The 10-Second Topic Talk Challenge

Anthony Sellick, Faculty of Teacher Education, Shumei University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Speaking, presentations, speeches, free talk
  • Learner English level: False beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: Age 11+
  • Preparation time: 1 minute
  • Activity time: Varies
  • Materials: Class board and markers, or topic cards (as appropriate), timing device (e.g., smartphone, clock, stopwatch).

Speech and recitation contests are common events in Japan. Participation can help students develop their confidence in expressing themselves in English and improving their spoken English is a primary reason why students take part. However, many students lack confidence in public speaking and speaking in a foreign language for a minute or two can be quite a daunting task. This article presents an approach that seeks to build confidence in public speaking by beginning with a very short time period.


Step 1: Prepare a list of 10 to 20 back-up topics as prompts. These could be random topics, or review topics related to a specific area of study. Ideally, students will come up with their own topics as well.

Step 2: Create a deck of prepared topic cards, if desired. Otherwise, topics can be given verbally, or written on the class board.


Step 1: Explain to the students that they will make a presentation about a topic with no preparation, but that the presentation will only be ten seconds long.

Step 2: Elicit a range of topics from the students before beginning the activity and write them on the class board. This is especially helpful the first time this activity is used with a class.

Step 3: Model an example, asking the students to choose the topic. The example should match the students’ ability level, and students should time the example. For example, a sample topic talk for students in grades 6 or 7 could be: “I’m going to talk about ice cream. I love ice cream. My favorite kind of ice cream is mint chocolate chip. I eat ice cream every day in the summer. Let’s eat ice cream together! [Students indicate the time is up.] Thank you.”

Step 4: Choose the first student or call for a volunteer.

Step 5: The first student goes to the front of the class. The student is then given a few seconds to think about the topic they will talk about (or to choose one from the prepared list of topics). Then, when the teacher says “Go” or “Start”, the student states what their chosen topic is and begins talking about it. If a student is struggling to choose a topic, the teacher should suggest one.

Step 6: After ten seconds have passed, inform the student their time is up. The student returns to their seat and the next student takes their turn. Have each student nominate the next speaker (and possibly the topic they will talk about). This can make the activity faster and more fun and help maintain class engagement in the activity. If the teacher wants to make the activity more challenging, they should allow each topic to be used once only.

Step 7: Once every student has made their presentation, the activity is complete.


This is a fun and lively activity that can be completed in a relatively short time, which means that even the weakest student can take part meaningfully. Once the students are comfortable with this activity, the teacher can gradually increase the time increments to make it more challenging. Why not try this 10-second challenge to boost your students’ confidence and fluency?