Saturday, July 30, 2011

Conversation Skills for monosyllable responders

Do you have any monosyllable responders in your class? If you get 3 words out of them it's cause for celebration!

I have found it is hard to build a relationship with a student who won't talk!

Well, this summer I have finally found a technique for overcoming the monosyllable response. I am participating in an intercambio with a 19 year old university student. (An intercambio is where you have a conversation partner in another language. For the first half of the time you talk in language 1, then for the second half of the time you talk in language 2.)

This is what our first conversations were like:

Me: What sports do you like?
Him: Soccer
Me: Tell me more
Him: lots of silence . . . I like to play it with my friends.

At first I wasn't sure if his English level was really low, and he needed more help with sentence frames. That was not the case. This was just his conversational style. Then I thought - maybe he just doesn't like me as his conversational partner? Maybe he would prefer someone more his age, into sports etc.  No, he preferred to stay with me as his teacher.

Finally I stopped and tried something totally different. I explained to him about how to have a conversation.

                         Conversation Frame
  • I ask a question.
  • You answer in 2 - 3 sentences.
  • You ask me a question related to the topic.
  • I answer in 2-3 sentences.

It was like a light was turned on, and suddenly the conversation was flowing. We had an amazing conversation about soccer, going to the gym, what he is studying in school etc. While I thought he was uninterested, it turned out he just lacked some basic conversation skills.

Maybe you have students like this? Somehow they have gone through life and not picked up on the unspoken rules of conversations. Sometimes what appears to be a lack of motivation is really a skills deficit.

See what happens if you make those unspoken rules clear!

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