Plan an English Speech Contest

When learning to speak a second language, you can read and write all day long, but at the end of the day if you haven’t practiced out loud it won’t do you any good. As an ESL teacher this is great to remember but hard to enforce. Though my Chinese college students had studied English since grade school, very few of them were confident enough to answer a question aloud, let alone carry on a conversation.

This put me in quite the predicament since the course I taught was titled “Oral English.”

In order to encourage speaking and yet accommodate varying levels of speakers, I decided to host a three-part English Speech Contest. Designed for a 90-minute class of 25-40 students, my lesson plan looked something like this:

Prepared Speech

Start with a question. I chose “What is the greatest thing about China?” Give the students 10 minutes to prepare a 1-2 minute speech. Though not all will present, it’s a good exercise and if they think they may be chosen they’re more likely to thoughtfully prepare.

After the 10 minutes, divide the students into groups of three, assigning each person to either be a contestant, judge or audience member. In my class when I made this announcement, those who weren’t contestants all cheered. Unbeknownst to the students, I chose those who I knew were more shy or struggled speaking to be contestants in the prepared speech portion. This way they had time to prepare and even take notes, though they could only reference their notes if they truly needed them.

Judges were given score sheets to fill out based on content and delivery. There were a total of 50 points available:

Message and reasoning (out of 15)
Word choice (out of 5)
Examples (out of 5)
Intonation and pronunciation (out of 11)
Speed (out of 7)
Clarity (out of 7)

The scoring wasn’t used to rate each contestant’s speech, but to help judges practice listening comprehension. Judges weren’t allowed to share their scores and notes from the speeches with anyone but me.

ESL speech contest

Impromptu Speech

The judges and audience members who had believed they were off the hook were definitely caught by surprise when I then assigned some of them to be contestants for the next portion of our English Speech Contest, the impromptu speeches.

I used lesson topics from our text book as prompts for their speeches. The looks on some of their faces when they read their topic was priceless, especially for those who were (un)lucky enough to draw euthanasia.

Does television play a positive or negative role in society?
Is it a good idea to control population growth in the world?
Is money the most important thing in life?
Is euthanasia humane?
Should smoking be prohibited?
Are cars doing more harm than good?
Should men and women be treated equally?
Does the younger generation know best?
Should we diet in order to keep fit?
Does divorce represent social progress?

I was most impressed by the impromptu speeches. The prepared speeches were good, but the students relied on what they wrote too much. With only seconds to prepare, contestants were forced to speak on the spot.

To do this portion of the contest, have the students rotate to a different role. Write prompts on slips of paper and keep them in a bowl on the podium. Allow each contestant 30 seconds to gather his or her thoughts after reading the prompt. Have the judges sit in the front and grade using the same point system as above.

ESL speech contest


The final portion of the speech contest was a Q&A panel. Questions varied from “What is your favorite sport?” and “Who is your favorite movie star?” to “What are your dreams?”

This is a great opportunity to get both the contestants and judges to speak.

To do this portion of the contest, have the students rotate to the only role they haven’t filled. In lieu of scoring, each judge will ask one contestant one question of their choice. Contestants have 30 seconds to prepare and 1-2 minutes to answer.

ESL speech contest

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