One weird trick that will get your students talking

As English language teachers it seems like we often go to great lengths to concoct scenarios and role plays that will give our students chances to speak English. It is all the better if we can make up a seemingly authentic situation in which students are compelled to use English. In this quick (well for me anyway) post (that I have no doubt will go viral) I’d like to suggest one weird, wild, and wacky idea that will be sure to get your students talking.

reeves whoa


The idea is simple; you can just turn over some of the classroom choices to students and ask them make a group decision on a particular issue. In today’s class I asked my students to decide what time we will start class next week and when we will have our midterm exam. These issues generated a lot of discussion and gave students chances to express their feelings and try persuade each other as they tried to reach a consensus.

I do realize my situation is potentially rare in that I have the flexibility to schedule the exam whenever we decide and I don’t feel bad or nervous about skipping 10-15 minutes of the three hour class. Yet at the same time I think many teachers have at least some room for flexibility on different issues. It could be which activity to do first or which topic to cover in greater depth or any manner of possibilities. I also realize that some teachers might not feel comfortable turning the power over to students or admitting that the teacher doesn’t really care about when class starts or whatever other detail is up for negotiation. I believe that these fears can be partially allayed when we consider the benefits.

In my “Professional Communications”class today (after recently working on the language of meetings and negotiations) I told students  we have some important business to discuss and then said students could choose among 8:50, 9:00 (the usual and official start time), 9:10, and 9:15 as times to start class next week. I also mentioned the day of the midterm exam was the second item on the agenda and I gave a range of days including the original date of the exam.

I asked one student at random to chair the meeting and they were off! Students debated and shared their thoughts, experiences, schedules, commutes, hopes and fears. They actually ended up settling on the original start time and the original date for the exam. I thought it was a great use of class time and a great chance for me to see how persuasive and clear they could be.

I honestly didn’t care either way about the choices they made because all the options within the range I gave were fine with me. I think giving students this choice was valuable in a few ways. The first is based on students making a real decisions and being responsible for convincing others to go along with their views (there was a fair amount of mind changing throughout the process). Lots of language was generated as well. One bonus reason I think this worked well is that it  gave students a chances to hear the views, concerns and goals of their classmates. One student seemed legitimately shocked her classmates were so interested in studying English and that they were not as keen on an extra ten minutes of shut-eye as she was. I cannot be sure but she might have assumed for the whole term that everyone had the same perspective as her if not for this discussion. I thought this was a nice chance for students to see how their classmates felt. Of course, I could be wrong and the students could have simply chosen the same start time next week and the same day for the midterm because they were worried about hurting my feelings. In any case they talked for a long time and practiced their negotiation skills and I didn’t have to make up any elaborate scenario. I hope this weird trick can be helpful for you.



  1. patricepalmer

    You are absolutely right about concocting scenarios for our students. I can just imagine their invisible eyes rolling in their heads as they hear their teacher say “today you are going to talk about…” Last summer, I team-taught with another teacher who came up with the idea of taking our class of international students to a local art gallery (summer classes are more relaxed and we have fewer Ss). We were absolutely amazed at what some students knew about art! And the language that was produced was natural, authentic and interesting. When the 3 hour “class” had ended, we sat in the coffee shop for another hour chatting. It was the first time that students didn’t run out of the classroom. Not all schools have the flexibility of field trips, but it is worth the extra effort to organize.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much for the comments…you really got me thinking about how real life interactions can impact students.
      I think the “today we are going to talk about” is so incredibly common. Gosh.

      The art gallery trip sounds amazing.

  2. Pingback: How a little democracy brightened the atmosphere in a challenging class [Guest post] | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections
  3. Manjusha Sagrolikar

    ‘to day you are going to talk about your daily chores,and plan for Sunday’ my teenager students started talking about their daily chores,cleaning,swipping,cooking,helping their mother in the kitchen even helping father and brother in the field,cutting the grass,ploughing,sowing,watering the plants,feeding animals,like this students can talk about their life.This is real life communication,

  4. anthonyteacher

    This is one click bait headline that does not disappoint. I wrote a list of possible assessments we could do (presentation, video, speaking quiz) as well as different iterations of them (individual, group, pair, etc). I answered questions and then told them to sort it out. I left the room for five minutes and came back with their decision: class debate. Now, we are all super-stoked about it! I have invited two other classes and the director to be the audience, and we are whittling down the topic. It’s going to be fun! Thanks Mike.

  5. Pingback: I told my students to choose the final assessment and then left the room. You won’t believe what happened next. | Anthony

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s