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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 6; Issue 2; March 04

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Confidence through Speaking Drama Activities

David Heathfield, Exeter, UK

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( this half a dozen exercises are from Spontaneous Speaking- Drama Activities for Confidence and Fluency, Forthcoming with DELTA BOOKS later in 2004.)

It's not always necessary to give students preparation time, role cards or other written prompts to get them interacting more fluently and confidently. Released from desks, paper and pens many of your most passive learners will come to life. If you want to maximise the speaking time of each class member in a lesson, the most effective way is through drama activities that involve extended speaking.

Warmers get students loosened up and usually smiling. They can lead into any kind of lesson. If you are planning to do a more extended drama activity, do a warmer first.

Conversation Skills activities raise students' awareness of how native speakers communicate and give students the opportunity to notice and explore the similarities and differences through drama-based activities.

Drama Activities provide students with a framework for them to put in the creative content and roleplay in a true-to-life situation or spontaneously tell a story together. Teachers and students alike surprise themselves to find that they are "doing drama" successfully.

Personalised Drama Activities bring your students' experiences alive in the classroom by giving them the chance toshow each other (not just tell).

Sample Activities

The activities below are self-contained. However there are countless permutations of how they can be adapted to practise a structure, lexical field or function. They can be used with small, medium or very large groups and are suited to mixed-level teaching. In my experience elementary students can easily be as successful at getting their ideas across as advanced students.

TYPE: Warmer
TITLE: Prized Possessions Swap
AIM: To listen actively and describe objects creatively in a lively, ice-breaking melee.
TIME: 15 minutes


  1. Students standing in a circle. Teacher mimes picking up and holding an imaginary object of great sentimental value (i.e. my grandmother's watch, a lion's tooth I found in Africa etc.) which teacher describes in detail: appearance, materials, origin, how I got it, why it's special to me, where I keep it, what I do with it etc. The students mime holding and describe their objects to each other in pairs.

  2. After pairs have finished, ask them: "Would you like to swap?" Explain that now they can mingle, describing the object they have to each other and at the end choosing whether or not to swap. Make sure that if they do swap, they then describe their newly acquired possession.

  3. After about 10 minutes stop the class and ask some or all students to describe the object they have got and what they're going to do with it. It may be amusing to find how much objects have changed.

TYPE: Conversation Skills
TITLE: Hesitating
AIM: To use English hesitation devices naturally in conversation.
TIME: 25-30 minutes


  1. (5 mins.) Find out from students if, when they're speaking their native language, they are sometimes unable to find the words to express what they want to say. Tell them that you're going to speak unprepared for a couple of minutes on any topic the students give you. Tell them to listen actively and remember what you do when you are looking for the words you need. While you speak, use and slightly emphasise the hesitation devices listed below:

    • er…
    • mm…
    • let me see …..
    • I mean …..
    • you know …..
    • you know what I mean …..
    • the thing is …..
    • sort of …..
    • kind of …..
    • you see …..
    • what was it?

  2. (10 mins.) Elicit and write up the above devices and drill them chorally. Point out that, in a conversation, we use these devices to stop the other person from taking over because we haven't finished what we want to say (our 'turn'). If appropriate, demonstrate this with a confident student, talking on the same topic as in stage one.

  3. (10 - 15 mins.) Brainstorm and write up at least five more suitable conversation topics. Tell students they need to use as many different hesitation devices as possible in a two-minute conversation. They must use the hesitation devices to prevent their partner interrupting and must count how many different ones their partner uses. Once students are standing in pairs announce the topic of the first 2-minute conversation, choosing the easiest one from the list. After the 2-minute conversation, students tell their partner how many different devices their partner used and which ones. Encourage students to use different ones in the next conversation. Students change partner and a new topic is announced. Repeat the same procedure several times.

TYPE: Drama TITLE: Bird Interviews AIM: To practise personal information type interviews in an imaginative way. TIME: 20 – 30 minutes STAGES:

  1. (5 mins.) Ask an imaginative student to sit comfortably on a chair with eyes closed. Tell him/her that he/she is a bird and proceed to 'interview the bird in a gentle voice:
    • "Where do you live?"
    • "What do you like doing?"
    • "What's your job?"
    • "Tell me about your best friend."
    Establish with the other students that you may only ask questions which are equally appropriate for a person. Then monitor while the other students proceed with the interview.

  2. (15 - 25 mins.) After this initial interview is over, students will be eager to 'be birds' so put them in groups of 3 – 5 and let the interviews continue allowing about 5 minutes per interview.

TYPE: Drama
TITLE: Bringing Photos to Life
AIM: To improvise an everyday conversation and listen actively to other students.
TIME: 15-20 minutes
MATERIALS: At least 10 photos each showing a different pair of people conversing in an everyday situation.

  1. (2 mins.) In pairs, students sit apart from other pairs. Hold the photos out face down while a member of each pair comes up and takes one, making sure no one else sees it. Each pair looks at their photo and decides who is going to be who. Give them 5 seconds to make a frozen tableau of the photo. Teacher removes the photos.

  2. (2 mins.) Teacher tells the pairs to simultaneously 'bring the photo to life' making sure they don't talk about the photos but as the subjects of the photos. They can move around if they wish. After two minutes get students to FREEZE.

  3. (1 min.) Ask students to repeat the process in ONE minute this time editing and improving the dialogue ready to show other pairs. Make sure they start with the frozen photo.

  4. (5-10 mins.) Each pair re-enacts their 60 second scene in turn. Tell the other pairs to watch and listen carefully and 'imagine' the photo so that afterwards they can identify it.

  5. (5 mins.) After all the pairs have finished, spread out all the 'pair' photos (including unused ones) on a table and ask students to decide which photos other pairs represented without speaking or pointing. Finally students try to agree which photos were brought to life and by whom; justifying their choice.

TYPE: Personalised Drama
TITLE: Photo Memories
AIM: To describe and talk about students' important personal photos.
TIME: 40 - 50 minutes
MATERIALS: 12 blank cards (photo-size)

  1. (5 mins.) Tell students you have a photo from your childhood in front of you and that you are going to describe it to them in detail, without showing them, so they have to imagine the picture in their mind's eye. Describe a real photo (you must be in it) to them, although you're looking at a blank photo-size card, including details prompted by the questions in stage 2 (below). On finishing your description ask students to picture the photo before opening their eyes. Let them ask a few questions about the photo before revealing to them you have been describing a blank card. Point out that you don't physically need a photo in front of you in order to give a detailed description.

  2. (5 mins.) Give each student a blank photo-size card and emphasise to them that it is a real photo from their childhood (not made up). Tell them to close their eyes and answer the following questions silently to themselves. Ask the questions clearly leaving time for students to think about their answers:
    • Who are you with in the photo?
    • Where was the picture taken?
    • Who took the picture?
    • How old were you?
    • What were you doing?
    • How did you feel?
    • Why did you feel like that?
    • What were you wearing?
    • Why is the photo special for you?

  3. (10 mins.) In pairs A and B hand their 'photo' to each other. Tell them to focus on the card, listen to and remember their partner's description while 'imagining' the photo.

  4. (5 mins.) Tell students to hold on to their partners 'photo' and make new pairs. They should each 'show' and describe their first partner's photo.

  5. (5 mins.) Students make new pairs and are asked to think of a special photo from their adulthood showing them with one other person. Both students share as much information about the photos as possible in 2 minutes.

  6. (5-10 mins.) Ask the pairs to choose one of the two photos and 'make' the photo i.e. make a frozen tableau. Teacher stands in the middle and tells them he/she has the camera so all students focus on centre of room. In turn each pair 'explains' their frozen tableau to the others, i.e. "This is my daughter, Ursula. We are riding bicycles on holiday and you can see the farmhouse where we stayed in the background."

  7. (5-10 mins.) Repeat 6 using the other pair member's photo.

TYPE: Personalised Drama
TITLE: Favourite Places
AIM: To speak about and experience each other's favourite places.
TIME: 20-35 minutes

  1. Guided Visualisation. (5 mins.) Students sit in a circle. Tell them you're going to take them on a journey and to close their eyes. Read slowly pausing between questions: "Sit up straight in your chair and close your eyes ….. Breath in slowly (demo) and breathe out ….. Breath in ….. and out …..Each time you breathe out, breathe out for a little longer ….. and breathe in slowly ….. As you breathe feel your body relax ….. Now you're relaxed. Listen to the sounds outside this room ….. now listen to the sounds inside this room ….. now listen to the sound of your breathing …..You're going on a journey ….. You're back in your country ….. it's a holiday ….. you can go to your favourite place ….. now go to your favourite place ….. I'm going to ask you some questions ….. Please answer them to yourself in your head but don't speak, keep your eyes closed ….. Where are you? ….. Who are you with? Or are you alone? ….. Look around. What do you see? ….. Listen. What can you hear? ….. What do you smell? ….. How do you feel? ….. What are you doing? ….. You're feeling really happy. Why are you happy? ….. Now listen to your breathing, listen to the sounds in the classroom, you're back at Isca School ….. you can open your eyes."

  2. (5 mins.) Teacher models 'guiding' students round your favourite place and answering their questions as if you are there i.e. "Look over here! The sea is crashing onto the beach. It's windy, isn't it?"

  3. (10-25 mins.) In standing groups of 3 - 5, students in turn guide each other round their favourite place.

David Heathfield is the author of Spontaneous Speaking: Drama Activities for Confidence and Fluency. DELTA Publishing (due 2004). Former DOS at the Isca School of English, Exeter, he is now a Freelance Language and Interpersonal Skills Trainer and teaches in the English Language Centre at Exeter University. He is involved in community theatre.

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