Yakkity Yak! Talk Back! 20+ Tips & Resources for Improving Speaking Skills

I remember in my first years of teaching English I often struggled with providing speaking opportunities for all my students. I had to overcome a few obstacles, which included getting all my 20+ students to speak in one class, motivating them to speak English versus their native language, and encouraging shy students to speak. Another problem was finding a way to assess the speaking in order to prepare my students to successfully complete the speaking portion of their tests. Throughout the years I have collected resources that have helped me motivate my learners to speak English. I hope they are as helpful for you as they have been for me.

Tips and Resources for In Class Dialogue

Set-up your classroom to encourage dialogue.

  • 2 desks or chairs facing each other is great for pair work.
  • Chairs in a circle is great for whole class discussions.
  • Try having comfortable furniture like a sofa or pillows on the floor for diversity.

Divide students up in pairs or groups and walk around the class and take observation notes discreetly to be shared later when you provide feedback.
Give feedback afterwards so you do not interrupt the flow of the conversation.

  • Provide these written notes to each student privately so the student isn’t embarrassed in the class.
  • You can also point out general errors during whole class feedback.

Have students record themselves having the conversation with either their cellphones or provide them recorders.
Have students suggest topics they would like to discuss in order to ensure they have an interest in the topic.
Play games or use icebreakers to add some fun!
Have students provide the vocabulary and materials to spark the conversation! These are a few ideas:

Suggested Tools

These free tools helped my learners improve their speaking skills! Click on the links to discover ways learners used the tools!

  • Skype– Check out 21 Skype Resources. Skype in guest experts your students can interview, or Skype with other classes around the world!
  • VoiceThread– Students can upload images, papers, movies, etc and have several commenting options
  • Voxopop– Online message board where students record audio over a specific topic or theme
  • Voki– Students speak through speaking avatars they customize
  • Vocaroo– Audio recording tool based online where students record messages
  • Blabberize– Free tool for students to add mouths and dialogue to images
  • Fotobabble– Free tool for students to narrate uploaded images


There are several chatbot sites that are great for English language learners. The student simply types in the dialogue and the chatbot will respond.

  • BELL– A female chatbot that responds to messages typed in by children and adults. Read Anne Hodgson’s article on her experience talking with Bell, The Chatbot and I: Grammar and Pragmatics. In this article she has you examine if the conversation is human like or robot like.
  • ESLFast– Students can speak with Tutor Mike, a male bot, or the female shopping bot. There are many dialogue examples on the right side of the website. English language learners can listen and read the various dialogues for various situations.
  • Elbot– This is a robot that chats with students. Click on the red button on his stomach to chat with him.

Mobile Apps

Talking Tom
Story Robe

What ideas do you have to motivate your learners to speak?

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Shelly Terrell is the VP of Educator Outreach for Parentella and the Social Media Community Manager for The Consultants-E. She is also the co-organizer and co-creator of the award winning educational projects, Edchat, ELTChat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference, and the Virtual Round Table conference. Visit her award winning blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, for resources for effective technology integration. In the fall of 2011 find her book, The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators on Amazon. Find her on Twitter, @ShellTerrell. She has taught toddlers to adults English in various countries including the US, Germany, and Greece.


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