Many English conversation classes and textbooks organise the lessons according to a topical syllabus. Choose topics according to the age, interests and level of your ESL students. You can choose among a variety of activities for any specific topic, although some lend themselves naturally to specific games. Vary the speaking game from quiet to more active to keep the class engaging for your students.
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Hobbies and Interests
The topic of hobbies or interests works well with students at different ages and at many levels of English proficiency. Try a "find someone" activity to move students out of their seats. Make a questionnaire with eight to 12 questions on personal interests, for example, "Do you play the guitar?" " Do you play soccer once a week?" " Do you paint or draw?" Students must stand up and ask one another the questions, writing the name of a student who says "yes." They can write each name only once, and the student who finishes first wins.
Adults or high school students at the intermediate or advanced level will find job interviews an interesting topic. After a preliminary vocabulary study and a demonstration of sample interviews, have students role-play interviewing each other for particular jobs. Give them job titles and sample questions and information for the interviewer and the applicant. For example, the interviewer can ask, "What training do you have?" Have each student work with a partner to develop a conversation to present to the class. Or divide the class into two, job hunters and employers, giving each employer a card with sample questions for a different job. Have applicants go from employer to employer as in a job fair.
Self-Improvement or New Year's Resolutions
At the start of a new year, a discussion of New Year's resolutions will give students of any age a change to practice the future with "will" or "going to." Give them a list of possible areas of self-improvement such as eating habits, exercise, study habits, television watching, Internet use, housekeeping and so on. Then seat students in groups of four or more, and have them tell their group what changes they want to make for the new year.
Even lower-level ESL students learn food vocabulary early in the course, but this topic also interests higher levels. Present needed vocabulary using pictures from a picture dictionary or magazine, and explain food categories such as "dessert" or "fruit." Make a survey grid with categories listed across the top, including Dessert, Meat, Vegetable, Snack, Fruit, Beverage and so on. On the left side, make spaces for six to eight names top to bottom. Students stand up and talk with classmates one at a time, writing each name on the left. Then they ask, "What is your favourite dessert?" and so on, writing each student's answers in the grid. For a quieter activity, do this seated in groups of six.
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