Last weekend has been a nice, long one here in Italy. Most schools were closed for 4 days so I had plenty of time to relax, study and improve my Emacs skills (Manuel, I’m looking at you 😉 ). I also had time to reflect on my work and on many other things going on in my life at the moment.

I don’t know how often you teach what we call “conversation lessons”, but at my school these are pretty common. Many adult students have negative experience with state school, grammar-based teaching, so once they pay for the lessons themselves the most common comment is: “I want to learn to speak. I don’t need any grammar, I already studied it at school for many years. Is it possible to have conversation-only lessons?”

So I end up teaching a lot of these 1:1 conversation classes to accommodate the student’s requests, and I do my best to facilitate conversation, scaffold and generally help the learners build fluency (and sometimes accuracy). But just as often I ask myself: are these really useful? Is it actually possible to teach conversation? If so, how do you do it effectively?

I don’t have any answer for these questions yet. What I tend to do at the moment are Dogme-style lessons, where I use an appropriate written or spoken text to set the topic (or I use activities like Something I), and develop the conversation from there, using scaffolding and delayed feedback techniques to help the learner. However, I often get the feeling that the student leaves the lesson without having achieved much more than speaking a little English for an hour or so – something she could easily have done with an English-speaking friend.

I am not sure whether this is just my impression – maybe I expect too much – or a reality. What is your experience and opinion on speaking-only lessons? How do you teach them? Do you find them effective? Do you have any interesting book/article to suggest on this issue?

I would be really glad to hear from you, so please feel free to comment with your experience and impressions in the comment field below.

Thanks and happy teaching! 🙂