Kids and speaking

Here are some ideas for practising speaking in class with young learners.

Sally Trowbridge

A reason to speak
Make sure that the children have a reason for speaking, for example, they need to talk to their partner to complete a picture or to find information in order to make a graph. Think about the questions you ask in class. If you ask ‘Is this a pencil?’ children can only respond either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And of course you already know it’s a pencil so the question isn’t real. If you hide the pencil in a bag and ask ‘What’s in the bag?’ this is now a fun game and learners are motivated to answer using a wider range of language.

Whole class speaking activities
You can use chants or songs to give the whole class the opportunity to listen and repeat the sounds, rhythm and intonation they hear. You can ask learners to join in with just part of the song or chant at first and then gradually build up to the whole thing. Here’s an example of how to do this with a tongue twister:

Play or say the tongue twister then tell your learners that they are going to repeat the sentence bit by bit after you. Start by asking your learners to repeat the last part of the sentence and building up to the full tongue twister like this:

Teacher: seashore
Learners: seashore
Teacher: by the seashore
Learners: by the seashore
Teacher: seashells by the seashore
Learners: seashells by the seashore
Teacher: She sells seashells by the seashore
Learners: She sells seashells by the seashore

Have your class repeat the whole tongue twister slowly and then more quickly after the version on LearnEnglish Kids. Find the above tongue twister here:

You can find many more tongue twisters on LearnEnglish Kids here:

You’ll find lots of ideas for more whole class speaking activities in this article:

Speaking in small groups or pairs
Children, including very young learners, can work in pairs or small groups to maximize their speaking time in class. When learners work in pairs or small groups the teacher is able to monitor, move around the class and really listen to the language being produced.

  • After doing a whole class activity with the tongue twister above you could have learners work in pairs to take turns repeating the tongue twister as fast as possible without mistakes. This isn’t easy of course and you could demonstrate this to the class by trying to say it quickly and correctly yourself. Get the learners to count how many consecutive error-free versions you can say.
  • You can give learners a spot the difference information gap activity to do in pairs. Give each learner a picture. The pictures should be almost the same with two or three elements missing from each picture. Without showing each other the pictures they should describe their pictures to each other and try to find which objects are missing. They will practise colours, prepositions of place and adjectives such as big and small. They can compare their pictures when they have finished.
  • Ask children to sit back to back and imagine they are having a telephone conversation. They can practise telephone language or just simple exchanges based on your current class topic that aren’t connected to the telephone itself. Sitting back to back make this more fun, interesting and helps children really concentrate on listening to their partner.
  • Children can play a board game in small groups. Before they start you can practise game language such as ‘It’s my turn’ and ‘Throw the dice’ as a whole class. If you want to practice specific language points you can write questions the squares on the board. When a player lands on a square with a question they have to answer the question. You can print a snakes and ladders board game or a board game template on LearnEnglish Kids here:
  • Learners can act out a simple play in small groups. Use masks or puppets to make this more fun. You’ll find finger puppets, masks and a Goldilocks play in the crafts section on LearnEnglish Kids:

Setting up speaking activities
Make sure that children know what they have to do. Demonstrate the activity either yourself or with a volunteer. Ask the learners what they have to do and maybe let them answer in their mother tongue to check understanding. Appoint an ‘English monitor’ in each group to remind the others to speak English. If you put learners into pairs of A and B, make sure everyone knows whether they are A or B by asking for a show of hands. Set a time limit and have a signal for finishing such as raising your hand and saying ‘stop’. You could also have an activity ready for early finishers such as a worksheet to complete or a selection of picture books to look at.

Classroom language
Try to use English as much as possible for communication in the classroom from day one to give learners the chance to speak English with you and with their classmates. Demonstrate your instructions as you say them in English and your learners will soon understand ‘Sit down’, ‘Put your pencil on the table’, ‘Hands up’ etc. Teach learners to use expressions like ‘Can I have…’, ‘I’ve finished’, ‘Can I go to the toilet?’ at the start of the course so that they have the language to speak to you in English in the classroom.

Praise your learners when they try to use English and keep reminding them to use English whenever possible in class.

When you have used some of these ideas, why not come back to this page and leave a comment below to tell us how your class went. Let us know if you have any additional ideas!


Submitted by eri_02 on Wed, 07/13/2016 - 17:21


Good afternoon: I'd like to thank your insights to this fascinating topic. I also would like to request further reading as I'll start writing my dissertation about teaching speaking to children in Mexico, my motherland. So far, I have found Bygate but I'd like to read about this topic focused on kids. Could you help me, please? Kind regards, Ireri

Research and insight

We have hundreds of case studies, research papers, publications and resource books written by researchers and experts in ELT from around the world. 

See our publications, research and insight

Sign up to our newsletter for teaching ideas and free resources

We will process your data to send you our newsletter and updates based on your consent. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of every email. Read our privacy policy for more information.