(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.”