How do you get ESL students to talk?

How do you get your ESL students to talk and be active in class?

Well, first, learn about collaborative learning when you teach your ESL students. Learn how to get your students working in paris and groups to create a student centered environment instead of falling into a teacher centered lecture.

Here is a 3 part series on Getting ESL Students to Talk. Be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3.

Despite the fact that pair work and group work are often very effective ways of learning a language, some students do not participate in group work.

Why not get your students to do group work to get your ESL students to talk?

* Some students are not used to this type of language learning – Students who have spent many years in Taiwan’s high school system may only have experience with teacher-centered learning – sitting in a classroom where the teacher lectures and the students listen. Therefore, they might be unfamiliar with group work and skeptical of its usefulness.

* Some students are afraid to speak out – A fair number of students have a lot of anxiety about speaking up, worried they will make a mistake and be humiliated by their teacher or peers. They would rather sit in silence.

* Some students don’t want to practice speaking – Students might prefer to learn vocabulary, grammar, listening, or reading.

* Some students just don’t want to be there – Some students have no desire to be in class and are only there because their parents insisted that they study English.

* The lesson plan is a bad match for the students – Either the material is too difficult or is based on a topic that students know nothing about. For example, if you’re teaching a beginning level class and you want them to talk about current events in Syria, you will probably get very little discussion.

Why do group practice for getting ESL students to talk?

  • Your students will get into the practice of using English to communicate. This means it will be much easier for them to communicate in a real situation, such as living, working or travelling overseas.
  • Students will become responsible for their own learning. Instead of passively listening to the teacher, they become involved in learning English by asking questions, introducing new topics, and turn-taking.
  • – More students get a chance to practice when students work in groups. If a teacher controls the discussion, only one student can speak at a time. If students work in groups, everyone gets a chance to speak.
  • – Students can learn from each other. Higher Level students can support those who are not as fluent.
  • Your students will get to know each other through group work, therefore creating a more cohesive class.

However, group work is not the only way to learn a language. Individual work and teacher-fronted activities also have their merits.

In the Part 2 and Part 3, I will present a few suggestions for dealing with classes that don’t want to speak.


Hall Houston teaches at National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Science. His articles have been published in periodicals such as It’s for Teachers, Modern English Teacher and English Teaching Professional. He has written 5 books including Brainstorming and Creative Output, both available on Amazon.

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