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Having a conversation is one of the most efficient ways to build up new vocabulary. That’s why it is important for ESL students to communicate in dialogue as often as possible. In this article, we are going to discuss different questions and topics that will help keep your students engaged in conversing.
How to Work with Conversation Questions
The best way to help students ask and answer conversation questions is to divide them into groups of three or four and hand out the conversation cards to each group. At the end of the discussion, the groups can report about the topics that they have been discussing.
If you’re working one-on-one with a student either as a tutor or an online ESL teacher, ask the questions listed below and encourage the student to answer them as a starting point for a conversation.
ESL Conversation Topics
There is a wide variety of ways to categorize ESL topics and ESL discussion questions. For example, you can break them down according to the part of the language that you teach, such as grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.
An example of a grammar training question is a “have you ever done something?” question, which instills past perfect tense comprehension. You can also categorize the questions according to familiar, daily activities and concepts, such as food, animals & pets, clothes & fashion, sports, travel, work, and more. And of course, the ESL conversation topics should not include potentially contentious topics like religion or politics.
English Dialogues Example #1: Asking for Directions
- Excuse me, could you please tell me how do I get to the train station/do you know where the train station is?
- Yes, sure. Go straight ahead for two blocks and then turn right. After that, cross the road at the traffic lights and then turn left near the book store building. The train station is two more blocks away from the book store.
- Thank you so much! Could you please show it on the map?
- Yes, sure – here it is. It is a big building with a clock, you will recognize it.
- Thank you once again! Have a nice day.
- Thank you, you too. Bye!
ESL Dialogue Example #2: Restaurant Vocabulary
- Hello and welcome to our restaurant. Do you have a reservation?
- Hello! No, we haven’t made a reservation. Maybe you have a table for two?
- Just a moment, let me check… Yes, now we have two free tables, one inside and one at the terrace. Which one would you prefer?
- We’d like the one at the terrace.
- Great, then let me walk you to your table.
- (in a couple of minutes) Hello, would you like to order something to drink?
- Yes, two red wines, please.
- Nice choice! I will come up later when you are ready to order your meals.
- Ok, thank you.
ESL Conversation Dialogues Example #3: At the Doctor’s Office
- Good afternoon. I have an appointment at 10 am.
- Good afternoon. May I have your insurance policy please?
- Yes, sure, here it is.
- Great, thank you. Mr. Smith, right?
- Yes, that’s correct.
- Please have a seat in the waiting room. We will call you when the doctor is ready.
- Ok, thank you.
- (in a couple of minutes) Good afternoon Mr. Smith, how are you today?
- Good afternoon! I’m feeling not very good. I have constant headaches.
- How long have you been having them?
- For about a month.
- Ok, now let’s measure your blood pressure. I see that it’s quite low. The weather has changed many times this month, so maybe your headaches are caused by low blood pressure due to frequent changes of weather. I will make you a prescription – this medicine should help. If it doesn’t, then please schedule another appointment and we will see if you need further examinations.
- Ok, thank you very much.
ESL Dialogue Example #4: At the Hairdresser
- Hello! I would like to make a haircut and dye my hair. Do I need to schedule an appointment?
- Hello! You are lucky – one of our clients has just cancelled their appointment, so we can take you right now.
- That’s great, thanks!
- You are welcome. Please have a seat. Which haircut would you like?
- I just want to trim my hair a little and refresh my current hair dye.
- Ok, great! I’ll cut off about an inche, right?
- Yes, exactly.
- As for the dye – I guess I have exactly the same shade. Let me check… Yes, here it is.
- Yes, that’s exactly what I want. So let’s start.
These are only a few of the sample ESL dialogue scripts that your students can act out in the classroom in order to get used to everyday English conversations.
Examples of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Discussion Questions
Sample questions to ask during TEFL conversation activities.
Animals and Pets
- Do you have any pets?
- Are you a cat person or a dog person?
- Which animals are you afraid of?
- What wild animals live in your country?
- How are birthdays celebrated in your country?
- What did you do for your last birthday?
- What is your astrological sign?
- What do you consider to be a perfect birthday party?
Books and Reading
- What was the last book that you read?
- What is your favorite book?
- What is your favorite genre?
- Do you prefer paper books or electronic readers?
Clothes and Fashion
- Do you have a favorite item of clothing?
- How often do you buy new clothes?
- Where do you usually buy your clothes?
- What is your favorite color to wear and why?
Food and Eating
- What national dishes from your country can you recommend?
- Can you cook well?
- What was the last meal you ate or cooked?
- Do you prefer to eat out or at home?
- What is your favorite café or restaurant?
- Who is your closest friend? How and where did you meet?
- Do you have any long-distance friends?
- Do you make friends easily?
- What is the longest friendship that you have had?
- What was the last movie that you saw?
- Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
- Do you like old movies?
- What movies do you dislike and why?
- What kind of music do you like?
- Can you play a music instrument?
- What kinds of music do you dislike and why?
- What is the best live show that you have ever visited?
- What was the first album that you bought?
- How many hours of sleep do you need?
- What time do you typically go to bed?
- What time do you typically wake up?
- How long does it take you to fall asleep?
- Can you remember your dreams?
- Do you play any sports?
- What sports do you like to watch?
- What are the most popular sports in your country?
- How often do you exercise?
- Do you like to travel?
- What countries have you visited?
- What is your favorite country?
- Have you ever travelled alone?
- Where do you usually stay when traveling?
- Where would you like to travel?
- What was your best trip?
- What is your favorite season?
- What is your favorite weather?
- How is the climate in your home country?
These are the samples of TEFL discussion questions that you can use during your classes to practice the conversational skills of your students. We hope that they will help your students to not only consolidate the learned material, but also break the ice and have some fun.
Remember, the purpose of these questions is to help your students improve their speaking skills and build new vocabulary. Therefore, you cannot just randomly pick questions from anywhere and hand the question cards to them.
Here are a few things that you should consider making conversation an effective tool for learning:
Select age-appropriate questions – This is a very important step. While selecting these questions, you should keep the age of your students in mind. If you are teaching children then obviously you cannot choose questions that address slightly complicated issues such as environment, food, traveling, or even literature. Similarly, questions such as “what is your favorite color or favorite pet” will not be appropriate for adults.
Keep the questions simple – Remember, the purpose of this exercise is to help students learn. If your questions are too complicated, the students may find it difficult to understand the vocabulary used or even comprehend the question. Keep it simple, so they can make sense of the questions and device their answers. You can introduce tougher questions once the students are at an advanced learning stage.
ESL Group Discussion Questions
How to get everyone involved in the classroom?
One of the biggest challenges of having an open ESL discussion questions activity in the classroom is to get every student involved. Since the primary language of your students is not English, many of them may feel hesitant to participate. To help these students out, here are a few things you can do:
Team them up – One of the easiest ways to get your students involved is to team up your students. You can hand each of them question cards and have them ask each other questions. One member can ask while the other can answer. This way you will involve everyone present in the class and encourage them to talk.
Have a discussion session – To encourage public speaking you can have a discussion session at the end of the “ask questions” activity. You can take 2-3 minutes to ask each member of the class what they found out about their team member.
Have a debate – You can also assign each of your students a topic and give them a few minutes to prepare a 1-2-minute speech on it. Then allow them to stand up and deliver their speech. The topics can be easy, such as talking about your pet, an appeal to a certain color, or your favorite city.
For students to improve language proficiency, it is recommended that they practice having conversations often if not daily.