The greatest thing about my job is a sense of discovery and mystery. We’ve all had jobs that consisted mainly of the routine. Once you’ve mastered the routine, things tend to get a bit on the dull side. Being a conversation teacher means that no two classes are the same as no two students are alike. Each class takes on a life of its own. Conversation is based around the interesting, the bizarre, the shocking, the entertaining and the terrible. Emotionally charged subjects are the best because they strike a nerve which stimulates speech, either for or against. As students progress the more challenging these discussions should become to give them the chance to use new vocabulary, grammar as well as culture. Each day we, my students and I, share stories that make us think. While I go in with a lesson plan each time it’s amazing to see how far we can drift off the original topic. That to me is a class well done. There are times when students need to master a certain structure or learn new vocabulary but conversation itself constantly changes. People bring in their own experiences, relate them to things in the past and comment on what the future holds.
The other day I observed a class in which the students talked quite a lot about their weekend and at the end of class the teacher told me that he felt he had failed as he wasn’t able to get through everything he wanted. I saw it a different way; the students were able to keep the conversation going and along the way the teacher corrected (fixed grammar), enhanced (suggested new or more appropriate vocabulary), gave the students ample chance to talk, and took good notes so that he can review them later – to me it was a job well done.
I believe that if the teacher does the following things then he or she has succeeded:
1. Corrected students’ errors
2. Taught some new vocabulary
3. Kept good, complete notes
4. Encouraged students
5. Gave each student an opportunity to speak
6. Made it enjoyable
Out of these I believe that #6 is the most important as most people learn the most when they are open to learning. Being in a relaxed state (with some laughter), I believe, allows students to get the most out of each class.
Conversation is a great journey filled with laughter and joy and the occasional stressful moment. Revel in every moment.
Nicely summarized, you echoe my and many other’s ESL teachers’ feelings. As you mentioned, [carefully monitored] emotion can be a useful tool in getting students to talk. For example, simply tell your students you think the Yomiuri Giants are the best and listen to their reaction! If you stimulate your students to talk, then you have succeeded. I agree with your list, although I sometimes feel too much of #1 can compete with #6. So I am always careful to not over-correct and to use as many [subtle] correction techniques as possible. Thanks for this- in any job it’s nice to have guidelines for success, and your guidelines are spot on.
Edward, SSE Ohtsu
I completely agree Edward, many teachers believe that they have to choose either #1 or #6. I remember in high school that many of my teachers were either funny or serious, not both. As for correcting, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. If it stops the flow of conversation and the students get discouraged then it’s too much. However, students need to told they are making a mistake if they continually make the same mistake. If we don’t correct their mistakes early on they will become a habit making it that much harder to fix later on.
I think it will soon be time for a post about correction techniques. We need to pool our individuals experience and make a little online seminar out of it. I could sure use some more ideas on good correction techniques. It’s a skill we all have but I think it becomes rusty with time and we should share our ideas and improve on that. As mentioned, bad correctiuon techniques (#1) can result in not achieving enjoyable lessons (#6) and then students become shy and afraid to make mistakes. Good correction techniques online seminar….. coming soon!