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If you’re looking for ESL discussion ideas for your classes, it’s quite an easy thing to do. There are a lot of sites on the internet that offer a variety of conversation topics.

All you need to do is click on a specific topic that interests you and a page will pop up with a set of questions on that topic.

For example, you might click on Friendship. Then, you’ll see a numbered list of possibilities like:

‘How many close friends do you have?’

‘Which qualities do you look for in a friend?’


‘What’s the best way to make a new friend?’

The WRONG WAY to go

Unfortunately, there are several problems with using this kind of discussion activity in your class.

  1. The questions are bland.
    Let’s face it, introducing these kinds of questions is not going to energise your class. There’s a high likelihood they would have seen similar types of questions before, so there’s no incentive for students to enthusiastically participate.
  2. There isn’t any scaffolding.
    When expectations aren’t clear, students find it hard to respond. These questions don’t provide any expectations around length of answer, situational context or why they are being asked.
  3. There is little opportunity for debate or to express differences of opinion.
    How many close friends can one have? Two or three? What are some good qualities? There are a few obvious ones – honesty, generosity, trustworthiness. It’s likely students will have the same or very similar answers, which will lower the interest level.
  4. Students know when the teacher isn’t making an effort.
    Students generally respond well to a teacher and their lesson plan if they think the teacher cares about them and their learning. Finding a list of questions like the one above and presenting it as a class activity looks lazy.

The RIGHT WAY to go

If you’re looking for HIGH QUALITY ESL discussion ideas THAT WILL MOTIVATE AND FASCINATE your students, that’s not so easy.

Yes, it will take more effort on your part than merely finding a list of questions. You’ll need to use your creativity and set aside some time to plan and construct your topic.

But the rewards are exponentially higher. Your discussion class will sparkle and shine, and your students will have a real opportunity for improvement.

There are two discussion activities outlined below: Crime and Punishment and Sightseeing Tour for Overseas Diplomats. These topics have worked for me on many, many occasions, and here are the reasons why:

  1. They are dynamic and compelling scenarios
    These scenarios include topics your students can really sink their teeth into. They grab their attention and encourage the robust exchange of ideas. I have seen several examples of students wanting to continue debating their point of view after the class is over.
  2. There are clear instructions
    For a scenario with multiple elements, clear instructions like the ones given in these two exercises are a must. Students need to understand at all times what your expectations are.
  3. There will be an emotional investment
    To really get students involved in a discussion class, they need to be emotionally invested. For this to occur, there needs to be a variety of opinions discussed, with opportunities to agree and disagree.
  4. You have made an effort which will be appreciated
    In the short term, your students have a very good opportunity to improve their conversational skills. In the long term, I have seen countless examples of teachers and students becoming life long friends because of how much a student appreciates the efforts made by their teacher.


Download Discussion Topics Printable PDF for your Class

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