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Compelling Conversations for English Teachers, Tutors, and Advanced English Language Learners

  1. Creating Simple ESL Lesson Plans Around Top Ten Lists for Advanced English Classes

    July 1, 2014 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth

    Advanced ESL/EFL classes benefit from making top ten lists

    “Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.”

    ―Tenzin Gyatso (1950-) 14th Dalai Lama

    Americans love to create, read, and discuss top ten lists. Newspapers and magazines use the simple format to summarize large chunks of information in a friendly, easily digestible manner. Year-end issues often expand the technique to create “100 best,” “top ten” or “ten most” lists. Naturally, many English teachers also use this format in their classrooms to express ideas and create discussions.

    Sometimes, however, students will simply create a list without providing clear reasons as to how the material is linked together. In order to emphasize the need to clearly share information and exchange insights, I often ask the students to compile a “top ten tips” on how to do something. This twist also invites a wider range of discussion topics from the practical to more philosophical, and shows respect for both the students’ knowledge and interests.

    You can ask students for their top ten tips for:
    choosing a school?
    saving money?
    staying healthy and happy?
    making and keeping friends?
    avoiding boredom and finding satisfaction?
    getting good grades?
    learning English?
    traveling to a new city/country?

    Break students into groups of 3-4. Give them 20 minutes to come up their top ten tips on a given topic. Ask them to provide at least one reason and/or example for each answer, and have them agree on a final order. During the discussions, students will use common phrases like “this is better,” “I disagree because…” or “what do you think?”

    What does the teacher do during this time? Circle around, listen in and pass out different colors of chalk for each group. I ask more questions than I answer at this stage. Toward the end of the 20 minutes, I have each group select a student to write the group’s “top ten tips” on the board.
    The instructor goes through the list, asking questions – both soft and hard, and engages student groups. Finally, after the instructor leads discussion, the entire class votes on which tips, of those on the top ten lists, are most helpful. This additional democratic element takes only a few minutes, and encourages students to participate and clearly display their opinions.

    This flexible, communicative activity can be constantly used to create engaging, lively classroom conversations. Students enjoy sharing information, telling stories while providing examples and helping each other make sense of an often strange land where people speak a strange language. By giving students a chance to offer advice, you also get to learn as you teach!

    What top ten lists will your students create?

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  2. Reading Pleasures and Conversation Starters

    September 11, 2009 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth

    A new semester begins, new students enter our classes, and returning colleagues greet us. What can talk about that will go beyond the work-related activities?

    Books.

    Teachers, especially English teachers, love to talk about their summer reading. Reading remains a cheap pleasure and an excellent conversation starter.

    * Can you recommend a good book?
    * What did you this summer?
    * What are reading these days – besides student papers?

    Books and ideas still matter in our 21st century global culture of blogs, especially for starting conversations. Discussing books, sharing ideas, and exchanging tips helps elevate casual office chit-chat into more satisfying verbal exchanges.

    In the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed several satisfying conversations with my teaching colleagues – and a few more memorable conversations with strangers about books. How?

    I looked around, noted the reading choices of folks, and asked a friendly question.

    • Is that a good book?
    • How did you choose that book?
    • Can you recommend a good book?

    Likewise, talking about books and reading pleasures gives us new information about our world – and insights into our friends and students. For longer, better conversations, you can ask the following questions:

    • What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
    • Who is your favorite author, anyway?
    * How have your reading habits changed?
    • Are you still reading Alain de Botton?
    * What are you reading these days?

    If you have time to listen, the answers might surprise you.

    Our English students also enjoy talking about their favorite books and reading experiences. Here’s a link to a conversation lesson that I’ve had success with in high intermediate and advanced ESL/EFL classes.
    http://compellingconversations.com/pdf/reading_pleasures.pdf

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  3. What do you look for in an apartment?

    June 11, 2009 by Chimayo Press
    Chimayo Press

    What do you look for in an apartment? How do you turn a physical space into a home?

    Everybody lives somewhere. Yet, as we know, not all homes are created equal – especially in the developing world with vast inequalities. Since I don’t speak the local language in Ho Chi Minh City, I have become far more reliant on fellow English teachers, co-workers, new friends, and real estate experts than usual in finding housing.

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    So following my philosophy of seeking information through conversation, I’ve been asking many Vietnamese for advice as I hunt for a new apartment. Here are some useful questions.

    – What districts/neighborhoods do you suggest? Why?

    - What seems like a reasonable price for a two-bedroom?

    – Can I walk around at night?

    – Is the area safe?

    – Should I pay in dollars or Vietnamese Dong? Why?

    – What do you look for in an apartment? Why?

    – Do you have a checklist of essential services? What’s on that checklist?

    These last questions, by far, have lead to the most interesting conversations. One young office assistant instantly blurted out “money!” emphasizing the importance of price in her decision. Another young assistant focused on “privacy” and warned against renting a room with a family. “What if you come back late at night? Will they give you a key? Will they say you make too much noise?” She proceeded to share some personal stories emphasizing the advantages of a private apartment. Note: she lives with her cousin now and can’t imagine living with her nuclear family or non-relatives. Interesting.

    A rental agent offered some other advice. “You can change a home, but you can’t change a neighborhood so you choose the neighborhood first.” This agent, a friendly upworldly, mobile woman felt safety, quiet, and the comfort of living with international workers and “high class people”  were most important.  I agreed about safety, but observed that not all wealthy people were good people. “Yes, but they safe.”  I later noted the luxury hi-rise seemed quite quiet. “Are you afraid of quiet?” she asked in surprise.  In noisy Saigon, the idea seemed absurd. The sales agent asserted that this building complex is Vietnam’s future.

    Given the humidity and tropical heat, air-conditioning remains a must too. Cable television, providing access to international channels and English language programs from around the world and adequate internet cable access have become defacto requirements too. These modern luxuries were added to my actual housing checklist as I visited more potential homes away from home.

    I also like space and often miss the view from my father’s New York fantastic apartment.  So I’ve retained a soft spot for terraces overlooking urban areas. The hi-rise resembles Century City skyscraper in a crowded neighborhood of “traditional” buildings with narrow streets. The second apartment that I saw in the hi-rise offers magnificent views and a warm breeze. The attractive price remains only 10% of my monthly salary. I took the apartment. The place evokes, in an odd sense, a familiar feeling. This could become my home away from home.

    What do you look for in an apartment?

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    “They know enough who know how to learn.”

    - Henry Adams (1838-1918), American historian and educator


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  4. Are you prepared? Are you ready? Aren’t you nervous?

    May 23, 2009 by Chimayo Press
    Chimayo Press

    During the last hectic week of international travel and professional development presentations, I’ve been heard a few simple questions over and over.

    • Are you ready?
    • Are you prepared?
    • Aren’t you nervous?
    • Do you have enough time to do that?
    • When are you going to sleep?

    Friends – and close relatives – ask these questions out of concern and curiosity.  I appreciate their questions and enjoy our discussions.  My confidence can lead me to underestimate the difficulty of  projects, tasks, and chores. I should manage time better, probably reduce my commitments, and prioritize more. Yet that’s easier said than done when pursuing multiple projects and working with people on different continents. I also like my work, and appreciate new challenges.  And I can draw on a considerable amount of experience as a  world traveler and English teacher. Despite approaching deadlines, I tend to feel strangely comfortable.

    For instance, this week I left Los Angeles to begin a new position creating a Practical and Academic English program in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Packing for a ten-week summer trip takes considerable time. So does writing up detailed course descriptions, planning professional development workshops, and writing a high school graduation speech. Tracking Compelling Conversations book orders, planning website and blog changes, and interviewing ESL/EFL teachers also takes time. So sleep becomes a lower priority and friends keep asking those few simple, reasonable questions.

    They are good questions and fine conversation starters too. In our often-hectic world, many people make the same “good mistakes” as me. As a result, these simple questions seem about time management seem timeless. English teachers can – and I’d suggest should – introduce these practical questions to their students. Business English teachers and workplace instructors, of course, frequently include entire lessons to personal time management skills. Letting students ask these questions and interview each other will also lead to interesting classroom conversations.

    By the way,  despite my last minute style, I was actually quite prepared. I quickly packed, arrived safely in Vietnam and lead an engaging workshop on creating autotelic materials for EFL students.  Experience and expertise help – even on limited sleep!

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  5. Teaching Interview Skills Vital for Adult ESL, University Students

    February 16, 2009 by Chimayo Press
    Chimayo Press

    How can English teachers encourage adult and university students to expand their language skills and improve their employment opportunities in a difficult economic climate?

    Personally, I’ve slightly modified my oral skills course this semester to provide greater emphasis on interviewing skills. Students interviewed each other for 10-15 minute videotaped mock job interviews for their first assignment.

    The use of videotaping students in class has gained far more acceptance in the last few years, partly due to the technological advances. OTAN, the adult education website established by the California Department of Education, even created an entire section devoted to using videotapes and videocameras in the adult ESL classes.

    Another factor has been the increasing popularity of YouTube videoclips by students seeking practical information. I’ve combined those two trends by requiring students to find and review YouTube clips on vital employment skills and speaking skills. Students found and reviewed videoclips, and emailed them in as homework. Afterwards, I combined all the student evaluations into a single email that I sent to the entire class with a few editorial comments and minor editing.

    Here is the homework sheet for that assignment. As with the reviews, “use or lose.”

    Getting Job Interview Advice from YouTube!

    Student Name:
    Class:
    Teacher:
    School:
    Date:

    Please find an YouTube videoclip that helps people successfully interview for jobs – in English – that you would like to share with your classmates. Watch the video, take notes, and review it for your classmates.

    Video title:
    Web address:
    Length:
    Creator:

    Please describe the video.

    What interview tips did the video provide?

    Where do you think the video was produced? Why?

    How practical did you find the advice? Why?

    What was the strongest part? Why?

    What was the weakest part? Why?

    Who do think is the target audience for this video?

    Why did you choose this video?

    How would you rate this video 1-5 stars? Why?
    ————————————————

    This simple worksheet combines research, critical thinking, and language skills. As English teachers, we can use simple technology to help English language learners develop their language skills, especially when they are motivated to learn and search out new sources. Instead of dismissing YouTube searching as a waste of time, let’s turn their interests into productive learning opportunities and share insights. After all, employment interviews often serve as a real-world language tests for our ESL students.

    Let’s make sure we give them the tools to pass those crucial tests.

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  6. Do you match? How do you know? Bringing Realism to Relationship discussions in ESL Classrooms

    February 14, 2009 by Chimayo Press
    Chimayo Press

    Are you romantically involved? Do you match your partner? How do you know? Who will you choose to share your life with? Are you considering marriage? Are you already married? Use these questions as a springboard to reflect on your options, choices, and desires on this Valentine’s Day.

    Here is chapter #33 from Compelling Conversations that many friends have told me is better for native speakers than English language learners or ESL classrooms. Perhaps they are right. On the other hand, I’ve had great conversations in my adult ESL and college ESL classes using this chapter too.

    As both a happily married man of 14 years and the child of divorced parents, these questions seem like smart questions to ask – even for romantics on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps especially on Valentine’s Day when the official propaganda of “love will conquer all” seems so pervasive. So whether English teachers ask themselves, their partner, or their students these questions, I’d like to share this list on my blog tonight.

    I’m also including a short videoclip from Discovery News that I found quite interesting on the origins of kissing and how that satisfying activity is believed to have spread around the globe. Enjoy!

    The Skinny on Smooching from Discovery News

    1. Why do (did) you want to get married?
    2. Do (did) you have a checklist of qualities for a potential spouse?
    3. What are the three main qualifications on your checklist? Partner?
    Provider? Lover? Friend?
    4. When did you fall in love? Did one person fall first? Who?
    5. How did you know your lover was the one? How did your thinking
    evolve?
    6. Did you ever have moments of doubt? How did your thinking evolve?
    7. Do you think people should live together before they get married?
    Why? Can you share some examples?
    8. Are sex, love and marriage linked in your mind, or is each separate?
    How are they different?
    9. What are some endearing qualities of your companion?
    10. Do you like your partner’s friends? Do you respect them? Why?
    11. What advice have your parents and close friends given you? Your
    extended family? How important is their opinion in your decision? Why?
    12. Do you think you are marrying only an individual or are you also
    marrying your spouse’s family? How would you describe your
    potential in-laws?
    13. What does your partner do that annoys you?
    14. Do you expect to be the pilot, co-pilot, or passenger in the
    marriage? Why?
    15. What, if anything, would definitely cause you to divorce? Why?

    Q U E S T I O N S A N D Q U OTAT I O N S O N T I M E L E S S TO P I C S • 1 0 5
    V O C A B U L A R Y
    Review these words and expressions. Circle the words that you know.
    potential ……………………………………………………………………………………….
    neat freak ……………………………………………………………………………………..
    spouse …………………………………………………………………………………………..
    nupital ………………………………………………………………………………………….
    conflicts ………………………………………………………………………………………..
    checklist ………………………………………………………………………………………..
    resolve ………………………………………………………………………………………….
    pre-nuptial ……………………………………………………………………………………
    compatible ……………………………………………………………………………………
    pack rat ………………………………………………………………………………………..
    justify ……………………………………………………………………………………………
    evolve …………………………………………………………………………………………..

    P R O V E R B S
    What do these proverbs mean? Can you share some other proverbs?
    The needle is always accompanied by the thread.—Korean
    Strange is the affinity that binds two in marriage.—Japanese
    Whoever marries only for beauty will live in misery.—Russian

    T H E C O N V E R S A T I O N C O N T I N U E S …
    1. Thinking about personal preferences, do you like to stay up late or
    get up early? Do you have compatible sleeping habits?
    2. Do you have similar media habits? What about tastes in TV shows
    and movies?
    3. Where do you prefer to live? Country? City? Farm? Apartment?
    House?
    4. Are you a pack rat? Are you a neat freak? Are your styles
    compatible?
    5. Will you still love your partner when he or she is 64? Will your
    partner love you with wrinkles?
    6. Do you know an older couple that might be a model for a good
    partnership? Who are they?
    7. What activities do you enjoy in your leisure time? Will your spouse
    join you?
    8. Do you and your lover share spending philosophies? Do you shop
    together?
    9. Do you expect to live with older generations? Who? Why? Where?
    When?
    10. What is your approach to settling conflicts? How often do you have
    conflicts?
    11. Do you want children? How many?
    N O T E S & Q U E S T I O N S
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    1 0 6 • w w w. c o m p e l l i n g c o n v e r s a t i o n s . c o m

    12. Do you believe in birth control? Why?
    13. How do you think your baby would look like? Why?
    14. What kind of parent do you expect your spouse to become? Why?
    15. Would you want your sons to be like the man you’re marrying?
    Would you want your daughters to be like the woman you’re
    marrying?
    16. Do you expect to follow family or religious traditions? Which ones?
    Why?
    17. If disagreements arise about children, how do you expect to
    resolve them?
    18. Do you think all money should be shared or should each spouse
    have separate bank accounts? Why? How do you expect to
    manage household expenses?
    19. What were the best gifts that you’ve given or received in the
    relationship?
    20. What passions do you share? What unites you as a couple?
    21. Do you have a favorite photograph of you as a couple? Can you
    describe it?
    22. Where do you want to travel together? What do you want to see
    together?
    23. What are you looking forward to doing together as a married
    couple?
    24. How do you expect your life to change once you are married?
    What are some advantages of being married?
    25. Do you have any tips or suggestions on how to create and preserve
    a happy marriage?

    Q U O T A T I O N S
    Which two quotations come closest to your attitudes?
    1. “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy;
    if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”
    —Socrates (470-339 BC), Greek philosopher
    2. “Man’s best possession is a sympathetic wife.”
    —Euripides (480-406 BC), playwright
    3. “I’m so gullible. I’m so damn gullible. And I am so sick of being
    gullible.”
    —Lana Turner (1921-1995), Hollywood star married seven times
    4. “Love is the ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the
    real with the ideal never goes unpunished.”
    —Goethe (1749-1832), German poet, novelist, and scientist
    5. “Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an
    institution.”
    —Mae West (1892-1980), American actress
    7. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
    —Ali McGraw in Love Story (1970)

    “Love is the ideal thing, marriage a real
    thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal
    never goes unpunished.”
    Goethe (1749-1832),
    German poet, novelist, and scientist

    Q U E S T I O N S A N D Q U OTAT I O N S O N T I M E L E S S TO P I C S • 1 0 7

    8. “Marriage: A word that should be pronounced ‘mirage.’”
    —Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), English philosopher
    9. “No matter who you get married to, you wake up married to
    somebody else.”
    —Marlon Brando in Guys and Dolls (1955)
    10. “Second marriage: the triumph of hope over experience.”
    —Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), English writer
    11. “Marriage is a very good thing, but I think it’s a mistake to make a
    habit of it.”
    —W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), English novelist
    12. “A happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too
    short.”
    —Andre Maurois (1885-1967), French author
    13. “A successful marriage is not a gift; it is an achievement.”
    —Ann Landers (1918-2002), American advice columnist

    O N Y O U R O W N
    With your class partner, list three celebrity marriages that have ended in divorce. For each couple who divorced, list two reasons you think their marriage did not last.
    Then, list three marriages of well known people that have lasted
    more than 20 years. For each couple, list two reasons why you
    think their marriage lasted. Share with the class.
    1. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    2. …………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    3. …………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    1. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    2. …………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    3. …………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • . ……………………………………………………………………………………………….
    1 0 8 • w w w. c o m p e l l i n g c o n v e r s a t i o n s . c o m

    Ask more. Know more. Share more.
    Create Compelling Conversations.
    Visit www.CompellingConversations.com

    The Skinny on Smooching from Discovery News

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