ESL Conversation Starters

Instructor: Erin Rowe

Erin is currently teaching English at a university in South Korea and has a Master's degree in Education.

Sometimes, getting your students to speak in an ESL class can be like pulling teeth. These activities will help students gain confidence in speaking and increase their motivation to learn the English language.

Sparking Conversation Among ESL Students

As an ESL teacher, you know that getting students to speak up in class can be challenging. Often, students feel embarrassed due to their imperfect language skills, which is why it's important to help students understand that it's OK to make mistakes, particularly when learning a foreign language. You can also use the following in-class conversation starters to get students talking in the ESL classroom.

Question and Answer

On the first day of class, most students are feeling incredibly anxious. This first-day activity will help students come out of their shell and help you gauge their skills with English pronunciation.

How to Play

At the beginning of the class, tell the students that they are all going to have the opportunity to ask the teacher one question. There is one simple rule: A question that has already been asked by a student can not be repeated. It can be very helpful to write a variety of question words on the board before this activity begins.

As the Q&A begins and the most common questions are asked, it's interesting to watch students try to think of another question once the question they have been thinking of gets asked. Sometimes, a student struggles to think of a question, so give that student some 'thinking time' and come back to them at the end. The game gets really fun when the teacher decides to get the students to guess what their answer will be for a certain question.

Interview Your Partner

This activity is great to use the first day of class, as it will encourage students to get to know each other by learning personal details about their classmates. If you are teaching a 4-skills class (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), this activity translates well into a writing task by having students write a paragraph about their respective partners. This task also practices students' reading, speaking, and listening skills.

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