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 tailored to adult ESL and you’ll rarely have a quiet moment again.
You need better discussion questions for adult ESL.
The life experience and the high level of your adult ESL students’ native language proficiency means that they have already had many discussions on a variety of topics. This makes discussion activities in your class 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?
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. The topics 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.)
So what should YOU do?
Scrape every single idea out of your brain and WRITE IT DOWN!
- 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 I was circulating the classroom during discussion time. 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 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 questions 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.
Create discussion questions from your own head.
You can do what I did—devote hours and hours of days spread out over time coming up with questions 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.
You’ll be able to just draw upon that and use those questions in a variety of ways. They can be:
- discussion questions
- topics for impromptu speeches
- writing prompts
- topics for video responses
- topics for essays
Want to keep your time free? Check out the themes and topics I’ve already created.
Do you have a discussion dominator? Silents students? Click here!
Need a better way to creat those discussion groups? Click here!
Need something to get you started? You can use what I’ve already made. Click below for a sample of 40 discussion topics and also get more tips and ideas for having discussions in adult ESL classes.