It is quite difficult to practise all three parts of the IELTS speaking test in one game, given how different Part Two presentations are from the question and answer formats of Part One and Part Three, but all the games below make that possible. This could be useful as a way of revising suitable language or tactics before or after doing a whole practice speaking test. Doing the same game for two different parts of the exam is also a good way of moving from, say, Speaking Part One to Speaking Part Two in the same class. As all the games below can be used for just one or two parts of the exam as well as the whole thing, this article should hopefully also work as a useful resource for anyone looking to quickly find a suitable game that is guaranteed to liven up their IELTS classes. Most of the worksheet-based ideas described here are available online for free.
IELTS Speaking Dice Game
This is one of my favourite games for IELTS Speaking Part One and can easily be converted into a mix of all three parts of the test. In this variation a first throw of the dice decides if students should answer a question about themselves and people they know like Part One, answer a question about the world more generally like Part Three, or talk for one or two minutes on the topic like Part Two, probably with two numbers on the dice representing each of those things (1 or 2 = Part One-style question etc). A second throw of the dice then decides which of six typical IELTS topics they will have to talk about, e.g. 1 for technology, 2 for the environment, 3 for education, 4 for free time, 5 for exercise, and 6 for health. Their partners make the questions and they simply answer the question or talk about the Part Two-style topic (maybe with their partner setting four subtopics as in the exam).
Note that in this and some other games in this article, students who are new to the exam will need quite a lot of help with making the questions such as a list of useful question stems.
IELTS Speaking Board Games
It is also possible to make a board game with the kinds of topics and tasks mentioned above for the dice game. This can be done by simply writing the topics and/ or task types in each square of the board, making for squares like “sport – opinion” and “travel – one or two minutes”.
Students could just move around the board by throwing a dice, but I prefer for students to be made to push themselves more by making their progress depend on their actual speaking performance. The easiest rule to explain is students being able to move by how long each of their answers is, e.g. moving one square per thirty seconds of speaking, up to six squares maximum for three minutes of speaking about one question or Part Two-style task.
A more useful way of deciding how to move around the board by their actual speaking is for students to monitor each other for certain criteria that their speaking matches, moving one square for each point that they are given by their partner(s) for matching those criteria. All or most of the criteria that they are monitoring for need to be suitable for all three parts of the exam and hence for all or most of the squares on the board. The criteria could be things like “avoiding silence”, “staying on topic or explaining why you are going off topic”, “checking what the question means”, “explaining what something is or means”, “filling silence/ thinking aloud”, “using hedging/ softening language”, “giving reasons” and “using higher level language”. Most of the criteria are actually kinds of functional language, so students could also brainstorm useful phrases before or after playing the board game.
IELTS Speaking Card Games
As well as from a dice or board, students can choose topics and question types from a pack or packs of cards. If you want to score, their partners can tick once on a score sheet for each time that they do one of the things mentioned above in the criteria board game. If you have managed to make enough cards, another option is for them to be given one card for each point that they score, being allowed to choose from all the tasks in their hand the next time that their turn comes round.
You can also turn making questions into more of a competition with the use of cards. Make two packs of cards, one with topics and the other with question types, preferably with the two packs having different shapes, sizes and/ or colours from each other. The question types cards can be question stems, descriptions of a kind of question (e.g. “personal”, “society”, “trends” and “opinion”) and/ or just the names of the three different parts of the test (“Part One question” etc). Students try to put topics and kinds of questions together to make tasks for the other students in the group. This continues until all the cards are gone. The cards can be dealt out, spread face up across the table, or spread face down across the table (making it a kind of pelmanism game). To make the game more challenging, I’d tell students that the questions must be about the topic given but not actually include that word in the question, e.g. asking “Speak for one or two minutes about how you spend your evenings” instead of “…your free time” if the card says “free time”.
A simpler way of making students compete to make suitable questions is for someone to pick one card and for everyone in their group to take turns making Part One and Part Three style questions and Part Two style presentation tasks with that word and/ or on that topic, with someone else in the group answering the question or doing the presentation each time. Students make more and more questions/ tasks based on that one card until the next person or everyone gives up. They then do the same thing with other cards. Cards can be picked from the cards in their hand, from a pack on the table, or from the cards spread face up around the table.
For more intensive practice of suitable functional language phrases for the exam like “Can I check what… means?”, “Sorry, I meant to say….” and “I don’t know how to say this in English, but…”, students can be dealt out cards representing those kinds of functional phrases. Students discard the cards as they use them when answering questions or doing Part Two tasks, and the student with the fewest cards at the end of the game wins. The cards can have whole suggested phrases, partial phrases, key words from phrases such as “check” and “meant”, or just descriptions of the function of what they should do such as “Correct yourself” or “Use vague language”. With the last two variations, sentences other than what they have studied are okay, but they can’t repeat things that other people have said during the game. The topics that they must talk about while using that language can be taken from another pack of cards, be chosen by a coin or dice, or simply be made up by their partner(s).
You can also use cards to practice a whole test in a slightly more fun way than normal exam practice. The next student to speak picks four cards and those will be their topics in the test (three cards for the up to three topics in Part One, then one topic for Parts Two and Three together, as those parts are always the same topic as each other). That student can choose which topics they want in each part of the exam, and their partners then make up questions and a Part Two task to match that. You can let the student(s) with the examiner role prepare the questions in advance, or just improvise them during the practice test.
IELTS Speaking Simplest Responses Games
The “simplest response” in the Simplest Responses Game is students simply raising one of the two cards that they have been given depending on what they hear. My favourite version of this for IELTS is something I call The Candidate or Examiner Game. The teacher reads out typical things that are said in the exam like “Can I check your name?” and “Can I check what this word means?” and the students raise “Candidate” and “Examiner” cards on who they think might say those things during the test. They can then label the phrases with “C” and “E” on a worksheet. After checking their answers and answering any questions they have about the phrases, I then tend to get them to put those phrases into categories such as “Checking if you can talk about something” and “Filling silence/ Thinking aloud”, first from memory and then by looking again at the worksheet.
Another good way of using The Simplest Responses Game is with cards saying “The same” or “Different”. This is good for questions that might be asked in different ways, questions which they might think mean the same thing but are actually different from each other, British vocabulary which they might hear and only know the American version of, higher level language that they could use in their answers (along with the easier version meaning the same thing which they probably already use), and false friends that they might use in their answers (such as “mansion”/ “condominium” for Japanese speakers).
By giving students “OK” and “Not OK” cards to hold up, you can also use The Simplest Responses Game to introduce common mistakes in IELTS Speaking and things which students might think that they can’t do but are actually fine like saying critical or sarcastic things in their answers. If it’s a bad idea like saying “What?” they hold up the “Not OK” card, and if it is actually alright like saying “Actually, I hate my hometown”, they lift the “OK” card. See IELTS Speaking Error Correction Race below for some ideas of which problems you can introduce. Other things which are okay despite many students not thinking so are including use of idiomatic forms like phrasal verbs (actually a good thing because it shows their level of English), using different tenses to the questions in your answers (natural when the question doesn’t quite match your situation such as having no plans but being able to make a prediction), and using American English in response to questions with British English in them (“Do you live in a house or a flat?” “A really small apartment” etc).
For tips rather than language, you could also do the same thing with “True” and “False” cards and statements like “The examiner will interrupt and correct you if you have misunderstood the question” (false), “You should fill all silence” (true), “It’s okay to fill all silence with the phrase ‘Let me think’” (false), “You should speak as long as possible” (false), “It’s okay to answer some questions with a short answer if that seems natural and what you would do in a real conversation” (true), “Always say something like ‘but’ after commenting on the difficulty of answering a question” (true) and “Giving reasons is a good way of naturally extending your answers” (true). After doing the same thing on a worksheet, students can brainstorm useful phrases to do the things that they should do like giving reasons.
IELTS Speaking Error Correction Race
Students race to be first to spot what is wrong with IELTS Speaking answers that their teacher reads out or they have been given on a worksheet. With the written versions, students have to cover the worksheet with a piece of blank paper and reveal just one question and answer pair when you tell them to do so each time. Any group which thinks that they have found something wrong with the answer should put up their hands and explain what they think the error is. They get one point if they are right and another point if they can suggest a better version. If they are wrong, the game continues with that student or team not able to take part until the next round.
The listening version is basically the same but with the teacher reading out the questions and answers and the students interrupting whenever they think they have found some problem with the answer. If they are wrong, they sit out the rest of that one while the teacher continues and other teams guess the mistakes.
Problems with an answer could be:
- Not really answering the question, perhaps because the person speaking misunderstood it
- So short that it isn’t really answering the question
- So long that it isn’t really answering the question (anymore)
- “English” expressions made in their country (Janglish, Konglish, Chinglish, Franglais, Spanglish, etc)
- False friends
- Using words from L1 which need explaining but aren’t
- Trying too hard to avoid words from L1 (e.g. words for traditional clothes) where using the word and then explaining it would make more sense
- Grammar mistakes
- Going too far with informality (swearing, blaspheming, using street slang, or being rude about the questions – just about everything else is okay)
- Language too much like written language
- Part Three answers which are too much like an essay/ too much like Part Two answers
- No “but” after “I don’t remember very well”, “I’m not really sure”, “I don’t have any personal experience of this”, etc
- No reasons where they are obviously needed, e.g. after “I don’t agree”
- Overgeneralising (“(All) Japanese people…” etc)
- Making (possibly false) assumptions about the examiner (“As you know…” etc)
IELTS Speaking Roleplays
This is another nice way of introducing things that students shouldn’t do in the exam and things which they can do but might have doubts about. Make a pack of cards with instructions for how they should answer questions or do Part Two tasks during this game like:
- ask questions back to the examiner (“Do you know…?”, “And you?” etc)
- avoid eye contact
- be critical/ sarcastic/ negative in your answers
- be very positive/ enthusiastic about the things you talk about
- change your mind halfway through your answers
- check if you can or should talk about something before answering the questions
- check if you have answered the questions
- check the meaning of (many/ most) questions before you answer them
- check what the questions were halfway through your answers
- correct yourself when you make language mistakes
- correct yourself when you say something that isn’t (exactly) true
- don’t check the meaning of any of the questions – if you don’t understand the questions, just answer what you imagine the questions might be
- express lots of doubt (giving weak opinions, not remembering exactly, etc)
- fill all silence
- give imaginary answers (= lie or use your imagination in your answers)
- give very strong opinions
- go off topic and don’t go back to the topic
- go off topic for a little while and then come back to the topic
- just ask the examiner to repeat each time you don’t understand the questions (with phrases like “Pardon?”)
- make all your answers as long as possible
- use lots of gestures
- make lots of eye contact
- say that you don't (exactly) remember in many different ways
- say you don’t understand the questions, using the same couple of phrases each time
- say “Let me think” and “Let me see” many times
- smile a lot
- speak as quickly as possible
- think aloud (= say everything that comes into your head to fill silence)
- use lots of informal spoken language (phrasal verbs etc)
- use phrases with “That is a… question” many times
- use words from your own language and then explain what they mean
They should be a mix of good things to do in the exam, bad things to do in the exam, and things which don’t really matter one way or the other. Some roleplays that you think of might not work with all parts of the exam, in which case the person answering should request particular kinds of questions.
One student does that thing as much as possible while answering questions or doing Part Two tasks, with their partner interrupting and guessing what they are doing. If their partner can’t get it, they should do that thing in a more and more extreme way and/ or give hints.
After doing the roleplays, students look at the list and discuss whether those things are good or bad, or whether they don’t really matter one way or another. They can also brainstorm useful phrases for doing the things that they should such as different ways of saying that you don’t understand questions.
IELTS Speaking List Dictation Game
This is a great game for introducing lots of vocabulary that could be useful for talking about typical IELTS Speaking topics like technology, accommodation and festivals. Make lists of words that are connected in some way, e.g. being associated with one of those topics, being all positive, or being all negative. Read out one of the lists, starting with the trickiest terms, until someone in the class guesses what the category is. They can then label the same lists of words on worksheets in the same way and move onto testing each other in pairs. Particularly for typical Speaking Part One topics, it is also important that you have a stage where they choose vocabulary that they want to learn and try to use in the exam, after which they can answer questions and do Speaking Part Two on those same topics.
IELTS Speaking Brainstorming Competition
This is like the opposite of the game above. Students are given categories of language that often come up in IELTS Speaking such as “giving reasons”, “giving weak opinions” and “describing celebrations”. Each group should brainstorm as much language as they can into those categories then read out some that they think no other group has thought of. If the other groups accept that it fits in the category that they say and no one else wrote it down, they get one point. The teacher can then comment on the language if they like.
Guess What IELTS Speaking Question is Being Answered
This is a nice activity for getting students to listen carefully to each other while they are speaking. Give out Student A and Student B worksheets with different questions and/ or Speaking Part Two tasks on them. Students take turns choosing one thing from their sheet and speaking until their partner guesses the question or task. They can then discuss how well they stayed on topic and rephrased words in the question/ task. You can also underline words in the question/ task that they mustn’t use when they are speaking to give more intensive practice of rephrasing and to make guessing more challenging.
IELTS Speaking Prepositions and Determiners Pairwork Game
Most phrases that students could produce in the exam have at least one preposition and/ or determiner (“on”, “at”, “a”, “the”, “some”, etc). You can exploit this as a way of sorting out problems with those tricky language points and to introduce or practise useful phrases for the exam more generally. Collect useful phrases which have at least one of those kinds of words and group them together, e.g. “I don’t have a strong view on that” and “On my birthday we usually…” in the On section. It’s also possible to have sections for “no preposition” and “no determiner” if you want to make it trickier for students and/ or tackle those points.
Split the phrases between Student A and Student B worksheets. One student reads out phrases from one section on their worksheet with that word missing each time (e.g. “I don’t have a strong view la la la that” or “BEEP my birthday we usually…”) until their partner guesses which one word is missing from all of those phrases. They can only guess once per phrase, so their partner should continue giving examples until their partner guesses correctly. If their partner still can’t guess after all the example sentences on their worksheet, they can make up other suitable phrases and/ or give hints.