Speaking activities for teaching conversational English one on one

Title separator
two people talking about how to teach conversational English one on one

A personalized approach, lots of speaking opportunities and undivided teacher attention are only a few of the things that make one-on-one lessons absolutely unique for the learner. The big challenge, however, is the scarcity of materials aimed at one-on-one classes. The speaking tasks below are specifically designed to use with individual students. Whether you don’t know how to teach conversational English one on one, or are just looking for some new ideas, these tasks will definitely inspire you. 

Get to know your student

The best way to start is to get to know your student! Present them with a list of areas of potential interest. Ask them to put each one on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is really dull and 5 is super exciting. Encourage them to explain why they assigned each score and what exactly interests them or deters them from each. The list could include: 

  • psychology and personal development
  • business and finance
  • marketing and advertising
  • current events 
  • education and learning
  • health and sport
  • food and eating habits
  • science and technology
  • environment
  • literature
  • history
  • TV series and films
  • travelling. 

This could be one of the most obvious speaking activities for one-on-one classes, but it is nevertheless extremely useful as it lays ground for your future lessons.

After this activity, you could encourage the student to ask questions about you. To do that, try the Ask Me Anything lesson. 

Tell me about a person who…

Prepare a list of qualities and ask the student to tell you about the people they know who these qualities describe. Encourage them to give you examples of their actions and behaviour. The list could include the following: 

  • is introverted
  • never takes no for an answer
  • is incredibly ambitious
  • is an outstanding team player
  • loves celebrating
  • is always happy to offer advice
  • has no sense of humour
  • is always eager to talk about politics.

You can expand the activity by asking the student how they met the person, when they see them, or what other qualities the person has. If you want to teach conversational English one on one like a pro, you will use every opportunity to get your student to talk.

This activity allows students to talk extensively about people they know, which is something that can be difficult to achieve in a group lesson. If your student finds it challenging to express what the people’s qualities are exactly, use the It’s kind of my favourite stuff lesson to practise using vague language. 

Hear and be heard 

Prepare eight to ten topics which you and your student will talk about. They may vary, depending on the student’s interests and level. Some ideas you could use include: 

  • What have you heard on the news recently?
  • Why are people so obsessed with celebrities? 
  • Do schools prepare students for life?
  • Should people be allowed to own guns?
  • Are people too serious about football?
  • Is there a company you would really like to work for?
  • How is teenage life different now compared to when you were a teenager?
  • Why is property so expensive?
  • Will everybody work from home in the future?
  • What are the drawbacks of democracy?

The student is given the first topic (they can choose one from the list or just be given a random topic). They should talk about it for one or two minutes. At this point don’t engage in conversation, just listen. When they have finished, you talk about the second topic for a minute or two. The student just listens. Continue with the rest of the topics. 

Now, you both have to report what was said. Start with the first topic again, and tell the student what you remember they said about it. Encourage them to engage, correct you or add any information you missed. Move on to the second topic and ask your student to report what you said. Continue with the rest of the topics.

This activity provides extensive speaking activities for a one-on-one class, as it provides opportunities for different language forms to emerge. The student will have to correct you, use reporting verbs, express how confident they are about something you said, talk about your attitude, and maybe even negotiate what was said and what wasn’t. If you feel that your student needs more practice with reporting verbs, try our lesson Movie quotes you should know

Convince me

This is a great activity for talkative students who are always eager to engage in conversation. It is best done with a teacher in a one-on-one class, as you won’t give up as easily as a partner in a group would. The student’s task is to convince you to do something while you remain rather reluctant to do it (at the beginning at least). Try to explain why you don’t think something is a good idea (e.g. it’s expensive, impractical or time-consuming). This will force them to use more persuasive language. The student could try to convince you to:

  • get a dog
  • take up golf
  • visit a zoo
  • learn to juggle
  • buy a house
  • paint the walls in your house brown
  • shave your head
  • start wearing only blue clothes.

After the activity, you could use the I wish I could but I don’t want to lesson to help your student practise different ways of saying no and refusing, and then, in turn, you could try to convince them to do things they probably don’t want to do. 

The Oscars

Ask your students to tell you about three (or more) good films or TV shows they have watched. Show them some of the Oscar categories and ask to decide which of the films they would award in each category. These could include: 

  • best leading actor/actress
  • best supporting actor/actress
  • best screenplay
  • best costume design
  • best music
  • best picture. 

If you have seen the films too, or even just one of them, you can play devil’s advocate and try to dissuade them from their decision. 

The reason why this is a great speaking activity for one-on-one classes is that most people really like watching films and TV shows, but they rarely get the chance to talk about them in a group lesson, as it is difficult, if not impossible, to create a list of films all of the students have watched. 

If your student enjoys the topic, consider using the Do you watch trailers? lesson plan with them.

If you still feel like you need more ideas, or want to know more about how to teach conversational English one on one, have a look at our article describing Five no-prep speaking fluency activities for ESL students. And if you know any other speaking activities for one-on-one classes, share them below!


Title separator

Leave a Reply

  1. ufsc


  2. Lua Fiuza

    I love the ideas!

    1. Ewa


  3. Jolanta Lapinskaitė

    Thanks, amazing!

    1. Ewa

      Thank you, hope your students enjoy the activities 🙂

  4. Catalina Nigro

    Great ideas! Thanks!

  5. Roberto Geronimo

    Excellent ideas. I`m new here. The platform just came across. I have a student which already lived abroad and acquired some aspects of the language and now coming back to study. All the material and ideas are extremely helpful.

    Is there any advice or tip you can give me?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Ewa

      Hi, Roberto. It’s good to have you here 🙂
      My top advice for one-on-one classes would be to have open communication about what it is that your student needs and how you can help them achieve their goals. You should find out what their priorities are (writing? fluent oral communication? knowing specific lexis?) and return to the question from time to time to see if these have changed. If they have – adapt! And if your student is not really sure about what is best for them – offer advice and suggest best solutions.
      Good luck!

      1. Roberto Geronimo

        Thanks a lot for all the tips. I’ll put in practice all of them. I wanna sugest more lessons related to “Ted Talk The Way We Work” It’s definitely an outstanding way to learn English and get to know about work issues putting interesting thoughts on it.

        1. Ewa

          Thanks, Geronimo. We might do more lessons based on ‘The way we work’ in the future. We have two so far: When a crisis strikes, a good leader… and The art of giving feedback.

  6. Karine Camilo Gonçalves

    Great ideas!!

    1. Ewa

      I’m glad you like them, Karine 🙂

      1. BenjaminBayonneTeacher

        I’ll be teaching English one to one to an adult for the first time tomorrow! All these ideas/activities are super helpful!
        Thank you so much!

        1. Ewa

          Great! Good luck 🙂

  7. Marianna_esl

    Amazing ideas! Thank you

  8. Robin Watson

    Yes, there are some really useful suggestions here – many of which are immediately applicable as is, or infinitely tweakable. Great stuff.

    1. Ewa

      Thanks, that is great to hear 🙂

  9. Favie Marie

    Thank you, it was helpful

Title separator

ESL Brains

Forgot password?
or continue with