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Speaking aids

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How would your Christmas feel without a Christmas tree or your birthday without a cake? How romantic would your romantic dinner be without candles?

Speaking aids - speaking article

Probably you agree that these little things make a lot of difference and it is with good reason why people spend time, money and energy to get the right small objects to help them put themselves and their loved ones into the right mood.

  • Why use speaking aids
  • Post-it notes
  • Walls
  • Coloured paper
  • Small objects
    • To control turn-taking
    • As metaphors
  • Conclusion


Why use speaking aids
In contrast, we often expect that our students have the right mood to speak without having anything that would help them to be in the right mood to speak, or any prompt that would help the flow of ideas. These small prompts or small speaking aids get especially important when children get into the age when they want to speak about themselves more than e.g. about the little animals or fairies in a tale. In this article, I will give you some ideas what little objects to use and how to use them so that students aged 12 upwards find speaking easier and less stressful.

Post-it notes
Post-it notes are great conversation starters. Ask your students to put information on a post-it note each, and get them to wear it, mingle and find out about each other. What can be written on the post-it notes?

  • To practise the simple past e.g., get them to write a name, a date and a place that is important to them. These three things should come from three different stories or events in their lives.
  • To practise e.g. the Simple Present, used to, the Present Perfect or likes/dislikes, ask them to write five things, some true and some untrue about themselves on the post-it notes. When students mingle, they ask further questions to find out which are true and which are not.


Walls of your classroom can be given meanings such as:

  • Agree - disagree: Ask students to position themselves between the two walls to express their opinion on a statement e.g. ‘Playing computer games is a waste of time.' The closer they are to a wall the more they are of that opinion. First, ask students to share ideas with people near them, then put students far from each other together to talk.
  • Summer - winter /casual - elegant /men's - ladies': Say names of clothes items and ask students to position themselves between the two walls to express their opinion about the clothes, and then ask them why they are where they are.
  • Like - dislike: Say names of performers, sports, types of music, etc. as relevant in your class and ask people to comment on their position.
  • I know - I don't know: Ask a question related to your topic. A. Ask students standing nearer the ‘I know' wall to share what they know about your topic. B. Ask students standing nearer the ‘I don't know' wall to ask further questions or make a list of things they would need to know. Then put A's and B's together. Ask B's to give the answer to your initial question at the end.


Coloured paper
Coloured paper can be used as a metaphor that represents the choice of the student. Here is how you do it:

  • Lay a good selection of different coloured paper out on the floor or on a big table in the middle of the classroom so that all the colours are visible to the class. Call out a subject e.g. something you like to eat. Everyone takes a colour that corresponds to something they like to eat.
  • Give students 1 to 2 minutes to talk to each other about the subject then ask students to put the coloured paper back.
  • Change the subject and at the same time, ask students to change partners and find the colour that they associate with the new subject. Some possible subjects: clothes, food, a place I like, a holiday decoration in my house, a season, an animal, music, a good friend, a dream. It's better to go from concrete to more abstract subjects.


Original idea by Karen Sekiguchi

Small objects
Small objects such as Lego pieces, buttons, pebbles, shells, toothpicks, etc. can be used A. to control turn-taking, B. as metaphors representing other things or people.

  • To control turn-taking
    When students discuss a topic, tell a story or describe a picture in small groups, give everybody an equal number of some small objects e.g. shells or toothpicks. Their aim is to get rid of the objects as they talk. They can get rid of the objects by putting them down if - you set it depending on their fluency level - they say a complete sentence or minimum three sentences about the subject. You can do it the other way around: give groups a pile of objects and students can pick up objects when they contribute to the conversation. Here the aim is to collect as many objects as possible.
  • As metaphors
    Small objects can represent real beings, like the student's best friend or their pet. It makes it easier and more interesting to describe people and animals this way. You can also ask the student to focus on similarities and differences between the object and the person or animal.
    Buttons are easy and fun to transform into different imaginary people. Give out a good selection of different buttons. Get students to choose one and imagine what kind of person it would be, what this person would like, how they would live, what their name would be, etc. Get students to mingle and find a button friend for their button person.

    Small objects like Lego pieces can also represent periods/events in students' lives, e.g. three holidays they have had, three semesters of school or some important years. Students choose the periods/events/years first, then they choose little objects to represent them. Pairs then share.


Using these little, inexpensive speaking aids has the following advantages:

  • Students get prepared for talking as they are thinking about the prompt, e.g. which object to choose, what to write or where to stand. So there is thinking time with an outcome that later will help talking.
  • Students concentrate on the subject through concentrating on the prompt.
  • It is easier to start talking as these prompts communicate first, so they break the ice before the students start talking.
  • They decrease anxiety as people's attention shifts from the person who speaks to the prompt. Also, there is something to hold, to look at or to move around for.
  • Their use often results in natural groupings, e.g. students with the same or different opinions, interests and ways of thinking.
  • Their use often triggers imagination and/or brings back memory, so it helps creative expression, personalisation and originality in speaking.
  • They develop thinking skills such as forming an opinion, finding similarities and differences and using metaphors.
  • They talk to and rely on different intelligences and senses.
  • They are very flexible and easily adaptable to different levels, ages and teaching aims.


The ideal language department of a school would have a good selection of small objects, small speaking aids for teachers to use in their lessons.

Further reading
Lindstromberg, Seth (ed.) Language Activities for Teenagers (2003) Cambridge, UK: CUP
Bonnie Tsai and Judit Fehér Creative Resources (2003) Atlanta, USA: IAL

Judit Fehér, Freelance teacher, Trainer, Materials writer