Leading classroom discussions can be a challenge in the ESL EFL classes. On the one hand, students need to practice conversation skills, and are motivated to discuss a wide range of topics. On the other hand, students are often shy about expressing their opinions for a number of reasons, or may not really have all that much to say about the topic of discussion. This presents quite the challenge to teachers, and, unfortunately, it can lead to classroom discussions turning into a teacher centered lecture.
These ten tips will help you lead classroom discussions that engage your students, and ensure students contribute to the conversation.
1. Know Your Students
Make sure to take time to conduct a student needs analysis at the beginning of your class term. This will help you choose interesting topics for conversation in the future. A great way of doing this is to create a questionnaire.
2. Don't Hesitate to Drop a Topic
If your students aren't interested in the topic at hand, don't hesitate to opt for another topic. If you've got a set curriculum, turn the discussion towards why students aren't interested before moving on. In this way, you'll at least cover some of the vocabulary related to the topic.
3. Pick up the Slack
While teachers shouldn't necessarily be the center of the discussion, they will, from time to time, need to step into and keep the conversation moving forward. The lower the level, the more necessary this will be. Don't be afraid to step in and speak about your own experience and give your own own opinion.
I find students enjoy hearing my opinion, yet I strive to make sure that my own contributions don't overtake the conversation.
4. Become an Equal
At times it's easy to fall into the "expert" role, and that can turn into a teacher knowing "everything" - which we all know is not the truth. It's important as a teacher to share experiences as one of the team. This is especially true in an adult ESL / EFL class. You'll teach people with a wide range of experiences that YOU can learn from. Let your students teach you, listen intently not only to how they are using English, but also to WHAT they are saying.
5. Listening Closely
Listen closely, ask intelligent questions, dig into your students' points of view. This gives students an incredible boost in confidence when they see that they are able to express their ideas so well in English.
6. Help Students Take on Different Characters
Sometimes students are hesitant to speak because they fell they'd rather not discuss personal opinions in class. In this case, it's important to reassure students that they don't necessarily need to tell the truth during class. After all, students are in class in order to improve their English. Encourage students to take on another persona, and to express those opinions. I've found that using this technique really helps some students become an active participant in the conversation, as they don't have to worry about expressing what they truly believe.
7. Discourage Yes / No Questions
Students often tend to fall into asking simple yes / no questions rather than information questions. Encourage students to always ask "why", as well as other information questions with "where", "when", "what" etc.
8. Don't Answer Every Question
Students tend to ask the teacher questions. Call on other students to answer questions directed towards the teacher. Let other students become the topical experts and you'll soon find yourself listening and participating in the conversation, rather than asking each question and directing the conversational flow.
9. Make Mistakes on Purpose
In order to ensure that students actively listen to, as well as contribute in discussions, make it clear that you'll make a few mistakes along the way. Challenge students to call you out on your mistakes. This can be especially helpful with students who tend to be distracted. The chance to call out the teacher is much too tempting for many to pass up!
10. Don't Correct Mistakes During the Discussion
There are many approaches to correction. However, as a rule of thumb, I find it's best to not correct mistakes during the flow of conversation. Instead, I like to take short notes on commonly made mistakes during the conversation. At the end of the discussion, I give feedback on mistakes I've heard a number of students make, rather than focusing on individual mistakes. As many students crave correction, it's a good idea to let students know that you'll provide feedback on mistakes AFTER the discussion has finished.
By Kenneth Beare
English as 2nd Language Expert