Engage students through activities to help them speak English.
As teachers, we are always trying to find ways to make every second of the day productive for ourselves and the students. I have tried several speaking and listening activities to use as a warm-up before starting a lesson or when we have some additional time on our hands. I am sharing the ones that have been a hit with the students and in other classrooms that I have visited as well.
3, 2, 1 Action: We all pretend that we are famous Bollywood or Hollywood actors. Why not jump into the action while teaching and watch a video? Put on a scene from a film or show and stop it midway. Ask students to predict what will happen next. This is also a great idea to link to the reading comprehension strategy of making predictions. It can easily also be turned into a writing activity.
Can You Tell Me? Get a student to come up to the front and face the class. Write one word behind them so they cannot see it. They have to ask questions to the rest of the class to help them guess the word and the class says either yes or no. I let the student know the umbrella topic for the word (e.g. rainforest). If the word is toucan then the student can ask, "Am I bird in the rainforest?" The class has to say, "Yes!" I give them three chances to guess the word until they are out. This activity is essentially useful for teaching students how to ask questions.
Hot Potato: One student is called up to the front. He/she has to pick one folded piece of paper from many folded papers in a jar. The goal for that student is to make all the other students guess the word without saying the word or spelling it out to them. They can provide opposites, similar words, or clues that will guide their peers to uncover the word.
Example of Words (Cambridge English Language Assessment, 2012)
Hot Seat: I read about this from the BBC Teaching English website. All the students face the board. Call one student up to sit on the chair facing the rest of their peers. I write a word on the board, which the student in the chair cannot see. The rest of the students have to provide a one sentence clue for the student to guess the word. I usually allow three students to provide clues, which means the student has three guesses in total. I make sure that students give clues using only one sentence. For example, if the word on the board is colour then a sentence clue can be, "Blue is an example of this." I have found through trial and error that students like to also provide sentences like, "The word starts with c and ends with r." I do not allow this because I want the clues to be a little less obvious. To add to the fun, I make it a competition between the students and the teacher. If the students guess most clues then they get their full recess. If they do not then I do not provide them with the full recess. It does sound a tad boring when I put it that way, but it works well for our classroom. You can also divide the students into two teams and figure out a system that works for your students.
Phone Call: How many of us pretended to call someone on the phone when we were younger? I used to do this all the time. This is a strategy that can be used for five to ten minutes in the day. Tell the students to use their imaginary phones and talk to someone else in the classroom through the phone. Give the students roles (e.g. parent/child, student/teacher, grandma/grandchild, best friends, police/civilian, and so forth). You can even give more specific situations like a teacher calling a parent to talk about the student's homework problem. Do not give students time to think. Instead call them up in pairs and throw them on stage. This way, you can help them on what they already know how to say because that provides an understanding of their truest levels in speaking and listening.
Picture Talk: Flash a picture to the student, reminding them to look carefully. The picture can be historical, it can be related to pop culture, it can be a picture from a book, or even include a painting like the Mona Lisa or Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party. The teacher has the choice to (1) hide the picture after a minute or two after allowing students to observe it and then ask the students what they saw by describing the picture or (2) have students tell a creative story using the picture.
Q&A Speed Round: Pause for five minutes and spend some time doing an oral quiz with the students. In our classroom, we learn about different themes (e.g. rainforests or oceans) and we also go around the world learning about different monuments, foods, and languages. Students love to be quizzed on factual information. They enjoy trying to recall the information and feel a sense of pride when they are able to answer the question correctly in a sentence.
Silent Mingle: This is a quick and engaging activity that can be used for two or three minutes in the day. All the students walk around the classroom quietly as the teacher plays music. As the music stops after a few seconds, all the students have to find a partner around them. The teacher poses a questions such as, “What is your favourite food to eat?” The students have to answer that question in their pairs. You can take one or two responses after each question is posed and answered to ensure that students are using the correct sentence structure.
Stop and Snap: I want students to learn new words as well. One quick way to do this is through this simple game. All students stand up with their hands straight to the side. I call out an action word (e.g. climb) and students show the action without getting into someone else's space or running around the classroom (be explicit about that or they will do it). Then I snap my fingers to signal that all students have to stop and freeze. I do this for a minute to energize them and teach them some new action words in the process.
Think-Pair-Share: In a lesson, the teacher talking too much is a signal to turn things around. Students should have spaces to speak with each other. TPS is an easy way to do this. I integrate it in almost all the lessons. In reading, for example, students talk and turn during the cover walk and even after I read a few pages to share ideas with each other.
Think Pair Share (Gentile, 2008)
Think-Pair-Repeat: This one is similar to TPS, but instead of sharing your own idea the student has to repeat the idea of their old partner to their new partner. This strategy helps build strong listening skills and also pushes the students to repeat what they have heard in their own words. What's In The Bag? This is a lot like Hot Potato, but instead revolves around an actual object instead of words written on a piece of par. Put an object in a bag and let one student see it. The student has to provide clues to help the other students guess the object name. The other students can ask questions to probe further. You can make it more fun by adding objects (e.g. eraser or stickers) for students to keep if they guess the object correctly. Most importantly, remind students that our goal is to speak in full sentences.