Seven Super Idea Generators For Speaking Practice in the Virtual Classroom

1) An image paints a thousand lessons….

Online teaching presents us with lots of exciting ways to practice fluency development with our students. Multi-media and the visual arts lend themselves perfectly to learning English online. We must make the most of what technology has to offer by brain-storming and experimenting with colleagues and students. Brain-storming with personal learning networks is a great way to generate new ideas. Here is an example of a powerful image which was discussed by international teaching colleagues in my facebook group Sylvia’s English Online quite some time ago.

I started off with this question:

“Teachers and students – how would you use this image to learn or teach – it seems to have amazing potential….!!!!!

We had a great discussion and there were so many ideas that I decided to put them on a mind map. To illustrate the idea, I will show the mindmap and some quotes from our international teachers on facebook.

Najit Jabilli said:

” I can ask pupils

1) to choose some adjectives and nouns to describe themselves
2) to agree on some adjectives and nouns
3) to think how they can improve themselves to be better”

Anissa Baa said:

I would start with a very short speaking activity about school life problems and stress, then move to talk about life problems in general! I would simply ask for the better attitude to Face and over come Life hardships. and Then THAT poster would be the The Lesson. let them make their LIFE MOTTOS out of it Ex : Be a dreamer and work hard to become an achiever! Forget about Pessimism, GO for Optimism…… They’ll end up the lesson by having a more positive attitude towards every day life, I think!!!! Thanks , Sylvia!!! Very interesting!!!!!”

This poster could also be a warmer for Jason R Levine’s ‘You have It IN You’ lesson . I may have a lesson as the one I described above and then I could teach, Fluency MC song the way I did with my students this year!!! Thanks, Sylvia!!!!

Hamid Elmabrouky said:

“Excellent ideal Sylvia. It would be of great benefit if we exchanged ideas and activities all the time….I think I can use it in a game similar to the hot seat game. A student comes in front of class and sits with his back to the board. Students star asking him Yes/No questions to discover his “life motto”. Questions may include: do you want to develop your life? Do you have concrete future objectives? Do you like poetry? Is your life motto ‘dreamer’?….”

These games can be played in the virtual classroom using online teaching tools and break out rooms also. I love adapting traditional games for the online environment.

What would you say? What ideas do you , the reader, get from this image?

If we were to take a sub-branch ( or child branch) from each main topic and brain-storm more ideas from there, the possibilities would, of course, be endless. That is why mind-mapping itself is so important for creativity and self-expression, and why I’d like to dedicate a topic to collaborative mind mapping online some other time.

2) Blank Canvas and Mind-mapping

Sometimes the best thing to do is just have a blank canvas or clean slate. The WizIQ classroom whiteboard is the perfect tool for this. What would you do in a virtual classroom with just a whiteboard, annotation tools, a chat box, and eager online students waiting for something to happen?

Rudimentary collaborative mind-mapping could occur in brain-storming fashion by utilizing pencil tools or line and circle graphics. Students can be allowed to write on the whiteboard. You could have a store of images ready in your content library to add to the mindmap. Take, for example, the topic of dreaming. You could draw out a rudimentary map on the whiteboard or you could have one already prepared as a skeleton and uploaded as a blank map. Alternatively you could screenshare and work interactively with students usiing a mindmapping tool such as mindmaple or imind…………..

The central idea on the map would be dreams. The students would build the rest of the map by discussing dreams and answering leading questions. They could write suggestions in the chatbox or speak. Naturally, of course, this would lead to countless ways to start discussions . A lovely way to enhance this activity would be to play classical music in the background using the built-in mp3 player, or even play a song about dreams at the end of the lesson or as part of the discussion developed from the mindmap.


Comics are great visual aids. They can contain special messages you want your learners to get, specific grammatical structures, or vocabulary you want to practice. They may also be simple images for students derive meaning from. I have tried all of these things with groups on WizIQ.

The above illustration from Makebelief comix holds much potential for discussion. First of all, the questions are hypothetical so students can practice “If’ sentences. This would be great fun and students would never stop to robotically analyse the fact that they are practicing ‘contionals 1st, second and third, or modal verbs etc.’ Secondly, the ideas generated would produce a lot of language that the already students know so it would be excellent fluency practice. For the purposes of doing this online, I would definitely split the class into break out rooms so that they could create their inventions in pairs or groups and then compare their inventions back in the main classroom later on.

To exploit this further, you could refer to the previous mindmap for different ways of looking at images for fluency development. One of my favourites ways, of course, is through digital story-telling, something else I have done a lot with groups on WizIQ .

4) Comics for story-telling

When you leave blank speech bubbles on a whole comic strip students can create their own dialogues which may be based on grammar, vocabulary, collocations or phrasal verbs. They may also just be free activities for self-expression where they say and write anything they want. The comic is the instigator of expression, imagination and speaking.


(Example Cambridge ESOL First Certificate Exam)

You can use comics to illustrate useful phrases in context with a bit of light humour or with topics students enjoy. Students can read comics based on interview format and then make their own comics to share on wikis, google docs or other learning spaces. This encourages them to visualise the interview situation, place themselves in the shoes of the examiner, rehearse the interview process mentally, and recreate the questions and answers to be expected. They could then go to break out rooms to practice the speaking exam format in pairs while the teacher monitors, makes notes, and writes down mistakes for feedback and future lessons.

6) Music for speaking

Music is brilliant for opening up topics for discussion, arousing emotions in the learners, introducing vocabulary and getting students to speak. My musical posters combine great imagery, vocabulary and discussion activities. The posters can be captured on screen and uploaded to the virtual classroom or you can screenshare. The songs can be played in the You Tube player.

7) Musical grammar for speaking

You can flip the class a bit by showing students this great tool called Lyreach that I got from Nik Peachey on facebook. You can post the link to this music site onto the course management system you are using. It would be a good idea to post Nik Peachey’s link showing how to use the site as well, or a screenr demo of yourself using this tool. Students write in grammar structures they want to practice and then a list of songs appear which illustrate the grammar point. Students can message you the songs they found and they can vote on which song they want to use for speaking the next day.

Needless to say, of course, the RAP music of Fluency MC has grammatical structures embedded, as well as important collocations. His songs are all on You Tube, which is perfect for the virtual classroom music player and I can think of hundreds of ways to use his songs for speaking lessons, can you?

I hope that you find these online teaching solutions useful, and that you add some elements of creativity such as this when you are designing your online courses. Please add your own ideas to the blog comment box below.


is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.


  1. milagros Says: May 7, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    I really want to be such a good creative as you…

    Everything I have just read got me motivated and excited to start something different. I am from Peru and here the online education for foreign languages is not so common. I think you can help me to have something different for Peruvians.

    Thank you and all your friends.

    • You are so welcome, Milagros. Thank you for the feedback:)

      If you follow some of these ideas, your own ideas will come too…it’s a process and a habit.

      Reading blogs and following ELT leaders in the field is also a great way to get more creative!!

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