10 Ways to Get Discussions Going

The following are 10 activities I've used to get students talking about a topic. These are perfect for lessons on serious topics, such as the ones in Ideas and Issues Advanced or Taboos and Issues.

1. Have each student write down 3 questions for discussion. It can be about the language (vocabulary, grammar) or the content. Give them a few minutes to write, then ask them to choose their best question and memorize it. Have all the students walk outside, and put them into 2 lines facing each other. Make sure everyone has a partner. Tell them they all have 2 minutes to ask and answer questions. When 2 minutes are up, clap your hands and tell one of the lines to move to the right (the student on the end needs to go to the other side of the line). Now everyone has a new partner, and they can ask their questions again. Repeat this 5 or 6 times.

2. Have each student write down 6 questions based on your lesson. Next to each question students should write the name of someone in the class they want to ask the question to. When they're all finished writing, tell them to wander around the class and ask their questions.

3. Put 3 chairs in front of the blackboard. The first chair is the "FEELINGS - BAD" chair, the second is the "THOUGHTS" chair, and the third is "FEELINGS - GOOD" chair. Encourage students to come to the front and express their thoughts and feelings. If they want to say something negative they feel about the topic, they should sit in the first chair. If they want to relay their thoughts on the topic, they should sit in the second chair. If they want to say something positive they feel about the topic, they should sit in the third chair. Give them an example of each to start things off. Then sit back and wait for them to talk. (You might want to call on a few students.)

4. Prepare a sheet with many questions about the topic, and leave a few blanks. Students should write additional questions in the blanks. Then, tell them to read over the page, and find a question they would like to ask some of their classmates. They need to memorize this question. Take them to a large open space, and have them form two circles, one inside the other. The students on the inside should be facing the students in the outside circle, so that each student has a partner. As in activity 2, they should ask each other their questions for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, clap your hands, and get the outer circle to move one space to the right. Everyone has a new partner. Repeat 5 or 6 times.

5. Have students write out questions about the topic. Push them to write as many as they can. After 15 minutes, put a chair in front of the blackboard, and choose one student to sit there. For 2 minutes, the rest of the class asks the student their questions, and the student must answer. When time is up, the student chooses someone to take his or her place. Repeat 6 or 7 times.

6. Create 4 columns on the board, and put a different word or phrase at the top of each column. Each word or phrase should be related to your topic. Students go to the board and write out their thoughts and questions related to the four words. When everyone is finished writing, and back in their seats, read out each comment and question, and ask someone to respond.

7. Give students each 5 index cards. For homework, assign them to write questions related to the topic on the cards, one per card. When the next class begins, collect all the cards, and give everyone a card. Make sure no one gets their own question! Tell them to wander around the room, and ask their question to another student. They also need to answer the other student's question. When they have are finished, they exchange cards and go on to another student. After 15-20 minutes, tell them to sit down, and ask them what some of the questions and answers were. (You might want to demonstrate this before you start.)

8. Ask students to call out any words and phrases related to your topic. Write these up on the board. Aim at getting at least 20 words, and try to get different parts of speech. Next, bring out a ball. Toss it over to a student, and ask him or her a question using one or more of the vocabulary words. When the student is finished answering, he or she should throw the ball to someone else and ask a question. Continue for about 10 minutes.

9. Give each student about 10 minutes to prepare a 1 minute speech on your topic. Then call on a student at random to come up and speak. Insist that the other students ask questions after the lecture. Repeat 5 or 6 times.

10. Write 6 statements or positions related to an issue on cards, one on each card. Tape these up around the room. Tell students to stand up and walk around to each card. Each time they get to a card, they discuss whether they agree, disagree, or don't know about the statement. After a brief discussion, they should move to the next card and talk to someone else.

Originally posted on Dave's ESL Cafe Apr 2005.
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