The Art of Good Conversation Classes
When English language teachers do a CELTA, Trinity or PGCE course to learn how to teach, we are generally taught to plan our lessons using the 3P’s method – presentation, production and practice. This works very well within a formal academy or school setting with a curriculum, syllabus and groups of students who have to attend regularly, and on time. But for those of us who deliver private lessons or business English training and find ourselves being asked to deliver ‘conversation classes’, the 3P’s aren’t so helpful. In fact, insisting on the strictures of this format can often drive clients away. So how can English teachers ensure that their students are engaged and entertained in conversation whilst still studying and learning? What is the art of delivering a good conversation class?
First of all, it’s important to understand what conversation classes are; or more to the point, what they should be.
People who want conversation classes aren’t studying for an exam, so they don’t want exam practice. They often don’t have the time to commit to a timetabled course of study, or they just don’t want to. Corporate clients within companies may often arrive late for class, or they may have to cancel lessons due to work commitments. All of this means that the teacher needs to have a flexible lesson plan and approach that, even if the lesson is only half an hour, can still deliver some sort of beneficial learning.
If your clients are working at a multi-national company and using English in their job, they may want to focus on the type of engagements they have at work – meetings, negotiations or sales for example. However, this may not necessarily be the case; sometimes corporate clients are comfortable with the lexis of their job but want to expand their wider vocabulary to enable them to express themselves better. If your clients are private students learning general English, they may simply want an opportunity to practice their listening and speaking in order to improve or just maintain their current level. They may be taking lessons for self satisfaction, to help them when travelling, or some other personal reason. The key thing is that you engage your students with topics of interest.
Many EFL teachers see conversation classes as a way of earning easy money. They think there is no need for planning and treat them as little more than what the name implies, a conversation. All the teacher needs to do is facilitate a conversation and correct pronunciation and grammar errors – easy, right? Well yes and no. I mean how effective is that really going to be for the learner? Having a general conversation is good English practice, but how much this type of ‘lesson’ helps the student is debatable. However, that doesn’t mean that conversation classes cannot be an effective method of learning; on the contrary.
Provided there is a methodology involved, conversational classes can be an excellent way to improve fluency, accuracy and pronunciation. They can be used to develop vocabulary and help students become more confident when using English. In this respect, the ESA method (engage, study, activate) is a much better approach to this type of lesson.
As polyglot and language learning guru, Steve Kaufman, points out, we are more likely to be engaged in topics that interest us. Therefore, it is important to build your lessons around topics that interest your clients, and the internet is a great resource for good material to use with your students.
There are lots of short videos on YouTube and authentic articles that delve into fascinating topics in business, technology, science, nature, philosophy, psychology, culture, history, current affairs – anything and everything you can think of. English Evolution video lessons are built around a diverse range of presentations, some by the most respected experts in their field discussing a variety of interesting topics. This type of authentic content is much more engaging for EFL students than what you would typically find in textbooks. If you find topics that interest your learners, they will be more engaged, better motivated, and they will ultimately absorb more information.
Conversation classes don’t only have to be speaking and pronunciation practice, they are also a great opportunity to focus on new vocabulary and specific verb tenses. English Evolution lessons include pre-listening exercises that introduce vocabulary in context before students are introduced to the content. Students will then focus on using this vocabulary in discussion or task based exercises related to the material, thus activating the language they have learnt with authentic practice.
Conversation classes can also be used to focus on different tenses. Students can discuss hypotheticals and practice using future tenses, or they could focus on talking about the past and use third conditionals to speculate about how the things could have been different. Alternatively, they can use language for discussion and expressing opinion, which is particularly beneficial for students with higher levels of English. Discussing abstract topics that require activation of a greater range of vocabulary and tenses encourages advanced English learners to use a wider and more expressive range of words and phrases. Language that they know, but they seldom use.
In short, the art of good conversation classes is to not think of them as just a conversation with your student/s. Conversation classes that are well planned and have a learning focus are also a great opportunity to introduce new vocabulary, consolidate grammar and a range of sentence structures in an authentic and effective manner. When done well, a good conversation class will not only create a great learning experience for your students, but also give teachers and students an opportunity to share opinions and ideas and build better relationships. And of course, if you have better relationships with your students, they are more relaxed, more confident, and learning is more like fun than work for both of you.
Go to https://englishevolutionlearning.com/shop/ to find a whole range of structured yet flexible listening lessons that you can use time and time again for your conversation classes.
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