3 Massive Downloadable ESL Speaking Activities for "Have You Ever...?"
Hi guys! I'm Steve, of the eponymous Hal & Steve English. Here's how this guide is gonna go...
I'm going to tell you how I run my ESL speaking classes and then I'm going to give you 3 awesome esl speaking lesson plans to use with your students.
*IF YOU'RE HERE JUST FOR THE FREE RESOURCES, GO TO ABOUT THE HALFWAY POINT AND YOU'LL FIND THEM
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It’s Hard To Find Quality ESL Speaking Activities
Alright... Esl speaking activities for primary, secondary, and adult esl students should be a dime a dozen. You should be able to go to google, type those lovely keywords in, and find a ton of great resources to use. Go ahead. Try it yourself. Search “Esl Speaking Activities”, “Have you ever ESL questions”, “Fun ESL question patterns”, or whatever else you can think of.
What did you find?
Probably a few boring HTML sites with questions just copy and pasted on the page.
Or worse… a neon bright homepage with flash animations ripped straight from a 90’s page builder.
Those things are just not very useful for a teacher who’s looking for meaningful exercises in class.
Who’s this random internet dude talking to you? And what am I going to give you for free?
I’m Steve. From Hal and Steve English, if the site url didn’t give that bit away. In this post, I’m really hoping to discuss ways to provide meaningful ESL speaking activities that will give progress for your esl students, great speaking practice to strengthen their abilities, and about 3 different free resources to make sure your class is actually fun.
Remember, esl students learn better through motivation, and having a fun time with your classmates is the best motivation of all.
Alright, so let’s talk about ESL speaking activities. What do you think about them?
Your students should actually speak in class
In my opinion, student output should occupy the majority of the class time. And remember, ‘output’ means the esl students are producing something in the target language. For the majority of ESL teachers out there, especially Native English Speaker Teachers, your goal is speaking.
Here’s my basic formula
In my class, I generally do a 5 minute review, 10 minutes instruction on new vocabulary, 10 minutes drilling of new grammar, and 25-30 minutes of pair work (student output). I assign writing activities for homework, so I’m able to hit all 4 skills in every class, between in-class and at-home activities.
This is the method I recommend for most teachers.
If you spend too much time at the front of the class, lecturing the esl students, droning on and on… they’ll never have a chance to actually use the language. And without an opportunity to use the language, they’ll never retain any of the information you’ve given them from your unit. Not only is it a poor use of your time, it’s just going to make you and your kids frustrated.
So once you have a basic idea of what you’re doing with class time, you’ve got to make sure you’ve nipped your bad teaching habits in the bud.
There’s a time and a place for everything, but if you want your esl students to actual become great English speakers, they need pair work. And they need output time.
Pairwork is better than group work
Remember this: for ESL Speaking Activities, the best way for students to reinforce what they’ve learned is through pair work. In groups of 3 or larger, the students don’t get to speak as often. It’s simple math. If you give the students 25 minutes of total class time for speaking in pairs, then ideally each student will receive 12 minutes and 30 seconds to speak.
BUT… if there are 3 kids in the group, then each child will only be able to speak for 8 minutes and 20 seconds. With 4 kids, 6 minutes and 25 seconds.
Think about that… the difference between 2 esl students talking together in a pair and 4 esl students talking together in a group is a reduction of HALF of available speaking time.
If you do that all year long, the students are basically missing out on 6 entire months of speaking practice that they would have otherwise received.
If you’re worried about them missing out on opportunities to talk to everyone in class, just change the pairs up every 2 minutes.
For ESL Speaking Activities, you need to focus on pair work.
Students don’t learn from painful 40 minute grammar explanations, they learn from doing
And also… don’t “teach” too much. When instructing the students, you should only explain as much as needed.
With young esl students, I’ve often seen teachers commit the sin of over-explaining each and every point on the board.
Let’s take “Have you ever” for example. The Present Perfect Simple is a fantastic verb tense to use with esl students. Specifically, it’s often used to describe experiences. That’s something students love to talk to each other about.
You really don’t need to push them that hard to use “Have you ever…” in fun conversations.
And you don’t really need to hold their hands while teaching the grammar points.
Just write down the patterns on the board, and let the kids do the rest.
For example, every day I always write down the verb tense we’ll be using in class. I write down that tense’s structure in question, short answer, and statement form.
To teach the esl students this, I read off the question once to myself, and answer it myself. I then ask 3-5 students a question, and allow them to figure out the short answer grammar with their own intuition.
It’s written on the board, isn’t it? They must be able to put “2” and “2” together, so to speak.
After the’ve responded, I’ll ask them to volunteer to ask me questions using this format. Again, I’ll select 3-5 students.
It’s totally fine if they don’t get it at first
Some days, the ESL students don’t quite understand. They can’t quite grasp the difference between “I have been to the park” vs “I went to the park”. Or, they’re struggling with where to place adverbs in the midst of all of those words.
It takes 5 experiences with a new topic to actually learn it, anyway.
But in a ESL speaking class, you really need to focus on the students’ speaking. You mustn’t focus on your lecturing or the minutiae of sentence structure. Find the goal of each lesson, typically the target language, and only focus on that for the day.
If you focus too much on THIS or too much on THAT, and do anything that reduces the actual amount of time the esl students will spend speaking in class, then you’ll only hurt their progress. No matter what you might think or how much you think you’re helping.
I know, I know… you’re students are making silly mistakes. OR you’ve got some super low level kids who are butchering every thing coming of their mouths. That doesn’t matter. Focus on today’s goal… the lesson’s target langauge. As long as they’re hitting in and around that goal, then they’re doing fine.
Here’s how I would apply these points in a lesson on “Have You Ever”
Let’s take the “Have you ever” present perfect simple pattern for example. The most important reason to use this verb tense is to describe experiences. That’s the first rule I always teach my esl students when we introduce the present perfect simple.
So, to warm the kids up, make a slideshow. Use some crazy images of food: expensive lobsters, super spicy ramen, or even gigantic cheeseburgers.
And make a few sentences… “I have never eaten spicy ramen,” or “I have eaten a gigantic cheeseburger”.
After you make a few sentences, have your esl students produce their own.
Then, break them into pairs to ask each other about experiences of their own. When they’ve finished talking, have them summarize their partner’s response to you.
This experiential based learning is much more useful to the students than listening to their teacher create examples of their own or just drone on and on about the usefulness of the grammar. Remember, we want the students to produce as much output as they can in class. And output, in our ESL speaking classes, are 100% speaking.
Let’s quickly review what we’ve discussed.
- Focus on student output. Make sure that students are speaking at least 50% of the class time.
- Don’t do group activities. Try to make activities pair based. Rotate partners every 2-3 minutes.
- Don’t waste precious class time trying to explain grammar points. Use fun activities to force the students to experience the grammar.
Now that I’ve told you how to teach ESL speaking, let’s talk about our ESL speaking activities. All of our lesson at Hal and Steve English are made with speaking in mind. That’s always our end goal for any student. I could pick any bundle from our bunch and show you some really fun activities for them, and today I’ve decided to use the present perfect simple question “Have you ever…?”
It’s important to note that the present perfect simple question “Have you ever…?” is A2 level.
What is A2 level?
Well, as an international standard, A2 means high beginner. But, that’s a bit misleading. Unless you’re in a very competitive area, A2 is pretty high for primary, secondary, or even adult students. It means the student is able to comfortably respond to questions and hold basic conversations on their own. BUT… they’re not at the point of being independent users of the language. They’ll probably still need help in most situations, whether that means using their phones to translate or relying on a friend.
Especially for ESL teachers in Asia, A2 level can be a little tough for esl students. Because of that, you’ll want to use really simple vocabulary in these exercises.
This is my favorite esl speaking activity. I do it almost everyday with my classes: from kindergarten all the way up to adults.
In this esl students, I choose a specific verb tense. Again, we’re using “Have you ever…?” today. I’ll make about 10-15 fun questions for the students to use.
“Have you ever traveled to…?”
“Have you ever eaten…?”
Have you ever seen…?”
I break the esl students into pairs. I set a timer for 2-3 minutes. During that time, they should ask and answer as many questions as they possibly can in a conversation. They must use short answer + sentences form. They can’t just say “yes” or “no”.
For example, I expect them to say: “Yes, I have. I have traveled to Spain.” or “No, I haven’t. I haven’t traveled to Spain.”
Once time’s up, I ask each student to tell me one interesting fact about what their partner had said. The students should use complete sentences at this point. “She has never been to Spain.” or “She has been to Spain 3 times.”
After everyone has responded, I assign the students to new partners, and the cycle continues. I do this for at least 3 rotations. If we have a lot more time in the class, I ask the students to write down 5 of their own fun questions using the “Have you ever…?” present perfect simple structure. After which, the students will talk for 1-3 more rounds.
For homework, the students should write responses on the question sheet I provided them at the beginning of class. Remember, during the entire class time they were speaking, so we still need to give them some writing work to get used to the “Have you ever…?” structure.
Speed Dating is a great activity. I really haven’t found a better, more consistent, engaging activity for the students to do everyday. This is the backbone of my class and one that provides me great results. Of all the ESL speaking activities, I really think that ESL speed dating should be a fundamental part of any speaking class.
In this entire activity, the esl students get to practice speaking in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person, as well. Which is a great bonus.
Here’s a sample of what we do "Have you ever..." FREE sample lesson
And you can find a full lesson here "Have you ever..." FULL lesson
As teachers, we sometimes forget that we were once students. When you were learning a new lanaguage, were you happily engaged in an activity if the teacher gave you a drab word document and told you “Here, have a conversation”?
Every new twist to an activity make it THAT MUCH MORE interesting to your esl students. Add some color to your fonts, add some images to your files, insert a video… all of these are fun fun fun ADDITIONS that help your students engage with your material.
That’s why a simple game of Famous Characters is so much more fun.
This ESL speaking activity is pretty simple. Get about 20 pictures of famous characters, I recommend using 15 worldwide famous characters and 5 that are culturally relevant to your esl students. For example, it could be the local school mascot, their president, or anything else from their specific society.
But make sure you have a ton.
Print out those pictures so they’re about the size of a playing card. And make little decks.
My pile of cards includes characters like Yoda, Simba, Iron Man, Shazam, and a local Korean favorite Pororo.
I separate the esl students into pairs. Again, remember that pairs are the most effective way for students to gain English speaking experience.
I place a deck of these Famous Characters on the desk in front of each pair of students, and time them. I give them 3 minutes to speak and describe the characters.
Remember, we’re focusing on the “Have you ever…?” grammar pattern, so that’s what I would expect the students to produce.
When the timer rings, I allow the esl students to repeat their sentences to me. I award them one point for a positive statement (Iron Man has fought his friends) and two points for a negative statement (Yoda hasn’t eaten a cheesburger).
After I’ve recorded all their points, I reassign partners, and have them continue as long as class time remains.
2 TRUTHS 1 LIE
I love this game. It’s really fun to play with esl students, no matter the age. At this part of the ESL speaking activities list, I’m starting to break a few of my own rules. 2 Truths 1 Lie is ideally a game played in a group setting, and requires energetic students to be played in pairs.
The premise of the esl game is simple. Each student should write down 2 truths and 1 lie on a small piece of paper. Remember, we are focusing on the “Have you ever…?” grammar pattern.
Divide them into pairs, again. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Have the students pick and pry at each other to see which statements are true and which one is a lie.
For example, I would write “I have visited New York City, I have never talked to the president, I have never taken an airplane.”
The students shouldn’t ask me directly “Have you ever visited New York City?”... that would be no fun at all. Instead, they should ask me interesting questions that a person who visited New York City should know.
“Have you ever been to the Statue of Liberty?” or “Have you ever eaten New York style pizza?” During this esl game in particular, it’s okay for students to ask questions using not just present perfect simple, but past simple as well.
“Did you eat pizza in New York?” or “What did you do in New York?”... but they should try to divide their questions evenly between present perfect simple and past simple.
Once the timer goes off, ask each student what they think their partners’ lie is, and award them points if their correct. Once you’ve done that, assign the students to new partners, and go through the cycle again.
For homework, have the students write 5 present perfect simple sentences about each partner they talked to.
That’s pretty much the extent of this activity. It’s usually pretty fun to play in a large group as well, but I wouldn’t recommend that for a normal class. As you know, the more students you involved in an activity, the less time each student gets to speak.
But on rare occasions, if you really want to lay a fun group game, 2 Truths 1 Lie is definitely the one to do it with.
Here’s a sample of what we do, click here for 2 Truths 1 Lie free sample lesson
And you can find a full lesson here 2 Truths 1 Lie FULL lesson
Let's close this out...
In general, I like to use the same speaking activities over and over and over again. I know a lot of teachers invest time and effort into arts, crafts, and other tools for their classroom. Those methods might work for some, but I’ve often found that those types of games or activities take precious time away from my class’s true focus: speaking.
With that in mind, I highly recommend that you use these ESL speaking activities in your classroom. Whether you choose speed dating, famous characters, or 2 truths 1 lie, your bound to find that your students overall retention and fluency will increase over the months and years.
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