Courses English conversation cues

Courses english conversation cues

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IELTS Cue card A place you visited which was full of colour

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  • Buy 50 Conversation Classes from Amazon
  • Buy 50 Conversation Classes – American English version
  • Get the  PDF eBook (includes British and American English versions)
  • View some sample pages.
  •  the Kindle edition containing all the 500 ESL conversation questions featured in the print version of the book
  • a web and Android app – featuring randomised conversation starters from fifty categories

A great way to get the students talking is to put them in small groups with a pile of these printable conversation questions on the table. Use them as warm up questions at the start of a class or as a fluency activity after presenting and practising some target language. Students take it in turns to turn over a card and read out the discussion question. When they have exhausted  the topic, the next student turns over a card and so on. At the end of this exercise, you can ask students what they have learnt about each other and run through any interesting grammar and vocabulary points that you overheard during the activity.

Printable ESL conversation cards

  • future with ‘will’
  • past simple – childhood
  • past simple – recent events
  • present simple
  • present continuous
  • present perfect – have you ever?
  • present perfect – life history
  • second conditional
  • age
  • annoyances
  • animals
  • art
  • birthdays
  • books
  • business
  • cars
  • Christmas
  • clothes
  • controversial opinions
  • current affairs
  • eating out
  • the environment
  • fame
  • food
  • the future
  • getting to know each other
  • getting to know each other (teens)
  • Halloween
  • health
  • holidays
  • home
  • humour
  • internet
  • jobs
  • law
  • love and marriage
  • money
  • movies
  • music
  • politics
  • school
  • shopping
  • sleep
  • sport
  • technology
  • television
  • time
  • towns and cities
  • travel
  • the unexplained
  • weather
  • work


Because conversations need to be organised, there are rules or principles for establishing who talks and then who talks next.


There are two guiding principles in conversations:

  1. Only one person should talk at a time.
  2. We cannot have silence.

The transition between one speaker and the next must be as smooth as possible and without a break.

  • Formal methods: for example, selecting the next speaker by name or raising a hand.
  • Adjacency pairs: for instance, a question requires an answer.
  • Intonation: for instance, a drop in pitch or in loudness.
  • Gesture: for instance, a change in sitting position or an expression of inquiry.
  • The most important device for indicating turn-taking is through a change in gaze direction.

For much of the time during a conversation, the eyes of the speaker and the listener do not meet. When speakers are coming to the end of a turn, they might look up more frequently, finishing with a steady gaze. This is a sign to the listener that the turn is finishing and that he or she can then come in.

The instruction that some of us were given at school, "Look at me when you speak to me", is unsoundly based. In normal English conversations, a speaker does not look steadily at the listener but rather may give occasional quick glances.

Some people find it impossible to carry on a conversation with someone who is reading the newspaper. We need to be able to see where someone's eyes are directed to know whether we are being listened to.

In telephone conversations, where we cannot see eye gaze, we have to use other clues to establish whether the other person is listening to us.

The rules of turn-taking are designed to help conversation take place smoothly. Interruptions in a conversation are violations of the turn-taking rule.

  • Interruption: where a new speaker interrupts and gains the floor.
  • Butting in: where a new speaker tries to gain the floor but does not succeed.
  • Overlaps: where two speakers are talking at the same time.

minimal responses

There is some evidence that women tend to use minimal responses more than men, and this is a possible reason why, in mixed conversations, men talk more than women. With the encouragement of these minimal responses, men often continue to talk, and without the encouragement of these minimal responses, many women will stop talking.

Story-telling within a conversation is indicated by some kind of preface. This is a signal to the listener that for the duration of the story, there will be no turn-taking. Once the story has finished, the normal sequence of turn-taking can resume. Young children, in learning about this convention, have to be asked not to interrupt when someone is telling a story within a conversation.

Published on: 07 May 2009


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