Here’s a great activity for teaching your students to speak more naturally. I’ve found, over my many years of teaching ESL, that students tend to speak like robots… They’re focused on the nuts and bolts of the language, and lose that natural bounce and rhythm that comes with any language.

Sometimes, when you have students practice a dialogue, they’ll get into the rhythm of it and play up the role, but it’s rare, and only when they can make fun of each other. With this activity, I’ve found a way of unleashing their natural creativity and allowing them freedom to be silly.

Yet this also emphasizes a serious point – contextual intonation. I only do this activity after teaching some key elements of phonemics – like word stress or sentence stress. This tends to move the lesson into a fun area.

Setting Up

Give the students a short dialogue. It can be anything, but make it well below their level. This is important. You don’t want to challenge them here, because the point isn’t the dialogue, but how it’s spoken. Give them something so easy that they immediately laugh at it and even the very lowest level student in the class has no trouble comprehending.
My students are intermediate level, and I use this dialogue:
A: Hi, how are you?
B: Fine, thank you. And you?
A: Just great. What have you been doing lately?
B: Oh, not much. But I’ve been keeping busy.
A: Well…it’s been good to see you.
B: Yes, it has…well, bye!
A: Goodbye.

Tell your students to practice the dialogue a few times. If they’re like my students, they’ll act silly because it’s so easy. Then tell them to memorize it. Tell them that soon you will remove the dialogue from the screen/board and they’ll have to perform it from memory.

Running the Activity

Once the students have confined this dialogue to memory, bring up a list of scenarios that involve two people. These could be any two people, but make them fun and interesting. Tell the students to pick a scenario and perform the dialogue in the role of these two people. Demonstrate with an obvious example and show how the above statements could be said while happy or sad, angry or excited, etc.
Here are some idea for roles:
  • Two old friends meeting by chance for the first time in many years.
  • A divorced couple.
  • A dying man and a doctor.
  • A police officer and a criminal.
  • Two doomed lovers.
  • A landlord and a tenant who owes him money.
  • A monster and a child.
  • Two rival athletes.

Come up with as many possibilities as you want. Try to make them fun and weird. Have the students pick one and practice it for a few minutes, and then choose another and practice that. You could have students read in front of the class or a group and other students need to guess which roles they were playing.