Blog | English Language Learning | Centre For Excellence

VESL Workshop: Conversation ideas for low-level learners

The following blog post was written by Norma Tersigni, a faculty member at the School of Global Access. Norma recently planned and facilitated a VESL workshop called Conversation Ideas for Low-level learners.

Since 2005, VESL (the Volunteer ESL Tutor Training Project) has supported the professional development of volunteer ELL tutors throughout the city of Calgary. The project is funded by Calgary Learns and is the collaborative effort of three Calgary ELL service providers with long-standing volunteer programs: Bow Valley College, the Calgary Public Library, and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. 

On May 1, I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop for 22 volunteer tutors on conversation ideas for low-level learners. The participants in the workshop were enthusiastic, receptive, and collaborative. While engaging in discussion and conversation activities they offered comments and suggestions which enhanced the experience for all.

We started by discussing the importance of conversation for low-level learners. The language examples instructors focus on build fluency, encourage retention, and develop confidence. An integral part of conversation is active listening. The tutors shared their ideas about being aware of cultural differences while teaching skills like eye contact, open body posture, and paraphrasing to confirm understanding. 

A major focus of the workshop was on setting learners up for success by building the individual skills necessary to complete a simple two exchange conversation. The tutors used picture dictionaries to generate vocabulary lessons which would support basic conversations. 

One novel idea suggested was recording sounds of kitchen utensils and appliances as one part of a lesson to reinforce vocabulary. They also shared ideas about using word play, music, and chants to develop vocabulary. We then talked about expanding the language examples into role play to further develop the skills taught.

Another activity in the workshop that the tutors enjoyed was the simple survey. (Do you like ____or_____?) They were impressed with the limited text on the page as well as its relevance within any context.

The willingness of the tutors to engage wholeheartedly in the workshop and their obvious commitment to good practice made for a very rewarding evening.

Visit the VESL Network to download information, handouts, and resources from over twenty previously held VESL workshops.