This post was written by Susan Weymouth

“So what did you do last weekend?
“Do you have any vacation plans?”
“How’s your family”


Are these the kind of questions you use to get your English students talking? Small talk may be sufficient for a few minutes warm up before class begins, but these kinds of pleasant, vague questions are usually not enough to really stimulate our students. Many teachers complain that their students won’t stop talking until they ask them a discussion question; then the room goes strangely silent. In this case, look to yourself. Have you really given your students something meaningful and interesting to talk about?

In his excellent book Learning Teaching, Jim Scrivener (2005) provides this helpful structure:

Planning it
You need: A relevant topic; an initial cue; follow-on cues

Teaching it
Techniques: Open questions
Monitor participation levels
Invite people in
Avoid the ‘Talk-talk’ loop
Listen more than talk
Play devil’s advocate when appropriate (p. 147)

To set up a good discussion, you can bring in a topic or a cue. Your cue could be anything from a photo to a video clip to a question based on an idea in yesterday’s reading. Whatever you do, make it something that your students will want to talk about. Don’t underestimate them. Adults and teenagers have strong opinions, beliefs, and vast previous experience. Remember, beginning English speakers are not beginning thinkers.