What else to consider before entering a ‘simple’ conversation lesson?
6. Provide feedback at the end of the task: This can be done in open class straight away or again in pair-work or group-work, then in open class. Traditionally we consider two types of feedback.
– content feedback: emphasizes good ideas, solutions to the problem or surprising statements and shows the students that they were listened to during the task.
– language feedback: points out (correct or incorrect) grammar and lexical structures used by the students and aims at motivating them (in the first case) or making them notice their mistakes (in the latter one).
Classical ways of language feedback are:
– the teacher writes 3 sentences he/she heard from students, two incorrect and one correct examples. Students find the incorrect ones and correct them (in groups, pairs or in open class);
– the teacher elicits how to express an idea, collecting good examples from students (How can you refuse an invitation politely?);
– the teacher points out typical mistakes and clarifies them, e.g. in an auction game, probably in the next lesson, since it needs preparation or in an error-soccer game.
7. Repeat the task: Giving students the same task helps them to unload their first pressure of thinking about content/finding the right form/pronouncing their ideas, and it also gives them the opportunity to do the same activity better than the first time, since they know what mistakes to avoid or what lexical items to use.
In task-based teaching, the teacher gives the task at the beginning of the lesson (as a fluency exercise) and checks what students know about the target language, then after language teaching, he/she makes the students repeat the task and this time the teacher monitors for the accurate use of the target language.
In a classical conversation lesson, the students can be given the same task (possibly with new partners) after the feedback-session (if time allows) and the teacher is supposed to monitor this second time for the language points discussed previously.
An excellent way of finishing a conversation lesson is to insert a quick game (a board or card game) which recycles the same language points, but in a fun way.
8. Recycle your materials: Everything you prepare today, can and will be useful in a future lesson. After some time every teacher has his/her ready-to-use ideas for every level. They will also have their jolly-joker topics per level for substitution lessons. So from the beginning follow these guidelines:
– prepare your materials on the PC if possible, and save the files using clear names that helps you to identify the file later on. Names like ‘conv.q.elem’ or ‘traffic_int’ are not really useful, since you don’t know what topic you dealt with in the first case and what type of activity you did in the second. Use names like ‘int_traffic_vocab’ or ‘int_traffic_conv_q’, so you can understand that in the first one you dealt with lexis linked to traffic, in the second you prepared questions for a discussion about traffic, both at intermediate level. This way, you can always find these materials on your PC and reuse them.
– laminate the best exercises: if one exercises has worked very well 3-4 times, you might want to make the prompts (pictures, maps, cards, question slides, etc.) more lasting and laminate them. This way, even if many students hold them in their hands in many lessons, they will resist time. Consider how long it takes to cut the conversation cards every time you need them: you save all this preparation time in the future.
– file your materials: have (shoe) boxes for every level ready to keep your materials there, have your folders for the best exercises you want to use in the future, this way you have them ready for any emergency case or normal lesson preparation. This saves again a lot of time for you.
9. Evaluate your lesson: Ask your students/yourself at the end of the lesson what they have learnt. Every conversation lesson (as every lesson) needs target language, an aim why we teach what we teach. Students need to be able to express orally something extra before they leave the classroom. If this is the case, then you did a conversation lesson. If the answer is that they spoke a lot, then you’ve only had a lovely chat with them. Next time offer at least some coffee to them.
Good news is that you will find plenty of materials ready to print (even for free) online. You just have to type in your search engine the topic, level and some keywords of the type of activity you want to do with your class and you will find something: www.onestopenglish.com or www.busyteacher.org are only two of the many websites that offer help to teachers. Have them saved among your favorites and start creating your own materials. And above all, have fun with your conversation classes.