60 seconds non-stop talking
Lower teenagers to adults
- As a warm-up
- To encourage imagination and practise spontaneous speaking
- To generate vocabulary (practise grammar)
- To give the teacher time to decide what to do for the rest of the lesson.
(This is not intended as a joke: teaching is a tough life!)
Students work with a partner (this can be their neighbour or random partnering criteria can be used to mix the class up). With an odd number of students, there can be a final group of three.
In English, partners quickly establish who is A and who B according to the teacher’s criterion. The more unexpected this is the better: e.g. “Partner A is the one who last ate fish / who travelled longer to school this morning / finished yesterday’s homework in the shorter time / is wearing the greater number of clothes /etc. Quickly, find out who is partner A.”
The A’s are then told they have to talk to their partner for 60 seconds on the topic they are about to hear. They can come out with as much rubbish as they like, but they must not stop talking. The B’s do not speak, just listen.
Typical topics are:
- The first time I cut my own hair
- Riding my bicycle under water
- Why there is a hole in the floor under my bed
- Why I love cleaning windows
Starting instructions are: A’s, turn to your partners, ready, steady – GO!
After the 60 seconds, there are usually questions from the A’s about vocabulary they discovered they need to know. Handle these queries quickly, but students should note new words in a vocabulary book: using such activities regularly will generate a great deal of personalised vocabulary learning.
Then it is the turn for the B’s to have their 60 seconds of fun.
The basic activity described above can easily be pointed towards practising specific grammatical features.
When A has finished, B is given 20 seconds to ask as many questions as they can about what they have heard. The task is to use different question forms: e.g. Did … / Will … / Are … / What … / When…/ Have …/ etc.
Partner A does not give any answers, just counts the number of questions asked.
After the question phase, find out which of the B’s has asked the most. Then partner A has an additional 20 seconds to answer one of the questions asked, beginning with the words: It’s funny you ask this because …
When B has finished, A is given 30 seconds to list the things just heard which they simply cannot believe. Again, partner A just counts the points which were not believed.
Once more, find out which of the A’s was, at least numerically, the most incredulous. Then B is given an additional 20 seconds to justify one of the points, beginning with the words: I understand you find this hard to believe, but let me explain …
- As many adjectives / adverbs / if-sentences / etc. as you can
Encourage recently taught or revised features to be included. The listening partner should count to afterwards see who has used the most (encourage an element of competition).
- A specific tense
Choose relevant topics: e.g. The worst present I ever gave someone was … / Why I have never . / The next time I see a tiger I’ll …
After such grammar-specific topics students can be encouraged to volunteer some relevant sentences from their 60 seconds. This gives an opportunity to check and reinforce the grammar being used, and to address the typical mistakes which generally arise.
A teacher recently mailed me to say her class had been using the website as part of their mythology and folk lore projects. Of course, 60 seconds can easily be used in such a context.
- Partners A, you are the goddess Demeter. For 60 seconds, tell your partner about yourself.
- Partners B, you are a god or goddess. Don’t tell your partner who you are, but talk for 60 seconds about yourself and see if your partner can work it out.
- You are a god looking down on earth from Olympus. Tell your partner what you can see the humans doing.
- As a deity, what have been your greatest adventures/mistakes/triumphs?
A full lesson
The activity can be used as a short warm-up. However, I have often found that the enthusiasm generated can lead on to useful written work incorporating some of the vocabulary and grammar. Such free writing can be directed by using the Language Checklist.
The idea was suggested by BBC Radio 4’s Just a Minute.
This activity was initially written out for the Asociación de Profesionales de la Narración Oral en España resources section.
For more on my methodology, read Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling.
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For those who are teachers: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling