Coming up with speaking activities for advanced ESL students, who can talk anyone’s ear off, is a breeze; but, speaking activities for intermediate ESL is a little more difficult.
Intermediate ESL students are in a tough spot. They can say a lot, but they are also very aware of how much they don’t know, which often makes them self-conscious and nervous about speaking English. The key to a good speaking activity for an intermediate ESL student, then, is to make it more about some other goal than just speaking itself. It also never hurts to make it a fun topic.
In the following activities, the students have an objective to get their minds off of speaking, while still motivating them to talk a lot.
Have students work in groups to write a guidebook to give to visitors and newcomers to your city. Each group must brainstorm and vote on the top five restaurants, stores, activities for kids, and hotspots for singles around your town. They will then write a short description of each place and make lists of important vocabulary words and phrases to go along with each category. Once the guidebooks are complete, have each group present their books to the class. Focus on getting every student involved in the discussions.
In this activity, the student who is "it" presumably did several things yesterday that he doesn’t remember. The class knows what those activities were, however, and will answer yes/no questions to help him cure his amnesia.
Send one student out into the hallway or another room where he cannot hear what’s going on. Once this student is out of earshot, have the rest of the class think of three to five activities he did yesterday. Depending on the level of the students, the activities can range anywhere from, "He went to the mall," to, "He climbed Mt. Everest with Tom Cruise."
Make sure someone in the class has the activities written down, and then invite the amnesiac back into the room to figure out what he did yesterday. He can ask the class yes/no questions only until he guesses all the activities correctly. Focus on correct question structure and past tense verbs.
Tell your students that a crime was committed last night some time between the hours of 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. It can be anything silly like someone broke into your classroom and stole the class stash of cookies. Then, tell the students they are all suspects, and that they need to come up with an alibi.
Students then work in pairs to create an alibi - something they will claim to have been doing together the previous night between six and ten. Give them plenty of time to come up with their story and know it backwards and forwards, and encourage them to discuss as many details as possible because they will be questioned.
The next step is the interrogation. Choose a pair to go first; put one student in the hot seat at the front of the room, and put the other student out of earshot (in the hallway or another room). Let the rest of the class ask questions to find out what the student in the hot seat did last night with his partner. When the class feels that this student has answered all of their questions sufficiently, send him out, and bring in the partner. The class will ask the same questions to try and find any discrepancies in the two stories.
Repeat the process with all the pairs, and then have the class vote on which pair’s stories differed the most. Judge them to be the culprit, and then reveal that you were the one who stole the cookies, and let everyone eat. Focus on correct question structure and past tense verbs.
This activity is a variation of the ever-popular Desert Island game where students work in groups to choose five items they would take with them to survive on a deserted island. You can play the island version if you want to, but who wants to live on a tropical island?
In this version, explain to your students that they are going to live underground in the abandoned subway tunnels of New York City, and they have to choose five things to take with them (as a group, not individually) to survive.
Once each group has chosen their items, stage a debate to decide which group would survive the longest with the things they have. No one ever wins this debate, but it encourages conversation among the groups.
Each student writes down five questions they would like to ask the teacher. Take up the questions, and write them on index cards, generalizing them so that they can be asked to and answered by anyone. Divide the students into groups of three to five, and distribute the question cards equally among the groups.
As the students in one group finish discussing their answers to each question, they pass the card to the next group until all the groups have discussed all the questions. Then let each group choose one question to ask the teacher (you didn’t think you were going to get out that easily, did you?).
Focus on correct question structure and getting everyone to participate in the group discussions.
Skits and speeches are sure ways to get students talking, but that sort of thing would make anyone nervous. Try out these speaking activities for intermediate ESL instead, and show your students how fun and productive communicating in English can be!