Spontaneous Oral Interaction: The Talk Show Format

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Miriam T. Black, Kyushu Lutheran College

Key Words:
Oral presentation, Listening
Learner English Level: Beginning to advanced
Learner Maturity Level: Junior high school to Adult
Preparation Time: None
Activity Time: One to three 40-minute class periods



In places where young people are exposed to TV, they are also familiar with talk shows. Talk shows range across cultures in variety and purpose, but the general format is the same. The main components are the host, the guest(s), and an audience that participates in the show. To promote more spontaneous oral interaction and maintain student interest in listening to their peers speak in English, this format was adapted in two ways. These activities were used in a class of twenty-five junior high students who were beginners in the language. These students had a basic grasp of question and answer formation. They could also use past, present and future tenses to some degree. The talk show activity was used as a cumulative activity, to give students more integrated practice with these grammar structures.

Talk Show Variations

The first talk show adaptation starts by letting each student choose someone he or she wants to be as a guest on the talk show. Students can choose to be a popular entertainer, historical figure, or a totally fictional character of their own imagination. They can also choose to be an expert in some area with which they are familiar (for example, a soccer expert or pizza expert). In preparation for being a guest, each student prepares a brief talk (three to five sentences) about his or her character or topic.

The show begins in class by the teacher randomly calling a guest to come to the front of the room to be interviewed. The front of the room can be transformed easily into the TV studio by putting chairs in front, writing the name of the show and an applause sign on the chalkboard, and using a marker for a microphone. After the short interview, with the teacher acting as the host, the teacher then elicits questions from the audience (the rest of the class) which the guest has to answer.

The teacher involves all students by having each one ask at least one question to a guest during the class period. The host's informal and seemingly random method of choosing students to ask questions alerts them to the fact that they might be called on whether they have a question or not. The teacher can also clarify student questions and responses, correct pronunciation in a non-threatening way, and generally keep things moving so that there is no lull in the action. Each guest should be interviewed for no more than five minutes.

Students rise to the challenge by asking difficult questions, hoping to confound their peers, and in doing so make the exchange more challenging. For example, a guest posing as Madonna was asked why she wasn't married and what her future career goals were. Even though some of the students are not so pleased with having to be the guest, the task is not overwhelming for them. Student preparation and teacher intervention help all students to be successful guests.

A second variation of the talk show format is to have groups of students create their own shows and perform them for the class. Groups of four or five students choose the theme of their talk show (sports, entertainment, politics, etc.) and then designate who will be the host and the guests within their group. Next, they collaboratively write the dialogue. The teacher spot-checks the dialogues for errors and comprehensibility.

When the skits are performed for the class, the host, now one of the students, announces and interviews each guest according to the script. Then he or she will move away from the script and field questions from the audience for the guests. The guests will have to answer the questions, and if they do not know the real-life answers, they will need to create answers on the spot.


In the talk show dialogues, the students have many models in their real-world knowledge of the way the host, guests, and audience talk and perform. This gives the audience clues to content and helps with comprehension. In using these structures, students receive a chance to practice sociolinguistic aspects, such as using the appropriate register and gestures--aspects of the language that would normally not be available to them. This was evident in the talk show skits as students played the roles of celebrities and host in my class. One group even staged a fight in their skit between rival boxers who were guests on their show.

These activities motivate and make students responsible for listening to their peers speak in English. Communication is successful because the tasks are based on students' real-world knowledge. Students are free to write dialogues about their own topic and use language at their own level, as they would in real-life communication in their first language. These aspects further assist peer comprehension and ensure the success of this activity.