12 ESL Speaking Activities

teacher helping young student pronounce words

There are a variety of activities for teachers to engage their K-8 classrooms with students who have English as their second language. English Second Language (ESL) is also referred to as English Language Learners (ELL) or English Learners (EL). Effective language learning involves active engagement, especially in spoken communication. This blog presents a curated collection of 12 engaging ESL speaking activities designed to foster fluency, confidence and interactive skills in learners.

Whether you're an educator seeking innovative classroom exercises or a language enthusiast looking for fun ways to practice speaking, this resource can offer a diverse range of activities suitable for various proficiency levels. Dive into these interactive exercises that can help transform language learning into an enjoyable and enriching experience.

In This Article:

1. Introduction Song

Singing can be an active way for English Language Learners (ELL) to practice their skills. Introduction songs are great for almost any classroom with younger learners, as they can be icebreakers that potentially help students get to know one another while also seeing how fun learning can be in the classroom. Introduce yourself to your students by singing your name, then instruct them to follow one-by-one until everyone has introduced themselves to the class.

2. Interviewer

When it comes to ESL activities for students, this can be a great option that may encourage students to get to know one another while also becoming more comfortable speaking English in the classroom. Set students up in pairs or small groups and instruct them to interview one another. Their questions can be based on their current abilities or any topics you are covering in class. Beginner students can ask one another about their families and interests, while more advanced students can ask questions that let them practice using the past tense.

3. 20 Questions/Guess Who

Similar to the activity mentioned above, this activity can help students ask questions to find a specific answer. One student will choose a person or object and keep it a secret from the rest of the class. Then, other students can ask yes or no questions to determine what the selector has chosen. The group only has 20 questions, so they need to choose their questions carefully to win.

4. Poll the Class

Take a class poll by asking students which one they prefer out of two choices. Topics can relate to colors, animals, pop culture or anything else that might interest your students. Give students a chance to discuss why they prefer one choice over the other and see where the conversations go. This may even lead to a debate and other activities for ESL students.

5. Short Speeches 

Each student will have 30 seconds to one minute to give a short speech to the rest of the class. These speeches can be prepared in advance, giving students an opportunity to plan exactly what they want to say. You can make things more challenging by creating a random list of topics and have each student select a topic then give a speech on the spot without preparation.

6. Describe and Draw

Break students up into pairs, then instruct one member of each pair to draw a picture that they keep hidden from the other member. The drawer must then describe their drawing to their partner, who must try to draw the same image themselves without looking at the original image. This is a fun way to help students practice their abilities to describe various items in English.

7. Teach a Class

This is similar to the short speech activity but may require more preparation. In pairs or groups, students must pick a topic that they will teach the rest of the class about for a designated period of time. Students must prepare what they will say and how they will use the classroom space during their time as the teacher. Encourage students to ask the presenting group questions about their topic once their presentation/class is complete.

8. Group Storytelling

Have students sit in a circle and tell them that you will be creating a story as a group. You can start the story with a few sentences, then choose a student to continue the story however they want. You can set a specific amount of time or give each student a few sentences before moving on to the next storyteller in the group.

9. Choose Your Words

Write vocabulary words down on strips of paper then fold them in half and place them in a bowl or container. One at a time, students will come to the front of the class and pick a few strips of paper out of the bowl. They must then tell a short story that incorporates the words they have chosen. Students can choose all the words and look at them before starting their story, or you can make the activity more challenging by telling students when to choose a new word as they are telling their story, then have them incorporate that word into the story as they go.

10. Guess the Word

This is another activity that requires you to come up with vocabulary words and write them down on strips of paper. It is similar to charades, except instead of silently acting out the word, the student will have to use other words to describe the word they have chosen. The other students must try to guess what the chosen word is. Whoever correctly guesses the word will be the next person to choose a word.

11. Spot the Lie

With this activity, students are likely to have fun while also learning about one another. Instruct each student to write down three facts about themselves — except only two of them should be true. The third “fact” should be something that is not true. One at a time, students will read all three of their statements randomly. The other students must then work together to figure out which of the three statements is not true.

12. Describe the Photo

This activity is simple yet offers a great opportunity for students to practice their English skills, both speaking in front of a group and taking part in conversation. You can put together a list of photos or ask your students to bring in photos they have taken. Then have students stand in front of the class and describe their photos. They can talk about different elements of the photos themselves or describe what happened that day. Other students can ask questions, opening the space for conversations.

Prepare for a Future in ESL Speaking Activities

The Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in English as a Second Language is a degree program at Grand Canyon University that can help you prepare for a future you may find rewarding. Earning this degree can be a great option if you are passionate about helping young people master the English language and gain useful skills in all aspects of their education. 

This degree program covers a variety of topics, including adolescent development, cultural differences and cross-cultural studies, student engagement, educational trends and more. This program can help prepare students for teaching positions in preschools, kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools and secondary schools. Earning your degree can help prepare you to teach students through ESL speaking activities, such as the activities for English language learners as discussed above. To learn more about this program, fill out the form at the top of the page to speak to a university counselor today.

If seeking licensure or certification, applicants to the program are responsible for contacting their state department of education for licensure requirements and program approval. In addition, fingerprint and background clearance is required.

Approved by the dean of the College of Education on Dec. 6, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.