How to Teach Your First English Conversation Class

Here is my approach to teaching English to a student or small group of students (e.g. 4 people) for the first time. I hope that some of you find it helpful.

Introduce Myself (5 minutes)

After basic greetings, I introduce myself to the student(s). First, I will just give my name and nationality and then ask the student if he/she has any questions. This is a good opportunity to see if the student can form proper questions. I expect questions like "How long have you been teaching? / How long have you been living here?", etc. If the student does not ask any questions, I will give them a short outline of my teaching experience and qualifications.

Discuss Expectations & Goals (10-15 minutes)

Next is the most important thing: identifying the needs of the student(s). Making an effort to understand what the student wants communicates that you are serious about helping him or her. I ask questions such as "What are your language goals? What do you want to focus on in class? How do you use or want to use English in your life? What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are?".

There is much to discuss under this topic. I may ask if the student has taken or plans to take any language tests. Also, I often ask the student to tell me about their previous English teacher and what they liked/disliked about him/her. This helps me learn how I can satisfy the student (the customer!).

Develop a Class Plan (5-10 minutes)

With this information, I propose a plan of attack. Typically, students have English language goals similar to the following :

1 - "I want to review some English grammar, work on some pronunciation, but mainly focus on conversation since I don't get to speak English much."

In this case, I suggest we review the basic elements of intermediate to upper-intermediate grammar by going through the review section at the back of Cambridge's English Grammar in Use book. (Or if you don't have such a book, you could take a reactive approach by just addressing the student's grammar problems as they arise).

For pronunciation, I do my best to listen to the students and write down potential areas of improvement. At the end of class (and the beginning of next class as an option), I have him/her pronounce the words in English correctly.

For conversation, it depends on the student's interests. Typically I use news-based lesson plans from English Current (this website). If the student is a businessperson in finance, I might bring an ESL lesson plan on business ethics. If the student is a housewife who is interested in more general topics, I might bring an ESL lesson plan on the family. Or, I might just bring a list of questions, topics, or new headlines to our next class and have class without any printed material.

2 - "I need English for my job. I would like to study business English and also work on my presentation skills, etc."

For students who want to study business English (or a more specific field such as legal English), I suggest a textbook to the student. Although some students dislike textbooks, I explain to them that I can teach English but I am not an expert in business. For this reason, a textbook is the preferred approach because it was written by experts in that particular field. It can provide the desired content with an organized structure. Thankfully, there is a variety of business English textbooks available that practice presentation skills, describing charts, formal communication, etc. In my experience, I have found the Intelligent Business series the best for business English. (Note: This was in 2013 and the series has been discontinued; please look for more updated book.)

teaching English conversation class
For these reasons, I usually bring a few textbooks to the first meeting. This shows that I am serious and have resources available to help the student. (If you don't have any textbooks, don't worry -- most things can be found online if you are resourceful or you can have the student purchase a textbook afterwards if need be).

It is also helpful to develop a class cancellation policy at this point as well. For me, I demand payment for all classes canceled with less than 24 hours notice. If you are a new teacher, however, you may want to be more lenient.

Student Introductions (15 minutes)

Practical matters aside, I now let the student(s) introduce themselves. If it is a group class and the students all know each other, I get them to introduce one of their classmates to me using the third person. If the students don't know each other, I pair them, have them interview each other, and then share the information with the class afterwards.

Look at My Watch (4 seconds)

Short Discussion (5-30 minutes)

If time permits, I will discuss one of three or four topics I have prepared in advance. Usually these are topics related to current local news (e.g. an election), or something more general. A long list of English conversation class topics can be found here.

If it's a group class and there are at least 30 minutes remaining, I sometimes do an activity where I write a bunch of presentation topics on the board, for example "economics, politics, sports, entertainment." Then I have each student pick a topic, prepare, and then give a short presentation on that topic in their home country. This can also be great for the student to prepare as homework and then give at the next class.

Review Mistakes (5 minutes)

In the last 5 minutes of class, I review the student's mistakes. As a teacher, I have been noting down the student's mistakes (on paper) during the class. At this point, I review the notes and explain the errors. Often, I recommend the student start an English vocabulary book and I ask him/her to add the key vocabulary items to it and write example sentences for homework.

Say Goodbye (10 seconds)

Total time = 45 - 80 minutes

There it is. That's my general structure for the first English class. Be sure to periodically check with your student if there are things he or she would like to change. Providing an easy and stress-free opportunity for the student to suggest changes will help ensure you keep him or her happy to the best of your abilities.

Good luck.

- Matthew Barton /

Related: Tips for Teaching English Conversation Class

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67 comments on “How to Teach Your First English Conversation Class

  1. Christina (Posted on 1-20-2013 at 16:29) Reply

    Thank you so much for providing a bit of structure! I’ve never taught conversation classes before but until finding your website searching for help has been somewhat of a crapshoot. At least this way I can begin with a formula and adjust my following classes using this structure instead of flailing around trying to fill empty time.

  2. Corrine (Posted on 9-23-2013 at 05:16) Reply

    Thank you so much for posting this lesson structure!! I have been given conversational classes by my school and had no idea how to structure them, compared to a normal curriculum class. Now I can walk in with confidence.

    Especially after meeting my class for the first time last week to set up timetables and one older gentleman asked if I could just read to the class for 30 minutes so they can get used to my accent! I have a very general Scottish accent which most people mistake for American or English. Never had a problem before, so setting out goals with the entire class will definitely make me feel more comfortable dealing with what I think will be a difficult student to please.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-23-2013 at 09:28) Reply

      Great. The above is my approach for private or (small) group classes. It may be harder to have such a dialogue-based approach with a larger group of students (e.g. over 6). But I hope some of the ideas are helpful.

  3. greenky (Posted on 10-13-2013 at 06:25) Reply

    Thank you so much for this. Just been dropped in at the deep end with no previous experience of teaching ESOL. This will really help me get off to a good start with my classes : )

  4. karla (Posted on 1-26-2014 at 13:04) Reply

    Matthew perfect approach. Thank you very much. Very helpful!!

  5. English Happy Learning (Posted on 1-28-2014 at 11:20) Reply

    What a great job u have done by explaining such a basic & simple pattern. Fabulous & Thank You.

  6. Sarikveasna (Posted on 2-3-2014 at 08:58) Reply

    Thanks, This is the way for first class of english teacher.

  7. Maria (Posted on 3-7-2014 at 15:19) Reply

    THANK YOU SO SO MUCH!! I´m going to begin a private conversation class and I have no previous experience at all, and I was starting to panic a bit. Now I feel much more relaxed! You have given us great tips and structure to follow.

  8. jp (Posted on 5-29-2014 at 13:53) Reply

    Sir gud eve i need sum more becaz i dnt know abt this so pl can u giv sum more information

  9. Anonymous (Posted on 5-31-2014 at 14:52) Reply

    thanks sir.i am very greatfull to you for suggest me this type of classplan

  10. Teresa (Posted on 9-5-2014 at 07:38) Reply

    Thank you! Teaching a conversation class tomorrow to 4 new students. This was so very helpful! :)

  11. Miss Brit (Posted on 9-23-2014 at 11:54) Reply

    Thank you so much for such clear, helpful advice. I am beginning private conversation classes tonight and have very little to no exp©rience at all and was beginning to flounder!!! Reading your post has made me feel a lot more relaxer. Thank you.

  12. Najwa (Posted on 11-4-2014 at 09:48) Reply

    I really appreciate it.

  13. Nina (Posted on 11-16-2014 at 15:20) Reply

    The topic is really wonderful thank u so much for giving us such lesoson plan.

  14. nadia anwar (Posted on 12-27-2014 at 17:47) Reply

    mash’Allah it’s so structured and organised .Actually I want to start giving private conversational classes and your tips are so helpful . My plan is to start my class with a reading passage about the topic to be discussed . The main point in this is to warm up the students and to give them the vocabulary needed.What do you think of that?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 1-12-2015 at 23:06) Reply

      That sounds good. Just make sure the reading isn’t too long though or too difficult. It could be a good idea to prepare discussion questions that they can ask each other in groups, too.

  15. Richard (Posted on 1-9-2015 at 22:05) Reply

    Great advice, I am giving my first online conversation class tomorrow, thanks to your advice I have everything prepared and feel a lot more confident about what I am about to do. As luck would have it my first student is a beginner so I’m a bit concerned that she isn’t going to understand anything I say.

    Just a bit of advice to jp who posted above, don’t do it man, maybe you’re better suited to gardening or breeding frogs or something of that nature but if you really want to teach English the best advice I can give you is to take a few lessons first. Good luck and the force be with you!

  16. aaa (Posted on 1-22-2015 at 10:38) Reply

    A very good effort is made here kindly give some more details about the topic so it will help to educate students and make them fluent in conversation thank u

  17. Rohan (Posted on 2-1-2015 at 10:54) Reply

    Thanks so much for this, much appreciated!

  18. siham (Posted on 2-3-2015 at 04:08) Reply

    it is very interesting topic that helps many new teaters to know the best methods to teach english in a goood way

  19. Tristi Larasati (Posted on 2-25-2015 at 05:35) Reply

    so helpful. Thank you very much!

  20. Rin (Posted on 2-25-2015 at 05:39) Reply

    Thank you very much! Anw, what do you think bout giving students some tongue twister for warming up in the first meeting?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 2-26-2015 at 20:45) Reply

      That sounds like a good idea.

  21. Imas (Posted on 5-30-2015 at 08:21) Reply

    So many thanks for your wonderful post. I am to teach an adult student tomorrow. I found this article so helpful!

  22. nadia anwar (Posted on 5-30-2015 at 23:29) Reply

    I do need answers to these questions,please !
    First, my spoken English is a mix of the British and the American so as a teacher of English do I have to stick to either of them ?
    Second , In English speaking countries ,how such mixed accents is regarded?

  23. nadia anwar (Posted on 5-30-2015 at 23:53) Reply

    I do need answers to these questions,please !
    First, my spoken English is a mix of the British and the American so as a teacher of English do I have to stick to either of them ?
    Second , in English speaking countries ,how are such mixed accents regarded?

    1. mb (Posted on 5-31-2015 at 01:31) Reply

      Where are you teaching? What type of English does the student wish to learn? The answer to those questions will provide you your answer. Regardless, generally speaking, a British accent is valued in North America. It sounds sophisticated. I wouldn’t lose it. – MB

  24. Luis Blanco (Posted on 6-1-2015 at 09:39) Reply

    This was really great, i was asked to teach english at the company i work for and had no idea where to start, this will definitely help me get some confidence and have a place to go from here.

  25. monika khosla (Posted on 6-27-2015 at 08:49) Reply

    thanks, good method to start a class. i liked it.

  26. sahilu tsige (Posted on 6-29-2015 at 08:59) Reply

    it is very nice topic. I like it. THIS kind of curse guides others to speak English well

  27. wiwied (Posted on 7-8-2015 at 10:53) Reply

    wow! it’s very nice explanation for a conversation class and it’s useful for me since i always have got no idea to build interactive learning class, I mean, grammatical structure has always been my favourite topic to deliver and it’s such a boring lesson for my students. now after reading your explanation, I have a little confident to apply it in my class room.

  28. merkel (Posted on 8-23-2015 at 15:19) Reply

    thank you for this important. Its really helpful. I wish i could download it.Great work

  29. Ruben Ekka (Posted on 8-25-2015 at 22:03) Reply

    Thankyou so! much for your wonderful strategy it seemed really a great help for me & for the people who are looking for some exceptional ideas & guidelines.

  30. George gutierrez (Posted on 8-27-2015 at 17:11) Reply

    Great lesson plan. I loved it, and I’m going to try it today in my conversation class. wish me luck

  31. solihin (Posted on 8-28-2015 at 13:08) Reply

    Tank’s you,, these is very help me. About it convertations…

  32. harsh (Posted on 8-31-2015 at 03:52) Reply

    Thanks you so much for good method to start a class liked it

  33. Marie (Posted on 10-28-2015 at 07:19) Reply

    Thank yo uvery much for sharing. I started conversation classes with my colleague’s daughter last week, and I am already running out of ideas for conversation. Falling on this has completely changed my life :) and I am beginning to see my future classes in a different light. This will be of great help to me, Ireally appreciate.

  34. nia (Posted on 12-1-2015 at 20:11) Reply

    love this website..thanks so much
    today, my first class meeting for adult class…
    and you give me some idea which are really adorable.. thanks

  35. Alexia (Posted on 12-9-2015 at 03:59) Reply

    You are a life saver!
    My boss has asked me to teach some clients (Chinese) conversational English. Something i have never done before. Now at least i know how to start.

    Thank you sooo much

  36. Sujata (Posted on 12-11-2015 at 12:48) Reply

    Thank you for your guidance in teaching conversational skills.

  37. Vira (Posted on 12-15-2015 at 22:41) Reply

    Thank you very much for providing such as a good method in teaching conversation skills.

  38. Rhulani (Posted on 1-11-2016 at 00:36) Reply

    Thank you so much, this was an eye opener for me since I’m considering offering English lessons privately to foreign adults.

  39. bashir (Posted on 2-10-2016 at 05:57) Reply

    Thank’s this is the best structure that i have ever experienced.
    since i am following this structure my students become more productive
    and learning the lesson quickly.

  40. Jan (Posted on 2-16-2016 at 19:23) Reply

    Thank you very much! I am considering teaching ESL in a foreign country

  41. Caroline (Posted on 3-7-2016 at 03:34) Reply

    On there is a great role-play about daily schedules. I’ve used it many times and it’s ideal for getting new students to talk about themselves!

  42. philiplee (Posted on 3-8-2016 at 02:34) Reply

    also help year twos with such tips.So fantastic

  43. Zak (Posted on 4-29-2016 at 12:06) Reply

    Thank you so much for posting this invaluable lesson plan and advice. Amazing how many people try and do something similar but never do it right. I absolutely love the amount of detail in this.

  44. kanchan (Posted on 5-9-2016 at 04:23) Reply

    thanx for giving me advice

  45. Kst (Posted on 5-12-2016 at 08:37) Reply

    Thank you so much. This was extremely helpful. I was asked to teach english conversation to 4-5 adults. Tomorrow will be my first time.

  46. Remy (Posted on 6-2-2016 at 05:13) Reply

    Only thing I’ve found re conversation class structure – thank you!

  47. hmd (Posted on 6-9-2016 at 23:11) Reply

    thank you so much. im jordanian teacher and i want to teach english conversation

  48. Vinita joshi (Posted on 7-4-2016 at 06:45) Reply

    Thanks its going to be great help as I am going to take esl classes. Excellent structure.

  49. Cesar C. (Posted on 7-15-2016 at 07:16) Reply

    I’m sure your suggested approach will be of a lot of help. My coworkers asked me to teach english conversation classes to them, we work for a consultant engineering company in Venezuela and their (coworkers) weakness is when they need to communicate with the client, either by a telephone call, a presentation or when they have a face to face meeting with the client.

    Should I emphasized on the technical english or concentrate more on their pronounciation/sentence structure?

    1. mb (Posted on 7-15-2016 at 09:53) Reply

      All of that. Make sure you practice role-plays for the business situations which they’ll need English for. Do 10 minutes of pronunciation every class, and assign them homework on their grammar-related weaknesses.

  50. Nana (Posted on 7-25-2016 at 20:08) Reply

    Thank you very much for this; about to start teaching conversational english and I really needed some form of help. This is pretty much awesome. Thank you so much!

  51. Abraham Cuellar (Posted on 7-27-2016 at 14:32) Reply

    This was really helpful for me because its actually my first time teaching and im very nervouys and anxious. But now I have a very good idea how im going to teach english. Thank You!

  52. marie (Posted on 7-31-2016 at 11:14) Reply

    thank you very much , i am just very happy to practice my english language . this is very helpful and interesting

  53. Nilesh Bedekar (Posted on 8-7-2016 at 14:02) Reply

    That’s quite a guideline with beacons and the content. Tomorrow’s gonna be the First Formal Lecture or Session of mine. Thanks a ton for this.

  54. Renuka (Posted on 12-8-2016 at 22:27) Reply

    Hello Mr Barton,
    I’m a primary school teacher on a sabbatical. I’ll soon be starting spoken English classes for about 25 French-speaking students. I really liked your outline for the first class. Do you have any tips for a larger group?
    Thank you.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 12-9-2016 at 01:13) Reply

      The approach will be totally different. First, you should get an understanding of their level and expectations from your boss. Then develop or obtain the course curriculum. You would probably benefit from a textbook with so many students.

  55. Arvinder (Posted on 11-29-2017 at 09:57) Reply

    Wow….thank you sooo much. I’ve been a trainer since the past many years and teaching english is not a problem for me, however, I’d never taken Spoken English Classes and needed a structure to deliver them in a fun way. Thank you once again.

  56. Keshav Chandra Lal (Posted on 7-22-2019 at 11:03) Reply

    Thanks a lot for sharing your personal experience and the invaluable tips for English Spoken Classes. Its a challenge all the time for we how to begin. The biggest challenge I have ever faced how to inculcate interests in learniing speaking with appropriate use of gestures and postures and also using limbs, shoulders etc. Its has been very tough for me to wrestle with the students’ attendance. I’ve been so much worried whether students are taking interest genuinely. In our state of Jharkhand (india) its very shocking to me most of the students dont study English whole heartedly. They dont seem to be interested in Spoken English. It is the demand of this language immensely in every state inspite of the fact that India is the country of diversities. Here people speak diffirent languages and they do have communication problems. English is the language prevalent in the whole country. Thanks again for your wonderful tips in the field of Spoken English. Bye.

  57. Bron SA (Posted on 11-26-2019 at 11:18) Reply

    I agree with so many of the comments above… I have my first Conversation Class tomorrow, and have been trying to piece together a basic lesson “structure” for that time, and everything I have seen so far was helpful, but certainly not as helpful as this…! It’s amazing how just a few pointers about how to go into a class with purpose can be helpful!
    Thank you so much for this… My research is over now – tomorrow it’s time to make it happen!

  58. Misha (Posted on 10-19-2020 at 06:24) Reply

    your website, notes, insights and activities are so helpful
    thank you for sharing this :)

  59. Nadine (Posted on 7-14-2021 at 21:58) Reply

    I finally found what I truly needed in your article and in all the related links. Thank you so much!

  60. Jeancy-blk spotless (Posted on 4-1-2022 at 07:27) Reply

    This is a helpful posted. I personally was looking at this information. It’s very interesting for my accademic work, and this will be liked method to achieve the goals. And so yet, i wishing fulfill it in papers and suggest those who’ll be backwards. Many thanks to you’u!!!

  61. Ahmed (Posted on 8-28-2022 at 15:34) Reply

    Thank you for this post. I will be teaching my first English Conversation class next week. I have been fortunate to find a few helpful articles to help me prepare. This has been, by far, the best post I read, especially, for creating an agenda for the class.

    Thank you for sharing!

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