The Internet TESL Journal

Making Chat Activities with Native Speakers Meaningful for EFL Learners

Jo Mynard
Joanne.Mynard [at]
Zayed University (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)


This article is aimed at teachers who want to make Internet chat activities more meaningful for their learners. It provides teachers with ideas for activities which engage the learner's interest. The lesson ideas presented are designed for learners who have used chat rooms before but may not have interacted with native speakers in the target language.

The most motivating chat activities for language students are likely to be ones which include interaction with native speakers. There are a number of ways that students can interact with guests. They can interview guests about themselves, their country, their job, their family, and so on. Students can engage in a debate or discussion about a given topic with the guest. Students can also be interviewed by the guest.


For the Guests

Invite friends and family to participate and give them chat room practice in advance. Before your guests meet your students, it is a good idea to prepare them for the level of English and the kinds of issues they should discuss or avoid. You might want to ask them to avoid chat room abbreviations such as brb (be right back). On the other hand you may want to keep the text as spontaneous and authentic as possible--remember the transcript is always available to study after the session.

For the Students

If chat rooms are a new concept to your learners, or if your students have had little interaction with people outside their own country, suddenly meeting someone from another part of the world can be quite daunting. Before the students meet the guest in the chat room, you might want to set the scene by showing them photographs of the guest and maps of his or her country. Giving students relevant websites to explore in advance may also be useful. You might like to play a recorded message from the guest to the students before they start. These things will remind the students that they are talking to a real person so that they need to be courteous and to use the target language. It also gives the students some idea of the kinds of questions they can ask.


The worksheets make sure that the following guidelines apply:The following worksheets can be adapted for your class. You should adapt them to be relevant to the participants' interests, profession or country. Your students could also come up with their own tasks.

A Note from the Editor: The original handouts included photographs of the guests and maps of their country. These were eliminated from this article in order to have a fast-downloading file and to preserve the privacy of the guests.

Activity 1 - Interview a Guest from Another Country

The following worksheet can be adapted for any country. In this example students prepare to interview someone based in Finland.

Language focus: this activity uses predominantly the present tense and deals with vocabulary connected with asking for information about countries.

Learn about Finland

What do you know about Finland? Tell a friend.

David lives in Finland but he is from Ireland. Prepare some questions to ask him about himself and Finland. (weather/food/transport/universities/activities/language)

Follow up Activities - Choose One

Activity 2 - Gather Information and Compare with a Friend

This activity is an example of a jigsaw activity where students have to find out information in order to complete a chart. In this case students learn about primary schools in the UK. You can adapt it and choose any topic for the students to probe such as jobs, customs or language. Depending on how independent your students are, they can come up with some or all of the sub-topics to explore.

There are two guests on line in different chat rooms. Student A talks to a teacher and Student B talks to a schoolgirl. After the session, they compare notes and report back to another group. As a follow up, students write a collaborative paragraph from their notes.

Language focus: this activity deals with mainly the present tense and familiar vocabulary connected with schools.

Learn about Primary Schools in the UK

Student A: You are going to meet Amanda who is a teacher in London.
Student B: You are going to meet Rees, a schoolgirl from Cardiff.

You are going to complete this chart. Prepare questions you would like to ask.

Chart to Complete

After the Session

Compare charts with another student who talked to Rees. Together write a summary of the differences between schools in the UK and in your country.

Activity 3 - Interview a Couple about a Recent Event

The couple who have just got married are in the same chat room. If none of your friends have just got married this exercise can still work well if students ask guests about a recent past event such as traveling, moving house, having a baby, going back to college and so on. This worked well with my students as many of them have just got married or are planning their own weddings.

Language focus: this activity will be quite challenging as it forces students to use the past tense and some new vocabulary. In addition, by interviewing a couple, students are given practice with using "you" as a plural, "we" and "they." You may want your activity to isolate just one of these language areas. I am using them all here to illustrate how you can target a variety of language points.

Weddings in the UK

You are going to meet Suzanne and Julian from Cardiff in Wales. They have just got married.

Preparation Before You Meet Them

Follow Up Activity - Choose One

Activity 4 - Interview a Couple about Their Future Plans

In this example students interview a couple who are planning to do voluntary work overseas. You can adapt it for guests making future plans of any kind such as changing jobs, traveling or getting married.

Language focus: students are required to use the future tense and prepare for the interview by finding out a bit more about voluntary work from the internet.

Future Plans

You are going to meet George and Amy from the USA. They are planning to do voluntary work overseas.

Preparation Before You Meet Them

Follow Up Activities - Choose One

Activity 5 - Follow Up Questions

The transcript can provide you with evidence of structures that students have not grasped which could form the basis of a follow up lesson. Similarly, transcripts allow you to study students communicative competence. One common problem is sustaining conversations with follow up questions or comments. I used the transcript of an interview with Emma from Oxford to give students practice in this. You can adapt this by isolating a common problem illustrated in your students' transcripts and making them into an activity. It is a worthwhile exercise to have students study the transcripts and try to identify problem areas themselves too.

After the Interview with Emma

In the last lesson you interviewed Emma. This exercise helps you to write follow up questions to get some more information or to keep the conversation going. Write some follow up questions or comments here to practice for next time:

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 3, March 2002