ESL Activity: Conversation club

Have you got a class who are struggling to speak, make conversation, and allow words to come out their mouths to actually produce speech? Tired of banging your head against the wall because students just won’t let up and participate? Well, try this Conversation Club idea with any level from teens to adults and you’ll soon see them improving.

Conversation club in class. Photo by teruru

I’ve been forced to do this activity this year with a couple of classes who are particularly weak at speaking, and after just a month I can see their confidence has improved immensely.

I got the idea for this from when I was teaching out in Brazil, in Salvador, Bahia. I used to go along and run a couple of conversation sessions at an academy on a Friday night. After an entertaining karaoke evening all the teachers would take away a small group of students and just chat to them for an hour. It was free for the students, and we got paid a bit, but it was more about the experience and meeting people, plus the boss bought us a couple of beers afterwards. It was actually one of the most fun jobs I ever had as an English teacher; it was more like a social club that a language school.

Anyway, there’s no reason why you can’t bring this sort of atmosphere into your class now and then.

Here’s how you set it up.

  • Explain to the class that they are going to have the opportunity to express themselves by using words that should come out of their mouths.
  • Set a time each week to do the Conversation Club so they know what to expect. This term I’m doing it every Monday and Tuesday for 15 minutes with two B1 classes.
  • Write up a topic on the board. It can be recycling vocabulary that you’ve done earlier in the course, as a warmer for the next lesson, or just any old topic that you think they might like. So far this term I have done music, parents, mobile phones, and sports. You could even get one student to choose a topic each week (maybe the one who has been speaking more in class?)
  • Give them a couple of minutes to prepare 3 or 4 questions. Go round and check for grammar, and make sure the questions aren’t all closed i.e. with only a yes or no answer.
  • To start, I normally get the class to chat in pairs, and then rotate them round, so in the end they speak to 3 or 4 people.
  • You can do it sitting or standing with some music on in the background as if it was a bar or social club.
  • Why not use yourself as a demo to show what you expect, giving reasonably long answers.
  • There’s no harm in picking on a couple of students between changes to get some feedback, and check they are listening to each other, just to keep them on their toes.
  • I normally finish by asking a few further questions, or asking them to ask me some.

The main aim is to improve fluency, recycle some vocab, and also increase their confidence. Plus it’s a great start to the class as they’ll be speaking non-stop for 15 minutes. See if you can fit it in.

Hope that helps.

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