Speaking a new language can be intimidating, nerve-wracking and anxiety producing. So, providing opportunities to practice speaking in a safe and supportive environment is an important part of tutoring. You can use a variety of structured and unstructured speaking activities in your lessons to build student confidence and fluency. Remember, help learners know that mistakes are a normal part of learning. Successful communication, not perfection, is the goal.

Structured Speaking Activities

Provide a way to teach and practice speaking a language in a safe and systematic way. Activities could include repetition drills, substitution drills, response drills, dialogues and other similar activities. These are times where you are modeling, guiding and supporting students and you might correct more during these types of activities. If and when you do make corrections, it often works well to try gently responding with the correct way of saying something rather than giving a hard “no.” Encourage your learner to repeat the correct way of saying something again.

Learner: I no go to work today. You: good! I didn’t go to work today.

Repetition drills introduce new vocabulary words or phrases using a picture, an object or by acting them out.  Ask students to listen first.  Say the word several times, showing the picture, then gesture for your students to repeat the word.

Example:    married, married, married

Substitution drills give practice using vocabulary in a full sentence. This video gives you the idea but I recommend not having the sentence written out but rather first practice orally and then have them read the sentences to reinforce what they just learned to say.

Dialogues can be introduced and practiced in many ways. Our training session presented one method and the video below, from Minnesota Literacy Council, shows something similar but uses student input for a more collaborative and creative experience.

Unstructured Speaking Activities

Unstructured speaking could include informal conversation at the beginning or end of class (or anywhere in between), role-plays, asking each other questions just to practice answering. These little activities are ways for learners to apply what they know and stretch themselves. See what your learners can do and praise all efforts. Usually, in these types of activities, you wouldn’t focus on correction but just meaningful communication.


The best approach is targeted brief practice each class. Focus on sounds your learners have trouble with. Please take a moment to view the How to Use the Color Vowel Chart on the Intercambio website. Although this video is focused on their series called Confidence and Connections, which you might use with your learners, it has information about pronunciation challenges for people learning English and how you might help your learners. Some tips will not work well in the virtual environment but others can.

How and when to correct learners – a few more thoughts.

One way to think about corrections, is to focus on correcting things you are currently teaching especially in structured speaking activities like drills, pronunciation practice or dialogues. Concentrate on correcting a few types of errors during an exercise and focus on the skills you are teaching right then. When there are too many things to correct, it becomes overwhelming for the student and they don’t learn as much as if you focus on a few types of errors.

It is tempting to correct everything that students say in our effort to help them learn and internalize what we are covering in class, however, correction needs to be targeted and mainly in more structured activites. This video is dark humor but drives home the point about carefully choosing teaching moments and correcting selectively and intentionally. Learners need opportunities to speak freely and use whatever skills they have to communicate at times during classes. During unstructured activities, listen, make notes about concepts you can teach, review or practice in future lessons to help learners communciate more effectvely rather than jumping in and disrupting communication.

Reading and Writing