Conversation lessons are a great way to practice and develop speaking skills for adults, but you may be a little lost on how to give your student the most out of the lesson. The tips below on how to give a great English conversation lesson for adults should steer you in the right direction.
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Language learners value the chance to practice their conversation skills during the lesson because it helps them communicate with people in practical, everyday situations. However, sometimes it may be hard for the teacher to identify where to start and what to work on with the student during a conversation lesson. That’s why we’re going to explore some ideas that will help you establish a good, general strategy to give your student what they need.
1. Prepare or Bring Up Topics Relevant to the Student’s Interests
In your first lesson with your new student, you should do some introductory tasks such as finding out about their school or work life, their responsibilities at their job, their family, and home life, why they need English, their experience with and goals for English, as well as personal hobbies and interests.
When you get to know about their goals in English and their personal interests, you should try to hit on these two points moving forward in your next lessons. Students will improve faster when they’re talking about things they care about. It will also make your job easier because they are more likely to steal the conversation and all the talking time when it’s something of interest – which is exactly what you want!
Prepare videos, articles, or local news topics which can be discussed
For example, if one of my students is interested in hockey, I might search for a good video to watch, an article to read, or questions to discuss relevant to hockey and bring material for this to the next lesson. You could also bring a lesson plan on a hockey-related topic. A lesson plan like this will give you engaging material to help your student develop the skills they need to talk about hockey.
Since the student is emotionally invested in the topic of hockey, they will be inspired to share their thoughts on this particular story (from the above link). You can then easily steer the conversation in the direction of the student’s own experience playing hockey, visiting hockey matches, watching games, their favorite team, players etc. which they should have a lot to share and talk about.
An important thing to mention is that I almost always check local news topics going on in the city or country where I live (Prague, Czech Republic) before I go to a lesson. This is because your students are likely to relate to the things going on there. Think about elections or political stories, cultural or sports events going on, public figures, national holidays, or new developments in the city life (like a new start-up company, a new law that was passed, or a new mobile app, for example). Search online for news sources in English in the city or country where you live and pick out things that you think could fuel some good conversation. Keep an eye out for hot news topics that seem controversial, modern, or interesting. Students often like discussing the things going on in the local world around them because it’s practical.
Bottom line: When you give your students topics that they can relate to and are interested in, they tend to be more engaged and improve faster. (And it makes your job easier!)
2. Focus on the Student, but don’t Forget to Share Your Opinions, Ideas, Thoughts, and Experiences
One of the most important things to remember when giving a conversation lesson as a teacher is that this is the student’s time to talk. Although there’s nothing wrong with talking about yourself, try to keep that to a limit. Your student is with you for one main reason – to practice their skills as much as they can and improve.
A conversation should go two ways
Think of yourself as the leader of the conversation, but you also shouldn’t forget that a conversation goes two ways, and in order to keep a conversation going you’ll have to share your own feedback, opinions, ideas, thoughts, and experiences on the topic. However, you should be conscious of the fact that the reason for doing this is to facilitate extra conversation for your student, give him/her a chance to react to your opinions, and introduce new vocabulary terms that could be useful along the way.
The way to focus on a student during a lesson is by paying attention, being engaged, being sensitive about their mistakes or mispronunciations, helping him/her say things correctly, and asking him/her a lot of follow-up type questions. Below you can see an example of what it means to facilitate conversation with a student, who is a maybe a little shy or doesn’t like to talk much:
Teacher: “How was your hockey practice this week?”
Student: “It was good.”
Teacher: “What kind of training exercises did you do?”
Student: “We had to skate between small, plastic orange…uh…um…”
Teacher: “Cones” (write down the word ‘cones’ on a piece of paper). “And are there any good exercises you can do at home to train for hockey?”
Student: “At home, you can do…’ (student mimics a push-up)
Teacher: “Push-ups” (write down the word ‘push-ups’ on a piece of paper). “Oh I hate push-ups! I injured my shoulder one time doing push-ups. And have you ever been injured while playing hockey?”
Student: “Yes, one time when I was…”
If you have a talkative student, they can often make the lesson really easy for you. But other times you’ll have to work harder and be creative in eliciting ideas from your student.
Bottom line: Your role should be clear here – you are the one steering the conversation, focusing on getting the student to speak as much as possible, asking good questions, eliciting their ideas, stories, experiences, opinions, and introducing some new terms along the way.
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3. Correct Students in a Variety of Ways (But Not Always!)
Your voice, pen, paper, face, and hands are your most valuable tools for error correction during a conversation lesson. Use your voice to demonstrate how to say something correctly, your pen and paper to show them where they’ve made mistakes, and your face and hands to indicate that they’ve made an error.
Ways to correct a student
There are different ways you can correct a student, and the most classic way is that when a student makes a mistake, you correct them verbally, on the spot after the mistake is made. Basically, you interrupt the student (politely!) and tell them the correct way to say it:
Student: “Yesterday, we must did a lot training exercises.”
Teacher: (Interrupt) “Yesterday, we had to do a lot of training exercises.”
Then, on a piece of paper, you can write down ‘must (present) – had to (past simple)’ and explain that we use the past simple form of ‘have to’ for ‘must’.
Alternatively, you could also write down that students’ mistake on paper while they continue to talk without interrupting them, and come back to it at the end of the lesson. Then, walk through the mistakes in the sentence with the student at the end of the lesson. Show / explain to them why ‘must’ is incorrect, why ‘did’ is incorrect, and why you need to add the preposition ‘of’.
Don’t disrupt the flow of conversation
One important thing to remember is that you don’t want to disrupt the flow of the conversation, which is what can happen if you overcorrect them, so be careful with this technique. You can also damage their confidence and fluency. If you interrupt a student to correct them, do it in moderation. Not every single mistake needs to be corrected, the most important thing is that the student can communicate their ideas in a clear way, which is what you’re there to help them with.
Let the student correct himself/herself
Try to mix up your techniques as well. For example, instead of interrupting the student verbally with the correct way to say it, you could do something like break a gentle smile and shake your head back and forth. This will indicate to the student that he/she has made a mistake, and they will have to think about how to correct it on their own. This is very effective because they must do the work in their own mind to reform their sentence. Or you could elicit the mistake by repeating the sentence and let the student try to finish it in the corrected form.
For the example above, start saying “Yesterday, we…not ‘must’ but…” and the student should try to finish it correctly: ‘Yesterday, we had to…’. Another technique is repeating exactly what the student said and shaking your head while putting stress in your voice at the part where the student’s mistake was.
Be attentive to the word choice, pronunciation, and word position
You will also want to be attentive to the word choice, pronunciation, and word position when error correcting students. For word position, you can stop the student and cross your two index fingers over each other, while for pronunciation you can simply say the right way to say it and then have the student repeat the corrected version back to you. It may take a while to get the hang of effective error correcting, but it’s an important skill to learn. You can follow these additional techniques for effective error correction.
Bottom Line: Error correction is an essential component to any conversation lesson, but vary the ways you do it and do it in moderation.
4. Find Ways to Introduce New Vocabulary Terms Every Lesson
One of the most important things I do when teaching a conversation lesson is introducing and writing down new vocabulary terms that come up. If a student can’t think of a word, your job is to help them find the word they want to use in that specific context and then introduce them to it. You can also repeat or summarize the same idea of what the student just said in your own words, how you would say it yourself naturally.
Naturally, tie in new vocabulary terms
Many times the student may say something, you understand what they mean, but they just didn’t say it how a native speaker would. Let’s look at the examples below:
Student: “My job application it was not accepted.”
Teacher: “So your application got turned down?”
And at this time, you can write down the new term for them: ‘turn down’
Go over the definition and how to use ‘turn down’, with another example in context. Then, you could introduce some other phrasal verbs that use the verb ‘turn’: (turn up, turn around, turn into, turn against, etc.). You could even introduce the grammar point using ‘get’ in the passive form ‘to get turned down’ / ‘to get hit’ / ‘to get arrested’, etc.
Student: “He is not so good to his dog.”
Teacher: “So he doesn’t treat his dog well?”
And at this time, you can write down the new term: ‘to treat’
What I would do in this situation is go over the different contexts, meanings, and parts of speech for the word ‘treat’.
- treat (v.) to behave a specific way to somebody or something
- (v.) to give medical care or try to heal
- (n.) a type of reward, snack, toy, etc. for good behavior
Parts of speech:
Translate terms from and to the student’s native language
One thing that’s definitely recommended and helps a lot is if you are able to translate some terms to and from the student’s native language. This helps a lot with accuracy. You might run into a situation when a student is talking and they don’t know the word they want to say and you also don’t know what they want to say. In this case, you could have an online dictionary/translator accessible during the lesson so that you can just translate the word quickly. It’s often recommended to avoid translation during a language lesson, but I think that it can be useful from time to time. The reason I like it is that it provides clarification and accuracy.
Bottom Line: Pay attention to the vocabulary words your students need and help them say things the right way while building upon those new words. Don’t be afraid to use a translator if you need it. If neither you nor your student can’t think of the word, it wouldn’t hurt to try translating it.
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5. Repeat and Review All of the Things from That Lesson in the Next Lesson
You will definitely want to keep the piece of paper that you wrote down all of your students’ mistakes, notes, new words, terms, expressions, etc from the lesson. Use that paper to drill in and refresh what the students learned during the last lesson. If you’re really trying to go the extra mile, take that paper home, type up their speaking mistakes and new vocabulary terms on a word document. During your next lesson, print it out and have your student correct the mistakes again. Maybe write a few sentences with fill-in-the-blank gaps for some prepositions if they made some errors with that in the lesson.
Then go through the vocabulary terms from the previous lesson. You can do this by either reading the word out loud and having the student recall the context you had for it, or by having them try to tell you a definition or context examples for the word. You could also do it the other way around – you read out the definition and the student tells you the word.
Keep an eye out for repeated mistakes
Keep an eye out for their repeated mistakes – for example, if they make multiple mistakes in one lesson with present perfect, then you could focus on present perfect as a grammar point for the next lesson and bring some speaking or writing activities related to that. It also gives the lesson a nice flow if you transition from the student’s mistake to the grammar point that you have planned for that next lesson.
Bottom line: Reviewing the material from the last lesson will help drill in the new terms, information, and content that you’ve covered.
Final Bonus Tip: Make the Transitions Within the Lesson Flow Nicely
Having a lesson that flows smoothly makes it feel complete. By ‘flow’ I mean that you transition each piece of the lesson to fit nicely into the next. Let’s go back to the student who likes to play hockey – I might go into the lesson and ask, “So, did you play any hockey last week?” and then move on to some global or local news topics and discuss if there’s anything new in the world of hockey in terms of players, teams, events, matches etc. After that, you can search the web for some interesting videos, lesson plans, or articles on a hockey-related theme.
Now having said that, it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that every time you do a lesson, but it is good to have the parts of the lesson flow into each other. My personal favorite recipe for a conversation lesson which flows nicely will have all or some of these ingredients:
Key ingredients of a conversational lesson
1. Conversation/discussion about personal life updates
- Weekend/week activities, plans, and events
- Work/school related projects, tasks, jobs
- Recent or upcoming travel or holiday plans
2. Discussion about interesting and important global and local news topics
- Sports – Entertainment/Local Events
- Politics – Technology/Science
- Culture – Education/Health
3. Review of material and topics from the previous lesson
- Vocabulary examples
- Speaking mistakes
- New phrases / expressions
- Review some key points from a topic from an article, video, or grammar point you covered in the last lesson
4. Veslio lesson plan with video
- Preview / Warm Up Activity
- Discussion Questions
- Viewing Activity & Questions
- Vocabulary / Grammar from the video
5. Anything else depends on the student’s wishes. It’s always nice to check in with the student to see if there’s anything they would specifically like to work on, talk about, or cover during the next lesson.
You should be able to conduct a solid lesson that both you and your student feel good about if you show up prepared with some good material while following some of the above tips. While each student and lesson is different, I’ve found that my best conversation lessons typically include the following components:
- Consider the student’s interests/job/work/school/personal life and hot news topics
- Focus on the student and let him/her talk as much as possible
- Vary the way you correct their mistakes, and do it in moderation
- Introduce new vocabulary and grammar points that arise during the lesson
- Review mistakes, vocabulary, expressions, and other content in the following lesson
- Try to make the parts of the lesson transition nicely into each other