A few tips for using conversation questions

Some of my students are really keen on conversation classes. When I ask them what they’d like to do next time, they often say: “Let’s do speaking!”

Luckily, there are plenty of websites which offer ideas for interesting speaking activities. I’ve recently discovered this page, which has sets of questions for ESL conversation classes suitable for low-intermediate to advanced ESL students. One of the handy things is that you can easily eliminate difficult or unsuitable questions before you print them out; by clicking on the question you don’t like, it will automatically be deleted from the future pdf document.

However, the easiest way to work with this website is to project the content on the screen. It’s quick, more ecological and you can work with the questions in a different way than when you have the printed version. This is what I do.

Personalization: Unless I need to discuss a specific topic, I project the home page and I ask students which topic they would like to discuss. I believe this makes the lesson more personalized because it gives students some control over the content of the class.

Výstřižek

The surprise element: The whole class then has to vote on the same topic. I find out how many questions there are in the set they’ve picked. It’s usually about 20 questions. Simply projecting the set and asking students to discuss all the questions one by one would be too long and rather boring. So I usually spice it up by asking each pair to agree on, say, 5 random numbers (before they actually see the questions, though!). Then I show all the set, but they can only discuss those questions they’ve agreed on.

Language work: It would be a pity to leave it like this because the questions contain lots of useful grammar and vocabulary, some of which is already highlighted by the authors.

Last time, my students chose the topic of Dating. This short extract shows that there’s a lot worth noticing.

Výstřižek2

What can you do then? I suppose it all comes down to the level you teach and the needs of your students (my group was around B1).

  • You can draw attention to useful collocations and chunks of language:

on a date, go dutch, at the same time, bad dating experiences, double date, group date, do most of the talking

  • You can highlight all sorts of grammatic features:

modal verbs (should pay), question forms (do you think), tenses (you have heard), verb patterns (like to talk), conditionals (is it okay if …)

  • But most importantly, the questions will become a springboard for lots of emergent language. You can bet that your students will soon divert from the original grammar structures of the questions and as soon as they delve deep into the conversation, they’ll start experimenting (and making some precious mistakes). The more interesting the topic, the more likely this is going to happen.
  • Later on, you can copy the set into a Word document and leave out the words you want to focus on. You can prepare this cloze test very quickly while students are working in pairs. Such an exercise will be based on your students’ immediate needs, which is what a classic, ready made gap fill from a coursebook can’t possibly offer.
    • Who ­­­___ pay on a date? What do you think about___ dutch?
    • Is it okay to date ___ people at the same time?
    • Do you have any bad dating ___ you would like to share? If not, maybe you have heard about ___ from your friends?
    • Have you ever been on a____ date or group date? How was it?
    • Do you like to talk a lot? Are you quiet ___ you meet first someone? Is it okay if one ___ does most of the talking?

What I also like to do is to connect two seemingly unrelated topics. So although last time I wanted to give my students some control over the content of the lesson, I also needed to come back to the topic we had discussed previously. In other words, to meet the aims of the lesson, I needed to make a sensible connection between the topic of Books & Reading and Dating. So I simply asked my students how these two topics relate to each other. I gave them an example first and asked them to come up with as many ideas as possible. This is what they thought:

  1. You can meet your future partner at a library. 
  2. If you like the same books, you have a lot to talk about on a date. 
  3. A book can be a wonderful present for your date. 
  4. You can read books to each other. 
  5. You can get inspired and write a love poem. 
  6. You can learn about dating tips in a book/magazine.
  7. You can go to the movies for a date because you both like the book the film is based on.
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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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12 Responses to A few tips for using conversation questions

  1. Jamie C says:

    Great tips. I’m really into making customised gap fill worksheets during breaktime like the one you describe. Can be frantic but somehow there’s always just enough time.

    I’ve never thought to make those connections between book / syllabus topics and freer conversation class. Interesting idea.

    Thanks

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Hi, Jamie! Thanks a lot for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      I tried this activity with another, lower level class earlier today and it went pretty well. Again, I made a customised gap fill right on the spot and I discovered another advantage; when you leave the Word document open; i.e. you don’t close and save it, you can later use the undo button during the checking stage. So when you students have finished filling in the gaps, you can simply reveal the correct answers one by one. It’s a very quick and neat procedure. The funny thing is, though, that you go from bottom to top, but that doesn’t really matter. Moreover, each word that appears on the screen is automatically highlighted, which makes it even more organised.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Chewie says:

    In addition to serving as conversation questions, I see plenty of writing prompts here.

    And I appreciate the connection you made between books and dating, haha. They do go together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Absolutely, Chewie. We did some writing too. My students chose one question they particularly liked and wrote a short paragraph to answer it. While they were writing, I created the gap fill I’m talking about in my reply to Jamie’s comment.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Zhenya says:

    Loved the post Hana – the resource, the ideas you are sharing on how to use them, the examples (yes, a nice connection between the two topics – wondering if a third topic can be added?) As Chewie said, I see possibilities for writing prompts, or for spontaneous speaking (e.g. for IELTS exam, etc.). A little DIY tweak: add your own cool questions… Thank you so much for the inspiration!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Hi, Zhenya. I’m sure a third topic could easily be added and this would certainly open a gate to even more creativity. I imagine students would come up with some funny connections. As for the tweak, absolutely! I would have included this stage as well, but I ran out of time. Maybe next time. Thanks for sharing your views.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chewie says:

      Or have the students create their own questions!

      Like

  4. Thank you for this useful resource. It will be a good source of ideas when I’m planning spontaneous speaking activities.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sara Wood says:

    Hi Hana, I’m a teacher working in Palma de Mallorca Spain. I really like your blog – it’s accessible, easy to understand and you have great ideas. One of my colleagues showed me how to make a book in class which would be a lovely link for your reading & dating class. How to go on a successful date is one of the many titles which springs to mind. Each pair makes their own little book with their chosen title. Obviously you can apply this to pretty much any topic – the language focus here was the How to structure. Keep on blogging!!

    Liked by 1 person

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