Starting a new conversation class

Questioning catIf you are anything like me, as both a teacher and a student, starting a new conversation class is terribly scary.

  • Will the group work well together?
  • What will we talk about?
  • Will I have the confidence to talk, or be too scared about making mistakes?
  • Will someone dominate the class, or someone never talk?

These are all common worries and questions, and the first class can go a long way to reassure everyone.

With a bit of preparation, and a bit of confidence.

An introductory conversation class – lesson plan

Get the administrative stuff and teacher introduction out of the way, leaving the rest of the time for the student to talk – it’s what they are there for!

A quick introduction about yourself and your background, followed by a short description of the course, and any other administrative information required by the language school is the best beginning.

But keep it as short as possible!

If there are forms to fill out, do it as ‘homework’. Don’t distract by writing at this point.

For the rest of the class, as a teacher, I don’t want to speak much – it’s all about the students speaking!

Task 1 – Single introductions – keep them short and simple

A 10 minute icebreaker to learn people’s names and something fun about each other is the perfect start to a conversation course.

I typically use the format: “My name is … ” followed by some odd fact about me, or a verb/noun I like that starts with the same letter as my name.

The next person repeats what the previous person said, then adds their own.

This keeps going around the room until everyone has done it, often with lots of giggling and occasional furtive note-taking.

I should mention, the teacher should both start and finish, and do it entirely from memory!

Beginner level using verbs

My name is Kymberly, and I like knitting.
Her name is Kymberly, she likes knitting. My name is Sarah, and I like skiing.
Kymberly likes knitting, Sarah likes skiing. My name is Jane and I like jogging.

More advanced versions can use a certain grammar (present perfect or other more difficult tenses), use adverbs in addition to verbs, or just explain one interesting fact about a person.

The more fun, silliness, giggles and interest this exercise gets, the better the class will work together for the entire course.

As a teacher, I don’t correct anything at this stage, unless actively asked – no-one should be afraid of making mistakes.

Task 2 – Pair conversations (or groups of 3)

The biggest fear for me is going into a conversation class and not having any topics to talk about.

Topic lists are really useful to be the spark of a conversation that can easily last for the rest of a 1.5 hour class.

Each student gets a topic list of about 10-15 very broad topics, which they can ask their partner about and discuss.

Of course, they can change topics and add their own as they want.

An A4 page of topics is too intimidating, so the list is best printed at A5 size, with space for notes/writing questions.  Leave one or two blank sections for topics of their own choice.

More advance students can jump right in without any written preparation, but beginners like the extra time for thinking and some space to write.

Using 3-4 different lists is perfect – no-one in a pair or group of three have the same topics. And if one group finishes well before others, they can be given another list of topics to talk about.

Sample topics, words and phrases to start conversations – they are very broad!

If you know who is likely to be in the group, you can pick topics that are fun, appropriate, or even controversial.

cats dogs pets children
family siblings friends childhood
grandparents grandchildren homework careers
working from home childcare workplace computers
books movies music art
America Asia Europe Africa
games sports hobbies fitness
relaxing stressful exciting dangerous
eating out cooking around the home best cafes
travel local events places to see shopping
chocolate coffee tea cake
summer autumn winter spring
space oceans mountains cities
scents colors sounds flowers
cars cyclists flying cruise ships
mythology history wild animals culture
Apple Google Microsoft Facebook
spying welfare equality unemployment
insomnia common colds headaches burn-out
a news story have you heard … someone famous isn’t it crazy …
a wish a dream love hate
doctors politicians bankers newspapers
meditation yoga martial arts handmade
eco organic sustainable home grown

→ Download the Introduction conversation class topic handout (PDF)

If all the groups finish well before the end of the class (unlikely), ask each student to tell the class a bit about their partner or group member, and allow the other students to ask follow-up questions.

As a teacher, I simply circulate between the groups, listening in, answering the occasional question. It’s also a great way to find out what topics are popular, and discover each student’s level and confidence.

A second successful class

While I wait for the students to give me a list of topics they want to talk about, I have an always-successful class prepared for the second lesson in the course.

Travel is the most requested topic in all of my years teaching adults English, so I use a selection of travel conversation prompts for the next class, and prepare an interview grid or a list of questions based on their level and grammar needs.

Do you have a favorite activity?

Or perhaps you have some horror stories of classes gone terribly wrong?

I’d love to hear about it – please do leave a comment!

Comments

  1. Thanks for the great teaching tips! I am currently in India doing volunteer work. I’ve also been asked to teach the local clinic staff some English. I haven’t taught much before, but I am going to take a TESL course after I complete my volunteer assignment. So these classes will help give me the confidence and practice before I do my real training.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing these great tips. I am starting a Spanish Conversation Table for students and faculty in the high school where I am a guidance counselor in NYC. I love languages, so this is really just something I thought would be fun and useful for our students and teachers.

  3. Lizelle says:

    Hi
    I have to give a short online (15 min) conversation lesson. I have been given the material but am a bit confused abut the topic.
    Can I place it here? Would you be able to help please?

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