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Conversation Starters for ESL Teachers

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conversation topic

Conversation Topics for ESL Teachers

If you’re looking for conversation starters for ESL teachers, here are a few resources; save time and make your life easier.

Role Plays for ESL Students

Conversation Starters for Adults

4 Hot Discussion Topics for Adults in Korea

Top 10 Discussion Starters for Children

Also check out ESL Discussions that has questions on just about any topic–they are in an easy to find list by topic format.

Lesson plans, discussion starters, games, activities and more:

I respect your privacy!

The post Conversation Starters for ESL Teachers appeared first on .

Jackie Bolen: How to Get a University Job In Korea


My Life! Teaching in a Korean University

University Jobs



A Surprise Mother’s Day Visitor

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It’s the kind of thing you have to see to believe: waking up to the sound of a mysterious knock on your door; turning over in bed because you assume someone has the wrong apartment; hearing the knock again and begrudgingly rolling out of bed; opening the door ready to give some random Korean person a piece your mind, when suddenly… you see your mom standing right in front of you.

Crazy right?! And on Mother’s Day weekend of all times! I was shocked and overjoyed, to say the least! If I were someone just reading this post I wouldn’t believe it either. So while my mom and I were out making the most of our short weekend together in Korea, I took pictures every step of the way as proof of all the fun things we did together! Below are the highlights. Hover over or click on each picture for details!

Of course I gave her the grand tour of my humble Korean abode. She met my students! My coworkers were all really anxious to meet her too after hearing so much about her this year! We checked out a Hanok Village. I took her to the local fish market, where we picked out our dinner while it was still alive 'n swimmin! Daewangam Park was on the way home, so we made a pit stop. We found cheap last minute flights to Jeju and couldn't resist. Some of my friends joined us for a bike ride. And no visit in Korea is complete without a crowded bus ride.


All jokes aside, my mom truly is with me in spirit every day as I go through this adventure of teaching in Korea. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for all of the love and support she’s given me so unconditionally all these years.

Thank you, Mom. I miss you so much and I look forward to our next REAL trip together, where ever that may be! You are always in my heart and thoughts, and I love you more than I can say. Happy Mother’s Day!


Mom on a mountain and in my heart

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This Week Out There – May 4th – 10th

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A selection of this week’s expat-related stories



Don’t Flip Off The Philippines


deportedThai national Prasertsri Kosin earned the rare honor of being one of a small number of Southeast -Asians ever to be deported from the Philippines, when he received his walking papers on Tuesday for insulting Filipinos on facebook, tarring them as ‘stupid creatures’ and ‘low-class slum slaves’. Not least among the takeaways from this short article is the confirmation that truly stupid people, say for example those who express bigoted views on facebook, often lack a well-developed sense of irony. Western readers also may find a small measure of relief in reading about an Southeast-Asian expat playing the asshole for a change.

Expatriation Through a Child’s Eyes


When a company assigns someone to work overseas for an extended period, it often means uprooting the whole family expatkid_1875646band setting up in a new country together. In the expat blogosphere, it’s fairly easy to find the stories and reflections of the “trailing spouse” (usually the wife) whose husband’s relocation thrusts her into the role of managing the family in an unfamiliar environment. The following post by 9-year-old Arabelle Rossi is the first time I’ve read a blog post by what you might call a “trailing kid”. Forced to move to Hong Kong when her dad was assigned there, she eloquently offers a child’s take on the fear, confusion, and angst of reluctant expatriation.

Heading for the Exits


533-1108063008-Getting-out-leaving-AmericaAccording to these two recent articles, record numbers of U.S. citizens are renouncing U.S. citizenship, and more and more areconsidering doing so because of tax policies that they believe are unfair. U.S. expats have for a long time been obliged to pay U.S. taxes above a certain income threshold on foreign earnings, even though they are paying local taxes on the same income. Also fueling the exodus is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) enacted in 2010 to make it harder for U.S. citizens to hide money overseas but which has bedeviled expats who are merely trying to have money overseas.

Also interesting is the Forbes writer’s use of the term “expatriate” to refer to those who are renouncing citizenship. While technically correct, if the trend continues, we may need a new term to distinguish them from the more numerous group who merely live abroad.

You Can Take a Brit out of Britain…


A British expat has put together a list of Ten Weird Things Brits do in America, which spans the expected (watching old tomatoBritish TV shows) to the funny (adopting American pronunciations with the exception of “tomato”) to the odd (stalking suspected fellow countrymen in the supermarket). May strike familiar chords in expat readers. Or not. But here it is.

And how are you doing out there this week?

10 Things to Do in Seoul

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Bukhansan - Seoul, Korea North Seoul Tower Changdeokgung Dongdaemun Shopping District Bukcheon Village - Seoul, Korea

1. Hike Bukhansan

Located in north central Seoul, Bukhansan National Park offers a beautiful distant view of the city and surrounding mountains. We certainly had to work for it, as the hike took about 2 hours up and 1.5 hours down with frequent breaks, but it was worth it!

Cost: 7,000 won one-way for a cab ride. No admission fee for hiking.

How to get there: Take the subway (light blue line, #4) to Suyu Station. Hail a cab and tell them to go to Bukhansan Kuklip Kongweon (북한산국립공원). The actual trail begins at the top of a large, long hill; so unless they drop you off where the road dead ends, tell them to keep going. Otherwise you’ll be tired before the real hike even begins!

2. North Seoul Tower

Right in the heart of the city, North Seoul Tower (or Namsan Tower) gives you another great opportunity for panoramic pictures. If you’re traveling with a significant other, it’s also a special place to leave a lock of love.

Cost: 9,000 won to ride up to the observation deck. The base of the tower has great views for free as well.

How to get there: Take the subway  (light blue line, #4 –> exit 8 or 9) to Myeong-dong Station. From there, hop on the 05 bus all the way up to the tower. Alternatively, you can take the subway (orange line, #3) to Dong-guk University, exit 6 and walk up. It’s a steady 30-40 minute trek, but very pretty. We took the bus up and walked down, which wound up being the best of both worlds!

3. Changdeokgung Temple

This beautiful palace complex is tucked into the north central part of the city. Beautiful, sprawling gardens and towering temples leave plenty of room to roam around even on the most crowded days.

Cost: Regular adult admission of 3,000 won grants you access everything except the Secret Garden, which is an extra 5,000 won.

How to get there: Take the subway (orange line, #3 –> exit 7; or purple line, #5 –> exit 6) to Jongno 3-ga Station. Walk north on Donhwamun-ro for 10 minutes until the road dead ends at the palace grounds.

4. Dongdaemun Market

Unfortunately we attempted to visit this market on a Sunday, so basically everything except a little show alley was closed. But, we assume on every other day of the week this place a bustling hub for merchants selling everything from jewelry, to food, to souvenirs. The market is housed in a large building as well as spread out in the nearby side streets.

Cost: Free! Or however much you want to spend while shopping!

How to get there: Take the subway (light blue line, #4 –> exit 9; or dark blue line, #1 –> exit 6) to Dongdaemun Station.

5. Bukcheong Hanok Village

Not far from Gyeongbokgung (Seoul’s other ginormous and gorgeous palace), is a sleepy little neighborhood filled with quaint shops, winding side streets and traditional Hanok houses. Exuding an interesting combination of the old and the new, Bukcheong Village is a nice wandering escape from the rest of the pulsating city.

Cost: Free!

How to get there: Take the subway (orange line, #3 –> exit 3). Head straight out of the exit and take the first left onto Gyedong-gil. Walk straight for 10-15 minutes. The village is not sectioned off like a museum, and there aren’t any signs that tell you when you’ve arrived. You’ll know, though, when those cute little white and brown trimmed houses start popping up.

Street Noms Hangang Park Nami Island

6. Jimjilbang

Even if you’re more the modest type, experiencing a public bath house/sauna in Korea is critical to getting a real understanding of the culture. If you’re looking to do something that is 100% authentic or go to a place where you’ll be the only foreigner around, this is it. Sooth your aching feet and muscles in the hot tubs and have a nice sweat, all in the buff! Then head to the co-ed level where you can chat with friends and continue unwinding.

Cost: Most jimjilbangs run between 8,000 and 10,000 won. The super swanky joints, like Dragonhill Spa, that come with all the regular jimjilbang ammenities plus a movie theatre, PC room and restaurant charge a bit more.

How to get there: Look for the sauna symbol (a circle with three squiggly lines coming out of the top) on top of any building in the city, and the word 사우나. To get to Dragonhill, take the subway (dark blue line, #1 –> exit 1) to Yongsan Station. The spa is located a few minutes walk southwest.

7. Streetfood

Food in Korea is generally very affordable, and the streetfod is no exception. Meatballs, fried chicken, blood sausage, spicy rice flour noodles; they’ve got it all, so you never have to worry about going hungry between meals!

Cost: It depends on what you get, but most snacks are between 3,000 and 5,000.

How to get there: Hongdae and Itaewon are particularly known for their restaurants and nightlife, so it seems to me those are the most likely places to find plentiful streetfood options.

8. BBQ

Besides baring it all at the jimjilbang, dining on BBQ is arguably the most quintessential Korean experience. Whether is beef, pork or seafood, the meal is sure to be flavorful and healthy. If you’re a true BBQ beginner, or even if you’re not (but you’re a foreigner), one of the waiters is likely to show you how it’s done and cook the meat for you at your table. Once everything is grilled to perfection, combine it with lettuce leaves, onions, garlic, radishes, kimchi and more!

Cost: My pork BBQ meal was 13,000 won per person. Another night I ate eel, which was 26,000 won per person.

How to get there: Peer into any restaurant window! If you see ventilation hoses hanging from the ceiling (to suck up all the smoke) and tables with grills cut into them, you’ve found the right place!

9. Hangang Park

If you want to rent a bike or take a stroll along the Han River, Hangang Park is the perfect place to do so! Just be on the lookout for speedy cyclists, as they didn’t seem to show any mercy for pedestrations or poky peddlers.

Cost: Free! Not sure how much a bike rental would be. Sorry! Probably not much though.

How to get there: Take the subway (green line, #2 –> exit 4) to Dangsan Station. Walk north towards the river and the park will extend to both the east and west along the river!

10. Namiseom

Do you know your k-dramas? Ever heard of “Winter Sonata”? If you haven’t, that’s okay, I hadn’t either. But I still enjoyed walking around this famous k-drama filming site. Nami island is mystical, family-friendly and romantic. Bring supplies for an afternoon picnic and your camera. Enjoy a swanboat or row boat ride. You can even go bungee jumping or zip lining!

Cost: One adult ticket is 9,000 won. Fun fact: Nami is technically it’s own country, with a different currency and set of governing laws/body. Don’t worry though, you don’t need your passport and they accept Korean currency (in fact, that’s all I ever saw while I was there).

How to get there: This is the only downside: it’s quite far from downtown Seoul (about 2 hours, one way). From Yongsan Station, take the subway (dark blue line, #1) to Sangbong Station. Transfer to the ITX train headed towards Gapyeong. Get off at Gapyeong Station (those steps alone take about 1.5-2 hours). Next take a cab, tell them to go to Namiseom (it’s only a 5-10 minute ride, costing about 3,000-4,000 won). They will take you to the ferry dock, where you pay your admission fee and take a 10 minute boat ride to the island.

Seoul Subway Map

Sujeongam Hermitage – 수정암 (Boeun-Gun, Chungcheongbuk-do)

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A look inside the Geukrak-jeon main hall at Sujeongam Hermitage near Beopjusa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just to the south-west of the famed Beopjusa Temple is the affiliated Sujeongam Hermitage. And while the courtyard is under an extensive renovation, there are still a couple buildings for a visitor to explore in and around the grounds.

Walking down a beautiful pathway that skirts a neighbouring stream, and past a budo field, you’ll finally come to the compact hermitage grounds. Welcoming you at the gate are a pair of protective Vajra warriors.

Directly to your right, and a bit past the monks’ dorms, is the Geukrak-jeon main hall at Sujeongam Hermitage. Beautifully wrapped around the exterior walls to the main hall are a collection of rustic Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). To the right of this triad is a golden stone statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). While the date of this statue is unknown, it’s historic in nature. This statue is joined on the right wall by a red-motif guardian mural.

But the real highlight to this hermitage lies just to the left of the main altar. There are a collection of older looking shaman murals. Of the set of three, which also includes a mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars), it’s the mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) that is the most original of the lot. With a folk-style tiger to his left, Sanshin can be seen holding tight to one of his dongja (an attendant). The painting almost appears as though Sanshin is proudly holding tight to a son of his. A definite first for me!

The other hall to the right of the Geukrak-jeon that visitors can explore is the tiny Josa-jeon Hall. Like sometimes happens at other hermitages, it appears as though the Josa-jeon Hall at Sujeongam Hermitage also acts as a storage hall, as well. However, there are three murals resting on the main altar inside this hall dedicated to prominent monks that once called Sujeongam Hermitage home.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Sujeongam Hermitage, you’ll first need to take a bus to Boeun city. From the Boeun Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to take a direct bus to Mt. Songnisan. This bus runs every 30 to 40 minutes throughout the day. When you arrive at Songnisan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to walk 20 minutes towards Beopjusa Temple/Mt. Songnisan Ticket Office. However, a couple minutes shy of Beopjusa Temple, you’ll need to hang a left where Sujeongam Hermitage resides.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. Beautifully located in Songnisan National Park, and buttressed up against the amazing Beopjusa Temple, is Sujeongam Hermitage. With its collection of highly original shamanic paintings, as well as a historic Yaksayore-bul statue inside, there is more than enough reason to visit Sujeongam Hermitage while enjoying a day out at Beopjusa Temple.


The path that leads to Sujeongam Hermitage.


The Geukrak-jeon main hall at Sujeongam Hermitage.


One of the Palsang-do murals around the exterior walls of the main hall.


A look inside the Josa-jeon Hall.


The red guardian mural as you first step inside the Geukrak-jeon.


The historic Yaksayore-bul statue inside the main hall.


A look at the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon.


The Dokseong mural to the left of the main altar.


He’s joined by this elaborate mural dedicated to Chilseong.


And the dongja holding Sanshin mural.

The post Sujeongam Hermitage – 수정암 (Boeun-Gun, Chungcheongbuk-do) appeared first on Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.

New City, New Friend

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This past weekend I went to Seoul to take advantage of the four-day holiday weekend! Tuesday, May 5th, was Children’s Day and my school gave everyone the day before off as well. I stayed at Bounce Guesthouse, which I highly recommend (clean, updated appliances/bedding, breakfast provided and decent, quiet location in Hongdae).

Since it was my first time in the city–I know, after living in Korea for 8 months it even surprises ME I haven’t visited Seoul before…but the timing just never worked out–, I wanted to do all the touristy sightseeing stuff! And I did!

What made the weekend all the better, too, was touring around Seoul with a new friend I made at the guesthouse. On vacation from Malaysia, KT is a 26 year-old guy who works in advertising. As impromptu travel buddies, together we visited North Seoul Tower, Changdeokgung Palace, Dongdaemun market (sort of…it was closed), a jimjilbang, Hangang Park, and Nami Island. We also dined on grilled eel, BBQ pork, blood sausage and deokbokki.

It was fun to share all the knowledge about Korean culture I’ve acquired since coming here, and equally cool to learn more about Malaysia. In August, for my summer vacation, I hope to take him up on his offer to visit him in his country so HE can play tour guide/cultural informant!

One of my favorite parts of this whole experience (teaching English and traveling abroad), is all the amazing people I’ve met. Every time I meet someone new, it only reaffirms how important and great it is to open yourself up to others; and to put yourself in positions that give you an extra push to break out of your comfort zone (e.g., staying at guesthouse instead of in a private hotel room). We can learn so much from each other, and the only thing that’s stopping us is a simple “Hello.”

Thanks for a fun weekend, KT! See you in August!



Korean Food Delivery in Korea

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Some days, despite the sheer number of restaurants on almost every street in Seoul, going out to eat feels like too much effort. Perhaps it is raining, or the middle of winter, or you just don’t want to change out of your pajamas. Luckily, on those occasions, getting food delivered to your doorstep is easy in Korea. Korean food delivery is quite different from food delivery in other countries, so learning how the delivery system works can help save embarrassment.

What to order

It is quite common to come home and find a food menu taped to your door. If you keep these menus then you can quickly and simply build up a range of options for when you want to order food. When you visit your favorite restaurant, if they have a takeout menu by the checkout then pick one up to add to your stockpile of food options.

Korean Chicken Delivery Menu

Korean chicken delivery menu in Seoul

Almost anything can be ordered in Korea. Only foods that you would cook yourself in a restaurant, such as galbi or samgyeopsal, are off limits. Chinese food and Korean dishes like kimchijjigae and bulgogi are popular choices, as is fried chicken, which will probably make up about half of your food menu collection.

Korean Food Delivery Menu

24 hour Korean food delivery menu

If you are putting on a feast, you can splash out and order something like bo-ssam (steamed pork). The choice of restaurants that you can order from is almost limitless; there is even a chicken restaurant in Sokcho (on the east coast) that delivers to Seoul. Fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King also deliver.

With some restaurants, there is a minimum order, but usually this amount is quite low, such as five thousand won. Also, some places have a service charge, usually a thousand won, on orders below a certain value. If you really want to, you could order several Mcflurries and Coffees from McDonald’s to hit their minimum order price, so even these items can be delivered to your door.

How to order

The usual way to order is by phone. Don’t worry if your Korean isn’t great, all you need to know is what you want to order and where you live. When the restaurant answers your phone call, give your order in Korean, something simple like 양념치킨 한마리 or 불고기 이 인분 will suffice. The restaurant will then confirm your order and ask for your address. When giving your address, start at the neighborhood (동) level as most restaurants only deliver locally, so you don’t need to tell them which city you live in (McDonald’s uses a centralized system so is an exception to this). If you want to get an idea of what a phone call sounds like to a delivery place, take a look a the sample conversation at the bottom of this article.

Korean Food Delivery Motorcycles

Delivery is on it’s way!

If the deliveryman cannot find your home then he will call you so stay by the phone. Occasionally you might also receive a short call to let you know that the food is on its way. When calling the restaurant, you will also sometimes be asked if you want to pay by card (카드) or cash (현금) so that the deliveryman knows whether to bring the card reader machine or not.

Portable Credit Card Reader

Drivers will have this available if you tell them ahead of time

Once you have used a delivery service once, the restaurant will usually have your details on record (unless they are a very small restaurant) so you don’t have to give them your address every time. Some places even know your delivery history so if you constantly order the same food they will just ask you if you want that. In that situation it is possible to order dinner just by phoning the restaurant and saying 네 two or three times.

Food Delivery Smartphone Apps

If you really don’t want to speak Korean over the phone, or if you have lost your voice from an over-ambitious attempt to sing an IU song in the noraebang the night before, then rather than phoning a restaurant, you can place your order using a smartphone app. There are several apps that you can use, but one of the most popular is ‘Yogiyo’ (named after what you shout at Korean waiters when you want something).

Yogiyo smartphone application

Yogiyo smartphone application

Ordering food using Yogiyo is so easy that if you were on a diet before downloading the app, then your diet has now just become a thousand times more difficult. After creating an ID, ordering food from yogiyo is as simple as finding the food you want, adding it to your shopping basket, and hitting send. The apps front page is divided into the most common categories of food that can be ordered (pizza, chicken, Chinese, Japanese etc.) so finding what you want to eat is simple.

Yogiyo Menu Selection

Yogiyo Menu Selection

Food delivery etiquette

Korean food delivery has its own etiquette that may surprise some people at first. First, you will be glad to know that like in Korean restaurants, no tip is required when you get food delivered. Due to the density of Seoul, the restaurant that you are ordering from is likely very close, so there is no need for any kind of ‘we delivery in 30 minutes or your food is free’ kind of guarantees. Sometimes your food will arrive in an improbably fast time like ten minutes or less.

Rather than using paper and foil takeaway boxes, delivered food often arrives in regular bowls with metal cutlery. These are supposed to be returned to the restaurant so when you finish your meal, put all of the dishes into the box or blue plastic bag provided and leave this outside your door (Note that this doesn’t apply to McDonald’s: leaving your old bigmac wrappers and Mcflurry cones in the brown McDonald’s bag outside your door is a sure way to make yourself unpopular with your neighbors). Later in the evening somebody will come to collect these dishes. Sometimes, if you don’t eat straight away, the person will come too early to collect the dishes, so you might have to explain that you haven’t finished eating yet. The best thing about Korean food delivery is that you don’t need to clean these dishes. Just put them outside your door and enjoy your new life free from doing the washing-up.

Telephone Ordering Sample Script

Below is a detailed script that you can use for placing orders for food delivery. It covers most situations, so you can use pieces of it however you’d like.

Most calls will not be this long unless you are ordering for the first time or you have a complex order. As you order more often, it will becomes simpler and simpler!

ORDER TAKER: _______ 피자입니다. 배달주문이세요?

CALLER: 네. 배달이에요.

ORDER TAKER: 네. 주소 먼저 말씀해주시겠어요?

CALLER: 주소는 _______구_______동_______번지 101호요.

ORDER TAKER: 네. 어떤 걸로 도와드릴까요?

CALLER: “하프앤하프”로 주세요.

ORDER TAKER: 네. 도우랑 사이즈랑 피자 선택해주세요.

CALLER: 피자는 “베이컨체다치즈”랑요 “리얼바베큐”로 주세요.

ORDER TAKER: 사이즈는 어떤 걸로 해드릴까요?

CALLER: 라지로 주세요.

ORDER TAKER: 네, 할인카드나 음료나 사이드 메뉴 따로 추가  없으세요?

CALLER: 음료는 콜라 1.5리터짜리 하나 주시고요.

ORDER TAKER: 저희 1.25리터짜리 밖에 없는데 괜찮으세요?

CALLER: 그러면 1.25리터짜리 주시고요.


CALLER: 디핑소스 하나 추가 할게요.

ORDER TAKER: 잠시만요. 할인카드나 쿠폰 소지하고 계신가요?

CALLER: 할인카드는 없어요.

ORDER TAKER:  결제 현금이세요, 카드세요?

CALLER: 카드로 결제할게요.

ORDER TAKER: 네. 배달사원 방문 시 결제 부탁 드리겠습니다.

CALLER: 네. 감사합니다.

ORDER TAKER: 감사합니다. 맛있게 드세요.


What is your favorite place to get food delivery from?

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Occidental Hero, or, How I Screwed Up and Inspired the Development of a Global City

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John Bocskay:

Here’s my latest piece over at Sometimes heroes are neither made nor born; they’re fabricated.


Originally posted on SWEET PICKLES & CORN:

By John Bocskay

When Typhoon Sanba slammed into Busan in 2012 I had my face pressed to the window of my 10th floor apartment in typhoon waveHaeundae Marine City, watching as great roiling waves crashed over the sea wall and raced up the street past my building. When the swells came at a certain angle, water surged through the manhole at the intersection and finally blew the cover off, so that subsequent swells pumped thick columns of water into the air. Gusts of wind rattled our windows hard enough to make me wonder if I should be standing near it. The question was settled a minute later when a pane fell from the 50-somethingth floor of the building across the street and smashed on the sidewalk below.

The storm blew all morning, and when it ended in the early afternoon, I went out for a look. The sun was out and the…

View original 1,545 more words

Role Plays for ESL Students

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Role Plays for ESL Students

Skills: Writing/speaking
Time Required: 15-40 minutes
Level: Beginner to Advanced
Materials Required: Nothing

Give the students a conversation starter to get them going. For example, if you’re talking about feelings in class that day, you can use:

A. Hey _____, how are you doing?
B. I’m great, how are you?
A. I’m _____ (sad, embarrassed, angry, bored, etc.). ***Anything besides, “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” is good.****
B. Oh? What’s wrong?

Another context that I often use this activity with is illness or injury. For example:

A. Hey _____, you don’t look good! What’s wrong?
B. Oh yeah, I’m not good. I _____.
A. Really? _____.
B. _____.
A. _____.

One final context that I use this with is of excuses. For example:

A. Hey _____, you’re _____ minutes late!
B. I’m really sorry. I’ve been/I had to _____.
A. Hmmm . . . _____.

Give the students about ten minutes to write the conversation with their partner. You can adjust the number of lines and how detailed of a starter you give to suit the ability level of your students. For lower level students, it can be helpful to have a word bank on the board relevant to the context so that the writing portion of this activity doesn’t get ridiculously long. Then, the students memorize their conversation (no papers when speaking!), and do a role-play it in front of their classmates if you have a small class of less than ten.

Remember that you should try to maximize the amount of time students are talking. If you have a larger class, there are a few different ways to handle this. You could get pairs to come up to your desk and show you their conversation while the other students are working on something else, you could use it as a speaking test of some kind, or finally you could have students make a video of themselves and send you the link or put it up on YouTube.

I really like this activity because it’s perfect for lower level students who want to practice “conversation” but don’t quite have the skills to do this on their own and it’s also a good way to force your advanced students to use some new grammar or vocabulary that you’re studying.

Like this ESL speaking activity? Get 38 more for free in my upcoming book but only to members of my email list:



Teaching Tips:

Partner role plays for ESL students are very useful for practicing functional language and speaking sub-skills. I usually choose one or two functions to mention when I’m giving the instructions for the activity and provide a bit of coaching and language input surrounding that, depending on the level—beginners will need more help.

The functions in particular that fit well with partner conversations include agreeing, disagreeing, apologizing, and asking advice. The sub-skills that you can emphasize are things like turn-taking, initiating a conversation, speaking for an appropriate length of time, stress and intonation, responding (really?), and cohesive devices, particularly noun pronoun reference (A: I saw a movie last night. B: Which one did you see? A. I saw Ironman. It was good).

Role plays for ESL students truly is one of the most useful things you can do in your conversation classes, especially for beginner or intermediate students so make sure you try it out at least once or twice over the course of a semester. It gives your students a chance to have a real conversation which will build a lot of confidence but they won’t have the pressure of coming up with something to say on the spot. That said, it’s gets boring if you do this every class; I generally do it about once a month for a class that meets twice a week over the course of a semester.


  1. Prepare a conversation starter based on what you are studying.
  2. (Optional) Pre-teach some language that students could use, if you haven’t done that already in your lesson.
  3. Write the conversation starter on the whiteboard, PowerPoint, or on a handout.
  4. Have students complete the conversation in pairs. Then, they must prepare to speak by memorizing and adding in stress and intonation.
  5. Have students stand up and “perform” their conversation if you have a small class. In larger classes, there are a few other options (see above).
  6. Reward teams for interesting conversations, good acting (no reading), and correct grammar/vocabulary that you were studying that day.

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