Topics to Practice Conversation With ESL Students

Nearly every adult ESL student attempts to improve their ability to speak English with others. They arrive at the classroom with an advantage. They have lived through life.

Importance of Speaking in ESL

a typical US classroom with students wearing casual clothing.
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Students frequently perform more listening than speaking in foreign language classes. The native speaker, either the teacher or a recording, speaks phrases and tests their comprehension using paper-and-pencil activities, such as matching games.

The need for this type of training is critical, but research is increasingly showing that students must speak the language to learn it.

People tend to put a lot more effort into certain skills than others. While speaking is the skill most people would prefer to have, it is actually something they want to become good at. However, it is also the skill they practice the least.

One of the main reasons people do not practice speaking as much as other skills are that it isn’t nearly as convenient. Learning at home with a computer is great, but to practice speaking, you need our help.

In fact, taking a conversation in our mother tongue is something that is second nature to us. But computers, for all their brilliance, it’s one of the few things they can’t do right. Computers can solve many complex equations, remember mind-boggling amounts of data, and play chess better than world champions, but they can’t engage with you.

You may ask the virtual assistant on your phone to tell you a joke, but let’s face it, they’re often pretty lousy. You will need to talk to real humans to fully practice your speaking skills. While computers can’t really have engaging conversations with you, they can certainly help you find these wonderful conversational beings called humans.

ESL Conversation Topics to Break the Ice

Hobbies & Interests

Everyone has a hobby, and everyone loves to talk about it. Hobbies can also be passions, you know. Here are some questions to initiate a discussion in the classroom:

  • Do you have any hobbies?
  • What are your hobbies? How often do you do them?

Movies & Television

The subject of television is one of those topics that everyone has an opinion on. However, even though more and more shows and movies are watched on computers and tablets, television remains a topic that classes love to discuss.

TV will let you showcase native English forms and provide some great context before diving into discussion questions.

Listening to Music

Music is a passion of everyone, and most people feel very strong emotions toward it. Especially when it comes to the music, they love (or hate).


Many people work and have a lot to say about it. If you work around a third of your time, you might have plenty to say on that topic.


Food is possibly the most universal topic in the world, and everyone loves to discuss what they eat. As the vocabulary is usually relatively simple, this is also an excellent topic for beginners.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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