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Here are some activities that have worked for me and other conversation leaders in the past. They have been compiled over the years by people that are too numerous to mention. Remember that not every activity is right for every conversation group. Also, some of the best ideas will come about through your own creation, and the best ideas will originate from the suggestions of your students.
Twenty statements On separate sheets of paper, write down the names of very well known people (e.g. the Pope, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, etc.) You will need at least a dozen names because sometimes the students will not know all of them (you will be surprised). Find a volunteer to sit at the desk at the front of the room. Then tape or pin a name on the front of the desk so the volunteer student cannot read it. The object of the game is for this student to guess who she/he is from general statements made by the class. Start from one side and have the students offer statements that describe the said celebrity without obviously giving it away. The students giving statements want to say as little as possible and still say the truth. So, if the statements are about the Pope you would want the students to say "You live near Rome" and not "You live in the Vatican." This exercise allows the students to practice their descriptive skills and learn who's who at the same time. To put a twist on this game, have the students try it using negatives. They must make statements on who the celebrity is not. This is more of a challenge.
Skits These help your students improve their social pragmatics. First, choose a theme. A good one is personal relationships (e.g. friends, intimates, neighbors, roommates, etc.). The next step is to explain what a skit is. The best way to do this is to demonstrate. With a fellow conversation leader or volunteer student, go out of earshot and make up real quick skit (remember, all you really need is a situation, and the rest is ad lib). Try to have it be humorous. This will motivate them. Once they see that it is fun, you should have no problem getting them to group up and write their own skits. Sometimes you have to help them find a situation with which they can work. Give them ten minutes and then have them present their skits. Have Fun!
Idioms ESL students are always interested in learning new idioms, but giving them a list from a text is not enough. If you have ever listened to a non-native speaker attempt idiomatic language straight from the text, you will understand just how culture contexted idiomatic language is. Idiom usage is highly context embedded in whatever language the idiom evolves from. For example, teach them the "What's up? / Not much." exchange that is so common to Americans, yet very confusing to anyone from outside the USA. Demonstrate the context in which it is used and some of the body language that goes along with it. Do this with other idioms as well. You can find good sources for idioms in some ESL textbooks; there's one in the bibliography. Also, if you have internet access, the ESL Cafe is a great idiom resource.
Advice Game On some small pieces of paper, write down real life situations that require some advice. For example, "I am very depressed. No matter what I try, nothing seems to make me happy." These cards are placed on the desk at the head of the room and one student is chosen to sit there and pick one at random. The student reads the predicament and asks the class for advice. Then the students offer the advisee advice on how to solve this person's particular problem. The student then chooses the best piece of advice and awards the card to the student who offered the soundest advice. At the end of the hour, the person with the most cards wins.
Learning ESL students are always hip to learning
the lyrics of the popular American songs they have been humming along to
without knowing the words. Take a very popular song (one requested by the
students is best) and write down the lyrics. For example, the Eagles' "Hotel
California" is one with which most everybody is familiar. Then take
out some of the key words (make sure they are not at the beginning of a
line). It goes like this:
On a dark desert ________. Cool ____ in my hair.
(FYI this is called a cloze exercise)With a tape player, play the song (it's best to have the song recorded back to back on the tape as this saves the time spent rewinding). Stop the tape when needed until all the students have all the blanks filled in. They will also want to know the meanings of some of the words and eventually want to know what the song means. You will find that the whole conversation group will want to get involved, especially with a text rich song like "Hotel California." (This exercise can also be used for the teaching of certain aspects of grammar. I teach non-progressive verbs with "Hotel California.")
Now your students can actually sing along with their favorite songs in the car just like we do!
These are some of the best and most successful activities that have been used in conversation group. As you can see, they derive from everyday resources, and like the last one, they come from the wants of the students. Your students' needs and personalities are where you will find the most successful activities. Get to know your students, and you will have a huge pool of resources at you disposal. Included here is a "getting to know you" questionnaire that should be distributed on the first day you meet with your students. The information you garner will speed up the process of becoming familiar with your group, and it will help you decide what activities are best for them. Also, you can follow this link to a short bibliography of materials that you can use to find ideas.
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Last updated 14 July 1998Copyright © Tom Mason 1997, 1998