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Teaching Speaking in a Language Classroom: Creating a Conversation Box for your ESL or EFL Classroom

Updated on August 12, 2015
ESL Conversation Idea Box
ESL Conversation Idea Box

An Engaging Second Language Teaching Tool

One of my favorite tools in my ESL classroom is my conversation idea box – a decorated cardboard box that I’ve filled with an assortment of conversation questions and speaking prompts. Somehow, a box full of questions seems less threatening and more fun to students than a textbook full of questions. It is a fairly simple idea with so many potential uses. If you teach speaking or writing, I would recommend trying one out in your own classroom.

In this article, I've outlined a bunch of ideas on how to make one, what to fill it with, and possible ways to use it.

Here are some ideas on how to create and start using a conversation box of your own:

1. Creating your box

Any smallish container will do: A tissue box, a shoebox, a thingamajig that you found at a garage sale…whatever you have lying around.

In my example, I wrapped an old shipping box in sunshine-colored construction paper. I used Elmer’s Multi-Purpose Spray Adhesive, because it makes the gluing process really easy. (If you use it, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area.) I decorated my box using Crayola Brush Pens. (These are basically markers with a brush tip. I really like ‘em!)

If you’re not crafty, you could always give the task of decorating it to a student who finishes her work early.

Filling Your Box - What Should You Put Inside?

My box is filled with slips of paper. Each one has a discussion question about a random topic, or speaking prompt written on it.

Here are a few other ideas that you might consider trying:

  • An assortment of completely random words
  • Amusing or interesting pictures
  • Vocabulary to review
  • “Would you rather” questions
  • Writing prompts
  • Quotations
  • “Find the mistake in this sentence” activities
  • Useful idioms


  • You will need to decide whether to neatly organize your questions, or toss them all into the box together.
  • If you choose to include more than one of the ideas listed above, you might want to use dividers, color-code topics, or make multiple boxes.
  • If you have the time and resources, I would recommend laminating your slips of paper. That way, they will be easy to re-use in upcoming semesters, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the future.

Putting Your Box to Use

Here are some ideas on ways that your box could be useful in your classroom:

  • Timed speaking exercises – Students take turns coming to the front of the room and pulling a slip of paper from the box. I like to give them a set amount of time to think, and a set time to speak. (Maybe 20 seconds to think, and 2 minutes to speak.) For an extra challenge, tell them that they MUST speak for the full two minutes. J This is great preparation for standardized oral exams like the TOEFL.
  • When one group finishes a project early, allow them to work together with the box. They can take turns choosing slips of paper and responding to them. I find that they are more likely to speak in English if they have something to respond to.
  • Groups could pull several picture or word cards from the box, and use them all in a story.
  • For a writing exercise, each student could pull a card from the box and reflect on its contents in their journal.
  • Each student could pull an idiom from the box. They could then research its meaning, and teach it to the class.
  • Use for vocabulary review games before tests.
  • Use it on days when you have 10 minutes to spare at the end of the period.

Thoughts and Ideas

Have you ever used a box as a teaching tool in your classroom? Do you have any ideas to add to my list? I'd love to hear from you, so please take a moment to leave a comment below.

Would you use this idea in your own classroom?

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    • profile image

      Uma 2 months ago

      Yea love the idea . I am going to use this in my class room .

    • profile image

      Judith 6 months ago

      I'm going to apply it with my students. I'm sure they're going to enjoy it.

    • profile image

      Rosa 18 months ago

      Fantastic idea that I'll use in my class . thank you.

    • profile image

      Leigh J 2 years ago

      Wow, this is an excellent idea! I've done similar activities, but never tied them together across the year with a recurring motif like this! I especially like the idea of giving them a set time limit to think and speak.

      How about setting up like a Speed Dating event? So everyone is paired up to start. You pull a topic from the box and announce it. They have a set time to talk about it with their partner before "DING" they have to change partner. You could also change the topic each time too.

      Can I ask; what age range have you used these kinds of activities with?

      Can I ask: what size classes have you used thi

    • profile image

      sob 3 years ago not a teacher but i love teaching...

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      Christina 3 years ago

      Hi Miss Linda! I had a question for you. Do you have an email address? Mine is :)

    • Miss-Linda profile image

      Miss-Linda 5 years ago from New York

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, ESL teaching can be challenging, but there are lots of ways to make it fun. I'm glad that you found my ideas useful. If you decide to give it a try, I'd love to hear how it goes. :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 5 years ago from sunny Florida

      Thanks for sharing your ideas. My second through seventh year of teaching was spent working with children who had a first language that was not English. We learned so much together. We did many types of activities to bridge the gap. Out of necessity I came up with many new and different ways to help my children learn. Because they were excited and eager it made my job so much easier.

      This sounds like it would be a valuable tool to add to a collection of ideas to use with emerging English language learners. The more practice the better. ps