Bite-sized language prompts for students and teachers

I hold multiple classes for students learning English as a foreign language, so I need to come up with topics that both interest the students, yet focus on specific (small) aspects of grammar.

Although I do use a textbook in some classes, most of my courses are purely conversational. I find preparing for conversation classes much harder, for a number of reasons:

  • There is no lesson structure.
  • There is prescribed no course structure.
  • There are no tests/exams or other form of assessment. And if there were, the majority would not attend the course!
  • Students have only mentioned a few broad topic areas they are interested in.
  • The students are from different ages (17-80), education and work backgrounds. And as some are from different countries, they have trouble understanding the other students’ accents.
  • Most of the students are afraid of making mistakes when speaking, so the activities need to draw them in.
  • Students sit in the same spots, and form the same groups each time.

To help solve some of these problems, or at least help reduce them I’ve approached the classes in a different way.

  • Grammar nuggets – each class focuses on one small aspect of grammar. Simple sentences and tenses for beginner classes, complex sentences and the more difficult tenses for advanced classes. Students feel accomplished when they are able to compose and speak a sentence, in the context of a conversation, using the grammar correctly, especially when there is little to no preparation time. However, I’ve found that some students feel overwhelmed if I introduce a new grammar nugget each week, although a few love it.
  • Vocabulary ‘games’ – good for reactivating forgotten words and phrases, and for learning new ones from fellow students. I try to use word games that can also be played alone, in one’s head (or on paper), while waiting for something to happen. They’re also good as a class warm-up or cool-down.
  • Pronunciation – I throw in the occasional tongue twister or riddle, or ask the students to read short anecdotes or quotes aloud. I pick ones that focus on troublesome sounds – pronunciation problems are different for each mother tongue.
  • Discussion prompts – this is the hardest for me. To find a topic, and a question, that resonates with most or all of the class, is difficult. Massaging it to fit with the grammar nugget is the easy bit!
  • Tasks in groups – peer assessment and correction is often accepted more readily than from the teacher. So, even in conversation classes, I like to set short composition exercises (occasionally), that students complete in small groups. Varying the size of the groups, or introducing a random factor helps them speak with more than just their usual neighbours.

A few students mentioned that they would like to spend a little time each day (or week), practicing outside class, but get bored with textbooks, or lost in online language resources. Most preferred focusing on small grammar nuggets, noting that their tired minds were busy dealing with work problems.

So, here begins a series of prompts, for speaking, writing and vocabulary. They aren’t limited to just students learning English – you can use them as an English speaker learning (or teaching) another language.

I’d love to know if you find these prompts useful or interesting!

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