Getting teenagers talking 2

Here are five useful ways that I have used to try to encourage my teenage learners to use more English in class.

Catherine Sheehy Skeffington


The oldest trick in the book, and not one to be over-used. The idea is simple, take in small prizes to give to students whenever they have spoken enough English. What is 'enough' depends on you and the class - one word may be all you want from a particularly quiet student. Possible prizes could be:

  • Small fruits can be surprisingly popular (but messy)
  • Sweets and biscuits are a favourite (but bad for teeth)
  • Pencils and erasers can work (but are expensive)
  • Points, awarded to the class as a whole, which they can 'cash in' for watching a short video, listening to an English song, playing a game of their choice, etc.


This is another way of using points to encourage the students to speak English. One hangman diagram can be used to refer to a particular offender, a group or the class as a whole. This way round the class is promised a treat for the end of the class (e.g. video, song or game) but they can lose lives by offending - i.e. not speaking English when you require them to.

  • Each time they offend, one life is lost - indicated by a line being added to the hangman diagram.
  • If the hangman is completed, they have lost all their lives and forfeited their treat.
  • Use this technique thoughtfully - bear in mind the consequences of the hangman always or never dying (it may be seen either as an impossible task or an empty threat).

Time out

This time the bargaining material is minutes. At the beginning of the class, tell the students you'll give them five minutes to speak in their own language at some point in the class. However, if they use up the minutes before the designated time, they lose them for good.

  • How far you want to extend this is up to you - if it's relevant they can lose minutes for the following class, but this can be demotivating.
  • Another way to use this technique is to give them potential minutes, which they make real by speaking English.
  • Remember to mark these on the board to avoid disputes and remind them of their progress (five circles that become happy faces, for example).

The untrophy

This is a trophy that is awarded to a person who is speaking the wrong language. The student to receive it can then pass it on to the next person they hear speaking the wrong language. The person holding it at the end of class has a forfeit - extra homework, staying late or simply being the last to leave. The trophy can be a real or virtual object:

  • If virtual, the teacher needs to keep track of where it is and indicate this on the board.
  • If real, the students can write their own forfeits and stick them onto the trophy.

The last word

Once again, this involves the students having some control over the penalty for not speaking English.

  • 15 minutes before the end of class, they brainstorm topics that are hard to speak about in English. The topics are written on slips of paper or on the board.
  • The students vote for the person who spoke the least English - or this is decided by the teacher or some other method.
  • The offender chooses a topic, by choosing one of the slips of paper or throwing a ball at the board. He/she then has to speak about that topic for a certain amount of time (30 seconds or a minute) - silence can be penalised by doubling the amount of time they have to speak or with some other forfeit.
  • Obviously this needs to be used sensitively, taking into account the reasons why a student has spoken very little English in the class.
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