Students learning English as a second language spend a substantial amount of class time speaking to build fluency. Often, however, students are hesitant to practice speaking in their new language; using a range of engaging speaking topics will help overcome this problem. The most effective topics are relevant to the students’ lives and use practical speech. Any subject that fits these criteria is a potential speaking topic, from movies to weather to technology.

It’s My World, It’s All About Me

People love talking about themselves. This isn’t necessarily bad; in fact, it’s sometimes necessary to do so, whether in making a new friend or doing well in a job interview. Tap into students’ natural inclination to talk about themselves and prepare them for situations that require them to do so by assigning personal topics that touch directly on thoughts, needs, wishes, appearance and other basic information. Consider discussing favorite foods or books, dislikes, career goals, families, hobbies, skills, past events, travel stories or the meaning of students’ names. Almost anything that relates to the personal world of the students is fair game.

The World Around Us

Students usually study English because they expect to use it in the world beyond the classroom, which is why real-world topics that relate to situations students are likely to encounter are perfect. Many will have already been in these situations, such as shopping at the supermarket, and their desire or need to improve language skills will fuel their participation. Everyday topics are great after a functional language lesson, as well. To find inspiration, consider the places students might speak every day: a grocery store, gas station, bank, post office, library, movie theater, airport, restaurant or pet store. Have them role-play scenarios that could happen in these settings, and prepare them for potential communication problems.

Hypothetically Speaking

Students of all ages enjoy considering what could be and what might have been, making topics based on hypotheticals captivating and enjoyable. They’re also useful in building quick-thinking fluency, as students must be creative and use more than standard phrases when events require them to think and speak spontaneously. In choosing hypotheticals for speaking topics, keep students’ interests in mind and let the imagination soar. Create “if” statements for them to flesh out: If I were stranded on a desert island, if I were an animal, if I had to plot the perfect bank robbery, if I could change one event from world history, if I could fly, if I had a million dollars.

Find Someone Who

Nosiness is part of human nature. Harness this natural curiosity by giving students “find someone who” sheets that let them practice asking for and giving information as well as speaking on topics related to their interests and those of their classmates. Because students must listen as well as speak in this whole-class mingling activity, these activities are solid practice for real-life conversations. The statements on the "find someone who" sheets can pertain to almost anything, from hobbies to appearance to values to favorites to activities. Tell the students to question their classmates until they find an individual who can respond to each statement. To increase the difficulty, give students different statements and longer lists, or tell them that they may write down each classmate’s name only once. For solo speaking practice, have students give presentations about their findings after they have spent a predetermined amount of time mingling with classmates.