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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

Spontaneous Speaking:
Drama Activities for Confidence and Fluency

ISBN: 1900783924 DELTA Publishing 2005, Published in the Professional Perspectives series of teacher resource books
David Heathfield, (author review)

The story of how Spontaneous Speaking got written

Spontaneous Speaking came about through a long process of trial and error. Ever since starting out in EFL in 1986, I've been keen to try things out. I'm especially drawn to activities which stimulate students, energise the classroom and lead to positive group dynamics.

In my free time I got involved in community theatre and found out just how much I benefited personally from doing drama activities in workshops and in pre-performance warm-ups, not as teacher or director, but as a group member.

I took many of these activity ideas and redesigned them for the language classroom. Even the most inhibited students started talking more confidently when I made some lessons a bit more like drama workshops. Removing tables, pens and written prompts, students became more natural and spontaneous in their interaction. They could practise extended speaking in the relative safety of the classroom before putting it into use in the outside world.

I eventually wrote a Speaking Fluently course for the Isca School of English, Exeter, UK where I was teaching. I had the challenge of devising activities and then describing them on paper clearly enough for teachers with little or no experience of drama to pick up and use. This required lots of practice and activities were amended and honed in consultation with many supportive colleagues.

Soon I had what I thought was enough material for a Teacher Resource book. After approaching publishers on a few occasions, I met Mario Rinvolucri who insisted that the material must be published. He put me in touch with Mike Burghall, series editor of the Professional Perspectives series for DELTA Publishing and that was the beginning of the long and exciting process of devising, trialling and editing the rest of the seventy-five activities which make up the book.

Spontaneous Speaking

I decided to call my book Spontaneous Speaking: drama activities for confidence and fluency because that's what it's about. Every activity has been devised, tried out and modified in order to maximise student interaction using a wide range of language in many different situations which are true-to-life or within the participants' sphere of experience. Students and teachers alike can benefit a great deal from coming together and learning about each other in a creative and playful way.

Spontaneous Speaking is not really like any other drama activities resource book I've ever come across in that the focus of every activity is on fluency. While some of the activities do involve moderate amounts of movement and mime, the main focus is always on face-to-face interaction.

I'm delighted and amazed by the fact that every single one of the activities in the book results in something special, personal and unique every time it is used. Not one of them has a right answer.

Benefits for the student

- Doing these activities, students have no option but to speak and listen to each other. Every activity involves extended speaking on the part of every participant, mostly in pair and groupwork.

- As well as language, students' bodies, minds, emotions and interpersonal skills are involved.

- Students develop their ability to be more spontaneous, fluent and confident in English interaction.

- The activities provide frameworks but creative content always comes from the students, which leads to a sense of achievement.

- They generate a lot of energy, fun and laughter.

- Students can experiment with using language items they are learning in a safe yet true-to-life environment.

- Written prompts such as rolecards are not used, so the students' focus is always 100% on each other.

- The fact that each group member has a purposeful, non-threatening achievable, extended speaking task to carry out in every activity leads students to remark in feedback how much more they speak than in most classroom speaking activities.

Benefits for the teacher

These kinds of activities are for you if...

- you want new ideas about how to get your students interacting freely.

- you like simply-explained activities with clear aims and some suggested variations.

- you want to find out how successfully your students can put recently-learnt language into practice.

- you sense your students would benefit from finding out a lot more about each other.

- you want to supplement 'pen, paper, book and desk work' with paper-free activities.

- you want to minimise your input and maximise your students' output.

- you want more fun and laughter in your lessons.

If you teach languages other than English, all the activities in this book would work just as well in your classroom with no extra preparation with the exception of activities from the Conversation Skills section, which would need a little research.


The book is full of activities that involve students speaking and listening to each other. These activities divide easily into four sections: Warmers, Drama activities, Personalised Drama Activities and Conversation Skills.


These lively activities get the students involved, energised, thinking. They suit students across the range of levels and mark a definite starting point to a lesson and bring the whole class together.

Drama Activities

These involve creative extended speaking. Because the content is non-threatening, students shake off their inhibitions and, at the end of an activity, are often surprised at how imaginative and creative they have been. The activities are sometimes close to students' own lives, but even where the content appears to require a little more fantasy, the framework of the activity gives ample support. There are four main subsections: - Quick-change Roleplay activities involve students changing roles and often partners at least twice (and frequently several times!) in quick succession. This is much easier than it sounds and generates energy and positive dynamics. It also enables students to explore situations from different perspectives.

- Extended Roleplay means students remaining in one role (or sometimes changing once) in the course of the activity. They can explore an issue or situation in more depth and detail and often find themselves expressing their character's feelings.

- Storytelling is a skill which we don't all realise we have. Through these storymaking activities, students realise that, together, they can spontaneously create imaginative and vivid narratives.

- Dramatising Photos activities involve using visual prompts to enter roles and situations.

Personalised Drama Activities

These provide a wonderful opportunity for class members to not just talk about their ideas and experiences but to bring them to life in the classroom and really get involved in each other's stories. Through drama, students can show each other a great deal about themselves in a supportive environment. Again there are four main subsections: - Personal Experiences are activities which give students the opportunity to let other group members know about what is important and personal to them, from dreams and sensations to friends and pets, not forgetting phone calls and emails.

- Truth or Lie activities make students listen very closely to each other. Who can tell a tall story?

- Real-life Conversations are one way of bringing students' outside relationships alive in the classroom.

- Giving Talks is an activity that you can use again and again, each time with a different topic, to build your students' confidence in extended speaking.

Conversation Skills

These activities give students the opportunity to explore how native speakers of English interact in everyday conversation through true-to-life drama activities. I did research into the skills involved in social conversation and devised simple activities to practise each one in isolation. Learners of English can benefit a great deal from exploring what are regarded as "good conversation skills" in English by doing these activities which include: Greetings, Showing Interest, Expressing Common Experience, Exchanging Personal Information, Hesitating, Interpersonal Distances and Closing a Conversation. Students have the chance to become aware of these elements of communication and try them out. They can then discuss cultural and language similarities and differences between the English spoken in Western English-speaking countries, International English and their own mother tongue. These activities are suitable for learners from all language and cultural backgrounds.

Language Links

Most of the activities involve students using certain structures, functional language and lexical fields. These are referred to in the introduction to each activity as Language Links.

The activities can be used before presenting language to diagnose students' needs. Alternatively, they can be used for review purposes to find out how successfully students activate language after studying and practising it. In many cases the same activity can be used before and after the language points are studied so that students can themselves assess how much progress they have made.


The activities are suited to students at all levels from near native speaker to, in many cases, elementary. This is partly because of the absence of written prompts.

The activities also suit mixed-level teaching, the emphasis being on fluency. I often find that a student who appears to be at a lower level in terms of accuracy and range of passive vocabulary can be as effective at communicating in English as a higher level student. This is largely to do with confidence and conversation skills. But even where there are obvious differences, putting levels together can be good for all participants' confidence. Less confident speakers find positive role models, while the more self-assured can get a boost from sometimes giving support those who need it.

In a school where students are streamed according to ability, here is an opportunity to unite students across levels.

Teacher-Student Rapport

For positive learning to take place in a classroom, a good teacher-student relationship is of paramount importance. These activities may seem challenging or even risky for some teachers at first, but the benefits will soon become evident. Students will become even more interested in you as a person and will trust you, and be willing to allow you the time and space to lead or demonstrate an activity.

Peer listening

At their final "showing" stage, many of the activities include a listening task for watching students. This involves them in the scene and prevents them from preparing for their turn rather than concentrating on their peers' performances. A listening, focused audience is essential.

A final note

The activities in Spontaneous Speaking are for all of us, not only language learners. They promote positive group dynamics, build confidence and lead to improved fluency. They are activities that I enjoy doing with friends, strangers, fellow actors, fellow teachers and especially with fellow learners. I hope all you teachers out there enjoy them as much as I do.

I'm a freelance interpersonal skills trainer, teacher educator, storyteller, storymaker, actor and writer. I also teach English and run workshops for teachers at Exeter University, UK. If you use activities I've published, I'd love feedback. My website is

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