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How to Teach English Conversation Class

How to Teach English: Tips for Teaching Private or Group Conversational EFL/ESL Classes

Be Prepared: even for a purely conversational class, at minimum bring a pen and paper (to write down mistakes) and some conversation topics. While sometimes a conversation will flow organically from ‘What’s new?’ into something interesting, it’s good to have a list of about four or five interesting questions for when there is a lull in the conversation. Having a dictionary can also be helpful.

Don’t Talk Too Much: although some students are happy listening to their teacher’s wonderful English, they can do this at home with a DVD. In class, keep your talk time down and aim to have the student(s) do 70% of the speaking. Ask open-ended questions instead of Yes/No questions. Use a “Tell me more” approach. In group settings, have students talk together, while you play the role of a moderator. Guide the conversation without becoming the focus of it.

Balance Your Correction: use a combination of correcting students as they speak and writing down their errors on paper. Too much correction when the student is speaking can be discouraging and disrupt the flow of conversation. If the student is making many errors, note the major mistakes on paper while listening. Review the mistakes at the end of the conversation.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say You Don’t Know: if you can’t answer a tough grammar question, tell the students you’ll look into it and get back to them. Students will appreciate your effort and honesty. You will also benefit as a teacher by learning about what you can’t already explain confidently.

Review: the problem with no-textbook conversation classes is the lack of structure. Topics change each week and students quickly forget what was previously covered. To alleviate this problem, review the most important mistakes/vocab/pronunciation issues from the previous lesson at the beginning of the next class. If you’re already noting down the student’s mistakes in class, have him/her keep these notes and bring them next class so you can review them. After a certain number of classes, make a quiz on all past key language items. (You can also ask the student to make sentences with the new vocabulary items in the notes as homework.)

Care: students enjoy class more if they feel you are interested in what they say. English class can have therapeutic value because it gives students the opportunity to speak with someone who actually listens. While being attentive as a teacher, be supportive and understanding as a human being.

ESL conversation class notes

example of rough notes from English conversation class

Happy teaching.

– Matthew Barton /

Related Article: Using General Conversation to Teach Different Levels

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79 Comments on this page

  1. Robinson (Posted May 11, 2012 | Reply)

    Hello, good tips; thank you for this article. I am an American in Brazil teaching private English.
    Greatly appreciated, cheers.

    • renu (Posted November 4, 2015 | Reply)

      hi, In which class u teach.i m also teacher.

  2. dr.y (Posted June 7, 2012 | Reply)

    thank you so much for these tips.

  3. Kelly (Posted June 16, 2012 | Reply)

    Thanks for these tips. I am teaching a chinese girl who is sick of “study” with books and just wants conversation. This approach is perfect for me

  4. Michael (Posted June 19, 2012 | Reply)

    Thanks for taking the trouble to share these useful tips.

  5. tony (Posted June 22, 2012 | Reply)

    well my name is tony and this is my e mail address
    i will be teaching english to some kids from this month, i know how to teach kids but the problem is that i need some materials to teach kids like some pictures or some power point presentation can you e mail me some pictures to teach kids …
    please i will be very helpful for me send me some material to teach some basic english
    my e mail is

    • mb (Posted June 23, 2012 | Reply)

      tony: I recommend teaching them colors. First, download some flash cards on the Internet. (e.g. from

      Then teach the colors. Then put the flashcards around the classroom and have the students run around, touching them. (e.g. you say “Touch… PURPLE!”) and they have to do it in 5 seconds. if they don’t, they lost a point. or play Simon Says with them.

      For the end of class, download a coloring sheet like this one: . Even if they can’t read, you read them the colors and the students listen and color the sheet accordingly.
      If colors are too easy, you can do a similar class with shapes, or food

  6. Rasool (Posted July 5, 2012 | Reply)

    Thank you SO very much ,,,
    I am already applying some of these TIPs in my classes, however I feel your article was rich enough to pull the trigger in my mind for applying some ECLECTIC strategies.

    Tabriz – Azerbaijan / Iran

  7. My name is miss akiacha from cameroon (Posted August 8, 2012 | Reply)

    I am finding difficult problem to teach the secondary level students wethout them taking down not of conversation. so pls am asking and beging you to pls tell me how i can i manage my class of conversation with the studets weout them writing even the difficuit vob. help me out if only talking for one hr can help them understand. and they are very slow and weak in speaking.

  8. mb (Posted August 8, 2012 | Reply)

    akaicha: have you tried music? try to get them to sing a song. such as “Hello, Goodbye” by the Beatles or “Sing” by the Carpenters

    If you want to get them speaking in class, use games. you can find some here:

    Good luck,

  9. Susan (Posted October 1, 2012 | Reply)

    Have enjoyed your website! And, yes, I made a donation… which I encourage others to do also!!

    An ideal way to review vocabulary etc, as mentioned above, would be to use the “Vocabulary Review Board Game for EFL/ESL Class” you devised. A great way to review “disconnected” items from several lessons.

    Thank you for all your efforts

  10. mb (Posted October 1, 2012 | Reply)

    Dear Susan,
    Thank you very much for your generous donation! It has already been credited to my hosting account. I’m glad to hear that you find the site useful. Thanks to your support, I’ll continue to try to post new ideas on the site in the future.

    Happy teaching from Prague!
    Matthew Barton

  11. Anna (Posted October 2, 2012 | Reply)

    Thank you for the tips…am beginning English conversation lessons to Italians next week!!!!

    • mb (Posted October 2, 2012 | Reply)

      it shouldn’t be hard to get Italians talking =)

    • Meg (Posted March 13, 2014 | Reply)

      I am presently teaching English conversation in China (at the University level) and am looking into other teaching opportunities around the world.  Does anybody have any suggestions for me? 

      • Anonymous (Posted April 7, 2015 | Reply)

        Anyone interested to teach Chinese and English to a Kindergarden in Namibia

        • Mohammed (Posted May 6, 2016 | Reply)

          I’m Mohammed I’m English and Computer teacher.
          I’m interested to teach English in Namibia
          my email:

  12. Adriano (Posted November 17, 2012 | Reply)

    Thanks for these tips. They are quite useful.
    I am a brazilian guy, teaching English in Barcelona.

  13. Tenzin gyalpo (Posted November 23, 2012 | Reply)

    Hello I am tenzin I am starting to teach my daughter how to learn a good English speaking perfectly can u please help me to teach them ….

    • mb (Posted November 23, 2012 | Reply)

      Hello. Teach her vocabulary using picture cards, the alphabet, and phonics. Good luck.

  14. Luna (Posted November 25, 2012 | Reply)

    Hello Matthew. I think you are really great teacher and thank you so much for sharing the tips. Btw , I want to ask your opinion. I am not a native speaker of English. I will teach conversation to my private student soon. He is from korea and he is an adult. What is the best way to teach him? I have talked to him a bit. He understand English well. Do I need to teach him from the very beginning topic like greeting and introducting himself? Thanks in advance.

    • mb (Posted November 25, 2012 | Reply)

      Hello Luna. Yes, you should still do introductions. You need to get to know each other. If it’s a conversation class, here are some ideas: Have him introduce himself. Then get him to ask you questions instead of just introducing yourself. Talk about his expectations for class. Ask him what topics he’s interested in, how he feels about textbooks, what his weaknesses are, etc. Develop a plan. Then, maybe do a role-play with him. Have him imagine that he got your phone number from a friend who recommended you as a teacher. Have him pretend to call you and ask about your experience, pricing, availability, etc. Also maybe bring 1-2 topics in case there’s more time. At the end, review his mistakes and maybe give him some homework (e.g. make sentences with new vocabulary). Those are just some ideas.

  15. Dan (Posted January 8, 2013 | Reply)


    I am teaching basic conversation classes at a Thai high school. I am having problems getting my students to speak in class. The classrooms are very cramped, and have 50 students in each class. I feel my lessons are unproductive. Do you have any Ideas for teaching conversation to large classes?

    Many Thanks

    • mb (Posted January 8, 2013 | Reply)

      Hey. Wow, tough environment to teach in (50 students). I’d focus on pair work and other ‘interview’-like activities that make the students communicate with each other. Examples: “Find someone who…” activity (where students find someone who has done one of the items on the sheet, e.g. been to France), Liar game (, etc. I’m not sure what kind of control you have of your curriculum, but if you can, get them doing large role-plays, e.g. half the class are salespeople or travel agents, and the other half are customers (e.g.

      Singing (real) songs can also be good for high school kids and doesn’t become less effective if the class size is large. Good luck.

  16. andy (Posted February 5, 2013 | Reply)

    not bad stuff mate

  17. Leif (Posted March 18, 2013 | Reply)

    Hi, Matthew. I’m Leif and I am going to teach a group of people who do not know English Language at all. Well, may I have some opinions on how to start the lesson and how to make the lesson more interesting so that the students may enjoy while learning. Please kindly contact me via Email

    thank you so much..

    • mb (Posted March 19, 2013 | Reply)

      Leif: if they can’t communicate at all, then I suggest you use a textbook. Once they have some mastery of English grammar and a decent vocabulary, they can move on to open conversation. I would suggest starting by role-playing a basic greeting between two people, e.g. ‘How are you/What’s your name/Where are you from?/Nice to meet you’ and then have them practice it. Then move onto a textbook. Good luck.

  18. mahmud (Posted April 3, 2013 | Reply)

    Hi, this is the first time I have been given an opportunity to teach spoken English to some students who are not really students but employee of an office. they are little educated too.I am confused where to begin. Could you help?

  19. Dalton (Posted June 19, 2013 | Reply)

    Thank you very much for these tips. I have just gone through them and I am certain they will help me a lot.I am from Africa, but I’m currently teaching in Thailand.

  20. Roya Ataee (Posted August 7, 2013 | Reply)

    I am an English teacher in Iran who teaches group classes. I have so many introverted students who keep quiet during the speaking pair works. I use so many promps but they dont really work! please help me to overcome this problem,
    Roya Ataee!

  21. Roya Ataee (Posted August 7, 2013 | Reply)

    I am a freshman teacher who seriously needs help in this respect!I have been teaching for 3 years and still need to know about strategies and maybe games needed to teach young aduld and adult students! I am teaching Top Notch series now and I found them very Useful. I would like you to send me some useful strategies to enhance the speaking skill of my poor students in Top notch 2. I will appreciate your effrots in advance! here’s my e-mail address:
    Roya Ataee from Qazvin, Iran…

    • mb (Posted August 20, 2013 | Reply)

      Sorry, I do not have any experience with that book. To enhance speaking, maybe you could add a ‘warmup’ to the beginning of each class, in which students must interview a partner and get new information about their weekend and ask questions using recently covered grammar points, etc. Then get a few students to share their partners’ answers with the class.

  22. Karla (Posted January 26, 2014 | Reply)

    Thank you so much for the tips on posted. They ahve been a great help! I am deffietly saving your page under my favs. 

  23. uche (Posted February 6, 2014 | Reply)

    Thank you so much for the tips . Im a Nigerian and I live in Barcelona. Have been having conversation classes with more advanced English learners and that wasnt any problem but I ran into one when I was to handle the less advanced. This sight has really given me the needed tips. Im very grateful and believe it will help me as well as my students it .Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas.

  24. maryam (Posted February 10, 2014 | Reply)

    thank u please help me to improve my reading skill.

  25. Rati (Posted August 4, 2014 | Reply)


    i'm an indian medical student studying in ukraine…and i would start teaching a group of students english c0nversation as a part time job….i would like to know how should i start and how should i go about it??? what should be my plan of teaching and stuff like that..

    thank you

  26. Ouch (Posted November 8, 2014 | Reply)

    At our intitute we have conversation clubs three times a week, but different students would come everytime (it’s not a formal grous as itself, but an open club for everyone to come). Since you’d never have the same students, you cannot ask them to bring their mistakes for the next session or so, then… could you give us an idea of an effective error correction technique without being too discouraging?
    Thanks for the help.

    • mb (Posted December 22, 2014 | Reply)

      The group changes completely every week? If only a few members change, it’s still useful to elicit the new vocab/review mistakes at the beginning of class. They can learn even though they weren’t there.

      For error correction in class, try to have a balance between correcting them as they speak and after their conversation. Usually I write down errors during class and then put them on the board before class ends. Then we work together to correct them. Of course, you don’t need to identify which student made the error(s).

  27. Steve Hall (Posted December 21, 2014 | Reply)

    I have just come across this and i feel really put at ease with your comments for English Conversation. I have been struggling, due to the children having mixed knowledge of English language.

    Thank you

    • mb (Posted December 22, 2014 | Reply)

      That’s good to hear. But if you’re teaching children (e.g. people under 13), you might need more of a real lesson plan (instead of just a few conversation topics) to cover the class, depending how long it is.

  28. joy (Posted December 23, 2014 | Reply)

    The topic is really interesting. I am from Nigeria based in Libya. Teaching some kids English language .could you please tell me how to teach them conversation. One is in grade two and the other grade three. My email address is hope to hear from you soon. Thanks

    • mb (Posted December 27, 2014 | Reply)

      When you teach young children, they need to learn vocabulary and then grammar before they can have a conversation class. If they are absolute beginners, try using a picture dictionary and teach them some basics (present simple, pronouns, etc).

  29. Sophearak yin (Posted January 12, 2015 | Reply)

    I think that the topic is good for teacher. I’m from Cambodia. Now I’m teaching English language at Apex International school one more manager at AIS. how to teach children or adult well? if our student they was young. we should teach grammar or not teach. one more grammar and vocabulary.. which one more important?

    • mb (Posted January 12, 2015 | Reply)

      If your students cannot read well, then it will be difficult to teach them grammar. Usually teachers for young children focus on vocabulary building activities (flashcards, picture dictionaries), pronunciation/stress/rhythm (songs, chants), set expressions (“Nice to meet you”) and basic grammar patterns (“It’s a cat. It’s not a dog.”)

  30. jhen (Posted January 19, 2015 | Reply)

    The topic is very interesting. I found it useful for my lesson with the kids. I’m from Philippines. Now I’m teaching in Moscow Russia. I had been teaching adult before. Now I started teaching Russian adult as we go on the lesson they told me that they want to learn English conversation though they are absolutely beginners. Would anybody share ideas how to teach them.Or write me on my email Thank you.

    • mb (Posted August 20, 2015 | Reply)

      Hello Jhen. Sorry I didn’t see your comment. Please see my reply to Leif above.

  31. Rauf ali (Posted January 28, 2015 | Reply)

    Thanks for this …. i m a teacher of institute of english….i want to increase my exprnce too much…..

  32. tiva (Posted February 13, 2015 | Reply)

    hello… thank you for your tips… it helps me a lot,, I’m an English trainer in Indonesia.. I recently teach second grade of elementary school and sometimes find it difficult to keep up with them.. they’re so hyperactive that they cannot sit for awhile.. they will shout and run around the class and it makes me difficult to get them together and deliver the material… do you have any suggestion for me?? what kind of method or activity should be applied in my class??
    thank you in advance

    • mb (Posted February 21, 2015 | Reply)

      Songs are great for young children. Try “London Bridges.” They’ll love it. “Bingo” is also a good song.

      For low levels, I focus on vocabulary building and short expressions. I usually print and laminate flashcards related to a theme (e.g. colors, food, seasons), and then have them play games with the flashcards, such as “Simon Says”. You can lay the cards out on the floor (if you have space), and then say “Simon says goto APPLE”. They should then go to the apple flashcard. But if you don’t say “Simon says”, they shouldn’t do it. This probably wouldn’t work if you have more than 20 students in your class.

  33. rowida (Posted February 28, 2015 | Reply)

    It is Helpful. Thank u so much

  34. Anonymous (Posted March 11, 2015 | Reply)

    Hello my name is Zubair and I am from Afghanistan. The tips how to teach are very useful, so kindly thanks for sharing! Recently, I have started teaching basic English hence I need to know some more strategies how to teach? I will be very grateful if you send information to my Email=
    Many thanks

    • mb (Posted March 11, 2015 | Reply)

      What in particular do you want to know? Please explain.

  35. Anonymous (Posted March 12, 2015 | Reply)

    I am a school teacher who teaches English language and literature, but I have been asked to tutor a young mother who want to learn English. She speaks only a little bit of English so I am not sure where to even start with her. I have a list of various conversational topics (thanks to you!) but I am not sure how to keep it interesting. I don’t want to just sit and ask questions from a list for the whole hour, every time. Learning conversation is the most important for her. Do you have any tips or advice? Thanks!

    • mb (Posted March 12, 2015 | Reply)

      I suggest using a textbook for low-level students. She’ll need one so she can learn grammar/structure. Also, you can assign homework from the textbook. You could begin your class with 10-20 minutes of conversation/review, and then move on to the textbook and practice new verb tenses and vocabulary. Then assign reading + writing tasks as homework.

  36. omid (Posted March 27, 2015 | Reply)

    Thanks for your helpings
    I’m a teacher in Turkey and I have a big problem with involved my students to speak english . You know thier writing,listening and vocabulary abilities are very diffrent with their speaking ability . I don’t know what can I do ? They scared of speak english , when I try to make them speak they will close the topic just with “I do’t know” or “I don’t remember” or “I don’t have any…” . Or in conversation clubs that will take 2 hours and is just for speaking I don’t know how can I be useful for them ? Do you have any suggestion

    • mb (Posted March 27, 2015 | Reply)

      Hmm. Are they not getting involved because of anxiety or boredom? If the latter, then try to make class more interesting. Give them topics they already have an opinion on (or ones that they feel some passion about). Otherwise, students might be more talkative if you have them work together, e.g. survey each other, instead of talking with you. Also, I find that debating is a good way to get students to talk (assuming the topic is relevant to them). A good topic could be “Should teachers give students homework?” You could also try games (Find someone who, murder mysteries). Boys are usually motivated if they can ‘win’ something =)

      Good luck. If you need more help, search for “speaking reticence esl” on Google. You’ll find more information.

  37. Kama (Posted April 8, 2015 | Reply)

    great and very useful. I will use some of them!!!! thanks

  38. asido (Posted April 20, 2015 | Reply)

    Thank you for the ideas given. hopefully, you may add the syllabus for conversation so that it would support me/us then. Happy teaching

  39. Govind Ahir (Posted May 7, 2015 | Reply)

    Thanks for all above step .

  40. Kate (Posted June 17, 2015 | Reply)

    I would like to know what to do in my conversation classes of 40 high school students. I have no textbook to follow and the classes are mixed-level, I even have some special needs students. I only see the students every fortnight and most of the time they are too rowdy for class games but then too passive if I introduce any type of ‘conversation card’ type activity in groups. I have tried to make them do presentations but they just don’t want to speak. Games work but they allow for too many of the students to just sleep or mess around. My classes don’t count for the end of year exams which is all that the Korean students are focused on, so I am just feeling extremely disheartened.

    • mb (Posted June 18, 2015 | Reply)

      The truth is you really can’t have a conversation class with 40 students. I guess you’ve learnt this.

      My advice: cater to the motivated students. If some sleep in an extracurricular class, then let them do so in the back. Really it’s next to impossible to engage more than 25 students for any significant length of time. Perhaps you could ask the school to provide you a Korean assistant to help monitor the misbehaving students. Presentations are a bad idea with that number. If I were you, I’d focus on teaching some basic grammar/expressions at the the beginning while they are lucid, for example: present perfect (Have you ever…?) or accepting/refusing invitations (Would you like to..?) . Then try to have them use the language together in a ‘Find someone who / making plans with classmates’ activity. If there are many boys (it sounds like that), make it into a game. Boys are competitive; let the student who completes the objective win (praise him or give a prize). If messing around is the problem, then tell your boss. Perhaps s/he can find someone to assist in making the students obedient.

  41. (Posted August 19, 2015 | Reply)

    your tips are very interesting Im going to try them on my 6th sem. but I would like to know if you can give me more tips for that group, they are very hyper studets.

    • mb (Posted August 19, 2015 | Reply)

      Can you provide more details?

  42. ciré DIALLO (Posted September 9, 2015 | Reply)

    i will be glad if i am sent some approaches of how to deal with first level students. Iam an English teacher from Senegal. EMAIL :

  43. ciré DIALLO (Posted September 9, 2015 | Reply)

    email me some approaches to deal with first level students:

  44. Irfan (Posted November 20, 2015 | Reply)

    Hello, this is Irfan here , I am an English teacher and now I am working as a trainer you can say that as a facilitator. My question if I have only one month duration for teaching spoken English to beginners then how much syllabus do I decide for this condition. Help me.

    • mb (Posted November 20, 2015 | Reply)

      Irfan: The students will be total beginners? What are their needs? You can start by teaching introductions (Nice to meet you, my name is ~, I am from , I like x, ) If they are children, teach them some simple but relevant vocabulary (vegetables, professions) and some simple phrases (I like apples / My father is a doctor).

  45. Sp (Posted November 22, 2015 | Reply)

    Thanks for your useful tips

  46. Mr Heck, Mexico (Posted January 29, 2016 | Reply)

    Mr Matthew,
    Thank you very much for sharing these tips. I am doing a Conversation Workshop (4 hours) in a company for people who are my regular students and want to take some time to just speak. Your pointers have given me a better understanding on how to approach it. Blessings, Hector

  47. Toktam Zohdi (Posted February 14, 2016 | Reply)

    thank you so much for these useful tips and site.
    I am an Iranian teacher in ministry of education. I am interested in teaching and learning Eng.I read your articles and tips.They are helpful for me.

  48. Rahna (Posted February 29, 2016 | Reply)

    Thanks for these valuable tips.i am a kerala teacher who has great interest in english teaching and talking.i expect more from this sight and all the nest

  49. Tan (Posted March 15, 2016 | Reply)

    Your website had been such a great help for me and I believe for other teacher too. I had taught a few students for conversation class. The problem I’m currently facing is whether I’m qualified to teach. Most of my students are around 18 years old and up. I learned English through reading and watching Hollywood movie. May i know what kind of certification will i need to prove my qualification? You may reach me by e-mail.
    Thank you very much!

    • mb (Posted March 15, 2016 | Reply)

      The certification required is determined by what employers are asking for in your area. If you feel that you are able to teach, then that may be enough. The main thing is that your English should be (at least slightly) better than the English of your students. Judging by your writing, I’d say you could definitely teach.

      If you are interested in Hollywood movies, then why don’t you incorporate that into your classes? You could have them role-play movie scenes or film their own short movies (they can record with their smart phones). Here are some useful sites: and

  50. Mr. Bala C K (Posted March 15, 2016 | Reply)

    Thank you very much for your valuable tips. I am an economics teacher by profession. But now I am asked to take spoken English classes to the students of above twenty years. Still I am not so fluent in English, How can I teach English to others? Kindly guide me.
    Mr. Bala C K

    • Anonymous (Posted March 15, 2016 | Reply)

      Ask your boss what his or her expectations for the course are. Then build a class designed towards those ends. A textbook may be useful.

  51. Mohammed (Posted May 5, 2016 | Reply)

    I’m Mohammed from Sudan. I’m English and Computer teacher.
    I’m looking for teaching job
    my email:

  52. Mustakim (Posted August 12, 2016 | Reply)

    hi! i am from Indonesia
    wow! this is the answer about my problem as the new English Private teacher. thanks a lot dude!

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