George Lucas Educational Foundation
English-Language Learners

12 Fun Speaking Games for Language Learners

Activities that will get students talking in a language they’re still learning.

November 12, 2015
A group of high school students gathered at a table in a circle, doing a language game together
©iStock/track5

When working with world language classes or English language learners, have you ever asked a question only to be answered with complete silence and blank stares? It’s a common issue—nearly every teacher has struggled with encouraging students to speak in a language they’re still learning.

A student may have a deep fear of making a mistake, or may be just plain shy, even in their native language. Whatever the reason, here is a list of a few fun activities to get your students to speak. This list is for more advanced students.

12 Ways to Get Language Learners Talking

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 their name on the top of the page. 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 these three students. 

All three claim that the fact is theirs, and the class then proceeds to question them 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 guess who is telling the truth.

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2. Variations on the game Taboo: For variation 1, create a PowerPoint presentation with a noun on each slide. Have one student come to the front of the room and sit with their back to the PowerPoint. The rest of the students take turns describing the words on the slides, and the student at the front has to guess them.

For variation 2, separate the students into groups of four or five. Place a pile of cards with random nouns in the center of each group. Have students take turns describing a noun for their group members to guess. The group member who guesses correctly keeps the card, so there’s competition to see who has the most cards at the end of the game.

Variation 3 is for 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 two to three minutes to see how many words their teammates can guess.

3. Descriptive drawing activity: Pair up the students and give each student a picture, placing it face down so partners cannot see each other’s cards. They must describe the picture for their partner to draw.

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 10 minutes, the students can guess 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 that is unrelated to the topic. The students must hide the word in a speech about the topic—they’re trying to make sure the other students can’t guess the secret word. The other students listen carefully to the speech and attempt to guess 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 student hold up their paper showing the agree or disagree side depending on their opinion. Choose one student from each side to explain their position and participate in a short debate.

7. Impromptu speaking: Prepare a list of topics that students will be able to talk about. Split the class into two teams, and have each student choose a number—that’s the order they will go in. Each student will respond to a statement without preparation. They must continue speaking for 45 seconds. As the student is speaking, the other team listens for moments of hesitation, grammatical mistakes, and 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 them to draw an item—any item. Collect the drawings and pass them out again; no student should receive their own drawing.

Next, tell the students that they’ve been stranded on a desert island, and only half of the class can survive and continue to inhabit the island. The only thing each student will have on the island is the item depicted in the drawing given to them, and their goal is to convince the class that they should survive based on that item.

9. Storytelling activity: Bring four students to the front of the classroom. Three of them should sit in a row, and one should stand behind them and act as a controller. Give the controller a stack of cards with nouns written on them.

The controller will hand a noun to one of the three students, who will start to tell a story. The student continues 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 statements about themselves on a piece of paper. Two of them should be true, and one should be a lie. Students read their three statements, and their classmates question them to try to determine which statement is a lie.

11. True/false storytelling: Give each student a piece of paper with either “true” or “false” written on it. Each student should tell the class a story that is true or false, depending on which word they received, and the class must guess whether it’s true. 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 this activity holding five fingers in the air (you can use less fingers to do this more quickly). The student who goes first tells the class one thing that they have never done. The students who have done that activity should put a finger down, and tell the class a story about this activity. A student is out of the game when all of their fingers are down.

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