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7 Activities for Public Speaking That Will Boost ESL Students’ Confidence

Public speaking can be a scary thing.

Also known as glossophobia, the fear of public speaking is a major source of anxiety for roughly 75% of people worldwide.

However, public speaking is an essential skill everyone needs to have, including language learners.

The good news is that it gets easier with practice, which is why you should try out some of the below activities for public speaking that will help improve your or your students’ skills.


1. Watch TED Talks and observe body language

Playing videos from TED Talks is a fantastic way for you to see people giving professional-quality presentations in English. The TED Talks website is filled with hundreds of different speakers, with topics ranging from the fascinating world of technology to the meaning of life.

Here’s a list of excellent TED talks presentations for ESL students, along with guidelines on how to use them in the classroom.

Think about things you like and don’t like about the presentation as you watch the video. Once the presentation has ended, write down the positive and negative aspects you observed. This will get you thinking about what kind of techniques you can implement in your own speeches, as well as which mistakes to avoid.

To give yourself or your students a well-rounded learning experience, you could add FluentU to your toolbox. FluentU is a language learning program that allows you to watch a library of authentic English videos with interactive dual-language subtitles. This can be a great way to break down what each video contains.

2. Practice mimicking body language

Good public speaking skills aren’t just about using clever words and speaking clearly—body language is equally as important. Incidentally, there’s a TED Talk you can watch covering the power of body language.

Start by brainstorming different types of body language, like gestures, postures and facial expressions. You can select actions like smiling, frowning, crossing your arms and more. After introducing body language, try matching your examples to various emotions and messages.

The results of this can be surprising because some meanings of expressions and gestures vary depending on the culture. Gestures that may seem polite could be offensive in other countries. For example, the “thumbs up” sign may seem universal for good job, but in Australia, Greece and the Middle East, it could be construed as an offensive insult.

Once you’ve elicited examples of positive and negative body language, practice how to use good body language in your presentations.

3. Recite famous speeches

Making a speech is difficult enough, but writing a good one can feel like an impossible challenge to a beginner ESL learner.

Take some of the pressure off by reciting famous speeches. That way, you can focus on speaking skills without diving into writing or grammar.

Speeches can be taken from historical figures, social media and even movies. For beginners, you could work with a selection of famous short poems. For advanced students, try a longer speech, such as John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Speech.”

4. Give presentations in small groups

Standing alone in front of the class can be a nerve-wracking experience, even for the most gifted of learners.

If you aren’t ready for solo presentations, work in small groups so all of the attention isn’t focused on one individual learner. This can be done in just about any context, from proposing a business idea to describing how to cook your favorite food.

If you’re teaching this exercise, monitoring your students’ activity can be difficult with several groups working at the same time, so have your students assess each other.

Give every student a scoring sheet with criteria covering things like voice projection, timing, entertainment and ease of understanding. As your students listen, each group can score their partners based on this criteria. Then, you can use their scoring sheets to give feedback at the end of the class.

5. Prepare solo presentations using PowerPoint

When you feel ready to come up with your own material, try preparing your own presentations with the help of PowerPoint.

PowerPoint slides are a great visual aid, as well as a way to make the presentation easier for nervous students.

Make sure the topic is a suitable difficulty level, and ideally, something you’re interested in. Just make sure to give enough time to write a presentation script and create the PowerPoint slides to go along with it.

I recommend planning the project in advance so there’s time to work on the presentations. Students who don’t have PowerPoint on their computer can use Google Slides as an alternative. It’s free and just as effective.

6. Do improvised presentations on random topics

Once you or your students have built up some confidence in speaking, you can start trying some real challenges, like on-the-spot presentations.

Do this by writing out a list of different topics and putting them in a hat, bag or any other object you or the students have to stick your hand into. These topics could be anything from my dream job to the importance of a healthy diet.

Randomly select one topic, and without any preparation time, talk to the class or another audience for as long as they can about their chosen topic.

7. Do some drama activities

Public speaking doesn’t have to be about presentations. You can change things up a bit by trying some drama activities as well.

These could include role plays and reenactments of famous movie scenes. While acting, students still use skills like good body language, voice projection, intonation and even improvisation to make their dialogue sound natural and convincing.


While lectures and note-taking can be beneficial, nothing compares to the hands-on experience you can get from practicing public speaking.

That’s why you should implement some of the above activities for public speaking into your lessons or personal learning plans to improve confidence and overall speaking quality.

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