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The Basic 5-point Outline for an Effective ESL Conversation Lesson Plan

Communication is the doorway to all that is possible.

That’s because other people lead us to new ideas, opportunities and experiences.

Now imagine all the amazing things your students will learn by speaking English.

That’s why we’re in the language teaching game after all, right?

Make this doorway open to them. Give your students the chance to discuss topics and develop important communication skills that will take them far beyond their English goals.

Conversation is one of the most important ESL skills you can equip your students with. Moreover, your students will actually enjoy a well-developed ESL communication class.

Communication is, after all, why most of your students are learning English. They want to meet new people in their travels and discuss new ideas while gaining various new perspectives on the world. Conversation is the ESL tool that will take your students’ noses out of textbooks and notebooks, letting them build English language confidence in a more natural way.

Let your students take on the “Chatty Cathy” persona with this wonderful ESL Conversation lesson plan.

What Does an Amazing ESL Conversation Lesson Plan Look Like?

First things first, get to know your students. It’s important to understand who they are, what they’re interested in and what they want to accomplish by learning English. ESL students all embark on the lifelong journey of learning the English language for their own unique reasons and, as their enthusiastic teacher, you should know those reasons.

Maybe one of your students wants to learn English to get promoted at work or move to a bigger, higher paying international company. Another one of your students may be close to retirement and is looking forward to a little well-deserved globe trotting and wants to learn and discuss everything in English without it being a chore. You might even have a student or two that’s preparing for an important English test to get into a Master’s Program abroad. These are all important details when planning ESL conversation lessons.

There are a few ESL concepts you should focus on when preparing your ESL conversation lesson plan. Make sure the topic of the conversation is relevant to your student. A young adult will most likely want to discuss their favorite sports team or travel, not the latest business trends or political news. Keep it relevant and your student will stay engaged in the discussion.

Another concept to consider is what ESL sub-skills will come up during the conversation. Preparing for any foreseeable problems is always the best policy in ESL conversation and ESL in general. You may find a few idioms or phrasal verbs that are relevant to the conversation that you can add in as you go. You’ll also be concentrating on how your student delivers their thoughts while focusing on pronunciation and grammar.

ESL conversations are more difficult for ESL teachers in some ways. You have to be very attentive and process not only what your student is saying but how they’re saying it.

Ask Yourself These 6 Questions During Conversation Lessons

  1. Is the discussion relevant to my student’s interests, goals and needs?
  2. Is the discussion moving along or is it beginning to stall?
  3. Is my student’s pronunciation and enunciation correct and clear?
  4. Is my student fumbling with vocabulary, phrasal verbs or idioms?
  5. Is my student using correct grammar to convey his or her thoughts, opinions and questions?
  6. Is my student staying on topic and answering my questions correctly?

Structuring Your ESL Conversation Lesson

Structuring your ESL conversation is a very important part of the discussion, and without a good plan, your conversation can stall and deteriorate quick. Poor lesson structure can leave your student unenthused, frustrated and will often diminish the confidence to speak which both of you have worked so hard developing.

Conversation is 50% confidence, 25% interest and 25% English skills. If your student loses confidence to speak, you’ll have already lost momentum and will have to fight hard to get them back on track.

An exceptional way to structure your lesson is to implement Presentation, Practice and Production (PPP) when developing your lesson plan. Presentation is the stage in the lesson where you have your moment in the sun as a great teacher. You present new material to your students in an exciting and informative way, laying the foundation for the rest of the lesson.

Practice is the PPP stage where you ease up on the reins and let your students begin to practice the new material in a guided way. One excellent way you can build conversation within an ESL conversation lesson is to develop collaborative practice exercises. The activities can be completed in pairs, in small groups or as a whole class.

The Production stage in the PPP structure is for your students. Here you’ll zip up your lips pretty tight and let them show their stuff. You’ll float around and keep a close eye or ear on their production activities, maybe answer a few questions here or there, but mainly you’ll take a step back. The production stage is where confidence plays a big role in the ability to communicate. This is also a great stage for teachers, a satisfying moment when you get to see your hard work take form in your students’ abilities.

The Basic 5-point Outline for an Effective ESL Conversation Lesson Plan

  1. Warm-ups
  2. Presentation Stage (your time to shine).
  3. Practice Stage (let the collaboration begin).
  4. Production Stage (putting your students to the test and letting them strut their stuff).
  5. Feedback Period (Great if time allows, recapping and Q and A session).

ESL Conversation Lesson Warm-ups

There’s one part to every well-developed lesson plan that can often be overlooked.

Warm-ups are essential for all aspects of ESL learning. They should be incorporated into every lesson, especially ESL conversation. Warm-up activities are the light switches in your students’ minds. They spend the majority of their days speaking in their native language, so it takes a little time to get the English juices flowing when they enter your classroom. Flip that switch during warm-ups and the production and presentation stages will be more effective.

We touched on the importance of warm-up exercises above, but now let’s take a deeper dive into a few great ESL conversation warm-up activities. Remember, this is the beginning point of all your conversation lessons and your students may be somewhere else mentally at the start of the class.

It’s always a great idea to keep warm-ups as simple as possible. They’re meant to be easy and fun with little brainpower expended. Building enthusiasm and English thought is the name of the game when discussing warm-up activities.

Great Warm-ups to Flip the English Switch to ON

1. I Went to the Park and Saw… 

This easy, fun and engaging ESL conversation warm-up is a well-known and fun game to play with your students.

There are different variations, like “I went to the grocery store and bought…” or “I went to English class and saw…,” but the concept remains the same. You’ll start the class off by first writing the key sentence phrase on the board and then adding the first noun. For example, “I went to the park and saw a dog.” You can also execute the warm-up using an adjective and a noun like, “I went to the park and saw a playful dog.”

You’ll start your class off and then let your students add a noun or adjective+noun to your noun and so on. So the first student to play will continue from your sentence and may add, “I went to the park and saw a playful dog and waddling duck.” It’s easy to follow along and can get a little silly, putting your students in a great mood to continue speaking more.

2. Last Letter, First Letter 

This is a great warm-up that’s also fun and exciting for your students. This will allow them to really get those English juices flowing while creating an enthusiastic and engaging communicative atmosphere.

The last letter, first letter game is simple in concept, but gets a bit more challenging once vocabulary begins to dry up. You can even utilize this warm-up to discuss words that have a similar theme.

A great example of the last letter, first letter game is to first start off with no theme. Let your students freestyle around the room. You can start them off by using “car.” The first student will then take the “r” from “car” and make a new word like, “rain” and so on.

After one time around the class, add a theme. For example, your theme could be “kitchen utensils.” You’d start off with “spoon,” the first student would continue with “napkin” and so on. It’s a lot of fun and will get your students excited to learn.

ESL Conversation Presentation Activity

The presentation stage is where your lesson begins and you lay your conversation foundation in an informative yet fun way.

It’s a great idea to keep in mind that visual aids are the best form of mental stimulation for most students. Having some kind of imagery in front of them allows them to develop imaginative thoughts and questions prior to discussion. Putting together a presentation based on a few pictures is excellent and will be the example for our sample presentation.

The theme you choose for your presentation material should be the theme you use for the entire lesson. This will create a linear development of your topic and allow your students to understand and develop more conversation later. Our theme for this sample ESL conversation lesson plan will be “National Parks.”

Animals are perfect for opening topics and then you can move into well-known geographical features or get deeper into the relationship between animals from each visual aid. There are a lot of national parks in the United States, so it’s best to choose only one to draw your material from in order to quell any confusion that may arrive later. You don’t want students focusing more on which national park you’re talking about than the animals that can be found there.

Here is a presentation outline for your ESL Conversation discussing Yellowstone National Park:

1. Visual #1 would be a great photo of a bear relaxing in Yellowstone. You’ll discuss what types of bears are in Yellowstone, what they eat and the importance of the bear to the ecosystem.

2. Visual #2 would be an exciting picture of a wolf in Yellowstone. You’ll discuss what wolves eat, how they group together and why they’re important to the ecosystem.

3. Visual #3 would be a photo of a wolf and bear together. You can discuss the struggle between two of the top predators in Yellowstone and how they interact.

The presentation outline above is an excellent, visually stimulating way to put out new material and provoke imagination and questions about what they’re seeing.

This is how you’re going to keep conversation moving in the next stage of your PPP. The practice stage is coming up next. For practice, you can create a worksheet with each photo and a short description of what you presented.

One side of the worksheet would be information and the other side would have a few questions that your students will use during the practice stage. This will also allow for a smooth transition from presentation to practice with no pauses in the lesson.

ESL Conversation Practice Activity

After fielding a few questions about the presentation material, you can instruct your students to turn over their worksheets and scan the questions briefly while you pair them up. Remember, the practice stage of the PPP format is the collaboration stage. That means you’ll want to step back a little from your teaching power stance to let them have thoughtful discussions with their partners.

The student pairs will begin by answering the first two questions together. These two questions are general and will ask the students what the bear eats, how he lives and so on. The second question will be for discussing the wolves of Yellowstone.

The next set of questions will be more like a scripted dialogue guide. In the pair, there’ll be a Student A (pro-wolf) and Student B (pro-bear). Student A will have a list of questions for Student B in defense of his or her wolves and Student B will do the same, advocating for his or her bears.

Questions for Sample Practice Worksheet

1. What do bears eat and how do they interact with each other as a bear population? What’s the bears’ relationship with the wolves?

2. How do wolves travel around Yellowstone (individually or in packs) and what do they eat? What’s the wolves’ relationship with the bears?

3. Student A Script: How can you defend bears when they bully wolves and take their food? Why are bears eating other things beside fish? Shouldn’t bears be hibernating during the winter months?

4. Student B Script: How can you say bears are the bullies when wolves attack bears in packs? Why can’t wolves share their food with bears? Why do wolves get to be in charge during the winter?

The questions are simple in nature, but cover all the key discussion points that you’ll give your students during your presentation.

The debate about which animal is better gives your students the chance to develop their own opinions in a informative way, using supporting information they learned during your amazing presentation.

The first two questions on the worksheet also promote collaboration before they realize they’ll be debating a specific side of the topic. The scripts are just there to give you an example of what this debate might look like.

ESL Conversation Production Activity

The production stage is your students’ time to shine and show all that they’ve learned without any help from their teacher.

If presentation and practice was successful, they’ll have no obstacles standing in their way when approaching and successfully completing their production task. It’s important to keep your talk time to the bare minimum, but don’t exit stage left during production. Keep an eye out for students that are overly shy and possibly not fully engaging in the task.

Production activities are meant to be fun in ESL conversation while continuing to focus on the main subject that they’ve learned and practiced.

In other aspects of ESL, production exercises are more individual based. In ESL conversation, your students must employ the help of their classmates. Depending on the size of your class, split the class into two groups and have them develop a theatrical performance using the information they have regarding bears and wolves at Yellowstone.

A great way to keep the play structured is to only assign students with characters. Student A will be a park ranger, Student B a Yellowstone hiker or maybe journalist. Make sure you also have some students play the roles of bears and wolves—talking roles of course—letting them portray how the animals would weigh in on the debate.

This production exercise is fun and each student has the opportunity to construct any statements or responses he or she pleases. Confidence building and great conversation will be the outcome for this ESL conversation lesson plan and you’ll watch your students blossom into free speaking English language enthusiasts.


Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

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