Teachers and textbook writers are always trying to come up with interesting topics for ESL. Should they talk about current events or historical facts? Actors or anthropologists? Table manners or taboo topics? Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter. As long as you, the teacher, find it interesting, you will make it interesting for your students. Seriously, you could talk about paint - perhaps the most uninteresting topic on earth - but if you bring a knowledge of and fascination with paint to the table, somehow it becomes interesting for everyone.
Bear in mind that your students are people like everyone else, and they probably like to talk about the same kinds of things you talk about with your friends. If that doesn’t give you a few ideas, then try this: Imagine you moved to a new country. What would you like to know about it? Still drawing a blank? Read on.
Finding Topics for ESL Discussions
If your creative juices aren’t already flowing, here are some more specific ideas for interesting ESL topics. You will begin to notice how many of them overlap. Not only is that OK, it will make things even more interesting!
- Cultural differences - This is the number one most fascinating topic of all, and you will find that it comes into play in just about every other topic as well. Whenever you want to get conversation going, just ask your students to discuss how they do something in their country. It can literally be anything - from attending a dinner party to watering the lawn. There are always differences in protocol, manners, etiquette, tools, etc. that can be discussed at length.
- Romance and relationships - Oh golly do students LOVE talking about romance. Be careful not to get too personal with this topic, but get them going on the processes of dating, engagement and marriage in their various cultures, and you’ve got a week’s worth of classes covered. You can talk about:
Obviously, you can also combine this topic with any historical and/or cultural information you want to teach with regard to Valentine’s Day.
- How/where people meet potential dates
- Typical age when people start dating
- What sort of physical contact is appropriate in dating relationships
- How long they date before getting engaged
- The traditional American wedding ceremony
- Appropriate wedding attire and etiquette, and the list goes on.
- American history - Whether your students are studying to become American citizens or just visiting family for a few months, American history is always a topic of interest. It explains so much about who we are as a culture, and a lot of the slang words and idioms we use today came from specific periods of American history, so giving them a historical context can really help them understand tricky words and phrases.
- American idioms - ESL students love learning colorful colloquialisms and idioms, but be careful to teach them phrases that are still in use. Or at the very least, if you teach an antiquated idiom, tell them it’s old and not really used so much. There’s nothing more unsettling than a hip, 20-year-old calling someone a "nincompoop" or explaining that he has "a bee in his bonnet."
- American pop culture - ESL students love a juicy bit of celebrity gossip as much as the next guy. They also love honing their listening skills and practicing grammar and vocabulary with American pop songs and TV shows. And once you’ve got a class hooked on an entertainment television show, you have topics aplenty to last you the entire season. Hold debates on who should go home each week and why, replay performances and let students write critiques, or if you’ve got a talented and uninhibited bunch, host your own ESL entertainment show (in English)!
- Holidays - There is at least one holiday in just about every month of the year, and we have different traditions to go along with all of them. Students are especially fascinated by holidays they don’t celebrate in their countries, like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July.
These are just a few general ideas to get you started. Feel free to tailor them to suit your needs, expand them, or come up with your own interesting topics for ESL class. You can always just ask your students what they’re interested in and go from there!