April Fool!

I haz April Foolz lolcats. Intended for use on...

I haz April Foolz lolcats.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m getting married!  I broke my leg!  I saw an armored car spilling money all over the road and if you go outside quickly you can get some!

They’re big news, but don’t believe any of the above statements if you hear them on April 1st.  The first day of April is April Fool’s Day, when jokes, lies, hoaxes and tricks are expected.  The origins of the celebration are unclear, but April Fool’s Day is celebrated in Europe and in the United States.  In Latin America, “fool’s day” does not happen in April, it is Día de los Inocentes and it is on December 28th.  April fool’s pranks can be physical, like trying somebody’s chair to the table or putting salt in the sugar bowl, or elaborate, like these, but the simplest April fool’s jokes involve telling a lie with a completely straight face.  Try this simple English language conversation activity to practice.

This activity is for beginners, but any level can enjoy it and stories can be as complex as students are able.  Use it to practice a variety of vocabulary and grammar and build fluency through conversation.

1. Warm up.  All players introduce themselves and say “My name is ___ and my parents/friends/classmates don’t know that I ____.”
My name is James and my parents don’t know that I play online games when I say I am doing homework.
My name is Julie and my friends don’t know that I am allergic to dogs.

2. Two truths and a lie. Each player thinks of three things about him or herself. Two of the things are true and one is not true. Each player says the three facts but does not say which one is not true. The other players have to ask questions to try to determine which is the lie. When time is up, everybody guesses which was not true. Players who can fool the class win.

Conversation objectives: Build fluency through conversation, ask and answer questions.
Ideal group size: At least three players.
Ideal group level: Beginning English, but can be modified for any level.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

Where’s my lawyer?

An attorney impeaching a witness during a mock...

Suits are optional for this conversation game. An attorney impeaching a witness during a mock trial competition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good attorney can argue for anyone. Here is a fun conversation game for English language learners to act out a mock trial. Use this English-language conversation activity to practice past modals, past progressive, persuasive arguments, and to see who in your class would make the best lawyer.

1. Warm up. Everyone introduces themselves and answers the question “What were you doing yesterday at 3 PM?”*

2. Vocabulary generator.  Explain to the class that they need to know where they were yesterday at 3 PM because somebody has committed a crime. Make a chart on the board with three columns: CrimeLocation, and Evidence. Have the class brainstorm crimes that they know, such as robbery, arson, vandalism, etc. Then make a list of locations near you where a crime could have been committed. Finally, make a list of evidence that could have been left behind, such as fingerprints, footprints, surveillance video, tire tracks, an article of clothing, an English book, DNA, etc.

3. The trial. Divide the class into two teams, the prosecution and the defense. Depending on the number of players, you might divide them in different ways.
Four players: Two prosecutors, one defense attorney, and the accused.
Six players: Three prosecutors, two defense attorneys, and the accused.
Eight players or more: Either have two “trials” occur simultaneously or assign some students to be the judge or jury. For an odd number of players, add an extra member to the defense team, add a judge or jury, or have the students prosecute and defend the teacher.

Footwear impressions left at a crime scene

Footwear impressions left at a crime scene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pick a student to be the accused, and then pick a crime, a location, and a piece of evidence at random from the chart. Tell the class, “Yesterday at 3 PM a robbery was committed at the Central Bank. George is accused. The evidence against George is video surveillance of somebody who looks like George robbing the bank. George says he couldn’t have committed the crime because yesterday at 3 PM he was at home, alone, studying for his English test, but unfortunately nobody can corroborate his alibi.”

Give both teams two minutes to prepare their arguments. The prosecutors have only their one piece of evidence, so they need to make most of their arguments about George’s character. They must say why he would have or must have committed the crime. The defense must argue why George could not have or would not have committed the crime. The team that uses what they already know about George to invent the most convincing (or funny!) arguments for his guilt or innocence will win.

Arguments will be presented in this order: first the prosecution makes their case, then the defense responds. Then the prosecution and the defense make closing arguments. Everyone must speak. George is also allowed to speak in his own defense.  Both sides should remember that, just like in a real trial, they must not argue at each other but direct their arguments to the judge or jury.

 5. Global feedback. The teacher, judge or jury speaks about which arguments were the most convincing and why. Then they decide whether to convict or acquit George, and, if he is convicted, what his punishment should be. Review any new vocabulary from the discussion. Finally, give George a round of applause for being a good sport.
*Unless, of course, your English class meets at 3 PM. Pick another time when students are likely to give different answers. 

Conversation objectives: make a persuasive argument, come to a consensus, debate, build vocabulary through conversation, practice past progressive, express possibility with past modals like could have, should have, must have, might have, may have, and their negatives.
Ideal group size: At least four players.
Ideal group level: Stong intermediate to advanced English. For a similar game for lower intermediate learners, try the Hot air balloon survivor conversation game.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

The job counselor

An auto mechanic works on a rally car at the 2...

An auto mechanic works on a rally car at the 2003 Ojibwe Rally in Bemidji, MN. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody likes to talk about themselves.  In this conversation activity for intermediate students (or advanced beginners), students review and reinforce the present tense while they talk about themselves and give each other advice.  It’s a good way to practice a very common topic of conversation– jobs and professions.

1. Warm up. Each person introduces him- or herself and tells the class his or her dream job.
My name is Ana and my dream job is a lawyer.
My name is Pedro and my dream job is an auto mechanic.

2. Vocabulary generator. The class brainstorms a list of jobs and professions. Don’t forget:
architect, biologist, businessperson, chef, clown, chemist, dentist, doctor, engineer, entrepreneur, entertainer, gardener, journalist, judge,  lawyer, musician, mime, paramedic, scientist, singer, teacher, television personlity, veterinarian, weather forecaster, zookeeper.

Then, make a list of adjectives that are good or bad qualities for some of the professions. Each person picks a profession: A good teacher is very patient, but a bad teacher is cruel. A good doctor is friendly, and a bad doctor is greedy.

3. Pair practice. In pairs students play a guessing game with the words on the board. They take turns describing a job or profession while the other person tries to guess what it is. This is a version of the What am I conversation game.
Ana: This person has a good sense of humor and likes children. This person is patient and not shy.
Pedro: Is it a teacher?
Ana: No. This person doesn’t work in a school. Usually they work at parties or shows or sometimes on the streets.
Pedro: Is it a clown?
Ana: Yes!

Pacific Ocean (Oct. 09, 2006) - Senior Chief N...

A career counselor asks questions to help determine a good field for a job seeker. (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. The job counselor. Break the students into different groups. For small classes, put them in pairs. In larger classes you can do groups of three, with two “counselors” and one “job seeker.” Explain that in this difficult economy, it is important to know what the best jobs are for our skills. The “job seekers” need advice about where to look for work, and the “counselors” need to interview the job seekers to determine the best job or profession for their personality. If the counselors already know the job seekers’ current profession or what they want to do when they finish studying, they are not allowed to recommend that profession; they have to think of something else. With the class, brainstorm and review questions that a counselor would typically ask a job seeker, such as:

  • What are your skills and abilities?
  • Can you read / type / speak more than one language / do mathematical computations in your head / drive a car / sing / dance / lift heavy objects etc?
  • What are your likes and dislikes?
  • Do you like to work with children / work with elderly people / work as a team / work independently / be a leader / be creative?
  • Can you travel?
  • How much money do you need?
  • For you, is it more important to make a lot of money or to enjoy your job?
  • What is a job you know you don’t like?

The counselors travel from group to group and interview the job seekers. When everyone has been interviewed, the counselors share their recommendations with the job seekers and the whole class.

5. Global feedback. Was anybody surprised by the advice they received? Why or why not?

Conversation objectives: Ask and answer questions, practice nouns and adjectives, practice vocabulary related to jobs and professions, use can and can’t to express ability, practice simple present tense, build fluency through conversation.
Ideal group size: Six people or more.
Ideal group level: Intermediate English.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

Escucha y ve: Mi trabajo

¿En dónde trabajas?  

Primero, escucha esta breve conversación en la cual una mujer habla de su trabajo.  ¿Dónde trabaja?  ¿Qué vende?  ¿Qué hace en un día típico?

Ahora, revisa tus respuestas mirando el videoclip:

Practica el vocabulario relacionado con los oficios y los profesiones con esta actividad de conversación.

1. Warm up.  Cada persona se presenta, diciendo su nombre y su trabajo ideal.
Me llamo Ana y mi trabajo ideal es abogada.
Me llamo Pedro y mi trabajo ideal es obrero.

Ana Fabiola Sutuj Aguilar of Guatemala

Los enfermeros y médicos trabajan en el hospital. (Photo credit: mikebaird)

2. Generar vocabulario.  Toda la clase hace una lista de profesiones y oficios.  Unas ideas son: abogado / abogada, actor / actriz, artista, atleta, barbero / barbera, bombero / bombera, camarero / camarera, campesino / campesina, carnicero / carnicera, científico / científica, cirujano / cirujana, comediante, cura, dentista, diputado / diputada, electricista, escritor / escritora, estudiante, fiscal, fotógrafo / fotógrafa,  ingeniero / ingeniera, joyero / joyera, mecánico / mecánica, médico / médica, peluquero / peluquera, periodista, presidente / presidenta, profesor / profesora, químico / química, soldado / soldada, veterinario / veterinaria, zapatero / zapatera.

3. Práctica en parejas.  En grupos de dos, los estudiantes hablan de las profesiones y oficios en la lista.  Preguntan y respondan:
En tu opinión, ¿cuál trabajo es el más difícil?  ¿Por qué?
¿Cuál es el más fácil?  ¿Por qué?
¿Cuál es el más divertido?  ¿El más interesante?  ¿El más aburrido?  ¿El más peligroso?  ¿El que gana más dinero?
¿De qué quieres trabajar?

Mientras los estudiantes conversan, el profesor circula por la clase en el próximo paso.

4. Una entrevista.  Cada persona escoge una de las profesiones sin decirla al resto del grupo.  El profesor pasa por el grupo y escribe todas las profesiones en una lista.  Luego escribe la lista en el pizarrón.  No hay problema si alguna profesión fue escogida dos veces.  Cuando terminan con sus conversaciones, todos los estudiantes copian la lista.  Después tienen que circular por la clase y preguntar a todos los compañeros:
¿En dónde trabajas?  ¿Qué producto vendes o que servicio haces?  ¿Qué haces en un día típico?

Los estudiantes responden de acuerdo con las profesiones que escogieron.  Gana la primera persona en escribir los nombres de todos los compañeros con las profesiones correctas en la lista.


Emergencies happen in every country and every language. It’s important to be prepared, so play this conversation game to practice giving instructions in an urgent situation.

1.Warm up. All the players introduce themselves, saying, “My name is ___ and I a dangerous part of my life is ___ because ____.”
My name is Alex and a dangerous part of my life is driving in the city because there are a lot of traffic accidents.
My name is Carly and a dangerous part of my life is my little brother because he likes to run and fight and break things.

Art © 2012 by F.J. Kingsbury

Can't see much? There's a reason. The city of Boston skyline during a blackout.

2. Vocabulary generator. Do you recognize this picture? Not sure? If you can’t see much, there is a reason– this is a picture of the city of Boston during a blackout. On March 13th and 14th, the residents of Boston did not have power for many hours because of a fire. A blackout is when a large group of people lose electricity to their houses or businesses for a long period of time. Blackouts can cause traffic accidents, problems in hospitals, and an increase in crime. What other emergencies can you think of? Make a list. Here are some ideas:

Art @2012 by F.J. Kingsbury

The fire in Boston that destroyed a transformer and caused the blackout.

thunder storm
traffic accident
plane crash
terrorist attack
animal attack
epidemic of disease
alien invasion
zombie attack



What's the most dangerous situation you have ever been in? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Grammar review: present perfect. Review how to use have/had and the past participle to talk about recent events, following this rule:
Subject  +  have  +  past participle
I                  have           had an accident.
Aliens       have           invaded the planet.

Each student answers the question, “What is the most dangerous thing you have done?”
In pairs, the students interview each other about the emergency situations from the list.
Have you ever experienced an earthquake?
If yes: What happened? Where were you? What did you do? Did you get help from the police or the fire department? How has your life changed because of that dangerous situation?

If no: Do you think you will be in an earthquake in the future? Why? What should you do to be prepared? What should you do when an earthquake happens? What should you do after an earthquake?

5. Feedback. When most groups have talked about all the dangerous situations on the list, have a discussion in the larger group again. Ask each pair to share one thing that they talked about. Who in the class has experienced the most dangerous situation? Who in the class is the most prepared for an emergency?


Emergency (Photo credit: Terry Bain)

6. Role-playing. Introduce the concept of 911. What phone number do you dial in an emergency? Put pairs of chairs back to back, similar to the telephone game. One partner is the victim of an emergency situation and the other partner is the 911 operator. The victim must report the emergency to the operator. The operator must ask the victim questions and try to keep the victim calm. The victim should describe the emergency in as much detail as possible, and the operator should give advice. Switch roles and repeat, then switch partners and repeat.

7. Global feedback. Ask the operators to talk about the most urgent situation they experienced in their role plays. How was the situation resolved? What should you do differently in real life?

Conversation objectives: Report an emergency, give commands, follow instructions, practice simple past and present perfect.
Ideal group size: Six to twelve people.
Ideal group level: Intermediate English.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

Do you believe in ghosts?

English: Cover of the pulp magazine Ghost Stor...

Everyone knows a few good ghost stories. Image via Wikipedia

Everybody knows a few good ghost stories.  Try this conversation game with advanced beginner students who need to reinforce simple past, present, and future tenses.  This is also a good game to play for Saint Patrick’s Day, when conversation turns to leprechauns* and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

1. Warm up. Each member of the group says his or her name and the name of a favorite movie.  See if there are any popular movie genres among the group, like horror or action.  If possible, split the group into pairs based on their movie preferences.

2. Vocabulary builder.  Review the word believe.  Ask each person to finish the sentence, “I believe in ___ but I don’t believe in ___.”  Make a list of things the class believes or doesn’t believe in on the board.  Then review the words ghosts, angels, the devil, saints, leprechauns, witches and wizards, monsters, vampires, warewolves, superheroes.

3. Ghost stories.  In pairs, students take turn asking each other about the items on the list: Do you believe in ___?  Why?  Do you have a story about it?  Do you know somebody that believes in ___?

If necessary, switch partners after a few minutes.

Taken at the St Patrick's Day celebrations at ...

Celebrating Saint Patrick's Day. Image via Wikipedia

4. Global feedback. Ask the students to share any interesting stories they heard or told.  Ask the group, “Do you know any ghost stories about our city?”

For Saint Patrick’s Day, ask the group, “Do you know anybody who believes in leprechauns?  Do you know any stories about leprechauns?”

5. Extra: A group ghost story.  Start with the phrase It was a dark and stormy night… then compose a ghost story with the group.  Each person can only contribute one sentence to the story at a time.

*ELL classes or English classes in other countries might need a brief explanation about the meaning of the word leprechaun.  Explain that a leprechaun is a spirit or fairy from Ireland.  For Spanish classes or students whose first language is Spanish, it might be necessary to point out that “leprechaun” is not an English word and, similarly, there is no Spanish translation, although duende irlandés will do.  Because Saint Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate Irish heritage in many parts of the United States (if less so in Ireland itself), stories about leprechauns are popular in March.  One common story is that if you find the end of a rainbow, you will discover where a leprechaun has hidden a pot of gold.

Conversation objectives: tell an engaging story, use personal examples, practice simple past, simple present and future will or future going to, build vocabulary through conversation
Ideal group size: Six to twelve people.
Ideal group level: Strong beginner to intermediate English. For simpler games that practice similar vocabulary, try What am I? and My secret celebrity alter ego.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

Selling it

A good salesperson can make any product sound good.  This conversation is good for intermediate English learners who have good control of the present tense and are building vocabulary and fluency. It works best with groups of six students or more.

1. Warm up.  Each person introduces himself or herself by completing this sentence: My name is ___ and a valuable possession I own is ___.  Remind students that valuable can have different meanings: expensive, useful, important, etc. Encourage each person to give a reason for his or her choice: My name is George and a valuable possession I own is my cell phone because I use it every day.  My name is Ann and a valuable possession I own is my backpack because it has everything I need for school.

2. Vocabulary generator. Brainstorm a list of additional adjectives you could use to describe your valuable possession. Be creative! Here are some examples: expensive, useful, important, new, complicated, fancy, easy-to-use, multi-purpose, big, clean, comfortable, technologically advanced, etc

3. Pair practice: Selling it!  Tell the students that they must pick a possession that they currently have with them.  It can be their shoes, their pencil, their English dictionary, their keychain, or anything else they happen to have in class that day. Put the students in pairs; each person must sell their “product” to their partner.  The partner must ask questions about the product.  Write some ideas for both the salesperson and the customer on the board:

 Salesperson: Be friendly, be polite, describe your product, demonstrate your product

Customer: What does it do? What are it’s features? Where can I use it? Where should I not use it?  Why is it better than the others? How much does it cost?  Does it have a guarantee?

Remind groups that each person has to take a turn being both the salesperson and the customer.

4. Large group practice: The market.   Divide the class in half.  One half is the salespeople; have them sit in a row as if they were at stands in the market.  The other half is customers; give them each a set of paper money bills.  The customers must go shopping in the market and they must spend all their money.  The salespeople, of course, are trying to convince the customers to buy their products.

5. Global feedback. Back in the large group, talk about which product sold the best.

Conversation objectives: use persuasive language, ask and answer questions, practice adjectives and simple present, develop fluency through conversation, build vocabulary through conversation
Ideal group size: Six or more players.
Ideal group level: Intermediate English or above.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.


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