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Is a Conversation Lesson a License to Just Talk?

After a long and tiring few days of teaching, you see that you have a conversation lesson today.

You say to yourself, “oh, this good, I don’t have to teach anything, just talk with my students”.

So, you enter the classroom with a potential topic or two to talk about with your class.

After all, it is a conversation lesson, so you can talk about anything. But is the idea of a conversation lesson?

What are Conversation Lessons?

You may be asking, what are conversation lessons? Aren’t they just talking? Aren’t they just talking about any topic?

Isn’t a conversation lesson supposed to be an easy lesson for the teacher and student? Isn’t a conversation lesson a break from teaching?

If these are the questions in your mind, they may be indicating a flawed idea about what conversation lessons are.

How to Teach Conversational EnglishJust Talking?

If that were the case in conversation classes, the teacher would talk and the students listen and may think, I don’t understand much of what the teacher is saying.

Just talking about anything?

If the teacher and students talk about anything, the class might go something like this:

How was your day?

What kind of food do you like?

Tell me about your interests. What are your future plans, and so on—no real direction.

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An Easy Lesson?

If it were an easy lesson, the students would talk, and the teacher would talk back like a real conversation between English speakers.

However, what has been accomplished in this ‘learning’ environment?

A Break From Teaching?

If a free-talking lesson is a break from teaching, the teacher and students would talk, and in the end, all they did was talk—but did the students learn anything?

Conversation lessons are less productive when approached with these mindsets.

However, a skilled teacher can use conversation lessons as opportunities for meaningful, guided conversation that allows students more freedom than regular lessons.

How to Plan an ESL Conversational ClassSo, What is a Conversation Lesson?

The conversation is a great opportunity for learners to acquire English in a communicative way.

In this sense, students can use the language in a realistic manner instead of simply conversation lessons are opportunities for learners to engage with an English speaker to test the waters and see how well they can do.

But the teacher must have a plan, have a subject, have questions and activities prepared to make it a strategic lesson.

Interaction is the approach in these types of lessons.

They are not interviews where the teacher asks the students multiple questions—often in rapid succession.

They are opportunities to go from mundane lessons to the real two-way conversation in a learning environment.

In such an environment, the teacher can provide feedback for improvement.

Teachers can teach students how to ask questions in a real conversation and go beyond the typical talk-show-host approach.

Teaching English Conversation Skills: Passing the Ball Activity

Improvement Should Be the Goal.

Never let a student leave your class without gaining at least one new thing from it.

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How to use the communicative approach to teach conversational EnglishWhat is the Flow of a Conversation Lesson?

How can a teacher use conversation lessons in a smooth and realistic way?

The first thing you can do is conduct a survey of topics your students are interested in.

Take note, and each time you plan a conversation lesson, you have something to refer to.

5 Quick Ways to Start an English Conversation Lesson

Eight Aspects to a Conversation Lesson:

      1. Warm-up by activating schema through vocabulary brainstorming.
      2. Use the vocabulary to flow to a subject of common knowledge.
      3. Without announcing it, transition naturally into a conversation centered on the students.
      4. Ask questions.
      5. Provide or prepare feedback.
      6. Ask them to ask others or you, questions.
      7. Wrap-up and review.
      8. Close the lesson.

Examples of Each Point for a Conversation Lesson on the Subject of ‘Pollution.’

1. Warm-up by activating schema through vocabulary brainstorming.

Ask the students to brainstorm and come up with words that come to mind about the subject of pollution.

List the words where everyone can see them (they will be useful references for the students as the lesson rolls out).

2. Use the vocabulary to flow to a subject of common knowledge.

Ask them to use these words in a sentence or sentences to describe conditions in their country.

If possible, write at least one practical sentence from each member where they can see it (e.g. whiteboard, computer monitor, etc.).

3. Without announcing it, transition naturally into a conversation centered on the students.

You could start with something as natural as asking them what some of the major pollution issues are in their areas.

Or you could ask them how they feel about certain issues; even which issues are most significant to them.

4. Ask questions.

Ask them open-ended questions that will get them talking.

Use such question phrases as, What do you think about ___?, How can ___?, or What would you ___ rather than?, Do you ___?, Are they___?, or Can ___?.

5. Provide or prepare feedback.

Feedback does not have to be the real-time direct correction of errors that interrupts the flow of thoughts.

Feedback can be echoed.

The teacher can provide the correct version by way of listener feedback. It can be discreetly typed in a message box in an online class.

Finally,  it can be listed then provided near the end of class as a kind of review.

6. Ask them to ask others or you, questions.

Develop student confidence and train them to be conversationalists by challenging them to ask questions and engage others in two-way conversations.

This is done instead of the typical interviews that plague ESL conversation classes.

The teacher can be casual and inject something like, “maybe you can ask me or your classmates a few questions”? Additionally, the teacher can ask: “How about you, [another student] what do you think”?

If you are the one being asked a question, keep your answers brief.

By this I mean, enough to give an example of a natural answer, but short enough to maintain the 70/30 rule.

Do this while encouraging them to say more.

7. Wrap-Up and review.

Now is the time when you can wind the conversation down and begin exiting the formal lesson period.

You can now transition into some general grammar.

You can also provide pronunciation feedback.

Additionally, you can review key vocabulary that arose during the free-talking time.

8. Close the lesson.

The teacher could say something to the effect of, “Well, I have had a great experience chatting with all of you about ‘pollution.’

However, it looks like we are just about out of time. Okay, great talking to you. Have a great evening. See you next time.”

This provides a natural example of a conversation.

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The previous examples were just that—examples. You can tailor them according to your plans and student needs.

The primary goal is to have a plan.

A conversation is not just talking, it is not a ‘no-lesson’ day for teachers. It is not a time for the teacher to do the talking.

It is most definitely not an opportunity to talk about ‘anything’ that pops up.

Conversation lessons have as much plan and purpose as regular lessons, if not more.

These lessons provide more freedom for learners to engage in meaningful conversation while the teacher provides them with practical feedback.

Recommended Reading:

Discussing Taboo Topics In An English Conversation Class

Storytelling in the ESL Classroom (VIDEO)

Error Correction: Examining Underlying Beliefs


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