Common ESL classroom issue 5: the lack of speaking activities


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So many students want to learn English so that they can speak English. That’s great, but actually you also need to learn many other aspects of English so that you can confidently stand there and speak. That’s one part of the issue. The second part of this issue is that in fact many teachers do include lots of speaking activities in their classes but students often don’t recognize them. They seem to think because it was practicing a conversation in the book that uses the past simple etc, that they really aren’t speaking. To them speaking is all about speaking freely and confidently.   And so the cycle continues.

However, there is another few points worth noting too:

  1. Some teachers don’t like their students to speak.

This is a common phenomenon in Asian countries and with non native teachers. The reason for this is often culturally students are taught to not speak to elders or those you respect. To speak up with confidence to a person you respect is to show disrespect, so getting them to speak in a class situation is very challenging for some students. The same goes for some non-native teachers, who were raised in the same way. They don’t feel comfortable if students are speaking up to them. They find is disrespectful and don’t know how to manage it.


  1. Some teachers are told by their schools that speaking is for the conversation class only.

Some schools differentiate their curriculum into, grammar one hour, reading one hour, etc. The conversation part is often done for one hour only maybe only twice a week, and perhaps they bring in a native English teacher to do that, why? They want the accent to rub off onto the student? Go figure. Students learn accents from every direction, including the teacher who taught them grammar and reading. They are listening all the time. The conversation hour should be finally about getting the class to finally speak!


  1. Some parents don’t consider speaking as important as passing exams.

Though most parents are aware that speaking English is part of learning English in general, some often forget that the exams (though they are important of course) are really only one example of what they have been able to regurgitate on one day. The real long term English ability should really only be measured over time and speaking is one of the simplest ways to see what the student has picked up.


As a student if you feel that you are not getting enough speaking activities in the lesson, ask your teacher for more speaking, or ask them if they can identify and remind the students every time they do do a speaking activity. This is an easy way to get the teacher motivated.

If you are a student who feels shy to speak in class because culturally you don’t want to show disrespect to your teacher, a way of overcoming this is by imagining you are someone else asking. This way you feel that the other character is an ESL learner who is entitled to have a chance to learn how to speak. You are actually talking about yourself here, but it just feels a lot easier if you ‘slip into what feels like another character’.

So whatever you feel about speaking in your ESL class, you must feel that you get enough opportunities, opportunities in the classroom are the number one priority. If you feel you do get enough but you want more – this is where you need to turn your opportunities to outside the classroom.


7 thoughts on “Common ESL classroom issue 5: the lack of speaking activities

  1. Who asks if you “grammar English?”

    Language programs – and English teachers – that “forget” or “overlook” the need for students to actually speak English in classes make a huge mistake. We need to give students the chance to practice conversation activities, share their experiences, and create positive English language experiences. Where speaking in small groups, sharing information collected, or giving presentations, students need to practice speaking English. I personally favor including actual conversation exercises in all ESL/EFL classes, including writing classes at the university level. That’s that I do, and students often make significant, meaningful, and verifiable progress in their speaking and writing skills.

    You can find a wide range of free speaking activities and conversation class materials at . Try it. You might like it.

    But you certainly make sure that students speak in all your English classes!

  2. Essays like yours make me glad that Nanjing University left me mostly unsupervised in my classes. I taught first year oral English and second year composition, and I remember when my second year students told me that my composition class was a lot like my Oral English class except we always talked about writing. I had to agree.

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