Activity 15: Card-swapping Discussion

▶ Duration:  20–25 min
▶ Aim:  Oral fluency practice
▶ Summary:  Each time students complete the task with one partner, they swap cards and find a new partner.

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This page describes a way of organising a speaking activity so that students are required to mingle and work with other students. Students carry out some kind of speaking task based on the cards that they hold. The task should be something that only requires a few minutes to complete. Interest is maintained by the frequent changing of partners, and the provision of many different cards.

Producing the cards is the only preparation required. In some variations of this activity, the cards are filled in by the students prior to the activity. In other cases, try to make as many different cards as possible, with the maximum being one per student. This might be infeasible with large classes, in which case duplicate cards are also acceptable.

Note that the task can be designed to practise some specific language, such as vocabulary.

See the Resources section for examples.

Since the cards will be handled a lot, it is a good idea to strengthen them if possible, for example by lamination or by mounting them on thin card.

Give a demo, by allowing one student to randomly choose a card and then randomly choosing one yourself. Carry out the discussion task. Then explain that after the task, the pair must swap their cards—make an exaggerated display of swapping your card with the student. Explain that after swapping your card, you must find a new partner. Check:

Distribute one card to every student, and let the activity begin.

I first saw a card-swapping activity conducted by Jane Ure, one of my fellow CELTA trainees.

Occupations Small-talk

This activity incorporated the vocabulary on jobs that we had just reviewed in class. First, I elicited some useful sentences for chatting about jobs, suggesting "What do you do?" as the most versatile question, and also adding more detailed questions like "Where do you work?", 'How long have you worked there?", and so on.

The discussion task was simply to chat to each other and ask questions about each other's occupation. The cards only specified the occupation, so it was up to the students to invent all the details.

I made the cards using pictures from my textbook (Advanced Talks, Volume 1, pages 51 and 52). Similar pictures could probably be stolen from vocabulary worksheets, or words could be used instead of pictures if necessary. The occupations I used were: tailor, astronaut, musician, scientist, policeman, hairdresser, waiter/waitress, salesperson, reporter, sailor, photographer, editor, nurse, fire fighter, cook, doctor, pilot, secretary, and flight attendant.

Eternal Mingle

Ryan Schreck describes an activity called Eternal Mingle where students first write a question on a slip of paper, and use this as a conversation starter.

Alternatively, you could provide prepared question cards. For ideas, see the examples of "Tell Us About" cards in this article by Bob Gibson, of the Conversation Questions at the Internet TESL Journal.

Robin Harris, who describes his success with this activity in the Comments section below, has contributed the list of more than 60 questions which he used: perpetual_questions.doc (html preview)
Rating: 5 stars

Fun, and a change of pace offering a chance to move around and a chance to become more aquainted with other members of the class.

I did an Eternal Mingle last week with each of my 7 oral English classes. Each class 45 to 55 students.
Brilliant result - all I could hear was English full on.
Get into a big space - we went to the building foyer.
Ration your own involvement - students tended to line up to speak to me, rather than other students.
Students aged 20 - 22 like relationship questions ie 'Is it OK to kiss on the first date?' Mine (Chinese) overwhelmingly say 'no'.
Have additional questions available to 'freshen the pot'. ie when students get a question a second time they can redeem it for a fresh one from you. This extends the 'buzz' in the activity especially if the fresh questions are more personal ie 'Have you ever been drunk?'
I called mine 'Perpetual' Questions which seems a better word choice that 'Eternal'.
Happy to email my questions to anyone interested.
Rob []
19.06.2004 , 15:48

it helps me much as a refernce to teach english in class, which is also applicable in Indonesia. thanks...........

would you like to send me anothe sample of activities in enhancing speaking ability? hopefully yes...
panda []
07.04.2005 , 08:35

I have an American Marketing Association meeting tonight and was looking for a networking activity. This will help so much. Thank you.
Nicholas []
27.10.2005 , 04:36

incredibly fantastic!!!
u r terrific, Todd!!!
eway []
06.12.2005 , 19:33