ESL Speaking Activity: Showing Interest

v1n3-bhl1.jpgThink of the last time you were talking and the other person was totally silent: it’s weird. We expect to hear something to show the other person is at least following us. It seems like something intuitive that doesn’t really need to be taught…but there are people who don’t do this in their own language. “Showing interest” is covered in the functional language sections of many textbooks – here is a way to introduce it in a fun way.

Write two stories in the first person with … written in to indicate pauses; one story should be very mundane and boring, one very exciting or suspenseful. Get two different students to read these stories and if you can, choose stronger students so the others can more easily understand. Have the boring story go first and fill the student’s pauses with expressions like “really?” “did you?” and even just “mm-hmm”. Then ask the other student to read the interesting story, but remain silent in the pauses. Even keep a poker face if you can Students will catch on and start to giggle, hopefully.

Your point should be made, but it’s good to clarify and elicit some language to put up on the board.

I’d ask “Which story was I more interested in?” “How could you tell?” The answer could also include your intonation. “What was some of the language I used?” Get some examples here and see if students have additional ideas. It is often worth going over how to form the short questions – so it’s clear that they are in fact formed the opposite way from question tags (“You haven’t been there, have you?” vs. “I haven’t been there.” “Haven’t you?”)

Students then have to come up with their own stories; in pairs one should tell the story and the other should show interest – as often as possible to practice. It’s generally better if the stories are real, though they don’t have to be. I usually point out that they don’t need to be particularly interesting – the point is for one person to speak and the other to practice showing interest.