Activity 30: Weekly Talkshow

▶ Duration:  N/A
▶ Aim:  Oral fluency practice; assess speaking
▶ Summary:  Three students answer questions from the class on a particular topic.

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Most of the activities on this site organise students into pairs or groups, because that way each student spends more time interacting in English than they would in a whole-class activity where students only speak one at a time. Nevertheless, during my first two semesters I also ran regular debates in my classes, where two groups would debate a topic in front of the class while the other students watched. The rationale for this kind of activity is: (a) it gives students experience at speaking at length in front of an audience, (b) it is something that the teacher can grade, and (c) it allows the other students to have a rest from speaking. A regular weekly or fortnightly activity also adds some structure to the course, and reduces the burden of lesson planning.

I grew disenchanted with debates, however. One problem is that they are very demanding: a good debate is one where the participants listen to the other side's argument and quickly devise counter-arguments, and not everybody can manage this in their first language let alone a second language. Another problem is that the students watching the debate are not involved at all, and tend to switch off completely. So in my third semester, I tried a different activity in the place of debating, and it proved very successful.

This talkshow activity has the same three functions mentioned earlier, but its format is quite different to a debate. Each week there is a different topic, and three students (called "guests", or "experts") are invited to the front of the class. The other students (the "audience") asks them questions. Thus it is more "interactive" than a debate, and it is also more realistic, since in everyday life answering questions is a more common experience that formal debating.

I used the talkshow as an opportunity not just to grade the students, but to give them constructive feedback and advice on their oral English, something which is not feasible during the end-of-semester exam. I wrote comments on the marking sheet, and then after class I spent a few minutes discussing the comments with each student. From the student's point of view, I think this is very valuable, although of course it places an extra burden on the teacher.

The activity takes about 30 minutes or so, although only 10 to 15 minutes is the talkshow itself (the remainder includes class-based and group-based discussion). Generally, I ran the talkshow in the second period of the lesson, and planned a simple activity to fill the final few minutes of the 45 minute period. I usually had to snatch a few minutes to finish writing comments on the marking sheets while the students were engaged with this activity.

At the start of the semester, you need to devise the list of topics (making each talkshow fit the topic of the lesson is of course ideal), and assign three students to each talkshow. There is more than one way to do this, and since I am no longer teaching English I unfortunately had no opportunity to experiment with different methods. The method I used was to provide a questionaire to each student: talkshow_questionaire.doc (html preview). Based on the answers, I then selected the "experts" for each talkshow, trying to match together people with different viewpoints or different experience in order to make the talkshows more interesting. (I did not allow the students to fill in these questionaires by themselves, instead I had them work in pairs, asking the questions and writing down their partner's answers).

I am not entirely satisfied with this method, and I wonder if a simpler and better way might not be to just provide a list of the topics (and dates) and let the students to write their names down. However, if this method is used then the list of topics cannot include any (or at least not more than one or two) that require special knowledge. For example, in each of my classes there were only a handful of students who regularly cooked meals when they were at home, but because I used the questionaire method I was able to pick out these students to participate in a talkshow on the topic of cooking.

Another method which could, if done properly, present a compromise between the "teacher chooses" and "student chooses" methods is to write the topics and dates on the blackboard and then work together as a whole class to select the guests for each week.

If you are going to grade the students, then you will also have to devise a marking guide. The marking guide I used is not the same as the one I use for the final exam (see Activity 25: Oral English Exams), instead it is designed to help the students identify their strengths and weaknesses. I used the space at the bottom of the slip (or on the back) to write comments. This is the marking guide that I used: talkshow_marking_guide.doc (html preview).

Each talkshow also needs one student to act as host. The host has the responsibility for introducing the talkshow guests, and choosing members of the audience to ask questions. This allows the teacher to concentrate on listening to the guests and grading their performance. For the first talkshow, I acted as host to show the class what was expected, then I left the talkshow timetable pinned to the wall with a blank "host" column, and asked the students to fill in their names if they were interested.

Once all this initial work is complete, the weekly preparation is minimal. Apart from three copies of the marking guide, you just need to make a list of questions related the topic (the need for this will be explained in the next section). A list of the topics I used in my class, and questions related to these topics, is provide in the Resources section. If you devise other topics for use in your own class, please share them with the rest of us by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page.

Each week, at the start of the activity, write the topic and a brief introduction of each guest on the blackboard. Because I used the questionaire method of scheduling the talkshows, I already had information about each guest's opinion, but if you use a different method then you could just talk to the three guests before class or during the break to get this information. Here is an example:

Dating on Campus

Echo says “It’s natural”.
Winnie thinks that if they really love each other, then it is ok.
Tracy thinks it’s a waste of time.

On the other side of the board (hopefully you have a big enough blackboard) write just a few examples of questions related to the topic, for example:

After you have verbally introduced the talkshow topic and the example questions, ask the students to work in groups or pairs and brainstorm other questions related to the topic. Stop them after a few minutes. Ask students one by one for suggestions, and add them to the blackboard. The result will not be a complete list of what the students brainstormed, but the idea is that this blackboard list combined with their individual lists will be sufficient for the coming discussion and talkshow. (But if you are short on time, you can skip the group brainstorming and just brainstorm questions as a whole class).

Next, ask the students to work in groups of 3 or 4 and discuss the topic in English, using the questions they have brainstormed as a guide. In a sense, this is a mini-talkshow, a practice run of the class talkshow to follow. For the teacher who wants to give students an opportunity to practise speaking, this group discussion is actually the most valuable part of the activity, so allow at least 10 minutes.

Finally, end the discussions and invite the talkshow host to the front of the class. At this point, you can sit down and prepare to grade the students. Theoretically, you should not need to speak again until the end of the talkshow (unless you wish to participate as an audience member, and ask one or two questions to the guests). The host is responsible for introducing the guests and choosing audience members to ask questions, but apart from this the host ideally should not speak too much either, instead allowing the guests as much time to talk as possible.

The talkshow simply proceeds with audience members asking questions and guests answering. Here are some basic principles, of which at least the first one should be told to the class the first time the activity is run:

You should respect the host's authority: if you want to influence the way the talkshow is running, then address your suggestion to the host, rather than the class as a whole. This includes when to end the talkshow, since the host is responsible for thanking the guests and wrapping things up. I often felt that there was one student that had not spoken enough, so I might say to the host: "Two more questions for Jessica, and then we can stop."

To be fully prepared, it is best to bring a list of your own questions to the class each week. Ideally, you will only need to use this to write a few examples on the blackboard at the start of the activity, but if the topic proves particularly difficult to devise questions for then you might have to add more examples of your own to the blackboard list, or if the talkshow reaches a point where nobody is volunteering questions you may want to ask one yourself. Also, while you are monitoring the group discussion part of the activity, you can join a group and ask one of your own questions.

After the talkshow, ask for a round of applause to thank the guests, unless the host has already done so. Finally, ask for a round of applause to thank the host.

Following are the topics that I used in my classes, and a list of example questions related to each topic. Many of these topics were chosen to fit with the material in the textbook we were using, Advanced Talks Volume 2. Not all these topics may be suitable for your particular circumstances. If you devise your own topics, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page to share your experience with us.

Food and Cooking

Note that in my university classes, there were generally only three or four students who regularly cooked at home. Ideally, the guests of this talkshow would be people with this kind of experience.

What dishes do you cook most often? / Is cooking easy to learn? / What do you think of the food in Dalian? / How is food in Dalian different to your home town? / What aspects of cooking are the most difficult?  What's the simplest dish you've cooked? / What's the most complicated dish you've cooked? / How did you learn to cook? / Do you enjoy cooking? / Cooking isn't common in this class? Why do you cook? / Is there a kind of food you want to learn how to cook? / Have you ever made any big mistakes in the kitchen? / Who do you cook for? / Do you think everyone should learn how to cook? / What foods are the most healthy? / What foods are the least healthy? / Do you cook different food depending on the season? / Do you watch TV cooking shows? Which one is the best? / What food is typical in your home town? / Are you good at cooking? / Are there any secrets to good cooking?

Studying English

Ideally, the guests of this talkshow would be people with different and original ideas about how to study English effectively.

What are some useful textbooks? / Are movies helpful? / How can I improve my speaking? / Does reading help? / Which stream should I choose in my third year? / Should I learn American or British English? / Does shouting really work (as in the “crazy English” programme)? / Does talking to other students in English help me? / How can I get an opportunity to speak to native speakers? / How can I turn my Chinglish into English? / How can I reduce my accent? / Is it possible to attain a perfect accent? / Is it important to learn about the culture of English-speaking countries? History? Politics? / Why do some students have better English than others? / What do you think of the textbooks we use? / Why do I have so much trouble expressing my thoughts in English? / Is it necessary to think in English?

Newspapers and Magazines

Ideally, the guests of this talkshow would read a variety of interesting magazines.

What can you learn from __________? / Is it good to follow the news? Local or world news? / Where and when do you read magazines? / Do you buy magazines? / What do you do with your old magazines? / Are magazine readers mainly old or young? / What magazines are popular with college students? Men? Women? / What’s an article that made an impression on you? / What’s your favourite section of __________? / Do you read the whole magazine, or only parts of it? / Who would you recommend __________ to? (ie. what kind of people would like it or benefit from it?) / What news is “hot” right now? / Why do people read magazines?


Ideally, the guests of this talkshow would all enjoy different styles of music.

How do you judge a good song?  What’s more important: the meaning, or the sound? / What is necessary for a song to become popular? / What’s your opinion of music in China? In Which ways is it developing? / What music do you listen to when studying? / Do you like happy songs or sad songs? / Do you buy music? If so, what music and where? / How do you find out about new songs? / How did you become interested in __________? / How does music benefit us? / Have you met any new people because of music? / What’s the connection between music and dance? / Do you listen to new songs or older ones? / Tell us about a favourite song, and why you like it. / Are there any songs which bring back memories for you? / How many CDs and tapes do you have? / Have you been to a music concert? / How often do you listen to music? / Is there any kind of music you hate? / Do you like singing? / What’s you favourite karaoke song to sing? / What do you listen to when you’re unhappy? / Do you prefer songs in Chinese?

The Perfect Partner

Does age matter? / Some people say “opposites attract”—is that true? / What sort of appearance would your perfect partner have? / If you married your perfect partner, would you ever quarrel? / What does “romance” mean to you? / What kind of job would your perfect partner have? / What kind of personality would your perfect partner have? / Must your perfect partner be a good kisser? / If you were dating your perfect partner, would you see them every day? / Should a man be masculine (strong, confident, brave, etc) and a woman feminine (gentle, shy, etc)? / Does height matter? / Should you marry someone with similar social status? / What would you do if your parents didn’t like your boyfriend/girlfriend? / Is it important to have similar interests? / Would your perfect partner have “traditional” values (and what does that mean)? / Where and how would you like to meet your perfect partner? / How will you know that he/she is the right one to marry?

Men and Women

Ideally, the guests of this talkshow would have different viewpoints. It’s also best that the guests are not all the same sex!

Is life easier for men and women? / Is there more pressure on men or women? / What is the ideal job for a man? A woman? / Is studying at school easier for boys or girls? / Is dating easier for men or women? / Is marriage easier for men or women? / Who does more work, men or women? / Who has more fun? / Who is usually happier? / Is there any different in the lives of young boys and girls? / According to society, what is the ideal husband? Wife? / Do men and women have different interests? / Do men and women have different ways of thinking? / Is there anything that men are not allowed (or not able) to do, but women are (and vice versa)? / Are these answers only true for China, or for all countries?


What’s the best thing about this college? The worst thing? / What’s your opinion of the dormitories? / What social activities woul you like the college to organise? / What clubs would you like the college to have? / What is your opinion of the college rules? / What’s the best thing about the English course? The worst thing? / Do you have enough holidays and free time? / Would you prefer a college in the middle of town, or outside town? / What is your opinion of the library? / Is it useful to have TVs in every classroom? / Does the college listen to students’ suggestions? / Should education be free? / How is college different to highschool? / Does college prepare you for “the real world?” / Do you think the teaching methods are effective? / Do you think the teaching facilities are good? / What was your first impression when you came to this college? / What is your opinion of students having a part-time job during college? / What is your ideal college like? / Does a good school produce good students?

Dating on Campus

What are the good things about dating on campus? / What are the bad things about dating on campus? / How can you make a boyfriend/girlfriend on campus? / What are the advantages and disadvantages of dating somebody in the same class as you? / Is it okay to kiss in public? / If your boyfriend/girlfriend went to the same collge as you, would you see them every day? / Should a girlfriend and boyfriend study together, or separately? / What will happen if your boyfriend/girlfriend graduates earlier than you? / Is it a problem if your home towns are far apart? / Should you tell your parents you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? / If you had a boyfriend or girlfriend at college, would your rather stay here with them during the Labour Day holiday, or go home? / Is dating too expensive for college students? / How can dating affect your study? / Is it better to date somebody in the same grade as you? / Which department has the most attractive boys? Girls? / What do parents of college students think about dating? / Do you think all college students should date? / Is it alright to spend your boyfriend/girlfriend’s money?

Modern Problems

Ideally, the guests of this talkshow would be well-informed and have reasonably strong opinions on the problems facing China. In the questionaire, I asked “What’s the biggest problem facing China today?” The questions below just involve a few of the more common topics.

Corruption: Is accepting small “gifts” okay? / Where is corruption worst?

Population: How did China’s population problem start? / Should people in rural areas be allowed to have more than one child? How about ethnic minorities?

Environment: What do you think about the Three Gorges (Sanxia) Dam? / Should laws be introduced to protect the environment? / Would environmental protection laws affect foreign investment in China? / What’s the biggest environmental problem? / Is the general public aware of the problems?


The guests of this talkshow should all belong to a religion, and so in many classes this topic will not be feasible (since most Chinese have no religious beliefs). I was working in a nationalities university, hence I was able to use this topic.

Questions for group discussion: Do many people in China belong to a religion? / What do you believe in—a religion? Fengshui? Yuanfen? / How does religion help people? / Do you know much about other religions, eg. Islam, Christianity? / What happens after a person dies? / Should people be free to believe in whatever religion they like? / Have you ever burnt incense? / In China, is religion increasing or decreasing? / What do you think about foreign religions? / Has anyone ever tried to convince you to join a religion? / What religion do you think is the most interesting? / What religion do you think is the strangest? / Have you ever been to a Christian church? An Islamic mosque?

Questions that can only be asked to believers (eg. the talkshow guests): Are there any daily (or weekly, or monthly) rituals in your religions? / How does a person join your religion? / Are there any holy books? Do you often read them? / What are the rules of your religion? / Do you have to marry someone from your religion? / What do you like about your religion? / What do you dislike about your religion? / What happens to people who do the wrong thing? / What are the most important festivals?

The Ideal Job

What job would you like to do, and why? / What kind of organisation would you like to work for (eg. state company, private company, foreign company, government department, small company, large company)? / Would you like to be a teacher? Why or why not? / Are you looking forward to working? / Do you think you would be a good manager? / Would you prefer to work quietly by yourself, or with other people? / Would you like a job dealing with clients/customers? / What do you think of government jobs? / Have you considered volunteering to work in poor areas of China? / If you boss asked you to work overtime, how would you feel? / Do you think it’s a bad idea to date someone you work with? / Would you like to work inside or outside? / Could you handle a high-pressure job? / Would you like to find a job in your home town, or elsewhere? / How do you expect to use English in your work? / Is work enjoyable, or only a way to make money?
Rating: 5 stars

Basically, this activity lived up to my hopes (as stated in the Introduction section). Students were generally enthusiastic, and most of the students in the audience not only paid attention to what the guests were saying but also volunteered questions. I think the opportunity to give individual feedback to each student on his or her oral English is valuable, and the group discussion preceding each talkshow also proved successful.

Hi I found it and think it is fantastic,and interesting.
marrlene alvarez []
02.07.2005 , 03:05

Infact I'm very imprest with the writer of this lesson.This shows that he is really a born oral English teacher.I found that this method of implementing the lesson will be very interesting to my student because it will make them very active in class and also interesting to them.This method will arose the interest of the students to learn English more and more.Thanks to the writer and may God give he/she more wisdom to develope more styles or method for helping bilingualism so that others will copy from he/she.
Tessy []
13.01.2006 , 22:38

I found this methodology fantastic. I introduced similar teaching techniques and most students seem to like it.More greese to your elbow!
Francis ATSUDY []
26.02.2006 , 15:21

I found this methodology quite interesting. I will try it tomorrow.Keep it up!
Emmanuel []
25.04.2006 , 17:48