While teaching in Japan and China, I saw the need for students to improve their communication skills. They desperately needed to work on conversation strategies, build confidence when speaking, and prepare for speaking English outside of the classroom.
Simple ESL conversation strategies are sometimes unknown to the students. In Asia, conversation is similar to a bowling game allowing each person to take his or her turn while the others listen patiently.
Speaking English can be compared to playing a game of tennis. One person shoots off a question, and the conversation bounces back and forth.
Go to ESL Conversation Topics
Simple Conversation Strategies
Use question words: Continue a conversation by using the 5 Wh question words and the one H question word (e.g., Who, What, When, Where, Why, How).
Return the same question back: Answer the question and ask your partner, How about you? or And you?
Give more information: Answer the question and then give more information.
Ask follow up questions: Ask more questions about what you and your partner are talking about.
Show interest. Use words such as Really, Wow, Right, Yeah, That’s great, Ok, and Got it to show you are interested in what your partner is saying.
How to Use These Free Speaking Activities
Free speaking activities can help build student confidence. It is an opportunity for students to use all of the English they have previously learned and put it together to just talk. Students enjoy using English to communicate, rather than studying it as an academic subject. The following is a simple procedure to practice free speaking in the classroom.
1. Choose Partners: Pass out the Partner Assignment Sheet (see printables). Ask students to choose a partner from the Partner Assignment Sheet, and get up and sit next to their partners. Ask students to write the unit topic (i.e., Hometown), on their Partner Assignment Sheet next to their partner’s name.
2. Brainstorm Questions with Partners: Pass out the Topic Worksheet (available under each topic below). Ask the students to brainstorm questions they could ask about the topic, and write them on their paper under Step 1 Brainstorming Questions.
3. Brainstorm Questions as a Class: Elicit possible questions from the students and write them on the board. Correct any mistakes and reword as necessary to make better questions.
4. Speak: Get Ready, Get Set, START TALKING! Decide a time goal for the class and have students write it at the top of the page.
Speak only English!
Keep talking! Don’t stop!
No pens or pencils!
5. Get Dictionaries: When the timer buzzes, tell the students to STOP. Ask the students to get their dictionaries and look up words they did not know how to say in English. These new words can be written in Step 3 Learning New Words.
6. Review: Ask the students about their new words and write them on the board for the other students to learn.
For more ESL conversation strategies, I recommend the book: Conversation Strategies: Pair and Group Activities for Developing Communicative Competence.
There are 20 Topics below, each with conversation questions and a printable worksheet for the students.
*For an extensive list of conversation questions, see The Internet TESL Journal: Conversation Questions for the ESL/EFL Classroom.