Speaking Activities for ESL Students

31 October 2014 by Diane

Have you ever asked a question to your English class, only to be answered with complete silence and blank stares? At one point every English teacher has had the struggle of encouraging students to speak. Perhaps the student has a deep fear of making a mistake, or maybe the student is just shy, even in their native language. Whatever the reason, here is a list of a few fun English activities to get your students to speak English!

1. Who's telling the truth?

Have each student write three facts about themselves that nobody in the class knows on a piece of paper. Make sure each student includes his/her name on the top of the paper. Collect the sheets of paper and bring three students to the front of the room. Read aloud one of the facts that is true for one of the students in the front of the room. The class then proceeds to question the students in an attempt to determine who is telling the truth, and who is lying. Each student is allowed to ask one question to one of the three students. After a round of questioning, the students predict who is telling the truth.

2. Taboo Variations

Variation #1: Create a PowerPoint presentation with each slide containing a noun. Have one student come to the front of the room and sit with his/her back to the PowerPoint. The students in the class should take turns describing the words for the student in the front of the room to guess.

Variation #2: Separate the students into groups of 4/5. Place a pile of cards with random nouns in the center of the group. Have students take turns describing the nouns for their group members to guess. The group member who guesses correctly keeps the card in an attempt to have the most cards at the end of the game.

Variation #3 (Advanced speakers): Separate the class into two teams.Students are given a word to describe to their teammates, in addition to a list of words that they cannot use in their description. Each student should have 2-3 minutes to see how many words his/her teammates can guess.

3. Descriptive drawing activity

Pair up the students and give them each a picture face down. They must describe the picture for their partner to draw. This can be used as a warm-up activity that leads into the topic of descriptive speeches.

4. Comic strip descriptions

Give each student a portion of a comic strip. Without showing their pictures to one another, the students should attempt to describe their image, and put the comic strip into the correct order. After about ten minutes, the students can predict the order, show one another their portion, and see if they were correct!

5. "Secret" word

Students are given a random topic, and a random word completely unrelated to the topic. The student must hide the word in their speech, without the other students in the class guessing their "secret" word. The other students in the class must listen carefully to the speech, in an attempt to discover the secret word.

6. Debates

Give each student a piece of paper with “agree” written on one side, and “disagree” on the other side. Read aloud a controversial statement, and have each students hold up his/her paper stating whether they agree or disagree. Choose one student from each side to explain his/her position and participate in a short debate.

7. Impromptu Speaking

Split the class into two teams, and use a list of impromptu speaking topics. Have each student choose a number, and respond to the statement without preparation. The student must continue speaking for 45 seconds when the teacher calls out "stop." As the student is speaking, the other team listens for any hesitation, grammatical mistakes or vocabulary mistakes. If the other team can correctly identify an error, they get a point.

8. Desert Island Activity

Give each student a piece of paper and tell him or her to draw an item. Any item. Tell the students that they have been stranded on a desert island, and only half of the class can survive and continue to inhabit the desert island. Their goal is to convince the class that they should survive. The hard part is that the only thing they have is an item that was drawn a few minutes earlier by a classmate on the piece of paper.

9. Story telling activity

Bring four students to the front of the classroom. Three students should sit down in a row, and one of the students should stand behind them acting as a controller. The controller should have a stack of cards in his hand containing nouns. The controller will hand a noun to one of the three students who will start to tell a story. The student will continue telling the story until the controller decides to hand another noun to another student who will then take over the story.

10. Two Truths, One Lie

Each student should write three facts about themselves on a piece of paper. Two of the facts should be the truth, and one should be a lie. Students read aloud the facts, and give the other students a chance to question them and decide which statement is a lie.

11. True / False Story Telling

Give each student a piece of paper with either the word “true” or “false.” Each student should tell the class a story, and the class must guess whether the story is the truth, or a lie. To add to the activity, you can allow the other students to question the student telling the story.

12. I Have Never…

All students in the class should start holding five fingers in the air (this number can be adjusted depending on how many students are in the class). The student who begins the activity will tell the class one thing that he/she has never done. The students who have done that activity should put a finger down, and tell the class a story about this activity.

Articles (a, an, the)

19 October 2014 by Diane

a / an= indefinite article (not a specific object, one of a number of the same objects) --- used with countable nouns

  • She has a dog.                        - I have an apple?
  • I work in a factory.                        - She is an English teacher.

the = definite article (a specific object that both the person speaking and the listener know)---- often used with plural and uncountable nouns

  • The car over there is fast.
  • The teacher who teaches me through Skype  is very nice.

The first time you speak of something use "a or an," the next time you repeat that object use "the."

  • I live in a house. The house is quite old and has four bedrooms.
  • I ate in a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was very good.

Extra Information

  • DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about things in general (ex. I like tea; She is interested in cars.)
  • DO NOT use articles with proper nouns (ex. New York, Diane...)
  • DO NOT use articles with states, countries or continents, unless it is a collection of states/countries or it is plural (ex. the United States, the Bahamas, Brazil, Asia,...)
  • DO NOT use articles with lakes (ex. Lake Michigan)
  • Use “the” with rivers, mountain ranges (but not individual mountains), oceans, deserts and seas (ex. the Amazon River, the Alps, Mount Everest, the Pacific Ocean, the Sahara desert, the Red Sea,...)
  • DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about meals (ex. breakfast, lunch, dinner), unless you are being specific (ex. the breakfast I ate yesterday...)

Some Uncountable nouns

Food and drink: bacon, beef, beer, bread, broccoli, butter, candy, celery, cereal, cheese, chocolate, coffee, corn, cream, fish, flour, fruit, ice cream, lettuce, meat, milk, oil, pasta, rice, salt, spinach, sugar, tea, water, wine, yogurt, etc...

Non-food substances: air, cement, coal, dirt, gasoline, gold, ice, leather, paper, plastic, rain, snow, steel, soap, wood, wool, etc...

Abstract nouns: advice, anger, beauty, confidence, courage, employment, fun, happiness, health, honesty, information, intelligence, honesty, information, knowledge, love, poverty, truth, wealth, etc...

Others: biology, equipment, furniture, homework, jewelry, mail, money, news, poetry, research, weather, work, etc...

Here’s a trick...
When deciding which article to use, ask yourself the following questions:

Is the noun singular OR plural / uncountable?

Singular Nouns

Is the noun definite (specific)?

Yes -- use the

ex. The painting in the the living room was given to me by an old friend.

No -- use a or an

ex. Lisa ate a sandwich and an ice cream cone for lunch.

Plural or Uncountable Nouns

Is the noun definite (specific)?

Yes -- use the

ex. Do you have the books that I gave to you?

No -- use NO article

ex. Books can teach you a lot. / I drink coffee every day.

12 Good Reasons to Learn English

11 October 2014 by Diane

1. 60 out of 196 countries have English as their official language.

  • It’s the official language of the European Union, United Nations, NATO and European Free Trade Association.  In total, around 1.5 billion people speak English worldwide, and another billion are in the process of learning it.


2. Some of the world’s best universities are in English.

3. English gives you more access to knowledge.

  • 55% of the world’s webpages are in English.
  • An estimated 95% of scientific articles are written in English.
  • 5000 newspapers, over half of the newspapers published in the world, are published in English.

4. Bilingual people often have a better memory and intelligence.  

  • There's even research that has shown that being bilingual can help delay the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.


5. Most people agree that people who speak a second language are more attractive.


6. It makes traveling a whole lot easier (and more fun)!  

  • Wherever you go, you’ll always find an English speaker.  Even in countries where few people speak English on the street, people who work with tourists generally speak English.


7. It might help your career.  

  • Multilingual employees earn 20% more on average, and have many more job opportunities.


8. English is the language of the entertainment industry.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice to watch an English film and not have to rely on subtitles?  Or to listen to an English song and understand all of the lyrics.


9. You’ll have a new way to express yourself.  

  • English has the largest vocabulary out of all the languages.  New words, idioms and expressions will help you to better express yourself.


10. Bilingual people are better listeners.  

  • Studies have shown that foreign language learners develop (on average) better listening skills.

11. Learning a language makes it easier to learn about a culture.  

  • To truly understand a culture, it’s important to understand what the people are talking about.


12. English opens the door to new possibilities—new friends, new adventures, new business opportunities


Sources: Kaplan International Colleges, UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, UNESCO, Britich Council, CBI, American Academy of Neurology, Connecticut State Department of Education, Pentucket Regional School District, Northwestern University, Chicago Tribune, http://learninglanguages.com, http://www.ranker.com, Oxford Royal Academy, Bilingualparenting.com

Reported Speech (Indirect Speech)

09 October 2014 by Diane

We use reported speech when we are saying what other people have already said.

  • When we tell people what someone has said in the past, we generally change the tense to be ‘more in the past.’



        Direct speech: “I am happy,” she said.

        Reported speech: She said (that) she was happy.

  • However, when we are reporting something that was said in the past but is still true, it is not necessary to change the tense.  The speaker can decide.


Direct speech: "I am a teacher."

Reported speech:  She said (that) she is a teacher.  OR  She said (that) she was a teacher.


  • When we are reporting what was said, we sometimes have to change other words in the sentence.  We have to change the pronoun if we are reporting what someone else said.

  • We also have to change the time if the time has changed!



simple present

ex. He said, “I go to school everyday.”

simple past

ex. He said (that) he went to school everyday.

simple past

ex. She said, “I wrote my paper.”

past perfect

ex. She said (that) she had written her paper.

OR simple past

ex. She said (that) she wrote her paper.

present perfect

ex. “I have traveled to five countries,” my sister said.

past perfect

ex. My sister said (that) she had travelled to five countries.

present continuous

ex. He said, “I am walking to the store.”

past continuous

ex. He said (that) he was walking to the store.

past continuous

ex. She said, “I was swimming at the beach.”

past perfect continuous

ex. She said (that) she had been swimming at the beach.


ex. He said, “I will buy you a drink.”


ex. He said (that) he would buy me a drink.


ex. “I can run faster than you,” she said.


ex. She said (that) she could run faster than me.


ex. My mom said, “Don’t stay out too late!”

not to

ex. My mom said not to stay out too late.

Yes/No Question

ex. “Are you sad?” my friend asked.

Use “if”

ex. My friend asked if I was sad.

NOT a Yes/No Question
ex. She asked, “What is your favorite book?”

Do not use “if”

ex. She asked me what my favorite book is/was.


ex. “Clean your room,” my mom told me.


ex. My mom told me to clean my room.


ex. She said, “I am going to Rome tomorrow!”

The next day

ex. She said (that) she was going to Rome the next day.

Next week/year

ex. She said, “I will see you next week!”

The following week/year

ex. She said (that) she would see me the following week.


ex.  He said, “I was so tired yesterday.”

The day before

ex. He said (that) he had been so tired the day before.

Last week/month

ex. She told me, “I stayed home last weekend.”

The week before/the month before

ex. She told me (that) she had stayed at home the weekend before.

Notice in the above example:

WILL changes to WOULD


I changes to HE

YOU changes to ME


TELL is often used to give orders and instructions, and is always followed by an object.

SAY is not followed by an object, unless the word “to” is first used.  

ex. Direct speech:                                         Reported Speech:

She said, “Everything will be alright.”                She said everything would be alright.

She said to me, “Everything will be alright.”                She said to me everything would be alright.

She told me, “Everything will be alright.”                She told me everything would be alright.
















claim that (someone) did something wrong

He was accused of stealing.


confess to be true

She admitted to eating the last cookie.


offer suggestions

The doctor advised her to avoid salt.


have the same opinion about something

He agreed to help his sister with her homework.


express opposite views

The husband and wife argued for hours.


make a public declaration about something

Be quiet! They are announcing the results of the match.


a thing said in reaction to a question

The student raised his hand to answer the question.


express regret for something that you have done wrong

Her boyfriend apologized for lying to her.


say something in order to get an answer

The tourist asked me for directions.


ask humbly for something

He begged his dad to give him $20.


assign a responsibility for a fault

The team blamed the loss on the goalie.


say in a boastful way

"I won again," he bragged.


ask to take part in a contest or competition

He challenged her to a game of tennis.


a repeated rhythmic phrase

"Let's go Yankees!" the crowd chanted.


shout in encouragement

She cheered for her teammates.


make more clearly understandable

The report clarified his position.


to say something without evidence or proof

He claimed that he was the best soccer player on the team.


to say something nice about someone

She complimented her friend on her haircut.


to bring to an end

The doctors concluded that the patient had cancer.


admit or state that one has done something wrong

She was unable to confess to the murder.


state with evidence that a report or fact is true

He confirmed that the information was true.


praise (someone) for a specific achievement

He congratulated her on winning the game.


think carefully about something

She considered her options and made the best decision.


think about for a long time

He contemplated whether or not to accept the job.


defy or challenge to do something

His friends dared him to ask her on a date.


to say something with confidence

"I am always right," he declared.


politely refuse

He declined the invitation to the party.


ask for in a forceful way

She demanded to see the email.


have or express a different opinion

Why do you always disagree with me?


refuse to admit

The defendant denied stealing the money.


explain something using details

Can you describe the city you live in?


give support, confidence, or hope to

My teacher encouraged me to study chemistry.


represent (something) as being larger, greater, better, or worse than it really is

"I couldn't sleep for three days. I'm not exaggerating!"


cry out suddenly in surprise, anger, or pain

"Yes!" he exclaimed.


make (an idea, situation, or problem) clear to someone by describing it in more detail

The teacher explained how to multiply fractions.


convey (a thought or feeling) in words or by gestures and conduct

He expressed his love for her in a card.


to complain about something in a low, angry, almost non-understandable voice

"This is terrible," he grumbled, not loud enough to be heard.


estimate (something) without sufficient information to be sure of being correct

She guessed the child's age to be 8 or 9.


suggest or indicate something indirectly

She hinted at the surprise.


strongly suggest the truth or existence of

The report implies that more jobs will be lost if we don't make changes.


give (someone) facts or information

My parents informed me about what happened.


to ask for information from (someone)

The guest at the hotel inquired about room service.


to not accept refusal

He insisted on paying for dinner.


teach (someone) a subject or skill

He instructed them about how to drive.


speak to or treat with disrespect

He insulted her by calling her fat.


ask questions of (someone, esp. a suspect or a prisoner) aggressively, or formally

The police interrogated the suspect.


stop (someone speaking) by saying or doing something

I hate when people interrupt me when I'm speaking.


deliver an educational speech

My parents always lecture me about what I can and can't do.


not tell the truth

She lied about her age.


refer to something briefly and without going into detail

I haven't mentioned the news to him yet.


say something indistinctly and quietly, making it difficult for others to understand

He mumbled something so that the teacher wouldn't hear.


say something to express one's disapproval of or disagreement with something

Residents object to the building of a new mall.


watch (someone or something) carefully and attentively

The police officer stood to the side observing the action.


present (something) for (someone) to accept or reject

He offered to buy me a drink.


express an objection to what someone has said or done

He tried to pay for her dinner, but she protested.


stimulate (someone) to do or feel something, usually by making them angry

Her younger brother provoked her into hitting him.


feel or express doubt about

She questioned his decision to move.


say something in reply

She will not respond to my phone calls.


say something quickly and irritably to someone

"Don't bother me when I'm working," she snapped.


express something clearly in speech or writing

The news reported stated that ten people were injured in the accident.


state a possible idea

My boyfriend suggested going out to dinner tonight.


to promise to do something / to use offensive language

She swore to me that she wouldn't lie again. / He was kicked out of class for swearing at the teacher.


make fun of or attempt to provoke

My sisters teased me about my new boots.


express one's intention to harm (someone) if (something) is not done

He threatened to call the police if I didn't leave the store.


communicate information, facts, or news to someone

I told her that you would be late.


try persistently to persuade

He urged her to quit her job and work for his company.


offer to do something for free

He volunteered to bake the cake for the party.


make sure or demonstrate that (something) is true or accurate

Can you verify these numbers for me?


inform (someone) in advance about a future danger

She warned him not to drive because the roads were icy.


give or make a long, high-pitched complaining cry or sound

The employee whined about working so much.


speak quietly

Please try to whisper in the library.


speak loudly to express excitement or anger

Don't yell at me!

Review reported speech with Teacher Diane's YouTube video

Gerund or Infinitive?

26 September 2014 by Diane

Some verbs are followed by gerunds (verb+ing).  Some verbs are followed by infinitives (to+verb).  Some verbs are followed by gerunds and infinitives with no change in meaning.  Some verbs are followed by gerunds and infinitives with a change in meaning.  And, guess what?  There is no reason why!

For example:    

I want to go to the baseball game. (INFINITIVE)
I enjoy
going to baseball games. (GERUND)