ESL Activities and Games to get your students Speaking English
If you talk to your ESL students, they'll usually cite speaking as the most important skill for them to learn. After all, most people want to learn English to be able to go traveling abroad, make foreign friends, or use it at their job to interact in a business setting and speaking is the most vital component for all these things.
I have lots of speaking activities for ESL students that you can use in your English as a second language classroom to help get your ESL students speaking English. Your ESL students will be having so much fun that they hardly realize they're speaking and your ESL Lesson plans will be made in no time!
Read on for plenty of ESL speaking activities and games for kids as well as adults, that are designed by an experience teacher with years of classroom experience. These speaking activities and games are guaranteed to work and are classroom tried and tested over 10 years.
120-90-60 Fluency Activity
An excellent addition to any ESL Lesson Plan
If you want to help your students speak more quickly/ fluently, this is the perfect activity for you. Give your students a topic that they know a lot about. For example: good/bad points about their university, or hometown. I often give 1/2 the students one topic and then other 1/2 another just to make it a bit more interesting. Give them a few minutes to prepare, depending on their level. But, emphasize that they should just write one-two words for each point, and not full sentences.
Then, with a partner, they have to give their speech and talk continuously for 2 minutes, while their partner listens. I use an online stopwatch that the students can see via projector. 2 more minutes and they switch roles.
Then, they have to find a new partner and the activity repeats, except they have to include ALL the same information as before, just in 90 seconds. Then, switch again, and 60 more seconds. For lower level students, you can adjust the times to make them shorter.
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39 ESL Speaking Activities for Teenagers and Adults
Describing Something Guessing Game: an ESL Speaking Exercise
This is a simple warm-up game that you can use to generate some interest in a topic. Make up a handout with pictures or names of famous people (around 20). Give some hints, such as, "He's American," "He's black," "He's a sport player," "He plays golf." By this time, the students will have guessed Tiger Woods. They will then cross Tiger Woods off their list. Turn it over to the students and they will take turns describing the people to each other.
This game would also work for almost any topic (animals/food/clothes)
Four Corners - My top choice for general English as a Foreign Language Textbook
If you're looking for a book that covers all 4 skills, but that is slanted towards speaking activities, this should be your top choice (along with World Link). It broadly falls into the communicative approach category, as all of the activities are designed to foster actual communication between students. In addition, the vocab and grammar sections are thoughtful and easy to understand, and the topics are generally quite interesting, as least for Korean university students.
Telling a story: An ESL Conversation Activity
In ESL Textbooks, there are usually pages with discussion starters that involve telling a story.
Instead of getting the students to talk together and the activity being over in 1 minute (or less!), I often do it in a discussion style if there are less than 10 students. I give the students 2 minutes to pick one of the discussion starters and think of how they are going to tell the story to the class. Then, the students tell their stories and the other students (and me) can ask them a few questions (maybe 2 or 3 questions to each person).
ESL Speaking: Why and How to Give Feedback
Quiz Show Review Game
A fun ESL Speaking Activity for kids
One of my favorite exam review games is a "Jeopardy" style quiz game.
I make up categories from stuff that is on the test: "Vocab, grammar, movies, body" I think of questions that range from easy ($100) to difficult ($500). I put the students in groups of 3 or 4 and the they have to pick their category and question. They can pick whatever they want, but the key is that if they get it correct, they obviously get the points. If wrong, they get minus that number. I put in a few +/- 500/1000 to make it more interesting.
ESL Speaking Activity: Role-Plays
A Group Speaking Project for ESL Students
Students can go in groups of 2-6. They have to choose a problem such as global warming, eating junk food, human rights in North Korea, etc. and make a poster about it.
Then, they have to do a presentation about their poster. I take off points for reading from a script, and copying from the internet and give points for interesting and clear speaking. Each student in the group has to talk for 1-2 minutes.
Video Logging for ESL Students
Technology in the ESL Classroom
I recently taught a class where the students have been doing blogging and vlogging (video). It's been pretty fun to teach, because it's the kind of stuff that I actually like doing in my real life. And the students seemed interested in doing things involving technology.
Blogging was made very easy by using Blogger. I made a class blog with links to all the personal blogs. Video Logging was more difficult to organize because I had a hard time getting equipment from my school. However, I figured out how to use Imovie on my Macbook. Or, you can use an Iphone or something similar. Then, upload them to Youtube and put it on the class website.
The Memory Circle ESL Game
This is a game that I often use with smaller (less than 10 students) and younger students (middle/elementary school) but I've also used it with uni students with good results.
You can make a rule as to what kind of words or grammar the students can pick.
Everyone will stand up, in a circle, and I will start the game off. "I ate pizza last night." The next student says, "She ate pizza last night, and I studied yesterday." The next student, "She ate pizza last night, he studied yesterday and I watched TV." And so on it goes, around the circle. If someone misses and gets it incorrect, they have to sit down and the game is over. I usually let it go until there are 2 or 3 people left and then I give them a prize of some sort and start over with the same rules, or a new set of criteria.
ESL Casino Wheel Speaking Activity
Draw a Picture....with someone else describing it
This is a fun way to practice body parts or descriptives (big, small, long, etc). The students sit back to back and one person is the “talker” and the other one is the “drawer” The person talking describes something that they’re looking at to their partner (a face, body, city, etc) and that person draws what they hear. The results are usually hilarious!
Design a product and advertisement
Task-Based Learning for ESL Students
This is an interesting longer-term group project that you can do. Students have to come up with a new product and then design a poster explaining it in detail. You can give them some class-time to talk with their groups and get some ideas going. Make sure you give final approval before any idea is chosen. Then, the students can do either one or two presentations.
The first one could be simply explaining the product, it's value, why they designed it, etc.
The second presentation could be a 30 or 60 second TV advertisement. They can do it live in person, or video it, put it up on Youtube and then just show the video in class.
Or, you could combine this into 1 single day. Perhaps a live explanation and then a pre-done video.
Speaking of Speech - My top textbook choice for an ESL Speech Class
Public Speaking and Presentation is a sub-skill of general speaking, but it's actually quite important. I love teaching Public Speaking because students can apply what they've learned in my class to other things like job interviews, or in a business setting, etc. You can actually teach a helpful skill. And actually, there's no better way to teach public speaking than by using Speaking of Speech. It's very well laid-out and hits the basics of how to give an effective presentation by using the physical message, the visual message and the story message.
The Expert, "ESL Student Style"
This is a fun intermediate/advanced conversation kind of activity. I get the students to write down 5 things that they are an expert in. I do my own list first by way of example. I'm an expert in:
1. Scuba Diving
2. Teaching English
4. Reality TV
Once they've written their lists, I get them to circle the 3 that they think will be most interesting to the other students in the class. Next, divide them up into groups of 2 and give them about 5 or 6 minutes to ask some questions to their partner about things they are experts in.
I like this activity because I think people tend to forget they are actually talking English, if they're talking about stuff they're passionate about. And it's interesting because you can keep changing partners.
Read an Internet Story
It's not exactly "speaking practice," but reading an Internet Story is a good way to get your students practicing reading out-loud and focusing on pronunciation of words. My favorite site is: Bedtime Story. They have a range of stories from basic beginner to more advanced, that can be read in about 5-30 minutes. Go around the class and have each student read a line, or paragraph, depending on the story and class level.
More Speaking Activities for your ESL lesson plan
- ESL Speaking: Games, Activities, and Resources
- Speaking and icebreaker activities
Many ideas here
Lots of excellent speaking activities too!
Partner Conversation Starter for ESL Students
A fun thing I do in class is partner conversations. For example, today we were talking about feelings.
So I gave them this conversation to get started. A. Hey _____, how are you doing? B. I'm great, how are you? A. I'm _______ (sad, embarrassed, angry, bored). B. Oh? What's wrong? A._____ B._________ A.__________ etc, etc.
I gave them about 10 minutes to write the conversation with their partner. You can adjust the number of lines to suit the ability level. Then, I have them memorize it, so that they can recite it without their paper. Then, they stand up in front of the class and everyone listens.
I'll give a reward for the team that is the most interesting or funny, has good grammar and clear speaking.
This is definitely not an everyday kind of thing because it does get boring if you do it too often but I find that once every 10 classes or so is perfect.
An interactive speaking activity for EFL
One of my favorite things to do is survey type activities, where the students have a sheet of paper with some questions and they need to find one of their classmates who fits each slot. Today, we're doing questions such as "Do you travel sometimes?" or, "Are you a university student?" Then, if their partner answers yes, they write down their name and ask them one more question to elicit an extra piece of information. They have to walk around the class, talking to everyone because they can only write each student's name in one slot.
I like it because students can get out of it, what they put into it. The students who are serious about English will actually speak English, and ask good, thoughtful questions.
I try to prep the activity well, before I turn students loose, saying what I'm looking for: only speaking English, talking to everybody, writing the answers in English. And I get the students to ask me a couple of questions on the paper as an example.
More Speaking Activities for ESL Students - ...to help your students learn English
- Logic Puzzles and Trivia for ESL students
These books are excellent resources to help make your classes interesting and fun. Well worth the money!
- Tesol Zone
Plenty of excellent ESL Speaking ideas here.
- ESL Flow
Interviews, surveys and icebreakers
ESL Speaking Bingo
In a smaller (less than 12 or 14 students) class, this can be a very fun activity. Have a list of about 40-50 vocab words that you've been studying. If you use less, the game will be over very quickly. Give the students a pre-made paper, or have them draw a 5x5 grid. They fill in the grid from the list of words on the board. Then, choose someone to go first (rocks, scissor, paper/ draw numbers out of a hat). The first student describes a word, but doesn't actually say the word. The next person describes another word. And on it goes, just like a regular bingo game, but the students are speaking the whole time.
An ESL Speaking Activity to Practice Asking Questions
This is a very fun game that I've played with 7-25 year olds and everyone seemed to have a pretty good time. I wrote out a bunch of animals on slips of paper. Then I put them in groups of 2 or 3, and the groups would each get 2 or 3 animals/person. The first person, picks a paper, but doesn't look at it and shows her group members. Then she'll ask yes/no questions about it until she can figure out the animal. Ex: "Does it have 4 legs? Can it swim? Does it eat meat?"
I've also done this with jobs and other things, depending on what we're studying that week or month.
If you're studying about directions (go straight, left, right, turn-around, stop, etc) this is a really fun activity. Blindfold one student and put them at the starting point. The other students have to give them directions so they can get to the finish point without bumping into anything. Even more fun is to go outside and set up some "obstacles" such as chairs, or make a course with checkpoints that the students have to get to.
A sample speaking test for University ESL Students
This is a final exam that I used for the book, "TOP NOTCH 1." I pick 2 random people to be partners. Then, they have to ask each other 5 questions, one from each section. They can't ask their partner the same question that they were asked. I listen and grade on things such as grammar, fluency, pronunciation etc.
Top Notch 1 Final Exam:
#1. How often do you ____________?
What can you do? What can you NOT do?
What do you have to do? What do you NOT have to do?
#3 (Give 3 reasons in your answer)
Where do you usually buy your clothes? Why?
Are you healthy or unhealthy? Why?
#4. Big/bigger, etc. There will be a picture. You have to make a sentence. (No question from partner).
How long was your last vacation?
How was the weather yesterday?
Were there any problems on your way to school today?
Was your teacher late today?
There's always that unit in the book with "Can/ Can't" for possibility/impossibility and "should/shouldn't" for advice. Here is my fabulously fun way to introduce it, such that even the lowest of the low classes, quietest of the quietest classes will participate.
Tell them you want to go on vacation somewhere in Korea and need their advice.
"Where should I go?"
Collect some answers. I usually choose Jeju Island, for reasons you'll see later.
"Should I go in summer?" Yes, no, etc.
"So what can I do there?" Blah, blah.
"How can I get there?" Airplane? "Can I swim?" Hahaha! Crazy teacher. No, you can't.
Elicit some answers and have a bit of fun with it. Write up on the board/PPT:
Where should I go?/ Should I.....?
What can I do there? Can I....?
and you're good to go!
You can follow it up with some scenarios for each group of students. Example: A family with teenagers, or a businesswoman are visiting their city from overseas and need some advice.
You can use this to review whatever you’re studying. Verbs works especially well. Write out some phrases or words that can be easily acted out on small pieces of paper and put them in an envelope.
Divide the class up into 2 teams. The first team sends one person up to the front and they have to act out as many things as they can in 2 minutes, with their team shouting out the answer. Then the next team goes. You can do as many rounds as you want, and of course give a small prize to the winning team!
Daily Schedule ESL Speaking Activity
It seems that in most beginner ESL textbooks that there is a unit on daily schedules, such as "what time do you get up?" or "what do you do in the afternoon?" A fun activity that you can do is to have students interview their partner. You can pre-select questions for lower-level classes or let the students choose their own questions for higher levels. Make sure you specify a minimum number of questions if you let the students choose their own. Have the students jot down a few notes as they go. Then, they have to close their notebooks, and in a group of 4, they have to explain their partner's daily schedule.
What's your favorite speaking activity for ESL Students?
Tassilyn on February 14, 2015:
This is crsyatl clear. Thanks for taking the time!
jackieb99 (author) on January 21, 2015:
I don't love teaching about holidays. It just seems so America-centric, which I try to avoid in my classes!
HelenM12 on May 30, 2014:
I just came across your lens... great work! I've just written my first lens about teaching English in Israel, and I've added a link to yours' because it's full of good ideas. Thanks.
williamslaw on April 25, 2014:
This is really a helpful lens.
michaelangelo1 on December 30, 2013:
This is very interesting and very informative and you might want to check this 5 Tips How to Make Money by Doing What You Love
EasySpeakEnglish on October 27, 2013:
Great and informative lens. Thanks.
TheEnglishHouse on September 05, 2013:
Thanks for the great lens. You have some great ideas here. I have been teaching English in Japan for over 12 years and it is good to get some refreshing ideas again. I will have to stock up on my supply. Just one thing; I really like the 'ESL Casino Wheel Speaking activity' but I could not figure out what you were trying to explain about using the playing cards? The images on the video were too small to read and the sample was too vague. Can you please explain this part in more detail? Thanks so much for all your great material though.
ESLinsider LM on January 16, 2013:
Charades is a good one. You can also play location charades with a group of people doing the modeling. I like simple games and activities. The less prep the better. Bingo reminds me of old ladies.
PennyHowe on November 11, 2012:
Thanks for the great ideas. I will give some of them a try and let you know which one I liked the best.
eslpulse on August 28, 2012:
Looking forward to reading more... This seems like a great place to get info
CherylsArt on June 23, 2012:
I used to tutor adult literacy students, one on one, and some were ESL students. You described quite a few wonderful activities.
afranco on May 30, 2012:
I've been an ESL teacher for over 12 years and I must say you have some very creative ideas in this lens.
nekoneko on March 23, 2012:
thanks for visiting my lens :) this activities are beneficial to me
blogalexg on February 25, 2012:
Hello, I have tried most of these activities or variations of them. I also think they are great and can really add some life into a class. Thanks for sharing! I haven't read the text book 'World Link' but I will check into it.
Blackspaniel1 on February 01, 2012:
Nice lens. I am trying the Pin It button again.
sfmendonca on January 26, 2012:
I liked the Daily Schedule Speaking Activity...
sheezie77 on January 18, 2012:
Nice lens interesting reading! thumbs up
anonymous on November 11, 2011:
Those are some great activities for the ESL classroom. I've tried one or two before but you listed quite a few I've never tried. As a teacher I'm always on the hunt for new activities. I have a website that might be of use as well called ESL conversation questions that also has some speaking activities and questions for ESL students as well as a lot of conversation questions.
Heather B on September 28, 2011:
I don't teach students of that age anymore, but I am sure some of these tips could come in handy! Great stuff!
mienfield on September 21, 2011:
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on September 19, 2011:
Thank you for these wonderful resources. Always appreciated!
jerviewagon on August 22, 2011:
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Heidi Reina from USA on August 13, 2011:
Wonderful activity ideas for english language learners. My favorite is conversation on topics of common interest between native speakers and esl students
profilesincolor on August 07, 2011:
Nice Lens! Thanks for sharing! :-)
wintersquidoo on July 29, 2011:
fun learning :D
anonymous on July 27, 2011:
You make ESL activities so fun and that will make them memorable for your students, fun learning seems to stay with us.
Heather B on June 26, 2011:
A very nice lens! Since I work with very young children, my approach to speaking is a bit different. I try to encourage them to use set phrases in practical situations. For instance, if a child wants me to draw them a princess, they must ask me using the grammar "Can I have a _____? I have always had success with this method. Do you think you could post a lens on speaking activities for very young beginners (aged 2-5)?
Trireme on June 26, 2011:
I will soon become a fan of yours jackiebolen!
jder on June 14, 2011:
I like to create role-plays and situations where the student has to react to something said in different situations. I teach a lot of private lessons.
SaikoNinja from ???????Fuji Japan on June 14, 2011:
Love the Lens! As a newbie, from today, I learned a a lot from here. Thanks and stop by any time. In my class I recently busted out the old OUTBURST junior Board Game. Just letting the kids yell out all their vocabulary has been very therapeutic.
nickupton lm on May 09, 2011:
Michelle Mafra from Corona CA on May 08, 2011:
Such a great lens! It took me back to memory lane when i was just an ESL student in the USA. English was o hard then and today it feels so natural:) Thank you for letting people know how much ESL classes can benefit your English Skills.
chrispell017 on May 07, 2011:
CruiseReady from East Central Florida on April 02, 2011:
Wonderful lens, packed with good, useable ideas!
GetSillyProduct on March 25, 2011:
awesome lens, your techniques are fantastic, those children in the video are lucky to have such a great teacher!
UKGhostwriter on March 25, 2011:
Great lens! I saw this in Squidu lens spotlight ...you've got my 'thumbs up' - I like it!!
Paula Morgan from Sydney Australia on March 24, 2011:
I used to be a librarian in an ESL school.. these are great ideas.
Lironah on March 24, 2011:
I've never taught ESL myself, but I did enjoy working for an ESL school administering the TOEFL test.
stevebrown94 on March 23, 2011:
Newspaper cuttings to make short stories. It works. :)
traveller27 on February 28, 2011:
Great lens..I used to teach ESL.
ChemKnitsBlog2 on February 25, 2011:
I haven't ever taught ESL but my best friend does. I'm going to be passing this lens on to her!