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Say Nothing

Unusual for ESL speaking activities, the goal here is for students to speak as much as they can while also giving as little information as possible. In this way they practise using filler words and expressions in an exaggerated but fun way.

While we might tell students that such words and expressions are best avoided in more formal speaking, they do play an important role in less formal speech. Fillers signal that the speaker has not finished their turn but is thinking what to say, which therefore reduces the risk of being interrupted by their interlocutor. As they will likely be at a linguistic disadvantage when speaking to highly competent speakers, using fillers effectively may help to redress this imbalance.

It is recommended that students are reasonably comfortable speaking for lengthier turns, therefore this activity is not recommended below upper intermediate (B2 CEFR).

ESL speaking activities
Few ESL speaking activities provide students with deliberate practice of fillers.


PRE: It is assumed that students have covered the different fillers that they will be expected to use during this activity.

1: Either ask students to write questions that they could talk about for at least one minute or give students your own list of questions. You can use the ones below.

2: Tell students to ask a partner the questions. Their partner must talk for at least a minute, but try to say as little information as possible by using the fillers.

S1: What did you do today?
S2: Well, I umm… I sort of got up at about you know 8 o’clock. Err.. it’s Monday, so I mean I had to like go to work. Well, you know, maybe I didn’t have to, but I need  money to live. So, I went to work. 


1: Put students into a group of four. One person will answer the question and must aim to speak for one minute. The other three students monitor the speaker’s performance with one student timing their response, another counting the number of different or total fillers, and the final student scoring how much detail the student actually gave. It may be helpful to give students a rubric if you decide to use this variation.

2: It may be a useful demonstration to have students perform this task as an open pair with one student not using this language and another using it. After each student you can ask the class to make factual statements about what they heard. They should be able to make far fewer sentences from the student who used these fillers.

Example Questions:

What did you do today?
Why are you learning English?
What does your job involve?
Which foods don’t you like?
What would you do if…?
What do you regret most in your life?
What’s your biggest dream for the future?
What would be your perfect day?
Where would you go if you could go anywhere?
What was the plot of the last movie you saw?
What was your most embarrassing moment?

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