Teaching Speaking: Activities to Promote Speaking in a Second Language 

Teaching Speaking: Activities to Promote Speaking in a Second Language 


Speaking is the process of building and sharing meaning through the use of verbal and

non-verbal symbols, in a variety of contexts" (Chaney, 1998, p. 13). Speaking is a

crucial part of second language learning and teaching. Despite its importance, for many

years, teaching speaking has been undervalued and English language teachers have

continued to teach speaking just as a repetition of drills or memorization of dialogues.

However, today's world requires that the goal of teaching speaking should improve

students' communicative skills, because, only in that way, students can express

themselves and learn how to follow the social and cultural rules appropriate in each

communicative circumstance. In order to teach second language learners how to speak

in the best way possible, some speaking activities are provided below, that can be

applied to ESL and EFL classroom settings, together with suggestions for teachers who

teach oral language.

What  Is Teaching Speaking?

What is meant by teaching speaking" is to teach ESL learners to:

 Produce the English speech sounds and sound patterns

 Use word and sentence stress, intonation patterns and the rhythm of the second


 Select appropriate words and sentences according to the proper social setting,

audience, situation and subject matter.

 Organize their thoughts in a meaningful and logical sequence.

 Use language as a means of expressing values and judgments.

 Use the language quickly and confidently with few unnatural pauses, which is called

as fluency. (Nunan, 2003)

How To Teach Speaking

Now many linguistics and ESL teachers agree on that students learn to speak in the

second language by "interacting". Communicative language teaching and collaborative

learning serve best for this aim.  Communicative language teaching is based on real-life

situations that require communication. By using this method in ESL classes, students

will have the opportunity of communicating with each other in the target language.  In

brief, ESL teachers should create a classroom environment where students have real-

life communication, authentic activities, and meaningful tasks that promote oral

language. This can occur when students collaborate in groups to achieve a goal or to

complete a task.

Activities To Promote Speaking


After a content-based lesson, a discussion can be held for various reasons. The

students may aim to arrive at a conclusion, share ideas about an event, or find solutions

in their discussion groups. Before the discussion, it is essential that the purpose of the

discussion activity is set by the teacher. In this way, the discussion points are relevant

to this purpose, so that students do not spend their time chatting with each other about

irrelevant things. For example, students can become involved in agree/disagree

discussions. In this type of discussions, the teacher can form groups of students,

preferably 4 or 5 in each group, and provide controversial sentences like “people learn

best when they read vs. people learn best when they travel”. Then each group works on

their topic for a given time period, and presents their opinions to the class. It is essential

that the speaking should be equally divided among group members. At the end, the

class decides on the winning group who defended the idea in the best way. This activity

fosters critical thinking and quick decision making, and students learn how to express

and justify themselves in polite ways while disagreeing with the others. For efficient

group discussions, it is always better not to form large groups, because quiet students

may avoid contributing in large groups. The group members can be either assigned by

the teacher or the students may determine it by themselves, but groups should be

rearranged in every discussion activity so that students can work with various people

and learn to be open to different ideas. Lastly, in class or group discussions, whatever

the aim is, the students should always be encouraged to ask questions, paraphrase

ideas, express support, check for clarification, and so on.

Role Play

One other way of getting students to speak is role-playing. Students pretend they are in

various social contexts and have a variety of social roles. In role-play activities, the

teacher gives information to the learners such as who they are and what they think or

feel. Thus, the teacher can tell the student tha You are David, you go to the doctor and

tell him what happened last night, and(Harmer, 1984)


Simulations are very similar to role-plays but what makes simulations different than role

plays is that they are more elaborate. In simulations, students can bring items to the

class to create a realistic environment. For instance, if a student is acting as a singer,

she brings a microphone to sing and so on. Role plays and simulations have many

advantages. First, since they are entertaining, they motivate the students. Second, as

Harmer (1984) suggests, they increase the self-confidence of hesitant students,

because in role play and simulation activities, they will have a different role and do not

have to speak for themselves, which means they do not have to take the same


Information Gap

In this activity, students are supposed to be working in pairs. One student will have the

information that other partner does not have and the partners will share their

information. Information gap activities serve many purposes such as solving a problem

or collecting information.  Also, each partner plays an important role because the task

cannot be completed if the partners do not provide the information the others need.

These activities are effective because everybody has the opportunity to talk extensively

in the target language.


On a given topic, students can produce ideas in a limited time. Depending on the

context, either individual or group brainstorming is effective and learners generate ideas

quickly and freely. The good characteristics of brainstorming is that the students are not

criticized for their ideas so students will be open to sharing new ideas.


Students can briefly summarize a tale or story they heard from somebody beforehand,

or they may create their own stories to tell their classmates. Story telling fosters creative

thinking. It also helps students express ideas in the format of beginning, development,

and ending, including the characters and setting a story has to have. Students also can

tell riddles or jokes. For instance, at the very beginning of each class session, the

teacher may call a few students to tell short riddles or jokes as an opening. In this way,

not only will the teacher address students’ speaking ability, but also get the attention of

the class.


Students can conduct interviews on selected topics with various people. It is a good

idea that the teacher provides a rubric to students so that they know what type of

questions they can ask or what path to follow, but students should prepare their own

interview questions. Conducting interviews with people gives students a chance to

practice their speaking ability not only in class but also outside and helps them

becoming socialized. After interviews, each student can present his or her study to the

class. Moreover, students can interview each other and "introduce" his or her partner to

the class.

Story Completion

This is a very enjoyable, whole-class, free-speaking activity for which students sit in a

circle. For this activity, a teacher starts to tell a story, but after a few sentences he or

she stops narrating. Then, each student starts to narrate from the point where the

previous one stopped. Each student is supposed to add from four to ten sentences.

Students can add new characters, events, descriptions and so on.


Before coming to class, students are asked to read a newspaper or magazine and, in

class, they report to their friends what they find as the most interesting news. Students

can also talk about whether they have experienced anything worth telling their friends in

their daily lives before class.

Playing Cards

In this game, students should form groups of four. Each suit will represent a topic. For


 Diamonds: Earning money

 Hearts: Love and relationships

 Spades: An unforgettable memory

 Clubs: Best teacher

Each student in a group will choose a card. Then, each student will write 4-5 questions

about that topic to ask the other people in the group. For example:

If the topic "Diamonds: Earning Money" is selected, here are some possible questions:

 Is money important in your life? Why?

 What is the easiest way of earning money?

 What do you think about lottery? Etc.

However, the teacher should state at the very beginning of the activity that students are

not allowed to prepare yes-no questions, because by saying yes or no students get little

practice in spoken language production.  Rather, students ask open-ended questions to

each other so that they reply in complete sentences.

Picture Narrating

This activity is based on several sequential pictures. Students are asked to tell the story

taking place in the sequential pictures by paying attention to the criteria provided by the

teacher as a rubric. Rubrics can include the vocabulary or structures they need to use

while narrating.

Picture Describing

Another way to make use of pictures in a speaking activity is to give students just one

picture and having them describe what it is in the picture. For this activity students can

form groups and each group is given a different picture. Students discuss the picture

with their groups, then a spokesperson for each group describes the picture to the

whole class. This activity fosters the creativity and imagination of the learners as well as

their public speaking skills.

Find the Difference

For this activity students can work in pairs and each couple is given two different

pictures, for example, picture of boys playing football and another picture of girls playing

tennis. Students in pairs discuss the similarities and/or differences in the pictures.

Suggestions  For Teachers in Teaching Speaking

Here are some suggestions for English language teachers while teaching oral language:

 Provide maximum opportunity to students to speak the target language by providing

a rich environment that contains collaborative work, authentic materials and tasks,

and shared knowledge.

 Try to involve each student in every speaking activity; for this aim, practice different

ways of student participation.

 Reduce teacher speaking time in class while increasing student speaking time.

Step back and observe students.

 Indicate positive signs when commenting on a student's response.

 Ask eliciting questions such as "What do you mean? How did you reach that

conclusion?" in order to prompt students to speak more.

 Provide written feedback like "Your presentation was really great. It was a good job.

I really appreciated your efforts in preparing the materials and efficient use of your


 Do not correct students' pronunciation mistakes very often while they are speaking.

Correction should not distract student from his or her speech.

 Involve speaking activities not only in class but also out of class; contact parents

and other people who can help.

 Circulate around classroom to ensure that students are on the right track and see

whether they need your help while they work in groups or pairs.

 Provide the vocabulary beforehand that students need in speaking activities.

 Diagnose problems faced by students who have difficulty in expressing themselves

in the target language and provide more opportunities to practice the spoken



Teaching speaking is a very important part of second language learning. The ability to

communicate in a second language clearly and efficiently contributes to the success of

the learner in school and success later in every phase of life. Therefore, it is essential

that language teachers pay great attention to teaching speaking. Rather than leading

students to pure memorization, providing a rich environment where meaningful

communication takes place is desired. With this aim, various speaking activities such as

those listed above can contribute a great deal to students in developing basic interactive

skills necessary for life. These activities make students more active in the learning

process and at the same time make their learning more meaningful and fun for them.


 Celce-Murcia. M. 2001. Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language

(3rd ed). USA: Heinle&Heinle.

 Chaney, A.L., and T.L. Burk. 1998. Teaching Oral Communication in Grades K-8.

Boston: Allyn&Bacon.

 Baruah, T.C. 1991. The English Teacher's Handbook. Delhi: Sterling Publishing


 Brown, G. and G. Yule. 1983. Teaching the Spoken Language. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

 Harmer, J. 1984. The Practice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman.

 McDonough, J. and C. Shaw. 2003. Materials and Methods in ELT: a teacher’s

 guide. Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell.

 Nunan, D., 2003. Practical English Language Teaching. NY:McGraw-Hill.

 Staab, C. 1992. Oral language for today's classroom. Markham, ON: Pippin


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XII, No. 11, November 2006


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