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3-Step Guide: Teaching Conversation to Beginners from Day One

School childrenBefore ever working as an English instructor, I taught dance for many years. Getting dancers to remember the steps is a task typically met with varying degrees of success and frustration! My perception changed after taking a master class with a choreographer whom I admired greatly. Not only were the movements taught in a fun and fluid way, students of all ages caught on immediately and had the routine memorized and performed fully by the end of the hour-long class. The secret to this method of teaching was consistent repetition, without breaks. It was interesting to see a technique completely new to me working so perfectly. It changed the way I thought about teaching dance, and it also influenced my method of teaching in various disciplines throughout my life, from then on. I used this method to teach conversation during my time as an ESL instructor, and it worked wonders!

How does it work?

Basically, the method goes like this: The instructor puts on music and simply begins to dance the first few steps. The students then copy the movements. The instructor does the first steps over and over, without stopping, and the students follow along. Then, after almost everyone is in synch, the instructor adds on the next few steps, without pausing. The students then follow along, incorporating the steps they just learned with the new, additional steps. This method is repeated over and over, without breaking, until the entire routine has been covered. By that time, students have memorized the movements with their bodies, without even realizing it.

The point of teaching this way, the instructor said, is to get students to stop thinking and start doing. Constant repetition is also the best way to ingrain new information quickly and with few errors.

How can you get the conversation started?

In an English language setting, I found that this works best for practice with speaking out loud.

Instead of practicing speaking aloud with a particular unit and then moving on to the next, students can learn basic communication much better by continuous, repetitive practice of simple exchanges, which are built upon bit by bit. This simple dialogue does not need to move as quickly as the lessons themselves. Instead, start small and keep building as soon as the majority of the students can comprehend and respond fluidly. You can ask simple, conversational questions in the beginning of class as students are getting situated, then ask them anytime throughout the lesson. Start out by writing a simple exchange on the board. Practice it all together, first. Then, starting the next class, you can begin to practice it in repetition.

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