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03 Aug Tips For Setting Up a Successful Conversation Classes

Sam D. shares her tips on how to run a successful and enjoyable conversation class that helps accelerate language confidence and fluency.

 I love Conversation Classes.

 Some of you may be asking why? It’s so stressful, all that talking? What do you talk about? How do you keep the conversation flowing? What if students don’t want to talk? What if everybody talks at the same time? How do I assess the students? Argh!

 Don’t panic, let me walk you through it and pretty soon you’ll be just as excited as I am about having a conversation with your students and helping them on their way to fluency.

 Start by introducing yourself to your class in a fun and memorable way, and most importantly, find a strategy to ensure that you remember each and every student’s name.

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 Once you have done this, set up the course expectations. Ask students to discuss in pairs what they expect to get out of this course. Oh look, your students are talking. They may be talking to each other, and it most likely will not be perfect, but they are talking, nonetheless. Isn’t that the aim of this class? By putting students into pairs you provide a safe environment where they will not have to talk in front of the whole class. They save face, while you get to monitor and assess their level. You will probably notice more than one level at this stage. Don’t panic, it’s all good.

 Things to look out for:

  • Students who tell you they’re doing conversations classes so they can speak perfect English.
  • Students who tell you they want to have perfect pronunciation.
  • Students who tell you they want to have their grammar corrected.

If you have any students like this in your class, there is a good chance that their expectations may only be partially met. However, if you then let your students know what your expectations are, this soon puts the class in the right perspective. The focus of conversation classes is fluency, not accuracy. You can agree to correct certain forms during each class, but not all of them. Ask the students how they would like to receive feedback; as they make the mistake or at the end of the lesson. It’s impossible to correct every mistake so make sure you let your students know exactly what you will be focusing on and stick to it.

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Once the students have expressed their expectations and you have expressed yours, you can get students into pairs or even groups again and get them to agree on at least five rules for the classroom. These should be along the lines of:

  • No talking over another person; listen attentively.
  • Be respectful of different opinions and cultures.
  • Be sensitive to different cultures.
  • Be punctual.
  • Telephones on silent or vibrate, etc.

 Have a clear idea of what your rules are and then guide students to agree to these rules. Did you notice that this is another activity where students are engaged with each other? They will all be talking while you wander in between and monitor their language. You can make some suggestions, correct some mistakes if appropriate, but basically the students are doing all the talking.

 One more job is to decide what you are going to talk about over the next 20-30 hours. Who decides what topics will be spoken about? You guessed it, the students! Switch their groups or pairs again and ask them to come up with at least ten topics that they would like to cover during the course. Once they’ve done this, join them up with another group and between the two groups they should agree on 15 topics only. Finally get them together as a class and get them once again, to discuss and agree on 15 topics. Now that you have made your students responsible for their own learning, you should be just about ready to go.

 Next time we’ll discuss how to plan a typical conversation lesson. Until then…happy talking!

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