Did the dropped pin echo in your speaking class? Was that a heavy sigh, a set of rolled eyes, or the clink of students mentally disengaging? Cultivate lists of discussion questions for ESL that are tailored to the needs of your adult learners, and you’ll rarely have a quiet moment again. So where do you begin?
You need better adult ESL discussion questions.
The life experience and the high level of your adult ESL students’ native language proficiency mean that they have already had many discussions on various topics. This makes your class’s discussion activities an excellent opportunity for them to practice their vocabulary and even their grammar while sharing their personal opinions, thoughts, ideas, and memories. The background knowledge that they already have allows them to build their confidence and fluency in English while learning from each other. For that to happen, you need topics or questions that will spark a desire to share. But, how do you develop them?
This is how you cultivate discussion questions for ESL.
Use what you’ve got!
Glean from any text or curriculum you already have. While teaching from a textbook that taught the four language domains centered around a different theme for each unit, I began keeping a list. I wrote related discussion topics that pried open my reluctant speakers.
Each time I used a question, I took notes on how much conversation resulted. I also created student avatars to represent various types of students. I would use those avatars to keep track of what was most likely to interest whom.
The themes from the book informed how I crafted my ESL discussion topics which allowed everyone to share and certainly got quite a few seeing things from another perspective. (Having students from a variety of cultures is a treasure indeed.)
To do this, you should scrape every single idea out of your brain and WRITE IT DOWN! If you don’t, most of those discussion questions for ESL classes will go POOF. (It can’t be just me!)It seems obvious, but I’ll say it. Sit there with the theme/topic written at the top of your page and just start brainstorming.
- Use a graphic organizer, make a list, whatever works for you.
- Mentally purge yourself of everything you can possibly come up with and get it on paper.
- When you think of one more later on, GET IT ON PAPER! I came up with brilliant questions just before I fell asleep, while I was in the shower, while I was stopped at a red light, you get the idea. And, of course, I assumed that I would remember these ideas based on their brilliance. Why would I forget something that genius? I forgot. Every time.
Thankfully, some of my most inventive ideas hit me while circulating the classroom during discussions. A student would say something, and I’d have a provocative follow-up question I was dying to use. So, definitely utilize that notepad you’re carrying around with you to take notes on pronunciation or grammar errors you want to be sure to cover later. Use it to record those ideas!
Google related current events and comb through every article you find for inspiration for more discussion questions for ESL.
If your topic is natural disasters, read everything about that latest Category 5 hurricane. You will likely think of at least ONE more perceptive question that will totally hit home the next time you teach that unit. Those wildfires currently raging? The latest mass shooting? What about the most recent amazing student discovery/invention that hit the news? Viral hits are super topical, but you’ve got to work them in before they’re no longer relevant.
Please, do not think that a quick internet search will yield a selection of free lists of discussion questions that will be just what you want. When I was a newish teacher, every time I was assigned a new speaking class that began the following day, I’d get desperate. I’d search the internet for discussion questions for ESL, and every time I thought I’d hit the jackpot, I’d end up with a list of boring questions, most of which were close-ended. Of course, that is one of the reasons I started cultivating my own ESL discussion questions. I wanted to have plenty on hand for any unexpected class that might get put on my schedule for the next day.
Build up a reservoir of discussion questions for ESL NOW.
Remember, you want tons of evergreen discussion questions for ESL, the kind that you can use any time they fit a theme or work well with a current event. These are your staple, what you can depend on.
However, don’t overlook compelling discussions that can result from using questions related to whatever has just gone viral. Plus, you can also always recycle them when you want your students to talk about fads, social media, viral memes, etc.
You can devote hours and hours of days spread out over time, coming up with discussion questions for ESL that would make my students dig deep. I did. I also didn’t have a life to speak of. However, if you take all your free moments and develop lists for every topic covered in your text or that might interest your students, you WILL have it easier later on. Then again, if you aren’t interested in re-inventing the wheel, keep reading.
You’ll be able to just draw upon that and use those questions in a variety of ways. They can be:
- discussion questions (of course)
- topics for impromptu speeches
- writing prompts
- topics for video responses
- topics for essays
Want to keep your time free?
Drop by my TpT store to check out the discussion questions for ESL I’ve already developed for various themes and topics. You can get a set of topics for a single theme, or grab the bundle that has them all.
Read more about speaking classes in adult ESL
- Free Talking: Getting Low-Level ESL Students to Talk
- Gestures: The Secret Language You’ve Been Unaware of
- 3 Powerful Reasons to Incorporate Conversational Visits in a Speaking Activity
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