Very often Church or library based ESL classes are conversation-based. These are very easy to start, and are good for leaders who do not have a strong ESL background.
Even though learners say they just want conversation, we need to talk about something. The learners often find it difficult to say what they want to talk about, but when you give them a list of possible topics, they can express their preferences. One of my learners has expressed a need to talk about taxes! Don’t worry, you can pick up tax forms from any post office, and go over key vocabulary like deduction, receipt, refund, etc.
Good resources like the Oxford Picture Dictionary area great places to start. Each page has clear pictures of relevant vocabulary, and good conversation questions at the bottom of the page. You can print off the Google map of your area, and use that to teach giving and receiving directions. Some resources come every day. We received a letter informing us that we had just won a BMW, and all we had to do was send a cheque for $25.00!!! I took the letter, and an ad for “Pay no interest for 6 months!”(with very small print saying that you have to pay a $29.00 “membership fee”) and a list of idioms like “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. We had a great discussion about fraud and email scams.
There are loads of conversation questions available online. Just search for iteslj.org/questions or www.eslpartyland.com/teachers/conversation, or www.eslDiscussions.com. I often cut the questions into strips and let each learner draw a slip and ask the question. I also encourage the learners to ask a follow up question, so I am not always doing the asking. For a larger group, you can print out the questions alternating between A and B, group the learners in 2’s or 3’s and have them ask each other the questions. Then, ask the learners what their partner thought about whatever. This encourages them to really listen to their group members.
Games are wonderful to get people to interact and have fun. There are lots of games available online on any topic. Just search for ESL Games. All you need is a set of game pieces and dice, (available at any dollar store). I have made a game board with 5 rows of 5 columns of half envelopes. I write questions of differing difficulty on file cards, and put them in the envelopes under 5 different topics. The learner can then decide if s/he will answer an easy question for 1 point, or try for a 5 point question in hopes of winning chocolate for his/her team. This is a good way to review vocabulary from past lessons.
After a while, you will see so many possibilities that you will start saving everything!