Zooming in and out of conversation

Listening to some excellent music from the 60s on the walk to work yesterday morning, I got it into my head to try something with my upper-int conversation class (no set book, no set materials, rapidly running out of ideas after 6 weeks!) about a particular decade, its highs/lows, etc.

Needless to say, my carefully planned idea about the 60s didn’t interest the students in the slightest… but my ad-libbed extension grabbed them and filled an entire hour!  Go figure.  I’ll definitely try this out again, and here’s how it went…

I gave (verbally & on the board) one question to the students to discuss in pairs.  They did so, for about 5 minutes, then we came back to whole class and they shared & debated their opinions.  Here was the question:

1. What’s your favourite moment of the day?  Why?

Then we repeated that process with the following questions, each time in pairs/small groups first, then whole class:

2. What’s your favourite day of the week?  Why?
3. What’s your favourite month/season?  Why?
4. What’s been the best year of your life so far?  Why?
5. What’s been the best decade in history so far, in your opinion?  Why?

These few questions alone sparked so much lively discussion and debate, it was quite surprising.  Between each question stage, I boarded good language use, reformulating where appropriate (e.g. “There’s nothing better than… -ing on a Saturday morning/when I get home from work” etc.) so students could recycle it in the next stage.  Some students had fun with subverting the original questions and being more pessimistic, for example – like “what’s been the worst year of your life so far?”

If I did it again, I think I’d overlap the ‘favourite’ and ‘best so far’ questions a bit more, maybe adding a few more questions depending on how the students were responding – e.g. “what’s your favourite moment of the day” then “the best moment of today so far”, and so on.

The principle of this lesson is one I’ve been trying to work into different lessons lately, namely encouraging repetition of language without tasks feeling too… repetitive!  I’ve branded this one ‘zooming in/out’ as I just picked one core thing (in this case a discussion question), then worked out how I could build from it incrementally and allow for repetition of language.

This time, I zoomed out: starting with one moment in a day and working up to one decade in a year.  At some point in the next week I’m going to try zooming in… all ideas welcome!


About Laura Patsko

Teacher trainer, language learner, language teacher, linguist, researcher. Not necessarily in that order.


  1. Hi Laura, long time, no comment. Sorry I've been a bit scarce. I like the way the idea of 'zooming in' on an aspect of a task also zooms in on the language which it produces. By the same token, zooming out pushes learners into new contexts and towards a wider variety of forms and vocabulary. I was wondering if you might like to write a lesson skeleton that incorporates this idea?Dale

  2. Ah, I responded to this comment soon after you posted it, Dale, but it seems to have mysteriously vanished! Strange.Anyway, I'd be honoured to contribute a skeleton to your… closet?! Seems a bit of a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean. Let me know if you'd still like to organise that!Laura

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