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Top 5 Interesting Speaking Activities for One-to-One Classes

Eric Vargas

When ESL students reach a certain level many of them are eager and excited to start talking (especially young adults). Giving a great conversation class calls for a bit of creativity and flexibility on the teacher’s part. A great lesson involves more than just asking questions like “how was your weekend?” Or “what are your hobbies?” Of course, these are great questions for the first lesson, but afterwards how do we keep our students talking?

Let’s take a look at these 5 fun activities that will keep your students engaged during your lessons. With these speaking activities you will surely get an enthusiastic response from your students:


1) Videos on Mute: For this activity try to find a short documentary, video, or scene from a movie. You may even use a video clip in a foreign language, (without subtitles) feel free to get as creative as you would like. It is best to find a video clip with a lot of things happening or perhaps a scene where something mysterious or confusing may be occurring. Show your student the video and make sure to have the audio on mute, once the video has ended ask your student what he/she thought was happening. You and your student can share your interpretations and talk about the characters, setting, and perhaps even talk about what will happen next. You will find that this activity will awaken your student’s imagination and maybe even open the way to other conversation topics. Near the end of the lesson you may even show the video to the student again (with audio) and then compare your observations with what was actually happening.


2) Controversy: For this exercise cut out some pieces of paper (large enough to write 2-3 lines) and in each piece of paper write out a question for you and your student to discuss. Make sure that the questions you write down are somewhat controversial and cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” A perfect example of this would be: “How do you feel about adoption? Should adopted children be told they are adopted and if so at what age?” Once you have about 10 pieces of paper, put them in a bowl, hat, or basket and take turns picking one out at random. Encourage your student to ask you some questions as well so that the activity is less like an interview and more like a free flowing conversation.

If you have a student who loves to debate you may write down questions which are even more controversial and defend the opposing side of your student’s argument. Depending on your student’s level, personality, and cultural background you can discuss anything from plastic surgery to drug addiction. Feel free to get as creative as you’d like!

3) Current Events/News: Every couple of weeks try to find an interesting news article to bring to the class. You may use newspapers from your own country, magazines, or online blog articles that you feel might interest your student. For this activity a bit of creativity will also go a long way. Try to work with an article that will provoke your student to express his or her opinion, a few topics that could spark an interest could be: a strange news report, a new law that your student doesn’t agree with, a violent event/accident, celebrity gossip, health related news, etc.
Using news reports is also a really effective way to help your student build up their vocabulary. For extra points have your student read the article out loud to you (near the end of the lesson) and focus on correcting their pronunciation.

4) Role Play: Practice acting out some common situations your student may encounter while speaking to foreigners or while travelling abroad. Don’t be afraid to have the student lead the role play activity as this will make things more interesting. Common role play situations you and your student could work with include: Business meetings, at the doctor’s, calling customer service and making complaints, at the airport etc.

Don’t be afraid to have the student lead the role play activity as this will make things more interesting.

5) Photography: Using photographs in your conversation classes is an excellent way to get your student talking. Using pictures which present a vague or ambiguous image is a great way to get your student to use descriptive language. You may even get more creative and bring three or four photographs which have something in common with each other (or perhaps nothing at all) while encouraging your student to invent a story or explain why the pictures are somehow related. Another great activity is the “art critic” exercise where you and your student rate and critique a series of photographs. During this exercise you can give each photograph a rating and even express why you and the student think the pictures (or the artist) are good or bad.


As you continue giving classes and getting into your own rhythm, you will more than likely start getting ideas of your own. Allow yourself to be creative and make sure to present your student with variety in each lesson. Make sure to keep your students guessing and constantly thinking “what’s next?” but most importantly listen to your student. Get to know your student and tailor your lessons around their interests, goals, and weaknesses. In time you will begin to see great progress in your students which they will surely thank you for!

About the author

Eric is an American expat currently living in Buenos Aires Argentina. When he isn’t working on his upcoming book or giving classes to his ESL students he enjoys listening to Spanish Alternative rock, painting, and exploring the Buenos Aires nightlife.