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  • timothyhampson 10:30 am on December 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Conversation,   

    English Expo 2014 Preview 

    I’m really sure that I read somewhere that starting a blog post with a bunch of excuses about why you haven’t blogged in ages is really boring. That said I’m sorry for not blogging in ages, this time it is sort of interesting why (to me at least).

    Next Saturday (the 13th) KOTESOL are having a conference at the English Expo in COEX. I’m going to be giving my very first conference workshop there. The theme of the conference is all about questions. It’s a really good topic and I was very interested to see all of the different directions the presenters have taken on it.

    Just before my talk, Mike Griffin will be looking at Scott Thornbury’s ‘Big Questions in ELT’. Mike is one of my favourite ELT bloggers and it seems he’s gathered an Avengersesque team of other ELT superbloggers to help him out. I’m really excited for it.

    I’m going to be looking at how to encourage autonomous questioning. It’s been quite difficult to do. I had a plan but I’ve rewritten it; A talk on autonomous questioning probably ought to have lots of chances for people to ask lots of autonomous questions in it. I’ve tried to work in lots of opportunities for that to happen and will try and organise a twitter chat for afterwards so people can continue to ask and answer questions.

    This is a preview so I’ve attached one of the resources from the workshop below. It’s a set of question frame cards that can be used for conversations in the classroom. There are a few different ways to use them but I’ll leave it to you to, if you’re interested and you have some free class time, see what you can do with them.

    Question cards

    • mikecorea 8:30 am on December 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I am looking forward to your presentation, Tim.
      Thanks for the kind words! It should be a fun day.

      Best of luck and I am sure you will not need it. 🙂


  • timothyhampson 1:00 am on October 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Conversation,   

    Conversation classes that don’t suck 

    At my school they’re called ‘free talking’ classes, but I’m sure some schools call them ‘conversation class’ or something similar. I really dreaded these when I started teaching and I sometimes still do. There’s something difficult about having too much freedom in the classroom, however it’s also very freeing. Some of my best and worst lessons have happened in free talking class, because I’ve tried out new things and they’ve either worked or gone terribly. I wanted to share a few thoughts from these classes in case anyone else teaches a similar class. This post is mostly about my middle school students but some of it will apply to other ages too.

    Have a focus

    I’m a big Dogme fan and I try to incorporate Dogme moments as often as possible. I still find it really useful to go with a really clear list of interesting questions centred around a grammar point or theme. Middle schoolers can be masters of the one word answer when they feel like it (I can’t say I was much different in my day), and so going in with an expectation that you’ll just elicit an interesting topic might be naive. The thing about having a plan is that you can abandon it at any moment if you have a better idea. A lot of the time you’ll still be able to pick up where you left off some other time. Personally having a plan makes me more comfortable following up something interesting: I know I can follow anything interesting and I’ve still got a safety net there.

    Be human


    Anywhere in the world pupils might feel a little awkward about talking to their teacher, but this is maybe more the case in Korea than many other places (Mike Griffin writes here more about this). It seems like the expectation is that the teacher will make most of the contributions and the students will absorb them. This might be fine for lots of subjects but for conversation to happen the students need to be making contributions. It took me time to overcome these preconceptions of what should be happening in the classroom; a big part of that was letting my pupils get to know me. A few glances at my mistake ridden Korean diary and some mildly embarrassing stories managed to persuade them I’m not just not a fount of knowledge. This has broken down the teacher-student barrier a bit and made them more happy to be forthcoming with their conversation.

    Be interested

    “What did you do last weekend?”

    “I told you on Friday I will visit my grandmother’s house”

    This conversation happened a few weeks ago and made me feel really bad, I’d completely forgotten. ‘What did you do last weekend?’ is one of my go-to questions for the start of class, but I asking a question a lot doesn’t excuse not paying lots of attention. Why would students tell me things if they think I’ll forget the answer?

    The flip side is that remembering little things about pupils makes them feel like their contributions are valuable. A new dog cafe opened in town recently. When I told one of my girls, who loves dogs, about it we had a really good conversation about the cafe, then dogs, then our town and then ways to spend pocket-money.

    Be interesting

    It’s really difficult to be interesting all of the time and some of this will be trial and error, but it’s much easier to talk about interesting things. If you’re using a list of questions, make sure the questions are interesting too. I’d recommend re-using topics that have worked before: it’s not too hard to put a different spin on things and it’s doubtful that you’ll have said everything that could be said. It’s hard to say what would work well in other classes but some topics that worked for me are:

    • Food (the mother lode of conversation topics)
    • Animals
    • Manners
    • Travel (remember your students might not be well-travelled and might be embarrassed about this, keep it local)
    • How would your life have been different if you lived ____ years ago? (especially interesting given Korea’s rapid development.)
    • Sport
    • Gaming
    • Music (dangerous because Korean kids are prone to be really mean about your favourite band if you play them something.)

    Follow up questions

    Finally, if pupils get good at asking follow-up questions, they’ll naturally extend conversations they have. If you get them to a place where they’re confident doing this*, they’ll need less and less in terms of lists of input for the teacher and will naturally steer the conversation onto topics they really care about.

  • timothyhampson 11:14 am on September 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Book Review, Conversation   

    Book review: Conversation Strategies & Discussion Strategies. 

    One of the things that’s possibly more difficult about teaching English in Korea compared to other places is having normal flowing, ‘shooting the breeze’ type conversations. I’ve tried lots of different things to try and improve this in my school including buying this book and it’s companion ‘Discussion Strategies’ by David Kehe and Peggy Kehe:


    The two books cover similar material but the Conversation Strategies one is a bit easier. I’d say Conversation Strategies is intermediate to post-intermediate level while Discussion Strategies is solidly post intermediate. They work on conversation skills like asking for more information, follow up questions, clarifications, and keeping up or killing conversations.


    + The book covers things that I haven’t seen in other textbooks. I never realised that my pupils didn’t know how to say “Could you say that again please?” until I taught this book.

    + The production stages for each chapter seem particularly well done. A neat touch is that questions will often have a key word blanked out so that the pupils can make the questions interesting to them. E.g. ‘Do you think you’ll _______________________ within the next five days?’ could be made into all sorts of questions.

    + The lessons fit really nicely into my 40-50 minute classes.

    + There are lots of interesting questions so lots of talking happens. It’s really fun.


    • This book is more of a companion book than a new course. The pupils will learn some useful things but it teaches a niche area.
    • It looks really boring, it shouldn’t be important but it’s nice to have a book that’s visually engaging for pupils.
    • It’s quite skittish and jumps around to different topics. What I’ve ended up doing is teaching the easier chapter in Conversation Strategies and then finding the harder version in Discussion Strategies and teaching that. If I didn’t I don’t think we would be able to practice enough.

    Conclusion and links
    On the whole I’d really reccomend this book if you’re looking to help your pupils have better conversations. I’d give it a 4.5/5.

    You can find more information and a sample chapter here.

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