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Unread Jul 29th, 2008, 11:58 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

It's a great question.

One simple trick is assign the conversation "text" as homework for the following class. You can ask them to circle their favorite five questions and be prepared to talk about those questions in the next class. This advance notice allows them time to look up new words, reflect on their lives, and prepare.

Likewise, with lower level students, the sheer number of questions can be overwhelming. Therefore, I let them pick and choose a few questions and stick to those questions. Sometimes I will, in a small class, "organize" the discussion so each student asks another student one question - and circle around the entire class. That opening allows students to both hear the questions out loud before feeling any pressure to answer. Then students can pair up with more confidence.

Writing a proverb on the board is a nice way to begin the class discussion. I also like paraphrasing activities with both the proverbs and quotations, although that often requires advanced students. You can ask them to explain the meaning, if they agree, and why. I keep the focus on short responses, but groups seem to handle paraphrasing better than pairs.

Reviewing and expanding on the vocabulary after introducing the topic is also helpful with intermediate students.
You can also group students in 3-4 instead of pairs to reduce the performance pressure on lower students. You can also ask students to write down five nouns and five verbs on a topic. For "Dogs and Other Pets", an intermediate group might list "bone" "bark" "collar" "leash" and "tail". For each noun, I'd ask for verbs that can be used with the noun. What does a dog do with a bone? Even lower level students can generate vocabulary - and you can use this to relaunch the discussion if the material is too advanced. (By the way, I often "confess" to students that I don't love my neighbor and I do love my dog.)

Further, I've found that you need to close pair interviews after 20-25 minutes and return the group together for a class discussion. You ask questions, elicit feedback, and ask further questions.

Throwing in some minimal pair work - and building vocabulary - also helps. In hindsight, I should have included some minimal pair drills. These allow you to focus on some pronunciation problems, but in a safe, accessible format.

Finally, let a student choose a topic each week from the 45 topics. They enjoy having the choice, and you can even ask them to introduce the topic adding a presentation element to the conversation class.

The book works better with advanced students - and when students feel comfortable disagreeing with each other in a civilized manner. You get to create that classroom ethos.

Hope that helps!
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