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When I first started teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language, I loved ESL conversation classes. I felt like they were a break from lesson planning, and an easy class to teach. I would go in with a topic and questions for students to ask each other and viola! Class done! Sometimes I would take part in the conversation or let the students speak themselves. As long as students are speaking they are practicing, right?

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Yes, of course, there can be value in having students ask each other questions to stimulate discussion. They have the opportunity to talk and share information with each other and use English creatively in conversation. It helps them develop fluency and practice the vocabulary and phrases they already know. This is especially true if you are teaching in a foreign country where they may not have the opportunity to speak English outside of class.

Just to highlight this point, conversation classes should mostly be done with the students doing the most speaking with each other. NOT the teacher asking a question and having students answer individually for the whole class. (There may be a time when you need to this and I’ll touch on that in another post, but for the most part, you want the students talking with each other).

The Value of Teaching in an ESL Conversation Class

An ESL conversation class can be more than just asking and answering questions! In fact, students still need to learn from you and can benefit immensely from your teaching if it is done right. As a teacher you want to not only give them a chance to practice their English, you want to help them develop their vocabulary and phrases.

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You are their resource of native-speaking phrases and vocabulary that they don’t have access to through the internet or English books. You are their go-to person to answer questions and offer feedback and guidance. You need to take advantage of that as much as possible while still making your class student-centered with optimal student talking time.

How do you create a conversation lesson for your EFL class that is student-centered and vocab-packed? 

Simple! By pre-teaching vocabulary and phrases related to the conversational context before having students engage in a conversation with each other. Okay not completely simple, but important!

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Why Pre-teaching Vocabulary is so Important

There are two main reasons for pre-teaching vocabulary and phrases in your ESL Conversation class:

  1. As I said before YOU are their resource to give them guidance about words and phrases and how to use them. You can present them with common words and phrases related to this specific subject that they may not be familiar with. As a trained TEFL teacher you will have natural expressions and phrases that you can teach them that they may not learn online or in a textbook. BE THEIR RESOURCE!
  2. Some students may not feel comfortable with their speaking ability. They might be nervous or not feel like they are equipped to have a full conversation in English (especially lower-level speakers). By providing students with some pre-taught words and phrases you are providing them with a basis to start their conversations and help them to feel more comfortable expressing themselves.

Basically, you want to teach the words and phrases at the beginning of class and then have them practice them in their conversation. Make sure the vocabulary and words are related to the conversation topic (for example adjectives for describing appearance: pretty, beautiful, handsome etc.) Finally, don’t forget to give feedback and examples to make sure that students are using the words and phrases correctly.

A great resource for words and phrases you can incorporate into your lesson is Learn English Today’s Vocabulary section.

As a teacher, I know the value of giving students as much student talk time as possible. But it is also important to provide them with a basis to do this properly.

Want to know how to plan a conversation lesson using this technique? Find out how to do this in my post: 7 Simple Steps to Structure and Incredible ESL Lesson.

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