Taking the Time to Get Started
From my personal experience, students often like to have a few minutes by themselves to chat with each other. This is especially important at the very beginning of the classes for class management. If students are given some time to get to know each other, they will feel more comfortable in participating in class and everyone will benefit from this.
You may want to launch into the lesson right away, but not allowing time for student chit-chat might generate a lot of problems in the future. If the students are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with each other, they might refuse to participate or bond in other negative ways, like joining forces against the teacher as a way to develop some sort of relationship with each other.
This is why taking some time of your class to develop a good learning atmosphere will be well worth it in the future. Besides, it’s a good way to get to know the students and it’s quite fun. If your students are having a hard time naturally chatting, there are a couple methods you can use to speed the process.
I like to use this method because it doesn’t require a lot of time to prepare and it’s fairly easy and simple to use in the classroom. I would recommend going to class a bit earlier to do this. Students will get bored if you write the instructions on the board, so it’s better to have everything set up by the time they get there.
Write down numbers one to five on the board. Then write a question next to each number except for number 5 which is left blank. These are questions students will ask each other at the beginning of the class. I write down the first four questions and leave it up to the students to choose their own fifth question to ask to other students.
When the students arrive in class, ask them to choose a partner to ask and answer questions. There’s no need for the students to write down the questions, as they are already on the board. Simply ask them to answer the questions you have written and to choose one of their own for the last (the fifth) one. If you have an extra student, simply do the interview with him or her.
Make sure to use open-ended questions as much as possible. Try to avoid questions which can be answered by yes or no as it doesn’t allow the students to practice their English and the activity will be over too quickly.
You also might want to let the students have more freedom in asking their own questions. Depending on your class, write fewer of your own questions and let them pick more of their own. This might work better with more advanced students.
Finally, I generally ask the students to write down each other’s answers. I find that it’s a good opportunity to keep track of their understanding of grammar, as well as their ability to spell. If you find it too troublesome, feel free to keep the activity strictly oral.
Here is a list of 20 ESL conversation questions to choose from:
1. What is your favorite color?
2. What is your favorite animal, why?
3. What is your favorite food?
4. What kind of sports do you like?
5. What is your favorite movie? Why?
6. What is your favorite book? Why?
7. Are you for or against school uniforms? (advanced)
8. How are you today? Why?
9. How were you yesterday? Why?
10. How was your week?
11. What did you do yesterday?
12. What will you do after class?
13. Do you like English? Why? (I like to ask this question in the first few classes. Students are generally honest with each other and then it’s easy to identify the students who are really interested from the students who are forced to be there).
14. Do you like your hometown? What do you like most about it?
15. Do you prefer large cities or small towns? Why?
16. Which country would you like to travel to in the future? Why?
17. What kind of job would you like to do in the future? Why?
18. If you had a lot of money, what would you do?
19. If you had three wishes, what would you do?
20. What is your favorite season, why?
As for the rest of the questions, it is up to you to determine which kind of questions you would like your students to ask to each other. I would recommend having them ask questions related to the topic you are going to teach in class. For example, if you are going to teach new vocabulary about sports, try to formulate questions related to sports.
Keep in mind that some students will choose not to do this for some reason or another. I usually focus on the teams who try to do the exercise. I also provide some help to the teams which are not doing their tasks. More often then not, it’s not out of laziness that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to, but rather because they have some difficulty, or don’t understand what they have to do.
When the students are done asking their questions, they come and show me their notebook where they have written down their partner’s question. I would then give them some points on the board or some stickers depending on the age of the students.
I hope this little activity will help getting your classes started. If you use the activity often enough, students will get used to do and will jump right into it at the beginning of the classes.