Classroom activities that encourage kids to speak English

By Allan Sweeney

By Allan Sweeney

By Allan Sweeney

While grammar and vocabulary are important, developing speaking skills is crucial for kids to become fluent English speakers.

ESL activities to get young learners speaking English.

These 14 low-prep activity ideas are designed to encourage young learners to open up, building confidence in their speaking ability. We hope you find them useful. 

If you want more ideas like this, check out some of our low-prep ESL lesson plans.

Warm-up & revision activities

Ball toss

Review vocabulary and practice speaking skills by having students say a word related to a specific category while tossing a soft ball to one another.

This is a great activity to wake up lethargic children for a late afternoon class or just after lunch.

To prepare, select a category relevant to your students' level and recent lesson content. You will also need a soft ball or teddy for the students to throw around.

Gather the students in a circle, either sitting or standing and explain the activity objective: They will be tossing a ball to each other and saying a word related to the chosen category.

Provide an example by starting the game yourself, holding the ball and saying a word related to the category (e.g., if the theme is animals, say "elephant"). Toss the ball to a student, who must catch it and say a word related to that topic. The student with the ball tosses it to another student, who must also say a word.

Continue the activity until each student has had a turn, or the group runs out of words. Before you begin, let the students know they cannot repeat words other students have already used.

Personal information and review

The students revise giving personal information and answering questions related to recently studied material.

This fantastic warmer activity can be added to throughout the year as the students cover more material. We use this in our study skills lesson plan on the Adult Beginners course, but it works just as well, if not better, with children.

If you have already taught the students to give some personal information, go around the class and ask each student a few questions. 

Start with personal questions and then move on to a few questions related to the topics you have covered throughout the academic year. Some example questions might look like the following:


  • Hello/Hi
  • How are you?
  • What's your name?
  • Where are you from?
  • What day is it?
  • What time is it?
  • What's the weather like today?
  • What colour is your school bag?

Favourite activity charade

For this warmer activity, students stand in a circle, introduce themselves by saying their name and then act out their favourite hobby or pastime for their classmates to guess.

This is a fantastic way to get students comfortable with each other while practising speaking and listening skills.

Begin by asking students to stand in a circle and explain that they will introduce themselves by saying their names and acting out their favourite activity.

You should demonstrate the activity by jumping into the centre of the circle and saying: 

"My name is ____", and my favourite activity is… (act out the activity).

Encourage the students to be creative and act out their activity in a way that will make it easy for the other students to guess what it is.

Continue the activity until each student has had a chance to introduce themselves and act out their favourite activity.

Time shift

Students have to modify a present tense statement using a past tense that they are familiar with.

This is a great warm-up activity idea for young students who are still struggling with past tenses.

Begin by explaining to the students that they will be practising converting present simple statements into the past simple or past continuous.

Give each student a present simple statement, such as "I eat breakfast at 7 am." 

Ask the student to convert the statement into any other tense they have studied. For example, "Yesterday, I ate breakfast at 7 am." or "At 7 am yesterday, I was eating breakfast."

Continue the activity until each student has had a turn.

Story chain

The students have to add vocabulary items to an ever-expanding story.

We can use a very simple version of this ESL activity idea to get students warmed up and speaking at the beginning of a lesson.

Begin by selecting a current or recent theme that the students are familiar with. Select a theme with a lot of vocabulary, such as animals or places in town.

Start the story with a simple sentence, such as "On Saturday, I went to the zoo and saw a tiger."

Ask the first student to repeat the story and then add a new item to the list of things in the story. For example:

"On Saturday, I went to the zoo and saw a tiger and an elephant."

Continue the activity with each student adding a new item to the story until everyone has had a chance to contribute.


  • During the activity, you should repeat the story each time a new item is added, emphasising the correct usage of articles and how to list things correctly in English. 

Tell me about it

For this warm-up activity idea, students have to describe something to the teacher using prompts from the board.

Begin by selecting a theme and a set of vocabulary items related to that theme, such as animals, food, or professions.

Write 2-4 prompts on the board that will help the students describe the item, using target language structures that the students are familiar with. For example, if you selected animals, the prompts might be:

  1. ____ are ____.
  2. They live in ____.
  3. They have ____.
  4. I like/don't like ____ because ____.

Demo the activity a couple of times before giving each student an item to describe. 

Grammar translation 

This ESL warm-up activity has students translating simple statements from their native language into English.

The grammar translation method of language teaching has been widely discredited, so we encourage you to lean on it sparingly. That being said, it can serve a function as a simple 5-minute warmer activity if you have a good enough grasp of your students' native language.

Go around the class and ask each student to translate a couple of simple statements into English. Make sure the sentences target familiar language structures and recently covered language areas. Try to include a variety of language, such as questions, affirmative sentences, and negative statements.

As each student translates, listen carefully and provide feedback on their pronunciation and accuracy. This activity may also reveal language areas that need to be targeted in the future.

If necessary, revise any vocabulary or grammar points that came up during the translation activity. Continue until each student has had a chance to translate a couple of the statements.

ESL activities that get kids speaking

Role play

The students act out a simple scene related to a theme they are studying.

Choose a scenario relevant to your students' learning level and recent lesson content, and prepare a list of useful vocabulary and phrases.

Start by introducing the chosen scenario to the students, explaining the activity, and then reviewing helpful vocabulary and phrases on the board.

Encourage students to practise the vocabulary and phrases, repeating after you or using them in example sentences.

Divide the class into pairs or small groups, and assign each student a role related to the scenario (e.g., doctor and patient, waiter and customer). 

Give students a few minutes to plan their conversation, allowing them to practise the vocabulary and phrases with their partner or group. As the students practice, you should move between the groups, offering guidance, encouragement, and feedback.

Depending on the class size and time constraints, have each pair or group act out their conversation in front of the class. 

After each role-play, provide constructive feedback on students' pronunciation, grammar and use of the target language.

Remember to adjust the complexity of the role-play scene and vocabulary based on your students' proficiency level.

Some example scenarios for kids could be:


  • Buying something at the shops
  • Asking for directions
  • Checking into a hotel
  • At the doctor
  • Ordering food in a restaurant
  • At the pet store
  • Job interview

Interview time

The students take turns interviewing each other about a particular theme or topic using language structures that they are familiar with.

Prepare a simple interview exchange related to a chosen topic, such as introductions or talking about your family. Add the dialogue to the board with sample questions and responses, ensuring it is appropriate for the students' learning level and recent lesson content. 

To see an example, have a look at the board work for our Introductions lesson plan on our Adult Beginners course.

Introduce the activity to the students, explaining that they will practise interviewing each other using the prepared dialogue as a guide.

Go over the dialogue on the board, demonstrating pronunciation, grammar, and the usage of the key vocabulary and phrases. At this point, you could also practise the interview with another student in front of the class.

Now divide the students into pairs and have them take turns interviewing each other. Remind them to personalise and adjust their responses according to their own experiences and preferences.

Monitor the students throughout, providing guidance, encouragement, and feedback as necessary.

After the interview practice, bring the class together for a debriefing session. Ask students to share any interesting or surprising information they learned about their classmates during the interviews.

Example interview topics:


  • Introductions
  • Giving personal information
  • Favourite animal
  • Family
  • Hobbies
  • Favourite possession

Show and tell

In this activity, students practise their speaking skills by presenting a picture or drawing related to a chosen topic and answering relevant questions in front of the class.

You can use this activity idea with many themes that apply to young learners. It also serves as a fantastic homework activity.

To prepare, choose a topic relevant to your students' learning level and recent lesson content.

Some examples:

  • My favourite book
  • My best friend
  • My favourite hobby
  • My bedroom
  • My favourite TV show
  • My family
  • My home

Assign the students a homework task to bring a picture or drawing related to the chosen topic for the next class. You should provide the students with a list of questions that they will have to answer during their presentation.

Start the activity by having each student come to the front of the class individually to present their picture or drawing. Ask the student to describe the image using the list of questions as a guide. Encourage them to speak clearly and confidently, using complete sentences and relevant vocabulary.

As each student presents, provide support and encouragement, and give guidance on pronunciation and grammar as needed. Allow other students to ask questions or make comments after each presentation.

Chain storytelling

Students collaboratively create a story by each contributing a sentence, building upon the narrative as the teacher writes the sentences on the board.

Another fantastic activity idea that can be used to practise a multitude of themes and improve your students' understanding of narrative tenses. And as your students become more confident with these language structures, you can turn this into a fun game. We did this in our blog article on ESL games to teach past tenses.

Begin the activity by writing an engaging opening sentence or two on the board to set the stage for the story. Explain to the students that they will participate in creating a story together by each contributing one sentence.

Start by eliciting a sentence from the first student, encouraging them to build upon the initial sentences you provided. Write their statement on the board, continuing the story. Move around the class, asking each student to add to the story while keeping the narrative coherent and interesting.

As the teacher, you should guide the students with prompts and suggestions to help them develop creative and relevant sentences. Once all students have contributed, read the entire story aloud to the class and praise their collaborative storytelling effort.

More problems

The students have to work in groups to come up with a plan that solves a particular task.

Introduce the activity by presenting the class with a specific task related to a theme that you are working on (See our examples at the end). 

For this example, let's use the challenge of "planning a class party".

Divide the students into small groups, and have them work together to create a list of tasks they need to accomplish for the party. Before they begin, brainstorm the areas they need to consider, like food, decorations, invitations, games, and music. Cover any relevant vocabulary and phrases, and add these to the board.

Once the groups have finished planning, ask each to present their plan to the class, explaining their decisions and using appropriate language.

Here is a list of fun challenges to get you going:

Designing a new playground: Students can brainstorm ideas for equipment, layout, safety features, and themes for a new playground.

Organising a school trip: Students can plan a visit to a museum, zoo, or other educational attraction, considering transportation, food, activities, and permissions.

Creating a class magazine: Students can collaborate on content ideas, assign roles such as writers and editors, and decide on the design and layout.

Designing a community garden: Students can discuss what plants to grow, how to allocate space, and how to involve community members in maintaining the garden.

Planning a charity event: Students can choose a cause and organise a fundraising event, such as a bake sale, talent show, or fun run.

Creating a healthy school menu: Students can work together to design a nutritious and appealing school lunch menu, considering dietary restrictions and cultural preferences.

Preparing for a natural disaster: Students can research and create a plan for their school or community in case of a flood, earthquake, alien invasion, or other natural disaster.

Reducing waste at school: Students can brainstorm ways to minimise waste, promote recycling, and encourage environmentally-friendly practices in their school.

Inventing a new holiday: Students can create a unique holiday, discussing the purpose, traditions, and activities that would be part of the celebration.

Tongue twister challenge

Students practise their pronunciation and speaking skills by learning and repeating a tongue twister related to a specific theme they are studying.

Introduce the activity by explaining the concept of a "tongue twister" to your students and letting them know that they are going to learn one. 

Choose a tongue twister relevant to the lesson content and appropriate for the students' learning level. Check out our article 53 Fun tongue twisters to use in your English classes to help you get ideas.

Begin by writing the tongue twister on the board and reading it aloud to the students, demonstrating the correct pronunciation and rhythm. Break down the tongue twister into smaller parts, focusing on any challenging words, sounds, or combinations. Practise these parts with the students, encouraging them to repeat after you and gradually increase their speed as they become more comfortable.

Once the students have practised the individual parts, have them try to say the tongue twister slowly and then gradually build up their speed. 

Encourage students to work individually or in pairs, providing guidance and support as needed. You can also create a fun competition by having students take turns saying the tongue twister in front of the class and timing them to see who can say it the fastest without making mistakes.

Remember to adjust the complexity of the tongue twister based on your students' proficiency level, and consider using tongue twisters that focus on specific sounds or vocabulary that your students find challenging.

Back-to-back drawing

A pair-work activity where one student describes a picture or scene while the other draws it based on the description.

Begin the activity by dividing the students into pairs and providing each pairing with drawing materials, such as paper and pencils or markers, and an image chosen from a book, magazine, or other visual source. It should be rich in detail and relevant to the lesson content.

Explain that one student will describe the picture or scene in detail while their partner, with their back to the first student, will draw the image based on the description. Encourage the describing student to use precise vocabulary and complete sentences that clearly and accurately describe the picture.

As the students work in pairs, move around the classroom, offering guidance and support on vocabulary and pronunciation. Encourage the listening students to ask questions if they need clarification and remind the describing students to be as detailed as possible.

Once the pairs have completed their drawings, they should compare them to the original pictures or scenes. Provide feedback on the accuracy of the descriptions and the overall communication between the partners. 

Remember to adjust the complexity of the pictures and vocabulary based on your students' proficiency level.


We hope that you find more than a few of these ideas helpful and that they speed up your lesson planning. As always, we encourage you to adapt these activities to suit your group's individual needs. 

We'd love to hear about any other ESL speaking activities that you've found particularly effective in your teaching experience. 

Don't be shy, let us know in the comments!

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Allan Sweeney

Allan is the Co-Founder & Lead Developer on the TEFL Handbook project. He spends his time building software and creating resources that support English teaching. You can learn more about his goals for the project here.


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