5 Enticing Discussion Topics for Your Conversation-thirsty ESL Students

Is fashion important or not?

Do you think the world will run out of oil in the next 100 years?

Does motivation come from within, or does it depend on your environment?

These questions are sure to produce riveting conversation anywhere—even in a classroom!

Enticing your students with engaging, deep and challenging discussion questions creates essential ESL learning opportunities. Communication is the cornerstone to learning English—the reason why your students are glued to their seats during every class.

Your students want to build the vital skills that will allow them to communicate effectively at home, traveling and in the office.

Discussion can be one of the most crucial and anxiety-filled moments for any ESL student, so use the topics and questions below to give your students the practice they need to ease their worries and develop sharp communication skills.

How to Create Great ESL Discussion Questions

Don’t fall into the norm for questions.

There are many topics and questions you can use in your classroom, but not all are valuable aspects to a real discussion. The discussion questions you use should evoke thoughts and opportunities for your students to express themselves in new, creative ways.

Many ESL lessons consist of the basic conversation topics and discussion questions that your students already have preprogrammed responses for. This is something you should avoid as you approach your discussion lesson.

Choose topics your students would discuss in their native language.

The discussion questions you ask should be aimed at certain key components to life and the way native English speakers live and communicate. Topics like empathy, the future, travel, culture and fashion are all exceptional topics that will entice delightful and insightful conversation.

Best practice is to challenge your students to speak about topics they would otherwise skip when using English, but topics they discuss in their native language. Great discussion questions will also allow include a few unfamiliar words, so that your students can build vocabulary.

Don’t forget your follow-up questions.

Excellent follow-up questions are essential to discussion, since they keep the flow of the conversation moving smoothly. Your students will also have a perfect opportunity to dive a bit deeper into the topics you present for discussion. Adding depth will challenge your students and allow them to use all their ESL skills mindfully and with gusto.

Let’s take a closer look at some enticingly exciting discussion topics and questions for your class.

5 Enticing Discussion Topics for Your Conversation-thirsty ESL Students

1. Everyone Loves Fashion

Fashion is part of life and there is no way around it. Otherwise everyone would be running around naked like our very distant ancestors. Chances are, your students have already discussed fashion in depth with their friends, colleagues and family using their native tongue.

Fashion is also a great warm-up discussion topic to get your students moving in the right direction during the lesson. Using fashion as a discussion topic will also give your students a foundational vocabulary to draw from, since brands are said the same in every language.

Discussion and follow-up questions:

  • Do you think fashion is important or not? Why or why not? Is fashion important in your city/town?
  • What would you say is your fashion style? Where did your style come from?
  • Do you prefer casual or formal for work attire? Why do you think one or the other is better for the office or your career?
  • When you think about fashion, what country is the first to come to mind? Why? Have you visited that country?
  • How do you think fashion influences the lives of people in today’s globalized world? Do you think fashion plays a role in self-esteem?

In the above questions, there are many italicized words and phrases which you can focus on to keep vocabulary building an important aspect of the discussion lesson.

2. Empathy in Communication

Empathy as a discussion topic creates an opportunity for your students to learn one of life’s most crucial emotional words. Empathy is a large part of everyday life in any culture, and it is also a major part of conversation as a whole.

Defining empathy and sharing the vital role empathy plays in conversation between people in any language is the first step in this discussion topic. After your students have a solid comprehension of empathy and how it is used, you can move into the great discussion questions you have designed around empathy.

Discussion and follow-up questions:

  • Are people born with empathy, or is it a learned trait? Why or why not? How have you learned empathy?
  • Do you feel that you are an empathetic person? Why is empathy an important part of your life?
  • Are humans the only animals capable of feeling empathy? Do any other animals have empathetic thoughts or ways of acting? Why, or why not?
  • Can a person be too empathetic? What would be the positive or negative attributes of being too empathetic?
  • In what jobs or careers empathy an important component?

3. Putting Future into Perspective

Discussing the future is one of the most common discussion topics that come up in conversations around the world, second to the past. Discussing the past is great, but it is also something your students have really gotten good at over the course of their English learning. This is why focusing on the future is so important.

Many ESL students have a lot of plans and future goals, which is one of the reasons they want to learn English. They want to get promotions, travel the world, watch movies in English without subtitles and enjoy articles written in English. Talking about the future is also an exciting prospect for students, since you can ask them what they want to do, something everyone enjoys conversing about.

Discussion and follow-up questions:

  • Do you think global warming is real and will affect the coastal regions of the world? Will the cities on the ocean be under water in the next 50 years?
  • In what way will you personally use your English skills in the future? What worries you the most about that?
  • Do you think you will be a fun old person, or a cranky one? Why, or why not?
  • Do you think the world will run out of petroleum in the near future? Why, or why not? What will the world look like without cars? Will horses become popular again?
  • What will you do that will change the world?

4. Mindful Motivation

One question that really gets students thinking is, “What motivates you to get up in the morning?” It is surprising how many people have no answer for this question. Motivation is behind almost everything we do in life. Sleeping is motivated by feeling tired, eating by hunger, kindness by feeling good about being kind, and the list of motivations goes on and on.

You may have noticed in your own conversations that we always ask “why” someone did something, which is essentially synonymous of asking, “What was your motivation?” Using motivation as a discussion topic to build questions within will open up a whole new way to see conversation.

Discussion and follow-up questions:

  • What motivates you to get up in the morning? Why? Are your motivations always the same?
  • Have you ever motivated someone to accomplish something? What was your motivation to help that person succeed?
  • What are some of your favorite motivational quotes? Do you have any motivational quotes or mantras you use in your daily life?
  • Do you think motivation comes from within or is it a product of a person’s environment? Why, or why not?
  • Do you believe that motivation and passion are the same? What passions fill up your life and why are they so vital to your happiness?

5. Travel and Culture

It is no surprise that travel and culture are great discussion topics, but it is crucial to remember to challenge your students in this category. Many teachers use travel and culture as catalysts for discussion, running over the same old questions like, “Where have you traveled? What countries have you been to? Is it different in your culture?”

These are all great baseline questions when it comes to conversation, however, there is no depth and your students will most likely have preprogrammed answers ready to go for these specific questions. Take travel and culture to new heights with a little critical thinking by using the following questions.

Discussion and follow-up questions:

  • When you travel, what safety precautions do you take? Have you ever experienced a robbery or seen another traveler fall prey to crime while traveling?
  • Do you think travel money belts are still relevant? Why, or why not? Do you think that most criminals know when tourists are wearing a money belt?
  • What are your top five vacation destinations to see before you die? Will you study these places before you go, or just wing it? Are you a fan of guidebooks? Do you keep a journal?
  • What are some cultural issues that you have experienced while traveling? Any funny anecdotes?
  • Would you travel to places alone that are known to be dangerous? Do you think the media makes places look more dangerous than they really are?

Using these discussion questions in your class can be fun, exciting and keep your students building practical ESL skills. It is vital to understand what makes the best discussion questions, and knowing your students is just as important.

You can gear your discussion questions to fit your students’ specific goals or needs with a bit of critical teacher-thinking on your part. Give your students the opportunity to grow and build confidence in conversation by asking questions that engage them and add more depth to the discussion.

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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