Building fluency with Upper Primary and Secondary EAL learners

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If there is one thing that EAL learners struggle with, it is fluency. They find many of the different aspects of it difficult:

  • speaking English doesn’t come easy to them,
  • their speech rate might be too slow,
  • they tend to stop and pause a lot, and
  • they are hyper-aware of their own inaccuracies.

Therefore, providing a safe space for them to practise is essential. Here is a low-prep but high-impact activity that I have found to work really well with my young learners.

Table topics

I first heard about this activity when I was a member of Toastmasters Budapest. As part of every meeting, we had a round of Table Topics to practice giving impromptu speeches. The Table Topics Master would bring a list of engaging topics to the session and we would take turns talking about one for 1-2 minutes.

I then started using the same idea with my adult learners who were somewhat fluent. They all loved it! Over the years I’ve adjusted the recipe to work with lower levels and younger learners as well.


Create a set of level-appropriate Table Topics. I like to write them on physical cards or on the Jamboard during online lessons. See the ones I used with my Year 7 students:

This is the only part of this activity that requires preparation. Once your learners are used to the task, you can even get them to write the topics. They will be even more motivated to talk about them if they are the ones coming up with them. Keep the sets and you can always recycle them next year or with a different group.

Running order

I’ve used this successfully with learners as young as 10. The key to the success is making this part of the rountine.

  1. Decide on the best part of the lesson to do this and stick to it! I like doing this as a starter activity.
  2. Give learners an appropriate time frame. (I usually start with 20-30 seconds and build up from there.)
  3. Ask a learner to take a card from the set but do not let anybody else see it.
  4. The learner talks about the topic for as long as they can. If they manage to speak for the intended amount of time, show them a thumbs up but do not stop them.
  5. After the speech, the rest of the learners guess the topic or question.
  6. The next student takes a topic and the procedure is repeated.

I usually stick to the same topics for a few lessons before changing them. This way the learners get familiar with the topics and they will have to think less about what they are saying, so they will have more awareness of the language they use. I also gradually increase the amount of time I’d like them to speak for. Ultimately, their fluency will increase.

It’s so satisfying to see them get better. They are also super proud of themselves when they are able to speak for the set number of seconds or minutes.

One caveat here, though: do not correct mistakes! The focus needs to be on fluency and not on accuracy. Of course, it’s a great opportunity to take note of any recurring errors or mistakes that several learners make. You can use these for planning your future lessons.


This is arguably the most important part of this activity.

  1. After a few lessons or few practice runs, I ask learners to compare their first time with the set and their latest one.
  2. They usually say that they used to struggle finding the words and now they talk faster/go on for longer/give more details, etc.
  3. At this point I try to elicit why that might be. They tend to struggle with this and when that happens, I give them some support like so:
    • The first time you talked, what was the most difficult?
    • The last time you talked, what was easier?
    • What do you think changed?
  4. We wrap up with some good old-fashioned open class feedback.

If you are interested in some great activity ideas to build fluency, check out the Fluency First blog.

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