Get chatting: 10 ways to help ESL students open up
June 2, 2015 | By: Caitlin Hirsch
Categories: Teacher Tuesday

Some people are naturally shy, but when it comes to learning a foreign language, lots of folks get tight-lipped. If you are an ESL teacher, have you ever struggled to get your students speaking in class?

There are loads of ways to get students talking, like making sure they have the necessary language tools to express themselves. Sometimes, the best strategy is to keep things light and fun. Without the pressure of correctly answering a question on the spot or read aloud from a course book, you might be surprised to find how chatty your ESL students can be!

10 quirky ways to get your students to open up

  1. Ask students if there are any songs stuck in their head. Then, see if they’re willing to sing or hum a few lines for the class—this often results in a whole-class song-and-dance moment!
  2. Play Pictionary. Have students guess which famous TV show you’re drawing, and then ask if any volunteers would like to come up and draw their favorite show.
  3. PC or Mac? Tell your students that you’re thinking about getting a new computer and can’t decide if you should get a Mac or PC. You want their advice. You’ll be shocked just how passionate some students are about this topic.
  4. Ask students if there’s a specific gesture or greeting unique to their family, group of friends, or culture. Ask them to demonstrate and explain it to the rest of the class.
  5. Pose the question “What three items would you want on a desert island for survival?” and watch your students erupt in ideas!
  6. Students. Love. Idioms. Teach your students a few animal-themed idioms, such as “you’re such a fox” and “he’s a total pig,” and explain their meaning. This might sound a bit risky, but it can be very successful if done properly. Ask what animal idioms they have in their native language.
  7. Favorite smells. See which smells they love the most and why they are drawn to those scents. Students often have great stories about why they love the smell of the ocean, or their grandmother’s apple pie.
  8. The telephone game. Do you remember the grade-school game Telephone? Time to resurrect it! Whisper a word or phrase to one student, who whispers it to the second, until every student has heard it. This is a low-stress activity for shy students since they don’t have to speak out loud and messing up is what makes it fun.
  9. Potluck! Host a potluck and have every student bring in their favorite dish. Ask students to describe their dish to the rest of the class.
  10. Complete this phrase: “If I had a million dollars, I’d…”

What are your favorite ways to get ESL students talking in class?