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How to Encourage a Great Discussion in an English Conversation Class

Teaching an English Conversation class is about teaching interpersonal communication skills.

English Conversation teachers can incorporate the following steps to encourage a great class discussion that helps students develop their skills and feel confident during a conversation:

1. Give Planning Time – Teaching English Conversation

One thing that can make any English Conversation class fall flat is a lack of interest in the discussion. If our aim is to inject interest in what is being talked about, then a great place to start is with descriptions. When focusing a class around a particular topic, an important step is to give everyone time to reflect on their own personal experience and note down points of interest around it.

When setting up an English Conversation class around a theme such as ‘places you’ve been on vacation’, give students time to come up with ideas that will differentiate their experiences from those of the rest of the class. For example, set pre-discussion questions such as:

  • What unique sites did you see?
  • What strange behavior did you notice among the local people?
  • What was one thing about the place that you really liked/disliked?
  • What is one activity you would recommend to other visitors?

Basically, aim to get learners coming up with ideas that are likely to be different from what others are likely to come up with, thus creating interest in the topic. Be ready to circulate and provide language input at this stage.

2. Topics for an English Conversation Class

A very good ‘rule of thumb’ is that people are almost always interested in talking about what’s going on in the here and now. If you’re looking for the types of conversation subjects that often yield productive discussion, here are a few that usually spark learner interest:

Sports is often a safe topic for teaching English, as there is always a major event occurring somewhere in the world. Certain sports events are more effective at engaging male and female learners, such as tennis and the Olympics, while others will not be as popular among all. Remember: don’t just ask learners to focus on whether they like the sport or not. Get them talking about how it affects the country where it is being held.

Money and finance is another great topic, as it is an issue that affects everyone in one way or another. It is best to approach the topic on a large scale (i.e. national or international situations or policies), and avoid discussing topics that are likely to lead people into having to talk about their own financial situations.

Remember: go big. Start by asking about worldwide trends or national policies, then narrow down to a more personal level if/when learners feel comfortable.

Entertainment news is a surefire winner, as nothing gets people talking like gossiping about the lives of celebrities. This can also branch out nicely into conversations about films and current television programs. These are the types of entertainment that nearly everyone enjoys and has opinions about, so you can expect the conversation to flow.

Taxes, government, and state services are great subject areas, as they affect everyone. Nevertheless, approach these carefully: some learners may have a ‘pro-‘ stance while others have an ‘anti-government’ point of view. Your goal is to develop an interesting conversation, not permanently pit certain learners against others based on political ideologies.

When initiating such discussion, aim to get learners discussing the possible effects of policies, rather than whether or not they agree with them. If the conversation continues cordially, allow for personal opinions to come into play, but be ready to pull the plug if necessary.

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For more information on how to be a good moderator in an English Conversation class, watch this OnTESOL video:

Related Articles:

5 Quick Ways to Start an English Conversation Class

Discussing Taboo Topics in an English Conversation Class

Teaching Speaking Skills: Debates in the ESL Classroom

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