In a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I want to write about responsibility — not in the normal sense of the word, but when it comes to conversations. That is, who leads a conversation and the things we do to be polite.
As an English teacher, I am often frustrated by the inability of students to be responsible for conversations. This manifests itself in the way I often have to lead a one-way conversation (i.e. I ask the questions, the students answer) or the tendency of students to shy away, turn to friends, or actually run away before a conversation can ever take place.
These responses are of course natural because with limited exposure to English, it is hard to expect students to know how to lead a conversation, much less have the vocabulary to carry one on for more than a short time. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to teach students about this or that we should give up speaking altogether. Rather, it is important to give them tools to begin learning how to be better conversationalists.
Thus I have started using the “And you?” Rule with many of my students and especially with my special needs class, which, as I explained yesterday, I have more leeway shaping the curriculum.
The “And you?” Rule boils down to this: if I ever ask a student a direct question, I tell them that they can carry on the conversation a little longer if they then ask, “And you?” after they have answered the question for themselves.
This is a small technique (and perhaps seemingly trivial), but it is important for several reasons. First, it teaches students that conversations are two-way, and can’t progress if one person is always talking. Second, it gives them an easy phrase that encourages real communication. Third, it shows students that they have responsibility in the a conversation to maintain the conversation by actively answering the question and asking the person they are talking to for more information. This is a start to teaching students how to have healthy conversations in English. With a shared responsibility for conversations, you’ll notice that communication with your students is not only more natural, but more polite and easier — because now you are sharing the conversation with students as opposed to always leading!
This small little phrase can turn a 30 second conversation into a 5 minute conversation because the more chances we have to talk, the more we learn about each other and the more things we can talk about. Teach it to some of your students and let the conversation flow.