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Teaching Matters: Observing and Leading Class Discussions
“The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.”
—Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873), British novelist/politician
What do you do while students are having conversations or talking in pairs? Do you have a “formula” for taking notes? Do you focus more on fluency or accuracy?
Many English teachers, especially novice ESL instructors, talk more than ideal – and allow their English students to talk too little. Ironically, many ESL instructors make this “good mistake” do so out of dedication. What, after all, are they supposed to do while students exchange ideas and practice their speaking skills?
Play the reporter!
When I taught an advanced ESL conversation class to a diverse group of immigrants and international students at Santa Monica Community College, I developed a little routine that I’ve used for almost 20 years.
First, I introduced the daily conversation topic with a quotation or proverb Then I distributed worksheets (which became chapters in Compelling Conversations) with around 30 questions, 10 or 12 key vocabulary words, and a few selected quotations or proverbs. Afterward, students would be paired up to interview each other and share experiences for 20-30 minutes.
What did I do? I simply circled around the room, briefly joining in conversations, taking notes, and indirectly correcting students by modeling a better way to ask or respond to questions. I also jotted down key comments and “good mistakes” – both grammar and pronunciation – that I would later share with the entire class. Further, I focused on the content of student comments so that fluency and meaning were more important than accuracy. Ideas and perceptions mattered more than perfect grammar.
These notes, however, helped me guide the classroom conversation because they closely echoed their previous conversations. Since several perspectives were acknowledged and considered, dynamic discussions often followed. Taking notes also gave me a chance to emphasize certain sound groups or related word forms.
Try it out
Here is a reproducible worksheet that captures that process of monitoring conversations and leading discussions. Use or lose.
Compelling Conversation Classroom Worksheet for Teachers
Topic: Pages: Date:
# of participants: # of groups: Room:
- Opening Quote:
- Opening comments to class:
- Starting time for conversations:
- Conversation content:
- What did you hear the students say? Summarize.
- Follow-up class discussion questions:
- Review Vocabulary:
- Pronunciation tips:
- Grammar issues:
- Other comments/observations:
What techniques do you employ to monitor class discussions and address “good mistakes?” How do you ensure students have enough opportunities to speak and share?
For more free, reproducible worksheets like the one featured in this post, check out our on-site collection!
Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.