Not all conversation activities are created equal.
That’s not to say they aren’t all valuable. They are. But different conversation activities follow different conversation patterns, and these patterns each have their own advantages and disadvantages for your ESL students. The key to success is making sure your plans include each of the nine patterns (though not every one every day) so your students reap all the benefits that they have to offer. Here are the typical conversation patterns you will see in the ESL classroom and why you should be sure to include each of them.
Try These 9 Conversation Patterns in Your ESL Classroom:
Pair Work to Accomplish a Task
Having two students work together to accomplish a task or solve a problem is one conversation pattern you might see in your ESL class. With this conversation pattern, students are focused on a goal. There is less emphasis on conventional conversation protocol and more stress on using language to get the job done. It is goal oriented and good for creative use of language.
Pair Work to Have a Conversation
Just because two students are talking together does not mean each of their conversations follows the same pattern. While two students might work together to accomplish a task, they might also work together to have a chat, a casual or formal social interaction. In this type of talk, conversation conventions are important. Students use skills such as turn taking and holding the speaking role. There may or may not be a goal for the conversation when two people talk together. This type of interaction is very common in real world language and is important to include in your classroom plans. Role plays are often a good way of including this type of conversation pattern in class.
Group Work to Accomplish a Task
Some activities are better suited to a group than to a pair of students. You might have three or more students work together to plan a vacation, create a board game, or complete other tasks. In this type of conversation, students will use skills such as agreeing and disagreeing, interrupting, evaluating the ideas of others, and sharing their opinions. In some cases, speakers will have to force their classmates to listen to their ideas or be kept out of the conversation.
Group Work to Have a Conversation
How often do you talk to a group of others in your day to day life? It might happen at work, at home around the dinner table, or at a social event. In this type of conversation, speakers need to take their turns at the appropriate time. They must also contribute to the conversation or be seen as awkward. When your students talk in a group whether in a role play, social situation, or a discussion group, they will have to employ these skills to hold their own in the conversation.
Answering Teacher Questions
When you, the teacher, ask questions, members of your class will answer. This is another type of conversation pattern in the ESL classroom. You might ask closed questions that require a simple one word answer, or you might ask open ended questions that require students to share more- their opinions and ideas. Some might classify answering open and closed questions as two different types of conversation patterns, and they would have legitimate reasons for doing so. But either way, the teacher is directing a question and one student is answering. This may be one of the few times each of your students has a one on one conversation with a native speaker.
Whole Class Discussion/Interaction
Sometimes the whole class is involved in the conversation. This pattern is similar to having a group conversation but on a larger scale. Not all students may have an opportunity to speak in a whole class interaction. Some points may get buried in the talk before speakers can address them, and you and your students will have to work together to make sure one person is not dominating the entire discussion. Students will have to employ turn taking skills, but they will also have to learn when it’s best to say nothing at all. Keeping quiet in a class discussion, though probably not what you would chose for your students, does not carry the social stigma of not participating in a group conversation.
Choral response, though not especially reflective of real life language use, does have its place in the ESL classroom. This is when you the teacher say something and your class responds in unison. Choral response is good for pronunciation practice, but it is even better for perfecting word stress and sentence intonation among your students.
Teacher Talk Time (Lecture)
In this conversation pattern, there really isn’t much conversation happening. You the teacher are speaking to your entire class, and they are listening and perhaps taking notes. Though your students will not have to employ any speaking skills in this type of interaction, they will get valuable input on pronunciation and intonation as they focus on the speech of you, the native speaker. It’s best to keep teacher talk time to a minimum in the ESL classroom since our goals are to have our students speak English fluently, but it is okay to include some of this unidirectional communication in your class plans.
Interaction with Digital Forms
If you have any type of language lab in your classroom or in your school, you may find your students interacting with digital forms – computer programs and websites. They may perform a dialogue with the digital form or practice pronunciation by speaking into a microphone. They will most certainly be listening to recorded language during these interactions. This type of conversation is good because it often lets students work at their own pace. They can focus on activities that let them practice their specific areas of struggle, and they do not have to fear making a social mistake as they are not actually interacting with other people. It can allow more timid students the environment they need to speak up and use English forms they may be intimidated to use otherwise.
To make the most of your conversation time in class, be sure to include each of these nine types of conversation patterns.
When you do, your students will reap all the benefits each has to offer and you can feel confident that you have attended to their speaking needs.