Vox pops for speaking skills

Jeremy McMahon, Momoyama Gakuin University


Quick guide

  • Keywords: Interviewing, hesitation devices, pause fillers
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and up
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 90 minutes
  • Materials: Whiteboard, markers, Internet, projector

This set of activities can be used to enhance students’ use of hesitation devices (e.g., um, ah) and pause fillers (e.g., like, you know). It enables students to practice listening and detection of such utterances and then attempt to reproduce them in a semi-authentic setting. It also encourages the development of discussion questions on a wide range of topics.



Set up a projector and PC with Internet. Use YouTube to locate a video of vox pops. A search for vox pops international produces many class-friendly videos with questions like “What is your favourite TV show?”



Step 1: Tell the students they will practice speaking skills for when they are asked a question and need time to think of a response, and when they want to show that, despite pausing, they have not finished their turn speaking. It is a good idea to elicit and write on the board expressions they would use in Japanese in such situations (e.g., eto, ano, nandake, etc.) for students not following the topic. Ask if they know any English phrases like these and again write them on the board. If students are having trouble, have them ask you, “What did you do last weekend?” and stand there thinking in silence to show how unnatural this is. Then ask what you could say instead.

Step 2: Once you have listed about six common utterances on the board, play a video where the objective is to listen carefully to the answers people give, and try to detect the use of any of the words listed. If a student hears a word, they raise their hand, pause the video, and they say which utterance was used. If they heard correctly, they score a point. It is a good idea to replay the video part in question so all students can hear it. Once the video is finished, the student with the most points is the winner.

Step 3: Pair the students. Have them ask each other, “What did you do last weekend?” They can use utterances from the board to answer without any silent gaps. It is a good idea to model a good response first.

Step 4: The main part of the lesson is the Vox Pops Game. All students write a question that demands more than a one-word response. Tell them to think of recent news events, social issues, or a recently discussed class topic if that helps. Give an example like: “What are you doing to save energy this summer?” Once students have their questions, stand them in a circle with yourself in the centre, microphone (marker) in hand. You will be the first street reporter. The student circle must rotate. Close your eyes and at some point shout, “Stop!” Grab the student in front of you and ask them a question. They must answer using the devices they have been practicing. Once they have answered, they join you in the middle as another reporter.

Step 5: Start again. This time both of you grab a student and ask your questions. After the selected students reply, everyone else votes who gave the better response, based on length of response, use of devices, and lack of pauses. The winner then becomes a reporter, and you sit down. The idea is that students need to give a better answer than their opponent to get out of the circle and become a reporter. They will ask their question as a reporter (two rounds) before they can sit. Students who cannot give decent responses remain in the circle until they can. As the numbers dwindle and more students exit the game, it becomes a growing challenge for those remaining.



This game can be repeated many times in one class allowing all the students to get numerous turns as reporters and interviewees. By the end of the lesson, students should be beginning to grasp the concepts of buying time and holding the floor so that they will be able to answer more naturally in unexpected situations.