Explore More

Give Your Students the Gift of Gab: 12 Fun TEFL Speaking Activities

ESL Speaking Activities

One of the most important skills for ESL students to develop, speaking can also be one of the most difficult aspects of the language for your class to master. This is because many students are hesitant to speak due to a fear of making mistakes or a lack of confidence. Thankfully, with the right TEFL speaking activities, you can encourage your students to speak up in class — and have fun while doing it!

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

How do you motivate students to speak in English class?

Before we jump into some great TEFL speaking activities, here are a few general tips to keep in mind:

  • Cultivate a classroom culture where making mistakes is okay. The best way to make students more comfortable speaking English is to make sure they know it’s okay to make mistakes and that it’s the only way they’ll learn. You can do this by establishing class rules that ensure students are kind to one another and by thoughtfully approaching error correction in the EFL classroom.
  • Encourage students to speak up and participate by offering plenty of positive feedback when they do. Whether you’re teaching young learners or adults, students should be praised for their speaking efforts. This does not mean that you can’t correct their pronunciation or grammatical mistakes but rather that you should emphasize trying rather than speaking perfectly.
  • Make your classroom fun! By incorporating TEFL/TESOL speaking activities and relevant, interesting TEFL discussion questions, you’ll engage learners and take the pressure off of the actual talking. In other words, if students are more focused on a game or exciting topic, they’re less likely to be self-conscious and focused on speaking.
  • Don’t interrupt when students are speaking. It can be tempting to jump in and finish their thoughts or help them recall a word too quickly, but sometimes students just need more time to formulate their ideas. By constantly interrupting them, you may end up actually making them less confident in their English speaking abilities.
  • Embrace English as a global language with diverse accents and dialects. Particularly helpful for Business English students who will likely engage with other non-native English speakers in a professional capacity, recognizing the global use of English can build students’ confidence and provide them with the practical speaking and listening skills they’ll need.
Jhonny and students in an online classroom
Teacher Jhonny works with ESL students online.

What are some ESL speaking activities to get students talking (online or in person)?

Now, let’s look at some great ESL speaking activities you can use in the virtual or physical classroom to develop this productive skill in your students.

1. Warm-ups

Help students prepare themselves to think in English through speaking warm-up games or activities. It could be as simple as playing “Two Truths and a Lie” or an exciting word guessing game, or it could be a comprehensive but fun way to review the last class’ lesson, like by playing “20 Questions” or finishing incomplete phrases.

Get more warm-ups and icebreakers for all ages in this article: 13 Easy ESL Icebreakers.

2. Debates

Holding debates is a great way for students to speak a lot in class, as you only act as the facilitator or judge during the activity. You can announce the debate topic in advance or spontaneously, then divide students into “pros” and “cons” or “for” and “against” teams.

Make sure that the topics or the range of vocabulary to be used in the debate are appropriate for your students’ English level. Also, be careful of bringing up sensitive or taboo topics like religion or politics, unless you know that your students will be comfortable tackling them.

3. Role-play

Aside from reinforcing and reviewing vocabulary and expressions that you taught in previous lessons, role-playing also helps prepare students for many real-life situations that require them to speak in English, such as traveling, eating out, and socializing. For Business English, role-play can simulate job interviews, business trips, and various work situations.

For role-play with beginner students, make sure to provide a dialogue as a guide. On the other hand, more advanced students can write their own scripts for the conversations.

A teacher does an ESL speaking activity with young learners
A teacher does an ESL speaking activity with young learners.

4. Class poll activity

Get class conversations going by asking about your students’ opinions on various topics that they can relate to. Learners undoubtedly will have a lot to say about recurring themes like culture, food, or lifestyle topics — the sky’s the limit when it comes to what you can talk about!

You can also spark a class discussion and survey based on a news story. For instance, you could interview students on how they maintain a healthy lifestyle during a pandemic or how their country is acting on climate change. Very young learners and beginners can focus on topics like favorite colors, family members, or pets.

Meanwhile, instead of you asking the survey questions, why not let your students make the questionnaires and lead the discussions? You can even make this more fun in a group class by playing “Find Someone Who” as an icebreaker, where learners have to find a person in class who matches a certain description or can answer a question they have created.

Need to fill some lesson time in a pinch? Try these no-prep ESL activities!

5. Customized lesson fillers

While you may have a curriculum or syllabus to follow for your English course, you can deviate from the list of topics from time to time by creating a special, engaging lesson based on your students’ interests after you’ve taught or known them for some time. For example, you could show a video about tourist destinations in Europe to your student who loves traveling or share a story about a pop culture icon that your student loves. This should spark plenty of discussion!

Take a look at some other fun ESL games and activities for young learners and teens.

6. Presentations

An oral presentation activity, which can be given at the end of a lesson or as a course project, is great for boosting your students’ confidence, especially in public speaking. If you are teaching a group class, you can assign topics to individual students or have them work on a single presentation as a group.

7. Podcast-based activities

Whether it’s about famous musicians or tips for shopping abroad, you can find a plethora of podcasts on iTunes, Spotify, or other podcast providers. You can listen to a podcast in class and create a discussion about it afterward or have your ESL students listen to one as homework and report back what they’ve learned from the podcast in the next class.

  • Pro Tip: Do a pre-listening activity to prepare students for the vocabulary they will hear in the podcast.

Learn how to use podcasts for engaging ESL learners through Bridge’s Micro-credential course in Teaching English Using Podcasts.

Teen ESL conversation activity
Teens practice speaking English in teacher Richard Allen’s class in Vietnam.

8. Language tutoring apps

Language practice and tutoring apps provide students with low-stakes conversation practice, something often lacking in English language courses that have time limitations. Many apps offer asynchronous, AI-driven options that can realistically mimic geographical accents, which can be helpful for Business English students learning the language for job and career purposes.

For example, FLOW Speak is a language app that students can download with over 400 real-world conversation lessons. Teachers can provide access to the app and assign or suggest practice outside of class hours. Students engage in short, 2-7 minute conversation activities on the app privately and at their own pace, and get AI-powered instant feedback. Language tutor apps like this use voice recording technology to analyze student responses and generate feedback.

With FLOW Speak, students can practice lessons repeatedly to master sounding natural, and teachers can access an admin dashboard to track students’ progress. This can be a great way to extend students’ speaking practice beyond the classroom.

9. Time trials

This is an ESL speaking activity that works well with any group of students. Give your EFL students a prompt and perhaps a few minutes to collect their thoughts. The prompt should allow for enough speaking to fill up four minutes. Once they are ready, put the students in pairs and have them take turns sharing their four-minute stories with each other. Now, mix up the pairs and have them take turns telling the same story, only this time they only have three minutes. Once both partners have retold their stories, mix up the groups one more time. They now only have two minutes to talk.

Decreasing the amount of time they have to speak puts pressure on them to speak quickly while the repetition should allow for more rapid access to the language, i.e., increasing fluency.

  • Pro Tip: If you’re teaching English online and the platform doesn’t allow for breakout groups, you can modify this activity by having each student share their story to the whole class twice — once with four minutes on the clock and once with two minutes.

Check out more team-based activities for the ESL classroom and online.

10. Listen to me

In this TEFL/TESOL speaking activity, English students choose whatever topic they want to speak about and then create and write a headline for their story. The teacher divides the class in half, and one half of the class holds up their headlines. The other half reviews the headlines and decides which story they want to hear. Once the selected student has shared their story, have the opposite half of the class hold up their headlines and let the other students choose a story they want to hear. Do as many rounds as you have time for. This activity is very easy to carry out in both the online and physical classroom!

11. Take 1, take 2

This TEFL speaking activity can be done during class time, but it works especially well as a homework assignment. Have students record a story or their thoughts on a specific topic that you’ve selected. After they have finished, have them listen and make notes on parts that they felt they could do better. Then, they record the story again. The students can go through this process a few times until they are satisfied with their recording. You can then have them submit their notes and recording to you, or else play it to the whole class or a partner. This activity is great for getting students to self-assess their speaking skills.

12. Finish the sentence

Have each student write down half of a sentence on a piece of paper. For example, they could write “Walking to school today…” or “Guacamole makes me…” or “If I could have any superpower…” Collect all of the sentences and mix them up in a bag or a bowl. Call one student to the front of the classroom and have them draw a slip of paper (this activity could be modified by splitting the class into groups if you have a large class). Give the student a few seconds to prepare what they will say, and then have the student read the sentence aloud, complete it, and continue speaking on the topic for one minute (you can shorten or lengthen this time depending on the level of the class).

  • Pro Tip: If you’re teaching online, you can either create the first half of the sentences yourself or have students submit them via chat box. You can then choose one to say aloud to each student when it’s their turn to speak.

Speaking in class doesn’t have to be a chore or scary for students. With the right TEFL speaking activities, you can motivate your students to practice talking and create a fun, lively class!

Need more activities and ideas for the classroom? Check out these last-minute ESL lesson plans that can be adapted for any class!

Camille is a content marketing manager, specializing in the language industry. Her love for language and experiencing other cultures has taken her around the globe, and she has taught English abroad both in the classroom and online. When not working or traveling, she can be found spending time with her family or — when not chasing after her two young daughters — cozying up with a good book!