interview each other by asking different biographical questions, the answers to which should not contain any “yes” or “no” words. This makes the game more conversational, as it takes away their go-to words for answering questions.

You can also replace the “yes” and “no” words with other frequently used words, or ban more words to up the difficulty. The pairs are constantly changed based on the winners.

3. Arguments Conversation Game

This ESL conversation game is suitable for intermediate and upper-intermediate students. The students work in pairs, pretending to be journalists working for a magazine or newspaper. They need to choose one of three pictures for an article on a specific topic.

Each student should choose a different picture and use arguments to support their choices. In the end, both students should reach a common conclusion. The arguments can also be discussed in the form of a debate.

4. Letter Flashcards

This game is suitable for kids or beginner ESOL students. The teacher holds up a letter flashcard, while the students should search the room to find a corresponding object that begins with that letter.

It can also be played as a competition between two teams.

5. “What’s Your Secret?” Conversation Game

During this ESL conversation activity, the students write down different facts about themselves on pieces of paper. The teacher collects these papers, mixes them and reads each fact one-by-one, while the group of students guess which fact belongs to each student.

6. Descriptive Drawing Games

During the descriptive drawing ESL activities, the students also work in pairs, where one student gives instructions to another student to draw something. There are a lot of variations on this, but ultimately it’s up to you.

Be as creative as you want to be with your ESL activities.

7. Guessing games

During the guessing ESL conversation activities, the students try to guess the name of a famous person or celebrity by asking a series of yes/no questions. You can choose as many questions as you want or even allow students to ask for hints in the language they’re learning.

8. Describing The Objects

Each student picks up or brings an object to the class, describes it, and answers the other students’ and teacher’s questions regarding the object. Think of it as ESOL show and tell.

9. Charades

The teacher or one of the students secretly tells another student any word, and that person should explain the word to the class by using mimics and gestures. The other students will try to guess the world.

The student who guesses the word correctly gets his or her own word and becomes the next explainer.

10. Storytelling Games

During the storytelling activities for ESL students, the teacher starts a story with one sentence, and then each student should continue the story by adding their own sentences.

11. Comics Descriptions

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12. Spelling Bee

The teacher gives a student a word and the student should spell this word correctly in English.

13. Two Truths and A Lie

A teacher or a student says three facts, one of which is a lie, and other students should guess this lie.

Of course, this list is not extensive and there are more ESL speaking activities for adults and kids. We hope that these TEFL conversation activities will help your students feel more comfortable in the class and enjoy the learning process.

If you’re a teacher on the VIPKid platform, most of these ESOL activities can be adapted for use in the digital classroom. It just may take a little bit of creativity.

Things to consider while doing ESL speaking activities with your students

If you want your speaking activities to get good results and help your students achieve the learning goals, which you set for them then you must choose your speaking activities carefully.

Here are a few things you need to remember while picking an activity:

The activities should not be too complicated – In order to make them effective, your speaking activities or games must not be too complicated. The chances are your ESL students are not that familiar with the English language, therefore, an activity that involves complex sentences and complicated playing rules will not be properly understood by the students. Keep your games simple and easy to understand.

The activities must involve the students – Yes, you are a teacher and you need to teach but you also need to let your students participate. Therefore, if you are the only one talking during your speaking activity then your students will probably not learn much. Make these activities interactive, so they encourage your students to participate more. This will not only help them learn more but also develop and improve their communication skills.

The activities must be related to your lessons – The objective of using ESL speaking games is to teach your students the language. That is why the games or activities you pick must be related to your lessons and must have a clearly defined learning objective. If you play random games that have nothing to do with what you plan to teach, then you will only waste your students’ time.

ESOL Speaking Activities

To be added in “the things to consider while picking an activity”

The activity should be too long – Unless you do not plan to teach anything in your class, your activity for a class should not be too long. If your games take too much of your time, then you will not be able to cover your syllabus and your students may not achieve their learning objectives. Moreover, if ESOL speaking activities go on for too long, then there is a fair chance that your students will lose interest in it and consequently the motivation to learn new things.  

Games should be age-appropriate – Yes, speaking games and activities can be used for both adults and children, however, the type of activity you pick should be according to the age of your students. The games that adults respond to well may not have the same results when it comes to children. Moreover, if your students are grownups and your activities too childish, then the students may not take the games or you seriously.  

Keep reminding your students why the game is being played – There could be times when your students, especially, children may become too involved in the game and forget the purpose of the game. You should keep reminding the students about their learning objectives and what they are required to learn from it otherwise you will end up playing just a game that will waste everyone’s time.

ESL speaking activity

Pet stories – You can also ask the students to prepare a 1-2-minute speech about their pets or favorite animals. They can describe things like the animal’s color, gender, favorite toy and favorite thing to do etc. Not only will this activity encourage them to talk, it is also a kind of a topic that people usually love to discuss.

Share your favorite book – You can tell the students to bring their favorite book to the classroom and then ask each student to tell the entire class what their book is all about, who their favorite character is and why do they like them. These basic questions can be a great way to develop English speaking skills.

Create a story – You can ask your students to create a story from one main word, which you will select and write on the board. Each student should be asked to add 3-5 lines to the story. This can be a fun ESL speaking activity that will get everyone involved and talking.

An improv class – You can give your students a scene or a situation and tell them to create a full scene with dialogues. The students will have to think on their feet and have on the spot conversations. This could be a great way to improve their confidence and their speaking skills.

Tell me the way – You can pair up your students for this activity. One member of the team will ask where a certain place is while the other member will give directions to that place.

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