QUESTION: I teach learners of all ages and I seem to be running out of ideas to help them build confidence in speaking. Any suggestions?

ANSWER:  One of the best strategies for learners who may be reluctant or shy to speak is to get learners working in pairs to 'prepare' something to perform for you and the rest of the class. In pairs learners often mutually support each other's performance success.  You may wish to try this activity below with elementary+  learners of all ages.

ACTIVITY:     "Voices:  Inside and Out"  dialogue writing pair work activity.

LEVEL & AGE: All Levels from A2+, ages 10+

TIME: 15 min. (An additional 3 min. per pair of learners to perform for the class)

MATERIALS:  (OPTIONAL for inspiration in writing and ease during performance of dialogues) Learners can draw or cut out small visuals of people or use hand/finger puppets.

BEFORE CLASS:   Collect a number of social situations, language functions and expressions, appropriate to the age and level of your learners.  For example, if  the learners have completed up to unit 10 in their coursebook,   search through Units 1-8 to select language items and  situations similar to the coursebook's to suggest to the learners as topics for their dialogues.  Optional:  Collect visuals mentioned in Materials above.


1. Prepare suggestions to list on the board or on a handout. An inspiring starting point for in-class social simulations can be an expression, a suggested venue or language function which can serve as a title. Here are a range of examples:

a.At the Fun Fair  making suggestions, expressing likes and dislikes "Let's go on the bumper cars".  "Are you scared?"  "This is fun!

b."Make Our City Green and Clean   discussing future arrangements, giving reasons "We're planting trees this Saturday."   "Our mayor has started a campaign...." 

c. I'm Free This Evening, are you? inviting, refusing politely  "How about going out for a coffee?"      "Have you been to...?"  I've got to get up early, I.... 

d. Apologies at the Office  making excuses, apologizing, expressing anger/annoyance "Sorry!"   "Late again?!" 

e. A Saturday Night Party  meeting new people, introducing oneself, making small talk   "Nice to meet you"   "It looks like rain."  "How's your family?" 

f.  A Job Interview describing your skills/qualities, imagining the future "Tell me about yourself." "Where will you be in 10 years?

2.  [Optional Step:  Ask the learners to select from the visuals you have collected or to draw their own.] Have the learners get into pairs.

3. Here they will need to create a character.  Be sure to allow the pairs of learners thinking time.  Provide them with questions to 'guide' their writing:

Three adjectives to describe him/her?
Situation:  Where?  When (time of day)?
Feeling toward / Relationship with the other character?
Mood at the moment / Feeling right now?

4.  Allow 3-5 min. for the pairs to create together.  Insist that each learner and his/her partner write the entire dialogue on separate pieces of paper or on their tablets, so that they can read easily when performing.

5.  Circulate among the learners to help them complete their dialogues within the time limit.  IF you sense that most need more time, extend the limit a bit.  Suggest to those who finish first to spend time rehearsing their dialogues quietly until the class performance.

6.  Invite those pairs of learners who wish to perform their dialogues to do so.   For peer feedback and positive reinforcement of language use, elicit comments from those in the audience about which expressions used were familiar to them.


1. Exploiting learners' capacity for inner speech can be an effective strategy for helping them speak more confidently.  Through dialogue writing, they are given the opportunity to 'rehearse' what they might say and to anticipate what they might hear in particular situations (e.g. a phone call, a party situation, ordering a coffee).

2. Creating a game-like situation with ample visual and kinesthetic elements during the lesson enhances collaborative writing (learners creating in pairs or groups) and/or shared writing (the language teacher writing with learner(s)).

3. By focusing our learning objectives on a practical revision of a selection of social functions, appropriate to learners' age and their level of social  competence and providing learners with vocabulary recall practice, we can scaffold creative writing and speaking practice.  A must for those learners who can feel reluctant to express themselves!


NOTE: The radio program: Where do voices inside our head come from?  ( 'inner speech' BBC Radio 4 )  inspired this activity.


Best wishes for a happy summer,

Suzanne and Lilika