• Conversation Activity: Getting Students to Say More Than the Minimum

Cover more than minimum Shot

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)*

 We might think that the students who say little in a conversation are lazy or just quiet by nature.  That’s not necessarily the case.  Some students have told us that they are trying to be polite and let others talk.  Others just don’t know what to say, so they say the minimum.  And some just aren’t aware that they should speak more.

This activity is designed to help these types of students. It “gives permission” to the polite students to talk more.  It “requires” the lazy or quiet ones to contribute to the conversation.  And it “pushes” everyone to think of something, anything, to say.

The activity is call Responding with Details. In groups of three, students ask each other the supplied questions (in a Student A, B, C format).  Every time the members respond, they have to answer with “and, but, so, because or with two sentences.


  1. Marit: Where was the best place you ever lived?
  2. Lucien: I like warm weather, so I really loved living in California. (Answered with “so”.)
  3. Marit: When did you live there?
  4. Lucien: When I was in high school.  We moved there when I was 16 and stayed for three years. (Answered with two sentences and “and.”)

Steps in the activity (and the handout)

In Exercise 1, student are introduced to the technique by filling in blanks in a dialog.  This serves as a model for the group work.

In Exercise 2, there are three steps.

  • Step 1: Students work in triad, Students A, B and C.  They read their questions (which their partners can’t see) and respond to each other with details by using the technique.
  • Step 2: With their partners, they write some questions.  (This is a chance for them to customize the activity.)
  • Step 3: They change partners, form new groups of threes, read and respond with details to their partners’ questions.  (You’ll probably notice that the volume of students’ voices is raised and laughing increases in this step.)

(For more details about the effectiveness of the customizing Steps 2 and 3, see Making the Perfect Mixture of Structure and Autonomy in Conversation Activities (Customizing Exercises) )

Here is the link to the handout activity which you can use with your students. Responding with details handout activity    Responding with details handout activity

For more about getting quiet students involved in conversations and discussions, see • Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 1)   and • Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 2)

For more pair work activities like these, see Pro Lingua Learning–Discussion Strategies  for high-intermediate and advanced-level students,

Pro Lingua Learning–Conversation Strategies  for intermediate-level students. (Both books now available in digital to rent or buy and in paper editions.) 

 Pro Lingua Learning–Basic Conversation Strategies  for lower-level ones.

David Kehe

*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.

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