How do you "get them to talk"?

My boss says I need to do this in my higher level classes. I suspect it’s also a problem with my lower level classes. I think the younger students are more easily entertained.

I don’t believe I’m referring to any specific activity, like dialogues-I do plenty of them.

I think I’m referring to conversation throughout the lesson. I was able to do it in a couple of classes after my boss told me this. But, those are easy classes anyway, with more outgoing students. But, I’ve completely failed on the harder classes, where the students don’t want to talk.

I asked her about it, and she said something about “creating an atmosphere”. But, it was difficult to explain, and couldn’t give any more details.

I teach at a buxiban. Mostly elementary school. Some middle school. A few high school students. However, I’m bad enough that my boss doesn’t give me the “Advanced” classes. I think these would be classified as “intermediate”, really.

As it is, the upper level students are really bored. I also think that getting them to do ACTUAL conversation during class would help their language skills.

An easy thing is question cards. Lots and lots of questions.

This website has plenty:

I’ll take 30 or 40, type them up a table in Word, print them out and cut them up, one question per card. Then pass them around or stand them up in paired lines or whatever - they’ve always got a question to answer.

I’m skeptical about how much a teacher can do to create atmosphere, especially in shorter courses or with larger groups of students. Again and again I’ve had the same material, same lesson plan, same me, but two different groups of the same age in that week have had utterly different reactions and atmosphere.

Avoid “free talking”. It’s an awful idea that will only work with the most exceptional of classes. Tell them what they’re going to talk about - because if you ask them what they want to talk about, you’ll get nowhere.

I find this is a common problem in Taiwan. You follow a coursebook and everything seems to go quite smoothly until they hit the section on “free talk” or “discussion”. I’ve quite often had classes that just won’t do it, scribble a few notes or just talk in Chinese (probably not related to the lesson). I don’t have the perfect answer, but I can offer a few suggestions.

I like lostinasia’s tip about using questions. I would recommend getting students to write their own questions as well. In addition, teach students to use follow up questions to keep the conversation going.

One thing I’ve found helpful is give students plenty of time to write their ideas down on paper before speaking. Ask them do mind maps, or just make lists of ideas related to the topic of the activity.

Make sure there is a clear outcome to a speaking activity. “Find out 3 things your classmate did last Saturday” is better than “Talk about what you did last Saturday”, as in the first one there is a goal to work towards and students know when they have finished. (Jane Willis has more to say about this here - )

Another suggestion is to get them to do the task first in Chinese, then in English. The second time around they have a good idea of what they want to say.

Another idea is to follow a task-based format, where students work together on a task, then must give a report at the end.
Here’s a brief overview of the task-based learning framework:

Assign roles in group speaking activities. For example, one student can act as secretary and take notes, another student can be responsible for making sure everyone speaks, another can enforce the rule that everyone speaks English, another student can ask questions to get students to give more information, and yet another student can be responsible for giving a report in the end. (Naturally, you don’t have to use all of these roles, and you might think of some better ones!)

Yet another strategy for really reticent classes is to focus on input (a text for reading or listening track) for the first part of the lesson, and leave the output (writing and discussion) for the end of the lesson. After getting used to hearing or reading English for a few minutes, students might be more willing speak out.

Again, none of these ideas is a “magic pill” and some of them will definitely fall flat at times, but I would recommend you try them out.

Depends on class size, time constraints, and your boss’ idea of atmosphere. I’ve found that focusing on a topic of interest to your students and using that to anchor a lesson is often a good way to catch their interest and encourage them to push against the limitations of what they know on their own.

I’m a big fan of task based learning teaching in getting students talking, but i have had mixed results using it in the classsroom with adults in Taiwan. It worked with European students when i used it for training purposes. Asian students tend not to want to speak on the whole through fear of making mistakes and also due to the fact that their lives consist of working, eating, and sleeping. So here’s what you do. You either find out their interests (not sleeping) and get them to talk about them. Give them time to prepare what they want to say. Another way to get them talking is by using giving them an example. You talk about a subject, i.e. a film that i enjoyed, or any kind of chatty topic. You could even include some false information, encouraging them to try and listen more attentively to you, and then they have to guess which part was made up. Then they do the same. From my experience, most of my students are curious about all things western such as food, lifestyle, and so on, so they love topics related to travel and culture. As for getting the younger students to talk, now that’s a whole different ball game!

find out what they are interested in

get them to write down a couple of interests (in Chinese if needed)

Japanese anime manga (Japanese comics) is huge at the moment.

Get on wikipedia and print off the info in English.

Ask them questions about the programs. They already know the answers. They just don’t know how to communicate the answers.

teach them about the plot in english, ask them about the characters (need to research them before hand) A couple of key words from them will help you teach them more about that particular character.

One Piece and Crayon Shin-chan are good starting points. It’s what’s hot in my class. Might be different for you.

I print off the wiki info before class. But, you need to be more prepared than that. I got caught out: I had no idea how to and why I should answer the following question: “Do you like green peppers?”

The teens 1 v teacher 0 maybe that’s a good thing.

As with all cram schools. Play Games.

I don’t have control of the lesson plans. The Chinese teachers make them.

I play games every class. Unless I’m hurrying toward the end of class, when we are doing an activity, we play games every time. The exception to this is a couple of the upper level classes. They don’t always seem to like the games.

[quote=“spitzig”]I don’t have control of the lesson plans. The Chinese teachers make them.


You don’t play any part in planning your lessons? But in your OP you implied you had some control, at least over the number of dialogues you choose to do. What can people possibly suggest, other than activities to get your students talking??

Here are a few things which don’t involve changing the lesson plan:

[ul]- Arrange the tables so they sit in groups of 4-6 facing each other, not in rows facing you.

  • Don’t correct grammar mistakes during conversation.
  • Do conversation activities in their groups, don’t make them have to speak to the whole class.
  • During conversation activities, don’t hover over them. Give them space.
  • Give them tangible rewards (e.g. bonus points on homework) for participating, and don’t punish them for not.
  • Give them time. Lots of time.[/ul]

Once they get more comfortable talking to each other, you’ll find that more structured whole-class activities work better too.

No, I don’t take part in planning the lessons. Sorry if I implied I do. I can CHANGE the lessons, like if the students are finding an activity too easy/hard. Actually, I wasn’t aware I was supposed to do this, until recently.

But, I am frustrated by this, too. My boss, says I need to get them more involved but can’t really tell me HOW.

[quote=“spitzig”]No, I don’t take part in planning the lessons. Sorry if I implied I do. I can CHANGE the lessons, like if the students are finding an activity too easy/hard. Actually, I wasn’t aware I was supposed to do this, until recently.

But, I am frustrated by this, too. My boss, says I need to get them more involved but can’t really tell me HOW.[/quote]

Well, are you doing the things Brendon suggested? It hadn’t actually occurred to me that you might have the students sitting in rows like a lecture, and it’s not clear to me how much freedom you have (with the Chinese teacher who makes the lesson plan there in class?) to move tables around and put people in groups. But you should certainly be following his suggestions if you can and are not already!

Also I recommend you follow lostinasia’s advice about prompting them with questions. If you are going to try a discussion, you have to at least tell them how to start! Get the whole class to chorus the opening question for a discussion, to give them confidence about at least that one thing. The tallest/youngest/… student in the group has to start. Tell them this is easy because all they have to do is copy. A has to ask B. B has to answer. Then, B has to C question 2 etc (if there is a question 2 chorus this as well; so it’s not mindless, you can focus on getting the pronunciation exactly right, or intonation). You can point at students A, B, C in an example group. With your hands, show how they have to ask the questions round the group circle.

It’s usual to move from a tightly controlled model (with students just reading, say) in the direction of a discussion. In ELT in Taiwan, the (free discussion) target is sometimes not reached. Not to worry; still plenty of intermediate steps available. Write a dialogue on the board or ppt and gradually erase more and more of it. Give them tasks where one student in a pair has the book open, the other shut (and has to re-tell the story, or answer questions). Use question cues: ungrammatical lists of the needed keywords, separated by a slash /. Make the questions, write them down, then answer them.

Have them make questions which they can ask other groups. Get 2 students to leave the group and join another (1 clockwise, the other anticlockwise) and ask those questions, or report on what their old group said. Even if the old group discussion degenerated into Chinese, my experience is that students use English when temporarily assigned to a new group.

If you do activities that require brainstorming (think of as many ways as you can that we use the internet, ways we can save energy, adjectives used to describe personality…) make them appoint a secretary and write it down. This gives the task a focus. They could write keywords, or questions, or coherent sentences. You can help them to get the sentences right as you walk around (different from interrupting the flow and correcting someone’s spoken grammar, which as Brendon said you shouldn’t do). You can also refer to the sentences when discussing errors during wrap-up (or you can scrawl notes to self on paper or a corner of the whiteboard while it’s going on).

Usually students kind of know the vocab they need, but have trouble stringing it together to make a sentence. Less often, the problem is a missing vocab item. Although I try to keep things in English, I have no problem whatsoever with a student asking his groupmates, in Chinese, how to say a certain word. Or using the Chinese word and slotting it into an otherwise English sentence. If the students realize they can do this, they come out of their shells a bit more. I find.

I don’t have a lot of freedom with the lessons. If something is too difficult/easy, or I have extra time after the lesson plan is done, I have freedom to change/add. I don’t have any experience teaching previous to this job, so I can’t really complain about the lack of freedom. The closest I come was tutoring professionally for four years.

But, the activities they do here rarely seem to involve small groups. Sometimes, groups of two. Oh, the exception is when they write sentences. They frequently do a “One student one word” activity. The desks are arranged in one large circle around the classroom.

For rewards, the students get cards, which they can exchange for toys and things like that. The students are usually in teams. If they do better, they throw a sticky ball(or some other game I decide on). They get points. The team with the most points gets more cards. The older students don’t really care about the cards, though.

I don’t deal with homework, but maybe I can ask the Chinese teacher about some kind of reward with that.

The way my boss talked about “creating an atmosphere” where they can talk makes me think this is not about finding a good activity.

I asked a student to draw me a picture on the whiteboard.

He drew a character from Burnt Bread (search: Burnt Bread Japanese manga kogepan).!/kogepan/

We managed to get all the English names for the characters and even invented some new characters

Taught them about quotation marks in dialogue. Wrote a couple of examples on the whiteboard.

Students had a great time retelling/making up a story. Easier for them to express themselves through a fictional story.

Up to the teacher to add authentic realistic examples or concentrate on nonfiction. Go with the flow of the group effort.

Lots of good suggestions so far. I’ve always found elementary and senior high to be no problem, but junior high has always been a nightmare for me. Good on you for trying. I just stopped teaching junior high completely.

I also teach adults, though, and they can have similar problems. Although with adults I’ve found it’s usually related to their ability or confidence in their abilities. As a result I’d rather have them talk about a Chinese movie (movies just being an example) than an English movie, and then tell me the story in English with me helping them as they go along. Then when they have to give names they’ll say something like, I don’t know the English name (cop out). So I’ll tell them to tell me the Chinese name and show them how to write it in Pinyin.
Today I was doing a boring ass class on cafes, and ordering in restaurants. So I discussed a little bit about what exactly a cafe is and then I gave an example of one I like to go to in Tainan. Then I had each student tell the class about a cafe they know about or go to. When one student isn’t keen on talking I’ll have him/her tell the class in Chinese and then we’ll “translate” the information into English. I’ll write the key points on the board and then have the student re-introduce it in English. As one poster above mentioned, they seem more confident the second time round.

I used to be worried about Chinese in class, but I’d rather they use it, have someone help to “translate” (even if I can do it I prefer another student to do it to encourage peer involvement) and then have the original student re-introduce whatever it was that we were talking about. I’ve found that over time their confidence grows and they’re more likely to talk than remain silent.

That’s the worst possible arrangement – no-one wants to talk, because everyone is looking at them. Have them rearrange them (into small groups) at the start of class, and put them back afterwards if necessary. It really makes a huge difference.

When your boss says he wants you to create an atmosphere, the first and most important thing is that you make the students feel comfortable. With teenagers, that mostly means setting things up so they can talk without danger of embarrassment.

Don’t worry about it. I am guessing some parent complained that their student isn’t getting enough conversation “immersion” time. So you teacher you create class make student talk all time, learn theys grammars and you be big clown make funny.

You can make the kids do your job. Let them run the games. Make the students say the things you are supposed to say. Have each student take turns going over vocab, phonics, etc… You will just guide this. The best ESl classes are when the students speak and the teacher says little or nothing (unless they need listening practice).

This is a good way to get them to talk:

Yeah, that’ll work, but I think the Laoban might be unhappy by the loss of revenue if you off one of the students…

Aha! We already got that covered; the one you shoot is ALREADY dead! :discodance: