Six ways to get your conversation class conversing

The guest lists just don’t stop! This time I’m joined by Karenne Sylvester of Kalingo English, also known as “Queen of the ELT Blogosphere” (well, to me at least). Karenne gave me some very good early advice on setting up a blog and has been very helpful since. She also makes her own materials with an eye on conversation in the classroom, so it seems only right here that I ask her to share six ways on how exactly to do that.
Right off the bat, I’ll just go on ahead and tell you that the title of this post is just to grab your attention while sticking to Lindsay’s rule of six.

There aren’t six ways to get your students actively speaking, there are an infinite number or, maybe, just one way.

Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours.”  Benjamin Disraeli
Everyone is deeply, in fact biologically, designed to be completely self-interested and our students aren’t any different.

They have had lives as rich (or as poor) as your own. They have loved and lost, been angry and felt frustrated, laughed out loud, wept for days, hoped things would change, tried, failed and succeeded.

They eat food, enjoy or don’t enjoy their drink, think other people are better or greater than themselves. They have pontificated, theorized and hold strong opinions.

They all wish they spoke better English.

What to talk about in the ESL/EFL classroom boils down to six things, their:

  1. personal relationships– friends, family & enemies
  2. professional lives -work, colleagues, projects and responsibilities
  3. leisure time – their hobbies and interests
  4. casual experience of the world they live in – what they see or hear or read
  5. private stuff – their political, religious or personal belief systems
  6. dreams – their ambitions, hopes and expectations

Ask them about themselves and you will not be able to shut them up.

Karenne Sylvester

Karenne Sylvester is the author of SimplyConversationsTM, a speaking skills system designed to activate language learners’ fluency levels and she writes two blogs, one aimed at language teachers, Kalinago English, the other is aimed at English language students, How to Learn English.

Published in: on May 19, 2009 at 10:07 am  Comments (4)  
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Six great ideas I’ve had that will never happen

cartoon from

Like anyone in this field, I am often harbouring daydreams of projects I would do if I weren’t involved so much in English language teaching. They include television show writer, novelist (who doesn’t secretly dream of writing a novel?) and more “alternative” ELT ideas that for one reason or another are difficult/impossible to do. I figure that if I don’t get this off my chest in a self-indulgent post on my blog then these daydreams will not see the light of day, ever. So, here are six really good ideas I’ve had that will, alas, probably never happen.

1. TV idea 1. The School Door Mums – A soap opera that revolves around the lives of several mothers and is filmed primarily at the doors of the school where they drop their children off. Like a grungier, less glamorous Desperate Housewives. 

2. TV idea 2. “English Academy” A reality show in which several B-list celebrities are challenged to learn English in a period of six months. Each episode is filmed in the classroom, as they experience all sorts of different methods. The show culminates with them going to a very small town in the UK or the US to interact with the locals and are evaluated on how they did. Obviously this would only broadcast to non-English speaking countries, although I would license the rights for a “Spanish Academy” for Britain and the US. 

3. Novel idea. I’ve often thought of writing a novel in which the main character moves into a horrible old apartment and finds a little switch behind a bookshelf. The switch doesn’t seem to turn anything on or off but soon our hero realises that it freezes time for everyone except him when flipped. The catch is, time is only frozen for 20 minutes. Not really enough time to rob a bank or anything like that. Our hero happens to be a writer of grammar exercises (surprise surprise) and starts using the switch to meet deadlines and get work done. Until a mysterious woman walks through the door one day… Yep, sounds a bit dire. That’s as far as I got.

4. Video game idea. Class Simulator. Around five years ago I was working full time on Certificate courses, observing new teachers make their first faltering steps into the classroom. That’s when I first got this idea. This was in the day before Second Life and all, but I still think a Virtual Class Simulator would be a great video game. You could programme the level of the students, their ages, how well or badly they behave etc etc. Just like a Flight Simulator or a Driving Simulator. You would ask the trainee teacher to log a certain amount of hours doing a virtual class before letting them into the real one.  

5.  EFL idea. The Beatles #1 Syllabus project. A colleague of mine once suggested that you could probably teach a whole course only using the songs from the Beatles number 1 album (this album). I really liked this idea and thought it could make a great book idea (or at least an article). That is, until I  found out how guarded anything to do with the Beatles is.  God, if Apple iTunes can’t get them then I doubt I could. 

6. My BIG get-rich scheme. To invent and patent a technological invention that teachers would really find useful. I have already blogged about that here, and am still waiting for a rich patron to come along and sponsor one of these.

There you have it. I have logged this blog entry, date and all. Should any of these inventions appear elsewhere after publication of this blog (especially the TV ideas) then hopefully I can still get rich quick by suing the production company that makes them, claiming they were my idea first! Maybe I won’t need to… after all these are six ideas I’m prepared to abandon. I have plenty others up my sleeve I’m not ready just yet to divulge.

Published in: on May 17, 2009 at 6:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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Six Rules of this Blog

OK, I have decided to join the blogosphere. Many people have suggested I do so, and I know several other bloggers in English Language Teaching. So, since I enjoy writing I thought why not? However, I’ve made myself some rules. There are, of course, six of them.

1) This blog will deal with all things relating to English Language Teaching. That means anything that catches my fancy in this field!

2) While this is, in essence, a miscellany of ELT I want to make a good amount of it practical teaching ideas. I want there to be something useful to take away from the site, at least from time to time.

3) I will also use this site to post information about teaching English in the different countries I visit. I will collect this information from the teachers I meet there and my own impressions.

4) There will always be a list of six things in each post. That’s my goal.

5) I will try and update at least once a week (I originally thought once a month, but that’s too little!). More if possible.

6) I will try and keep the entries short! I don’t want people to have to scroll down loads to get the goods.

Phew! That’s my first post. We’ll see how it goes!

Published in: on December 13, 2008 at 2:36 pm  Comments (10)  
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