5 great ESL speaking activities for adults – with no preparation

June 15th, 2016 / Teaching

TEFL speaking activities

A good ESL speaking activity makes an TEFL lesson but it doesn’t have to take a lot of time to prepare. In fact, the more you step back from an EFL activity, the more you will engage your students as you’ll give them space to use their imagination. Follow this five activities to get your students speaking requiring no preparation from the teacher.

1# No preparation role play

Let’s be honest here, traditional role plays are not very inspiring. Students are given a sheet of paper on which they’ll find a role play that usually goes something like this:

“You and your partner have decided to buy a new car. But with all the choice out there it’s difficult to make a decision. Person A: You want a small car because:

  • It’s more economical
  • Easier to park
  • Your friend from work has recommended a model to you

Person B: You want a large car because:

  • They’re safer
  • They’re more powerful
  • You feel you deserve a status car after all the overtime you have put in this year

OK, now stand back and watch the enthusiasm escape from your class like air from a balloon. 

The reason why your students may be reluctant or embarrassed to participate in ESL role plays such as these is that:

  1. No one has conversations like this, ever
  2. There is no spark, humour or interest in this situation. It’s boring.
  3. The students have no creative investment in this task. The entire argument has been written out for them, all they have to do is follow and say the words expected of them.

By treating your students this way, you’re saying to them, ‘now you students obviously have no imagination, so let me feed you the situation and you follow it like robots, OK?’

But that’s not true, your students do have imaginations and are probably highly creative, you just need to involve them.

Now let’s rewind and do this again in a much more engaging way. This time take a situation such as ‘choosing a holiday’ (another TEFL role play classic) and ask your class questions such as:

  • What’s the best way to find information about holidays?
  • What’s the worst holiday you’ve ever been on?
  • Where would you most like to visit?
  • Where would you least like to visit?
  • If I gave you a free 5 star holiday to North Korea, would you go?

And so on. Alternatively get your students to ask each other these questions as an initial speaking practice.These questions set the scene and get your student’s creative juices flowing.

Next with the help of your students write a two line situation on the board. Such as:

There is a travel agent and a client. The client wants to book a holiday to [insert name of students’ dream destination here] but the travel agent wants to sell them a holiday to [inset name of students’ nightmare destination here

And that’s it. You haven’t given a reason for why the travel agent wants to sell a holiday to, let’s say North Korea; your students can make that up themselves meaning that each role play is different.

Setting up a role play this way is far more fun and engaging for the students. The task will last longer and there will be no more embarrassing silences while students search for an answer to a dumb question written on a role play card. They’ll be coming up with the dumb questions themselves and they’ll love it.

Pin it for later

2# No preparation debate

ESL speaking activities debates

If you’re teaching a ESL vocabulary lesson such as money, law, politics and the economy, a good way to practice is with a debate. Coming up with a set of questions yourself, however, often falls flat as because you are a foreigner and probably won’t understand the cultural and political nuances of the country you’re teaching in.

Take the responsibility away from yourself and get your students to come up with the questions themselves.

First elicit from the class: Opinions vocabulary, agreeing and disagreeing and structuring your arguments. See a basic table below.





In my opinion

I agree/
I don’t agree

In addition

To sum up

If I were them

That’s rubbish


To recap

As far as I know

Let’s compromise


In conclusion

I believe/think


I am in favour of

Firstly, secondly,

Next ask them to write three questions on slips of paper. Put the slips in the middle of the table (or write the best ones on the board for a large class).

Finally divide your class into pairs and ask each pair to pick up two questions to ask each other, using the opinions phrases.

Note: It is possible that students may not want to answer some of the questions as they would consider them too strong or even offensive. For this reason make it clear that students can pass on any question that they wish.

3# No preparation story

EFL speaking activity ideas

Tell your students that you are going to invent a story as a class. Tell them to ask you five questions about the setting and plot to which you can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example:

Tom: ‘Is it set underwater?’
Teacher: ‘Yes.’
Sarah: ‘Are there pirates?’
Teacher: ‘No

Using this information your students must now make a story in pairs. Give them 10 minutes to complete the task, then each pair must recount their story to the class. The winners are the ones with the best tale.

4# No preparation game: One lie and two truths

TEFL speaking activities games

This is a great way to end a class and students bond as they get to find out more about their classmates. Only one student per lesson can tell their lie and truths though as it is very time consuming.

At the beginning of the lesson ask your students to write down two facts that are true about them and one that is a lie. Tell them that they will be questioned so the lie must be very convincing. Then towards the end of the lesson ask a student to write their three statements on the board. The rest of the class has three minutes to question the student to work out which one is the lie.

5# No preparation question practice: Interview a stranger

EFL speak activity ideas

This task is great for question practice or as a warmer activity to start your class.

Divide your students into pairs and give each team a different location such as: An archaeological site, a wedding show, a Google conference, a young entrepreneur of the year awards, a political conference or a yacht race.

Student A is a journalist and Student B the interviewee (they invent the character). Together they must make the most interesting interview possible with their questions and answers.

To facilitate the task write the below question prompts on the board:

  • What do you do?
  • Do you ever?
  • Have you ever?
  • Would you ever?
  • How often?
  • When was the last time?
  • Do you usually?
  • Did you used to?
  • How long have you…?
  • How long does it take…?
  • When were you born?
  • What’s it like?
  • What does it look like, sound like, taste like?

What about you, fellow TEFL teachers? What are your go-to ESL speaking activities?

For more speaking activity ideas go to 5# ESL speaking activities you can do with picture cards.

For lesson plans, drills, speaking exercises on every ESL grammar point, along with vocabulary sets, buy our best selling book The Ultimate ESL Manual. 


Learn how to teach TEFL/ESL English

The Ultimate Teaching ESL Online Manual ESL TEFL classes

The Ultimate ESL Vocabulary Manual

The ultimate teaching ESL/tefl book of speaking activities

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The Ultimate ESL Teaching Manual

New to TEFL? Earn your living teaching great ESL classes

Get started today and discover a skill that will serve you for the rest of your life.

Learn more