Teaching English Conversation
There is more to teaching English conversation than going into a class
and "chatting" with students.
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If students wanted to chat with
English-speaking people they could do that in many other, cheaper
What is conversation?
English conversation classes need to have structure
conversation for a moment. What does it mean? Try to remember a
conversation you heard recently.
Did the people involved talk an equal
amount? Did they seem interested? How did they show this? Did they ask
each other questions? What was their body language like? What was their
intonation like when they spoke?
Whilst many students of English can speak well, they lack some of the
essential conversation skills, including:
- Showing interest by verbal and
- Using tag questions
- Using echo
questions and asking other
- Using appropriate intonation
- Using a wide range of vocabulary
How can you teach these skills?
Many teachers who are teaching English conversation classes merely give
students subjects to talk about and then listen, occasionally
correcting mistakes in grammar or pronunciation.
But does this really
help students? It can sometimes actually make them hesitate more when
they speak because they become nervous about making mistakes
An alternative approach is to focus on the skills mentioned above.
Walk into the class, sit down and tell the students some (untrue) bad
For example, "My cat died yesterday." This works better if you
can act sad.
Elicit suitable responses from the students, for example,
"I'm sorry", "oh no!", "That's a pity!", etc.
Then tell them that it
wasn't true, as you don't want them to worry!
Then tell them some good
news such as "I won the lottery!"
Again, elicit suitable responses.
Explain that these expressions can show someone you are interested in
what they are saying.
You could also prepare two sets of cards, one
with situations on (good news, bad news and neutral news), and the
other set with responses on and get the students to match them.
Wasn't it? Didn't they?) are difficult for
some students to get right but they help conversation sound much more
For example: "It's cold today, isn't it?" sounds more natural and more
friendly than "It's cold today."
another conversation skill you can teach and
practice with your students.
John has got married.
was last week.
These are great news.
I'm quitting school.
That's an interesting thing to do . . .
I met Brad Pitt.
You don't say!
Janet bought a yacht.
She bought herself a yacht.
Well, good for her.
Why did you come so late?
I come so late?
I was stuck in a traffic jam.
Echo questions are very useful and can make students sound like native
Filming your students' conversations is also great as they can see
their body language too, and discuss how that affects their
If you are focusing on a particular kind of conversation, let's say
agreeing and disagreeing, then you may need to provide your students
with useful vocabulary.
If you don't give them the vocabulary to work
with, their conversations will be repetitive and they will not push
themselves to improve.
Find recordings of conversations.
Ask students to listen for stressed
words, and for when the voices go up and down.
It is also helpful to
model sentences and questions for them to repeat.
Putting it all together
After you have taught and practiced one of the above conversation
skills with your students you can set them role
are nervous about giving their own opinions and if this is the case it
is a good idea to pre-prepare some role cards to use, so they are using
the opinions you give them rather than their own.
Teaching English conversation can be great fun, but remember to keep it
structured and actually teach some skills so your students get maximum
benefit from the lessons.
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