Adult students learning to speak English are usually self-motivated immigrants who want to learn quickly and be able to survive in their new environment. The ESL, or English as a second language, courses are filled with activities that give these students opportunities to express themselves in English and improve their speaking skills. Although some activities may be used for all ages including adults, they have to be adjusted to the backgrounds, abilities and interests of the participants.


To relax and prepare the adults for the lessons, there are several English speaking activities that can be used. For the first lesson, the teacher says a sentence such as: "It was a nice, sunny day." The teacher then goes around the room and has the next person add a sentence to this one. This continues until everyone has added a sentence, each time repeating the previous ones. A story should evolve. Another time the teacher can show a cartoon or picture and have each student describe or comment on it. Add the following warm-up. Ask a few students to pantomime an idea that comes to mind. Have students guess what it is. To warm up for another lesson, hand out the words to "God Bless America." Have the students read it silently and ask for clarification of any troublesome words. Suggest that the students sing it together.

Improve Oral Communication

Tell a joke to the class. Ask several students to retell the joke changing the characters. Discuss the effectiveness in terms of the character substitution. Does it change the meaning of the joke and does it improve it? If so, how? Discuss with the class the concept of tense, as in present, past and future. Distribute a handout containing a few sentences. Ask for a student to read these sentences aloud. Have students volunteer to repeat each sentence changing the tense.

Speaking Experiences

Instruct students to bring an object from home. This can include a cultural item, hobby or travel souvenir. Give each student a chance to give a brief presentation to the class describing the object. Have students tell about their hometown or a travel experience. Assign students to present an oral account of major holidays and how they were observed in their original country. Ask students to volunteer to persuade the class to see or not to see an English speaking movie.


Divide the class in two, one side in favor of American immigration laws and the other side against. Have each side present arguments. Should the laws be changed or not?

Acting Activities

Divide the students into pairs. Assign one group to act out buying something, another a phone conversation, another an interview and another asking for directions. Have each group prepare to act these out in front of the class.


Distribute work sheets listing commonly mispronounced English words, especially ones they may encounter in daily life. Explain that English words don't always sound as they are written. Give them the example of "height," which would seem to be pronounced "hee, ai, ga hut." Go around the room and have a different student pronounce each word. The teacher then correctly pronounces any mispronounced words. Ask the group to pronounce them in unison. Instruct the students to take the list home and practice the words aloud for the next lesson.

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About the Author

Based in Bellmore, N.Y., Shula Hirsch has been writing since 1960 on travel, education, raising children and senior problems. Her articles have appeared in "Newsday," "Mature Living," "Teaching Today," and "Travel News." She holds a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University and is a retired professor of English.