If you are a keen follower of our website’s ‘Tips & Resources’ section, you would have read the last article about why conversation classes are highly beneficial for learning a new language. Today, we want to give details about what we want to achieve and what we actually do in these classes.
What we want to achieve:
We’ve already pointed out how important it is to build up confidence in the students. So once they enter the room, they need to feel that they are among friends where they can relax. We want to provide unintimidating and fun classes where they can experiment with old and new vocabulary.
Not only do we aim to get the students speaking, we also want to maximize their speaking time. In a perfect class, the teacher is silent and only acts as a ‘showmaster’ who encourages participation, praises success and occasionally acts as a referee. At all other times, the students should be speaking. They ask the questions, answer each other’s enquiries, help each other when they get stuck, explain things to each other and correct each other’s mistakes in the target language.
We want active learners. It is very hard to achieve good results through passive learning, which occurs predominantly through reading and listening. Much more effective is speaking and writing as it aids the retention of the language in the active part of the brain. We don’t want our students to sit around and listen, we want them to be the protagonists who do things in an interactive way with their fellow students. We want to make it stick. We want them to remember words and structures – and practice is the key.
What we do:
A typical Language Hub conversation class will focus on one topic. Ideally students will use what they’ve learned in their core class in real conversation. This is of course difficult for students who only just started learning, but there is no need to despair. Depending on the level of the class, students will get time to think about what they want to say and they can also make notes before they participate in the conversation.
More than often everyone in class will find it challenging to participate in the conversation; either because they haven‘t yet learnt the specific vocabulary or because they have already forgotten the words. At the beginning of each lesson we will therefore help the students recall those words and introduce new ones and key phrases related to the topic.
To make the class fun, the teachers endeavour to provide different activities and materials all the time. Activities can consist of: games, competitions, storytelling, discussions of current issues, drawings, acting and, of course, lots of dialogues. To help with this, we use materials like handouts, cards, photos, toys and real objects as well as the board.
To give you an example, a typical conversation class about ‘food’ could include any of the following activities:
- Competition: find words related to food (2 minutes to write down, then read out, whoever gets most words wins)
- Guess my word: place cards with images of food on the table (upside down). A student picks a card, the others have to ask yes/no questions until they find out what item is on the card
- Different kinds of dialogues: e.g. ‘What do you like to eat?’ ‘I like to eat…’ / ‘I don’t like to eat…’ or ‘My favourite food is …’ Past tense: ‘What did you have for lunch on Saturday?’ Future: ‘What are you going to have for dinner tonight?’
- Board game: fields include queries like ‘What’s in a pancake?’ or ‘Name 3 vegetables!’
- What’s on your pizza game: one student gets a (paper) pizza base and lots of (paper) toppings and will ask another student ‘What would you like on your pizza?’
- Buying groceries role play (buying products, looking for items, getting a refund).
What you can do:
In line with a strategy used by David Martin (Talk a Lot, Book 1, EFL Press. Saitama, Japan), who teaches English in Japan, we would like to encourage our students to:
- promise to try to speak as much as possible
- promise not to be afraid of making mistakes
- promise not to speak any English
- promise to use the target language to communicate
- promise to ask questions when they do not understand
- promise to try to have fun!
See you soon at one of our conversation classes!