Five Tips for Getting ESL Students to Talk More


Google images

How often do your students look like this?

Is it a struggle to get them to talk and participate? 

I recently shared an article about reducing “teacher talk time”, something I know I do too often. It got me thinking about how to encourage students to talk more during class. Some students may be shy and reluctant to speak. It’s important to ask yourself why they might not want to speak in class.

This site has some good points to consider:

  • Do students feel uncomfortable speaking because they are shy or embarrassed of their level?
  • Is there too much emphasis on speaking correctly and students are afraid to make a mistake?
  • Are the speaking assignments at the right level for your students?
  • Are instructions clear on the speaking tasks you are giving?
  • Are students tired or bored with the same old topics and/or speaking partners?
  • Do students feel motivated enough to use the language?

I looked around on the web for some tips, and found a couple of sites with some excellent advice! These are taken from both Edutopia and Canadatesl.

Five tips for encouraging ESL students to speak more

  • Build fluency – It is vital that students practice speaking English all the time in order to build fluency. The more they practice, the better they will speak. They can also build their confidence. To help them do this, you can start off with pair or small group activities. Students may feel more comfortable in that type of setting than in a whole-class setting. Even if they make mistakes, encourage them to continue speaking. You can always fix the grammar and phrasing later as they become more comfortable with speaking English.



Google images

  • Try task-based activities – If students are doing something, they are more likely to be engaged in the lesson. Make sure to use interesting materials or topics to spark interest. Role-plays or reading aloud activities are good methods to try. Other topical activities might be asking for directions or locating a city/state/country on a map. Group projects such as poster presentations, or a making a video can be an excellent way to foster creativity and help them feel more comfortable speaking.


  • Be a good model – You, as a teacher, are the model for  your students to follow. If you’re teaching a specific phrase or grammar point, have your students repeat the phrase after you. You should speak clearly and also at a pace where students can follow what you say. Don’t speak too quickly or too slowly. Make sure they repeat they phrase clearly and with correct pronunciation. Students, especially young kids, tend to mimic their teachers. Teachers should be mindful of what they say in – and out of – the classroom. You never know when a student might be listening.


  • Allow them time to prepare

    Google images

    Students need time to prepare an answer. They may not be able to recall the necessary vocabulary words or phrases immediately. Learning a second language is not easy, and can be quite stressful. Giving students time shows you respect them and also helps them become more comfortable. If the lesson is crunched for time, then maybe give another student who is ready to answer a chance, while other students are still preparing. If those students cannot answer in the time given, have them answer the next day in a review session.


  • Use TPR (Total Physical Response) – Kids need to

    Google images

    move. Sitting at a desk for hours on end allows for students to become disengaged, tired, and misbehave. If you can get kids to move in class, they also will be more interested in learning and perhaps more willing to speak. If you’re teaching time, have one student make the time with their arms, while the rest have to say the time. Games like Charades, 20 Questions, and Simon Says can integrate fun, movement, and speaking all into one!



Google Images

What techniques will you try?


I am an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience. I teach kindergarten and elementary students in South Korea. I have taught middle school and adult ELLs in the past, too. My goal as a teacher is to help my students develop and achieve fluency in English, but also in other areas of their lives. I try to educate the whole child.