Monthly Archives: December 2012

Demanding Higher in a Conversation Class


One of the conventional wisdoms says don’t correct or interrupt the flow during a conversation class. We can see the point and it’s fine as far as it goes. But the danger is that it develops into a demand low activity.


I do not want just to correct/interrupt. I want to constantly tend to, upgrade and intervene in order make sure the fire is burning hot. So….personally I don’t have any problem, throughout the classdebate on public transport / law and order etc, in constantly upgrading their language using the tools of minimal interference. For example, my interventions are either silent, or sotto voce but clearly on a different wavelength from the discussion, and might be to the effect:


  1. “Yes, but in English please” (ie join it up and make it faster)
  2. Or I gesture to join the words up
  3. Or I say “Ok you got it, now faster please…”
  4. Or I point at a phoneme or the chart, ie attend to that
  5. Or if another vocab item is needed I give it silently via the chart
  6. Or I wordlessly invite a repeat, which allows a self correction/improvement
  7. Or I wordlessly invite word addition, deletion, or changed order
  8. Or I may just point in the direction of the chart, which means “Check out your pron…”
  9. Or I might say “Now could you summarise what you said….”


So all my interventions are paradoxically NOT interruptions, but the ARE upgrades,  which keep the students watchful and alert while they have their conversation. I find this enhanced quality of attention also leads to a better conversation, better English, and greater learner engagement and satisfaction with achieving something worthwhile.


By the way, I don’t write down a list of errors to deal with at the end of these so-called ‘fluency’ phases. I am aware that is standard practice, but I deal with problems either exactly when they arise, in the heat of the moment, at the point of purchase, or never. I’m not recommending this, but it’s what I do. And what I have is multiple ways of upgrading language (structure, vocab, word order, pron) without interfering (much) in the stream of what is being said.


Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment: These students have not paid their time/money to come and have that debate on public transport. If that was their overriding focus they’d go elsewhere for such a debate. They have come to learn English, and they don’t want me tiptoeing round a mediocre conversation about transport out of desperate fear of stopping the flow. The time to improve and upgrade the flow is during the flow, not when the flow has stopped. I think I can have a better flow of conversation by subtly upgrading it constantly throughout until they are all on the lookout for content, form and quality themselves. You can do this once you are confident with minimal upgrade techniques (which include pronunciation of course) ie minimal intervention with maximal upgrade.





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