TESOL/Speaking in pairs: how to speak with everyone else only once

Level edit

Elementary through upper intermediate.

Beginners: Perhaps could be adapted for beginners by drilling a few phrases beforehand and during.

Advanced: Perhaps could be used as a warmup if the SS do not know each other very well or have not seen each other for some time.

Activity Type edit

Speaking activity

Language Structures and Functions edit

Natural language e.g. for elementary level meeting new people "Where are you from?" "What do you do?" etc; for upper intermediate to weed out possible cultural impoliteness such as saying "What?" to strangers.

Estimated Time Required edit

2 to 3 minutes per student.

Preparation edit

Check the classroom has enough space and not too much echo. Optional - have an amusing device to signal a changeover e.g. a bell or timer alarm. Have diagrams or animation or realia to explain the rotation (see below). For intermediate and below make sure you or a student can explain the rotation in L1. It can be confusing if SS arrive in the middle of the activity so this is probably best not done as then first activity of a lesson: decide what you will do if a student arrives or has to leave in the middle of the activity.

Activity Plan edit

Optional - Elicit common things to say to someone you are meeting for the first time. If S says "What is your name?" tell them it is more polite to say "Hello I'm Charlie" and wait for the other person to reply with their name.

Optional - Have all SS write their own answer to the question "What do you do?" and check their answers e.g. "I'm at X High School in 11th grade." "I'm studying Y at Z University." "I graduated in Biology and now I'm looking for a job." "I'm looking for a job in sales/tourism/teaching." "I'm studying for the university entrance exam/civil service exam" "I'm an accountant at Strong Steel Works." "I work in sales and marketing." "I just left school and I'm doing my military service this summer." "I'm looking after my young children/elderly mother." "I'm retired." "I'm doing a masters degree." "I'm studying at home with the Open University." "I'm PA to the CEO of Megabank." For more complicated job titles you may have to note them in L1 and ask an L2 native speaker before the next lesson.

Optional - elicit the advantages (more S speaking time, shy S may not like speaking in big group, common in real life) and disadvantages (teenagers may be shy of opposite gender, T cannot hear all mistakes, other S might be boring, can't think of anything to talk about) of speaking in pairs.

Optional - ask SS to think about how everyone could talk individually to every other person one time only.

Ask SS how many they are, then if they are an odd or even number.

If some SS are new to this activity explain the rotation (see below) or for higher level ask a S who has done it before to explain it in L2.

Have the SS line up in 2 lines (standing or sitting) facing each other a little apart from the SS either side thus:

S1 S2 S3 S4

S8 S7 S6 S5

(in case of an odd number of SS the T is in the place of one end S, e.g. T replaces S8 above)

Explain that each S will talk to the S opposite for 2 minutes (obviously if you have a big class 1 minute may be all you can allow or for a small class 3 minutes may be possible) so S1 will talk to S5, S2 to S6 etc; and that they will stop when you ring the bell, clap hands or whatever. And that EXCEPT FOR ONE END PERSON (S8 or T in the example above) they will move one place clockwise thus:

S7 S1 S2 S3

S8 S6 S5 S4

Explain the SS should talk naturally to each other. For lower level SS you may need to elicit some smalltalk (Hello I'm Fred, I'm Joe, Where are you from?, I'm from Bafra, and you?) and if necessary write it on the board. Make a mental (or written) note of which S is S1. For an odd number of SS you may need to remind them that you are trusting them not to talk in L1 as you will be in the activity.

Tell the SS they can start talking to the S opposite. For an even number of SS the T can move round listening, noting mistakes and encouraging. Otherwise the T will be talking to one S but keeping an eye on the other SS and the time.

After 2 minutes (or whatever interval you have decided on) stop the SS and get their attention. Praise any good language you have heard and model corrections or new phrases.


"I heard someone say 'My mother is a housewife.' but 'housewife' is an old word we don't use much now. What other word could we use? T writes on board 'My mother is a homemaker.'"

"Chloe said something very good - can you tell us Chloe - what do you do for fun?"

"OK you are all very good at 'Where are you from?, I am from Samsun.' Now you can use the word 'whereabouts' How can we use 'whereabouts'?" - T writes on board 'Whereabouts in Samsun do you live? I live on campus. I live in Atakum near the Yeşilyurt mall.'

Get SS (EXCEPT ONE) to move one place clockwise and repeat until S1 is about to talk to the fixed person again. In that way all SS should have talked to each other once.

Variations edit

Appendix edit