How to Teach ESL Conversation Class. The BEST Way I’ve Found Teaching English Abroad.

How to Teach ESL Conversation Class. The BEST Way I’ve Found Teaching English Abroad.

What’s up everybody how’s it going I’m back with another video today so today’s
video is the product of an email that i received from matthew I hope Matthew
doesn’t mind me going over the email I’m sure he was
it’s nothing personal so Matthew emailed me from Korea is a subscriber he says hi
then I was wondering if you have some advice for me regarding conversation
classes for adults in Korea each class has three to five students
and I see each class two to three times a week for one hour in 20 minutes in
general they are not very good at talking about interesting things such as
politics social issues etc and of course much of this kind of stuff is too
sensitive to discuss anyway and I find that this limits the extent
to which I can make use of websites such as breaking news English and ESL library
to get a conversation going I have to resort to talking about things they have
experience with such as holidays sports hobbies etc this was not a problem at
first but given that I’ve been here for four months I’m swiftly running out of
things talk about anything you could give me would be much appreciated kind
regards Matthew as I told Matthew this is a big problem you have these
conversation classes you’ve got adults they want they want to become more
proficient more fluent in their speaking but how many times can you talk about
the Olympics if you go in and you talk about the Olympics four days in a row
people they get bored they zone out they don’t care you already talking gold
medal you already talking about Michael Phelps in etc etc so you have to keep
things interesting and exciting and you have to come up with new ID
okay now take comfort in the fact that I have been in your shoes before and I
have been the one on the teaching end who says to myself oh man another hour
and 20 minutes talking about the Olympics I don’t think that I can do
this I don’t I don’t know what I’m going to do okay
so the method that I told Matthew about is one that I developed after a lot of
painful classes you can try your best to be prepared and everything else but what
happens at least for me maybe not for you or maybe it will be for you in the
future if you are going to be a teacher or you’ve been a teacher before you may
have this experience you get in front of the classroom and when you see all of
these eyes on you you are expected to perform right oh man I’m the teacher I’m
the facilitator I’m the talk show host here I have to keep everything going and
so you start to like brace yourself for pauses or any lag in energy or the end
and flow that’s part of the dynamic of the class right and so you feel like
you’re trying to keep everything going and I’ll tell you what it can be
exhausting especially if you’re doing this for hours on end so here’s my tip
for you first off remember what people do like your grandmother if she has a
little bit of food and she wants to feed more people she stretches it out right
you use cornstarch or you use flour or something like that you stretch out what
you have okay next remember you can take a small topic and make it broader okay
you can stretch it you can change the focus and it’s your class so ultimately
you can do what you want so how do we do this how do we get more productivity
okay first question second remember just because something is easy for you
it does not mean it’s easy for somebody else I’m having this conversation with
the camera right now almost effortlessly because I have spoken English for about
32 years now depending on who you talk to so what do I have to make sure that I
do I have to make sure that I facilitate I provide an environment that is
conducive to language practice but more than anything if you are talking more
than 50% of the time as the teacher stop you’re doing way too much this is their
class it’s not your class so what you need to do is throw them these log
pitches very soft pitches that they can hit over the fence if you’re a baseball
fan you know what I’m talking about right so help your students out okay
here’s my response to Matthew and then I’m going to go over it a little bit
Matthew presented very good questions this is a very common problem that a lot
of people have and I’ve been faced with as well so I said in my response hey
Matthew students in general have a few fears in this case especially Asian
students the biggest is being unprepared and looking like an ass in front of
their peers okay the next is doing something off the cuff and winging it
okay here’s how I would approach Matthews class in this particular
situation I gave him a link this was to ESL conversation questions calm I just
found this on Google this was not my favorite page but my favorite page from
before is actually shut down right now so I sent him this link and I said go
here and pick 20 of the topics okay and they have a million different topics on
conversation stuff so I recommended them print out a sheet that includes these 20
topics that you have chosen and put a blank after each one okay print one out
for each one of students do this ahead of time okay now
20 topics don’t choose sex don’t choose you know risque movies or you know
programs like Sex in the City you do you if you want but I’m telling you in
general stay away from any taboo subjects choose 20 that you think would
be genuinely interesting but they have not been beaten to death in your
previous classes okay that’s another mistake I don’t want to get off topic
but a lot of teachers start their very first day tell me your name tell me
where you’re from and your brothers and sisters names and all of the students
groan because they’ve done this every year that they’ve learned English since
they were six years old so make things more interesting topics you think they
would be excited to talk about okay so you give each person a sheet and it’s
got 20 different topics on it all right so you break that out each one’s got a
break out for each one at the beginning of the class and a sheet to each student
and tell them that they have five minutes five minutes to cross out the
ten topics that they are interested in the least okay and repeat yourself ten
topics that you are interested in the least not the most the least okay you
can even write it on the board ten topics I like ten topics I don’t like
and topics I don’t like Ross it out okay obviously if you having event speakers
they don’t need this much help if you have lower level speakers go over it
with him you like this okay don’t cross it right you don’t like it okay cross it
out we don’t want that no okay so ten topics you’re going to cross out okay
they get five minutes so they’re not going to feel rushed this is important
don’t be like all right you got one minute what are you in a hurry for you
you’re going to get paid regardless and your class has a certain number of
minutes regardless so don’t don’t rush people if you don’t have to obviously
don’t be a slowpoke keep up the flow of the class but take your time make sure
everything you know feels comfortable so after that time is up
tell them the ten remaining topics the ten topics left over you want them to
rank them from one to ten okay number one my favorite topic yeah number two
pretty good go through them say okay go through one to ten ten and over the
night get one yeah I really like it okay after that collect fees and then look at
your student responses do they really want to talk you know about
transportation in 2016 in their city or did they want to talk you know where
they not interested in talking about such as such topic go through look out
okay and take that feedback on board and say okay let’s let’s see what people are
most interested in and then go from there okay so each day when they come
into class you have an idea of what topic people are going to talk about
right because you already have your ranked top list and keep them organized
by class don’t throw all these together and then forget who’s in which class and
then you’re approaching topics that this class had no interest so next time you
have class hello class today’s topic will be example appearance appearance
was one of the topics in this website that I send to Matthew so please find
today’s sheets and answer the following questions in writing okay so each person
is going to have a list of these questions that you’re going to print out
you’re going to give you student question okay so for this
particular topic appearance these were the questions one what is the first
thing you notice about a person to what clothes what do the clothes that someone
wears say about the person okay is there a part of your appearance that you are
very proud of that’s number three eyes fashion sentence hair it’s only right so
number four what is the most interesting haircut you have ever seen by have you
ever gone through an entire day without noticing something was wrong with your
appearance like your shirt was unbuttoned or you had something green in
your teeth what kinds of things do you do for your appearance
are there any fashion trends in the past that you follow okay people love to talk
about fashion how long does it take you to get ready in the morning have you
ever been intimidated by someone’s appearance do people in your country
talk a lot about people’s appearance or do they not care is it rude to tell a
person that they need to improve their appearance okay so now we’ve taken one
topic and we’ve stretched the hell out of it like grandma would do with bread
pudding right so now we have all of these questions and you’re going to give
them 15 minutes to write answers to probably like the first three or four
questions is all but they’re going to be able to get you again walk around the
room help them but don’t push them and don’t be overly aggressive in terms of
your time limits okay so now after the fifteen minutes is up you’re going to
read each question four times slowly and you’re going to have the whole class
repeated after you and if they don’t repeat after you joke with them and keep
doing it again again until they repeat after you and
make them feel comfortable and laugh and they will okay it’s inevitable you’re
going to get somebody who doesn’t want to participate but you just come on come
on come on truck and keep repeating it and if you have to go word by word and
laugh together etc it’s okay it doesn’t have to be some kind of didactic all
right let’s do it right now so when the 15 minutes are up
we’re going to read each question four times slowly and have them repeat it
back to you so what does this do this gives the student confidence in
their pronunciation because they’ve heard you say it and it also shows them
how the flow of the sentence is supposed to go after they’ve done it about four
times they’ll feel a lot more confident okay English has so many French words
jammed into it with letters that are not pronounced in vowels that are pronounced
in different ways ah whatever that people feel self-conscious reading at
first unless they are a higher level learner okay it’s not a language like
Spanish where it’s said the way that it’s written every time so English could
be tricky like that okay so after they’ve read it four times you’re going
to assign them to work in pairs okay and change up the pairs and if they complain
about their pairs tell them that you don’t care that they have to harder to
work with everybody okay so put them with a with a partner and
you’re going to say okay student a asks student B the question okay and then
student B is going to tell student a his answer that he wrote to the question I
feel a parent’s follow up and you can help them okay but again if somebody
makes a mistake don’t jam it right down their throat immediately that makes
people give up that’s the thing that pisses me
off the most when I see people do it like I from China what do you do you say
oh you are from China yes I from China I am from China be encouraging don’t say
ah rah I don’t you know this is like the worst
thing you can do and it’ll make your students just be like screw this man one
more he’s just making me feel uncomfortable okay so go with this Foley
all right so they’re working in pairs then you switch it up student B as
student a good question sorry about that so make sure you enforce this walk
around make sure that everybody is active you’re not doing anybody any
favors by just letting them sit there okay answer questions if they walk
around you could say okay now you ask me the question and then I ask you the
question you know just get involved with them
don’t let them just sit there so after 15 or so conversation minutes you have a
great response then you can ask the same questions in front of the whole class
and you’re going to have a great time I believe I’ve been doing this for years
okay so by this time the students are going to feel comfortable they know how
to ask the question they’ve written their answer down on paper and they’ve
read their answer they’ve gone over it with you now so that they know what
they’re saying is correct they’ve discussed their answer in an isolated
setting so they’re not afraid anymore and now they’re going to feel good
talking in front of the class so make sure you don’t pick apart their grammar
at this point or call out their mistakes loudly worst thing you can do okay
so just repeat back what they say incorrectly correctly and
people get it okay they pay here okay believe it or not it’s innate learn
so remember this is not a race you should be a no hurry to complete this
task with any conversation class so slow it down one of these topics can
potentially be used for days I mean this video here has already gone for 16
minutes and 40 seconds so you can see if you take a topic like appearance and
you’ve got 15 questions and you’re going over three questions in a day if you
give prep time you drill it you reinforce it you help them you assign
pair work and then you do work in front of the class I mean three questions
could easily be stretched for 45 minute period and then you’re looking oh man
each topic I’ve got 15 16 questions maybe you want to throw in some of your
own questions this is one topic that could be stretched for an entire week
depending on what you do with it and we haven’t even gotten into drilling
vocabulary you can go crazy with this you could write vocabulary words on the
board you can uh you know diagram sentences if you want if that’s your
thing or discuss the grammar in them you can do synonym and antonym on the board
so you know you could have big okay guys what’s a synonym for big who cut it
who’s got it large I have perfect let’s put large up here okay lets him antonym
what’s the opposite of big Oh small yeah yeah can anybody think of a synonym for
small ah a little okay good job and we put it down here right so you can drill
all kinds of stuff and you can get off-topic and that’s okay as long as
you’re still on topic some degree and so I told Matthew hope
this helps good luck and his response was hey bad thanks for this I tried it
in a couple of my classes and it worked a treat both times so this is just one
idea it’s how I like to teach conversation classes if you have
students who get bored easily say you have two students who get bored easily
that’s great and whenever they whenever I get complaints from students that cook
that’s great because all of a sudden really the same topic but then their
questions I use a much higher level vocabulary and I’ll pair those two
stronger students together and not ask them to you know work in a different
pace or drill each other on conversation more or heck I’ll sit in the back and
let them teach the class and I’ll really put them in the hot seat that always
works great it lets confidence students really shine if you have students who
are just complaining it usually lets them know the boss is pretty quickly and
I find that it works fantastically so again you’re only limited by your
imagination here conversation class can be super fun just make sure that
although this conversation it’s a speaking class remember that everybody
learns differently so you can approach a speaking class by enforcing reading and
listening they all work together synergistically so oh just remember that
you’re not wasting time if you’re letting people pre pre discuss the topic
or preparing advanced by giving them a chance to write and then of course ask
these questions throw them to really slow pitches let them gain their
confidence and you’re going to see that that’s the most important thing is
making them feel comfortable open like they have enough time to prepare
nobody’s going to be laughed at that’s another topic that’s classroom
discipline if you have anybody that’s that’s laughing at
student or calling out another student making him or her feel comfortable I do
not put up with that shit and I will squash that on the very first day and
make an example out of them I encourage you to do the same make sure that your
classroom is an open environment where everybody is excited to go in and
they’re happy the topics are interesting and nobody’s going to get jealous openly
so if you follow all this and incorporate all kinds of different
learning styles into your lessons make everybody feel like they’re part of it
see if you’re going to have great success in your class and and ultimately
your job as a teacher will not only be a lot easier a lot more rewarding so I
hope this helps all better to talk to you all and I will see you guys next
take care


  1. Thank you so much for this great video! It's very helpful to hear a detailed description of a class session and lesson planning. …Next week I will start with a new Businesses English coaching client, and it's great to have these tips in my mind ahead of time. I feel better prepared to make the most of the session. Any tips on how I can reduce my Teacher Talking Time? (I know it's one of my major struggles!) Thanks!!

  2. Great advice, thanks! I work in Spain and my adults are generally very talkative. However, I've been doing conversation classes online and it seems to be difficult for many of my students from Asian countries.

  3. God, conversation classes are the WORST! I try my best to start "debates", pick a topic, and split the group in two, pro and against. Ex: Public Transportation should be free: Yes or No? Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.

  4. Ben I'm curious to know your thoughts on the cheap TEFL/ TESOL certification programs offered on Groupon.

  5. Thanks for responding I need to make sure they are accredited before purchasing. They start at like $29 to $59.

  6. I want more videos like this Ben, so much good information and it is getting me excited. I have to wait but I have found out that I can volunteer at a refugee center in the city until I am able to go overseas. So thank you so much for all the amazing videos.

  7. OUTSTANDING! video. The absolute best one that I have seen you do. If I could only be half as good as you, I would be proud of myself.

  8. Teaching English at a Chinese University is taking an assumed position
    of a lecturer with more of an emphasis on a teacher's position without
    any teaching qualifications. It is a fast tracking way by the Chinese
    government to bring in foreigners with a basic University degree and
    throw them into some kind of half and half lecturing and teaching job so
    in that way the Chinese education administrations save money but
    provide some kind of a teacher that learns on the job. I have experience
    and I know how hard and challenging it can be to conscientiously assume
    the teaching role so if anyone wants to exchange lesson plans and/or
    collaborate contact me on: [email protected] Hopefully we can
    make our teaching experience more conscientious and smooth. Cheers.

  9. Thank you so much. This is so helpful. I teach a conversation course for beginners (over 30). The thing is I have only 6 students to teach, for 2 hours!! So I'm basically going to try all the things you mentioned. Thanks again.

  10. Good tips Mr Ben. But my question is that, whereby you have these sets of students that needs explanations of every English words you presents, what would you do? they would need you to say every word in both English and Chinese language.

  11. Awesome advice! I teach online and will use some of these tips. The company I work for is hiring, check it out if you are looking for an online ESL job. Thanks Ben!

  12. Great video, Ben, thank you. I have not yet gotten my TEFL certificate but I am a parent. If you are teaching adult students and don't have a topic, remember that all parents are proud of their children and love to brag about them.

  13. Thank you for this. I was freaking out thinking what I was going to do with a group of adults. Now I have an idea.

  14. Many times I have them tell me about their day (before or after class) then pick something out of their answer to use as the next stepping off topic.

  15. Hi there Ben. I stumbled across this amazing discovery of a channel and I would love to get your advice. I am moving to inner Mongolia next month ,to teach at a private English school. I have a degree and TEFL but no teaching experience.

    This makes me nervous. I feel like I'm going to walk in there and have no idea what to do next.

    Could you please do a video on the first time meeting your students? I would really appreciate it.

    Thank you in advance. 😃

  16. oh my lanta, I'm so happy I found this video. This is the first video of yours I watched. I have since gone back and am making my way through each one in order. I'm about halfway through!
    I am going into an ESL gig next week with no certification or experience and need to plan 3-hour lessons for at least 12 days with 1-2 hours worth of homework each night. I have no idea what I'm doing. My only experience to go off is teaching flow as a preschool teacher for a couple years. I'm definitely going to do a lot of stretching of the material I can find before next week. Do you have any suggestions on a weekly writing project that we can work on in class and on their own time to present it at the end of the week? One of my students has understandable English probably towards upper intermediate level but the other I have not interacted with yet.

  17. What a great teacher you are, mister! Thanks for the interesting and surely beneficial ideas. I'm gonna definitely try them out. I guess that asking the students to decide the topics off a list will work with one-to-one classes, too, because it puts the student in charge of his/her own learning and keeps things in order for the teacher as well.

  18. Man, you presented that so well. I could seriously learn from you. You've got a new subscriber 😀
    Actually, planning course material is a thorn in my side. I really suck at it. Thank heavens for online resources! I actually LOVE Off2Class, and use it for most of my online Skype lessons –

  19. Thank you Ben, you have a lot of streets's smarts (tefl streets, I ment)…..I am looking forward to use them. Where are you teaching?

  20. I have been teaching English conversation and listening skills for over 5 years. You need the ability to size up your student (his or her character, age etc…) based on your student, use the correct topics and materials.

  21. I really liked the video. Thanks. Can u post some more videos on conversation ideas. I suck at conversation and did everything to not to suck but dont know what to do exactly.

  22. Ben, that was simply sweet. It broadens my horizon as I start my first conversation teaching in a totally Un-English area. Thanks


  24. Hey man this video helped me a lot, I am a teacher of english conversation in Iraq I have a class of 30 to 40 students, and you just gave me the best kind advices I really appreciate everything you said, and I was wondering if I could email you so that you can understand the sort of trouble I am facing ?
    You have been a great help already thank you very much.

  25. Your inspiring Ben, I feel I could actually be a good teacher with great techniques like this and get a buzz at the end of the day knowing I helped those students learn in a rewarding way. Wow. Thanks man!

  26. Hi Ben..I will be taking a conversation class for a japanese adult for the first time and seeing this video was a blessing in disguise. It did help me to get an idea of how to start off but I want to know what more can I do ? I do not have a group but will be taking one student for a 60 minute conversational class.

  27. Damn man, you are a life saver. I've somehow missed this video before, and I've got a conversation class with a student today (first class with him) and since his English is quite basic I was at a loss on what to do (all of my other conversation classes have been with B2 or C1 students). So I get on Youtube and BAM! This video is suggested. THANK YOU!

  28. Great tips. You have a unique perspective on teaching and very straightforward. I'm very inspired by your videos!

  29. Thank you so much Ben, I just started teaching in China for my first real job out of college and I’ve been struggling to find stuff to talk about, but this is definitely going to help out! Thank you very much bro, appreciate the help 🤙🏾🤙🏾

  30. Very much appreciated! Thank you for the tips! My father asked me to teach english to his team/subordinates. I'm 19 yo college student, not in anyway certified as an english teacher. I do not even have perfect english (its our 2nd language). I've been teaching for 4 meetings and it was horrible. I'm going to try your method. Thank you so much.

  31. ?? What??If you cannot adequately interest your class in conversation, you have not had proper training as a teacher. I've been an English teacher and administrator for twenty years, and the topics of conversation available to any class is inexhaustible. This should be your last concern..Do a dictation, use TPR, or some form of kinesthetic learning, use realia. (I once did a 2 hour class using a hot wheels toy I found in the park)..And with a properly constructed class, using gaps, intonation practice, etc. , your students will be interested no matter the topic.

  32. Yea.. I want to do this but I have a great personality but I don't know how i feel about Teaching esl online. I like teaching in person better. I taught ESL for 2 1/2 years and love teaching. worked with kids for a total of 7 years. Tried looking into VIPKID but it seemed too over the top for me.

  33. Hi I have just discovered your videos. I listen to them while working on my laptop. I find them interesting. I do most of things but it is good to hear about your view point. I give classes from 6 year olds to 14 /15 years. I cant get teenagers to talk about their B1 topics. If I talk about the few things they like it is ok. They like listening to my stories but i shouldnt talk so much. Well i hope you can give me a few pointers. Thanks

  34. As a teacher you need to do more activities than that. There is more things to do than just writing answers to questions.

  35. I m going to MLC colg missisauga bcz of low band scores I have to attend ESL classes… But I m nervous …can I clear my ESL course by going over there??? plz plz plz tell me sir ??

  36. This is the 1st time I will be teaching conversation to intermediate group. You are great! Are these steps written down anywhere? I need help!

  37. When I had conversation or debate classes with young adults or middle school students I was surprised at how knowledgeable the students were about environmental topics and the level of concern they had for these issues. It's a topic that can be easily expanded upon since there are so many sub-issues to discuss. Much better than talking about, "Can you eat spicy food?" anyway, lol.

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