Category Archives: Speaking

Ball Toss

Conversation
This game has many variations. One variation I have used with great success is writing questions on a beach ball. I use a whiteboard marker to write on the ball, but let it dry thoroughly before class, so it doesn’t smudge but it can be washed clean and reused with different questions later.

Students gently toss the ball to one another and read aloud and answer the question under their right thumb. To make the activity more challenging, have Student A read/ask the question, and toss the ball to Student B. Student  B answers that question, then asks the question under their right thumb, and tosses the ball to Student C, who answers Student B’s question.

If it’s a “getting to know you” activity, use questions to elicit name, age, and basic information. Otherwise, it can be used to practice likes/dislikes, 5 W/H-questions, etc. It is quite a versatile activity and can be used with just about anything that you’re studying.

If you don’t have a ball handy, you can crumple up a piece of paper to use as a ball. Ask a question and toss the ball to a student. That student must answer and ask a question (the same question for true beginners or a related question, if higher level), then toss the “ball” to the next student.

If you want the students to ask different questions, you should give them a topic (daily routine, hobbies, etc.) or grammar pattern to use.
If you want to make sure all students have equal turns, have students sit down after catching the ball.

If you have more than 10-12 students in your class, you may want to divide them into groups, each with their own ball, so students aren’t waiting long periods between turns. This will also increase student talking time.

You can wrap up the activity by asking students questions about other students’ answers. Let students know before they begin that they need to listen closely to each other’s answers. This will make them more likely to pay attention between their own turns and, of course, provide additional listening and speaking practice.

Generally, this activity can be used with all ages. You can even use it with younger students as long as their ability is high enough to answer the questions. The same for class size: you can use it for larger classes, as long as their level is move advanced, simply because they will be better suited to working in small groups with less attention needed from you.

If you have a class of 30 beginners, you might want to simply toss the ball and ask a question, rather than require them to read it, and have each student repeat the same question as they toss the ball. After 10-12 students have asked and answered the same question, take the ball and toss it to a different student, asking a new question.

Character Problems and Solutions

Character Solutions
I love to kill two birds with one stone, and this activity fits that bill. I use this as a post-reading activity to include in a novel study or use with a short story. Choose a problem a character faced in the story. Discuss the problem and how the character solved it.

Then, have your students brainstorm other ways the problem could have been dealt with. This is where the lesson does double duty with a sneaky grammar lesson. You can teach modals of regret (could/should/would have done, etc.) without getting too personal with your students.

If your students are lower level, you may want to begin with a complete grammar lesson with scaffolded practice, such as worksheets, for the students to get some more focused practice.

I’m an Alien

I'm an Alien
Like most teachers, I love a no-prep, no-materials activity, and students generally enjoy this one. You begin class by telling the students you are an alien. The scenario is you landed just a few minutes earlier, right outside the school. Since you are new here, you don’t know a lot of words, and you need some help.

You can create a mission scenario, and elicit vocabulary that will help you. Maybe you want to send a letter telling your mother you have arrived safely. You can elicit pen, paper, stamp, envelope, post office. Maybe you need to meet someone in another part of the school, such as the cafeteria. You can elicit types of rooms in a school (hall, bathroom, library, etc.) as well as direction words.

The game can go on as long as you like– simply adjust the mission to the length of time. Once you have played the alien, you can have students work in small groups. One student will take the role of the alien and the rest of the group are helpful humans. If your students are lower level, it may be helpful to give them a card with a scenario.

Have you played I’m an Alien with your students? What is your go-to mission?

Telephone

TELEPHONE

I know just about everyone has played telephone before, but sometimes you forget about the games you played as child, or don’t think of how familiar games can be repurposed for ESL. Telephone is a fun way to get students to listen carefully and make logical guesses to fill in any gaps.

To play, line your students up in two or more rows (teams) starting from the front and going to the back. The student at the front of each team is given a sentence.

You need to consider the level of the students carefully when choosing your sentence– make sure the lead students can all understand it really easily. It can work well to take something that you’ve been studying from the textbook and adjust it slightly. They whisper the sentence

The lead students whisper the sentence one time to the next student in their line. That student whispers it to the person in front of them, etc. The last person to hear the sentence must correctly state what they have heard. The team with the closest phrase is the winner.

You may need to explicitly forbid students from using their L1. It is usually pretty obvious if someone has translated along the way, because the ending sentence has the same meaning as the original but uses synonyms.

You can either give each group the same sentence or use different ones. I like to take the team leaders into the hall, give each a different sentence and allow them the chance to have it repeated before we begin. Then, the students return together and the game begins.

Keep the teams to about 8-10 students or fewer in order to increase speaking time. Remember that students will only say one sentence each per round. Remind students that even if they didn’t hear the sentence clearly, they need to make their best guess and tell something to the next person instead of nothing.