Worksheet – or Cheat Sheet – for English Teachers to Observe Conversations and Lead Class Discussions

What do you do while students are having conversations or talking in pairs? Do you have a “formula” for taking notes? Do you focus more on fluency or accuracy?

Many English teachers, especially novice ESL instructors, talk more than ideal – and allow their English students to talk too little. Ironically, many ESL instructors make this “good mistake” because they are so dedicated. What, after all, are they supposed to do while students exchange ideas and practice their speaking skills?

When I taught an advanced ESL conversation class to immigrants and international students from many different countries at Santa Monica Community College, I developed a little routine.

First, I introduced conversation topics with a quotation or proverb and briefly introduce the day’s topic. Then I distribute worksheets (which became chapters in Compelling Conversations) with 30 or so questions, 10 or 12 key vocabulary words, and a few selected quotations or proverbs. Then students would be paired up to interview each other and share experiences for 20-30 minutes.

What did I do? I simply circled around the room, briefly joining in conversations, taking notes, and indirectly correcting students by modeling a better way to ask or respond to questions. I also jotted down key comments and “good mistakes” – both grammar and pronunciation – that I would later share with the entire class. Further, I focused on the content of student comments so fluency and meaning was more important than accuracy. Ideas and perceptions mattered more than perfect grammar.

These notes, however, helped me guide the classroom discussion because it closely echoed their previous conversations. It also lead to dynamic discussions because several perspectives were acknowledged and considered.

Taking notes also gave me a chance to emphasize certain sound groups or related word forms. While the students were talking to each other, I was playing reporter and taking notes.

Here is a reproducible worksheet that captures that process of monitoring conversations and leading discussions. Use or lose.

Compelling Conversation Classroom Worksheet for Teachers

Topic: Pages: Date:
# of participants: # of groups: Room:

Opening Quote:

Opening comments to class:

Starting time for conversations:

Conversation content:
– What did you hear the students say? Summarize.

Follow-up class discussion questions:

Review Vocabulary:

Pronunciation tips:

Grammar issues:

Other comments/observations:


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

One comment

  1. Matt – Thanks for the heads up. I’m trying to overcome that problem today!


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