29 Aug How to Plan and Conduct an Engaging Conversation Class

Sam D. provides an in-depth discussion about planning a conversation class. 

So you’re about to teach a conversation class. You’ve probably already taught the first lesson where you established the expectations of your students and yourself, together you have selected at least 15 topics to discuss throughout the duration of the course. You will have set up your classroom rules and again, this would have been a collaborative exercise. Now you’re ready to start.

 What is the first thing your students will need in order to hold a conversation? You’ve got it! Vocabulary. We can’t expect our students to speak unless we give them the words to use. British linguist David Wilkins (1972) puts it this way: “While without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed”  (p111).


If, for example, you’d like your class to have a debate, you can first elicit all the key words and phrases that your students already know about debating politely, and even impolitely. After all, we need to teach our students the nuances of the language, not just the words, right? Concept check each of the words and phrases to make sure that all the students in the class know what it means. Just because one student is able to give you a good word, doesn’t mean the whole class will know what it means. Here is an example: A student gives you the phrase, ‘May I interrupt you please?’ How do we check that all the students know what the word interrupt means? Here is a simple concept-checking question (also referred to as a CCQ); If I interrupt someone do I want them to keep on talking, or stop talking? The right answer of course, is that we want the person to stop talking.

Once you have elicited as many words and phrases as possible from your students, you now have the opportunity to add some new ones. The trick is to make sure that you can add at least 7 to 10 new words to the existing vocabulary of your students. Let them leave at the end of the class knowing that they have added to their existing knowledge. This is crucial when it comes to motivating your students. We always want them to feel that they have learned something new.


Once you have introduced all the new words, (and you may what to include some drilling at this stage) it’s time to set up activities that give your students plenty of opportunities to use these words in an authentic and meaningful way.  This is where your creativity comes into play. You can set your students up into pairs and groups and get them discussing some interesting topics. It’s very important to remember that we’re not focusing on what the students have to say, but rather on how they say it. Sometimes we get so caught up in our topics we forget to assess whether our students are actually using the target language. During this type of debating class it’s often a good idea to get students to discuss for and against a specific topic. That takes the emotion out of the conversation and forces students to focus on their language choices.

There are so many different ideas for teaching conversation classes. You can get students to do mini presentations, they can watch videos and reproduce the dialogues, the can play ranking and negotiating games, they can discuss articles from newspapers; the list goes on and on.

Finally, don’t forget to give your students feedback. How you do this will have been determined during your first lesson where you set up your student and teacher expectations. Make sure your time management allows for this important stage of your lesson.


That’s it; you’re all set to go. I hope that you get as much pleasure out of teaching conversation classes as I do.


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