Get Your Students Talking! TEFL Discussion Questions for Adults

By
August 10, 2020
Taylor Swartz teaching in Japan

As an online or in-person English language teacher, have you ever struggled with adult learners who held back in speaking or participating in class because of shyness or lack of vocabulary? Let’s look at why conversation matters when teaching English online or in the classroom and review some TEFL discussion questions to get your adult classes talking.

Why is it important to get adult ESL students talking?

English teaching has evolved from the traditional “chalk and talk” method, where teachers do most of the talking, to an approach centered on reinforcing students’ speaking skills. Here are some reasons why getting English learners to talk more should be a priority in your ESL lessons.

Less teacher talk time


While being an English teacher requires you to explain concepts and chat with students, you should pay attention to how much time you spend talking during a lesson.

As a rule of thumb, there should be more student talk time (STT) than teacher talk time (TTT). If learners have ample time to talk, they have more opportunities to practice their speaking skills in English, interact with their classmates in group classes, and be more active in class.

Build a strong foundation in teaching techniques, such as reducing TTT, in the comprehensive Bridge 120-Hour Master Certificate TEFL/TESOL course

Adult students have goals that involve using English


Why are your adult students taking English classes? Perhaps they’re working for an international company or preparing to move to a native English-speaking country. Be it for personal, academic, or professional reasons, most adult learners need to practice speaking in English as much as possible so they can be ready for situations where they’ll have to communicate in English.

Limited opportunities to practice English


Many adult ESL learners who live outside of native English-speaking countries complain about being “rusty” when it comes to speaking in English because they don’t have a lot of chances to practice it. Therefore, your class could be their only opportunity to talk in English and review what they studied in the past.

Beat students’ English speaking jitters


Adult students can easily get tongue-tied or resort to talking in their native language when fears of sounding silly, losing face, and failure to express themselves block them from trying to speak in English. However, with the right ESL discussion questions for adults, it’s possible for them to overcome these speaking hindrances and build their self-confidence along the way.

Learn about the differences between TEFL/TESOL jobs teaching English to adult students vs. teaching kids.

A student during an online class 1

ESL teacher Krzl’s business English student learning online


Tricks to get your adult learners talking

Aside from incorporating TEFL/TESOL discussion questions, here are some sure-fire tips to make sure your adult students maximize their speaking time in class:

  • Build rapport with your learners. If you have a good connection with your students, they’ll feel comfortable in your class and will participate more!
  • Instead of making inquiries that generate a simple “yes” or “no” response, ask open-ended questions that prompt detailed answers.
  • Be sure that your adult students are engaged and comfortable with speaking about the topic you’ve chosen. Be aware of the cultural norms of your students.
  • If you sense that your students feel they’re not doing well speaking English, encourage them and remind them how much they’ve progressed. Let your students know that mistakes are welcome in your classroom and that they form part of the learning process.
  • Be patient and give your students time to think and respond to a question. Beginner learners, for instance, tend to translate words in their head before finally saying them in English — imagine how much time that could take!
  • Always look for ways to reduce teacher talk time. For instance, students can read instructions for class activities, lead homework review, summarize the last grammar lesson you’ve practiced, or answer a classmate’s question (instead of you doing these things).
  • Make it a point to connect every discussion question to a real-life context that’s relevant to your learners. It could be connected to something as simple as a situation they expect to be in, like making acquaintances, or something more meaningful, like voicing their opinion about issues.

What are some TEFL discussion questions or topics for adult learners?

The advantage of teaching English to adult learners is that you can talk about a wide variety of topics because of the diverse life experiences these students have to share! Here are some ESL conversation topics for adults that you can include in your lessons.

Hobbies


Most students, regardless of whether they’re beginners or advanced, love talking about their hobbies, interests, or free time activities! Let your learners elaborate on their favorite music, books, sports, or anything they’re passionate about. You can also get their reviews on artists, authors, or even new album releases of the singers or bands that they like.

  • What is your favorite book and why?
  • What do you do for fun on the weekend?
  • How do you relax?

Work/career


Whether it’s about their particular job responsibilities or their latest projects, adult professionals usually have something to say about the work they do. Focusing the conversation around their profession or the industry in which they work also provides the opportunity to present and practice contextual vocabulary that adult students can use.

  • Why did you choose to work in the _____ industry?
  • What are your job responsibilities?
  • Name one thing you like about your job.

Brandon, from the U.S., tutoring one of his adult students in Thailand.

Brandon, from the U.S., tutoring one of his adult students in Thailand


Food


Food is one of the most universal topics for fun conversations. Talk with adult students about their favorite dishes, international cuisine, restaurants in their neighborhood, or any gastronomic topic under the sun!

  • Do you prefer cooking at home or going out to eat?
  • Describe one of your favorite dishes.
  • What is the most exotic food you’ve tried?

Traveling


Adult English students are always up for sharing about their holiday or business trips. If your students haven’t traveled much, you can ask them about their bucket list vacation plans or about aspects of other cultures that interest them or that they’d like to learn more about.

  • Have you ever been to another country? If so, where?
  • Did you take any trips last year?
  • What country/city have you always dreamed of visiting?

Current events


Discussing recent local or global happenings with your intermediate or advanced learners improves their skills in giving and exchanging opinions and broadens their vocabulary, in addition to providing a real-world context for the language they’re learning and practicing.

  • Do you think it’s important to read/listen to the news every day?
  • Which source(s) do you use for news?
  • What do you think about [insert current event]?

Goals and plans


More often than not, students are keen on sharing what they want to achieve in their personal and professional lives. Aside from asking them about their future plans and goals, you can also pose hypothetical questions as conversation starters.

  • What do you hope to be doing with your life in 10 years?
  • If you could have your dream job, where would you work/what would you be?
  • What would you do if you suddenly won the lottery?

TV or other pop culture


Even if your students aren’t pop culture fans, they can always talk about a movie or TV show they’ve watched. Why not turn your adult English students into entertainment critics for a day by having them give their review of a film or deliver a presentation about their favorite Netflix series?

  • Are you currently watching a TV show? Which one?
  • Do you like movies? Why or why not?
  • Have you been to a concert before? Who did you see?

When encouraging your adult English learners to talk in class, choosing the TEFL/TESOL discussion questions is key. Your efforts and the motivation you give to get them speaking are sure to result in a chattering classroom of adult learners who are not afraid to speak their minds, even in a new language.

Take a deeper dive into this topic by downloading this free Bridge eBook: Teaching English to Adults.