Do you want your students to be excited to speak with you in English?
Do you want to make sure you always know where the conversation is going and what to say next?
You need engaging content, interesting conversation starters, and questions that really reel them in.
This list of 150 ESL conversation starters will give you everything you need to make sure you always have something interesting to talk about and never run out of things to say!
Why Every Teacher Needs a List of Starters
If you want to improve your student’s speaking ability you need to master the art of conversation. You need to know how to get your students speaking, move the conversation forward, provide feedback and make it all feel natural. You also need engaging topics and that is where this guide comes in.
One of the problems that can face a teacher is knowing what to talk about. What do you do when you’ve finished talking about work, the weather and then realise that only 5 minutes have passed!
This guide has everything you need to make sure you never run out of topics and most importantly you always have something interesting to say.
It is a good idea to pick a particular topic for a class (or even have your student pick if you want more engagement from them). Once you have that topic then move through the questions, trying to get as much from each one as possible.
Conversation Topics for Adults and Teens
Adults and teens usually know more about advanced topics than children (politics, religion, etc.) That being said, knowing more on these topics doesn’t necessarily translate to being able to speak about these things easily so don’t assume they can do everything. Be aware of your student’s level and be prepared to reframe a question if they are struggling to understand.
- Where do you work?
- Do you enjoy your job?
- Do you use English for your job?
- Tell me about your last job.
- What do you think is the most difficult job in the world?
- What do you think is the easiest job in the world?
- Where would you work if you could pick any job?
- Would you still work if you won the lottery?
- Do you think robots will replace all of the jobs in the future?
- Which kind of job should have the highest salary?
- Do you listen to music?
- When did you start listening to music?
- Do you play a musical instrument?
- What do you think the future of music will be like?
- If you could meet any musician, who would it be?
- Why do people like music?
- If you could erase a musical genre, which would it be?
- Do you think musical success comes from working hard or luck?
- What was the first album you bought?
- Have you ever downloaded music illegally?
- What is a holiday?
- Do you often go on holiday?
- Where did you last go on holiday?
- Where would you like to go on holiday next?
- Do you prefer relaxing or having an adventure on your holiday?
- Is it weird to go on holiday by yourself?
- What is the best food you’ve eaten while on holiday?
- Can you imagine what holidays 500 years ago were like?
- Would you like to go on holiday to space?
- What do you think the future of the holidays will be like?
Conversation Topics for Kids
In order to engage a child in conversation, you have to enter their world. What is fun for them? What do they like to do? Using words/phrases like “wow”, “That sounds tasty”, “Awesome” can show you are listening to them and make things more fun which will get them saying more!
- Do you have a pet?
- What do you think pets do in the day?
- What do pets eat?
- Are cats better or dogs?
- What is the best name for a pet?
- Would you like a pet spider?
- Would you like to be an animal? Which one?
- Why do we have pets?
- Do you prefer cute or fun pets?
- What is the best present for a pet?
- Do you like school?
- What is your favourite subject?
- What is your least favourite subject?
- Who is your favourite teacher?
- Why do people have to go to school?
- Do you like homework?
- What would you do if you were the headteacher?
- How could schools be more fun?
- How long are the summer holidays?
- Can you learn and have fun at the same time?
- What is your favourite movie?
- Who is your favourite character?
- Who is your least favourite character?
- Do you like disney movies?
- What was the last movie you saw at the cinema?
- How often do you watch movies?
- Do you wish you could live in a movie?
- Why do you watch movies?
- Do you prefer reading books or movies?
- Do you watch any movies in English?
Conversation Topics for Beginners
Keeping the topics simple for beginners is a must at the start. Talking about their hobbies and family can help as these are areas they may have already experience in talking about. If a student is really struggling then giving them phrases to use such as “I like …” can help get the ball rolling.
- What do you like to do?
- Do you do any sports?
- What types of movie do you like?
- Do you play video games?
- What do you usually do with friends?
- Is learning English a hobby or work?
- Do you have any unusual hobbies?
- Do you have enough time for your hobbies?
- What is a common hobby?
- What do you think is a boring hobby?
- Do you live with your family?
- How many people are in your family?
- Are you close with your family?
- How often do you see your family?
- What do you do with your family when you see them?
- Is your family important to you?
- Which is more important, friends or family?
- Who is the weirdest person in your family?
- Are families less important nowadays than in the past?
- What would happen if we didn’t have families?
- Where do you live?
- What is there to do in your city?
- What is your place like?
- What is your neighbourhood like?
- Are there any parks near where you live?
- Have you ever lived elsewhere?
- How many rooms does your place have?
- If you moved, where would you like to live?
- Would you prefer to live in the city or country?
- Would you like to live abroad?
Weird and Funny Conversation Starters
Nobody wants to speak about the same mundane topics, especially if they’re an advanced student. Being able to mix it up is a great attribute to have as a teacher. Not only will you have memorable lessons with these conversation starters but it will really test the ability of the students to think about topics they aren’t used to (instead of rolling off easy answers about familiar topics.)
Zombie Apocalypse Plan
- What is your zombie apocalypse plan?
- Who would you take with you?
- What would be your weapon of choice?
- What would you do if a friend got bitten by a zombie?
- What would you do if you got bitten by a zombie?
- What food would you take with you?
- Do you think governments should have a zombie apocalypse plan?
- Do you think everyone should have a zombie apocalypse plan?
- Is a zombie outbreak a likely scenario?
- Why do you think there are so many movies and TV series based on zombies?
- If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
- What do you think is the weirdest superpower in comic books?
- Are some superpowers too powerful?
- Would you like a superpower where you could turn things into gold by touching them?
- What is the weakest superpower in a comic book?
- Have we already seen every kind of superpower possible in a comic book?
- Are there some people in the real world that have superpowers? (doctors etc)
- Would you like a superpower where you could turn things into chocolate?
- Would it be better to be super strong or super smart?
- Would you like the power to travel through time?
- If you were granted 3 wishes what would they be?
- Is wishing for more wishes cheating?
- Should there be any other rules for people granted wishes?
- Have you seen any movies with a magic lamp?
- Do you think there is a better object that could house a genie?
- Why are we interested in stories of people having wishes?
- Have any of your wishes come true in real life?
- Do you make a wish when you blow out the candles on a cake?
- Is it bad luck to tell someone what your wish is when blowing out the candles?
- What other ways do people make wishes?
Controversial Conversations Topics
These are topics that you need to be careful with and use your judgement based on the student’s background. You need to wait until you know a student to find out what material is appropriate for them. That being said, If used correctly, then these can be really interesting and get the student thinking about “real issues”.
- What do you think about the death penalty?
- Do you know which countries still use the death penalty?
- Why do you think some countries use the death penalty?
- Do you know of any famous executions?
- Should the death penalty be outlawed?
- If we removed the death penalty then what punishment should replace it?
- What is the most humane form of execution?
- What would your “last meal” be?
- Does the fear of the death penalty reduce crime?
- How has execution changed over the years?
- What is abortion?
- Should abortion be legal?
- Why do you think some people are “pro choice”?
- Why do you think some people are “pro life”?
- What do you think of abortion in cases where the baby was conceived due to rape?
- What do you think of abortion in cases where the Mother’s life is in danger (due to being pregnant)?
- Should the father “get a say” in the matter of abortion?
- What advice would you give to a family member who was thinking of getting an abortion?
- Should people be allowed to protest against abortion?
- What do you think the future laws on abortion will be?
- What is corruption?
- Is there corruption in your country?
- Why does corruption exist?
- Would you consider taking a bribe?
- Would you consider offering a bribe?
- Are some types of corruption better than others?
- Which countries have the most corruption?
- Which countries have the least corruption?
- Are there any stories of corruption that you can remember?
- Is it possible to get rid of corruption entirely?
Additional Tips for Your Conversation Lessons
Here are some additional tips to make sure your students are getting the most out of their conversation lessons and will be excited about coming back for more. Some of these will take time to internalize and get right but be aware of them and experiment to get them just right.
- Don’t feel like you have to stick rigidly to the list of conversation starters. If a question takes you down a different conversational thread then go with it. The important thing is that the student is talking, you can always return to “the script” later.
- Correcting a student immediately can often be useful, but in conversation, it can really kill the flow as well as a student’s confidence if done too often. A good idea is to make notes of any major problems and then mention them after a particular section instead. On top of this, try not to interrupt a student once they are speaking. For each answer, try to milk everything out of them that you can before you have “your turn to speak”.
- As well as the frequency of correction, consider the amount being corrected. Don’t feel like you have to correct EVERYTHING. Especially if a student is starting out and is a bit nervous. Pick a few problems areas and focus on that, if you mention too many things at once it can be overwhelming and can really lower a student’s confidence.
- Be strict when a student gives you short answers. If a student gives you an answer like “yes” then force more out of them with “yes… because” or “no… but”. The idea is to get them using the language more.
- Try to inject some personality when using these ESL conversation topics. It should feel more like a conversation rather than a robot giving an interview.
- Some students will struggle with certain subjects as they just don’t know enough about the topic. If it’s a bit of a challenge then push through but if they can’t even talk about a topic in their native language then it may be an idea to move on to another subject.
- Allowing a student to pick a topic can be a great way of engaging them more. This also has the added benefit of helping a younger student (such as a teenager) feel more empowered as they can make their own decisions.
There you have it!
All you need to make sure you never run out of things to say. Get these printed out as your go-to cheat sheets and bookmark this page so you can easily come back to them for future classes.
Hopefully, these ESL conversation starters and questions will spark your own ideas for topics you can use in class. If you are teaching one-to-one, you could even write niche topics especially for that student’s interests (e.g skateboarding, knitting or chess).
Remember, match the topics to the student’s level, keep it fun and once they start talking don’t get in the way!