Conversation lessons are a great way to practice and develop speaking skills for adults (and teenagers), but you may be a little lost on how to give your student the most out of the lesson.
You don’t want to just show up to the lesson and chat. You should want to give them the most value out of each conversation lesson you have.
The tips below on how to give a professional English conversation lesson for adults will steer you in the right direction.
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Ready? Here come the tips!
1. Assess the Student’s Skill Level
If you teach English conversation lessons, you’ve probably already worked with or will work with students who have a range of skill levels, all the way from beginner to advanced.
When you teach beginner level students (A1), your job will probably consist of training the basics of: grammar tenses (present simple, present continuous, etc.), communication skills (“Hello, where is the train station?”), and vocabulary words (table, walk, arm, heavy, etc.) before they are able to start using the language in a natural conversational type of setting.
So in the case that you teach beginners, it means that your students aren’t quite at a conversational level yet and need more time to get there, which in turn means you obviously won’t be having conversation lessons.
If you do have beginner students, you will have to approach the lesson in a different way and use different techniques to get them to a conversational level. This should be your goal with a beginner student – prime them for becoming “conversational” English speakers.
But for pre-intermediate (A2) to advanced (C1) students, your students are probably already well-versed or at least have some degree of conversational communication skills, and therefore have different needs.
This is where the value of being able to teach a great English conversation lesson comes in, and teenage and adult language learners generally value the chance to practice their conversation skills during lessons because it trains them to be able to communicate effectively and easily with people in practical, everyday situations.
So, first, you need to get a good sense of where your students are in terms of their skill level to determine how you approach, prepare for, and carry out your lessons.
For levels above the beginner stage, which means A2 and above, the tips that follow below should serve as a good baseline on how to carry out your lessons and develop their conversational skills.
Bottom line: Getting a good sense of the student’s skill level will help you how to prepare for the lesson. If they’re beginners (A1), your goal should be to get your students to a conversational level. If they’re pre-intermediate (A2) or higher, your goal should be developing and improving the conversational skills they already have, which brings us to the next point…
2. Show Interest in your Students’ Interests and Focus on Their Personal, Work, or School Life
If you already know that your students are at least at a conversational level, in your first lesson with your new student(s), you should do some introductory tasks such as finding out about their school or work life, their responsibilities at their job, something about their family, 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, their personal interests, their job or school life, 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 and know something about.
Showing genuine interest in your students’ own interests and their personal, work, or school life will go a long way. We all love to talk about ourselves, and the more the conversation hovers around the life and interests of the student, the more the student will speak.
The more a student speaks, the more comfortable they feel in the language. The more comfortable they feel in the language, the more they will improve.
This will also make your job easier because they are more likely to steal the conversation and all the talking time – which is exactly what you want!
It gives your student the time they want and need to practice developing their speaking skills, and it takes the pressure off you to be constantly active during the lesson. In a conversation lesson, I recommend an 80-20 or 75-25 relation for student-teacher talking time.
Bottom line: Learning about and striking on the topics that get your students excited or are important to them will naturally make them speak and improve because they’ll want to dominate the conversation with their knowledge and experience in these fields. The more your student talks, the more practice they get, and the more they improve. It’s a win-win for both you and the student because they get to speak and you get a lot of pressure taken off of you.
3. Prepare Videos, Articles, or Stories to Talk About
If one of my students works in IT or is interested in playing video games, or technology in general, I might search for a good video to watch, online articles, stories to read, interviews, or prepare discussion questions relevant to modern tech devices, computers, video games, mobile applications, artificial intelligence, robots, etc. and bring material on this topic to the lesson.
You could also bring a pre-made lesson plan on a technology-related topic.
A lesson plan like this will give you engaging material to help your student develop the skills they need to talk about modern technology, its impacts on the world, robots, and artificial intelligence.
Since the student is emotionally invested in the topic of technology, they’ll be inspired to share their thoughts on this particular video (in reference to the above link). That lesson plan specifically will give you great material to work with.
You can then easily steer the conversation in the direction of the student’s own opinions about robots and technology, their experience and skills in IT, their favorite video games, tech devices etc. which they should have a lot to share and talk about.
Sit back and listen to what they have to say about the topic. Ask a lot of questions and show a lot of interest in what they’re talking about, even if you aren’t an IT or tech-person. Maybe your student will even teach you something interesting about it.
Bottom line: Getting prepared with some content related to the interest of the student will give you the grounds for developing good, meaningful, and productive conversations with them.
4. Tie in Local News Topics into Your Lessons
One thing that I almost always do before going to a lesson is checking out the local news topics going on in the city or country where I live (in my case – Prague, Czech Republic). This is because your students are likely to relate to the things going on where they live.
Think about elections or political stories, cultural or sports events going on, news about public figures, new movies, national holidays, extreme weather conditions, 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 has an effect on them and they may have some fresh knowledge on that topic already from listening to the radio, watching TV, or checking in on social media.
You don’t even have to necessarily have them read the full article you found online. Turn it into a conversation activity. Introduce the topic and ask if they’ve heard something about it. If not, quickly scan and go through some of the highlights of the article with them and try to breed a conversation from the points that stick out.
You could also just ask your students a very general question – “Have you heard, read, or seen anything interesting in the news recently?” I’ve asked this question many times and sometimes they’ll tell me something I haven’t heard about – even after I’ve checked the news. Try to build a short conversation about that topic and dig to find out how much your student knows about the details of the story.
Another advantage is that you can use and recycle that topic with another student and see if your next student has heard something about it. Many times if one of your students has heard about a hot topic going in their country or city, the chances are that more of your students will have already also heard about it too, so bring that topic up in your next lessons with other students for that day or that week.
It’s also interesting to see how differently your students view a specific story or topic in the news, and you can work on training your student how to express their ideas and opinions clearly on a controversial or influential topic – which is a great skill to develop as a foreign language speaker.
Bottom Line: When you present your students with local news topics that they can relate to and are interested in, they tend to be more engaged. (And it makes your job easier!) When discussing a local topic, try to pick out everything they know about it and hear their opinion on it – which in turn gives you the grounds to train your students how to naturally express opinions on relevant topics.
One of the most important things to remember when giving a language 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 speaking skills with a native or proficient speaker and improving as much as they can.
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.
Don’t be afraid to steal a little bit of talking time because this is good for the student as well.
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 or ask questions, and also to introduce new vocabulary terms or expressions that could be useful along the way (see tip #10 and #11 below).
Whenever you start talking, speak clearly and simply so that the student has a chance to practice their listening skills – but since it’s a conversation lesson, you will want to find a way to redirect what you say back to the student.
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 a conversation with a student, who is 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…”
Bottom line: 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, but share your side as well. 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, which brings us to our next point…
6. Practice and Learn the Art of Facilitation
As mentioned in the point above, you’re the leader or facilitator of the conversation.
However, “facilitating” a conversation can sometimes be harder than it sounds.
We’ve all been through those moments in our lives when we’re talking or having a conversation with someone and then there’s that awkward, silent moment where neither person in the conversation knows what to say or how to continue.
As an ESL conversation specialist, you should try to master the art of conversation direction so that there aren’t any awkward gaps or pauses in your conversation.
I recently got a great book as a gift from my father for Christmas, and it’s filled with great conversation questions that I’ve been using in my lessons – and the book wasn’t even designed for ESL lessons! When my father gave it to me, I flipped through it, and thought to myself – “Wow, this is going to be perfect content for my ESL students.”
Basically, that book contains one question per day (about your life) for 365 days, and you have space below the questions to write answers. But in my case, I decided to use it as content for my ESL conversation lessons.
Some of the questions might be a little bit too personal, so be careful and sensitive which ones you choose. Asking some of them will depend on the student – so use careful judgment. But for many of the questions this book has been magical so far because I’ve been able to build meaningful conversation for a while – sometimes 45 – 60 minutes out of just one question.
What I’ve done with my students is just simply have them choose a number between 1 and 365. (The book has 365 questions). One of the questions my student chose was something along the lines of – “Are you reader? If so, what’s your favorite book you’ve ever read and why?”
Luckily, the student I asked this question to is a big reader, so she couldn’t stop talking about all of her favorite books. But there were moments when she stopped talking, and I felt the need to keep it going because I could tell she was engaged in the topic of reading books.
For example, she got talking about how much she loved the Game of Thrones series. While she was talking her face off about the Game of Thrones, I immediately started planning a series or line of follow-up questioning in my head:
- “Have you also watched the Game of Thrones TV show? If so, is it better than the book?”
- “Have you ever seen a movie and read the same book, but the movie was better?”
- “Do you also like the Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series?”
- “Are you also a fan of other genres of books, or mostly just fantasy?”
- “I read somewhere that it’s good to read a bit before going to bed. Do you do this too?”
- “What do you think is the main message of the book?”
- “Do you own an e-reader or do you prefer to read from an actual paperback book?”
From just these questions, I’m pretty sure we were getting close to about 45+ minutes. Of course, along the way, I was teaching her new vocabulary terms related to the topic of reading, and then introducing/writing down these phrases and terms down for her:
- “I couldn’t put the book down.”
- “It’s a page-turner.”
- “I sometimes get hooked once I start reading.”
- “The book sucked me in.”
(See tip #10 below for more information on this one).
Another great thing about that book of questions is that if one question doesn’t go well or was unsuccessful in producing some good, meaningful talk, just flip to another page – there’s plenty of others (365) to choose from!
Bottom line: One of the best skills in facilitating conversation is that when the student is talking, build an arsenal of follow-up questions in your head while they are still talking, and keep it stored in your mind until they are finished with what they have to say. When you feel that they are done talking, fire out the follow-up question(s). Make your questions flow in a logical order.
7. Correct Students Upon Hearing a Mistake (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, use 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.
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 and explain to them why ‘must did’ is incorrect, and why you need to add the preposition ‘of’.
Bottom line: Find a balance in the ways that you error correct your students. Mix it up a bit – correct them verbally, by making and using hand gestures, or also take advantage of your pen & paper or whiteboard.
8. Let Some Mistakes Go and 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. If you’re not quite sure what your student is trying to say, ask them to try explaining it in a different or more simple way.
After living in the Czech Republic for a long time, I decided to go through the rewarding, fun, and ‘oh-so-painful’ process of learning the Czech language. I had a great conversation recently in the Czech language with my Uber driver during a 20-minute ride to the airport in Prague.
I knew I was making mistakes during our conversation. I realized it right away when I made them. But the driver understood me anyway when I made my mistakes – and this, in general, is the most important in a conversation – that the person on the other side listening understands you and that the communication flows despite grammatical, pronunciation, word choice errors, etc.
Of course in many situations (interviews, presentations, formal speeches, etc) accuracy is important – but for informal conversation, it’s more important if the speaker expresses themselves in an understandable way. This is an important thing to keep in mind while giving a conversation lesson – not every mistake needs to be corrected!
Bottom line: You don’t have to correct 100% of the time, and actually – you shouldn’t! Just make sure that you understand your student and that it’s clear to you what they want or are trying to express. It’s ok to tell your student you don’t understand and to explain it in a different way.
9. Let the Student Correct Themself and Be Attentive to the Word Choice and Pronunciation
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.
Being polite is important as well, and correct your student in an empathetic way that doesn’t make them feel embarrassed.
You will also want to be attentive to the word choice and pronunciation 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.
Also for a word position mistake, you can write it down on a piece of paper (like in tip #7 above) and show your student why it was wrong how they said it, and explain the fundamental rules of word position to them. Here’s an example:
Student’s mistake: “Said the president that important for him is the health of the economy.”
Write that down while they’re speaking. Then go through the mistake with them and explain how the subject “The president” must come before the verb “said” and then correct the second part too – “that the health of the economy is important for him.”
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.
10. 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 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. (See tip #12 below for more on this.)
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:
This brings us to the next tip…
11. Demonstrate How Native Speakers Think and Speak
This is a developed skill for teaching and can take time to do it the right way, but it will help your students improve. The reason it takes time is that you have to train your brain how to think on its toes, and the reason it’s difficult is that you have to multi-task – engaging in a conversation while also thinking about how to express ideas in different ways.
But, basically what you should be doing is each time your students speak, tell a story, or explain something, is to think not about what your students say, but think about how they say it.
Don’t interrupt them while they’re still speaking, let them finish, but think about how a native speaker would say the same thing they just said and write it down. Let’s look at an example:
Student’s sentence: “It was good for him, but not for me.”
Native Speaker sentence: “It worked out in his favor, not mine.”
Student’s sentence: “It’s very hard to get my children out of bed.”
Native Speaker sentence: “Getting my children out of bed is like pulling teeth.”
Student’s sentence: “My boss gave me a lot of work today, so much that I’m very stressed.”
Native Speaker sentence: “My boss gave me a lot of work today, so I’m overwhelmed. OR: “My boss gave me so much work that I’m losing my mind.”
It’s important to point out here that for each of those situations, the students didn’t say anything wrong or incorrectly. You’re merely just helping them to expand their ability to express themself or teaching them how a native speaker might naturally express the same idea.
Bottom line: Try focusing not on what students say, but how they say it. This will expand your students’ ability to express themselves and help your students speak just as native or proficient speakers do.
12. Dive Deep Into the Nuances and Technicalities of the Language
The most valuable thing you can do to introduce the technicalities of English to your students is is to get as deep as you can with one vocabulary word. Think of all of the parts of speech in which it can be used. Think of any expression or phrasal verbs that include that specific vocabulary word.
A perfect example that happened during a lesson with my student recently was with the word ‘cheer.’ My student said that he went to a race and was there as a spectator to ‘cheer for’ his wife.
While it was clear what he meant, it wasn’t exactly correct. It took me a second to realize what was wrong with it (he should have said ‘cheer her on’). So, we got into what the difference is between ‘cheer someone on’ and ‘cheer for’ and I also introduced the term ‘cheer someone up’. Additionally, I taught him the phrasal verb ‘root for’ (a synonym for ‘cheer for’) which was new to him.
Another example – my student asked how the ‘participation’ was in the US midterm elections. While that was also clear what he meant, we usually use the word ‘turn-out’ when talking about voter participation.
Then, I clarified that it’s used as a noun here and showed him how to use it as a verb (College students turned out big-time to the midterm 2018 elections.) while also introducing a new term – ‘big-time.’ While the student understood what that meant, that was the first time he saw the term ‘big-time.’
Then, we went deeper into the word ‘turn’ – going through expressions, terminology, proverbs, idioms, and additional phrasal verbs with the word turn:
Expressions / Proverbs / Terminology:
“There was an economic downturn.”
“Leave no stone unturned.”
“Things took a turn for the worse.”
“The tide is turning.”
“He turned a blind eye.”
“Turn it upside down.”
turn into – “The storm turned into a big hurricane.”
turn in – “The student turned in his homework assignment late and got penalized for it.”
turn off – “I went on a first date last night, but he only talked about himself the whole time. It really turned me off!”
turn up – “My girlfriend lost her phone, but it eventually turned up.”
turn down – “He turned down the job opportunity because it was too far of a trip from home.”
I then showed him how to use this one in a passive construction: “He asked a girl out on a date, but he got turned down.”
My student was confused about why we use ‘get’ + passive here instead of with the verb ‘be’ + passive. So, we used this as our next topic of study. I showed him why we use ‘He got arrested.” instead of “He was arrested.” and we did an activity on this which really helped the student understand and use it actively. This is a language nuance and technicality that is valuable for an intermediate to advanced level student to learn.
Bottom line: Getting deep into the technicalities and picking apart vocabulary terms will uncover a lot of new things that your student hadn’t been introduced to before, and therefore establish grounds for learning something new about the language. When one term, word, phrase, etc. comes up in the lesson, continue extending it.
13. Translate Terms to and from the Student’s Native Language
This one is debatable across the ELT industry. But in my own experience, it’s one thing that’s definitely helped me a lot – especially with clarity and 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.
Sometimes, of course, when you translate the word, there will be different words that are used in different contexts. Your role here is to find the right one they wanted to say in that specific context of what they’re talking about.
It’s often recommended to avoid translation during a language lesson, but I think that it can be useful from time to time. As I mentioned above, the reason I like it is that it provides clarification and accuracy.
I wrote another post about how learning a second language can help you teach EFL. In this post I elaborate on the value of being able to translate words, phrases, expressions, etc. from time to time, and that if you have some proficiency in your students’ native language, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to teach them English because you’ll know how their brains work linguistically in their native language and understand why they make certain mistakes.
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 think of the word, it wouldn’t hurt to try translating it and finding the right word for the right context.
14. Keep and Maintain Good Lesson Notes & Records You Take During the Lesson
One of my students’ absolute favorite thing that I do – which is really effective in ingraining the new material into their ‘English language’ part of the brain – is to go back over the terms (which were discussed above in tips #5 and #6), grammar points or new expressions that you’ve talked about, written down, and have been introduced in previous lessons.
How do you do that? Simple – keep the records from your lessons.
When you’re doing private one-one lessons with teenagers or adults, you should always have a notebook or blank piece of paper with you. Write down new words and expressions that come up when they don’t know how to say something, as well as the mistakes they make while speaking.
Hold on to those papers – those are the blueprints to your students’ progress. It’s pretty easy to maintain the files – just keep those papers in a separate folder or plastic sleeve for each student. Go back over the terms each month – every 4 lessons you should refresh everything that’s been written on those sheets of paper.
Hold on to those papers yourself. How likely is it that your students will go back over those terms by themselves?
I do have students who do this, but I know for sure most of them don’t. They’re busy people and have busy lives. That’s why I always keep organized files and records of everything I’ve done with the student. Think of maintaining those lesson notes and records as a service – or better yet – a treasure in the chest.
In your next lesson, take that paper back out and spend 5-10 minutes reviewing all of the new terminologies.
If you want to go the extra mile, get them typed up onto a Google doc. Write the date at the top and the new vocabulary terms, expressions, and their speaking mistakes into the document. You’ll have to do some extra work typing the content from the white sheet onto the Google doc, but it’s super professional and your students will love you for it.
When I do it, it usually takes about 10 – 15 minutes per document, which is time-consuming, but as I said, your students are going to be impressed. I’ve had several students actually thank me for doing this and ask me to keep doing it. After that, you can get rid of the paper since you’ll have the documents stored online.
Bottom line: Maintaining your lesson notes and records are the blueprints to student development. Keep them safe, go the extra mile by getting it onto a Google document, and get a happy, improved student.
15. Repeat and Review Everything from the Lesson Notes in the Next Lessons
Use those pieces of paper that you wrote down all of your students’ mistakes, notes, new words, terms, expressions, etc from the lesson, as stated in the above point to drill in and refresh what the students learned during the last 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.
Basically – repeat and repeat, and find ways to get students to use those words in conversations. Always do some CCQ (concept checking questions) because those often lead to more and deeper conversations.
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. One key to teaching a language is to keep repeating and repeating what you’ve already taught your students.
16. Dive into Niched Topics
Advanced students definitely need to polish and be exposed to what I like to call ‘corner English,’ which is basically niche topics that are tucked into the corners of the big realm of the English language and vocabulary.
When you get into these topics, it’s killing two birds with one stone because niched topics will give your students new things to learn in terms of language and they also generally can provide something new and educational for your student about something beyond just the language.
What are some examples of niched topics and how you can approach teaching them? A great place to find some niched vocabulary topics is Fluentize.com. Let’s take a look at some example lessons from the website:
- Meet the Voice Actor For Super Mario
- Breeding the World’s Hottest Pepper
- Storm Surges Can Be the Deadliest Part of a Hurricane
- Why Pizza Purists Love Neapolitan Style Pizza
- How San Francisco is Becoming a Zero Waste City
These are all great examples of niched topics – which bring a lot of great, new vocabulary terms to the surface for your students. The lesson plans are also designed to generate really great, in-depth conversation, which will establish further grounds for introducing new things to your student and pave the way for learning new terms, expressions, and vocabulary – and very specific terms related to those topics.
Let’s take a look at an example. In the lesson plan for ‘How San Francisco Is Becoming a Zero Waste City’, there are vocabulary terms featured such as:
- Yard Trimmings
- Food Scraps
- Greenhouse gases
- Grind up / Ground up
These are very niched vocabulary words related to the topic of the environment, specifically talking about waste. Will your students already know these words? Possibly! Which is fine, but it’s good to repeat them, and many of those words I bet they don’t know yet or it’s the first time they’re seeing them.
As explained in tip #12 above, get deeper into those words and build upon them:
Composting – Compostable / Incineration – Incinerator, etc.
For the term “yard trimmings”, teach them the term “to mow the lawn, lawn mower/weed wacker, leaf blower, etc.”
Don’t forget to do some CCQ (concept checking questions). Fluentize provides some CCQ questions in that lesson for you.
Once you get to know your students better, you’ll learn what topics they’re into, and Fluentize.com will provide you a great resource for ideas. For any student you have, there will most likely be topics they’d be interested in discussing on the website.
Bottom line: Getting into niched topics will establish grounds for expanding vocabulary because there are very specific vocabulary terms related to those topics, and will also give them a chance to learn about something relevant or interesting outside of just linguistics.
17. Find a Balance between Professionalism and Casualness
This one depends on a few different things – Does your student need English for business or personal reasons? How do they want the lessons to be? Are they practicing for some exam? Are they using it for traveling? What culture are they from? What are the requests and the needs of the student?
You should think about these questions for each student you have in order to determine how you prepare and set the tone for each lesson. Even ask the student. Don’t be afraid to downright ask them what they want to do or focus, or if there is anything specifically they would like to train.
Do they want conversation lessons? Practice writing emails? Listening? Communicating on the phone? Focus on building vocabulary? Grammar? Every student is different. However, a common theme I’ve noticed across my lessons is that they each have a healthy blend of professionalism and casualness.
I try to make the lessons both personal and educational. It’s possible that many students look at their private English lesson as a break from their busy days while keeping their English skills fresh, learning some new things along the way.
Many students just want to practice communication and conversational topics, instead of it being a really serious, intense kind of environment.
I’ve had students on both sides of the spectrum – the ‘I need to really work hard and do intensive exercises and get my grammar perfect and do homework regularly’ type of student and the ‘let’s just chill and talk, but please occasionally correct me’ type of student.
Get a feel for what your students’ wishes and needs are, and prepare accordingly. However, even if your student is on the ‘work really hard’ side, you can still make the lesson fun and personable.
As you give your English lessons – think about how you would want your private one-one language lesson to be and how you would want your teacher to be with you if you were on the other side.
The reason it’s important to find a balance is that you don’t want to just show up, chat, and that’s it, without teaching them anything, but you also don’t want to be super serious and just intensively drill grammar exercise after grammar exercise (unless your students request this).
Students generally want to feel comfortable, have meaningful discussions, express opinions on interesting topics, do fun activities, learn something new, joke around a little bit, and develop their skills.
Being casual and professional is a blend of using humor, listening to your student, teaching them useful vocabulary terms, correcting their mistakes, engaging in meaningful conversation, asking questions and their opinions, giving your opinions, and being genuinely interested in their lives, stories, and experiences.
If you can nail all of these things in your conversation lessons, I’d say your on track to giving them a positive, professional, and casual lesson experience that your student will appreciate, enjoy, and get value out of all at the same time.
Bottom line: Making your students feel comfortable and not taking the lesson too seriously are good, but also make sure you focus on education and developing their skills.
18. Implement and Work With Authentic Materials
You really shouldn’t underestimate the power and value of implementing authentic resources in your ESL lessons. Authentic resources are packed with useful learning material, much of which your students will be new to.
Videos, TV series, music, news articles, books, social media – these types of resources will give you a lot to work with as a teacher and help prepare your students for communication and real-life interactions in practical contexts.
There’s a lot of slang, interesting terms, and different kinds of pronunciation you can train using these resources. In my own experience, I’ve found incredible value in using real-world videos as a resource in my ESL lessons for a variety of reasons.
Additionally, students tend to work well with authentic materials and enjoy working with topics that matter to them and that are relevant to their life. As mentioned in tips #2 and #3 above, an engaged student is usually more inclined to learn, and that’s the value of using authentic materials – there are all kinds of authentic materials out there that you can use to pique the interest of your student.
Check-in with your students from time to time about what kind of authentic materials they want to work within the lessons. Pick up on what they’re interested in and what they talk about a lot, and find authentic materials on these topics. This will give you good direction in terms of choosing and planning for the right topics for your lessons.
If your student talks about food a lot, then find some authentic materials based on food and cooking (cookbooks, online recipes, stories about successful chefs, information about cultural foods, etc.)
Bottom line: Authentic materials are valuable to use with students because they’re packed with new terms, are likely to pique interest and give your student a practical context to train for real-life engagement with the language.
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