Title: Sixty seconds non-stop talking

Recommended by: Richard Martin

Origin: suggested by BBC Radio 4’s Just a Minute

Recommended age: Lower teenagers to adults


  • As a warm up
  • To encourage imagination and practise spontaneous speaking
  • To generate vocabulary (practise grammar)
  • To give the teacher time to decide what to do for the rest of the lesson. (This is not intended as a joke: teaching is a tough life!)


Students work with a partner (this can be their neighbour or random partnering criteria can be used to mix the class up). With an odd number of students, there can be a final group of three.

In English, partners quickly establish who is A and who B according to the teacher’s criterion. The more unexpected this is the better: e.g. “Partner A is the one who last ate fish / who travelled longer to school this morning / finished yesterday’s homework in the shorter time / is wearing the greater number of clothes / etc.”

The A’s are then told they have to talk to their partner for 60 seconds on the topic they are about to hear. They can come out with as much rubbish as they like, but they must not stop talking. The B’s do not speak, just listen.

Typical topics are:

  • The first time I cut my own hair
  • Riding my bicycle under water
  • Why there is a hole in the floor under my bed
  • Why I love cleaning windows

Starting instructions are: A’s, turn to your partners, ready, steady – GO!

After the 60 seconds, there are usually questions from the A’s about vocabulary they discovered they need to know. Handle these queries quickly, but students should note new words in a vocabulary book: using such activities regularly generates a great deal of personalised vocabulary learning.

Then it is the turn for the B’s to have their 60 seconds of fun.

Grammar extension 

The basic activity described above can easily be pointed towards practising specific grammatical features. For example:

  • Questions. When A has finished, B is given 30 seconds to ask as many questions as they can about what they have heard. The task is to use different question forms (Did … / Will … / Are … / What … / When … etc.). Partner A does not give any answers, just counts the number of questions asked. 

After the question phase, find out which of the B’s has asked the most. Then partner A has an additional 20 seconds to answer one of the questions asked, beginning with the words: It’s funny you ask this because …

  • Disbelief. When B has finished, A is given 30 seconds to list the things just heard which they simply cannot believe. Again, partner A just counts the points which were not believed. Once more, find out which of the A’s was, at least numerically, the most incredulous. Then B is given an additional 20 seconds to justify one of the points, beginning with the words: I understand you find this hard to believe, but let me explain …
  • As many adjectives / adverbs / if-sentences / etc. as you can. Encourage recently taught or revised features to be included. The listening partner should count to afterwards see who has used the most (encourage an element of competition).
  • A specific tense. Choose relevant topics (The worst present I ever gave someone was …  / Why I have never … / The next time I see a tiger I’ll …)

After such grammar-specific topics students can be encouraged to volunteer some relevant sentences from their 60 seconds. This gives an opportunity to check and reinforce the grammar being used, and to address the typical mistakes which generally arise.

A full lesson

The activity can be used as a short warm up. However, I have often found that the enthusiasm generated can lead on to useful written work incorporating some of the vocabulary and grammar. Such free writing can be directed by using the Language Check-List.

More information: 

The Resources section of Richard’s website has further articles on using storytelling in language learning.

The Tales section has many stories suitable for the language classroom, many with teaching suggestions.

His video gallery has over 50 folk tales, and further stories are added regularly. To receive a mail when new tales are uploaded, sign up for the free notification service.