5 activities to get your students to speak more in class

My students are playing Battleship with countable and uncountable nouns

Are you struggling to make your students use the language in the classroom? If the answer is yes, then I can tell you that we’ve all been there. Maybe not for every group or in every class, but I dare say that you’ve gotten frustrated once or twice (or a thousand times) because of a lesson that was supposed to be very communicative and it simply wasn’t.

Now, we must address two issues before we even think about getting our students to talk:

  1. Is every lesson supposed to be communicative?
  2. Can all your groups communicate in L2 for long periods?

If you agree that we should always strive to get our Teacher Talking Time (TTT) reduced and, in turn, increase our Students Talking Time (STT), you should say yes to question 1. We must indeed make every lesson communicative as long as we save time for individualized work, brain breaks, work in pairs, trios or larger groups and so on. Think of it as a company. Sometimes we have to liaise with other departments to get things done. Sometimes we need to sit on our butts in front of a computer to do some work on our own. And quite often the two happen on the same day.

As for question 2, and I couldn’t stress this point more, the answer should be a big resounding NO. No, not all groups can communicate at all times. CEFR-A1 and A2 groups have limited communication skills. They oral competency can pose as an impediment to communication depending on the context. But does that mean they need to be quiet if they can’t communicate in L2? Not at all! Especially kids. If kids are talking in L1 and bonding and having fun, would you have the guts to shout: “No talking in L1, just L2!”? I hope you realize that’s bad for everyone. We know now (actually, we’ve known it for some time now) that using L1 to learn L2 is not only effective but also highly recommended. Ever heard of translanguaging? Check out François Grosjean’s and Ofelia García’s takes on it here.

In language classes (and in all classes, for that matter), students should be talking as Edutopia brilliantly put it. That’s how we learn best, by collaborating and, thus, exchanging information with peers. Remember my last neuroscience post? It is through schemata (prior knowledge) that we are able to build new knowledge. And being able to actively explain something to someone is the best way for you to refer to that knowledge you already have.


So here are 5 quick tips to get students talking more:
1) Use games where one student holds part of the information and the others have to get that information by asking questions. Two good examples are Battleship and Who Am I? Battleship is a great game to assist in this case. Get them to draw a table with A, B, C, D, E (horizontally) and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (vertically). Ask them to get 10 items of whatever they are learning and place them randomly inside the “cells”. For them to “destroy” each other’s ships (the 10 items), they must locate the words/sentences and ask questions. When they locate something, they can ask 3 questions to guess it.

TEAM A: Is there anything in B3?
TEAM B: Is there anything in C4

Now they can ask 3 questions.

TEAM B: Is it countable? Does it start with letter C? Do we eat it?

If they find out, they “destroy” it. If they don’t, they can either move on to a different “cell” or keep asking questions. Just 3 at a time.

Who Am I? or the Name Game is the one played in Inglorious Basterds (I’m a huge fan!)

2) Work with projects. Ask your students to work together on a poster, a blog or anything else that encourages them to use L2. They will have to work on the target-language. No escape!

3) Have international guests in your class. You don’t need to actually invite a foreigner to physically be in your classroom (that would be cool, though). You can simply connect them through Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime. Your students will realize that they need to use L2 more often to be able to have international conversations.

4) Use ClassDojo or an adapted Swear Jar (I call mine English Jar) to award 1 or 2 points for effort in using L2. Don’t take points off when they use L1, instead, use positive reinforcement and award the use of L2.

5) Don’t take L1 for an answer. When you know your students can produce something in L2 but insist on using L1, well, insist back. I play with them saying I can’t speak that language.

I hope you like my tips and I’d like to make a fairly important point here:

Don’t stigmatize L1 in the classroom. As a matter of fact, you should use it to your advantage. With that in mind, I end this entry with a provoking thought/question:

A student asks you the meaning of a word that is really hard to explain (a vegetable, an animal or a technical concept, for instance). You have no picture of it, no internet access and you decide to try explaining it with different examples. After 5 minutes your student (and the whole class) still doesn’t get it. Would it be such a horrible thing to just write the word in L1 on the board? Please answer considering the following:

a) time spent

b) regard for student’s need to know (curiosity)

c) feeling that assigning it to homework might send a negative message

d) certainty of the clarity of the concept

That’s all folks! Hope to get your comments.

2 thoughts on “5 activities to get your students to speak more in class”

  1. Pingback: Do fun and meaningful learning experiences walk hand in hand? A student’s perspective – André Hedlund

  2. Pingback: Part 1. Engage your student – André Hedlund

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