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Basic Principles of Conversation Classes

1. Focus on communication and fluency, not correctness


Im always surprised when in the first days of class students turned to me or ask their classmates if they are holding the conversation correctly, if it is right.
arely even in our native languages do we concern ourselves if the conversation is proceeding correctly! the point is if our meaning is coming through. "his is
what should #e emphasi$ed to students% its not a matter of right #ut whether or not your classmates understand you and can respond to you&
2. Teach students strategies
"oo often conversations even #etween native speakers fall flat #ecause the participants dont know conversation strategies. In addition, there is a difference
#etween an everyday conversation and an academic conversation. 'any if not all of our students can carry on an everyday conversation without much difficulty%
(hat would you like for dinner) I dunno. Pi$$a) Chicken) (hat do you want) 'uch of our day*to*day conversation goes on in e+changes like this and
re,uires few strategies. But to have a real conversation on the topic of food choices, for e+ample, the conversational partners will have to know different
strategies for introducing the topic, drawing each other out, asking for opinions, advancing their own, using e+amples, and so forth.
3. Teach vocabulary
It seems elementary, #ut it is often forgotten that students may not #e participating #ecause they simply dont have the voca#ulary to enter a specific conversation.
Introducing some key phrases and words related to the topic will help this. -or e+ample, on the topic of different types of vacations today, students should learn
words like condo, time share, hotel, motel, e+tended stay, #usiness class, and coach.
4. Teach both formal and informal conversation skills
"here are specific strategies for entering, e+tending, and ending conversations #oth formally and informally. -or e+ample, with .ey, /iana& .ow was your
holiday to 0ew 1ork) I am signaling to 2ylvia that Id like to open an informal and pro#a#ly #rief conversation on the topic of her vacation that might e+tend a
little into my holiday and holidays in general. .owever, with (hat do you think a#out how we holiday today) .asnt it changed ,uite a #it from even ten years
ago) I am signaling a different kind of conversation3more in*depth and analytical as the conversation participants consider different types of vacations, and
more academic. 4nowing these strategies for different types of conversations will help students avoid confusion and even annoyance and gain e+perience in
different types of conversations.
5. Grade on degree of articiation and understanding of conversation. !ssess informally.
Because the focus of instruction, and of conversation itself, is on communicating meaning rather than on correctness, students should #e assessed mostly
informally. "he instructor can walk around the class, sit in on conversations, and get an idea this way on the degree of participation of each student. 2tudents can
also #e asked to hold a conversation in front of the teacher or class and #e assessed #y a ru#ric on the degree of responding to and advancing topics, on use of
strategies and voca#ulary, and so forth. -inally, more formal ,ui$$es and tests can also #e given in the form of listening to taped conversations and answering
,uestions a#out topic, voca#ulary, responses, strategies, and so on.
"eaching conversation can seem challenging #ecause at first #lush it seems as if there are few principles to guide the instructor.
.owever, keeping in mind such strategies as preteaching voca#ulary, esta#lishing small groups, and teaching conversational strategies, there is plenty to teach and
do in the conversation class&