What are conversational visits?
Simply put, conversational visits are when one or more of your students visits another classroom to practice speaking in English with another teacher’s students for a specified ESL speaking activity. You can freshen up just about any speaking activity when you incorporate students from a similar level in another class. But why would we want to merge two classes for an ESL speaking activity?
Reason #1: Conversational visits get them out of their comfort zone but still in a safe place.
One of the biggest pros of conversational visits is that your students gain the opportunity to practice English within a controlled, safe environment but with someone who is not a classmate.
If you have had the same set of students for weeks or months, chances are that they’ve already gotten to know each other well enough that they’ve lost that spark of interest one can get when completing a speaking activity with someone new.
On the flip side, the con would be that this can be a terrifying experience for some students. When you know or suspect that this might be an issue, consider having your students work in pairs when talking with someone unknown so that they have the comfort of a familiar partner.
Another option is to get them out of any classroom environment.
One language school where I once worked was next to a university’s student center. My students LOVED being sent there to interview “real” university students.
Before I sent anyone, we first discussed as a class how to approach someone and request their time. I didn’t want my students to feel rejected by anyone who was busy and mistake that for anti-foreignism. Yes, that happened, and yes, anti-foreignism certainly can crop up.
Having your students say something like …
Excuse me. I'm an international student. My teacher gave me a speaking assignment. Do you have a few minutes to answer some questions?
…quickly weeds out those who are busy and those who are close-minded.
Reason #2: Conversational visits can potentially expose them to opinions, thoughts, and ideas they’ve never heard or considered before.
One of my classes was made up entirely of Saudi students. Not only did this make using the target language (English) a more significant challenge for them, it meant that many speaking activities had no relevancy. All those questions like how do people in your culture… or what do people from your country… usually served only one purpose. It gave them speaking practice.
The true flavor of such speaking activities, however, lies in discovering what people from other cultures and countries do and think. Plus, when you don’t know the answer, you’re more likely to listen to it. When I brought them to another class (different level) with students from six different countries, my Saudi students became eager to complete the speaking activity and then ask their own questions. I nearly had to drag them out of the room when the time was up!
Reason #3: Conversational visits are perfect for those high-achievers who always finish first.
Tell me your students always finish every activity simultaneously, and I’ll pinch you because you are dreaming! Don’t worry; it’s not you. We all have those students, and coming up with something for them to do is a challenge.
On the one hand, you likely need to spend your time assisting students who need more help.
On the other hand, by not giving those early finishers your time, you’re almost punishing them for not needing help. This is why it’s helpful to make connections with the teachers in the classrooms near you.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say Raul is already done, but you think most of the other students will need at least 10-15 minutes more. You don’t want Raul to just sit there, and you also don’t want to ask him to help his classmates because that’s what he usually ends up doing. What if you could just pop your head into the classroom next door (or send a quick text) and ask if that teacher has a student Raul could speak with?
Give Raul a pre-made handout to use or have him quickly write a few questions of his own using a recently studied theme or concept, and then either he can walk next door, or the other student can come to your classroom. They can have short conversational visits while waiting for their respective classmates to be ready for the next activity or lesson. They will love this type of speaking activity!
I’m game; let’s do this!
Ready to set up some conversational visits? Awesome! But, first, here are a couple of things to consider before conducting speaking activities as a conversational visits.
Prepare your students before leaving your classroom.
The first time I brought one of my classes to visit another was a complete disaster! My students were prepared with the speaking activity questions they were to ask but being beginners, they didn’t know how to approach the other students to get started. Sure, they likely would have been fine doing this in their primary language. Knowing that they had to use English resulted in most of them completely freezing up.
So, before heading out, remind your students to introduce themselves with their names, ask for the other students’ names, and thank them at the end. They can practice this part with a classmate. Also, have them rehearse the following:
- Could you repeat that please?
- How do you spell that?
Ensure the students of the other class are ready.
Naturally, setting up a start and finish time with another teacher willing to accommodate visitors on a speaking activity is essential. Don’t just show up at a co-worker’s door with your students and expect to be welcomed in. However, it’s not just about setting up a time.
This is why.
I’ll never forget that time my students had prepared a bunch of fun conditional questions that they were gleefully looking forward to asking another class. They were visiting a class of students two levels above them, so I was sure those students would be able to give interesting and funny answers. I could not have been more wrong. It was a bit of a disaster! The students we visited had either never learned or had forgotten how to answer using conditionals. The looks on my students’ faces as they heard error after error made me create a quick fake excuse to bustle them out of there.
After that, I made sure to let the teacher of the other class know the topic or concept in advance so that he/she could do a quick, informal assessment and see if the students would be able to answer questions competently. Sometimes they would just need a short review, and we were all good to go. Other times, the teacher would let me know that it wasn’t going to work out, and I’d either pick another class or another activity. I did not want to cause any class embarrassment.
Conversational visits are an easy and fun way to spice up a speaking activity.
Conversational visits are an easy but fun way to spice up a speaking activity. They might take up a quick ten-minute slice out of a class or if the theme/concept is recent for both classes and the conversations really flow, you might find them begging for more time after 30 minutes to an hour!
Conversational visits don’t have to involve your entire class. Read more on how I used them to lessen the proficiency gaps of individual students.
Read about more speaking activities with adult ESL!
- Free Talking: Getting Low-Level ESL Students to Talk
- 6 Important Things to Remember When Discussing Goals with Your Adult ESL Students
- The Amazing Power of Role Plays in Adult ESL
- Improving Speaking Skills when Grammar/Vocabulary AREN’T the Problem
- Free Talking: Getting Low-Level ESL Students to Talk
If you love freebies…
Before I point you to some ready-to-print resources, I want to share a free sample with you.
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Pre-made Speaking Resources for Adult ESL
What if you didn’t have to spend your time re-inventing the wheel? Maybe you’d like to do something else with your time. Even if coming up with hundreds of speaking topics is your thing, sometimes it’s a relief to have the resources already made. Here are just a few of the low-prep resources I’ve made for adult English learners. To see them all, click here.