Ideas for an English Conversation Class

This question comes on behalf of my girlfriend who is teaching a two week English (as a Foreign Language) Conversation class. The class is about an hour and a half and has about 10-15 students. The students are basically intermediate – they can express themselves adequately. Also, they are in the 20-30 age range.

Any ideas for games/activities to play with the class? So far they’ve played boardgames (Taboo), which worked pretty well, and also tried some stuff from the textbook, which absolutely tanked.


I used to tutor a lady for whom english was her second language. I found that her reading skills were fine, but her speaking and writing skills needed work. What I found worked best (promoted the most output) was to have her write or talk about something that is of importance or interest to her. I know this seems obvious, but I think it is a key element. Also something that she knew much about, or could elaborate on some aspect.

So what comes to mind for your friend is to pair off the students and:
Step one: have the first student, student A, tell their partner (student B) about a vacation, or incident on a vacation, or dream vacation, or something that along those lines.
Step two: student B will then need to tell the rest of the class a summary of what student A just passed along (without the help of student A).
Step three: switch roles and repeat.

By having the partner be responsible for telling the rest of the class, this will “encourage” their interest to get the information right (and hopefully ask questions to clarify things).
Since the first student realizes that their story will need to be relayed by another party, they will (hopefully) take the time to pick their words correctly so as not to embarass themselves.

During many of my tutoring sessions, I would simply have my student tell me “what’s going on”. And any time I didn’t understand something, I would interrupt and have her attempt to clarify. I found this to be really productive. Since I didn’t speak her native language, it forced her to translate to be able to relate this information. And I gave her instant feedback on whether the information was getting through or not.
So I thought of this exercise as a way of getting your friend’s kids to do the same. Hope it works.

I taught English as a foreign language for many years. One of my best ever lessons with intermediate students was based on the textbook we were using. The subjects in that chapter were town v. country, food, and money. I made them pretend to be in a restaurant, with two of the students acting as waiters. They were all given a piece of paper with a scenario on it: one of them was considering moving to the country, but was baised towards the town, one lived in a city but hated it, one lived in a city and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else, one was a waiter who kept getting the orders wrong, etc. Basically, they all had to justify their standpoint, whether they personally believed in it or not, using all the vocabulary they had learned.

This particular excercise was supposed to last for around 40 minutes, before we moved onto something else. In the end, it took up the whole two hour lesson, as people got so involved in it they started exchanging real life stories. I was teaching a large group, within the 18-mid 30s age range. One of them was a bimbo trying to fill in time before she got married, one was a university professor who also happened to be a doctor (her speciality was the way the brain works), and the others were everything inbetween. I also got them to call one assigned person after every lesson, for a five minute conversation, so the first few minutes of every lesson were feedback about that. As a result, they all got to know everybody else really well, which broke down all kinds of inhibitions in the classroom.

I loved teaching that class.

One I’ve seen played in a drama class but might work equally well in your setting. Choose 4 or 5 people to leave the room and stand sufficiently far away so they cannot hear. Choose another person to go up in the middle and give them a short story sequence (or make one up with the rest of the class if they are capable of it). Then, the guy explains it to the first person who comes into the room who then has to explain it to the second and so on until the end. Hopefully, by the last person, the story will be humerously mangled and everyone will have a lot of fun doing it.

What about famous dialogue?
STUDENT A: The funniest thing about Europe is the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it’s just a little different.

STUDENT B: Example?

STUDENT A: Well, in Amsterdam, in a movie theatre, you can buy a beer. And I’m not talkin’ 'bout a paper cup, but a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer in McDonald’s…

Skits with different scenarios tend to work the best as it gets everyone talking. Having people talk about plans for the weekend or what they did that past weekend also works well. My most successful lesson dealt with music. I chose about 5 songs, found the lyrics for them and made copies, and then played each song in class. The students sang along while reading the lyrics. We then had a vocab discussion about each song. It was a huge hit because it’s something they’re already familiar with but don’t always have a great grasp on. I was also teaching 1st and 2nd year business students, but music is usually something everyone can enjoy. Christmas songs worked well also.

Pictionary also works. Real life scenarios like going to get your hair cut, grocery shopping, planning a trip, going out to eat are also good things to know. Talk about current events. Have them find one news article and come to class prepared to talk a little about it and explain it to the class. The object is to get them comfortable with talking. It’s hard.

My students were also from all ranges. You’d think kids with 8-9 years of English behind them would all be around the same level, but no. I had some who were basically fluent and others who had trouble stringing a sentence together. Finding a common ground was difficult.

You didn’t say if the students (Ss) are different nationalities or not - if they are then she has lots of scope for getting them to talk about stereotypes, traditional dishes, customs, sports etc. Or she could put Ss of the same nationality into small groups or pairs to prepare a presentation to sell their country or capital city as a holiday / work destination to the other Ss who then vote on the best destination (actually she could still do that if the Ss are same nationality too but just ‘impose’ destinations of her choice).

Anything with an element of debate is good - get Ss to agree on ‘THe 3 Best’ and ‘The 3 Worst’ … things about their country, things about the host country, things about the Internet, films, books, the English language etc.

She could organise a ‘balloon debate’. Give 6 Ss a role - George Dubya Bush, Tom Cruise, Zinadine Zidane, Neslon Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Catherine Zeta Jones, Bill Gates etc. They are in a hot air ballon but they are losing height so one person has to “leave” the balloon, each character gives reasons why they should be allowed to stay in, the ‘audience’ ask questions and vote, one person is thrown out and joins the audience, but guess what ? they are still losing height and so the process is repeated until there is one winner.

A bit more pedagogical is a grammar auction. The Ss are put into teams and ‘given’ a certain amount of money. Your girlfirend writes up sentences in English one by one and the Ss have to bet to buy the sentences, but only if the grammar is correct. If they buy an incorrect sentence they lose their money, if it is correct they still spend the money but win a point. The mistakes in some sentences should be fairly obscure to produce infighting within the teams :wink: (NB she should only do this if she is confident that she will be able to explain why the ‘wrong’ sentences are wrong)

An important thing to realise is that even tho’ it is a conversation class, there’s nothing worng in having some sort of stimulus to get the conversation started - a short one paragraph story from an English language newspaper (synopsis of a film, reataurant review, cat stuck up a tree and rescued by fireman type story); play a song or musical extract and get the studenst to talk about it; show an extract from a film - the last few minutes and ask the Ss to reconstruct the events leading up to it, the opening scene and ask the Ss to predict how the story develops. Logic problmes are always good to - like “there’s a man in a diving suit in the middle of a burnt forest, how did he get there ?”

If I was her I’d write out a list of possible lessons and orgainse a programme to make sure I was mixing the more serious ones with more fun ones (and didn’t do three board games in a row for example). Good luck to you ‘Girlfriend of Jayrot’ and let us know how you get on. :slight_smile: