Introduction to Teaching English Online

What Makes A Good Free-Speaking Activity?

How important do you rank these things?


Can it happen only once, or will it be interesting to do the task multiple times with slight changes (e.g., new groupings, new “topic”, etc.). Repetition allows for rehearsal, refinement, confidence building, and teacher input/repair.


Is there some procedure that should be followed, some process to go through? Adults can accept speaking as an aim in and of itself, teens and kids feel better “doing something”. A structure helps support the learners by giving them aims, let’s them know what they should try to do/achieve, etc.


This isn’t just the opposite of the above! Is there enough room in the task for the learners’ personality, creativity, and sense of humour – or are there only limited and “correct/incorrect” choices given them? On the other hand, does it depend on the students having creativity?

Has A Task Goal:

(not a “teacher’s goal”) Related to the above item. Some “end point” also lets students know when they are done, gives them a reason to work through the task to completion.


Is there some way to evaluate or rank the products of the task? With teens and kids competition can add motivation (and some adult groups like it too).


Is there something to tell/show once the task is done? Can we rank individuals/groups? Will the audience have a reason to listen to the “reports” of other groups, or will they all have essentially the same thing to show/tell?


Are the learners doing something that “pushes” them, and allows them to work at their level of ability? Is the task structured to allow for different levels of challenge/ability?

Has A Teaching/Learning Goal:

Not every free speaking task needs a tight link to “newly learned language”, but can learners see a connection between the speaking task and other recent work in the course – do they feel that they are “practising” something? The goal might also be diagnostic/evaluative.

Is Fun/Interesting:

Well, duh! But remember that Britney Spears, particle physics, the meaning of life, and the best way to skin a cat can all be potentially interesting topics – it all depends on the backgrounds of the specific learners in your class!

Written by Thomas Topham for August 2008
Tom has a BA in Philosophy, as well as the Cambridge CELTA and DELTA teaching certificates. He has been teaching since the mid 90s, and training teachers since 1999. Thomas is a SIT TESOL Certificate Trainer with the SIT Graduate Institute.

One Comment

  • Barbara Baratto says:

    Thanks. I think it’s useful for teachers to occasionally ‘refresh’ their objectives even when the lesson is class or group discussion, as opposed to a more structured lesson on functional English.

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