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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Jul 9th, 2008, 02:28 am
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Default Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Hi,

I'm wondering if anyone could comment on the differences between "conversational classes" and General English classes. I guess the former focuses on speaking alone and the latter would use a textbook and includes integrated skills. Anything else?

I'm asking because many schools have additional conversational classes for students and thus the teacher focuses just on conversations. And I may be doing that soon.

I need ideas regarding what kind of framework people use for such classes. How much of other skills and systems (vocab, functions, grammar) ought we to touch upon.

Like I think it's still good to have a presentation on language (grammar or vocab or functions) before conversation - so as to give students some input to use.

What do others think? Are there any good books to recommend?

Thanks
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Unread Jul 9th, 2008, 03:12 pm
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

I agree that conversation lessons do not mean just ging into class and chatting about whateve comes into your head. There is a need for focus or it becomes a bit pointless.

Take a look at Breaking News English and Heads Up English for a clearer idea of well-structured lessons.

Hope that helps.
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Unread Jul 12th, 2008, 08:15 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Thanks Clive, I've checked out BreakingNewsEnglish and I like what's there. However, I feel that the lessons are more of integrated skills (with reading and speaking being the focus), rather than merely something one would use for a conversational English class that would probably be expected to have a whole lot of speaking (and even some conversational skills/strategies) as the focus. What do you think?
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Unread Jul 15th, 2008, 02:35 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Depends on your students as well. If you have a class of lower intermediate speakers, you'll want to give a framework to your discussion that will cycle through some repetitions but mimic a conversation, while advanced speakers may want only to discuss current affairs or something as English upkeep. Good luck.
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Unread Jul 22nd, 2008, 02:12 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Totally agree with the above. The teachers who say, "oh I never use the book. We just talk."
For me you should practise the vocab and the sentence structure within the topic.
I often match it up to a Unit in the book I am teaching to further discussion

I use this material a lot. It is a great website.

Conversation Questions for the ESL/EFL Classroom (I-TESL-J)
Cheers
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Unread Jul 29th, 2008, 09:52 am
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Wink Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

"What gets tested, gets taught" is an American teaching proverb.

Unfortunately, many standardized ESL exams - at least in the United States - focus more on passive skills like listening, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar than speaking or writing. Testing conversation skills takes more time, money, and resources. As a result, many ESL courses and programs spend far too little time teaching conversation skills.

Another factor limiting the number of conversation classes, in the public education programs like adult education and community colleges, is many potential students prefer to work as soon as possible. Programs, therefore, focus more on lower levels where speaking skills remain too weak for more in-depth conversations.

As somebody who has taught several conversation classes and many more English classes in community colleges and adult schools, I have found that systematically planning lessons is very helpful. You can't just pick a random topic of personal interest. Know your students and pander to their interests. If you have a film student or musician, create a lesson that appeals to them. Some topics, however, hold wider interests.

You also need to create a wide range of questions, scaling from the simple and direct to more complex and philosophical. You also want to anticipate vocabulary needed - and probable "good mistakes" in terms of words easily confused.

Several popular books combine short lists and a few vocabulary words. Heads Up and Conversation Book 1 and 2 - being the most popular. When I taught an Advanced Conversation class at Santa Monica Community College, students didn't want to spend money on books with a handful of questions and vocabulary words.

As a result, I ended up creating worksheets with 30 questions and 10 vocabulary for the class that meet two hours at a time, twice a week. I found that adding several proverbs and quotations, from a variety of perspectives, to introduce a topic - and some vocabulary - made students more comfortable, added a more academic quality to the lessons, and introduced new vocabulary. Conversations also tended to be more interesting, engaging, and memorable when students had a chance to reflect a bit before working in pairs or groups.

I compiled those conversation lessons, on 45 different topics, into a book called Compelling Conversations:Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics a few years later while between teaching gigs. You can find sample chapters at Home .

You will, I suspect, find that you need some set format to keep the class moving. While other instructors might be able to just wing it, I have always found advance preparation - even over preparation - very helpful. This approach is especially important when the class content seems - superficially - very simple.

Balancing accuracy and fluency will remain an issue. I tilted toward fluency in the discussions, noted student errors, and shared "good mistakes" with the entire class after a group discussion of the topic. This indirect method of correction works far better with adult students, particularly professionals and seniors who may have "dignity" issues.

If I had the pleasure of teaching a strictly conversation class again, I would add videotaping to the class routine. You might, for instance, conduct mock interviews and post them on a class website for self-evaluation and peer-evaluation. Students are often learn a great deal about their communication styles and English skills from watching themselves on video.

Teaching conversation can be a very satisfying experience. Enjoy!
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Unread Jul 29th, 2008, 10:16 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Hi Eric,

I bought your book about 1-2 weeks ago. What I'm looking for in addition to your fantastic book is what you said was needed: "some set format to keep the class moving". That is, besides the book, I'd like to know how to use it. How would I be able to use a book like yours if a person can't wing it? What would be your suggestions. What kind of framework would you suggest to go along with the book to get the class moving throughout the 1-2 hours class. I'd be grateful for some suggestions.

thanks
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Unread Jul 29th, 2008, 10:58 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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Unread Jul 30th, 2008, 03:43 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Eric
Good stuff. Alas I would need to dumb it down. But I think I could use the format and method of teaching.

What I have found useful for my students when I introduce them to idioms is find the same idioms in their own language. (Just an aside I thought the Borat segment using an idiom about cricket was a great illustration of why not to use idioms when speaking to non native speakers)
eg
Chinese
"I might as well play the piano to the cows as talk to you"
"I might as well talk to the wall as talk to you"
For fun I throw in "are your ears painted on?"

Thank you
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Unread Jul 30th, 2008, 10:54 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Are you ears painted on? I like that!

Idioms can be a double-edged sword.

In a non-ESL writing class, I often urge students to "modernize" old idioms and metaphors. Sometimes it works; sometimes it fails.

Live and learn.
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Unread Aug 18th, 2008, 10:11 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Just a quick note with my two cents..

I love the CC book, I purchased it and started using it with my students last spring. The "Your Life" and "Civic Life" are generally the sections students choose from first.

Just wondering.. is there a second volume in the works?
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Unread Aug 18th, 2008, 10:34 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Thank you for your kind words.

I've been working on a teacher's guide since so many English teachers - to my surprise - have asked for one. I'm also writing another conversation book for intermediate students tentatively called "Building Conversations." It will include more explicit directions on paraphrasing and forms to evaluate student presentations. Further, I want to include a few topics that I omitted from the original book like the environment, parks, computers, and technology.

You and the other good folks at ESL HQ will be among the first to know when it is finished.
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Last edited by Eric18 : Aug 18th, 2008 at 10:35 am. Reason: clarity and grammar
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Unread Aug 22nd, 2008, 07:15 pm
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

hiiiiiiiiiiiii

I m new here but maybe I can help u >>> In my conv. classes I bring many objects like e.g ((veg. )) then I ask the stud. about the objects ... and where can we find them .. do they like them ?? and give some example s and from where they buy them and so on ... you know that the main job here is to control the students discussion >> and also to give them ideas to talk about .. The main point is relax and dont worry (( act like a friend not a teacher )) to make them feel free and talk without saying be Quiet Plz ....

I m really sleepy now looool bt I just wanna Give some of my simple Ideas )))

thanx and gnit
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Unread Sep 14th, 2008, 12:22 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Every object has a great story if you can find it.
There was, for example, an American bestseller about the design and evolution of the pencil by Henry Petroski. Historians and language teachers have used the technique for years. How would our lives be different without doors, pens, photographs, and other everyday objects?
The challenge, of course, remains bringing both student experiences and the broader context of objects into the classroom . This requires English teachers to provide the vocabulary so students can speak about the role of objects in lives.
An outstanding conversation lesson, it seems to me, goes beyond just naming objects and explores their meaning and context. Of course, this type of classroom discussion requires high intermediate or advanced students too.
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Unread Oct 5th, 2008, 01:14 pm
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Hi Eric,

I'm starting to seriously use the book in your class. I hope for some of your input, as well as any ideas by other people.

In your tips and advice section in your Compelling Conversations website, you wrote, "We抳e often found it helpful, especially in the beginning of the semester, for you to role play for the class a question/answer session with a student."

I've already got a pretty good structure on how to start the classes, use the proverbs and quotations and include the vocabulary. However, the main bulk of each chapter is the questions. There are about 40 questions or so in each chapter and I'm trying to find out how best to use them.

You wrote above that it's good to "role play for the class a question/answer session". I'm guessing that "question/answer session" is the main bulk of the conversation class when your students talk to each other. Could you elaborate on this. For example, whether we're using 5 or 10 or all questions, what kind of procedures would you give them and exactly how would your ideal question/answer session look like - that is, how is the role play going to be like that you share with your class going to look like? I'm assuming it's more than, "Class, good through each question (be it 5 or 10, etc) and one person reads out one question and then both answer and work your way through all questions assigned and make sure you spend 3 minutes on each question." So exactly, how would this question/answer session go like? Thanks.

I also want to ask you what the difference is between the first set of questions under "sharing memories" and those under "the conversation continues". I understand the difference, but how would that play out in a conversation class?

I'm looking forward to your "teacher's guide" and your intermediate conversation book. Any ideas when these would be ready?

Thanks.
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Unread Oct 9th, 2008, 01:07 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

I have just discovered an excellent book. I teach in China. I usually use Interchange.
I think it is an excellent series but just doesn't quite do it for the Chinese students.
This series of books, Real Talk, is a godsend.
The website is 您的站点暂时无法访问!. If you teach in China, do yourself a favour and check it out. My Chinese students love it, find it relevant and useful. I wish I had found this series of books years ago
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Unread Oct 9th, 2008, 06:19 pm
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Quote:
Quote EnglishTeacher79 View Post
Hi Eric,

I'm starting to seriously use the book in your class. I hope for some of your input, as well as any ideas by other people.

In your tips and advice section in your Compelling Conversations website, you wrote, "We抳e often found it helpful, especially in the beginning of the semester, for you to role play for the class a question/answer session with a student."

I've already got a pretty good structure on how to start the classes, use the proverbs and quotations and include the vocabulary. However, the main bulk of each chapter is the questions. There are about 40 questions or so in each chapter and I'm trying to find out how best to use them.

You wrote above that it's good to "role play for the class a question/answer session". I'm guessing that "question/answer session" is the main bulk of the conversation class when your students talk to each other. Could you elaborate on this. For example, whether we're using 5 or 10 or all questions, what kind of procedures would you give them and exactly how would your ideal question/answer session look like - that is, how is the role play going to be like that you share with your class going to look like? I'm assuming it's more than, "Class, good through each question (be it 5 or 10, etc) and one person reads out one question and then both answer and work your way through all questions assigned and make sure you spend 3 minutes on each question." So exactly, how would this question/answer session go like? Thanks.


I'm looking forward to your "teacher's guide" and your intermediate conversation book. Any ideas when these would be ready?

Thanks.

First, let me thank you for your questions and apologize for my too-tardy reply.

I model a Q & A session, especially when introducting the book, to demonstrate how to clarify questions, dodge questions, and return questions.

Some useful clarification phrases include:
Can you repeat that?
What do you mean?
Can you rephrase that?

Showing how to dodge, or skip questions is also helpful and sometimes quite fun.
Can we skip that one?
Let's go to the next question.
Next question, please!
Good question, but I'm not answering it. Next!
I don't know. What about you?
I know, but I'm not telling. It's a secret.

While few students will actually choose to skip questions, they like practicing. The ability to say no, and decline a question can feel good.

Likewise, tossing the question back to the questioner keeps the conversation lively. Useful phrases include:

And you?
What about you?
Can I ask you the same question?
Why do you ask?
Do you agree?
Was that what you wanted to hear?
Was that what you expected?
Did I surprise you?
Surprised?

Again, these phrases can be used in a variety of situations. Usually I also show how you can change the order of questions, change the questions, and ask follow-up questions. These model interveiw sessions only last 8-10 minutes.

You can also introduce the assignment by opening with a conversation chain where each student picks one question to ask their neighbor. So student A asks Student B a question, and then Student B replies and asks student C a question. This exercise allows everyone to speak, become more familiar with the questions, and identify vocabulary words that need more explanation.

You also asked about the difference between "sharing memories" and those under "the conversation continues". Actually, we just looked at the exercises and picked the phrase that seemed to fit the topic better. 揟he conversation continues exercises, of course, are exclusively for the second set of questions and allow the students to return to the topic and reflect a bit more deeply.

Finally, thank you for your kind inquiry into the teacher抯 guide and another conversation book targeted at intermediate students. I抳e fallen behind on those projects, and hope to complete them by the end of the year.

You will hear about them as soon as they are ready.

Your posting has given me a healthy, gentle nudge toward this fine project. Thanks!
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Last edited by Eric18 : Oct 9th, 2008 at 06:22 pm. Reason: accuracy and clarity!
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Unread Oct 10th, 2008, 03:04 am
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Eric you're the man. RESPECT.
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Unread Oct 12th, 2008, 07:32 pm
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Default Re: Difference between Conversational Classes and General English Classes

Rabble, thank you.

By the way, is there an English version of the conversation link you posted? Curious - and my Chinese remains non-existent.
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