Are you trying to figure out what to actually do in your English class for adults? That’s a good question. The good news is that you’ve come to the right place if you’re looking for ESOL speaking activities for adults conversation! Here are some of my favourite ESL conversation activities for adults.
Because spoken English is different from written English, you will need unique and fun activities to help students improve their English speaking and conversation skills.
Let’s get into the best ideas for adult conversation and ESOL speaking activities to try out with your students. We hope you love them!
ESL Conversation and Speaking Activities for Adults
If you want to make your English conversation class as interesting, engaging, and fun as possible for the students, you’ll need to check these out. They’re guaranteed to get your students speaking English in the most painless way possible! They range from warm-ups to fun games to anything else you might need.
Check out these activities below. Clicking on the title will take you to the article with all the information. How to set it up, resources needed, etc.
#1: The Small Talk Game
Small talk is important in the English language, but it’s an often-overlooked skill. Part of the reason people think that others aren’t great at English when they really are quite capable is that they lack the ability to make small talk.
I’m not sure why we don’t teach it more in our classes. Perhaps it’s because the textbook doesn’t really focus on it? Maybe it’s hard to teach students to do it well?
Whatever the case, help out your students with one of my top ESL conversation games for adults.
You can get students practicing it while having fun with this game. I like it so much because there’s an element of competition to it that keeps things interesting. However, it’s best for intermediate to advanced students because it requires maintaining a conversation about a variety of topics for a set period of time.
The way it works is that each team tries to talk about a certain topic for a certain amount of time. If successful, they get to mark that square off on the board and it’s kind of like tic-tac-toe. It’s a nice way to start getting students to have longer conversations in English.
Learn more about it here: Small Talk Activity.
#2: The Cocktail Party for Adult ESL Learners
This is another small talk conversation activity for adults that gets student mingling and mixing in an ESL class for adults. It’s great at replicating real life. Students will be having conversations just like they would at a cocktail party. Give your students confidence that they can venture out into the real world and use English!
Find out more here: The Cocktail Party ESL Activity for Adults.
#3: The Hobby Unit-A Fun ESL Conversation Activity
I’m so, so weary of the hobby unit because I’ve taught it so many times. Here’s an interesting activity I do that gets my students engaged, asking follow-up questions, and talking together. Student-centered language teaching at its best!
I like this activity as well because you can use it with pairs, or groups of 3-5. It’s flexible and can be adapted to most levels, ages, and class sizes.
Nee more ideas for teaching free time activities? Have a look here:
#4: Role Plays, an ESL Speaking Activity for Adults
If you teach beginner students, it can be a little bit difficult to do some of these conversation activities that are mentioned in the list. They simply don’t have the grammar and vocabulary skills necessary to engage in a conversation beyond the very basic facts. Many ESL conversational games are just beyond their reach.
Something you can do to help your beginners is to use role-plays in class. These will help them to have short conversations, build some confidence, and also get creative. The best ones have a number of possibles ways that students can answer.
They are also perfect for a huge variety of topics and they can really help your students improve their sentence building. Before speaking, students can get a bit of practice with writing essays.
A quick tip: if you anticipate using these role-plays from semester to semester with multiple classes, make some cards with the details of each role-play on them and laminate them.
They can make an excellent review before a final exam as students have to work in a group through a few of them together. It’s a simple activity that’s ideal for any age of student with a few guidelines.
#5: How to Plan a Conversation Class
A common question that newbie foreign ESL teachers have is how to plan a lesson. You may ask around at work and not get a single satisfying answer. Perhaps nobody really seems to know? It can seem overwhelming, but it’s actually not that difficult.
Teaching ESL is not easy, especially if you want to do it well. However, a good class starts with a good plan, and they can help you bring some order out of the chaos that’s possible if you don’t have this in place.
I often plan my own classes based around a topic that is in the news. Here are 6 samples to check out and see how I do it.
Or, consider using some of these ESL news articles. One of my favorite sources is Breaking News English, who regularly provide graded language articles of the most recent current events, along with activities and questions to discuss that go along with them. They also contain some nice questions and answers for vocab, grammar, etc.
#6: Find Someone Who Bingo
This ESL warm-up game is an excellent way to get students moving around the class and getting to know each other. You can use it as the beginning of the semester on the first-day of class, or later on for an energizer if the students are low energy.
Students walking around with their Bingo Card, having fun while speaking English with lots of different partners? This activity will help to create some buzz about your lesson and around your school. Students love to play this TEFL game. The main point is to have students find out more about each other.
Love it! I’m sure you will too. These are usually the best kind of ESL conversation activities.
More details here about this activity that helps with students getting to know each other: Find Someone Who Bingo.
#7: Just a Minute for Adult ESL Students
If you ask your students in your ESL classroom, many of them will mention speaking fluently in English as their top priority in your class. However, many of the exercises we do focus a lot on accuracy.
Just a Minute is a speaking activity that focuses exclusively on speaking. It’s a nice warm-up at the beginning of class that’s best for intermediate to advanced level students.
The way it works is that you write a bunch of words on the board. Then, students will have to talk about one of them (chosen randomly) for a full minute, or two minutes (depending on the level).
It’s easy to turn this into a conversation activity by requiring the people “listening” to ask 2-3 follow-up questions once the person is finished speaking. You can learn more about this English speaking activity here in this short video:
#8: Dialogue Substitution
Ask your adult students what they want to do in your class and they’re often say speaking or conversation. If they’re intermediate or advanced level, this is easy enough to make happen.
However, if students are lower level, it can be difficult to design activities and games to get them speaking that aren’t too difficult.
Basically, you take a dialogue as you might find in your textbook and then leave key elements out. Put students into a group or pair and they can work on it together.
Sounds right for your students? You can learn more about it here: Dialogue Substitution Activity. It’s one of my favorite English-speaking activities for adults who are lower-level language learners.
#9: Find Something in Common
Another one of my favorite ESL adult activities is this simple one where students have to find some things in common with someone else. It’s best as an icebreaker on the first day of class when students don’t know each other that well.
Do this at the end of the semester and it’ll likely be far too easy. Students could probably do it without even talking to each other. So, keep this ESL conversation idea for the first class or two.
#10: Partner Conversation Starters
This is another one of those activities ideal for adult beginners who want to get some practice with speaking or conversation. The way it works it that you give students the first few lines of a conversation and then they have to work with a partner to complete it.
Once they’re made their conversation, they have to memorize and present it to the rest of the class. It’s a fun way for students to get a little bit creative but has enough structure for beginners. Your students will be able to speak with confidence!
Check out these ESL Discussion Topics here: Partner Conversation Starter ESL Activity.
#11: The Expert, One of My Favourite ESL Activities for Adults
If you teach intermediate to advanced level students, then you’ll want to consider trying out “The Expert.” It’s an interesting conversation activity for adults that’s ideal for the first or second day of class to use as an icebreaker.
The way it works is that students think of a few topics that they’re experts in. Then, they narrow down the choices to things that they think other people might be interested in. After that, students have mini-conversations with a few different people in the class about those things.
You can find out more about this Icebreaker here: The Expert ESL Speaking Activity.
#12: ESL Interactive Activities
If you’re looking for some more ESL conversation activities for adults, then you’re seriously want to consider trying out some of these interactive activities. They’re designed specifically to get students talking to each other and with you.
You can learn more about them here: Interactive ESL Activities and Games.
Oh, and of course, you can use lots of videos and pictures for this style of activity, which students always love. Get creative because the sky’s the limit!
#13: Small Group Discussions
If you ask students what they want to do in speaking classes, they’ll often say “free-talking.” This isn’t ideal for lower-level students because they often don’t have the language skills to do this. For higher-level students, it’s not ideal either because it doesn’t really push them to use new grammar or vocabulary.
If you are going to have some free talking time in your class, it’s best to have a bit of structure. Here are a few tips for making sure this time goes smoothly: ESL Small Group Discussion Tips.
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 94 Pages - 05/30/2015 (Publication Date)
#14: Would you Rather?
I’m sure you’ve done would you rather informally with friends. You can use it to choose between two positive things like ice cream or cake, or two bad things like how you might die. Try it out with your students too to create some fun, interesting discussions and conversations.
Find out more details here about one of the best ESL adult activities: ESL Would You Rather.
#15: Task-Based Learning Activities
For speaking classes, there are a ton of task-based learning projects you can do. The major advantage to them is that they give students some freedom to learn what they want to learn. This increases motivation and chances are, students will discover some new vocabulary that you would have never thought to teach them!
You can find out more about this style of teaching here: Task-Based Learning for ESL.
In particular, one grammar point that I like to use this style of activity is making predictions about the future. Students can select a general area like transportation, the economy, work, etc. and then make some predictions about what life will be like in those areas in 25 years from now.
#16: Making Predictions Conversation Activities
Who doesn’t like making some predictions about the future, right? They can lead to some super interesting discussions and there are also a ton of fun activities and games you can do with them. And these often turn out to be some of my favorite ESL conversation activities.
Here are some of our top recommendations for ESOL speaking activities related to predictions: Making Predictions Activities and Games.
#17: Talk about Social Issues English
If you’re looking for an idea for a class, then we certainly have a good one for you right here! Most students really enjoy talking about what’s happening in the world around them and this lesson has the potential to create lots of interesting discussions and conversations.
The better news is that it’s a complete plan that’s suitable for a 1-2 hour class so you can just print it off and take it to class. Yes, it really is that easy. Here it is: Social Issues ESL Conversation.
#18 ESL Conversation Activities: Present Perfect For and Since Activities
I love to teach the present perfect using for and since. There are just so many fun ESL conversation games for adults that you can do with this grammar point.
If you want to see some of the best recommendations, check out the following resource: Present Perfect For/Since Activities.
#19: What are you Cooking?
I LOVE 4-skills ESL activities and my guess is that you probably do as well. If you’re looking for a fun one that has the added bonus of requiring basically nothing in the way of prep time or materials, then check out What are you Cooking?
To get the full story, you’ll have to check out the article right here: What are you Cooking?
#20: English Phrases and Expressions
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 226 Pages - 11/22/2020 (Publication Date)
The conversation goes much more smoothly if you have a variety of relevant and useful phrases and expressions at your fingertips, no matter the language! That’s why it really can be useful to spend some time working on expanding our students’ knowledge of this in class. Here’s one example:
Common Phrases and Expressions to Ask for Permission.
#21: 120-90-60 Speaking Activity
#22: Talk about Technology
If you’re teaching adults, one of the things that they most often want to do is free-talking. I do enjoy this once in a while but I often find it far more beneficial to use a conversation lesson plan to assist with this. Something like one on technology is ideal. It contains:
- A warm-up question
- Vocabulary, idioms, and phrases
- Conversation questions
- Writing prompts that are ideal for homework
Have a look at this option for teaching English right here.
Technology for English Learners.
Also, be sure to have a look here: ESL Technology.
#23: Business English
If you teach English to businessmen or women, there are a ton of activities you can do with them that are engaging, relevant and will be super helpful for your students. They will likely appreciate the more targeted practice with business scenarios and vocabulary as opposed to general English conversation.
Here are some of the best recommendations: Business English Activities.
#24: First Lesson Ideas for TEFL Classes
#25: Describing Games
One of the best ways to get students talking is to have them describe a person, place or thing using adjectives or relative clauses. There are lots of great conversation and speaking activities to try out related to this.
Check out some of my top recommendations: Describing Words Games.
#26: Dialogues in American English
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 66 Pages - 11/06/2020 (Publication Date) - Independently published...
Maybe your students are kind of like mine and want to learn more vocabulary, including idioms and phrases to help with their conversational skills. If this is the case, consider picking up this book on Amazon: Advanced English Conversation Dialogues.
It’s ideal to use as a supplementary homework book, for use in class, or in private, 1-1 teaching.
#27: ESL Family Activities
Talking about family is one of those classic ESL conversation activities. However, the same old powering through the textbook for this unit can get a little bit boring because it’s likely that students have seen it before many times.
The good news is that there are lots of interesting ESL activities for adults related to family and family trees. Here are some of the best ones: ESL Family Activity Ideas.
#28: Breaking News English
If you’re looking for some ready-made things to take to class with you, then look no further than Breaking News English. They helpfully take current events and then grade them to make them appropriate for English learners in a variety of levels. Not only that but there are a lot of great conversation questions and other activities to go along with it.
If you don’t already know about it, then head over there now! It’s a great resource:
#29: ESL Movies and TV
I love to make activities for adult classes based on a movie clip or TV show. They’re fun, engaging, interactive and most people love to watch TV or movies. Plus, they lead into some nice ESOL speaking activities for students of all ages.
Find out some of the best ideas for this kind of lesson here:
#30: Short Stories for ESL Students
Sometimes I like to mix things up a bit in conversation and speaking classes and use a listening or reading-focused lesson. It’s a nice change of pace from the usual and I find that students really enjoy it.
One of these short stories, along with accompanying comprehension and discussion classes is perfect for intermediate learners. Have a look here:
#31: More Ideas for Teaching Speaking and Conversation
#32: Scatter Sheets for English Learners
If you’re looking for an easy solution for speaking classes, then you’ll want to consider these scatter sheets. They’re ideal for intermediate to advanced teenagers or adults. Find out more about it here:
#33: Information Gap Activities
#34: ESL Surveys
I love a good ESL Survey! Just ask my students-I use them at least once a month in every single one of my classes. They are one of my favourite activities for speaking classes for adults.
I love them for a lot of reasons, including the fact that they hit all four skills (reading, listening, speaking, writing) in a single activity and also that they get students up out of their seats and walking around talking to many different classmates. I love that stuff!
One quick word of caution about ESL Surveys—they aren’t for the total and absolute beginner. Although you can adapt ESL surveys to make them as easy or as difficult as you want them to be, students MUST be able to read and write simple 1-2 word answers, as well as say things like, “What’s your name?”
For more details, be sure to check out: ESL Surveys and How to Use Them in the ESL Classroom
Surveys can help students learn how to ask questions.
#35: Videos in the ESL Classroom
Everyone loves a good video! They are one of my favourite ESL speaking activities for adults.
The best part about using videos is that they work well for just about any topic. Of course, you should do some lead-in activities, as well as follow-up activities so your students get the most value from the lesson.
- Have students answer some questions about what they say
- Watch a snippet and then predict what’s going to happen
- Give them the title and think of 5 questions the video will answer
- Have a short discussion about what they saw (giving students a chance to respond to what they saw is always valuable)
- Describing things. Ask students what the ____ looked like and have them describe it to you
- Etc. (get creative!)
- Write down 5 phrases that they heard
- Focus on adverbs by describing how people are doing things (you could even look for some adverb examples)
It’s usually possible to do all of these things with an image as well.
For more information, including how to choose the best ones for your students, check out: How to Use Videos in the ESL Classroom.
#36: The Preposition Ghost
A fun way to teach prepositions to adults is to have a classroom ghost. Before class, you could move a few small, but key objects around the class.
For example, the clock could be leaning against the board instead of on the wall, the dictionaries could be under your chair, or the trash bin could be behind your desk.
Then, when you start class, you could tell the students that the ghost moved five things and they have to figure out what they are. But, to tell you they have to use a preposition. You can give each member of the class a chance by limiting one answer/student.
For example, the clock is usually on the wall, but now it’s in front of the board.
For even more ideas to use in your ESL classroom, you can check this out: Preposition Games ESL.
#37: ESL Board Games
Try out one of my favourite ESL adults speaking activities.
#38: Chain Spelling
A quick, fun review game to play with your students is chain spelling. It’s a nice activity to do to reinforce spelling for key vocabulary words. Basically, it’s a “last person standing” kind of activity. Find out all the details here:
#39: Typhoon ESL Game
If you’re looking for a fun speaking review game, try out this one! It’s interactive, engaging and the students love it. I generally use this as a review game before the midterm and final exams, and students keep asking if we can play it more! Check it out:
#40: Use an ESL Speaking Lesson Plan
It’s easy to plan a lesson to cover just about anything. Here are some of the simple steps you can follow:
#41: Have a Debate
There are lots of things to debate about. Here are some great ideas:
13 Tips for Teaching English Speaking to Adults
If you have a class for ESL speaking for adults, it can be a little bit challenging. However, there are a few keys to spice things up and make it educational, as well as interesting for your students. Here are some things to keep in mind.
#1: Reading is Very Important in a Conversation Class for Adults
Before you do almost anything else, ensure that students know how to read well. If they don’t, anything else you do in the way of ESL vocabulary or grammar will be a bit of a struggle. In general, this should come before speaking.
#2: Do Your Students Know Basic Vocabulary and Grammar?
Without a basic working knowledge of key grammar (past, present, future tense constructions), and some basic vocabulary (at least 500 words), it’ll be pretty difficult to have even a simple conversation. If students are not at this stage yet, forget the more advanced things and instead focus on this simple stuff.
#3: Teach a Few Things, a Lot
It’s better that students take away a few things with them from your class that they know really well, instead of a ton of things that they don’t really know at all. Keep this in mind and avoid the temptation to power through a textbook just for the sake of it.
Make sure you’re clear in your head about what the target language is for that lesson. Share this target with the students too!
#4: It’s All About Review in a Speaking Class for Adults
ESL for beginning adults is ALL about the review. I like to incorporate it a few ways into my classes. The first is at the end of class. Second, is at the beginning of a class for things previously studied. Finally, I dedicate a class or two to it before any sort of exam.
Here are some of my favourites ways to do this: ESL Review Activities.
#5: Consider Topics Carefully
Just because your students may be at a beginner level, it doesn’t mean that you should treat them like children. One key area related to this is topic selection. They usually don’t want to study about animals, colors, etc. as little kids would!
Keep this in mind during lesson planning and when choosing articles for them to read. You can most definitely find articles with simple grammar and vocabulary that aren’t written for little kids.
#6: Avoid Surprises in the ESL Classroom
Kids often don’t mind mixing things up in your classes. It actually helps to keep them interested.
However, adults often don’t like this kind of thing because it can put them on the spot. Use some different activities and games, but try to avoid ever putting anyone on the spot. Give thinking time, or have students compare with a partner before having to say something in front of the entire class.
This is especially important in Asia where it’s all about saving face.
However, each day should be a little bit different so things don’t get stale and boring. Adults like a nice mix of old and new, so add in a new activity or two to each lesson. There are a ton of ESL speaking activities for adults, so get creative
#7: Ask Students if They Want Homework in Conversation Classes for Adults
Adults usually have very different expectations about things like homework when they’re studying English. Some will expect it, while others won’t. Ask your students in your ESL classroom what they want and they’ll usually tell you!
There are a ton of resources out there, so take a look online as you really don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
#8: Ask for Feedback and Be Willing to Adapt
Your adult students will often have some excellent feedback for you, so please ask them. I generally do this on the midterm exam with this question. What’s your favourite thing we’ve done so far? What’s one thing you didn’t like about this class?
Of course, I read the answers carefully and if I see the same thing more than once, I’ll know it’s something I need to consider changing.
#9: Think Student-Centred Teaching for ESL Adult Activities
Do you rock the chalk? You probably shouldn’t. Your students should be doing most of the hard work, not you. So, whatever you do, try to get your students thinking, writing and speaking in English as much as possible! If you do this, your class will likely be successful.
#10: Offer Lots of Encouragement and Praise
Yes, adults love positive words of encouragement during their learning process. Be positive and upbeat, as well as kind and gentle in correcting errors.
#11: Remember that Students are Good at Other Things
Just because a student isn’t that good at English, doesn’t mean that they’re not a pro at something else or a number of other things. Maybe you can even learn something from them?
#12: Mix the Groups and Partners Up
It can get pretty boring for students to talk to the same person every single day. That’s why I like to mix things up a bit and change partners or groups. And, when you play games, mix the teams up.
There are a ton of ways to do this, but I like to keep things simple. I just number the students like this:
1, 2, 3, 4
1, 2, 3, 4
Then the number ones go together, number twos together, etc.
#13: Use a Variety of ESL Speaking Games
The key to a more exciting ESL classroom is a variety of ESL games. Don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit and get away from the same old thing. This list of ESL games is an excellent place to start. There are also plenty of resources online.
Like these ESL activities for adults?
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 94 Pages - 05/30/2015 (Publication Date)
If you found these conversation games useful, then you’ll need to check out this book: 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Teens and Adults.
Speaking games for adults? There are a ton of them and unlike many other ones you’ll find around the Internet, each ESL game is fun! Make conversation for adults fun again. Your students will love you for it.
There are almost 40 ESL activities that require very little in the way of preparation when teaching English. Planning your speaking classes is easy, with a wide array of fun and interesting activities.
The book is available in both digital and print formats. The (very cheap!) digital one can be read on any device. You just have to download the free Kindle reading app. Top-quality ESL activities to have at your fingertips anywhere you go? Love it!
Check out the book on Amazon today. Click the button below to learn more about this popular book of ESL activities for adults.
ESL Conversation Activities FAQs
There are a number of common questions that people have about teaching conversation and speaking classes. Here are the answers to some of the most popular ones.
How do you Make an English Conversation Class Interesting?
If you want your English conversation class to be interesting and not boring, here are a few tips:
- Change partners often
- Introduce a variety of topics
- Encourage free-flowing discussion
- Plan well
- Use lots of different activities and games
- Get beyond the textbook
- Consider getting outside the classroom
- Have a class party
- Use current events
What are the Activities to Develop Speaking Skills?
There are a number of activities you can use to help your students develop speaking skills.
- Information gap activities
- Telling stories
- Complete the story
What is a Communicative Activity ESL?
A communicative ESL activity is one that encourages English learners to speak and listen to another learner(s) and actually requires this in order to complete the activity. The purpose of them is to find out information, break down barriers, talk about oneself, and also learn about what other people think.
What are the Advantages of a Communicative Approach?
There are many advantages to the communicative approach when it comes to language teaching. However, an increase in fluency in the target language is the most important one. This approach will help language learners feel more confident when interesting in another language. Learn more about it here: language teaching methods.
How do you Make ESL Students Talk in an ESL Conversation Class?
Remember that you can’t make an ESL student talk if they absolutely don’t want to. However, you can design activities and games well so that it’s easier to participate than not. Something like surveys or information gap activities are ideal for encouraging communication.
More Resources for TEFL Conversation Games and Activities
If you’re a teacher, then you already know how much time it can save to use what others have created! This certainly applies to classes for adults. Check out some of the best options here:
What Do you Think about these ESL Conversation Activities for Adults?
Do you have one or two favourite conversation games and activities for when you’re teaching ESL students? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’re open to new ideas for teaching English!
Also, be sure to contact me with any questions that you might have about ESL activities for adults.
And don’t forget to share the word about this ESL teaching awesome on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. It’ll help busy teachers, like yourself, find this useful resource.
Last update on 2022-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Jackie, thank you for all the effort you put into this blog. The content is gold!
Kelly Hubbard says
Love your ideas for conversation activities for adults. Thanks so much! I’ll be using them in my classes this week.
Brian Burns says
All tips are amazing to help students communicate in a good way. Thank you!
I was feeling a little stale with my topics for my intermediate/advanced conversation classes. Thanks for some good ideas!