Conversation Drills

I mentioned conversation drills in my first post on my trouble group. I thought I’d explain them here.

The drill

The teacher walks into the classroom. Or, more frequently, the teacher is in the classroom, laughing with the students in German and suddenly it’s time for class to start. The teacher says the most ridiculous thing: “William, what is your name?”

The class laughs, but William answers. “My name is William.”

In some versions of the drill, the teacher writes ‘name’ on the board. Then, the teacher asks “where are you from?”

“I am from Dresden.” William answers.

The teacher is also from Dresden, but he asks. “Dresden? Is that in France?” Maybe the teacher writes ‘hometown’ on the board.

“No, it’s a city in Germany. In the east of Germany.” William answers.

The conversation continues for a few more questions. Advanced students like to tease the teacher by adding “and you?” at the end of their answers. Others begin writing the sentences that they’ll need for this conversation down. (Especially if spelling is a part.)

Then, when the conversation has covered everything, the teacher says “Great! William, now you ask Andrea!” And the whole thing continues. If William forgets to ask Andrea where she’s from, the teacher can point to the word ‘hometown’ on the board.

Students make mistakes. That’s okay. Everyone knows the answers when the other students are speaking, but when they’re in the spotlight, they choke up. That’s fine.

As the drill continues, everyone has a turn. If students are getting bored — if they can cover more material — the teacher can change up the conversation after half of them have been through it.

Why drill like this?

This is a drill that fits into my concept that English is a circle. It gets students into the circle, and gives them a chance for a feeling of success. The school where I do most of my teaching now has an emphasis on speaking, and I routinely get students who learned English somewhere else and can explain the grammar and pass a vocabulary quiz, but who just can’t speak.

Starting with a few basic sentences — or, if your students speak better, a few basic structures — and drilling them gives them a chance to “make a switch in their heads” (student wording, not my own) and to relax into the feeling of “people around me are speaking English. I understand them.” If they’re lucky, they’ll even get to the point where they understand even a few things without translating in their minds.

My sense is that the adults I teach come to me already convinced that they are too old to learn a language. Giving them the opportunity to feel successful in even a small way is a great way to start the lesson on a positive note.

Further, it’s part of my continuing campaign to make the English lesson a place that people want to come to. After all, after a long day at work, they could just as easily decide that they’re ‘too tired’ for a lesson and text me they’re busy. But, miss one lesson and you’re afraid of the next.

Beginning with a feeling of success — for some people, I think, the only time in the day they get to feel they’re good at something — makes the English lesson they can look forward to, even if they’re tired.

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