In this article I discuss several of my go-to speaking activities. For each one, I include rules as well as step-by-step guides. Don’t forget that some of these speaking activities are far-removed from students’ daily lives. They are useful for encouraging imagination in the EFL classroom. But I think students will quickly lose interest if you spend too long on issues that are not relevant to them.
1. Just a Minute
Just a Minute is a radio panel show. Contestants must talk on a given topic for a full minute without hesitation, deviation or repetition. A point is awarded to whoever is speaking when the minute elapses. Other players can make challenges at any time. The player who makes a correct challenge receives a point and continues with the topic. The player who makes an incorrect challenge loses a point and the topic remains with the original speaker.
Prepare a mini-lesson that focusses on (i) pronoun use, (ii) paraphrasing and (iii) non-fluency features. Then play the game as a whole-class activity with the students in teams. The goal of this activity is to encourage fluency so you should overlook minor mistakes. And be prepared for silence in your class. This happens when students try to translate a complex sentence into the target language. They must learn first to simplify their L1 before attempting to translate into L2. This is why talking about paraphrasing is so important.
2. Mission to Mars
Levels of pollution on Earth have become so high that the air is toxic. We cannot live here any more. Luckily, scientists have found a way for us to survive on Mars. And there is a spaceship ready to take us there. The problem is that there is only room for one civilian passenger. Students adopt the persona of a famous person (alive or dead). They must argue their way onto the spaceship.
For homework, students must research a famous person (alive or dead) and explain their choice. Students can then use this piece of homework to help them in class. Write a paragraph in simple English (with translations if necessary) to outline the problem (see the previous paragraph). Ask students to read the text, first in silence and then out loud. Next, explain the role-play activity and leave the instructions on the board / projector. This activity is in two parts: (i) students must present their case, and (ii) they must argue with their classmates.
3. Tropical Island
You are the only survivor of a plane crash. You find yourself on an uninhabited tropical island. The island has forests, mountains and sandy beaches. In addition, there are fruit trees and many wild animals, some of which are dangerous. The plane engine is about to explode. You just have time to take one item from the hold. Your choices are (i) knife, (ii) rope, (iii) flashlight, (iv) t-shirt, (v) flare gun, (vi) lighter, (vii) first-aid kit, (viii) sun cream, (ix) book.
Write a paragraph in simple English (with translations for survivor and tropical) to outline the problem. Show pictures of the nine available items and remind students that a flare gun is not a weapon. Introduce some relevant sentence-structures and elicit examples before you start the activity. Relevant sentence-structures include
(1) You could use a ____ to ____.
(2) With a ____ you could ____.
(3) A ____ would be useful for ____.
Remind students that you are not really on the desert island and so they must use conditionals (i.e. would and could). Don’t accept can and will. Put students into teams. Give them time to practice and then have them perform the discussion in front of their classmates.
4. Titanic survivors
You are a survivor of the Titanic disaster. You and your fellow survivors have agreed to give a press conference, where you will relate your experiences and answer questions from the media. Students choose one of the following general character types: (i) 1st-class, (ii) 2nd-class, (iii) 3rd-class, (iv) crew, (v) musician and (vi) captain.
Explain that the movie The Titanic was inspired by real events. Then show your students a 10-minute clip from the movie (roughly from 1hr 45 to 1hr 55). The language is not important. Students must get an idea of what it was like. They can also see how different characters react to the news that Titanic will sink. Focus on the main characters in turn. For each one, brainstorm useful words and phrases. Divide the class into groups. Within each group there should be at least one student for each character.
If you have a large class you can add Andrews (the architect) and Ismay (the MD of White Star Line) to the character list.
5. Speed dating
The normal rules of speed dating apply. Girls stay in their seats and guys move around. Each date lasts no more than 3 minutes. Do not ask your date for his or her contact information (because, in real-life speed dating, contact information is shared at the end, but only if interest is mutual.)
Prepare (i) a PPT with one slide for each student, and (ii) a collection of stock images. Assign a stock image to each student, alternating between men and women. Next, hand out an online dating profile worksheet. Students need to choose a name, age and job for their character. They also need to write about likes and dislikes, as well as why they would make a good boyfriend / girlfriend. Students will use the information on their worksheets to inform their conversations.
Remind students that this is a heterosexual speed dating activity and that it will not work if they decide to be gay (although they should know that homosexual speed dating events do exist.)