A teacher of an English conversation class may start to run out of ideas. You need something to focus the class on, even if you are lucky enough to have students with a wide variety of interests who can chat at length about almost anything. Once family, work, aspirations, travel and special occasions are exhausted as topics of conversation, look further afield.
Bring in a newspaper or check the headlines online and print out a few of the day's stories before class. Make enough copies for your students. Choice of topics can be tailored to groups of students. Frothy celebrity gossip might suit some students while others would be happier discussing complicated political issues in depth. You might wish to choose one story about an important election abroad, another on a celebrity's latest shocking behavior, and another on a local issue. Select an online or offline source at a suitable language level for the class, tabloids for example have a far simpler style than broadsheets, and remember to go through new vocabulary before the discussion.
Debating controversial issues can motivate students to talk. If you are confident things won't get too heated, try discussing them in class. The chances are a few students will dominate such conversations so ensure everybody has a chance to speak. If necessary, use a makeshift speaking baton such as a rolled-up piece of paper. Only the person holding it can speak. Perhaps divide the class into "for" and "against" groups. Let them prepare and then have a debate with the entire class. Keeping up to date with the news provides you with a ready supply of new debate subjects.
Write a few dozen words or phrases on cards and put them in an envelope. You can choose ones you think students would find interesting such as "colors and emotion" "dogs" "superstitions" "inventions" and "hobbies." Alternatively, ask students to add some cards of their own or make a random selection, for example using the words produced during a word-association game. Draw out a card and ask questions to keep the ball rolling.
Find pictures of people expressing emotions ranging from ecstatic to anxious to use as props. Divide the class into little groups and ask them to discuss what had just happened in each picture. Help the groups along if they are struggling. This works well with creative students or those with a quirky sense of humor. If your students enjoy this conversation starter, the variations are almost endless; all you need is a picture of practically anything -- people, an empty room, a broken window, a street at night and so on.
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