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Speaking Activities for Large ESL Classes

Making sure that all your students practice all the skills is every teacher’s responsibility. This becomes quite an onerous responsibility when there are many students in the class and class time does not seem to suffice.

The speaking activities described below have been tried with large classes and have rendered good results.

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Speed Talking

This activity was inspired by the ‘speed dating’ concept. Students are separated into two groups and while one group remains sitting in the same spot throughout the activity, the other group moves around after a certain amount of time stipulated by the teacher. The idea of this activity is to get students to talk to as many different students in the class as possible.

Students are given a set amount of time (not more than 5 minutes usually for large classes) to speak with their partner following instructions from the teacher. These instructions can be to discuss a certain topic, interview each other, tell each other about their weekend, etc. As soon as the time is up the ‘moving’ group should stand up and go to the next student and the activity starts again.

If you do not want students to be talking about the same more than once, you can provide different prompts every time the students move or assign a topic per student in one of the groups so that at least half the class gets to discuss something different every time they talk to someone new.

Impromptu Speaking

The teacher can make small cards with phrases, questions, quotes, or other conversation starters and at a certain time during the lesson the teacher can ask any number of students to pick a card, prepare a short speech for about 2 minutes, and then deliver it.

This exercise lends itself very well to pair work or small group work and it is useful if the students in the class are still too shy to speak in front of all their peers.

If you are going to assess the students or even evaluate them, give yourself ample time to walk around the class listening to all the students or ask them to record themselves so you do not miss anyone.

PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint presentations are very beneficial for students because they feel supported by a visual aid. It is adamant that at first no words are allowed on the slides.

All kinds of graphics (pictures, charts, photos, etc) and maybe even numbers are encouraged since they will prompt the students to speak. Allowing words on the slides will make students just read what they wrote and it would result in a very ineffective speaking exercise.

One of the most effective types of class presentation for lower-intermediate to higher intermediate students is having students teach something to the rest of the class. The students teach the rest of the class how to do something they can do well or something they have recently learned how to do.

Because of the nature of instructions and their knowledge of the material, students do not focus too much on the actual organization of their presentation and they simply pay attention to the content of their speech, which they know by heart.

Similarly, students who are a little more advanced thrive when presenting controversial issues they believe passionately in. If they are allowed the freedom to choose the topic and they are challenged by changing the audience’s way of thinking, they can produce excellent work.

In this case, their PowerPoint slides do not need to be many; however, just as with the previous example, it is advised that very few to no words are allowed on the slides to avoid the temptation of just reading slides out loud instead of speaking freely and communicatively.

Fostering Participation During Presentations 

One secret to having a successful speaking lesson is to make sure that even though not all students can be speaking at the same time, all the students in the class have something to do. For example, if a student is doing a short presentation the rest of the class should be taking notes, or completing an exercise based on their peer’s presentation.

If this is not in place the rest of the class might not pay attention and the speaker loses confidence. Furthermore, if the audience does not want to listen, the presentation loses its purpose and the activity becomes 100% non-authentic.

Another excellent way to help students listen while a classmate presents is to request that they ask questions at the end of the presentation. This helps to make the activity more authentic and helps the audience stay focused because they have a task to complete. In addition to this, the rest of the students will also be practicing their speaking skills a little when they ask the questions out loud.

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