As an English language teacher, whether in-person or online, you’ve probably had classes that were tough to get engaged in ESL conversation. Students may be shy and worried they don’t yet have the vocabulary to engage in free talk or respond to TEFL discussion questions. Let’s look at why conversation matters when teaching English online and in the physical classroom and dive into some sure-fire 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.
Students need opportunities to practice using English
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. The more students talk, the more comfortable and engaged they’ll become.
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Adult students have goals that involve using English
Why are your adult students taking English classes? They may be working for an international company or preparing to move to a native English-speaking country. They may be applying for a job or promotion that will require English language proficiency or preparing for a trip 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.
Some students have 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. And, online classes may have students from different countries, which presents opportunities for ESL discussion with varied accents and dialects – valuable practice for Business English students working in multinational companies.
Regular ESL dialog eases 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.
Tricks to get your adult learners talking
Aside from incorporating great TEFL/TESOL discussion questions, here are some sure-fire tips to make sure your adult students maximize their speaking time in class:
- Gamify it! Adults love games too, and there are fun and easy games for teaching Business English to adults. Instituting an element of competition will often break the ice and engage adult learners.
- 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 reviews, summarize the last grammar lesson they’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 related 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.
Need ideas for teaching the art of conversation? Read about 10 tips for teaching conversational English like a pro.
TEFL discussion topics and questions 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.
Most students, 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.
1. What is your favorite book and why?
2. What do you do for fun on the weekend?
3. How do you relax?
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.
4. Why did you choose to work in the ____ industry?
5. What are your job responsibilities?
6. What is one thing you like about your job?
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!
7. Do you prefer cooking at home or going out to eat?
8. Describe one of your favorite dishes.
9. What is the most exotic food you’ve tried?
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.
10. Have you ever been to another country? If so, where?
11. Did you take any trips last year?
12. What country/city have you always dreamed of visiting?
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.
13. Do you think it’s important to read/listen to the news every day?
14. Which source(s) do you use for news?
15. 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.
16. What do you hope to be doing with your life in 10 years?
17. If you could have your dream job, where would you work/what would you be?
18. 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?
19. Are you currently watching a TV show? Which one?
20. Do you like movies? Why or why not?
21. Have you been to a concert before? Who did you see?
Adult learners love talking about their families, so family questions are often a foolproof conversation starter. Let’s look at some good examples.
22. What is your favorite family tradition?
23. What do you think makes your family close?
24. Who is the funniest person in your family?
We all have our routines, and talking about how we manage our days can also be a great ESL conversation starter. Here are some example class questions.
25. What is your morning routine?
26. What is your best advice for staying organized?
27. What is your favorite time of day and why?
Talking about holidays and treasured holiday traditions is always a fun topic of discussion. If you teach online, you may have students from all over the world who can share holiday traditions that reflect different cultures. Consider these example questions.
28. What is your favorite holiday and why?
29. What is a holiday tradition you look forward to every year?
30. What is your favorite holiday food?
Just for fun
Sometimes, thinking outside the box is necessary to draw out those extra shy students. What are some unusual ESL conversation questions? Try some of these questions when you want to inspire some fun or unusual ESL dialog.
31. If you could have dinner with any historical, famous, or fictional person, who would it be and why?
32. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
33. If you could have a superpower, what would you choose and why?
When encouraging your adult English learners to talk in class, choosing engaging TEFL discussion questions is key. Your efforts and the motivation you give to students are sure to result in a chattering classroom of adult learners who are not afraid to speak their minds, even in a new language.