Whether you’re working in an academy or you’re on your own doing private classes house to house, conversation classes can be tough to get right. Often, the hours you spend there can feel empty, or without any foundation. If you feel it, the student will feel it too. So here’s my breakdown of some of the types of classes I’ve found and how you can apply some easy methods to get them going.
The Silent Treatment
Unfortunately, you will inevitably find some students that think there’s is something magic about paying a teacher. “If I go to classes, my English will automatically improve”! So all you get to work with is a student that doesn’t like talking, in a conversation class. My method for this is two pronged. Choose a topic, and stick with it. For example, the other day I chose to do a topic on building a town with a lower level guy. You know, what laws you would impose, what the government would be like, etcetera. When they are done with this, branch off into a topic that’s related. Which leaders do they admire? Where in the world do they think that the people have it all figured out? By sticking with a topic, the students gets more involved in the class and can express all their feelings on the subject, rather than jumping from one thing to another. Prong two, let them know that you won’t jump into save them every time. If they’re floundering with vocab, by all means help. But if they give you a simple yes or no answer to an open ended question, let it hang there, or ask a question that’s very similar. Letting them know that the best way for them to improve is by going deeper into a subject and learning the associated vocab.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the one who never stops! The one who often goes off on tangents and gets caught up in details. These classes can be especially fun, with higher level learners you can have a great time with more interesting topics. A problem can often be that they focus on the talking and not the learning. While it can be tempting to let them carry on and on, make sure to explain when they make a mistake and to always try to fit some new vocabulary in there somewhere. Don’t let an error go unnoticed, that’s how bad habits start.
The Rudderless Ship
These are usually people that don’t pay for the classes themselves. They come with no real interest in the language and therefore no real motivation to pay attention to a topic you have prepared. The ones on whom the look of boredom is noticeable when you pull out a piece of paper or an article to discuss. Also, the higher level students that get a little lazy about their learning can be included here.
In these situations, I tend to be sneaky. I would start a conversation with them about something innocuous, like their weekend or their family. Then, steer the talking into something we can discuss. For example, you hear on the news that there is a scandal involving a politician and you know that the student likes politics. Well, mention the news you heard and start with questions like “Did you hear about..”, and “Have there been any similar scandals that you know of..”? They are always more interested in talking about what they relate to, so make sure to get to know your student well. Conversations like these can be hard going, but make sure to bring back up topics in your head, and lots of questions to keep the flow going if necessary.
Get some grammar in there!
Fitting in grammar can be very arduous, as often they won’t be in the least bit interested. So get to know first what they are weak with. Conditionals for example. My favourite thing to do with this one is bring a survival story into class, like that of Joe Simpson. Have a look at the topic and ask questions like “What would you do if..”? Use it as a springboard and go for other related topics. This way, the class has a purpose and a practical benefit for them!
- Try not to assume that a conversation class will be easy just because it’s talking.
- Being good at small talk will help you enormously and help avoid awkward silences.
- Make sure that you’re class has a point and they walk away having learned something.
- Enjoy the class yourself, they will enjoy it more if you do!
- It’s all about the vocab, don’t skimp on prep when looking for topic related words and phrases to teach!