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    • #8614



      What do you think are good topics to ‘chat’ about at the start of a lesson, and what questions or topics are good to avoid in your classes? Please share reasons and/or examples to illustrate your answers.

      Post your ideas in a reply below and comment on other teachers’ ideas.


    • #8671

      Rhett Burton

      My students are young and at a pre a1 to a1 level. Their thoughts are generally very specific to things that just happened. 

      Just yesterday, a boy came in talking about a dead baby cat on the sidewalk. The next thing, all the other children wanted to see it. The boy couldn’t switch to another conversation until he had the opportunity to say what he needed to say. For this reason, I mostly just listen, smile, and nod and reassure that I understood what they had told me. After that, It is my time. Then, when I set the pace for the lesson, I require students to focus on the task. I will step-in to quell student-to-students arguments, answer questions that the students have, and recast (give and take) narratives that enrich the narratives.

      Note: My icebreaker/warmer activity usually offers a students a window to be a bit last and doesn’t require too much background knowledge.

      I never really start class with random chit-chat with my core classes. I do have some older students that I engage with songs, a picture, a game, a problem that I want to be solved, or an event that has all students aware (weather).

      • #8679

        Given your context, what you do makes perfect sense. Similarly, teaching EFL kids in Japan, their chit-chat before and at the beginning of class wouldn’t be in English but Japanese, and naturally focused on their lives.

        Incidentally, are most of your students waiting for you in class or outside the class?

        I recall that some language schools I worked at had the students waiting outside so that when the chime went for the start of class, it would signal for them to line up outside then greet the teacher one by one at the door before going in, putting bags down, and sitting in a circle. In other schools I worked at, I’d walk into the classroom and the kids would be doing whatever they were doing: for my very first kids class ever, this meant jumping off furniture, running around, and generally being crazy kids; but for most other classes, they would be pretty well-behaved and waiting relatively quietly and patiently, or playing nicely and happily.

    • #8686

      Barbara Bujtás

      As I mostly teach one-to-one or small groups, I usually know their backgrounds and interests and I can avoid small talk that might be unpleasant.
      I usually ask them what is the story or the laugh of the day or the week.
      Younger kids do come in with the urge to share something that they find interesting or something that has just happened (in L1, of course). There is a trick that I use to utilize this, I quickly prepare a very simple version of their story, with a video editor we create a narrated photo slide show of the story, we record their voice telling the story, it’s obviously way above their current level but still something meaningful.
      An example:
      In this case, he arrived with his paintings (he had created at the weekend) and he wanted to sell me some of them.

      • #8689

        I love what you did with the video editor! That’s a great way to utilise students interests and natural desire to communicate what’s meaningful to them. It would be great to see that video as part of a blog post! 😉

    • #10696

      Masatoshi Shoji

      I ask them,
      What did you do last night?
      What did you have for lunch?
      How many classes did you have today?

      I try not ask personal questions.
      In addition, I try not to ask questions which they cannot reply to.

    • #10706

      In England, Japan, and NZ, it’s common to talk about the weather, even with strangers. This can then lead onto other topics. In China and Malaysia, people talk about food.

      It’s helpful to teach students a few stems, like “What’s your favourite _____?” and get them used to asking each other follow-up questions, e.g. “What kind of ______ do you like?” as well as using both Y/N and WH-questions.

      Common topics I like to use in class include:
      food, song/singer, movies/actor/director, sport, game, book/author, place, class/lesson, musical instrument, object/thing you own.

      Generally, I avoid talking about sex, drug, religion and politics although at university and with adults these topics may come up for discussion in intermediate and higher level classes, though not in a warm-up!

    • #12766

      Jessica Sohn

      Normally, I start casually with How are you?

      And with my beginners class(YLs), I just grab their attention by rewarding them with HW check.
      Then, jump right into the lesson.
      And with my higher lever classes (older kids), after the how are you greetings, I go into How was your day? What did you do?
      And if it’s a quiet class, I usually go on and ask about their school life because that’s their common factor.
      ex. Who went to school today? Online or offline?

      If there is still not much response from class, I go and ask who is happy? unhappy? or what did you eat for lunch?

      I go with more personal stuff.
      Most of my kids are eager to talk about their days unless they are super exhausted.

      • #12804

        From watching your teaching demonstration videos, we can see how you do this naturally in a cheerful and friendly way.

        Often it’s the teacher and adults who lead so, once they are familiar with these questions, how do you also encourage students to ask you and each other?

    • #12817

      scott gray

      You have a great rapport with your kids and your videos show it. I have a question for you though if you have ever thought of trying  questions for chatting with kids that would have the purpose of setting up the context for grammar or language items that you will teach later in your class?  Just a thought Jessica.


    • #12821

      Rhett Burton

      I start most classes with an activity that uses the TL or the keywords in an interactive way. Example: If we are focusing on colors, I might start my level 1 (pre a1) class with UNO or another activity that encourages the expression of colors. I like activities and games to start my lessons because they feel more authentic/natural.

      • #12824

        When teaching young learners especially, the power of “Let’s play!” should never be forgotten, and is often a great way to start any interaction or class.

    • #12816

      scott gray

      Weather, movies, books, shows, and generally broad no so invasive subjects to start with. Commonly start with what did you do on Saturday or Sunday and particularly with someone I would have known their answer beforehand where possible. I also usually give my sample answer like in talking rhetorically to myself first and then giving an example before I get to the kids.

      As most Japanese high school students do not want to talk in front of their friends it can be quite challenging at times. Sometimes ask them to pretend to be someone else and give that famous person’s’ answer. That way what they say is not their but that person’s answer and that can help them be freer sometimes.



      • #12898

        Good list of safe topic and a valuable tip re: role play (e.g. famous people) to get students talking if they’re not comfortable sharing personal information. It often helps to take a little extra time with the role play set up to get students into character, too, for example by asking:
        1. Who would you like to be?
        2. What do they look like?
        3. What do they sound like? Do they have any famous expressions?
        4. How do they move/act?
        5. Imagine … Where are you? What are you doing?

    • #16734

      Rhett Burton

      The other day I started class with lego blocks placed in the middle of the mats with songs playing over the speakers. Kids entered the room and sat down with me, and started rummaging through the blocks. I showed the students what I was making based on what the students were listening to via the music. I primed them with different items they could make if they wanted. Slowly, I could hear the students produce some tunes, words, or even patterns from the songs. We listened to every song on the playlist. I listened to what the students were producing and what they weren’t. I observed what words I could start expecting more production with and what to model more. An older student went back to repeated a song because she was interested in practicing it more. Students often shared their thought with me in their L1. I helped them to express it in the L2. They recast what I say because the language was from them and they were interested in producing it. I only recast what we have down or will do within a range that is practical and learnable for the students. If it is too difficult, they won’t buy into it.


      • #16858

        What a nice way to start a class, Rhett! Just to clarify, were you using the Lego to build words related to the song? If so, I’m curious, what kinds of songs were on the playlist?

        For example, with my very young learners, I can imagine this would work well with “Old Mac Donald” and me trying to build animals and then the kids might have a go, too. And this month with Halloween, my primary kids could have lots of fun with scary characters and related items.

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