HomeApplied Linguistics3-Step Guide: Teaching Conversation to Beginners from Day One

3-Step Guide: Teaching Conversation to Beginners from Day One




School childrenBefore ever working as an English instructor, I taught dance for many years. Getting dancers to remember the steps is a task typically met with varying degrees of success and frustration! My perception changed after taking a master class with a choreographer whom I admired greatly. Not only were the movements taught in a fun and fluid way, students of all ages caught on immediately and had the routine memorized and performed fully by the end of the hour-long class. The secret to this method of teaching was consistent repetition, without breaks. It was interesting to see a technique completely new to me working so perfectly. It changed the way I thought about teaching dance, and it also influenced my method of teaching in various disciplines throughout my life, from then on. I used this method to teach conversation during my time as an ESL instructor, and it worked wonders!

How does it work?

Basically, the method goes like this: The instructor puts on music and simply begins to dance the first few steps. The students then copy the movements. The instructor does the first steps over and over, without stopping, and the students follow along. Then, after almost everyone is in synch, the instructor adds on the next few steps, without pausing. The students then follow along, incorporating the steps they just learned with the new, additional steps. This method is repeated over and over, without breaking, until the entire routine has been covered. By that time, students have memorized the movements with their bodies, without even realizing it.

The point of teaching this way, the instructor said, is to get students to stop thinking and start doing. Constant repetition is also the best way to ingrain new information quickly and with few errors.

How can you get the conversation started?

In an English language setting, I found that this works best for practice with speaking out loud.

Instead of practicing speaking aloud with a particular unit and then moving on to the next, students can learn basic communication much better by continuous, repetitive practice of simple exchanges, which are built upon bit by bit. This simple dialogue does not need to move as quickly as the lessons themselves. Instead, start small and keep building as soon as the majority of the students can comprehend and respond fluidly. You can ask simple, conversational questions in the beginning of class as students are getting situated, then ask them anytime throughout the lesson. Start out by writing a simple exchange on the board. Practice it all together, first. Then, starting the next class, you can begin to practice it in repetition.

For example, if you’re starting with beginners and are to the point of basic introductions, you can do something as simple as the following:

Step 1:

(on the board)

Teacher: Hello, how are you?
Student: I’m fine. How are you?
Teacher: I’m fine.

For the next class, plan to ask students these questions throughout. Do this every class until most students can respond confidently. Then move on by building on the initial phrase.

Step 2:

Teacher: Hello, how are you?
Student: I’m fine. How are you?
Teacher: I’m fine. What are you doing?
Student: I’m going to the store. What are you doing?
Teacher: I’m going to school.

Do this for a few lessons, until most students answer confidently. Then, you can add more. Write a variation of the conversation on the board, and practice it. Then repeat this lesson until students can speak fluidly.

Step 3:

Teacher: Hello, how are you?
Student: I’m not so good. I have a cold. How are you?
Teacher: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m fine. What are you doing?
Student: I’m going to the doctor. What are you doing?
Teacher: I’m going to school.

The repeated phrases can be altered according to your students’ needs, but the repetition is what will really help simple conversation stick to your students’ heads. Just remember to practice all the dialogue as a class before you start repeating on a daily basis and calling on individual students.

Do this throughout the entire course. By the end, your students should be able to grasp quick, simple questions from a native English speakers and respond accordingly.

Have you used repetition in your classes? How effective do you find it?

Lauren Bailey is a freelance blogger who loves writing about education, new technology, lifestyle and health. Here she talks about using repetition to teach everyday conversation in the classroom.

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  1. It’s an interesting approach if a little pedestrian. I’m just wondering though, in the dance class did it enable the students to create their own steps and variations once they’d been taught the basics? It’s one thing to teach a few set phrases, but another to teach the underlying concepts and allow students to build their own language on top of them.

    Methods such as constant repetition tend, in the opinion of many, to give quick results at low levels but aren’t so productive at higher levels. How do you find this method with more advanced classes?

  2. It is a nice method. I remember my teacher Paul, we used to talk about many things in classes. Do you consider teaching by listening and singing to music? repetition could also work there.

    • I understand these courses are meant for people who speak english but they were not trained professionally before. That? why well known methods are presented as novelty.

  3. That is the good method, but the problem is that how can we design dialogues for the whole course and what types of expressions we should teach first.

  4. its good for beginners but with every subsequent interaction the teacher can add a new word or an adjective . This will stimulate the mind of the learner and she may come up with a describing word herself.

  5. it is a good method of teaching. Repetition has been in use since Adam’s time.

  6. Sommebody essentially assist t? make severely posts ? might
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  7. Talking in Class: How to Use Repetition to Teach Everyday Conversation from Day One | Feel Teaching

    […] 5 July 2012 by Oxford University Press ELT 8 Comments […]

  8. This method has its merits, but speaking goes beyond drills and repetition. However, articles like this one are eye opening .

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