Conversation classes are some of my favorite types of classes to teach, and sometimes it doesn’t even feel like teaching! But getting your students to talk can be challenging, and keeping them engaged in the discussion activities can feel like pulling teeth.
In order to prevent your students from getting bored and in order to keep the class exciting use speaking structures! If you’d like to learn more about arranging your students, check out this Lesson Planning Guide.
Speaking structures are a great way to make your discussion activities a little bit more interesting. They’re also great for ensuring that your students are speaking to a variety of partners and not just choosing their best friend for every task.
My favorite part about speaking structures is that they’re SUPER easy to implement. In fact, there is almost no prep-time needed, maybe just a simple rearranging of your classroom space. Oftentimes I had my students help me rearrange the classroom for an activity, which makes the little bit of prep-time even quicker.
Speaking structures can also become reusable routines. After you use the structures a few times your students will know exactly what to do when you tell them to arrange themselves for double lines or counter-circles. This cuts down on the time you have to spend giving directions and allows so much more time for student conversation!
Take a look below for 5 of my favorite speaking structures to use with any proficiency level. Beginners will excel with short bursts of conversations that they can practice over and over with different partners. Advanced-level students will enjoy the opportunity to discuss a topic independently for longer bursts of time and to hear different perspectives from their peers. It's a win-win situation!
Speaking Structures to Facilitate Conversation
Double Lines is probably my most used speaking structure because it’s easy, requires no preparation, and is effective. In this structure students stand in two lines facing one another. Every student should have a partner. If you have an uneven number of students you can either have the lone student join the pair next to them or jump into the line yourself.
Have students discuss a topic or question for a specific amount of time. After the time is up have one line move down either to the left or right to the next person. The student on the end will have to go down to the other end of the line. Each student should have a new partner, have them discuss the topic again and repeat the cycle a few times.
If you don’t have a lot of space or if you have desks that cannot be moved, have your students stay at their desks and speak across the aisle to a partner, then switch seats. You can also have your students move their chairs into an open space into two lines facing one another. Conduct the structure as normal, just with chairs!
Counter-Circles is the same concept as double lines, but with more space. Have your students split into two groups. Each group makes a circle, one inside of the other, and have your students face one another. Every student must have a partner. After discussing the topic or question at hand for the set time have one of the circles move over to the left or right to the next person, so that everyone has a new partner!
An alternative for this activity is to have the outer circle stand up against the walls of the classroom and the inner circle moves from one person to the other. This will give your students more privacy to discuss topics that are personal, such as family life or political opinions. It’s also a great alternative to use if your students have trouble concentrating when there are conversations going on next to them.
Party mingling is when you set your students loose to find their own partners and “mingle” with one another, such as at a cocktail party. It’s pretty self-explanatory. One of the struggles I’ve faced with party mingling is that some students will only talk to one other person for the entire activity. To combat this, set a timer and make students find a new partner after a set time.
If you’d like to spice up the structure a little bit you can do Musical Pairs, which is when you turn on a song or lead students in singing a song while they wander around the classroom. When the music stops or you stop singing, have the students find a partner nearby and discuss the topic with them. Start the music or start singing again to have students wander once more to find another partner.
I love the concept of a three-step interview, and it's super fun! In this activity you have students line up into three lines. The two outside lines face one another and one is given a list of discussion questions. So each “group” will have Student A, B, and C; they will all be in separate lines. Student A asks Student B a question. Student B must go over to Student C, get their answer, and report it back to Student A. Student A will ask another question, and the cycle continues. After a little bit of time, you can have the lines switch places so that the original Student C is now the one running back and forth to relay questions/answers.
It may sound confusing at first, but I promise that it makes sense when you actually set it up. This is a really engaging and exciting activity. If your students are getting tired and drowsy, this is the perfect structure to get them moving. Plus, it requires them to remember information, so their brains have to be working!
Nooks and Crannies
Nooks and Crannies is a great activity to help build deeper discussion and trust among students. This one does require a bit of prep-work, though. During your planning time, when you come up with your discussion questions, write down one question per piece of paper. When it’s time to do the activity, tape these papers on the walls. You’ll want to space them out around the classroom. Put your students into pairs or small groups and place each student grouping at one question. Give your students time to discuss the question, and when the time is up have the group rotate to the next question.
Your students will stay with their groups, so that they can get comfortable with their peers. A good variation to this structure is to give each group a pack of sticky notes and have them write down their answer on the sticky note and post it on the wall next to the question. After the students have rotated to each question, have them discuss all of the answers that are posted and choose their favorite to share with the class.
Speaking Structures are great tools to have in your teaching tool box! They're easy-to-use, great for discussion, and don't really add any extra time to your planning or teaching time.
Keeping these in mind can help you to spice up your lesson plan on-the-spot, as well. If you notice your students are becoming uninterested or are getting sleepy, switching to a speaking structure can get them up and moving! Plus, if you have time to fill, these are great time-fillers. If you want more time-fillers, download your Free Emergency Activity Cheat Sheet!
I Want to Hear From You!
What's your favorite way to get your students speaking?
Choose one of the structures above that you want to implement in your classroom this week. Share in the comments below!