The Ultimate Conversation Activity?

I’m always on the lookout to find ways to get my ESL (English as a Second Language) students to speak more.  In particular, I look for activities that…

  1. Are quick and easy to set up.
  2. Are usable for any # of students, including even or odd numbers of students.
  3. Allow students to use authentic language.
  4. Give students enough conversation time.
  5. Are easily adjusted for difficulty.

I’ve found an activity that fits the bill.  A modified version of “Find Your Partner”.  Here’s how it works.

  1. Pass out a short text (article or story) to each student. Some are duplicates.
  2. Tell the students to read the text and make sure they understand it. They cannot write anything down or share it with other students.
  3. When done, the students write their names on the text and return them.
  4. Now the students must find the person(s) who read the same text.
  5. When they think they found them, I compare the returned papers to see if the texts match.

To find the students with the same text, students must describe their text in their own words (hence why they couldn’t write anything down) and compare it to other students’ descriptions.  I can control the difficulty of this practice by making the articles really similar (thus requiring a lot more discussion), longer, more abstract or more complex.

In my case, I started off with descriptions of fish and then made it more complex by passing out movie reviews in which only one line was changed – who broke up with whom.  In both cases, I had pairs of descriptions so each student had exactly one partner.

This activity also works with pictures.  Just pass out a picture instead of an article, and the difficulty of the assignment can easily be controlled in the same way (via picture complexity, similarity, abstractness, etc…).  In the case of the picture, it’s easier for students to glance at another picture and know what it’s about, whereas with articles, it’s a wall of words 😊

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