How to Teach Conversation Classes: 6 Tips
Getting paid to talk! What’s the problem?
Any new ESL teacher or non-teacher may see the possibility of being paid to talk to someone as their dream job, but all experienced ESL teachers will tell you it is not that simple. Having to speak and listen constantly through purposeful conversations for 5-8 hours can quickly become draining and lead to burnout. So, how to teach conversation classes?
It is not all doom and gloom! Through our vast ESL experience, we have put together some top tips on how to teach conversation classes effectively. Following these tips will ensure a positive outcome for both teachers and students.
1. Have a plan
Most ESL students state that their goal is to “improve my speaking” or they may say “I just want to practice speaking”, taking this student at their word may lead an ESL teacher to arrive at class without a lesson plan – we believe this is a big error.
Why? Well, there are a few key reasons. Firstly, you will quickly run out of things to talk about which may lead to an uncomfortable session for both the teacher and student. Secondly, by not introducing new words or themes through an exercise, video or article students will retreat to using the same words and phrases that they always do, meaning they are not progressing. Plus, a clear lesson plan shows the learner that you are prepared, having this structure will make them feel more comfortable as they will have something to fall back on if they are struggling to express themselves.
2. Be part of a curriculum
I always find it is beneficial to take things back to the very basics and ask myself – why is this student attending my class? Invariably, the answer will be “to progress their English level”. So, how do we as teachers ensure that all students progress? For me, a big chunk of the answer lies within the curriculum that is used in class, therefore all teachers must follow a structured, high-quality curriculum.
It is important to realize and ensure students realize, that they are very unlikely to take any big steps forward in one class. In contrast, following a well-thought-out, step-by-step curriculum over the course of the year will guarantee progression. Therefore, it is crucial that all conversation classes not only have a clear lesson plan but that they fall within a high-quality, structured curriculum.
During TEFL training most of us will have heard of, or been advised to follow the 80/20 rule while teaching in an ESL classroom. For those unfamiliar, the rule states that teachers should only talk for 20% of the entire session, while students should be encouraged to talk for 80% of the time. I believe that it is important to follow this rule.
While there is some logic to the idea that students need to practice their listening skills, I believe the argument falls down when you consider the amount of listening practice that is available to them outside of the classroom – YouTube videos, podcasts, music, Netflix + more! Plus, videos are used in all conversation classes available at ESL Pals to introduce the lesson’s topic.
Most students don’t have the opportunity to speak English and be corrected outside of the classroom so let them make the most of this opportunity!
Again, to new teachers or non-teachers giving corrections may seem like a non-issue but all experienced teachers will tell you that it’s not that simple, for two key reasons. Firstly, overly correcting a shy or low-level student may cause them to go into their shell and lose confidence long term. It is clearly not the goal of any lesson. Secondly, over-correcting will inevitably ruin the flow of the class. This could ultimately spoil the enjoyment of the class, and side-track the lesson away from its goal.
We recommend making a note of the key errors made by students. Then send them across after the lesson for them to review. To contradict my points above, a lesson should be stopped to directly correct a student when; they consistently make the same errors or if their mistakes negatively affect comprehension.
As kids, everybody hated getting homework, but the opposite is true of all serious students who are motivated to improve, and these are the students you want to keep! Therefore, even though it is “only a conversation class” we believe it is important to give students homework.
Giving learners homework to complete is mutually beneficial for the following reasons. Firstly, it encourages students to progress their level, and if students are progressing through your classes they will ultimately continue taking classes. Secondly, it shows that a teacher cares about their student’s progression, and shows professionalism and preparedness. Finally, completed homework works as the perfect springboard to begin the next class.
Remember, all adult lesson plans from ESL Pals contain homework tasks!
At the end of the day, all teachers need to retain students whether they work independently, for a school or on a teacher marketplace. We believe that by following the tips outlined above you will give yourself a massive advantage over other teachers, and ultimately improve your retention rate.
Think of it this way; if you had a foreign language teacher that repeatedly turned up to class without a plan, meaning you had to have stuttered, unstructured conversations while using the same word and phrases without progressing – would you continue having classes?
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