ESL Conversation & Speaking Activities

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

While ESL students will have a lot of exposure to English conversation, this doesn't mean they'll have the skills or comfort level needed to initiate and maintain English conversations on their own. Continue reading to learn about some conversation and speaking activities that will get your students talking.

Conversation and Speaking Activities

Your approach to English as a Second Language (ESL) activities will most likely vary according to the age and speaking level of your students. Activities that may seem fun for young English language learners may not be as appealing to adult professionals; this is why you will want to vary the approach or content depending upon your audience. Modifications and suggestions for these varying approaches are included with each activity description. Let's get started!

Role Play

Create a topic, theme, or sentence starter to get a pair of students talking; you can model the activity with another student first. In front of the class, two participants try to keep a conversation going until they are told to 'freeze'. At this point, two other participants will be called forward to keep the conversation going.

This can be a more serious game for business or adult professionals, or it can be a silly game for students of all ages. Write themes, sentence frames, or key vocabulary words on the board as cues to help students out if they get stuck. Additionally, if you want to make this a team challenge, write bonus cues on the board; when students use these cues, they earn bonus points for their teams.

Roll a Story

This is a fun game that encourages imagination and the ability to think on the spot. At the start of the game, create three columns on the board: character, plot, and setting. Number six different options under each heading. These options can be tailored to particular vocabulary words, themes, or topics you're covering in class, as well as tailored to the ages and speaking levels of your students.

In whole or small group settings, students first roll a dice to determine the character they will be. Rolling a number 3 means they will talk about the type of character listed as number 3 under the character heading. Next, students roll the dice to determine the setting of the story. Then, they roll the dice to determine the plot of the story. Once they have all three elements, they do their best to tell a story to the class, or to their group. Here are some fun examples you can use for each heading:

Character

  • A confused clown
  • A movie star
  • A grumpy old man

Plot

  • Was given ten million dollars
  • Found a magic lamp
  • Found a treasure map

Setting

  • On a pirate ship
  • At the zoo
  • On an airplane

Mystery Guests

This is an activity to encourage questioning skills among your students. Participants can be in a whole or small group with two to five participants. One participant, the guesser, will leave the room, while the other participants, the guests, are given secret identities. When the 'guesser' returns to the room, he or she will use questioning skills and context clues to identify each person's secret identity. Once a guest has been identified, he or she will sit down. Once all guests have been identified, new participants get a chance to play the guesser.

Make sure to keep the students' learning levels in mind when choosing the guests' secret identities. Some examples can be taken from the character lists in the 'Roll a Story' game, or you can have students secretly write down ideas on paper for participants to pull out of a hat.

Conversation Fun Cards

Make a set of conversation cards according to the ages and learning levels of your students. These cards will have conversation starting questions that help get students talking. They can be serious, funny, or themed (getting to know you, seasonal, cultural, etc.). Use these cards to teach students higher-order questioning skills and how to find more information. Here are a variety of examples you can use:

Beginner

  • What is your favorite food? Why?
  • Do you like school? Why or why not?
  • Do you like sports? Why or why not?

Intermediate

  • What do you like to do in your free time? Why?
  • Which is more important, exercise or sleep? Why?
  • What type of job would you like to have? Why?

Advanced

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