ELTChat Summary: Conversation and Situational English

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On Wednesday 20th of July the first ELTchat of the day discussed the subject of teaching conversation and situational English. The chat kicked off with an attempt to define these terms and the general differences between them. The crux of this discussion centred around the nature of these types of classes and if conversation classes are focused in the same way as situational classes.

@mcneilmahon – conversation is interactional and situational is transituational
@chucksandy – Perhaps I’m wrong but when I think of situational I think of functions &  ordering in restaurants & such. Am i off?
@barbsaka – Thing is, even if I’m teaching for situation (like restaurant, hotel) there seems to be a lot of interaction. No?
@pysproblem81 – The difference is that there is a clear aim that can be measured – can learners do X in English?
@theteacherjames – But conversation class has less clear pedagogical aims? Beyond general fluency/comprehension?
@barbsaka – Huh. I’ve never thought of ‘conversation’ as being aimless before. Seems to me there are clear functions in social interactions
@rliberni – conversation ‘lessons’ can just be chat with no focus or learning outcome & often the teacher does most of the conversation
@mcneilmahon – It’s definitely not aimless, but the aim is to be social, to build a relationship, to belong to a community, not to survive
@PrettyButWise – isn’t conversation higher than situational?

How do you teach conversation English?

The focus then moved onto conversation language. For many there is an assumption is these types of lessons are totally unstructured, free and much more easy going classes. However many of the participants were keen to point out that they treated these lessons with the same pedagogical approach as other, more obviously structured, types of lesson.

@theteacherjames – My first priority is to make them ‘comfortable’ with the language.
@barbsaka – ‘Skills’ I include in conversation are turn-taking, interrupting, and active listening. And I do have to teach them 🙂
@hartle – I’m doing an online ‘conversation course’ at moment but still include language awareness and skills on emergent language.
@yitzha_sarwono – 4 beginner’s class I usually teach conversation by asking them to fill the blanks from a conversation provided before they begin speaking
@rliberni – In my experience the thing that even the most advanced students have problems with is unstructured conversation about random topics
@barbsaka – Fun idea for beginners. Take basic conversation – only rule is no looking at paper while listening to the speaker (eye contact). Then, add improv
@hartle – I ask stds at end of lesson to propose topics for next lesson, the most popular wins (like #eltchat)
@chucksandy – I don’t think real conversation happen much during task time in classes. It’s what happens in breaks/side chats/before & after.
@web2literacy – I like learners to bring things in from home to generate conversation e.g. photos etc

How do you teach situational English?

Less time was devoted to the discussion of situational English lessons, as it seemed that this was an area where most participants were comfortable with the definition and the practice. As you would expect, some great ideas about how to make these activities useful and interesting were shared.

@pysproblem81 – For situational language does that mean we need to simulate the situation?
@barbsaka – Do you put students in situation and then pull out language? Or preteach language and then practice in context?
@pysproblem81 – I’m in the UK, so get learners to engage with texts they face in real situations in their lives
@chucksandy – in 1 of my books we’ve got  a party planner activity: plan in groups, present, invite, choose most interesting, do it.
@rliberni – I once did a role play about a wild west bank robbery to practice conditionals.  We ran it over 3 weeks, including plan, do, regret.
@barbsaka – One of my classes LOVES to practice English for travel situations, but NEVER has to use English when they travel
@JoeMcVeigh – Must organize syllabus somehow! Grammar, situations, interests. Students like models but anything can be overdone.
@gknightbkk – I teach learners to be cooperative listeners


The chat ended with a general acknowledgement that whichever type of class you are teaching, there has to be a focus and a clear objective.

@hartle – The key, I think, whether situational or interpersonal is communication – as natural and meaningful as poss.
@gknightbkk – transaction v interaction is the distinction rather than conversation v situation. All conversation is situational
@mcneilmahon – my final thought – whether inter or trans, it needs to be planned and the aims of the lesson and the language both explicit

Links and Recommendations:

@gknightbkk – Field, Tenor, Mode http://t.co/flhbn6W.
@pysproblem81 – List of authentic sources for use in creating situational lessons http://bit.ly/bmFXOT /  http://bit.ly/nz1BIq
@pysproblem81 – Skills for Life ESOL resources – very situational: http://bit.ly/ooTlaP
@JoHart – http://bit.ly/eTsIx5
@JoeMcVeigh – 5 Great Books for Teaching Speaking in the ELT Classroom: http://bit.ly/niStgr
@rliberni – The Art of Conversation http://bbc.in/oam0vv
@alastairjgrant – A nice example of why and how – http://bit.ly/qUloku
@JoeMcVeigh – Here’s a book recommendation: Conversation Inspirations 3rd ed. by Zelman published by Pro Lingua.  Great ideas esp. for role plays
@JoeMcVeigh – Pragmatics: Teaching Speech Acts, Tatsuki & Houck, (Eds.) pub. by TESOL, Inc. 2010 http://bit.ly/q3wvKR
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