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Enjoyable ESL Speaking Activities

written by: Audrey Alleyne • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/4/2012

Students of English as a second language may feel timid to speak. Here are some simple and effective ESL speaking activities that will alleviate their fear and trepidation.

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    Picture Activities for Present and Present Continuous Tenses

    There are a number of activities you can use to get students speaking, and the more they speak, the more fluent they become. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use pictures. Your picture speaking activities can involve magazine pictures, looking at a film and discussing after, or discussing a poster on the wall. Use this method to teach the present and present continuous tense

    For example, use a picture of a hotel or a family home with members of the family within. Point to individuals in the picture and ask your students questions such as:

    • What is happening?
    • What is the woman in room 6 doing? Is she writing a letter or is she reading?
    • What is the woman in the kitchen doing?
    • Let students take turns at asking questions, after you have set up the model.

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    To practice these tenses, you can also mime actions. You can pick up a newspaper and read it, then ask:

    • Am I reading the paper at the moment?
    • You then nod indicating that the student should reply in the affirmative; then you ask further: What am I doing? And the student could respond, "You are reading the paper."
    • To apply the negative form, you simply ask a question such as, “Am I writing?" and make the motion of your head to indicate no, so the student will reply, “No you are not, you are reading the paper".
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    Present Perfect and Conditional Tenses

    Continuing with the theory of using pictures for ESL speaking activities, use a world map to have students practice the present perfect tenses. For example, point to a map of the United States and ask:

    • Have you ever been to the United States before?
    • Point to the map of England and ask, “Have you been to England"? If the answer is yes, you may ask, "How many times have you been?"
    • The same map and theme could be used to practice the conditional tense: “What would you do if you ever visited France?" “Where would you choose to go for a vacation?" and so on.

    Even if you do not use a map you could simply have students practice in pairs, asking each other questions such as, "How many times have you moved?" "Have you ever met a famous actress?" or "Have you ever seen the Great Wall of China?"

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    Rerun Variations

    Remember to set the scene, demonstrate the examples of the structures and then have students do most of the work, asking the questions and responding to one other. Ensure that they use both affirmative and negative answers. These drills will be most effective if you repeat variations ever so often. For example, in another lesson you can have them say:

    • I visited Paris last year. Have you ever visited Paris? or
    • What about you? Have you ever visited Paris?

    The answer could be:

    • I’ve visited Paris too or I visited Paris last year too


    • I haven’t been to New York. What about you?
    • Response: I haven’t either or I haven’t been to New York either or simply Yes, I have.

    Your students should find these to be fun activities, and will automatically lose their timidity to speak English.