If you teach a large ESL conversation class of more than 35 or 50 students, giving them all speaking practice can be difficult. You cannot personally engage in lengthy one-on-one interactions with each student. However, you can organise a variety of activities for them to practice speaking English with each other. You can use pair work, small group work and whole class mixers to keep the class actively engaged in conversation.
Other People Are Reading
Use conversation questions in a variety of configurations. Write your own to review specific grammar points or vocabulary items such as family words. You can also select from published lists such as those in the Internet TESL Journal or use conversation cards such as "Cathy's Cards" (see the Resource section). Put students in pairs, and give each student a list of questions or a stack of cards, instructing them to take turns asking and answering questions. Alternately, put them in groups of four to six, and ask them to take turns asking the others.
Find Someone Activities
Use "find someone" activities get students talking to many different partners. Write a list of questions on a topic, for example "shopping." Use yes-no questions such as "Do you love to shop?" and "Do you shop at yard sales?" A list of eight to 12 questions works best. Ask students to stand up and walk around asking the questions. They need to find a student who answers "yes" for each one, and write down their names. Each "yes" must come from a different partner. Make it a contest for more fun -- the first one to complete the exercise wins.
Use questionnaires for a different type of active speaking activity. If the topic is "shopping," write a list of questions such as "Where do you shop for groceries?" and "How much do you spend on food every week?" Write the questions along the left side of the paper, leaving four or more blanks at the right of each question for answers. Instruct students to stand up to interview other students, and write the brief answers of the respondents in the spaces provided.
Jigsaw stories make for a more restful activity. Write a story in two to four sections or paragraphs, numbering the sections. Rewrite a story from history, retell an item from the news or use ESL readings that allow photocopying. Cut the story into the number of sections you have chosen. Put the students in groups with one student for each segment. Instruct them to read their portions silently until they know the material well enough to retell it in their own words. Then collect the papers, or have them turn them over. Students then take turns telling their portions to the others in their group.
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