What makes a conversation-friendly English, ESL or EFL classroom?


“There is a role and function for beauty in our time.” – Tadao Ando (1941–), Japanese architect

Introducing Teacher Edition Tuesday, a new weekly series based on ten teaching tips from the recently released Compelling American Conversations – Teacher Edition!

What makes a conversation-friendly English, ESL or EFL classroom?

Sometimes it’s the little things that matter. Creating a comfortable atmosphere can begin with where student sit. You physically arrange your class to a more conversation-based environment.; however it makes a large difference to arrange the chairs so that students feel comfortable moving around. This seating style encourages making eye contact with one another, and explicitly expands the audience beyond the instructor. Everyone listens and speaks in a conversation class.

Many English classrooms today include chairs on rollers making both partner and small group work far easier. At The University of Southern California, the language classrooms also include small tables where four students can comfortably sit together and talk. From my perspective as an English professor, this simple seating arrangement seems ideal for small group discussion.

In more traditional settings, some ESL teachers find arranging the chairs in a u-shape or circle will allow students to feel equal to one another and be able to address each other. This arrangement also improves classroom interactions by encouraging shy students to face classmates, establish eye contact, and speak a bit more. Further, it inhibits students from distractions such as electronic devices.

Sometimes, especially in security first classrooms, chairs can also not be moved. Teachers working in some developing countries may also have classes of 50 or more students where benches are more common than individual desks. Teaching conversation and discussion skills requires exceptional focus and skill to overcome the limitations. Some English teachers also change rooms in the United States public schools, and feel uncomfortable changing seating arrangements. Many of us, however, have great autonomy in how we organize our English classrooms.
If you have control over your classroom setup, decorating the walls creates an engaging, dynamic learning environment. When teaching a language, having immediate points of reference throughout the room adds context and beauty. Put up pictures, maps, calendars, grammar rules, funny and thought provoking sayings, quotes, proverbs to re-enforce lessons and help open minds. Adding even an old-school chalkboard where students can express themselves every morning can work. (Have you noticed the popularity of chalkboards in trendy cafes and restaurants?)

We hear a great deal about the importance of edtech these days, and we’re certainly blessed to teach English with so many fantastic tools today. Smart phones, laptops, projectors, and monitors can make a huge difference. Still, for creating a conversation friendly classroom, the physical enviornment matters much more

In my classroom with small tables, for instance, I often use Search and Share activities from the Compelling Conversations series. The Advanced English students search the web, select an appropriate article, and fill out the worksheet given in class. The seating design makes conversation comfortable and natural. This simple technique puts more emphasis on student speaking than instructor talking, and helps create a lively advanced ESL classroom. Here is an example of a worksheet that I’ve used with considerable success in intermediate and advanced ESL classes.

Classroom design matters. Sometimes where you sit literally determines what you see – and say. When ESL and other language educators design the classroom and their materials with equal care, compelling conversations soon follow.

Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.
Visit www.CompellingConversations.com

Teacher Edition Tuesdays feature material introduced in Compelling American Conversations – Teacher Edition, the companion text to the original Compelling American Conversations. Sample chapters of each are available on CompellingConversations.com and ChimayoPress.com. We also offer a free copy of the Teacher Edition with class sets for adult ESL schools, literacy centers, Intensive English language programs (IEP) , church and other non-profit groups offering ESL classes to immigrants and refugees. Contact Eric Roth here for more information.

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