1. The introduction.
Just after introducing the topic of the lesson, I always ask my students to think about what questions they could ask each other about the topic. This gets the students thinking in English whilst also giving them practice in initiating a conversation. It also gives them control over what they are speaking about, so the questions will always be at the right level, and hopefully more interesting to them. I usually write the questions they come up with on the board and then give them 5 minutes to ask and answer the questions. Once they have finished the activity I choose a few students at random to talk about the answers their friends gave. This means that they will all take part in the activity. One last word of advice, make sure the questions are open questions that induce conversation.
2. The game.
There are many games that can be used to start conversations, but this is definitely my favorite. First use the word grid game template found in this lesson. Then fill the grid up with words related to the topic of the lesson. Put the students in pairs and give them one grid each. One student will be O and one student will be X. The students should then take turns saying sentences using one or more word from the grid, marking the words off as they say them. The first students to say every word in the grid wins. This is a great activity as the students can practice using words they would not normally say.
3. The best way to get students to use their imagination.
Hypothetical questions are a great and interesting way to get the students to talk about subjects that they are not used to talking about. They can be anything from traditional role play such as 'What would you do if you lost your wallet?' to much more fun made up questions such as 'If you where a Superhero what power would you have?'. I usually ask one question to all the groups in my class and give them a couple of minutes to think of an answer. I then get them to say their answer and make the other groups ask a follow up question that the group has to reply to on the spot.
4. The debate.
For this activity you should again put the students in groups. This time say a controversial statement and make each group choose whether they agree or disagree with the statement. Like in the hypothetical questions activity, once the group has said their answer you should make all the other groups ask one question challenging part of their answer. This makes the students think quickly on their feet and can lead to some very interesting discussions.
5. The challenge.
At my school at the moment I have an ongoing speaking challenge. I have a set of topics that I have folded and put into a box. At the end of each lesson I ask one student to come to front and choose a topic from the box. The student then has to speak for as long as they can without breaks or repeating themselves about the topic. I then write down how long they were able to speak for and once every student has spoken about a topic I will be giving the winner a prize. So far my high level students have become VERY competitive about it as they all really want to be the class winner.