Controlling the Conversation

The art of teaching conversation, part 3

Talking with your students is great fun, isn't it - especially when it's spontaneous and authentic, made up of real discussions regarding current issues.

As much as possible, as an EFL language teacher, you really want to steer your students away from the tired textbooks and encourage natural and fluent communication.

So why is this post called controlling the conversation?

All too frequently, students in wonderfully exciting dogme classes or Just Talking groups end up with the ability to converse comfortably - however after a while some cracks begin to show up.

  • The students are fluent but their actual vocabulary/ grammar range is limited
  • The students don't seem to be retaining the new vocabulary
  • The students have become fluent but still make numerous mistakes and errors in accuracy
Has this happened to you too?

While breaking out of the book is important and teaching speaking is absolutely, in my mind and my students', the most important reason you're there with them physically, rather than handing over self-study books - the grammar and vocabulary which you can extract from the course books are the essential foundations of the house you're building, so mustn't be ignored.

A while back, I created a set of Conversation Control sheets (named by my students -control as in Quality Control) one for me and one for each student, prompting them to selectively record their own areas of weakness, concentrate on the vocabulary they want to retain and generally become more aware of their language development.

As you already know, it's a good idea to keep records, to have a tangible document which everyone can refer back to frequently over time, especially if you have to provide HR or your institute bosses with measurable data and want to acknowledge progress.

You can download them for free from this page:

Here's a video I made explaining how to use these:

Tip: Binding up a stack of these easily turns them into a language journal.


Useful links related to this posting:
Great material for inspiring conversation in the classroom:
My website and those of my brilliant competitors, Jason West and Eric Roth:
Languages Out There and Compelling Conversations.


3 Responses to “Controlling the Conversation”

  • ShellTerrell says:
    May 29, 2009

    Hello Karenne!
    I was just sharing your Control Sheet idea with my Master's class and everyone enjoyed them, especially my instructor. I directed them to the SimplyConversations link so they were able to view the videos from there!

    May 29, 2009

    Thanks very much Shell, am honored.

    Any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

  • Anonymous says:
    May 31, 2009

    My "control sheets" look a bit boring next to yours, but I do something very similar and it's a really helpful technique I find. I usually make a copy for the learner(s) toward the end of the session, and we spend the last 10 minutes or so going over it. I have them propose any necessary improvements or corrections, and note any areas that they identify are needing work. My copy of the notes then serves as an invaluable tool for lesson planning.

    One of the challenges I find in using them is being able to write neatly enough for my notes to be both legible and intelligible while I am concentrating on listening to the student. Do you sometimes find yourself having to stop the flow while you get something noted down?


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