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Ever feel like the only sentence your young students are fluent in is: “Can I go to the toilet, please?”
For some reason they can rhyme this off like a native, they don’t even need to think about it. However, when it comes to getting them to express themselves with the vocabulary you’re actually teaching them?
We believe that the fastest way to get kids chatting is to engage them in fun activities that make them laugh – there’s really no better incentive.
That’s why we’ve compiled our top 5 ESL speaking activities that’ll get them talking (and laughing!) in no time.
ESL Speaking Activity #1: The Blind Artist
This game requires practically zero preparation and if you have a tablet handy then you won’t even have to print anything out. It helps kids practice key vocabulary about appearance, adjectives and the verb “to be” and “to have”.
What you’ll need:
- A blindfold
- Some pictures of funny creatures (monsters, elves, gnomes, fairies etc)
How to play:
- Choose one child to come to the front of the class and put on the blindfold. Give them a marker and let them know that they’re going to draw on the white-board something that their classmates are describing.
- Show your class a picture (either on a tablet or on paper) of a funny creature (you can make these season-themed and choose a monster or witch for Halloween or an elf for Christmas.)
- Choose some students to describe the picture. Encourage them to use full sentences like “He has a big, long nose.”
- The blindfolded student at the top of the class has to draw the thing that their classmates are describing.
- The great thing about this speaking game is that you can make it last as long as you want – just keep choosing kids to participate and looking up new images on your mobile device or the class computer.
ESL Speaking Activity #2: You’re a …WHAT?!
Are your students unsure of how to ask questions (apart from ‘can I go to the toilet, please?) This speaking game will have them asking a range of questions without a moment’s hesitation! It’s a bit like charades, pictionary, 21 questions and art class all in one.
What you’ll need:
- Plasticine (this is for making models)
- Various Themed Flashcards
- A sand-timer (or just your phone countdown timer set to two minutes or so)
- A whiteboard and marker
How to play:
- Choose one child to pick a flashcard from a deck that they’re familiar with (for example, vocabulary you’ve taught them that term.)
- Ask them if they want to act out, draw or model the thing on the flashcard.
- Without speaking they act, draw or model the object.
- The other kids have to ask questions about what they think the object might be (encourage them to ask full questions like, “Are you red?” “Are you a fruit?” etc.)
- The child who guesses correctly wins and it’s their turn to be “it”.
- But they have to guess correctly before your timer runs out! You can split them up into teams to give them even more of an incentive to beat the clock.
This speaking game always gets a lot of laughs! Make sure the kids don’t just shout out the answer by making a golden rule: they can only guess if they’ve asked at least one question first.
ESL Speaking Activity #3: Vocabulary Dance-off!
We should probably call this more of a singing game rather than a speaking game because it uses song to encourage your students to speak.
Learning new English vocabulary through songs and dance is incredibly powerful, but only if it’s the right type of ESL songs. That’s why we’re dedicated to creating high quality, engaging ESL music videos for kids and when you see them bust some moves and sing effortlessly in English, you’ll understand why.
What you need to play:
- An engaging music video aimed specifically at teaching English vocabulary to children. We’ve included one of ours below to save you time and effort.
How to play:
- Watch the vocabulary rap video – just listen once to get the gist. Listen again and encourage the kids to sing along this time
- Move the desks and chairs and create an open space in the middle of your class.
- Now watch again and practice the dance moves while singing the lyrics.
- Then split the kids up into two teams and get them to form two lines facing each other.
- Play the song again and say this time it’s a dance-off! The two groups have to sing the lyrics and do the dance-moves without looking at the video. One group does one half of the song and the other group does the second half. You can include a prize for the group who puts in the most effort.
- Now tell them you’re going to pause the music during the next dance-off without warning to see who can remember the lyrics & dance moves. If they remember the next line you can hit play again.
BONUS: Use the accompanying karaoke version of the music video for some extra singing!
ESL Speaking Activity #4: Doctor, Doctor!
This is a great game for getting kids to practice body parts and also how to talk about different health problems. It also allows them to practice third person conjugations which many ESL learners struggle with.
It requires zero materials and prep-time – just make sure your students already have a grasp on the vocabulary about the body and different health problems.
How to play:
- It’s very simple to start with – the first child makes up a health complaint and acts it out. For example, they might say they have a sore stomach and hold their belly to show it.
- Then the next child has to start by saying what is wrong with their class mate; “[Marco’s] tummy is sore” then they add a health complaint of their own, “And my head hurts!”
- Then the next child has to continue the chain; “Marco’s tummy is sore, [Emma’s] head hurts and I feel sick…”
- The chain continues and naturally becomes harder the further the kids get in the chain. When one child gets stuck, you and the rest of the class can mime the action to help them get it.
- Make sure that those who got off lightly at the start have to go backwards in the chain so they end up having to say what’s wrong with their classmates too. This always gets a big laugh from them when they realise they didn’t quite get away with it like they thought!
ESL Speaking Activity #5: Alphabet mix-up
Need your students to wake up a little at the start of class? Try this very simple game (no-preparation time needed) to get their brains to kick into gear.
How to play:
- Simply start by calling out a vocabulary item that your class has been learning. Let’s say the word is “doctor”.
- Then the child closest to you has 10 seconds to think of a word that starts with the last letter of the word you just said. In our example of “doctor” they would then have to think of a word that starts with ‘R’.
- Then the next child has 10 seconds to think of another word that starts with the final letter of the previous word.
- The trick is that the same word can’t be repeated twice, so as the game goes on it gets harder and harder (and funnier!)
- Of course this game will only be appropriate for kids who are confident with reading and writing. If your class is a little younger and not 100% confident yet, you can write the words on the board to help guide them.
English is Easier when it’s Fun
We hope you agree with us that laughter and having fun really is the best incentive to get your students to open up and speak. An engaged child is far more likely to learn and look forward to English class as a result.
That’s why we put so much effort into the ESL music videos we produce for children: we want kids to enjoy speaking English and we’ve found that engaging music videos are a powerful way to achieve that.
If you’ve read until here we think that says one very clear thing about you: you’re among the educators who are truly trying to innovate in the classroom.
One way we can help you on your mission is with our extensive free collection of music video resources (complete with lesson plans and worksheets).
You can sign up for access by clicking on the link. We look forward to seeing you on the inside (bring your dancing shoes!)