I've written many articles on teaching English conversation. I've written articles giving activities for ESL discussions. I've written articles about using ESL conversation topics in the class. And I've written about ESL speaking activities in general. This time I want to give examples of what I would do in intermediate level conversation classes.
These examples are taken from actual classes I've taught at universities in Taiwan, but I think they would be usable, with minor adaptions, at any university in the world; or in any young adult or adult situation. The examples here were used with intermediate level classes. Some of the ideas would need a little adaptation for use with higher level classes. With lower level classes the focus should be on building more basic speaking skills. See the articles above on ESL speaking activities and ESL discussions for more ideas.
I've given conversation classes on many topics, including bullying, education, travel, food & drink, dating, entrepreneurship, and more. Some of the topics can involve personal discussion. For example when I taught a class on the topic of bullying and verbal self-defence, I used a personal story of bullying I, and some friends, received when I was at school. You must decide on how far you will go here, which will depend on your own comfort level, and the local culture.
I personally feel that if a certain topic is difficult to approach, for whatever reason, then it's better to leave aside, rather than deal with it in an impersonal way, which will not be satisfying to anyone.
The two lesson plans for teaching English conversation, which I look at here, could be used across many cultures, and, hopefully, will not cause any discomfort. They are 'Travel Abroad,' and 'Time Management.' The aim of this article on teaching English conversation is to stimulate ideas on how conversation classes can be structured, rather than giving lesson plans to be copied. You are, however, welcome to use these ESL lesson plans, or any parts of them, that you may wish to.
Teaching English Conversation - Lesson Plan on Traveling Abroad
Warmer - Retell a Story I told the class a travel anecdote of mine, which I named 'My Flight'. You can see it in this article on ESL short stories along with instructions on using this kind of story in the classroom. Of course you could substitute this story with another travel based anecdote of your own.
A Joke This step is not necessary, but I found a joke about traveling abroad, and I wanted to see my students reaction to it. It's easy to do internet searches for jokes, although quite a few of them are unsuitable, or are just not funny. Anyway, here is the joke.
A German tourist walks into a Mc Donald's in New York and orders a beer. (In some parts of Europe, Mc Donald's does sell beer.) A New Yorker, standing in the line behind him, tells him: "They don't serve BEER here, you IDIOT!"
The German man felt quite stupid, but suddenly he turned to the New Yorker with a surprised look, and begins to laugh. "What's so funny?" the man asked. "Oh, nothing really, I just realized that you came here for the food."
Ask the students if they get the joke, and if they think it's funny. If your students are like mine, you may need to explain to them that in many parts of Europe, and some other places, people do not consider Mc Donald's to be real food. If you love fast food then the joke may not be so funny - apologies to lovers of Mc Donald's.
Teaching English Conversation - Questions
The students read the questions silently to see if they had any vocabulary questions. I may have the students chorally ask me the questions, so I can check their pronunciation of weak forms, linkages etc (if they need work on this). I then answer the questions. Not because I love to talk about myself so much, but because it gives me the opportunity to show the meaning of the questions more clearly - not all students will tell you they don't understand - and I can also show the students different possible ways of answering the questions.
Next I put the students into pairs or groups of three, and they ask and answer the questions between themselves. I walk around the classroom to help, encourage conversation (in English) and to note any common mistakes.
Next I ask for feedback. "Jenny, tell the class what you and Eva talked about." Then I will make any comments to the whole class about errors I heard when I walked around.
Teaching English Conversation - Main Task
You have won a round-the-world air ticket. You are free to choose your own itinerary. In a group plan your trip around the world. Make notes on the following questions:
The joke, warm-up questions and task would be written on a handout, along with the discussion questions which come later. I have the students read the task, or I read it aloud to them, explaining as I do. After checking their understanding, the students work on the task in small groups.
It may be a good idea to pre-teach some useful structures to help them along with their discussions. They should be using English as much as possible at this stage.
Teaching English Conversation - Presentation
Once the students have completed most of the tasks, and have some notes on their plans, I ask the groups to stand at the front of the class and present their ideas. I ask for any questions, and we have a brief class discussion on the presented itineraries.
Teaching English Conversation - Further Task
Unless your conversation classes are quite long, you may not have enough time for more discussion. However, I've included one more travel related discussion activity for fun. It's also possible to finish the class with more discussion questions on any aspect of travel you wish.
In the article on ESL discussions I mentioned rating activities. Here is an example of one that is related to the theme of travel.In a rating activity the students must rate a set of items according to a given criteria. For example, the items may be: ship, train, bus, car, bicycle, truck, airplane, helicopter, airship, horse. The criteria may be: usefulness, comfort, how beneficial they are for the environment, convenience. Choose one criterion then have the students order the items from one to ten, one being the most comfortable, ten being the least comfortable etc.
The students can then debate this in groups. If you want you can join groups into larger groups, and they can continue discussing. Finally the groups can compare their decisions and explain why they made the choices they did.
Warmer - Retell the Story As in the above example I began with a story to be retold. The story, the jar, pebbles and sand is related the theme of time management and setting priorities, and is described in the article short stories for ESLTeaching English Conversation - Reading
I used a short reading to help stimulate ideas for discussion, and to add some vocabulary. Some of the vocabulary is of the author's own invention. I gave a handout to the students with the following text.
Here are 11 ideas from Steve Pavlina's 33 Rules to Boost Your Productivity. Read them and discuss these questions. Which ones have you used? Which ones do you think would work well for you? Why? Don't look up every word - Some of these words will NOT be in your dictionaries..
Teaching English Conversation - Task: Priorities & Managing Your Time
In groups of 3-5 students decide on and list your goals, over the following week, month or year. Prioritize them. Decide how you will do them and how you will overcome procrastination [procrastination means delaying doing something]. Please make some notes on this - don't just try to remember it in your head.
Present your combined personality to the class, discuss your goals and how you will achieve them. Yes I want you to stand at the front of the class :)
The handout I gave to the students is self-explanatory.
As you can see from the two example lesson plans for teaching English conversation given above, they are essentially a series of speaking tasks, which hopefully, flow naturally on from each other. Experiment with your own sets of speaking tasks, and enjoy your discussion classes.