to get things going

to get things going       to practice for a job     to practice a grammar point

Sometimes all you need to get a good discussion going is a "launch pad". There is tons of great content out there that create great speaking material. I am sharing some of my favourite "go to's" for breaking the ice or even getting down right philosophical.  I try to stay away from conversation prompts that are too litigious. I look for topics that can interest almost anyone. If you use videos, articles or podcasts, you might want to check out my Tell Back and Questions by Cognitive Skill tutorials.  These techniques are a good way to deepen the pedagogical impact of the conversation and make sure that you get everyone's full attention (there is no room for doing your shopping list when someone else is talking).

Open-Ended Questions

Conversation Starters 
First language site with a huge array of ice breakers, philosophical questions and light heart discussion topics

New York Times 163 Questions to Write or Talk AboutFirst language ressource with many thought provoking questions

Getting to Know SomeoneGetting-to-know-you questions

Philosophical QuestionsFor your philosopher/reflective students

Deep Conversations Also for the students who like reflective/psychological topics

Ice Breakers Some fun and some weird, a collection of questions meant to warm up discussions.
An endless list of topics for conversation. Simple enough for ESL but interesting enough to stimulate adults and young adults.

Busy TeacherHypothetical situation meant to fuel creative writing in first language students, but also work for discussion

eslwriting.orgThis is a fantastic ressource for ESL and Language Arts teachers. A bit like this site, Rob feeds a regular lesson blog with videos, texts, questions and printables.

Print and Discuss Just as the title implies, this site create discussion questions on a variety of topics. Simple and easy on the eyes, there is a good variety of topics. And that's all they do, so you really can't get lost on this site.

BrainfallFun silly personality quizzes on all kinds of topics

28 ESL Discussion Topics Some of these topics are also on the other sites I have referenced, but for the sake of variety, these are quick discussions that can spark the esl discussion flame. 

The Only List of Icebreaker Questions you Need Although these ice breakers claim to be for corporate team building, they are general enough, cooky even, for classroom use or for one on one lessons.

Video and Talks

Watch my video to see on how I use the "Tell Back" technique with video and podcast material

10 talks you won't be able to stop thinking about Mostly 20 min long presentations that can be broken up into segments. Great material to react to. Something for everyone.

New York Times VideoShort news broadcast, some with close captioning. They are fast, but can be used as a good launch pad.

CNN-in 1010 min broadcast of the daily news. They are fast, but supported by images, so lots of visual context.

eslwriting.orgIf you can write about it, you can also talk about it. ESL is full of great thought provoking prompts. Here I am linking the video prompts section, but there is so much great stuff on this site, it's worth taking some time to go through it. 

Crash CourseBasic business vocabulary, chemistry, history, politics, internet security, you name it, Crash Course has got it. This YouTube channel features 10 min basic instructional videos on just about anything you can think of. The speakers can be fast talkers, so I suggest turning on the CC feature and slowing down the video.

Photos and Images

Watch my video on how to calibrate the difficulty of the discussion with the "Question by Cognitive Skill" tool.

What's going on in this photo (New York Times)Thought provoking photos that are rather nebulous, so lots of guessing and hypothesizing.

National Geographic's Photo of the DayStunning photographs from around the world. Some of nature, some of society, some thought provoking, some meditative. You can practice action verbs, descriptions, colours, description of people, much can be done with photography.

50 Photos for ESL discussionFellow blogger and ESL teacher Jeffrey Hill offers a great slide show full of action packed photos to use for discussion.


The DailyNew York Times podcasts. Reporters speak relatively slowly and clearly.

CBC Radio PodcastsI have yet to find an ESL pearl among all these shows, but I thought I would share anyway in case there is one for you.

Additional Ressources

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