The main purpose of learning any foreign language is to be able to communicate, to perceive and to pass on the information. If you teach English as a foreign language to students who share one mother tongue, you will probably experience such situations when you give your students a group task, they start working on it using English, but quite often, they slip to their mother tongue. It is natural, because they can express themselves better and quicker using their mother tongue. To make students really want and need to use English we should provide real life communication opportunities and bring the wider world into our English classroom. Here are 10 ways to do it, which I tried and tested during my lessons.


1) Skype

The best way to make your students speak English and practise their listening skills is to have a Skype lesson between your class and another class somewhere in the world. It can be either a class of native speakers or students who are also learning English as a foreign language. My students really enjoy Mystery Skype. It is a kind of a Skype lesson when partner classes don’t know where their Skype vis-à-vis are from. They have to ask yes/no questions in turns to find out the country and then the city. Moreover, the students can use maps. During this activity students practise speaking listening and grammar. In addition to this, they use their knowledge of geography, history, cultural studies, etc. After guessing the country, the conversation usually continues quite naturally on the topics of hobbies, pets, music, school, free time, whatever kids like chatting about. If you want to find a partner class for a Skype session, try this website.

These are my 10th formers having a Mystery Skype with a class from Turkey.

Mystery Skype Mystery Skype

2) World Read Aloud Day

If you want to motivate your students to read in English, I advise joining World Read Aloud Day activities. Every year World Read Aloud Day calls global attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories. In 2018 it will be celebrated on February 8. It is celebrated by millions of people in more than 100 countries. Usually, students of your class choose a story in English that they would like to share with students from a different country. It can be a poem, a short story or a fairy tale. First you read and discuss it in class, then on the World Read Aloud Day, you either make a Skype call to a partner school, or record a video of your students reading aloud and share it with a partner school. The students also prepare questions on their story. Moreover, a lot of authors support this initiative and you can arrange for your students to have a virtual meeting with the writer. You can sign up for the World Read Aloud Day here
You can watch the video of my 5th formers reading their favourite story “Messy Martin” by Neil Griffiths to a class from the USA here

3) Writing postcards

During the lessons we teach our students to write postcards. Usually, the readers are the teacher and sometimes their classmates. We can make this type of written communication more natural by organizing real postcard exchange. You can find pen pals on the Cambridge English Penfriends website. Another great initiative is TIMOTCA, a project where children not only write postcards to their pen friends, but also draw the front of the postcards themselves.

A postcard designed by one of our students.

 Hanna Dudich postcard

4) Writing essays

Students are often asked to write opinion essays. To make this task more exciting, you can encourage your students to take part in the International Essay Contest for Young People organized by the Goi Peace Foundation. This program is an activity of the UNESCO Global Action Programme (GAP) on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Every year students from all over the world are asked to write an essay on a topic connected to some global issues. This annual essay contest is organized in an effort to harness the energy, creativity and initiative of the world's youth in promoting a culture of peace and sustainable development. It also aims to inspire society to learn from the young minds and to think about how each of us can make a difference in the world. The winners are invited to the award ceremony in Tokyo, Japan.

5) Cooperative learning

The best way to learn something is when you learn together with a friend and explain things to each other. A great online platform called PenPal Schools matches students from different countries and provides opportunities for cooperative learning. It offers a lot of courses on different themes. Students practise listening, reading and writing in English while learning new things about the world together with a group of fellow students from different countries. They discuss the tasks and answer the course questions in a special chat box. A teacher can choose the level of language difficulty. If you want to enrol your students in this project, find out more here

6) Cross-curriculum activities

Sometimes your students are keen on Science or Maths or Art or any other subject so try to find connections between different subjects and English and look at the object of study from different angles. For example, for the students studying Biology you can offer a virtual field trip to one of America’s great nature parks. The excursion will be in English, of course, so students will have to listen and speak in English. You can find more ideas on virtual field trips here

7) International projects

A great way to encourage your students to communicate in English is to take part in an international collaborative educational project. There are a lot of safe websites where you can learn about such projects and find partner schools. I have tried Know My World and Map Your World with my classes.
While taking part in such projects, students use English for solving real-life problems and learn about Global Goals.

8) Personalized tasks

When we ask students to produce something in English, it should be meaningful to them. For speaking and writing tasks choose the topics that students like to discuss naturally and then think about conditions in which they will have to express their thoughts in English. For example: “Write and illustrate a culture guide for foreign tourists about your country”. My students wrote such a book, and it won the international competition and was published by Macmillan. You can see their book here

9) Educational exchanges

Organize exchanges between your school and a school from another country. Even if it is not an English-speaking country, the students will have to use English as the international language of communication. Take a look at my blog post about the Polish-Ukrainian exchange conducted in English. 

10) Guest speakers

Invite an outside speaker to the lesson. These are students at my school meet Richard Manning, a sheriff from the USA.