How to Organize an Online English Conversation Club

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

A colleague reached out to me and here is a copy of our correspondence.

From E to Me

It's been a long time! I'm so happy to be writing to you. I hope you are doing well. My family and I are doing well, adapting to our new routine. Besides saying hi!, I wanted to ask you for some advice. If possible, I would like to ask for your help. I've been asked (by some of my ex-students) to have a conversation club or something like that in which I can help advanced English learners to practice their speaking skill. To be honest, I've never done something like that. And I would really like to give it a try. However, since I'm not really experienced I was thinking that maybe you could help me organize some ideas that can help me structure a class like this. I would like to know if we could have a video call about this topic. I would pay you for it of course. Please let me know if you are available, I wouldn't like to cause any inconvenience.

It was nice writing these lines after so many months (smiley face).

From Me to E

What a delightful surprise to hear from you. How wonderful that you are going to facilitate an English conversation club! I have never hosted a remote conversation club. When I taught at ITESO, from time to time I hosted conversation groups in the library/resource center associated with the language department. Those sessions consisted of an English teacher (the facilitator) and the student participants sitting in chairs arranged roughly into a circle. In the middle was a basket with laminated cards. The cards had questions and/or topics written on them. These conversation prompts were available to stimulate conversation. Most of the time one person talked and the others listened. Sometimes participants needed to be drawn into the conversation with direct questions, other times participants eagerly contributed to the conversation without being nudged. Outside of ITESO I haven't hosted clubs or conversation groups, whether in person or virtually. Due to the current state of programmed terror, I have not convened an in person meeting for either of my Meetup dot com groups. One group was for socializing in English. The group was for people who were fluent speakers of English--native or not. The second group was for people seeking to improve their English. The members of this second group were not native speakers of English. This second group was instructional, yet conversation based. When the latter group met we would definitely do pair work that revolved around voice to voice conversations and/or conversations in writing. While the participants conversed together, I would monitor the pairs, take feedback notes about each individual participant, and answer any questions that were asked of me. After each round of conversations, I would give each person feedback and ask people to change partners. Then we would repeat the process. If you have heard of "speed dating" the dynamic was very similar, however in my case, prompts were available to use if desired, and people were not rating each other based on who they would like to go out with. Currently I have remote clients which I help one-on-one, not in groups. I generally assist intermediate and advanced non-native speakers of English who need English to advance in their professional careers. My clients don't really need a traditional English class or an ITESO style conversation club. Most of the classes are conversational. There is little or no time spent waiting for one's turn to speak. Since the sessions are one on one there is little time wasted feeling lost or being embarrassed about not understanding something, etc Cisco Webex may have "break out rooms". That was interesting to me because no way did I want to have a group class in which the speaking time for each participant was almost guaranteed to be significantly less than in a one-on-one conversation. Nevertheless, I think that having a group class or "conversation club" can be useful for people who feel they benefit from listening to other participants and who want or need controlled practice and teacher directed structuring most of the time. Let me know what platform you end up using e.g. Skype, Zoom, Cisco Webex. You might find inspiration from YouTube videos regarding at-a-distance conversation clubs. Whatever you come up with, there will be a learning curve. Ask your would-be participants what they envision and what they want to get out of such a club. This will also help with your initial planning. Periodically survey the participants to find out what they like and don't like, what they want more of, what they want less of. Then tweak accordingly. I am sure having an English conversation club is going to be a rewarding experience for you, your former students and the new faces that they invite. Let me know what works for you. Maybe I will follow in your footsteps. By the way, are you still in metropolitan Guadalajara or have you returned to Playa del Carmen?

E to Me

Wow! Thank you for all your comments. I find them really helpful. As a start I will try to find out exactly what their goal is with this intention they have to have a conversation club and based on what they tell me I would then look for goal oriented activities.

I think I will use Zoom because that's the platform I've been using in a couple of one-on-one classes I have now.

Thanks again for your valuable help!

BTW, we are living in Guadalajara again!!

Talk to you soon!

Me to E

Thank you for the warm response. Your initial plan-- Zoom PLUS activities intended to meet the needs, expectations and desires of the participants--seems sound to me.

I would be interested in hearing about (1) your evolving experience as an English conversation club facilitator, (2) what has worked, (3) what hasn't worked, and (4) what you might try next and why.

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