12 fun turn-taking practice activities

Alex Case
Stimulating practice of interrupting, getting others to speak, etc, including turn-taking games

Being able to smoothly interrupt and let others speak is one of the most difficult and important communication skills, one full of difficulties even for native speakers and cultural differences. It is therefore worth lots of classroom practice, with activities like those below.

Who has the turn simplest responses

Students listen to the teacher or another student reading out phrases used by the person who has the turn (“Sorry, can I just finish…?”, “Before you interrupt,…”, “Don’t you agree?”) and the other person (“Before you go on,…”, “Can I just come in here and say…?”) and race to show who they think is speaking. This can be done by raising cards saying “Speaker” and “Listener”, by raising their left and right hand, by cupping their mouth or ear, etc.

Equal speaking turn-taking challenge

Students try to make sure that they speak exactly fifty percent each as they take part in small talk, in a roleplay meeting, etc, using phrases to interrupt when they think they are under 50% and phrases to make the other person speak when they think they are over half. This can be done with students judging their own performance and trying again, but is better with other people monitoring. Who are the speakers and who is the monitor can then be switched.

Equal speaking individual challenge

In this variation on the game above, one student is in charge of making sure that their partners speak equally, with the other speaker or speakers not helping them out or even trying to make life difficult for them. This works both with the person in charge taking part in the discussion (useful practice for pairwork speaking in exams like Cambridge First) and with them just controlling the other two students while they speak (good practice for facilitating in meetings).  

Turn-taking roleplays

The situations above can also be given as part of a longer list of roleplay cards saying things like:

  • Try to speak as little as possible
  • Try to speak as much as possible
  • Try to quickly switch turn as much as possible
  • Use a different phrase each time you switch turns

These can be done with students trying to cope with the situations, and/ or with them trying to guess what the other person’s card says.

Turn-taking functions card game

Make a pack of cards with several cards of each turn-taking function you want to practise, e.g. cards which have these words on them:

  • Getting the other person to speak
  • Interrupting
  • Accepting interruption
  • Keeping the turn/ Rejecting interruption
  • Getting the turn back/ Continuing discussion

Students deal out these cards and have to do those things during a pairwork discussion, with different language each time.

Turn-taking keywords card game

This is similar to the game above, but with the cards having keywords that can be used in several turn-taking phrases like “can” and “before” on each card, and with students having to use different phrases with those words in to be able to discard the cards.

Turn-taking levels of politeness challenge game

Give students at least seven or eight phrases that could be used for turn taking but are usually too rude like “Let me finish!” Students choose one of the phrases and take turns making it more and more polite. This usually means longer and longer, as in “Can you let me finish?”, “Would you mind if I finish what I’m saying?”, “Would you mind awfully if I just finish what I’m saying before you have your say?”, etc. After reaching super-polite level and then giving up, students discuss which phrase is probably most useful in their real lives. They can then rank mixed example phrases by their level of formality.

Turn-taking timing challenges

This is similar to the speaking a certain percentage of the time activities above, but concentrating on the timing of each turn. Set students a good aim for how long each turn should take (depending on the kind of speaking) such as 15 seconds, 30 seconds or a minute. The monitor times each person’s turn, then gives points for matching exactly that time or being the closest person to it (without the speakers being allowed to look at the time).

Turn-taking tactics challenge

One student monitors the other student(s) for following what I call the “the volleyball turn-taking technique (comment on what the other person said, add something to that, then give the turn back, like bouncing the ball then returning it).

Turn-taking language challenge

The monitor is given a worksheet with keywords, phrases and/ or names of functions related to turn taking. They tick off those things as the speakers speak, then give points and/ or feedback based on it. This is more challenging the interesting if the speakers can’t see the worksheet.

Switch now challenges

The monitor decides when the turn should change, based on a time limit, based on who has spoken less, or just whenever they feel like it, and the speakers race to switch turns. This can be done with:

  • the monitor raising their hand and the speakers racing to be the person to say something that switches who is speaking
  • the monitor pointing at the person who should speak next and the students racing to say a phrase that gives the turn to that person
  • the monitor raising a card that names the kind of switching-the-turn phrase that should be used as soon as possible (“interrupt”, “ask for comments on what you said”, “tell a related story”, “end your turn”, etc)

Jumping in at the right point challenges

Students listen to one person speaking and interrupt when they hear something like:

  • a lie
  • a difference between what is said and what is written
  • a similarity to their own experience
  • a grammar mistake
  • a keyword on their worksheet
Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub.com
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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