Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Conversation Topics for ESL Students

Many of my ESL students are very advanced and primarily want to work on their speaking conversation skills. That means we have to find something to talk about. As the ESL teacher, it's my responsibility to introduce subjects, ask open-ended questions, and generally ensure that the ESL learner speaks.

There is such a variety of ESL speakers, not only in terms of the range of English language skills, but in their inclination towards speaking. I have some advanced level ESL learners whose total speaking time during our sessions is significantly less than the total speaking time of some intermediate level students. My total speaking time is probably the same in both cases. The difference is that some advanced learners can tend to be perfectionists and spend significant time thinking about how to very correctly say what they want to say.

In my ESL tutoring sessions with students who want to improve their speaking ability, I really try to come up with conversation topics that are of great interest (hopefully, there is even passion) to my students. The objective is to get students to talk, by any means necessary. If I have prepared a topic of conversation for the session and it doesn't seem to be productive, as a private ESL tutor, I can immediately change the subject. It's important for conversation classes to discuss what the student wants to discuss (or is willing to discuss) and not what the teacher wants to discuss. It's also important for the teacher to be quiet, even in those awkward silences!


1 comment:

Eric said...

Excellent points. Partly as a result of privately tutoring advanced ESL students and running a bi-weekly conversation class, I developed the habit of preparing a worksheet of questions and quotations on numerous topics for my students. Students appreciated my efforts, and the abundance of materials that they could study on their own.

This year, after switching to teaching writing at a Southern California university, I published 45 of my self-contained lessons in a book titled "Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics". You can find several free lessons on the website to use in your tutoring and/or conversation classes. Topics range from "being yourself" and "pet peeves" to "spending money" and "movies." The most critical point, as noted by many educators, remains respecting the student's intelligence and tailoring the lessons to meet their needs and desires.

Further, I suggest allow students to express their authentic opinions - even if they run counter to the conventional wisdom or political correctness. If you discuss crime, for instance, in Los Angeles, many students will say things that might make you blush. The trick, of course, remains asking better and sharper questions so they can reason their way out of bigoted perceptions and find more accurate - and polite - ways to express their ideas. I welcome candid discussions and let my classroom be a place where people can be themselves. The healthy dialog teaches students how to agree and disagree in a civilized manner.