When was the last time you had a proper conversation with your students?

I wrote this post a while ago but it relates to something that happened on Thursday so I’ve included 2 parts.

Part 1-My recent thoughts about conversation in class

When was the last time you had a proper conversation with your students?

Think about it….



Last month?

Last year?

Why don’t you have one every day?

We all pride ourselves on doing communicative-based or TBL or Dogme style teaching and scoff at grammar-based or translation-based work but do we REALLY talk to our students or just provide conversation or language practice?

A while ago I posted this Doc on my old debate/discussion (http://debatediscussion.blogspot.com/) blog:

Tips for getting students to speak

​1) Lead them into the topic and find a ‘hook’ or connection from them to the topic.

2) Challenge their beliefs or understanding.

3) Put them ‘in their shoes’ and ask them what they would do.

4) Role play scenes related to the topic or questions or put students in roles for discussions/debates.

5) Groups of 3-5. Any bigger and it becomes an audience.

6) Don’t pose complicated or dogmatic EFL Gist/Detailed questions. Ask them for your response, what they think, feel or belief about what they saw/read.

7) Nurture opinions and help them develop with praise, questioning and then ask other people for their reactions.

8) Play devil’s advocate (read ChiaSuanChong’s blog, link in blogroll) and build up a strong controversial opinion until students are about to bust and then get reactions.

9) Start by eliciting basic answers/reactions and only when there is a sense of discussion, move them into groups.

As good as these strategies are nothing beats a real chin wag and if you can find which one suits your class, eventually you don’t need warmers or fancy techniques.With my high levels they tend to love being allowed to argue and when they arrive they are already talking about the topic I gave as homework. It’s then my job to channel the discussion and engage with them.Yes, they may at times challenge me but that’s part of the game.

For me, a good conversation class is when students don’t want to leave and that only works on language because it is needed at a specific time when a student says “how do I say…?” or “I don’t know the word for..”. Recycling and reviewing it is good at the end but it must be  useful as part of the discussion not just doing it for the sake of it.

What do you do?

Part 2-Thursday

On Thursday I taught my first debate class in a while.

The plan for a 2 hr lesson with 15 stdts:

1)Stds watch a news video (choice of 3) on their laptops.



4)Language focus

5)Discuss more


1)Stds watched a news video about a fake Apple Store on their laptops.

2)Groups discussed it

3)We discussed it as I class

4)I scaffolded students language and pinpointed and worked on some weaknesses/areas of improvement

5)Groups prepared and carried out 1 min debates

6)We discussed more

What was special about this lesson?

I asked LOTS of questions and helped develop a conversation which flowed like this:

1)Is this store damaging Apple’s reputation?

2)Why is it still open?

3)Why do customers go there?

4)Would you go there?

5)Who would buy fake goods and why?

6)Is Apple better than their competition?Why?Not?

7)APPLE vs PC debate

8)Is Apple just about marketing?

9)Is the quality really better?

10)W7 vs Lion OS?

11)Are Apple computers more secure than PCs?


13)The cost of system maintenance and repairs (my students are IT specialists)

14)Future careers and fees

This was the best conversation class I’ve ever had, bar none. It was interesting, engaging and REAL and students constantly asked for help from each other and me for how to say things. In theory, I should be able to do this style in every lesson but will do different groupings and varied debate styles and also add and develop how to create arguments, critique and defend them.


4 thoughts on “When was the last time you had a proper conversation with your students?

  1. What age group / level was it? Sounds like a great lesson! But I would probably disagree with your comment that recycling or reviewing vocab. should not be done for its own sake but only as part of a discussion or perhaps I didn’t understand it.

    • 20ish up int/pre adv.

      I mean that if you just say “OK, 5 mins left what did X mean, what was…?” The lesson/conversation is stopped and then a lexical review begins what I prefer is recycling language by summarising or extending comments/opinions but using the vocab ie keeeping the conversation going. I’m still into CBI and from my MA research I found that my ex-students really preferred talking about real subjects and really hated being tested on words or EFL style vocab activities. They wanted real conversation with language help. Thus at the end if I wanted to review a word like Firewall I could say to 1 student/class “what was the thing you were talking about that means….(a definition)?” I would then ask them or another group member to summarise the conversation and then ask the class what they think but I would pretend I forgot the word or couldn’t remember the meaning which would require another person to explain it. I would also ask for an example. This would mean the word, definition and examples would all be covered again but in a summary conversation that keeps the flow of the lesson, keeps it on a content level and demands use of the item.

      • It is certainly a creative and no doubt effective way to elicit and activate vocabulary but I am also very much in favour of recycling for the sake of recycling which you say your students don’t like. I find it surprising because my students have always responded well to vocab review activities clearly seeing their purpose and usefulness. Ah well, each to his own I suppose.

        • Hi Leo,

          These students don’t want an English class, they want to discuss real issues. They are highish levels and also have a bit of a chip on their shoulders. When I say “OK, let’s review some vocab” it becomes more of a test I think. It would work but not as good as if I keep it in context of the class. Also, NOBODY writes anything down. They just want to talk. Strange but that’s life here in France sometimes.

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