You see your students in the morning, and you naturally greet them, “Good morning. How are you?” How many times have you heard that same old response, “Fine, thank you. And you?” However, how many native speakers do you know that respond that way?
Why not challenge your students to veer off the traditional dialogue path and into authentic conversation. Here are some suggestions on how to do just that.
How to Teach Greetings in Your ESL Classroom
Give Other Options
Brainstorming is a great class level activity. The energy in the room is often palpable, and students feed of the ideas and energy of their classmates. Start your lessons on greetings by brainstorming a list of possible responses to the traditional, “How are you?” Students will likely offer the traditional responses very quickly, but push past those to responses that are more unusual. Fine. Go away. Terrible, how are you? What do you want? Why do you ask? Do you really want to know? These and many other nonstandard responses are things that native speakers say every day. Keep a running list posted in your classroom, and allow your students to add other responses as they think of them or as they do a little research with the following activities.
Variety comes not only in responses, but also in the initiation of the conversation. Expand your classroom display to show both. Simply designate one area of the display for initiations and another for responses. As your students brainstorm and do research to expand each list, they will naturally find phrases to add to the other.
Do a Little Research
Make discovering alternate greetings an ongoing event for your students. If they are listening for the greetings that people use every day, they will certainly expand their dialogue options. Movies are a great resource for ESL students. There are plenty of scenes when one character meets another. You can take several clips from one movie like You’ve Got Mail, or take one scene from each of several movies. Also, encourage your students to share dialogue from favorite movies whether they play the scenes for your class or simply relay the dialogue. You can also find film resources on youtube videos and television shows or interviews.
E-mail and text messaging are another way for your students to find authentic greetings from native speakers. Though both e-mail and texting are written forms, the language used in them is more reflective of spoken English. By challenging your students to examine samples of these forms, they will get reading practice while doing research for speaking thus addressing two language aspects at the same time. If you can, supply your class with some e-mails and text messages for them to examine or ask them to bring in some of their own.
A Black Tie Event
Though informal speech is what speakers use in most situations, it is not universally appropriate. There are times, like in a job interview or a business meeting, that using formal speech is the correct choice. This is a simple way to make sure your students have the opportunity to practice their formal as well as informal speech while in class. Grab a few old neckties and hang them up near the door of your classroom. If students want to be spoken to formally on a given day, they take a tie as they enter the room and wear it during class. Any other student who speaks with the tie-wearer should address him or her with formal speech. Now all of your students will have to determine which greetings are appropriate for casual settings and which are appropriate for formal settings. You can also take some class time to address that question and list several circumstances what situations fall into each category.
It is easy for traditional dialogues to sound artificial and stagnant, but most of the time they are the first choice for our students. Encourage your students to go beyond these traditional dialogues and use more frequently heard phrases.
If they do, they are more likely to sound like fluent speakers of English and not uncomfortable students of the language.