“Touchy Feely” Speaking Activities

There is an interesting thread going on in Dave’s ESL Café general discussion forum which I’ve been following. The gist of it is: do you use “touchy feely” activities in class? The original poster points out that in many cultures, these activities and topics are about “as welcome as a French kiss at a family reunion”…yet they fairly routinely turn up in some resource books.

In my own case, the answer is “sometimes.” EFL classes are often supposed to foster a more relaxed environment that differs from the rather impersonal traditional classroom, and “getting to know you” activities play some part in this, though to what degree depends on the teacher. And while there might not be room for such activities in, say, a university level history class, the fact that they are done in English is often enough to justify their use in the EFL classroom, where students need to practice expressing themselves in a variety of situations.

That said, there are activities I’ve discarded: Intermediate Discussions A- Z has a great unit on honesty, but with most groups it just seems to be too personal. I’ve used an excellent speaking activity called Ask and Tell from Grammar Games and Activities – but with some of the questions omitted. Similarly, there is a “psychological test” (what do your doodles say about you) in one of the Recipes for Tired Teachers books that I sometimes use in the final meeting of a class – but as some of the topics are “death” and “religion”, I let students work in pairs and tell them that if they want to skip some of these they can. My students haven’t seemed to be put off by these activities – and some have even commented on how interesting they were to do. But I also have a sense for when not to use them.

One way to adapt such activities is to add a truth/lie element to them. You might have list of questions including some “touchy feely” ones (which might well prove engaging for many students) and the task is to give true answers to some and untrue answers to others – the partner or group has to guess which responses are which. This way, each student can choose how much s/he feels comfortable sharing about him or herself.