Engaging Speaking Activities for L2 Learners
Jointly written by 18 graduate students of NIE
Edited by Cruiz Dwyer & Willy Renandya
The ability to speak fluently and accurately is a highly valued skill in and out of the language classrooms. Students may be able to understand spoken or written language, but they are often judged by their ability to express themselves orally in the language.
However, speaking in a new language poses a special challenge to many L2 students. They need to know about the different language elements (e.g., vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation) but also develop skills that enable them to use these language elements for oral communications in various situations. In addition, they also need to learn how to start, maintain and end a conversation, introduce suitable topics, take notes of the reactions of the people they are interacting with and respond accordingly, broach a culturally sensitive subject carefully, and learn how to manage a difficult, face-threatening conversation without sounding rude or disrespectful. For a more theoretical discussion, click here.
We have put together a number of speaking activities that teachers can use to help their students become more confident and fluent speakers of the language. These activities have been grouped under four categories: Fluency-focused activities, Language-focused activities, Socio-culturally sensitive speaking activities and Public speaking activities.
We hope you will be inspired to add more activities and share them with us.
FLUENCY – FOCUSED SPEAKING ACTIVITIES
3-2-1 speaking task
Students speak on a topic to their groupmate for 3 minutes. Then, they find another groupmate and speak for 2 minutes and do it again with a different groupmate for 1 minute. This can be done during on-site or on-line learning. For the latter, students can use a video-sharing app such as Flipgrid.
Choose a prepared script, or have students choose a book from which to develop a reader’s theatre script. When adapting the script, allow students to identify speaking parts (including narrators) and break down the story into dialogues. Assign parts of the dialogue to students. Have students highlight their parts in their script and then practice their lines, multiple times, at home or during their free time in school. Finally, have students perform in front of an audience.
Voice-overs for Movie Characters
Teachers can provide movie clips and scripts of interesting characters, such as Harry Potter, to students. Students need to imitate the tone, accent and emotion of the characters’ dialogue found in movies. Through practice, students can replace the original voice in movies with their own voice, which can lead to fluent and emotional articulation.
Students choose one topic or a speech by someone that they prefer. Then, they follow the speaker and imitate the speaker’s pronunciation and tone. Through practice, learners’ fluency can be enhanced. It also could be a competition to see who the best imitator in order is to facilitate students.
Students have different, but incomplete, pieces of information. They interact within groups to complete the task so that all members have full knowledge of the information. They ask questions, negotiate meanings in this process to gather more information about the message they wish to receive.
Story Construction with Words
Each group of students are given 15 words randomly, and they are required to make a story by using at least 10 words of those words. This requires students to have a good grasp of words and some creativity to connect the words with some context to associate them together and make a story that can be comprehended easily by their peers.
Providing students a template to structure their speech and ideas lifts the cognitive burden of them and allows them to focus on the fluency element of their speech. Since the speaking frames allow for the structure it also helps students structure their thoughts in an organized manner. The organization is key for the hearer to understand the speaker successfully.
LANGUAGE-FOCUSED SPEAKING ACTIVITIES
This is a game where students are separated into groups of 4-5. A pile of cards with nouns are placed in the centre of each group. Students will take turns describing a noun for the rest of the group to guess. The group member who guesses correctly earns a point and keeps a card. There is some level of competition as whoever has the greatest number of points/cards by the end of the game wins.
Constructing a story together
Step 1: Divide students into groups; Step 2: the teacher provides the first sentence. Every group member takes turns to speak and add 2 sentences to construct a story; Step 3: make students vote for the best story and explain why.
Tongue Twisters are a fun way for students to play with language, words, and sounds. There are many ways to go about this activity, but the easiest would be to provide examples vocally for them to hear first. Then, let them have a go. Tongue twisters can be incorporated into more meaningful pronunciation lessons, or it could be done as a fun side activity to get the students into a good mood.
“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice-cream”. Now I am just hungry…
A random topic and a random word are given to the students, but the word is unrelated to the topic. Students need to hide the word in their speech to ensure their classmates cannot guess the secret word. The other students should listen carefully and identify the secret word in the speech.
The picture narrating task is based on several sequential pictures provided by the teacher. They can ask the students to narrate the story taking place in sequential order by concentrating on the rubrics provided by the teacher. Rubrics can be either grammar or vocabulary they use while narrating the story.
The other way to enhance the speaking ability of students is to give them one picture and describe what it is in the picture. For this activity, students can form groups or work in pairs and discuss the picture with their groups. Each group will be given different pictures. After their discussion, one person from each group can describe it to the whole class. This not only enhances their speaking ability but also their creativity and imagination.
Students draw the name of a famous person out of a hat and the class tries to guess who they are. The class uses only yes/ no questions. This allows a level of ambiguity to exist while ensuring that questions and resulting answers are provided quickly. The class does not need to wait until all twenty questions have been asked to guess as to who the student chose. If they know the answer even after only a few questions, then they can take a guess.
SOCIO-CULTURALLY SENSITIVE SPEAKING ACTIVITIES
Performing a skit on managing a difficult situation in class
Students work in groups to roleplay how they would manage a difficult situation in class/ school. They can begin with assigned scenarios (a new kid in school, witnessing a bullying incident) before producing their own to perform. Every skit should typically end with a lesson to be learnt. Teachers should explicitly draw student focus to socioemotional aspects of the interaction. The use of purposeful interaction can enhance the speaking ability of students as it requires learners to act and communicate with other people. Additionally, students develop confidence and creativity as they are motivated to take part in speaking activities. In follow-up activities, teachers can draw learner attention to polite words used, modality and tone of voice in reacting to situations.
Storytelling is popular in every culture. By focusing on traditional folktales that centre on culturally dependent activities or actions allows for good awareness-raising opportunities and appreciation. An example, I Love Saturdays y Domingos by Alma Flor Ada – a story about a girl with 2 sets of grandparents, one from the American culture and the other, from the Mexican culture. In a classroom of increasingly diverse learners, it is good practice to incorporate elements of their respective cultures to increase interest in the language.
Truth or Lie?
Students are encouraged to write some interesting facts about themselves, things like “I eat chips every day.” Students will be divided into small groups and ask each other questions to detect the lies. Before the beginning of the game, each student may have 1 minute to tell a story about themselves. The Jigsaw method can also be incorporated, boosting more interactions among students.
Students will take on different roles according to the context given by the teacher, and take on roles like father and son, or, customer and seller as if they are present in an authentic situation that enables real-world application.
PUBLIC SPEAKING ACTIVITIES
Students debate for a topic given by teachers. First, teachers divide students into two groups: Pros and Cons. Second, students in the same group work together to put forward arguments. Finally, each group selects several representatives as debaters.
A further extension activity would involve students taking on the roles of various stakeholders of the topic. For example, if the debate topic was whether uniforms should be worn in school, different groups of students take on the roles of stakeholders like school leaders, teachers, parents, and students. The adoption of different perspectives requires students to think and argue differently from what they would personally feel. In the process, they learn to consider different points of view on a topic and various ways to make their stance.
First, teachers show a video of celebrity speech, two or three minutes. Then, focus on the speech one sentence after another to imitate gestures and tone of voice. After class, teachers ask students to imitate the video as homework. The next day, select some students as speakers and perform imitations as a role-play activity. Make sure to create an environment that is relaxed for students.
Speech for important occasions
Students are asked to think about important occasions in their lives where they need to speak to the public. It could be either real situations or imaginative ones. For example, a speech at his/ her own wedding, commencement speech at a graduation ceremony, Oscar-award winning speech, running for president, or simply giving a toast at a dinner party with good friends. Teachers can give scaffolding by showing model speeches before the planning and highlight some useful language structures. Students are then given 5-10 minutes to plan for a 2–3-minute speech. They can practice by themselves or rehearse it with partners and feedback to each other. Then they can give a speech to the class and receive more comments. They can also hone their speech skill further by doing it again.
Podcasting is a great way to involve students in the speaking production process. They can pick a topic, and plan what they are going to say. Afterwards, they will proceed to talk about their topic at any appropriate length. 5 minutes is a good start. This can be done solo or cooperatively with students working in pairs or small groups to create the final product. Podcasting is naturally a fluency activity, so students do not have to worry about using language perfectly.
TED talks (e.g., Global Warming)
TED talks do have distinct audience grabbing sequences. Using TED talk videos that are age-appropriate, students get to notice effective and engaging presentation skills, and this will allow them to emulate the set skills in their own group/pair presentation where they can Prepare, Practice and Present.
Desert island activity
Let students draw any item on the paper. Then collect all pieces of paper and pass them out randomly. Imagine that students have been stranded on a desert island, and each of them needs to convince their classmates that they can survive based on the item drawn on the paper.