One of the most classic activities for ESL classes is pairing students up to create and improvise a conversation based on interesting or useful situations.
Don’t forget to prepare students with language structures and vocabulary or else you’ll have a lot of blank stares and shy students!
Give them enough time to prepare
Give the students about ten minutes to write the conversation with their partner. You can adjust the number of lines and how detailed of a starter you give to suit the ability level of your students. For lower level students, it can be helpful to have a word bank on the board relevant to the context so that the writing portion of this activity doesn’t get ridiculously long. Then, the students memorize their conversation (no papers when speaking!), and do a role-play it in front of their classmates if you have a small class of less than ten.
Some teachers require students to memorize their lines because it makes the role-plays more natural. But if it’s difficult and painful for your students, let them read first, or practice more in small groups before getting in front of the class.
Give students more time to talk!
Remember that you should try to maximize the amount of time students are talking. If you have a larger class, there are a few different ways to handle this. You could get pairs to come up to your desk and show you their conversation while the other students are working on something else, you could use it as a speaking test of some kind, or finally you could have students make a video of themselves and send you it to you in a WeChat group.
Some other skills that you can practice are things like turn-taking during conversations, starting a conversation, speaking for an appropriate length of time, stress and intonation, responding, and cohesive devices, particularly noun/pronoun reference (A: I saw a movie last night. B: Which one did you see? A. I saw Ironman. It was good).
Leave grammar correction to the end
Correcting students in the middle of their show interrupts the pretend environment. Make notes and share them later.
Exaggeration is good! Encourage students to exaggerate their actions, opinions and movements. Exaggeration helps students immerse themselves in the role.
Stage a rehearsal first. Have students practice their role in small groups with coaching from the other students.
While the role-play is in progress, have other students suggest vocabulary first, and act as backup if they do not know.
- Have students use different emotions or personalities.
- Change characters (wife changes to husband, teacher changes to boss)
- Add more characters.
- Add extra problems (a big storm, a bird poops on someone’s head)
- Make the reasons a secret from one of the students. (Student
A is a student who is late to class because they helped an old lady
cross the street. Student B is a teacher who got in trouble for being
late to work this morning!)
1. One of you is a teacher. Talk to one of your students about why he/she is always failing their exam.
2. You have decided not to go to school today. After school, your teacher sees you at the Internet Café and comes over to talk to you. What do you say?
3. Your friend was supposed to pick you up two hours ago. He/she has just shown up. Tell him/her how angry you are.
4. You want to get to sleep early. It is 10:00 in the evening on Sunday and a friend of yours comes over and begs you to go to a movie with him/her.
5. Your friend never wants to go anywhere. There’s going to be a great party tomorrow night at someone else’s house. Convince your friend to go with you.
6. You want to watch a movie on TV but your friend wants to watch a football match.
7. Your mother is having a difficult time living alone and taking care of herself. You’re worried.Talk to her about moving.
8. Tell your teacher that you want to quit school.
9. You are a high school student. Your father wants you to finish high school, but you really think school is a waste of time for you.
10. You would like to go to another country on a school exchange program. Your mother doesn’t think you are mature enough to travel and study in a foreign country. Talk about this.
11. Chinese New Year’s is coming and you want to take a partner home with you so your parents won’t complain. Ask your friend if he or she will go with you.
12. One of you is a student who never does homework. Ask him/her about what is bothering them.
13. You are driving your friend somewhere. When you ask him/her to put on a seat belt, he/she refuses.
14. Your friend wants to borrow 2000RMB. When you tell him/her you do not feel comfortable lending him/her so much money, they get angry.
15. You are sitting in a movie theater. A person behind you are making a lot of noise. Ask them to be quiet.
16. You and a friend are driving to work and you see an accident. You want to stop and see if you can help, but your friend doesn’t want to be late for work.
17. Tell your teacher you don’t understand what is going on in class. You are working hard, but getting more and more confused. Ask your teacher to help you after school.
18. You are leaving a supermarket and look at your receipt. You think the cashier has overcharged you. Bring this to his/her attention.
19. You and a friend are supposed to be doing a project together. You have done a lot of work, but your friend has done nothing. Tell your friend how you feel.
20. Your friend is always bossing you around. Tell him/her that you want to make your own decisions.
21. One of you is a teacher. Talk to your brightest student about his/her future goals.
22. You paid a carpenter to make some repairs in your home. After the person has finished, you notice the workmanship is very sloppy. Talk to him/her about this.
23. You bought a camera. You used it only one time and it has broken. You want to return the camera to the seller.
24. You want to sell your used bicycle for as much as you can. It is only one year old, and it’s in good shape. You need the money for school. Discuss the price with a friend who wants to pay as little as possible.
25. Your roommate has lost a lot of weight, and you suspect that he/she may be anorexic (anorexia – a disease that involves a great fear of gaining weight, a hatred for food, or severe weight loss). Talk to your friend about their health.
26. Someone is always knocking at your door. It is four in the morning. Tell him to go away and let you sleep.
27. Your friend is getting married soon. You have heard a lot of bad things about his/her fiancée. Tell your friend what you’ve heard.
28. You brought your car to a mechanic because you heard a funny noise from the engine. After you pay the mechanic and as you are driving home, you realize the noise is still there. Go back to the mechanic.
29. Talk to a student who is always late for class. Explain this behavior is unacceptable.
30. Ask your roommate to stop eating all your food in the refrigerator.
31. Your father thinks it is time for you to move out of the house and live on your own. Unfortunately, you like living at home and not paying rent. Discuss the problem.
32. Although you bought the rice cooker, your roommate uses it most of the time. For some reason, it has stopped working. Tell your roommate to pay for the repair.
33. Talk to your boss. Tell him/her why you feel you deserve a promotion.
34. You visit a friend’s home. After sneezing several times, you realize that you are allergic to your friend’s cat. Discuss the problem.
35. You are a teacher. You give a student a low grade on his research paper, and he becomes very angry.
36. You need a roommate, and have placed an ad online. Someone comes to the door in response to the ad. Talk to this person and see if you are both compatible as roommates.
37. Your roommate is playing music so loud that you can’t get to sleep. Ask your roommate to turn down the volume and have some consideration for you.
38. You sit down in a chair. Suddenly you realize that you are sitting on your friend’s hat. The hat is ruined and you apologize to your friend, offering to buy him a new hat instead.
39. Your roommate gets up in the middle of the night, cooks a big meal, and leaves all the dishes until the morning. You always wake up to a real mess in the kitchen. Talk to your roommate about the mess they have left.
40. You have not cooked anything for dinner because you were at a meeting all day. Your husband comes home and is very hungry. He wants to eat right away.
41. Your apartment has been robbed. You call the police. When the policeman comes, he asks you a number of questions.
42. You are walking downtown with a friend. Suddenly you remember that you left some food cooking at home.
43. You buy a sweater and leave it in the store by mistake. When you discover it is missing, you return to the store and ask the clerk if he has seen it.
44. You are about to leave for a party with your husband. You are wearing a dress that he does not like at all. He wants you to change it, but you like the dress.
45. You are describing your boyfriend to a friend of yours. She describes her boyfriend too. Suddenly you realize that she is describing your boyfriend as well!
46. You have just won a 10,000RMB. You tell your friend the good news, but he does not believe you.
47. Your roommate comes home to say they have won 1000RMB playing majang. The next week, you notice that your friend stays out past midnight playing majang. They have lost their money but cannot stop gambling. Talk to your friend about their gambling.
48. You get off a train in a strange country. You find a person who speaks a little English and ask him how to get to a certain address. After speaking with him for some time, you understand how to get where you want to go.
49. You are in a good mood, but your friend is in a bad mood. You try to cheer him up, but he remains unhappy.
50. You hear a noise downstairs. You are sure that there is a thief in the house. You wake up your spouse but they don’t believe anyone is there.
51. It is three o’clock in the morning. Your roommate has forgotten her/his apartment keys again. When she/he rings the bell and bangs on the door, tell him/her to find somewhere else to sleep and leave you alone.
52. A stray cat has been coming to your door for the last few weeks begging for food. You have been feeding it, and you would like to take the cat as a pet. However, your dormitory does not allow pets. Talk to your roommate about what you should do.
53. You and your roommate are not getting along. Ask your roommate to move out.
54. You are so busy that you cannot get all of your work done. Your boss calls you into his office and asks you why you have not finished a certain project.
55. You are a teacher. When you walk into the classroom, you see that one student is crying at his desk. You ask him why he is so upset.
56. Even though you and your roommate agreed to clean your room on different weekends, you are the only one doing all the house cleaning. Remind your roommate about agreement.
57. Your roommate’s friend wants to come and spend a few weeks in your apartment. You feel the house will be too crowded and you want to have privacy. Tell your roommate you do not like this idea.
58. It is midnight. You are walking home. Suddenly you see a shadow in front of you. You hear a voice telling you to stop.
Also a good time to teach some saftey tips!
59. Tell your father that you have decided to marry someone who is 20 years older than you.
60. Your child has not been doing well in school. The teacher calls you and tells you she would like to meet with you.
61. You are in a restaurant. You order chicken, but the waiter brings you beef instead. You tell him that he made a mistake, but he insists that he is right.
62. You are at the train station and you have several suitcases. You call a porter and ask him to carry the suitcases to the taxi. He asks twice the amount of money you plan on giving him. You argue with him over the price.
63. You and your wife/husband are returning home from a movie. You suddenly discover that neither of you has the house key.
64. You and a friend have been given a copy of the “correct” answers for the upcoming national college entrance examination (Gao Kao). You discuss whether or not to use the scores.
65. You lose your child at the supermarket, and you are very worried. You go to the person in charge and ask him to help you find your child.
66. You buy a new phone. You take it home, but it does not work so you take it back to the store and complain to the manager.
67. You are at your mother-in-law’s house. You are admiring a vase on the table. You pick it up then drop it accidentally. You apologize to your mother-in-law.
68. Ask your roommate to pay rent. They are usually late.
69. Your friend asks you to be his/her roommate, but you prefer to live alone. Tell him/her this without hurting his/her feelings.
70. Your friend bought a new bicycle, but now he does not like it. He is eager to sell it to you.
71. You are parking your car. You do not see a sign that says, “No Parking”. A police officer comes up and asks you why you are parking there.
72. You are in a restaurant. You have just finished a good dinner. The waiter is waiting for you to pay the bill. You look for your wallet and find that you have left it at home and your phone has no power.
73. You order soup in a restaurant. When the waiter brings the soup, you think you see a fly in it. You are very annoyed and ask the waiter to bring you something else.
74. You are at a resort. While you are walking to the beach, you see your best friend. You call his name, but he acts as if he does not know you at all.
75. You are 15 years old. Ask your parent for permission to get married.
76. On the train, you discover that another person is sitting in your seat. You talk to him, explaining that he is in the wrong seat.
77. You are walking downtown. Suddenly you meet an old friend of yours whom you have not seen since you were in elementary school. You are surprised to learn that he has become a millionaire.
78. The car in front of your car suddenly stops and you cannot avoid hitting it. Both cars are damaged. The driver gets out of his car and comes towards you.
79. Your roommate has a pet that you are constantly cleaning up after. Tell your friend to either start cleaning up after the pet or get rid of it.
80. You and your friend are planning to be roommates. Discuss what you will need to get to furnish your new apartment.
81. You run into an old friend that you haven’t seen in five years. He used to weigh 100 kilos. Now he weighs 75 kilos.
82. You are very near-sighted, and you lose your eye-glasses in a crowded room. Ask someone to help you look for them.
83. You go to your bank to withdraw some money from your account. When the cashier, who you know, asks you for identification, you discover you have left your I.D. card at home.
84. Your friend asks you to return a book that you borrowed from him several months ago. At first you cannot remember what you did with it. Then you explain why you kept the book for such a long time.
85. You bought a plane ticket for Beijing. You go to the airport and learn that the flight has been cancelled. You are very upset because you must be in Beijing later in the day.
86. You bought a lottery ticket and left it in your coat pocket. Your wife does not know the ticket is there and she give your coat away because it is so old. Later, you learn that the lottery ticket has the winning number. You ask your wife for the coat.
87. You go to a pet shop to buy a canary. The pet owner does not have any canaries to sell, but tries to sell you a parrot that is very expensive.
88. You are trying on shoes in a shoe store. You have tried on many different pairs and the salesman is losing his patience.
89. You go to a travel agency. You want to plan a trip to France, but the travel agent seems bored and not interested in helping you.
90. One day, you get up early and go downstairs. There, to your surprise, is a stranger sleeping on the sofa. You wake your mother up and ask her who the stranger is.
91. You ask a man for directions to the metro station. He keeps asking you to repeat what you said. After a while, you discover that the man is partially deaf.
92. You want to go to a football game but your girlfriend insists that a movie would be much more fun.
93. You are going to drive downtown by yourself today for the first time. You say you’ll drive very carefully, but you’re afraid you might have an accident. Ask for advice.
94. You have to take a English test during a job interview next week. You are going to practice all week because you don’t want to fail the test. Ask for advice.
95. You had a heart attack recently. You say you are going to exercise regularly because you are afraid you might have another one. Ask for advice.
96. You can’t find the library book you took from the school library. You’re going to look for it everywhere. Ask for advice.
97. You are going to take very good care of your new bicycle because you don’t want it to break down like the old one did. Ask for advice.
98. You both just got a very large dog. You are going to keep it in the yard all the time because you don’t want it to bite any of the children in the neighborhood.
99. The students in Mrs. Baker’s English class want to do very well on their next test. Give them advice.
100. You have a terrible cold. You have tried all kinds of medicine, but it won’t seem to go away.
101. You’re walking out of your house with your brother. You’re afraid you might have forgotten to turn off the A/C. You probably didn’t forget, but check with your brother just to be sure.
102. You’re waiting for a package from someone special. You know that the mail has already come, and you don’t think there was anything for you. Check with your roommate to make sure you didn’t get a letter. Then show your disappointment.
103. As you walked into school a few minutes ago, in front of the building you saw a blue car that had been hit by another car. At first you thought it was your friend’s car but you decided it probably wasn’t. Check with your friend to make sure. Ask your friend if he or she knows whose car it is.
104. You see a mother beating her 8 year old son with a stick. The child is crying. Discuss with your partner what you would do or say to the mother.
105. You’d like to invite a friend to go to the movies this weekend. First, check to make sure that your friend does not have plans for the weekend. Then invite your friend. Try and agree on what movie you both want to see.
106. You and a friend are taking the bus to a concert downtown. You’re afraid you’re going to be late, and you wish you knew what time it was. You don’t think your friend is wearing a watch, but ask just to be sure. Then ask someone else what time it is.
107. You’re a doctor. Mr. Smith, one of your patients, is in your office. A few months ago, you told Mr. Smith he should stop eating unhealthy food. He said he would, but you aren’t sure he did. Check to see whether Mr. Smith has started eating unhealthy food and give him some good medical advice.
108. A good friend of yours is going to drive you to the airport tonight. Your friend is often late, and you’re afraid you’ll miss your plane. Check with your friend to make sure he or she won’t be late. Then, tell your friend not to forget that your plane leaves at 8:30.
109. You’re at the doctor’s office for a checkup. You’re hoping you won’t have to get any shots. Check with the doctor.
Core Curriculum Standards
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.