Category Archives: *Fun Activities

• Expanding Students’ Conversation Opportunities with Small-Talk Techniques (Includes a Group Mixer Activity)

conversation listen respond

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Imagine that you are at a party and standing next to either Curt of Mari. You try to start a conversation with him or her:

You:     How was your day?
Curt:    Fine.

You:     How was your day?
Mari:   Fine. I heard a really interesting story at work.

Which one will you be more motivated to continue to talk to: Curt of Mari?

Let’s say you are a student and arrive to your night class about 10 minutes early. You sit next to either Luis or Jay and decide to try to start a conversation.  

You:     How was your day?
Luis:    It was good. But I’m ready to start the weekend. I’ve got some great plans.

You:     How was your day?
Jay:      OK.

Which one seems like they will be more fun to have a conversation with: Luis or Jay?

Finally, imagine that you are sitting on an airplane.

You:                 Where are you flying to today?
Passenger 1:    Home.

You:                 Where are you flying to today?
Passenger 2:    I’m going to Vancouver. How about you?

Which passenger will be more likely to have a conversation with you? Passenger 1 or 2?

I’ve had many students like Curt (“Fine.”), Jay (“OK”) and Passenger 1 (Home) who tell me that they wish they could have more chances to practice their English beyond their ESL lessons.  Opportunities do arise when they are standing in lines, sitting in waiting rooms or at bus stops, in a cafeteria, at a club event or when they are in situations like those above, at a party, early to class, or as a passenger, etc. They just need the conversation technique to take advantage of these occasions. Mari, Luis and Passenger 2 all have it; it’s called using small talk.

A unit on developing small-talk skills (includes downloadable handout)

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• Conversation Technique: Don’t Kill the Conversation. What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say.

kill the conversation

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

There a fewer better ways to kill a conversation than to do one of these after being asked a question:

  • Say nothing for a long time while trying to think about what to say.
  • Say, “Ummmmmm. Ahhhhh” for a long time while trying to think.
  • Just say, “I don’t know.”

It’s quite common for ESL students to be in situations like this.  They are asked a fairly common question like, “What will you do this weekend?”  Then their brains have to imagine what their plans are and how to explain those plans often using their limited vocabulary and grammar knowledge.  That process can take time.  In the meantime, knowing that the questioner is waiting for an answer to a question that would be easy to answer in his/her own language, the student is feeling pressure to answer quickly, feeling embarrassed that it is taking so long and feeling stress from appearing foolish.

In the meantime, the person who asked the question can often feel impatient or frustrated while waiting for a response.  The questioner will wonder if the students didn’t understand the question or if they don’t know what to say or if they just aren’t interested.

Too often in situations like this, the conversation dies and the questioner moves on to talk to someone else, and the students is left feeling foolish and abandoned.

This activity will lead students to learn a technique that completely prevents that from happening. It’s called, “Don’t kill the conversation.”

Here is how it works and here is a link to the activity handout.

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• Conversation Activity: Getting Students to Say More Than the Minimum

Cover more than minimum Shot

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

 We might think that the students who say little in a conversation are lazy or just quiet by nature.  That’s not necessarily the case.  Some students have told us that they are trying to be polite and let others talk.  Others just don’t know what to say, so they say the minimum.  And some just aren’t aware that they should speak more.

This activity is designed to help these types of students. It “gives permission” to the polite students to talk more.  It “requires” the lazy or quiet ones to contribute to the conversation.  And it “pushes” everyone to think of something, anything, to say.

The activity is call Responding with Details. In groups of three, students ask each other the supplied questions (in a Student A, B, C format).  Every time the members respond, they have to answer with “and, but, so, because or with two sentences.

Example

  1. Marit: Where was the best place you ever lived?
  2. Lucien: I like warm weather, so I really loved living in California. (Answered with “so”.)
  3. Marit: When did you live there?
  4. Lucien: When I was in high school.  We moved there when I was 16 and stayed for three years. (Answered with two sentences and “and.”)

Steps in the activity (and the handout)

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