6. Conversation (In) Classes

Teaching Ideas

There is so much that is possible to say about helping one’s students speak in class.  This presentation is dedicated to both conversation classes and ideas for promoting conversation in other kinds of classes as well.  It is a very practical approach, a mix of ideas, reminders and advice that could be useful for a wide range of interests and teachers.  I had to be selective to keep the information concise and easy to refer to so if there are some aspects that weren’t covered but you would have liked them to have been included, please let me know by sending an email in the CONTACT section of this website.  (I would also like to hear from you, getting some feedback if you found any of this to be useful to you in any way.)  Many teachers are looking for new materials to use in class and to that end I have created some cards for speaking about certain themes.  Every month on the 15th (except July & August), there will be some topics on cards complemented with vocabulary items which might be interesting for you to use in your classes.  They can found in the top menu bar under MORE LESSONS and under the title of TODAY’S THEME.

These are the areas that will be covered:

1 Objectives What is hoped to be accomplished:  for the school, the students and for you
2 Considerations Different factors that could play a part in how you plan and execute your class
3 Evaluation How to evaluate and to use the criteria as ideas for planning some activities
4 First class & beyond Different things you can do
5 Needs analysis What the students are looking for and need
6 Grouping students Ideas that work well with classes with a number of students
7 One-to-one Ideas of what can be done with a single student
8 At a student’s home Some more ideas for private classes
9 Final class Some ways to tie up the course
10 Sources Different sources of materials and ideas to draw from

Where to find some activities directly

If you’re only interested in having a quick look at what activities are being presented here, go directly to
Section #4:  First class and beyond  (activities to start the course off and a few more for after the first days)
Section #8:  At a student’s home  (some ideas that can be easily modified for your class)
Section #10:  Sources (listing of online activities)




Determining what the objectives are and how to carry them out gives substance and direction to your classes.  It gives you ideas on what to do in future classes and how to make them more successful.  It provides a feeling of well-being in the students, knowing that they were right in where to place their trust when deciding to enroll or start the classes.  And of course it helps the students make progress and feel they are making meaningful progress if their objectives are acknowledged and incorporated in the activities that take place in the classroom.

Your objectives are to meet the expectations of the school you are working for, your students, and any that you set for yourself.  We’ll have a look at each of those.


If you are working for a school, chances are that many of the objectives are already laid out for you.  Your objectives are to meet the expectations of the school, the students, and any that you set for yourself.

Whether the school is a public or a private one, most of their objectives for you are the same.  They want their students / clients to be happy and to know that you are an effective member of their team.  This could include actions out of the class such as completing reports, meeting with people or researching how to develop something needed for the classes.  It also includes attitude, dress codes and how you deal with people and approach your work.  Your objectives, in part, are to meet the school’s demands and interpretations of what constitutes a good and professional teacher.

If what has to be done is not immediately clear then you should take the initiative to find out.  This will save you a lot of anguish later on.  Some things to check out are:

1 – What the students have been told
If they have been told informally or received something that officially states what the course is to cover, then you should know about it.  (Sometimes they are given a list that seems physically impossible to complete, so you might want to speak to a coordinator, director or an experienced teacher at that school about how to approach that list.)
2 – The course plan
If somebody else has designed the course or it is part of a set programme, get a copy of the agenda & calendar.  If there are things you must do in general and on certain dates, be informed.
3 – Evaluations
Find out if, how and when the students are to be evaluated.  Will it be an overall subjective global assessment and do you make a comment and/or assign a mark for each student?  Then be prepared to justify it and to help you do that, find out if there are standard ways of assessment.  Perhaps you have to fill out a comprehensive report on each person, including attendance, how they pronounce their vowels and have dealt with particular tasks in the class.  Will there be a speaking exam or an evaluated presentation?


This will be covered in more detail in the section under NEEDS ANALYSIS.  Still, it is important to know that the information received from a questionnaire handed out in one class is not likely to be enough to guide you in how to approach your classes.  Much of what you learn will also be gained through your interactions with the students.  There are many things left unspoken but can be discovered over time.  For example, some appear that they don’t really want to participate much but the fact is, they are excessively shy and one of their important (unstated) objectives is for you to help them overcome their shyness so they can participate more fully in a conversation.  I have frequently encountered the situation that there are many students who feel that it is the teacher’s job and responsibility to know their needs and how to go about helping them successfully meet them.  It would be of great help if those needs and what they perceive to be obstacles to overcome are more clearly communicated, but it is often not the case.  Those unmet needs might be communicated at the end of the course in some form of feedback session, or among the students themselves before or after the class, but that won’t help the teachers in their preparation or execution of their classes.  As teachers we can’t always perform magic or be all-knowing, but being sensitive to what occurs with individuals and the dynamics among them can help us create a stronger class and meet those individual and collective needs of the students.

You could also pass on some of that responsibility back to the students themselves.  You can ask them to state clearly what it is that they want to achieve in your class.  They write it down and give it to you.  Respond to those requests in a positive and realistic manner.  Wherever possible think of those objectives to be in some form that can be ‘objectively’ quantified or verified.

To take an example from a student:

I want to feel more comfortable speaking about current topics.”

Your response – “One way to feel more comfortable about something is to become more familiar with the situation.  In this course we will be frequently looking at what is happening in the news and I expect you to watch the news on TV or YouTube and to read articles in the newspapers or on the internet.  We will cover a variety of themes that is happening and affecting our world today and I will give you some ideas and expressions to use while discussing them.  Halfway through the course I’ll ask you how you feel about speaking in these situations but if you have any suggestions, please feel free to tell me at any time.”

Your implicit promise of assigning them homework on current news stories and the direct one of speaking about those themes in class can easily be verified in future classes.  How comfortable the student feels is less tangible, but speaking with him or her can give you some indication of progress in that area and even provide hints at how to approach it in a more effective manner.  After the student has experienced 3 or 4 different occasions when s/he has been speaking about current topics in class, you can approach her/him (and not wait until halfway through the course) to see how s/he has been making out.  Maybe you can get further access to what is hindering her/him by again formulating the question or the answer into something more concrete.  For example,

I would feel more comfortable speaking about current topics if _________________________________ and if the activity ____________________________________________ (were designed in a certain way or had some particular characteristics like the groups were smaller or if it was a topic I was more interested in or that I feel I have nothing to say so I don’t know what I can offer).”

With that feedback you might be in a better position to fine-tune the activities to help your students.  You can clearly define the task in some way to make sure all of them are participating more and that they have a clear task to carry out beyond simply talking about the theme.  For example,

– Find out if all the students in your group feel the same way about X.
– Student A, you are a reporter asking people in the street about how they feel about X.  Interview them now.
– Deliberately disagree with one student and support another, finding arguments and examples to strengthen that point of view.


One of the intriguing challenges of teaching is that one can never hope to be a master in all its aspects.  There are always areas that one could develop further.  Each and every teacher has his or her strong points, and those which could use some improvement.  Consider including in your objectives for the course something you’d like to work on in your teaching.

Don’t overcomplicate things by making a long list of everything you’d like to be better at.  Choose something that is personally meaningful to you; one, maybe even two things you’d like to explore further and think a bit on how you could work that into your classes.  Maybe it’s becoming more familiar with the phonetic script and you can work more pronunciation activities into the classes (assuming the students need some work in those areas).  Perhaps you want to improvise more, or be more structured.  Maybe you’ve heard of simulations and have never done one.  See if your students are up to it and if so, plan for one to be part of your classes.  Here is a perfect opportunity to try things out, but again, think it through a little before implementing the experiments.

I used to spend a lot of my energy in the classes, focusing on the students and giving to the students.  At the end of the day I ended up exhausted.  Then someone gave me the idea that I can continue doing that, but also look for ways to use their energy and work with that more.  It took some time to clarify what that abstract idea meant and how to deal with it, but I did find much success in my explorations.  And I not only come home with more energy, but I feel I am a better teacher in incorporating that approach along with the many other things I do.




Here are some things that you may want to attend to before your first class and some later, after you’ve gotten your feet wet and have a better idea as to what might go over well or not.

Days, time and location of class
This is more than just when or where to go.  Students who have a class late in the evening after a long hard day’s work will probably act and feel differently to what you introduce in the class than students who come first thing in the morning or Friday afternoon.  If the venue for the class is far away and hard to get to, then a cold miserable day or a particularly sunny and wonderful day might affect the attendance and thereby how well some of your planned activities go over.
The classroom
Subjective elements like if there is natural sunlight or the presence of nearby trees in the window view can affect the ambience more than one might think.  Acoustics, mobility of tables and chairs, room temperature, availability of well-functioning technology, blackboard, whiteboard or virtual board, bathrooms, size of room, how low the ceiling is, how bare the walls are some of the factors that can and do play a part in how you plan and do your classes.  If you’re a seasoned teacher, you’ll deal with them almost automatically and if you’re not, think of how to make the best of these factors.  It might mean doing things in a slightly (or radically) different way than how you’ve done them in other classes.  Maybe the order of how you plan things could be important (such as doing any listenings early because the neighbouring room begins a class 30 minutes after yours starts and they make a lot of interfering noise).  You want things easy and accessible so plan and adjust things to make them better, even if conditions aren’t ideal.  If you want to approach students individually or to listen in while they are speaking in groups, maybe you have to move things, or have one group sit close to you for one activity and another group for another.
Number of students
If you have three students and they take turns missing a class, it can complicate things.  Or if you have 40 students in your conversation class, it can be a challenge to give them the individual attention that you’d like to.  Rotating and distributing your focus can help, especially in the bigger groups.  Try to keep everyone involved with tasks and goals.  A variety of activities can often help in this regard too.  Having more than one or two offers more chances of reaching and maintaining the interest of those attending.
Student profile
Your students are not native speakers and how they interact with others may not only be determined by their level of proficiency with the language.  Culture can be a big factor here and there is a good chance that the teacher might be unaware of just how important some elements like gender, ethnic background, social position, physical appearance, personality (introvert vs extrovert, for example) can be.  You may want to do as much as you can to encourage equality, but it is hard to radically change centuries of strong tradition.  Promote mutual respect, change groupings of people and work with what you can to ensure that they all are given every opportunity to use the language as a speaker and leave the class feeling good about themselves.
Kids classes
●It’s not in the scope of this presentation to speak about kids’ classes of conversation.  The primary thrust of all the materials and methodologies is geared towards adults.  That isn’t to say you can’t use what you can find on this site to help you with your classes of kids, but you might need to modify some of the things, making them shorter, more colourful and dynamic.

●Another way to ‘young learnerify’ some of the activities is to make any progress made more quantifiable.  For example if you want the students to interview each other, break that task up into subtasks.  Maybe the first step would be to do a quick quiz on the theme you want the students to ask their classmates about.  Then a different subtask would be to write 5 questions and you check how well the students complete those.  The idea is to break the final goal into manageable subtasks so that progress and achievement of the task is noticeable.  Some teachers award points, stars, praise, etc to make that progress more tangible.

●While each age group of kids may have some different considerations, in general you want to keep them focused.  This means clearly communicating
— the instructions of each subtask
— the expectations of how they are to carry out those instructions
— what they can and cannot do during the activity
— what support they have (ex: asking you for help, checking their mobile)
— what happens if they do it well

●Kids love games and you could offer that they play one at the end of the class or after they do something well as an added incentive.  Also, you can transform some activities to appear more like a game.  This is good at times, but I recommend that you don’t encourage them to expect everything to be fun and entertaining.  You want them to begin to learn to take the initiative to apply themselves to complete the task well for its own sake, not just to win some points.

●If you’re teaching teens, many are mature enough to handle the activities which are designed for adults.  Just take care in choosing the theme.

●Mixed ages.  This isn’t normally a problem, although it’s better to avoid it if possible.  Quite often the minority will go along with the bigger age group but make sure their interests are included too.  If you have 1 or 2 sixteen-year-olds in a class of ten or more middle-aged people, their life experiences will be very different, so try to structure the speaking exercises in a way that their opinions are valid and they have something to contribute.

●I am not an expert on teaching children but I have learned that having structure in your classroom is essential.  Right from your first class deliberately include in your lesson plans how to introduce, develop and maintain this idea and it will save you hours of anguish and lost time.  You don’t have to be a dictator, but be strong, consistent and fair in how you lay and enforce the parameters for them to work and interact in.  This is no less true for a conversation class.

●To sum up a little, be positive but firm, provide clear structure to the classes, give support and be encouraging, be consistent, give clear instructions, think of their energy level and provide a variety of activities and approaches that direct, build up and calm down that energy.  If they respect you and each other, they can open up to doing some wonderful things.  Bring in realia, videos and anything that sparks their imagination, and have them do the same (something important to them in some way, for example.)

Unless it is clearly not to be part of the course, definitely consider assigning it.  It will reinforce their learning tremendously.  However, if many students are against it or are not doing it, you may want to make it optional or not bother with it.  As a rule of thumb it’s a good idea not to plan your next class on the assumption that all the students will have completed their homework.  Think of homework as something that can reinforce what they are doing in class, something they can do for further exploration, or to help them prepare for (but don’t absolutely need that preparation) an activity in the next class.

Some types of homework you could assign:
●a reading (the activity in the next class would be speaking about the theme, but the reading is only there to help provide some ideas and to be the basis for the speaking)
●a YouTube video (much the same approach as the reading)
●prepare questions to ask somebody (but this could be improvised in the next class)
●practice the pronunciation of a string of words or a short passage
●have a look at some vocab or grammatical structures
●write something to hand in (again optional)
●send an email to somebody in English (perhaps another classmate)
●watch a movie
●do a short worksheet you have made for them.

Investment of time  “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”   Students (and sometimes teachers, or at least the administration) don’t always have realistic expectations of what can be done given the time limits of the course.  If you are obliged to cover a long list of areas because that was given to the students to encourage them to sign up, and you have to cover them, then do so, but warn the students that some points will be covered lightly and a few others in greater depth.  The priority assigned to those points might depend on the administration, a needs analysis of the students, or the result of a series of judgement calls on behalf of the teacher.  Factor in how long you wish to invest in the various elements you wish to cover during the course, with some flexibility, taking some time from some to give more time to others as the course progresses.  If the students can make and feel that they are making some progress, the course will be more successful for it.  Realistic allotment of time dedicated to certain areas for practice and development is important.

Timing  How long to spend on one particular activity or on one type of activity depends on many factors.  By being consistent in your approach, you help build structure, trust and confidence in the activities you present.  However, following parameters blindly can take much away from the rhythm, interest and efficiency of the class.  Give guidelines such as “you will be speaking together for 5 to 10 minutes about the theme” and pay close attention to how they are proceeding with the objectives you set and the interest they are placing in the activity.  Most teachers develop a good feel as to when to terminate a speaking activity and if you haven’t already, become conscious of the class dynamics and how they react when you end those activities when you do.  During and after the class reflect on whether or not the time dedicated to the different parts was well worth it.  You may want to consider shortening or lengthening the time to get the most out of it.

“One more minute”  Give them a warning before you ask them to stop.  It gives them an opportunity to address those things they haven’t done yet.  (Maybe somebody didn’t have a turn yet or they didn’t cover some of the things you asked them to.)

Closure  This is something that appears in many aspects of teaching.  If you tell them they will be doing something and it turns out that it doesn’t happen, it’s not the end of the world.  But if it happens more than once, they could start to doubt how effective you are as a teacher.  Try to plan your activities so they have the time to go through the process the way you feel they need and not to rush or cut things out at the last minute.  If something is unfinished but the class time is over, then work in how to complete it or deal with it in the following class.

Student talking time  It’s not possible that every single student will have exactly the same amount of time to speak in every activity and in every class.  However, keep an eye out for the extremes:  the quiet ones who don’t participate much because they are shy, for example, and the more outgoing ones who are eager to express their opinions at every opportunity.  Design activities so students do most of the talking in the class (not you), and prepare them to be more interactive (asking the quieter ones for their opinions and the active ones to be more aware of turn-taking).  Train them in these approaches, where they take turns being the leader of the conversation flow, how to interrupt or deal with interruptions, how to encourage speaking through follow-up questions and making comments, how to show they are listening, and how to respond in different ways to what somebody else has said.

Teacher talking time  This isn’t a terrible sin, as you are a great source for vocabulary, intonation and exemplary demonstrations of how it could be done.  However, they are taking the course because they need to develop their speaking, not you.  Whenever you can switch the focus back onto them, all the better.  Keep your anecdotes to a minimum and get them doing the vast majority of the talking and contributions.

Time for extras  If you have some flexibility in your conversation classes, try to work in what they (might) find interesting or motivating.  This can include not only themes for discussion or vocabulary sets, but also ways of approaching speaking, such as role-plays, speaking on the phone, improvisation, and being in different situations.  If you’re on a tight schedule, then try to combine these with what is already programmed into the course.  (You can practice formal and informal English, for example, while complaining to a friend or a company representative on the phone.)

Time for feedback  This is very important.  They need to know how they’re doing and what they can do to improve.  This goes beyond correction of vocabulary, grammar and basic pronunciation.  Many students need guidance on how to justify a claim (or opinion) and they should learn how to provide examples, explanations and details.  Their intonation should reflect the mood which they wish to project to help them obtain the effect that they are looking for.  Tell them where they are doing fine and what they could work on more.  Also get feedback from them, to see how they view you and the classes.  This can lead to some ideas and even major changes of how you approach the future classes with them.




If you’re in the situation where you are told that you have to evaluate your students and give them a grade at the end of the course, and that it is you that decides how the evaluation is to be done, there are several things to do.

First of all, savour the moment.  In this world which is rapidly closing in on us and telling us what can and cannot be done, this is an opportunity to learn and feel how it is to have an alternative to simply following enforced standards.  You may very well look back at this conversation course as a breath of fresh air in your younger days.  You could do what you think is right and appropriate for the situation, and that is something special.

If you don’t have much experience, not to worry.  There are several options and you can choose or blend them in a way which makes you feel better.  Whatever you choose, make sure your students are informed when and how they will be evaluated.  Here are some possible ways to evaluate your students:

A speaking test
It doesn’t have to be presented in an excessively formal way but an official test is formal.  There are some examples given in the online section of Part 10  SOURCES at the end of this presentation.    There are both speaking tests (you can choose which parts that appeal to you) and ways in which marks can be awarded.  Of all the options available, this is probably the least desirable.  In most cases I personally would prefer continuous assessment with perhaps some consideration to student presentations done in class.
Continuous assessment:  There are two major considerations here.
●1  Focus on level of demonstrated proficiency

The standard interpretation is to focus on the level of proficiency a student has.  The better her/his skills are in select criteria, the higher the mark or grade.  Typical criteria include

►Fluency    (how well somebody communicates ideas)
►Fluidity    (the ease with how they use the language, such as little or no hesitation when speaking about familiar topics or even areas that are not part of their normal experiences)
►Interacting with others    (responding to other’s comments, negotiating, turn-taking)
►Pronunciation    (reasonably clear pronunciation of sounds, use of intonation for emphasis, connected speech)
►Vocabulary and grammar    (not only how correct, but also if a good variety of ‘high level’ structures are used, or at least attempted)

Of course any marks or grades would be scaled, a lower mark reflects less competence in that area, a higher one would show the student is strong in that way.  Again, look in Part 10  SOURCES to find examples of speaking tests and evaluation charts.  Look at a few to get an idea of what you can include in your criteria of assessment .  Choose according to what you have been emphasizing in class and what you feel comfortable with in evaluating.

●2  Progress and effort

This second interpretation of continuous assessment is perhaps slightly more subjective.  Some teachers like to award points to recognize progress made during the course and the effort the students have put into it.  One advantage in combining this approach with proficiency evaluation is that you can adjust marks given from the proficiency method (by giving some extra credit to having participated well and working hard to improve, for example).


However you choose, try to have your criteria clear near the beginning of the course and as you go through the course you can award and adjust the marks accordingly.  Maybe in some situations some students don’t demonstrate what they’re capable of, but in others they do.  It’s also possible that halfway through the course one or more students suddenly stop coming and if you wait until the end of the course to assess them, you might find yourself a little hard pressed to come up with some comments or marks.  Simply put, start assessing your students early in the course.

At some point in the course, maybe halfway through or at the end (or both), you would want to give them some feedback on how they have been doing.  If you have been actively thinking about assessing them, you will have something to tell them and can more easily justify any marks that are or will be given.  Some feedback at the halfway mark (or earlier) is also good because it gives the students some forewarning of how they will be assessed.  This is especially important for those students who are not doing well.  Another advantage is that it provides time and opportunity to those areas that the students are weaker in and you can point out any progress or tips in the second half to help guide them more in the desired directions.

A presentation
You can assign a topic (such as a wonderful holiday, my favourite object or hobby, my work), have them choose from a list you give them, or even have them come up with something on their own.  Set the parameters (they submit a proposal to you or tell you their idea two weeks before, they speak for 2 or 10 minutes only, there is a 2 or 5 minute question period, and you will give them feedback in the same class while the rest of the class is engaged in some other speaking activity).

You evaluate them and give them feedback on some set criteria and anything else that might enter the picture (like getting really nervous, stopping, then starting again and doing well).  Be as supportive as possible, including creating a friendly supportive atmosphere as most students really don’t like to do any kind of public speaking, let alone in a different language.  That doesn’t mean you should rule this option out.  While it is an ordeal for many, most of them feel it is a very beneficial exercise and may even help them in other ways, like if they have to present something at a meeting at work.

Don’t do more than 2 or 3 presentations a class and give them plenty of warning.  Perhaps in the second day of the course you can tell them in two weeks time the presentations will start and you can work out a calendar with them.

Allow for some flexibility like somebody not showing up or telling you they can’t do the presentation that day.  If you plan for having some flexibility in rescheduling, there shouldn’t be any problems.  If a student can’t do the presentation for whatever reason, accept it and encourage them to come to the class anyway.  They’re adults and sometimes it’s difficult to juggle unexpected events in their lives, so don’t make them feel bad about it or that they have to strongly justify why today’s not possible.


If you have to evaluate your students in some way, be it comments on a report, feedback on a presentation, even marks on a speaking test, think of the criteria involved.  What constitutes ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ or ‘needs more work’?  Some schools provide guidelines or a list of descriptors to help you zero in on the characteristics of what each grade means.  If you don’t have anything like that available you can check out these two locations to get some ideas.

Once you have some idea on how marks will be awarded (and this should be before or at the very beginning of the course), begin thinking of subskills and goals which can be worked on in your class.  For example, consider the following descriptors where a student receives a good mark if s/he demonstrates that s/he  ‘is able to speak for two or more minutes with little hesitation’ or ‘intonation is used well in emphasis’ or ‘includes a variety of verb tenses’ or ‘has a good range of everyday vocabulary’.  If you know what you are looking for, then you can communicate that to your students as objectives to work towards and you can design or include activities which promote that end.  Often it simply involves you as a coach to make sure they use those words you just introduced in their speaking, or have a ‘game’ of two-minute speaking where one person speaks for a certain length of time and then others ask follow-up questions.  The criteria of awarding marks can be a good source of inspiration of what activities to do and how to approach them in your classes.

Some schools have a list of expressions which the teachers copy and place into the report form.  These comments that are to be given to the students at the end of the course can also be something you can draw from early in the course.  Rather than waiting until the last day to give out these comments, look for which ones might be appropriate for which students and make them goals to work towards improving throughout the course.  Here are a few examples:

“pronunciation is not clear” Introduce various looks at pronunciation along with some activities (doing worksheets, repeating and imitating the teacher or a listening, corrections from other students in group while speaking).  Some areas of focus could be the basic sounds of consonants & vowels, consonant clusters (asked = 3 consonants together: /skt/), syllable stress, intonation and connected speech.
“doesn’t say much” Find out what is interesting to that person.  Dedicate time and activities for the students to do extended speaking accompanied with advice and suggestions on how to do it better (development of ideas, justification of opinions, providing examples, volunteering details).
Also design or include activities which deliberately make or encourage students to respond to what other people are saying (follow-up questions, adding personal comments, interrupting)
“speaking lacks good range of vocabulary or grammatical structures” Set up activities so they encourage or even oblige the students to use the relevant target vocabulary or structures.  Tell the students in the instructions that they must use the target language and make sure they do.  Students speaking individually or collectively in groups would tackle tasks by describing or exploring such themes as

●How do you make an omelette?   (linkers of sequence, cooking vocab)
●What would you do if you were rich?   (second conditional)
●Describe the equipment you use in the gym.  (relative clauses, vocab)
●If I am to look after my baby nephew/niece over the weekend, what do I need to know?   (modals/expressions of advice and probability)

Another approach is to give each student some cards or slips of paper which have the target language written on them and once used in the speaking activity, the student can dispose of that card.  The idea is to get rid of all or most of the cards.

“fluency is weak” Give the students different strategies for communicating the meaning of something to others (use synonyms or antonyms, comparisons, descriptions, definitions, metaphors, gestures, drawings or other references, paraphrasing by repeating the information using different words, check for listener’s understanding).  Also provide some expressions asking for clarification that would help in this focus and encourage the students to use them frequently:

●I’m not sure what you mean.
●What do you mean?
●Where are you going with this?
●What are you saying / trying to say?
●You’ve lost me.
●Can you give me an example?
●Do you mean_____________?
●I’m sorry.  I didn’t catch that.

Start the students out with describing familiar physical objects (see Smooth n Sticky for some ideas), then increasingly more abstract ideas like feelings or concepts (chaos, romance, destiny).

Games like Taboo work very well with this objective of developing the students’ skills in improvising and looking for alternatives to communicate an idea.





If possible, get a class list which includes the names of the students.  Perhaps some names will have to be added later but with this list you can make a modified copy which will help you build a better student and class profile.  For example, you could have several columns next to each student’s name which you would fill in during the first class.  Maybe it’s important for you to know if they are a returning student and would like a quick idea why they signed up for the course.  You want to remember their names and get to know them early in the game.  Some teachers use name tags or place a folded paper in front of each student with their name printed on it.

CLASS 104A  Mon / Wed 7 – 9
Identifying characteristics Student here before What wants in class
Alex Wears glasses, hair in ponytail Last year, level 2.5 Speak better
Kelly Tall, likes to laugh, red-head No English for 4 years Interview for work, phrasal verbs
Kim Braces, smart aleck, athletic
Robin Serious, quite bright, blonde


You will probably want to start by briefly introducing yourself and making sure you have the right students in your class.  At some point you will have to tell them a bit about what the course entails.  Other than that, there are many directions to go.  Here are a few ideas for the very first activity where the students get to know you and each other better.

1 – A few words
Have each person identify him or herself and say a few words.  You could write on the board a few suggestions or expected themes such as:
●why you have decided to take this course
●what you like / dislike speaking about
●future personal dreams (professional, relationship-wise, personal projects or hopes)
●something curious or unusual about your family
●a pet peeve
●an achievement
2 – Interview then introduce
Place students in pairs and have them interview each other.  To make sure everyone has a turn, tell them that Student A interviews Student B only for 2 (or 5) minutes and after the time is up, clap your hands and tell them to change roles.  When all the interviews are over, Student A introduces Student B to the class.

OPTIONAL:  The class can ask 1 or 2 follow-up questions or have 3 minutes to ask all the follow-up questions they can.  (Be careful of time limits, especially with a big group.)

3 – Interview and write
Have the students interview each other, and it is the interviewer who writes the information down and later hands it in to you.  It’s recommended that you supply at least some of the items that the interviewers ask their partner.  Items that could be asked:  what they want from the course, some background, what they find difficult in English, what they liked or didn’t like in past courses.
4 – A needs analysis
Even if you’re working for a school or company that carries out its own questionnaires, it is very helpful for you to carry out one for yourself.  This will explained in the next section.
5 –  Find somebody who
This is basically a list on a paper which each student has.  They stand up and armed only with this paper and a pen, they mingle and ask each other about items on that list (for example, Find someone who is looking for a new job or Find someone who has been to more than two continents).  One typical condition is that they can only ask two questions on their list before they move on to speak with a new person.  The objective is to keep asking some questions until they find somebody who is that item (ex: a doctor) or have done that item (ex: been to Indonesia).  Then the asker writes that person’s name next to the item.

There are some examples in the section on Sources, but feel free to create your own.

If you’re teaching a regular course using a traditional student book, you could include items that touch on the vocabulary or grammar in the first few units.  This can help you get an idea of just how well the students know and can use these areas.

6 – Me two
This is a more open version of Find Somebody Who.  Students have to mix, introducing themselves and exchanging information until they find two things that they have in common (or just one if you have a big class).  They have to remember that (if it’s a big class you can let them write it down) and move on to talk to somebody else.  After 5 or 10 minutes regroup the class and starting with one student, ask the class what they know about him or her and who shares something in common with that person.
7 – Green comedy 1990
Write on the board 3 unrelated things (a colour, number, name of a person, sport, flavour, type of clothing, TV programme, anything that is important to you in some way).  The students can only ask you Yes/ No questions (Is it something that…   Do you… Did you… ?) and you answer accordingly.  They have to find out why those things are important to you.  If your intention is that they have to guess that you write comedy, it’s not enough that they ask you if you like comedy. You can give them a little help like saying that you do like comedy, but that isn’t what you are looking for.  Give hints when the questions slow down.  For example, “1990 isn’t when I was born,” stressing the ‘I’ a lot and hoping that they start to guess that it was when your partner or first born child or your favourite movie star was born.  The students keep guessing and when they get one, cross it out and tell them a little about it like “Yes, Green was the name of my dog when I was growing up.  We called him that because….”  When they are all guessed, tell the students to write down 3 things themselves for others to guess.  Put them in groups of 3 or 4 and let them go at it.  After somebody guesses one, it should be another person’s turn rather than going through all 3.  In that way everybody should have a turn at least once.  It’s also a good idea that once the item is guessed, the person explains a bit more (as in the case of the dog, Green.
8 – Two true, one lie
As with most speaking games where people have to guess or do something, it’s best that you model with an example first.  Write on the board 3 sentences which appear to be facts about yourself.  However, one is not true.  Students have to interrogate you and by being clever, they can find out which one is false.  For example you say you lived and worked in a certain city.  They ask how old you are, where and when you went to university, etc.  You have to answer truthfully to all their questions except a direct one that asks if you in fact lived and worked in that city.  (You don’t answer that one.)  After they have an idea how it works and discover which is false, they prepare something similar and in groups continue playing the game as you monitor.
9 – Memory name game
It’s not only you remembering your students’ names, it is good to encourage them to remember each other’s as well.  If the students are sitting in a circle, for example, the first student stands up, says his/her name and one more piece of personal information (which could be left open or you decide the theme such as favourite hobby).  The next student repeats what s/he has just heard and adds to the list her/his name and her/his extra bit.  The third student now has a slightly longer list before adding his/her name.  And so on.  You could go two complete rounds if you like, because the first students didn’t have much to say before.  To make it more interesting, you could change directions, remembering that now all the students have to try to remember all the information.
10 – Hot Seat
If you have a very small group, or a very big class and break them up into smaller groups of 3 or 4, this activity works well.  Students sit in a circle or facing each other and one is in the hot seat.  The others ask questions, frequently using the person’s name.  “So tell me, Joanna, what kind of work do you do?”  Encourage follow-up questions and some interaction (the other students can volunteer similar experiences or comments).  After a set time (3 or 5 minutes, for example), it’s the next student’s turn.  Make sure to allow for time differences if not all the groups have the same number of students.


The previous section introduced activities that work well as ice-breakers, but some could be used in future classes such as Hot Seat or Two True, 1 Lie.  Besides warming the students up to each other and to the class, you also want to have an idea of where they are as English language users.  Plan on including an activity or two to see how they use the language and to get some ideas for your future classes.  Besides getting input from the needs analysis, it’s good to see how they act and react in different situations.  That includes placing the students in different groups for different activities.  Here are some activities that allow you to listen in easily and have a better idea of their capabilities and ways of interacting.

1 – Your photographs  
Students in pairs or small groups are given identical photos of you and have to speculate what they are or how they relate to you.  For example, who is that person next to you when you were 10 years younger?  Were you on holiday in Japan, or were you living there?  What were you celebrating?  Who took that photo?  For higher level groups, encourage them to use speculative structures and to back up their guesses with some kind of reasoning or justification.  You could write some examples on the board such as


It’s highly unlikely that…
It’s highly unlikely that it was his wedding.  Look at what he’s wearing.
If it was / were …
If it was a going-away party, it wasn’t hers.  She’s not the centre of attention.
It looks like… + noun
It looks like a serious meeting.  Maybe they were discussing some family matter.
It looks like… + clause
It looks like they are going to cry.  It was something very emotional.
They must have …   /   They could have …
They must have been arguing about something.  Look at the expressions on their faces.
After a time limit or they have finished, change the groupings so the new groups are composed of all new members, and they discuss, agree or disagree on what they have deduced in their previous groups.  Later you go through each photograph, eliciting what their thoughts are and providing them with what they are really about.
2 – Photographs of situations
In pairs or groups the students have to describe what they see in a number of photographs showing a variety of different situations.  Encourage the students to use as much vocabulary and references as possible (weather, clothes, gestures, objects, etc.).  For higher level groups you could add a second part in which they have to speculate on the present (possible relationships, feelings, location, reasons for being there), in the past (what brought about that particular situation) and future (what might happen next).
3 – Debates
Many teachers and students like this.  Here are two ways you can approach debates:
1 Formal Debates
Write the theme / question /statement on the board and divide the class into groups (pro vs con) of 3 or 4 people per team.

-Optional- After you have done a couple of debates in class, deliberately assign people to the side that they less agree with.  This encourages them to explore and develop arguments from the perspective of those who would normally oppose them.

In teams they prepare their arguments and the order who presents first.  The first speaker must make a brief introduction why their side is the better one and the last speaker must make a closing summary (no new points).  Allow them about 10 minutes to prepare their strategies and individual points.  Each speaker will be given a time limit (ex: 1 minute) to make one new point and to respond to one or two previous points made by the opposition.  Each speaker can only speak once (unless you have a very small class – then you can have longer speaking turns, or let them each have a second turn).
If your class is not very big, you listen to the two sides taking turns.  Give 1, 2 or 3 points to each speaker, depending on how well they present their own points and another 1, 2 or 3 points depending on how well they respond to the opponent’s previous argument.  You can also jot down some notes on how well they are using the English language (mistakes, pointing out good intonation when emphasizing, some useful tips or vocabulary, etc) but don’t give any points according to their proficiency with the language.
At the end of the debate, give the total number of points awarded to each team (no need to point out who specifically got what), give them feedback on where they did very well, and a few pointers on where to improve for the next time.  You can also go over how well they used the English language in the activity.
2 More Casual Debates
You could use the above structure without the point system to ensure they all get involved, but it’s also possible to have two groups who just go at each other.  This is easier if you have a very big class but make sure it doesn’t get out of hand and that everyone participates.  I have found it usually works better if each person in the group must prepare his or her own point to be declared and then the other group as a whole can attack it and the original group can defend that speaker.  You may want to give them time limits for each new turn.
4 – Discussing current news
You can assign the topic and they all discuss it in a class activity.  Many students like this, but it often happens that just a few actively participate.  You could split them up into smaller groups and they explore the theme on their own, and later share with the class some of the viewpoints that came up.
Another option is to tell the class to do the preparation themselves.  They have to watch the news or read an article  that they find and come to class with the theme to discuss and some points to raise.  In groups they explore the themes that are presented.
5 – Talking about themselves
This could be in the hot seat idea where one person must answer all the variety of questions put forth by the others in the group.  (Encourage follow-up questions to help make the activity last and for the students to explore some areas more in depth.)  It could also be a theme for the day and in groups or even pairs, the students compare how they are similar and different according to that theme.  It would be better for you to set the theme.  Some examples are siblings, work, interests / hobbies, dreams, holidays (past, future, dream), relationships, family, pet peeves, changes in their life, hypothetical changes in their life (good for third conditional for the past and second for present/future).  If your group is a little quiet, before they start, elicit some areas they could explore.  For example, if the theme is siblings, elicit what they could talk about if somebody doesn’t have any.  (Would you have liked to have one or more?  Do you think it’s true that the order of siblings affects personality, like the youngest is always the baby and the oldest is always the most responsible one?  Is it better to have lots of sisters or lots of brothers?)
6 – Playing board games (like Taboo or Scruples)
Which game?    Choose one that involves a lot of speaking.  Monopoly could be interesting for some, but you don’t have to speak much during the game.  If you have a game that you think your class would like but doesn’t lend itself to much speaking, modify the rules a little to ensure that it does.  For example, they have to work in pairs, and discuss each move and strategy, or they have to negotiate frequently with the others.
Instructions    If one or more students already know the game, have them explain the rules to the others.  Or if nobody knows them, give a copy of the rules to each student and they work it out themselves.  If you don’t have much time to play with, go over the basics yourself.
See Handout 6 in Part E for an example on one way to present the rules:  http://maxenglishcorner.com/lessons/appetizers/app-2-3-cardinal-numbers-1-100/
Vocabulary    Give them some vocabulary to use during the game.  This includes not only specific vocabulary referring to objects (like taskmaster) but also in the dynamics (like roll the dice or don’t cheat).

See Handout 6 in Part E for an example:  http://maxenglishcorner.com/lessons/appetizers/app-2-3-cardinal-numbers-1-100/

7 – More
Any speaking activity which encourages them to explore some theme and interact will help provide you with the opportunity to get a good idea of their level, how they get along and how they react to some themes.  And, of course, improve their use of English.  The activities don’t always have to be wonderfully creative, elaborate or completely new each time.  Most students are content with following a familiar structure which they feel comfortable with, and they can concentrate more on improving their language (such as in Suggestion #5 above where they talk about themselves).  Besides varying the theme, you can also vary the approach.

For example, have the students individually make a list of 3 things they want to improve in their speaking.  (ex:  better pronunciation:  connected speech; use one of the phrasal verbs I have in my special list;  no mistakes in the use of singular/plural forms like this vs these or ‘s’)  Tell them that besides ‘talking about last weekend’ or whatever the current theme is, they should also focus on one of those 3 objectives while they are speaking.  If the students are quite keen, you can also ask them to tell their companions what their current objective is, and they can help each other by correcting or giving feedback on how well they did.

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Many teachers feel as nervous as the students before and in the beginning of the first class, and that includes very experienced teachers.  Once things get moving, people feel more relaxed and open up more.  This is something that you can keep in mind, that you want to have a class that is warm and welcoming, that people feel comfortable in from the start, including yourself.  Your main goals are to set the tone, have people get to know one another a little, and to have them start interacting, using the language.  The idea is not to move mountains, just feel good in the class and be off to a good start.  Plan to have a few activities in the class, and a couple of back-up ones on hand if you find yourself a bit short or need something a little different to what you have been doing.  Beyond the ice-breakers, you’d also like to introduce the students a little to your approach and to check out their level, strong points and areas they may need to work on.  Some ideas for activities to this end were presented in the previous section on More Activities.  They could give you some insight on how to go about planning your next and future classes.




A needs analysis orientates the teacher to what the students feel they need.  The questions asked may not always be the best ones and the responses may not be as complete as one would hope, but the information gathered can be very useful in developing and maintaining the students’ motivation and provide direction in the planning and execution of the classes.  If you are working for a school it is very likely that they would have conducted one themselves but it is still recommended to conduct one yourself.  Most conversation classes are not accompanied by a course book or a strict programme that the teacher must adhere to.  There is usually some or a lot of room for the teacher and students to maneuver in and together can create a rewarding series of classes.  Here are some ideas on approaching a needs analysis for your group.

►1 – Design your own needs analysis from scratch – some ideas if you don’t have one to refer to or want a new one
Think about past classes you’ve had and what students may want or need help with.  Organize those issues into some format that students can easily respond to.  It could be
● a scale of boxes from 1 to 5 and students tick the box which most closely resembles how they feel about each item (like how useful it is to be given homework or to watch and talk about YouTube videos in class or to receive corrections from the teacher).
● a short list of open-ended questions like what grammar or vocabulary areas, if any, they would like to work on in different speaking activities.
● a few modified questions borrowed from past needs analysis you have seen
►2 – My recommendation – one possible way to approach a needs analysis
There are a few questions I typically ask my students to consider.  I have the questions written on the board or on a sheet of paper and either give it to the students for homework, to complete individually, or to discuss in groups.  All three options have their advantages and disadvantages.  One combination could be to assign it for homework, they discuss it in groups in the next class (whether or not they have done the homework) and later each person hands in their sheet to me.  The following is one approach I have found quite useful:


1-  I give them the three questions on a paper and explain each one so they have an idea how to approach them at home.
Question 1:  What would you like to do in class?
(What kind of activities – speak in groups, talk about current events, etc)
Question 2:  What do you feel you need to learn?
(Be specific – not just grammar, but which areas are problematic; not just increase my vocabulary but what themes would you like to focus on such as everyday vocabulary in the office; not just improve my speaking – what does that mean?  What specifically about your speaking is it that you want to improve?)
Question 3:  Themes for speaking
You could leave it open and they write what interests them (sports, fashion), or make it a checklist
(I prefer it open because it becomes more personalized)
2-  For homework they are to think about and answer the questions and hand in the papers to me.

3-  In the next class I put them into groups and together they go over the questions together.  If new ideas pop up that they like, they write them down on their papers.  (They don’t have to agree with everyone in the group.  If there is an idea or two that others liked but they don’t, they don’t write it down.)

4-  The students hand in their papers and we speak about a few of the most important needs while the topic is still fresh.

5-  In the following class I give them a summary of what was handed in, either in spoken form or as a handout.  I explain that while there may be a few that we can’t do (because of lack of facilities or time, for example) most can be covered with two priorities in mind:  the more popular ones and a little something from each person will be dealt with.

6-  About halfway through the course I point out what we have accomplished so far, and what will be coming.  If they have any further suggestions then we talk about those as well.

►3 – Realistic goals
●It’s important from the beginning of the course to let them know that they will be doing a number of things.  Perhaps some themes or activities may not appeal to everyone all the time, but the idea is to have a mix so everyone finds some of personal interest at some time.

●Rome wasn’t conquered in a day.  (Poor Rome.)  While it may not be possible to dramatically change one’s level of speaking in a single course, it is important to understand that improvement, especially noticeable improvement, takes time and the idea is to make progress, to maintain and strengthen one’s skills in speaking.  That progress depends a lot on how much of themselves they are willing to put into the class.

►4 – This is not a grammar class (or video class or vocabulary class)
●It’s possible that some grammatical structures might be briefly looked at, particularly if many students appear to be struggling with it and it’s possible to deal with the matter quickly and (relatively) easily.  But everything reverts back to the speaking focus.
►5 – “You’re the teacher.”
●Many students think that you should know, if not in the first class then very shortly thereafter, what is needed to be done.  It is your responsibility, but your task is made easier to find out how they think and feel about their speaking.  After seeing them in action, you will probably have a better idea of what is needed to work on and what activities to plan for in future classes.




A class with more than one student brings not only what each individual can offer, but also brings the dynamics that can arise when they are placed together in different ways.  People tend to sit next to those they feel better with so generally it’s a good idea to let them decide who will be their speaking partners much of the time.  However, people also learn from others so it’s a good idea to mix them up from time to time, too.  You could arrange those groupings:

systematically A B C A B C A B
Student 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
“A’s stay here, B’s to the back of the class and C’s near the window.”
randomly Students pick a card with a colour, letter or number and they meet up with people with similar cards.
deliberately similarities You may want students together who share similar abilities, background or interests, or you might think it better to place them in mixed groups.  Think it through, what your objectives and arguments could be for each case and what you believe will be the best for that particular activity.
diplomacy You might have someone in the class, for example, who is a little hard to get along with or needs special attention so you want to diplomatically share the burden.  You could make the assigning of groups appear to be random or systematic, or just might say that you want everyone to mix more.  Another example would be a big boss with a few employees.
seating arrangements You’d like to have groups of three or four but the tables are bolted to the floor.  You could have a line of three, but have the middle person shove back the chair as much as possible so no-one is hidden and all three can easily see and speak with each other.  For four people you could have two people in one row turn around to face two people directly behind them.  You could use the aisle space, have them stand and interact near the blackboard or if there is room at the back of the class.  And, of course, if it’s easy to move people about, do so, but when it makes sense to, not always just for the sake of constant change.
frequently (or not) It okay to have the students change groups and groupings, but don’t overdo it.  Think of why you’re doing it and when it might be best to let them stay in their regular groups.  Some teachers have the students repeat the exact same activity but in new groups.  It would be best if there was some reasoning or objective behind it, like creating an opportunity to use reported speech or playing the alibi game.




Many of the activities presented on this site are good for one-to-one classes, but at times you would have to take on the role of another student in addition to that of the teacher.

This is a more intimate setting, good for the student speaking more (as long as you give that person the opportunity to do so), but less rich in the potential variety of having a number of different partners.  Things can become less dynamic, especially if the student is shy or doesn’t volunteer much.  You also have to be especially aware of what his/her needs are and to make sure they’re addressed so some progress is made towards those ends.  It can be very easy to be side-tracked like speaking about fun things, which can be appealing at first, but at the end of the course when the student is assessing whether or not the investment of time and money was worth it, there might be regrets in diverting from the goals so much.  Sometimes, too, it is necessary to adjust the goals after having some classes with that individual.  Priorities can change over time and it’s good to catch them early.

Generally speaking it is good to have a variety of approaches and ideas in each class as well as some on ‘standby’, just in case the student suddenly announces s/he wants to do something different today.  Find a balance between what the student needs and what the student likes to do.




Pretty well everything mentioned before would apply but there is the added advantage that the student is in their home turf and will feel more relaxed.  There are other possible benefits and considerations, depending on the student’s needs.

You could dedicate one class to a room in that person’s home or a series of classes, one class per room.  If you’re the kind of teacher who likes to prepare, have the student introduce the room to you the class before so you can become better acquainted with it and perhaps get a few ideas on how to approach the class.  Make note of what vocabulary might be relevant (stick to everyday themes, nothing too unusual), what topics for discussion could be introduced to use that vocabulary, and alternative ways to explore speaking about those themes (such as role-plays).  For example:

Room Vocabulary Topics for speaking
balcony planter, railing noise, privacy issues, space, the view, safety
living room coffee table, footstool, sliding windows, remote control redecorating, entertaining, relaxing
kitchen cutlery, cupboard, parts of stove ideal kitchen, who does housework, recipes (Maybe one or two classes could include the actual preparation of some meal or dish)

A few role-plays:

1- One of you lives there and the other is the cleaning person.  It’s his/her first day and you have to say what needs to be done.
2- One of you is somebody contracted to redecorate or fix up the other’s flat or one of the rooms.
3- You are going through a divorce and you argue about which objects belong to whom and how it is that they are yours (Aunt Bessie gave it to me for my birthday).
4- You’re a couple and you are thinking of changing your home to accommodate somebody paying rent or a mother-in-law who is soon going to be staying with you.
5- One of you is the landlord and the other the tenant and you speak about what needs to be done or what shouldn’t have been done (because it isn’t your property).
6- Another role-play is that a documentary is being done and one of you is being interviewed (the personal interest story).  You go through your home, explaining what might be of interest to the viewers, or if appropriate, your fans.
7- You need money and have to sell things.  What could be sold and for how much?
8- You are going to move to a much smaller place.  What will you take with you and what will you do with the rest?
9– You are going on holidays for a month and want to explain to your friend or neighbour about watering the plants, walking the dog and the general looking after of your place.
10– A friend you haven’t seen for many years is over at your place and you’re showing your home and talking about your life.
11– Go through a room and invent memories which provoke much nostalgia in you.  “Remember when…?”  And you talk for a short time about that ‘shared’ memory before moving on to new examples in that room.

If you have two or three people who live there, all taking your class, then you have them do the role-play, give them feedback, then switch roles and do it again, keeping your recent suggestions in mind (more intonation, inclusion of vocabulary or negotiating, for example).  Sometimes there might be a sensitive issue between husband and wife or mother and daughter, for example, so leave it alone or if it arrives, deal with it carefully.  You want them to feel good about the classes and playing with the language.

It isn’t necessary to only use role-plays to draw out the vocabulary and speaking situations.  You can focus on one object and exploit it as much as you can.  For example, a sofa:

1- I love your sofa.  Where did you buy it?  Then go into a series of tangents.  This can be quite fun.  You always start with the target vocabulary, work it into the beginning of the conversation, but then let or deliberately lead the conversation away in some other direction which you explore more.  You never know where it will lead.
2- Another version of playing with tangents is deliberately steering the direction of the opening theme back to the one that one speaker (subtly) insists on returning to.  There is something that speaker really wants to talk about.  For example, start speaking about the sofa and the recently divorced man who is heart-broken shortly says how much it reminds him of the sofa he used to have before his ex-wife took possession of the house.  When you talk about the amazing technology in your new remote control, he participates for a while, then mentions how he and his wife would squabble over which channels to watch.  You just painted the kitchen and the colour is similar to … The idea is to speak for a few minutes using the target vocabulary and then start to work in those tangents.  You can even have both participants have their own agendas.  One can work in how fantastic one is (wanting to impress the other with his/her incredible personality or experiences), for example, while the other works in how angry s/he is with ‘the system’.  Or any other particular theme or group of themes.
3- Tell me about the sofa.  (where it was bought; how it got into the living room (movers, friends?); what was done with the old one; what was the old one like and how is this one better; who likes the sofa, or not, & why; what is done on the sofa (sleep, watch TV, eat, chill out).  Basically everything you need to know and more to satisfy the curiosity of a person obsessed with the sofa.  Then maybe one more object greatly explored and that’s it until the next class when you start looking at more possibilities.




This isn’t always easy.  There are a number of options, depending on your circumstances.  Here are a few:

1 – Go to a nearby café during the classtime
Check with the director of studies, just in case it’s not permitted or s/he might need to contact you for some reason.  Let all the students know beforehand because sometimes people get held up and if they arrive late they may not know where to go.  You can all order your coffee or orange juices, chat about future plans and get involved in a few people’s stories of what they are currently up to.
2 – Talk about the course
●Think of what you’d like to tell your students beforehand.  Jot down a few highlights of what you covered, what worked really well, a number of references which will leave a good impression on the students.  It’s closure time and what people remember will often be how things ended, so let them feel positive about it.
●If your students haven’t already, you could also ask them about their perspectives about the course.
3 – Offer some suggestions about what to do after the course
●It’s very likely your director of studies might be encouraging you to promote some of the new courses available so you can inform your students about them.  Ask the students a little about their plans so you can recommend which courses would be most appropriate.

●You can also make other recommendations like considering an official certified exam testing one’s level of proficiency with the language if it would help their career or studies in some way.  There are different kinds so steer the student in the direction of which ones would be most applicable to his or her situation.

●Encourage your students to keep up their speaking and use of English.  Maybe some of them would like to continue meeting up, perhaps for a weekly coffee, and can discuss new and ongoing themes on a regular basis.

●Other ways to maintain their level would be to find other people to speak with, watch & discuss movies, documentaries, the news, YouTube videos, TV series, etc.  If there is no other person to share these things with in English, they can also be done on one’s own, and they still contribute to keeping up with the language.  Also reading the paper, novels, magazines and listening to music all help.  Writing emails or in a journal can be beneficial.  Any use of English to keep engaged with the language will be helpful.  It’s amazing how quickly one can lose their level which they worked so hard for.

●Remind the students of what they did and accomplished during the course and see if they could continue exploring their use of the language in these and other ways.

4 – Play a game
Board games work quite well in this situation.  If you have a lot of students, then you would probably have them play in different groups.  If they are all to play the same game, make sure there are enough boards (or photocopied versions), dice, etc for every group.  If you want to have different games then people choose or rotate every 25 minutes.  Allow for movement, instructions and you circulating to keep them on track.
5 – Plan a party
A few classes before the final one, you could propose this idea and it could become one of your speaking activities.  The students would suggest different options, and if the final decision is to have some kind of party in the classroom, decide who will be bringing what and what things they can do (play games, watch videos, have music playing in the background, tell revealing stories about themselves, sing songs, etc)
6 – Watch a video or three
By now you should know them fairly well, at least concerning how they might react to certain suggestions.  Prepare a few short videos for them to watch that would appeal to their interests or sense of humour.  Plan a simple task that would involve them somehow, like to exchange opinions about what or why something happened, what might happen next if you stop partly through the video, see what they can recall, etc.  Have it more than simply everyone just sitting and watching.




Teaching English in this day and age is a good time to be doing it.  Never before have there been such resources available to help the teacher.  Below are some suggested sources to help you in your quests and I’m sure you will find others as well.

● – Your coordinator or director of studies
S/He is likely to already be well-versed in a number of things which could help you out.  They know of some good resources available in your school or elsewhere and can draw from their own experience to offer more suggestions.
● – Other teachers
Ask them what has worked for them and be generous with those asking you.  An atmosphere of free and easy exchange benefits everyone.  Hearing it firsthand from someone experienced with the activity can provide a few added insights and tips that may not appear in the instructions.
● – Resource books
Many schools have something of a library, a number of books with themes dedicated to speaking activities.  ►Look through them all, sometimes a few times, because the first time perhaps had been with one thing in mind and with more experience with a particular group, some of the offered activities you skipped over might take on a new value.

►Vocabulary and grammar books have different themes nicely packaged and you could use them as an ingredient to a developed speaking activity, referring to or using what is presented in those books.

►Normal course books appropriate to the level of your students is another great source.  There are already a number of discussions provided plus a large variety of readings and listenings which also can be exploited for your conversation class.  And, don’t be afraid to modify or reinterpret what is presented in those books.  Perhaps by making a few changes you can make it more interesting and more appropriate to your students.

● – Your students
The greatest fountain of all comes from the students themselves.  Beyond the initial needs analysis done at the start of the course, listen in and take note of the comments and body language of your students during the classes.  They will inform you directly and indirectly where their interests are and aren’t.  Try a variety of approaches and see how the students take to them.  Quite often what works for one group doesn’t appeal to another, but with some tweaking and approaching the same theme or material in a slightly different manner, the other group might get more involved.

Also, pass some of the responsibility onto them.  Get them to find and even develop their own sources.  This could be having them present something of interest or importance to them such as a favourite hobby or describing past experiences (like a special holiday or their first job) or ‘Show and Tell’.  Or assign 3 or 4 people to each find an article that captured their interest.  Next class one person explains the story (or the others guess it) and they explore the theme and their opinions.  Then it’s another student’s turn.  This works well, because if one or two didn’t prepare anything, it’s still likely that someone did.

● – You
You are the hub of it all.  Even if much of the programme is pre-determined, it is you in the front lines, directing the students’ attention and how the activities will flow.  Often one’s enthusiasm for something is contagious, so if there is something that you enjoy doing or a way of doing something that appeals to you more, try it on your students.

You are also the major decision-maker in and out of the classroom.  Reflect on how your students are doing and what they are lacking or need to be strengthened.  Your thoughts on these matters could be another good source of which directions to take in the future classes.

More sources can be found directly through the internet.  Some good ones are suggested below but there are always new sites and updated older ones with a wealth of new ideas you can use.  The sites listed here don’t require you to register or be a member.

● – MEC (Max’s English Corner)
This website has a number of activities that can be used for conversation (in) classes and will have more in the future.  There are
►the conversation cards found in Today’s Theme for speaking (under More Lessons in the top menu bar)
►discussion topics found in the first seven stories in HST Narratives (in the top menu bar)
►speaking suggestions for most grammar and vocabulary themes covered in Main Course (under Lessons)
►discussions during and after YouTube videos (found in Dessert under Lessons in the top menu bar)
● – The Harvey Skidoo Tree Collection
►https://www.harveyskidootree.com/  (go to All Stories in the top menu bar)

Many short stories / anecdotes here that you can use for levels of Upper Intermediate or higher.  Good for looking at vocabulary, how the language can be used to express some ideas and a variety of themes to explore in class or group discussions.

● – Some ‘Find Someone Who’ sheets
► http://eslgames.com/find-someone-who/
► https://www.englishclub.com/esl-worksheets/find-someone-who/
● – Not just controversial topics, but some tips on what to do with them
► https://busyteacher.org/4686-33-controversial-topics-and-how-to-teach-them.html
► https://rm.coe.int/16806948b6
► https://www.off2class.com/controversial-esl-topics-classroom/
● – A number of good activities explained such as Pechakucha and Running Dictation
● – Unplugged speaking for one-to-one classes
► https://www.onlinetefltraining.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/SpeakingUnplugged-30Activities.pdf
● – Speaking test samples and evaluation guidelines
► https://www.englishoms.ch/fce-exam/speaking/
► http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/167791-cambridge-english-first-handbook.pdf
► https://www.greenwichcollege.edu.au/cambridge-cae-speaking-task-1
► http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/167804-cambridge-english-advanced-handbook.pdf
► https://www.ieltsessentials.com/global/prepare/freepracticetests/speakingpracticetests
► https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/prepare-your-test/free-practice-tests/speaking-practice-test-1/speaking-part-1
● – Speaking activities for lower levels
► https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/motivating-speaking-activities-lower-levels
● – A few more sites with ideas for speaking
► https://www.thoughtco.com/quick-lessons-short-speaking-activities-1210497
► https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/esl-discussion-topics-for-adults/
► https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/speaking-activities-for-esl-students/
● – And don’t forget YouTube, videos, movies
You have Ted Talks, and videos about virtually anything.  Include a few of your favourites or find some new ones.  Think of how to introduce them, perhaps pre-teach a little vocabulary that will help the students understand the video or express themselves better, and a task or topic question for them to discuss.

http://film-english.com/    has a good variety of short films & videos with accompanying lesson plans


And that’s it for now.  If this has been helpful to you in any way or if you have some suggestions, I would love to hear from you.  Simply go to Contact and send in your comments.  As mentioned early, receiving feedback goes a long way in shaping how materials and ideas are approached and a brief comment or two is very appreciated.


See some different teaching ideas in a few different lesson plans

TODAY'S THEME Meaning of our holidays

Students learn some vocabulary before a topic is introduced.  Then in small groups they explore the language and their different perspectives while speaking about the theme.

ONE-PAGERS Making Suggestions

You can have students incorporate certain structures into their speaking.  Go over the target language, create a situation for it to appear in, and encourage the students to use it while speaking.  Here’s one example.


Students reflect on an activity in class and speak together on what was done / what was learned and exchange some thoughts about it.

MAIN COURSE Prepositions Collocations 1

Give the students some prompts, either on a paper for each group or written on the board.  These prompts can be some vocabulary or grammatical structures to be used while speaking as well as a quick choice of topics to talk about to provide the context.

MAIN COURSE Smooth N Sticky Application

After going through a good basis of vocabulary, students get involved in a freer type of activity which can present opportunities to use that vocabulary.  Enjoyment and freer more open communication is the focus and the vocabulary can be used to supplement it.

DESSERT Dirty Hotels

Students learn a little vocabulary, answer questions about content presented in the video and exchange views about their experiences.