Top 5 ESL Conversation Activities

Foreign ESL/EFL teachers in universities around the world often end up teaching conversation classes. This seems to be especially true in South Korea where students are required to take a certain number of credits of general English classes in order to graduate. If you’re looking for a few new conversation activities to spice things up in your classroom, you’ve come to the right place! I’ll share my top 5 ESL conversation activities with you today.

#1: ESL Surveys

Coming in at #1 are ESL Surveys. I love a good ESL Survey! Just ask my students and they’ll tell you that I use them at least once a month in every single one of my conversation or speaking classes. I use them so often for many reasons- they cover all 4 skills, get sleepy students up and out of their seats, and they also help students practice follow-up questions.

There’s some good news and some bad news about ESL surveys. The bad news is that they take a bit of time to think of questions and set them up. The good news is that you can use them over, and over, and over again so in the end, it really saves a ton of time when lesson planning. For example, I use this ESL Introduction Survey in the first class of every single course I teach.

For more details, check out: How to Set Up and Use ESL Surveys.

#2: Small Talk Activity

Small talk is one of those things that is really, really important for our students to master. If they don’t, no matter how good they are at English, they’ll just seem awkward. But, it’s not that easy to teach sometimes because what intermediate or advanced student wants to talk about the weather? However, this ESL Small Talk Activity gets your students practicing this important skill in a fun, engaging, little bit competitive and mostly realistic way.

#3: ESL Conversation Class Lesson Plan

I always find it useful to see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Of course you can observe your coworker’s classes to see what they’re doing, but an easier way is to take a look at their lesson plans. This Renewable Energy Lesson Plan is one that I’ve used 50+ times, for a wide variety of levels. It’s easy to adapt the questions and activities to match your students. I’ve also used this one for a class length from one hour to four hours! While the focus is on conversation and speaking, there is a little bit of everything in there-listening, reading, presentations, etc. Even if the topic is too difficult for your students, have a look at the framework of the lesson plan and you’ll likely take away an idea or two.

#4: Presentations

While not strictly a “conversation” activity, presentations are still extremely useful for our students! Our students can learn things like:

  • Formal vs. informal language
  • Organization (introduction-main points-conclusion/summary)
  • How to make PowerPoint slides
  • Asking/answering follow-up questions
  • Body language (gestures, eye contact, etc.)
  • Teamwork

Something that I’ve found useful to turn presentations into more of a conversation activity is to make some follow-up questions mandatory. Follow-up questions also encourage active listening! Put students into groups-around 3-5 groups works well. Give each group two minutes to formulate 2-3 interesting questions. Emphasize the interesting part. Then, have each group ask one question to the presenter. Because each group has to think of more than one question, there shouldn’t be too much overlap. The teacher can also ask a question if the other ones were too simple!

For more information, check out: Presentation Project Ideas.

#5: Board Games

I love to play board games! And I’ve found over the years that many of my students do as well. Along with ESL surveys, board games are one of those things that I generally use around once a month in most of my classes. They’re a perfect way to review for a midterm or final exam, or to get students using the specific grammar or vocabulary that you’ve been studying that class.

Although some textbooks or teacher’s resources books have board games in them, I usually design my own. It does take a bit of time, but the good news is that you can use them over and over again. I’ve found it useful to save them in Google Drive based on the grammar or vocabulary, instead of the specific unit in a textbook. For example, “Simple past board game,” or, “Relative clause board game.” This potentially saves a lot of time when lesson planning because you can recycle a lot of the questions.

For more details and some examples, check out: ESL Board Games.

About Jackie Bolen

Jackie Bolen taught English in South Korean universities for a decade. She has recently returned to Canada, where she now does a variety of random things. You can see her projects at