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Seven Tips for Teaching Conversation Classes

By Larry M. Lynch

Conversation classes can be a real boon to the English as a second language learner. The benefits of guided practice in English as a second language aid learners in developing improved speaking skills. Here are seven tips for effective speech skill building.

I have so much problem to my speaking English, teacher.

This English as a second language learner was telling me she wanted to improve her speaking skills. Her statement was testament to her needs and desires to improve her spoken English skills as so many other English language learners have wanted. One remedy is to conduct a series teaching English conversation. Eric H. Roth states , “… daily practice does lead to significant progress,” in his book, “Compelling Conversations.” Conversation classes are a dynamic, fun way for learners to practice English language speaking skills. Keep the activities interesting, fresh, unique and above all, fun. Here are seven tips and techniques for teaching conversation classes.

How to Begin

Try some of the following tips and techniques for stimulating interactive conversations in English as a second language conversation classes.

1. Ask controversial questions – You can ask questions relating to the environment, local, national and international news, current events, sports or entertainment events. All of these areas can generate topics for controversial questions. What are some controversial issues in your local area, region or country? List three to five of the most important topics to use for discussion and individual opinions.

2. Use proverbs during discussions – The collection of proverbs and sayings worldwide is astounding. Virtually every country, culture and language group has a collection of proverbs from which both you and your ESL learners can draw to stimulate conversations. Quotations such as, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” or quotes from movies can be good conversation starters for your ESL or EFL learners.

3. Simulate everyday conversation situations – Recreations of business meetings, negotiations at a foreign market or shop, chatting with someone on a bus or train, introducing yourself to someone, choosing a new music CD or countless other daily situations that require short dialogues can be interesting for your English as a foreign language learners to practice. Brainstorm with your learners for other possible topic ideas and situations.

4. Use quotations from famous people or famous quote – There are literally thousands of memorable quotes from famous politicians, presidents, entertainers, historians, generals, soldiers and others that could be listed and worked on by learners for conversation class practice. Certainly all of your learners will have their own favorite movies complete with memorable quotes. Why not tap into this as a resource for some conversation classes?

5. Discuss scenes from movies or videos – One very useful technique is to play a short clip of a scene from a movie and then have learners verbally react to the scene clip among each other. Who were the best characters? Why? Have learners not only speaking dialogues, but also act out the more dramatic scenes as well.

6. Dramatic images, photos and graphics – Movies and videos are not the only good conversation generators. Consider using any dramatic images you might find such as those with lots of visual impact used in the advertising media, as well. What are the people, animals or objects saying in the image? Learners will love the idea of adding dialogue to animals and inanimate objects to create extensive conversation practice sessions.

7. Play a thought-provoking audio clip, recorded commercial or radio program segment – Personally, I happen to love old time radio programs. I remember some of them from my early youth and due to their revival and being archived on the Internet, you can share this almost-forgotten media with your English as a second language learners. Hundreds of original broadcast-quality programs are available online at various sites in genres such as comedy, westerns, mystery, suspense, science fiction, detective and variety shows. Most are short --under 30 minutes, and even less minus commercials. They make interesting listening comprehension development exercises in addition to being great conversation starters.

Conversation Topics

Conversation topics that can yield productive speech and discussion in English or foreign language classes exist in a vast multitude, but a few of the most prominent and controversial ones involve:

  • Home and family
  • Food and drink
  • Pets and animals
  • Dating and relationships
  • Money and finance
  • Sports or athletics
  • Entertainment and personalities
  • Taxes, government and services

Branches to and variations on each and every one of these topics is almost certainly bound to provide seed for fruitful debate, opinions and discussion in English as a second language classes which also incorporate teaching conversation in class.

Using These Ideas

You can use any one or all of these seven conversation class validated techniques to boost participation in speech-generation activities in English as a second language classes most likely with great success. Use the topics mentioned combined with discussion and speech-generation techniques to stimulate your English as a second language conversation classes. Then watch as your learners start making some significant progress in the English language communicative skills.