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

  1. Conversation Tip #4: Carry a respectful tone

    October 11, 2014 by Eric
    Eric

    Jessica Lu, a first-year student at the University of Chicago, interned for Chimayo Press and the Compelling Conversations blog through the summer of 2014. Over the months, she has perused ESL textbooks, analyzed newspaper articles and tested out mobile apps, seeking out ways to inspire discussion. Each week the Compelling Conversations blog will publish one of her top 10 tips to create compelling conversations outside of the English classroom.

    Pair your words with a respectful tone

    conversation tip

    Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

    “Beautiful tone, beautiful heart.”
    -Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) Japanese violinist, creator of the “Suzuki Method”

    Proper tone is essential for the effective conversationalist and communicator, after all, having a good conversation seems unattainable without clear, mutual respect. A student’s conversation partner may find them impolite or insincere if the tone isn’t appropriate!

    Different situations also demand different tones. A happy occasion calls for enthusiasm while a sad one calls for sympathy. Using the appropriate tone lets the other person know that you’re paying attention and that you care about the conversation at hand.

    Tone also acts as a clear indicator of meaning, more so than words. For instance, carrying a sarcastic tone alerts the listener the statement should not be taken literally. Native English speakers especially tend to use sarcastic more frequently than what English language learners expect!

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    Photo Source: “Tennis shake hands after match” by kance – http://www.flickr.com/photos/kentmercurio/59629166/. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tennis_shake_hands_after_match.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Tennis_shake_hands_after_match.jpg

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  2. Conversation Tip #3: React appropriately

    October 4, 2014 by Eric
    Eric

    Jessica Lu, a first-year student at the University of Chicago, interned for Chimayo Press and the Compelling Conversations blog through the summer of 2014. Over the months, she has perused ESL textbooks, analyzed newspaper articles and tested out mobile apps, seeking out ways to inspire discussion. Each week the Compelling Conversations blog will publish one of her top 10 tips to create compelling conversations outside of the English classroom.

    Exude interest with body language and facial expressions

    conversation tip

    Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

    “The body never lies.”

    -Martha Graham (1894-1991) American modern dancer

    A conversation composed entirely of just words holds less meaning if there aren’t appropriate reactions and responses. Therefore, body language and facial expressions remain key, as both signal the way words are being absorbed.

    Facing toward the person is just the first step to giving the person full attention. Avoid crossing arms or swaying from side to side–as these movements create barriers that reflect indifference or boredom.

    Further, the face itself portrays our thoughts–remind your students to be aware that their expressions should be appropriate! For instance, an unchanging, unresponsive appearance creates an apathetic vibe even if their words reflect excitement.

    As always, consistent eye contact is crucial, even when walking and talking. Looking at the other person’s eyes conveys interest and therefore adds another layer of connection.

    How do your students react to one another during a conversation? What sort of body language and facial expressions do they use?

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    Photo Source: “VirgilGriffithFace” by Meng Weng Wong – Photo taken by Meng Weng Wong. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:VirgilGriffithFace.jpg#mediaviewer/File:VirgilGriffithFace.jpg

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  3. Paraphrasing is an Essential Conversation Skill!

    July 10, 2014 by Chimayo Press
    Chimayo Press

    Why English teachers should not overlook the importance of paraphrasing

    “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

    ―Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German physicist

    Paraphrasing matters in conversation too-especially when learning a new language!

    Experienced English teachers know that students must learn paraphrasing skills to complete academic writing assignments. Likewise paraphrasing remains a vital skill for English language learners to participate in college classrooms, everyday conversations, social situations and commercial transactions.

    The ability to re-phrase and re-state, usually called paraphrasing, allows English students to confirm information, accurately convey that information and avoid plagiarism problems when writing papers. As a result, paraphrasing is usually emphasized in English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) writing classes. Classes and teachers focusing on oral skills from academic presentations to simple conversations should also devote some attention to paraphrasing too.

    English language students, whether university or adult and young or old, must learn to confirm information by asking clarification questions. This critical skill, crucial to effective paraphrasing, will increase their ability to collect information, avoid costly mistakes and reduce their everyday stress level. It’s also impossible to accurately paraphrase a conversation if one is confused about the meaning. Some useful phrases for a listener to ask include:

    Are you saying…?
    Do you mean?
    What are you getting at?
    If I understand you correctly, you are saying …
    So you are saying… Right?
    Did I get that right?
    Speakers can also check to see if their group members and classmates understand their directions.
    Are you with me?
    Can you understand me?
    Was I going too fast?
    Should I rephrase that?
    Do you follow?
    Is that clear?
    Should I repeat the directions?
    Do you want me to repeat that?
    Would it be better for me to repeat that?
    Can I answer any questions?
    Is anybody lost?

    Asking advanced English students to repeat directions, in different words, can also be an effective group activity. The directions can be to a physical location (home, campus building, museum) or how to do something simple like finding a definition or sending an email. You can also extend the assignment by requesting detailed directions on a complicated procedure such as getting a driver’s license, applying for a visa or choosing a new laptop.

    Furthermore, you can ask students to share an autobiographical story. Student A tells a story, and Student B retells that story with different words to Student C. This paraphrasing exercise also helps build a larger, more practical vocabulary.

    Another teaching technique that I have found useful is asking students to paraphrase proverbs and quotations. This exercise, done in groups of two, often finishes with asking if students agree or disagree with the specific proverb or quotation. Of course, students have to give a reason and/or an example to support their answers. ESL tutors and English teachers lucky to have small classes can elaborate on this technique to match student interests.

    If English students can accurately paraphrase a reading, a radio segment, or a verbal statement, they can actively participate in common conversations and classroom discussions. Many English teachers underestimate the importance of this skill, and assume students understand it more than they might. Verbal paraphrasing activities allow both students and teachers to assess listening comprehension skills in a natural, authentic manner.

    Therefore, verbal paraphrasing deserves more attention in speaking activities – especially in high intermediate and advanced levels! Don’t you agree?

    What techniques or exercises do you use to improve paraphrasing skills?

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  4. Conversation Tip 5: What has pleasantly surprised you today?

    November 8, 2009 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth

    What pleasantly surprised you today?

    This question often causes people to pause, reflect, and change their dialogue. It gives us a chance to remember some moments of satisfaction, and reminds us that almost every day provides some unexpected moments. “What surprised you today” works too.

    But I prefer adding the “pleasantly” to counter dialogues that can run to the negative. This positive question opens up room in a conversation for people to express gratitude for what has gone right – even in a difficult day. We bump into friends while shopping, see a new plant or flower in the yard, read something odd on the internet, or receive an unexpected call. As the ancient Latin proverb goes, “expect the unexpected.” Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

    What has pleasantly surprised you today? English teachers can use this question as a writing cue, during student-teacher conferences, or with co-workers. Students, especially at more competitive schools, can often feel great stress. Asking students about what is going right in their lives can help them focusing only on the negative. In fact, almost every one can use a gentle nudge toward away from stress and toward gratitude.

    So what pleasantly surprised me today? I noticed a new review for Compelling Conversations on Amazon written from Europe. A satisfied customer in Milan, Italy – Siano Luigi “EMY” called Compelling Conversations “a great help!”. This English teacher and private tutor wrote, “I find this book to be a great help for conversation lessons. It’s full of questions/tips/quotes that help students to discuss together, in group or individually on all kinds of different topics.” Given my limited distribution globally, this warm review from far away counts as a pleasant surprise!

    Gratitude, as ever, seems appropriate. Finding ways to increase our gratitude for our 21st lives makes emotional sense. Asking this simple question is my fifth conversation tip. Help build gratitude, and create better conversations.

    What has pleasantly surprised you today?

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  5. Conversation tip #15: Seek to Understand

    August 23, 2008 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth


    Seek to Understand

    Have you ever seen two emotional people talk past each other? Both talk and neither listen. Both want to tell the other, and don’t want to hear – or understand – what the other person is saying. This happens too often in stressful workplaces.

    Stephen Covey, author of the international bestseller called “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, advises people “to seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Following this traditional wisdom can improve workplace relationships and communication.

    What are some techniques that can help understand other people? Here are some tips:

    • Listen first and avoid interrupting.
    • Pause before speaking.
    • Look people in the eye.
    • Be curious.
    • Ask “what” and “how” questions to get more information.
    • Keep the voice down. Stay calm. Talk slow.
    • Repeat or rephrase what people say to avoid misunderstandings.

    What are some other tips to avoid misunderstandings or conflicts at work?

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    What are some advantages of staying calm at work?

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  6. Conversation tip #14: Ask a question

    August 10, 2008 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth

    “Do you want to know how to start a conversation? Ask a question, and listen.”

    Robert Bly (1926- ),  American poet and activist

    That’s not a bad starting point, is it?

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