Use this easy method to get the conversation rolling!
Teachers want their students to talk as much as possible, since conversation practice helps students improve their pronunciation and listening skills, and allows them to put the grammar and vocabulary they’ve learned to use. Speaking is a fundamental part of communication in another language. But sometimes, getting students to speak is a real challenge! Textbooks, filled with written work and drill-type activities, aren’t always helpful. So what can teachers do?
Fear not! Remember that students usually want to talk. Their favorite types of activities are generally ones that involve communication and interaction. Providing students with fun speaking activities, therefore, will almost always be met with an enthusiastic response. Give my favorite speaking activity a try!
By having students write their own questions, you are getting them directly involved in the conversation before it even begins! They are also more likely to listen to each other’s answers (something that is often a challenge) because they want to hear how others will respond to their questions. Usually, you will end up with funny, interesting questions that students are interested in discussing.
- Cut up enough small squares or strips of blank paper so that each student gets five squares. To save trees, use the back of used paper!
- Pass out five squares to each student.
- Get students to write one question on each of the five squares. You can provide a topic, such as “travel” for lower levels, or “controversial issues” for higher levels. You could also choose whatever topic you’ll be discussing in class that day/week. Sometimes I even give “your choice” of topics to the students, and I find that this ends up being the most fun…it allows them to ask silly or creative questions.
- Circulate and correct students’ vocab and grammar as they are writing out their questions. (This also allows you to check that nothing inappropriate is being asked.)
- Put the students into small groups of three or four. I’ve found that small groups provides students with ample speaking time as well as with a good variety of opinions.
- You can set a time limit (such as 20 minutes) if you’d like. For groups that finish quickly, you can give them some questions that another group has already used.
- You can follow up as a class after all the groups are finished. You could ask something like, “What was the funniest or most interesting thing your group talked about?”
- Do this activity as a whole class. That way, the students will get to hear all of their questions being asked and responded to, which is fun for them.
- You can ask the same question to more than one student, too. Keep the conversation going by asking if others agree or disagree with a student’s response.
- Keep in mind that shy students have trouble speaking in front of the rest of their classmates. Solve this by keeping the atmosphere informal and allowing students’ answers to be short. Jump in with prompts or interjections to keep them talking, if need be. Remind students that this isn’t a presentation, just natural conversation practice.
- Since this variation will take the most time, set a limit, for example 20 questions a day. You can then continue to use these students’ questions as a warm-up every day for a week or so, if you’d like!
- I’ve found that doing this activity as a class really allows classmates to bond with each other.
- Put the students into pairs. While this way won’t provide them with many opinions, they will get in the most speaking time.
- You can follow up as a class after all the pairs are finished. You could ask something like, “What was the funniest or most interesting thing you and your partner talked about?”
- This variation works well in private or semi-private lessons, too.