26 Fresh ESL Conversation Starters to Get Students Talking!

10 Oct

I love teaching conversation in the ESL classroom.  Part of it must be that because the students able to “converse” in English are

better able to demonstrate their personalities, preferences, thoughts… and therefore, I get to know them better.  Often it is simply hilarious to see the range of answers students feel free to share in a comfortable environment.

If you’re a conversation teacher in an English as a Second Language classroom, there may be times when you feel as though you want fresh ideas, a change in routine or some way to remain slightly unpredictable so your students remain curious as to what tricks you have up your sleeves.
Always remember to keep in mind your students’ unique personalities and language learning journey, and never underestimate how engaged they can become with the right activity!
Here is a list of 26 fresh ESL Conversation Starters to move your class!
  • Me, Only Better - Have each student name one thing they would love to change about themselves – either physical “I want a nose job”; a personality trait “I want to be more patient.”; or any other thing they concoct.
  • Top Chef - Give your students a list of 3-5 ingredients, from tame to strange, and ask them what they would cook with them, using all the ingredients.  How would they prepare it?  Who do you think in the class would win top chef?
  • Time Capsule - What would you want the people in the year 2200 to know about life on Earth right now? What objects best represent who we are as people, our accomplishments, our joys and sorrows?  What would your students include?  A good group activity where everyone has to make a suggestion and then explain their reasons why they feel it is important.   If they found a time capsule from 1900, what do they think would be in it?  Change the year to see how the contents of the time capsule change. 
  • Horoscopes – Print out the horoscopes from the day’s newspaper and everyone takes turns reading their horoscope.  Does it seem to match what is happening in their life?  Perhaps you could then have them write the horoscope they would love to see printed!
  • What colour are you?  - Everyone has to write down which colour best represents them and take turns describing why.  Go around the circle naming things that are that colour until the group gets stuck.  Change colours.
  • If I won the lottery… – They should write down two of the things they would do first if they won the lottery.  What does this tell us about who they are, if anything?  A good intro for teaching conditionals.
  • What is your dream job?  - People take turns describing their dream job.  Why don’t they take the steps to achieve it?  How would their life be different if they were in their dream job?
  • Biggest Fear – People share the thing they’re most afraid of.  This can be fun and superficial, or can get quite serious and personal.
  • Genie in a Bottle – Three wishes granted!  What would they choose?
  • Numerology – If you’re born on September 21, 1983, your number would be calculated as follows: 9 (Sept) + 2 +1 +1 +9 +8 +3 =33 … 3+3 = 6.  Your number would be 6.  Print out the numerology meanings of the different numbers and have the students see if they feel they’re a match to their number.
  • “The worst thing I NEVER did” - People love to feel they did the right thing, so have your students talk about a time when they were tempted to do a bad thing but in the end remained virtuous.  Can be quite funny, and range from tame to outrageous.
  • Call me Pharaoh – If you were going to be buried like a pharaoh, what would you want included in your tomb?  Depending on the size of your group, you may need to limit the items to 5 or less.
  • Bucket List – A list of things they want to do before “kicking the bucket,” or in other words, before they die.  Again, you may need to have everyone go around and start with the first thing, then second round the second thing… keeps people talking. Engage listeners to raise their hand if they would do it, touch their nose if they wouldn’t, etc.
  • Ask me a Question – Everyone gets to ask the teacher one question that should be answered honestly (well, as honestly as you feel you should professionally).  Be prepared, students love this!
  • Name three things in your Bedroom/Bathroom/On your desk – Make it even harder by not allowing them to repeat something that another person has already said.
  • Going on a Picnic - What would you bring to our imaginary picnic?  One of my favourite answers ever received for this one.. “a string quartet” Yes!  You’re invited! :)
  • What is your favourite _________?  - This blank can be filled in by almost anything!  …movie, actor/actress, hobby, thing to do before going to bed, subject in school, food, thing to share…  And don’t forget to give reasons.
  • What was your last purchase?  What was the last thing each student bought before class started?  Have every student ask a question about each other’s purchases.
  • Maestro, If You Please – Play a piece of classical or world music, without words preferably so students can concentrate on how the music moves them.  Have them write down answers to the 5 W’s – Who, What, When, Where, Why. For example: Where is this music taking place?  Students share and discuss their answers.  It’s really interesting to see the diversity of answers.
  • Guilty Pleasure – Have your students “fess up” and share one of their guilty pleasures… Okay, mine is eating raw cookie dough!  I just can’t help it!
  • Desert Island – If you were to become stranded on a desert island in the middle of the ocean, what would you want to have with you?  Have students try to narrow down the items to 6 and then 3 and then only 1!  Interesting to see who chooses for comfort and who chooses for survival – or is this the same thing? :)  If there were only one other person they could bring on the island with them, who would it be?
  • Grandma’s Words – Your students should pretend they’re giving their best piece of advice for a younger generation.  Have each person share their own personal wisdom and then perhaps share it as a group.
  • “You should have been there!” – Have students describe the best, most fun day of their life and tell us why we should have been there!  Who would have liked to share in that day and why? Who wouldn’t?
  • I Never - A game that never gets tiring.  Students take turns saying something they’ve never done, for example “I’ve never ridden a horse” or “I’ve never driven a bus,” and anyone who has actually done these things has to tell a story about it.
  • Whodunnit?  – Everyone writes down one amazing thing they’ve done that seems outrageous or surprising.  All the ideas go into a hat and people take turns pulling ideas out and guessing who has done the amazing thing.
  • Things – I love this game!  Who has played it?  Choose a topic…such as “Things you shouldn’t say to your mailman” or “Things you should eat while driving” and have students write down answers on slips of paper.  Put them in a hat and take turns drawing answers (make sure to have them hide their pens!) Who wrote which answer?  This is a favourite cottage game with my friends and I…
And if that’s not enough, The Internet TESOL Journal has about a thousand additional questions to get your conversation class started!
Enjoy!
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26 Responses to “26 Fresh ESL Conversation Starters to Get Students Talking!”

  1. Dana January 30, 2012 at 3:28 am #

    oh, this is really helpful, thank you! it’s my first time as an ESL teacher in France, and sometimes it’s really a struggle to get kids interested in talking. these are wonderful ideas, thanks so much!! x

  2. JenniferTeacher February 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    Youre right! Sometimes it can be so hard to get students talking. I remember my first overseas ESL Teaching experience… I was in a Public Middle School and was the Conversation Teacher for classes of 35 – 45 students! Nothing like diving in the deep-end head first! I hope you find these fresh ideas helpful in getting your students talking and sharing. Thanks for commenting! ^^

  3. David December 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    Great ice breakers and conversation starters! Thanks for sharing. Two truths and a lie was getting pretty stale as a first day activity.

    • JenniferTeacher February 17, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

      It can be hard to judge which first class activities to use if we don’t know the personalities of our students. Does get easier as they become familiar with you and each other though, doesn’t it? :) Glad you found some useful bits!

  4. April February 5, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    Another teaching assistant here. Thank you so much for this list of ideas!!

  5. Anonymous March 10, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Great ideas – thank you! This will help me a lot : )

  6. Tutors Melbourne March 23, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Thnx for writing this resource within your website.

  7. archiemaclang May 3, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Thank you for making this. It’s helping me a lot since I am teaching English to my students!

  8. Anonymous June 8, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    wao!!these so great,i think it will really help,my student`s sometimes they don`t want to talk,.thanks alot.susan

  9. voyance gratuite June 28, 2013 at 10:51 am #

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  11. Anonymous July 11, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    Great ideas. Thank you. I think you want to say Desert Island, not Deserted Island.

  12. a July 19, 2013 at 2:36 am #

    This website is great aabb41f8a7a0850473599ee01f2d615b

  13. prud'homme August 6, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    Howdy! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  14. englishgoes August 23, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    Useful , thanks Jennifer .

  15. Katelynn Johnston August 28, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    I love these ideas – so creative! I will definitely by trying some in my ESL classroom.

  16. Michele Green January 26, 2014 at 1:47 am #

    Thank you so much. I have been teaching many years and needed some fresh ideas. I tried a few of these this past week with my adult students. We had a a great time laughing, listening, and most importantly speaking English the whole period
    !

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  18. Anonymous April 4, 2014 at 11:39 pm #

    Jennifer,

    As an experienced ESL Teacher I thank you for this page, it does exactly what is says by freshening up the conversational classroom. Thanks a bunch, I have sent this link to my employees.

    David
    Blanco Y Negro

  19. JenniferTeacher April 2, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Thanks for the link, Claire in Spain. Have subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading your thoughts and experiences! :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The ESL Conversation Classic – “20 Questions” Printable Cards « Jennifer Teacher - November 1, 2011

    [...] also suggest you check out my list of amazing Classroom Conversation Starters and warm-ups that get students talking. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

  2. Conversation Questions | Claire's English Links - March 24, 2013

    [...] handy are these 26 conversation ideas from Jennifer Teacher – I have tried the Desert Island and Time Capsule ideas with mixed results but with very [...]

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