7 Ways to Turn the Boring Coursebook into Engaging Speaking Tasks
Most ESL teachers need a coursebook to follow. It gives us a structure. It gives students a structure.
But it does not give us fun, engaging speaking tasks. At least, most coursebooks don’t, which is unfortunate since most students sign up for ESL classes to learn to speak English. However, because we are resourceful teachers, we can always supply the engaging speaking tasks that coursebooks seem to be missing.
Here are some great ways to turn that boring coursebook around:
7 Things You Can Do with the Coursebook
You got the job!
Most ESL coursebooks include a unit on jobs or professions. Activities usually involve describing what each profession does or involves. To make these tasks a little more engaging, have your class conduct job interviews instead. Divide students into pairs; one student is the interviewer and the other is the interviewee. Go around the class and give each pair a different profession or job to interview for.
Shopping information gap
An information gap exercise is a great way to engage students in speaking tasks. In this Shopping Information Gap, students are divided into pairs, and each is supplied with a worksheet with some information missing from it. Students ask each other questions to find the missing pieces. Use this worksheet, or try this one for Personal Information, but you may create your own information gap exercise on any coursebook topic.
Find someone who…
This is another classic activity, one that is quite popular among ESL teachers. Students are given a worksheet, like this Winter Vacation Find Someone Who, and their task is to ask the questions that are modeled in the worksheet, or come up with the right questions to find out who among their classmates has done something in particular. A great way to practice present perfect questions with “ever”. Try using a famous fictional character, like James Bond and ask your students to find someone who “has driven a sports car”, “been to India”, “used a spy gadget”, etc…
Meet My Friend!
This is theideal speaking task for beginners. In the worksheet, you’ll find cards with personal information on one side, and blanks to be filled in on the other. Students are divided into pairs, and they interview each other. They must supply the information given on their card, and take notes on their partner's. Then, each must report what they have found out about their new friend.
Rock n’ Role Play
Role plays are another classic speaking activity. And most coursebooks include role plays. But not all students enjoy them or take advantage of their opportunity to speak. The problem is not acting out the role play but how well the roles have been set up. To ensure successful role plays, you must go beyond the typical, “Student A is the client; student B is the customer”. When preparing role play cards or instructions include a lot of details and complications.
For example, divide students into groups and tell them they play in a Rock n' Roll band. Give each of them a different weekly schedule of activities. They must check their schedules and set up at least two practice sessions for the week. The more filled up their schedules are the harder it will be for them to schedule their rehearsals.
This popular board game can be adapted to suit any vocabulary. Some course materials even come with their own Taboo cards. But it’s not too hard to make your own. Each card should have a word to be described, as well as a few others words that can't be used in the description. For example, if the word is “cow”, the other words that can’t be used might be “milk”, “dairy”, or “udder”. Award one point for each word guessed correctly, and the team with the most points wins.
Class debates are amazing opportunities for extended speaking practice. As in the role plays, the effectiveness of the debates lies in how successful you are at engaging students. Some great topics for debate are:
- Pros and cons (of social media, email, the Internet, etc…)
- Solutions to a problem (global warming, energy crisis, etc…)
- Planning meetings (city planners deciding which problems need to be addressed, for example, and encourage students to use modals to say what should, could, or must be done)
Feel like throwing the boring coursebook out the window? No need to!
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Instead of working against it, work with it. Take what you need from it and create your own engaging speaking tasks. Or try any of these ideas and you will not only get your students to speak, you may have a hard time getting them to stop!
If you have any speaking tasks that work for you, don’t hesitate to share them below!
Claudia has been an ESL teacher for 20 years and has taught a wide variety of students from pre-schoolers to senior citizens, complete beginners to advanced students. This vast teaching experience has helped her write over 100 articles for BusyTeacher.org. When she is not teaching, she is also a freelance travel writer contributing reviews for V!VA Travel Guides' upcoming Uruguay edition, as well as travel articles and blog posts for a variety of online publications. She is currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina with her spunky 7-year old daughter and crabby 10-year old cat, Ulysses. Google +.
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Have a "fake debate." Have students debate a silly topic, for instance: 1. eggplant should be served at every dinner, 2. why green is a better color than blue, 3. why walking is better than standing still (or vice versa), 4. is it humane to feed a dog peanut butter. The point is to find a goofy topic that students can have fun with and come up with creative answers. They can work in pairs (one pair debating another pair) so that they can help each other with ideas and vocabulary. Allow teams to brain storm responses, then each team presents their argument pro or con (1 min or maybe 2 minutes each). Then each team responds or rebuts (another minute each). The audience votes on the winning team and one or two audience members can tell why they chose to vote as they did.
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