Creating More Student-Centered Conversation Materials

We need, it seems to me, to motivate English students more out of choice than duty – and tailor our ESL and EFL material as much as possible to our individual students. The web allows teachers to individualize instruction to an astonishing degree, but teachers must be prepare flexible, student-centered materials and lead by example. We set the standards, and students will follow their interests as they develop their reading and speaking skills. What does that mean?

Here is an example of a worksheet that I’ve used with considerable success in intermediate and advanced ESL classes.
Talking About Your Own Hometown!

Student Name:

Please find an article about your hometown in English that you would like to share with your classmates. Read the article, clip the article, and be prepared to talk about the article.

Author: Length:
Publication: Publication date:

What’s the main idea?

How many sources were quoted?

Where there any illustrations? What kind?

What did you learn in this article?

What was the most interesting part for you? Why?

Write down 5 new vocabulary words, idioms, or expressions.

How would you rate the article 1-10? Why?

Why did you choose this article?


English students search the web, select an article, fill out the form, and share their articles in small groups of 3-4. Then I ask for “brave volunteers” to give us a brief presentation to the class. Although only a few students may volunteer at first, soon everyone wants to share their article and hometown stories. This simple technique, putting more emphasis on student speaking than instructor talking, helps create a lively ESL classroom. (Obviously, the activity works better in a genuine international classroom with students from many countries like in many American summer language programs.)

Communicative activities remain under-appreciated in many English language classrooms, especially in Asia. But seeing is believing. I’ll soon be visiting Vietnam, observing several English classrooms, and looking for examples of effective speaking exercises. What will I find? I don’t know.

Vietnam, the country with the fasting growing economy in the world in 2008, has embarked on a huge social development campaign. The education ministry wants to dramatically improve their current English language education programs, urging the study of English to improve trade, and mandating the study of English for high school students. Therefore, Vietnam has attracted thousands of English teachers from the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom in recent years. “It’s a huge laboratory for teaching methods,” notes an English teacher who lives in Hanoi.

EFL teachers continue to bring communicative techniques and direct learning methods to more and more Vietnamese students. Yet another exceptional educator working in Vietnam has also warned me that preparing for standardized testing and drill-and-kill grammar exercises remain the rule in most English classrooms. Quality EFL and ESL materials – especially for student-centered, communicative classrooms – apparently remain relatively scarce. Naturally, I will learn more during my upcoming trip to Vietnam where I will observe teachers and lead a workshop on creating more student-centered conversation materials.

It’s also the type of activity that has made Compelling Conversations popular. So far, student word of mouth, popular CATESOL conference workshops, and satisfied English teachers have lead to Compelling Conversations being used in English language classrooms in over 40 countries. ESL author Hall Houston, in long English Teaching Professional review noted, “In sum, Compelling Conversations is a recommended resource for teachers who want to make their conversation classes more learner-centered…It reflects both authors’ considerable professional experience, and would be a notable addition to any English teacher’s bookshelf. ” Hall Houston, the book reviewer, is also the writer of The Creative Classroom: Teaching Languages Outside the Box.

We live in a wonderful time to teach English, and somehow I suspect that Compelling Conversations will soon find an audience in Vietnam.

Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.

One comment

  1. As usual, Eric, great tips -I love this search for stuff on one’s own hometown. Wishing you much success in Vietnam and looking forward to reading an update on what happens there!


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