Teaching conversation to Chinese teenagers

I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to make my conversational classes more interesting for my students.
The class is comprised of 16-18 year olds and can, despite being of quite a high level, be quite hard to motivate. I want to talk about stuff that they're interested in but the problem is that Chinese kids spend almost all of their waking lives studying and generally don't have many hobbies that they spend enough time doing to talk about at great length. Also, their views have a tendancy to be very generic, as they have probably just absorbed the views of their parents or learned the 'acceptable' view on a subject and taken it on as their own. Many times I've attempted to get heated discussions going but all I get is one general view witch isn't argued with anything resembling passion.
I'm pulling my hair out with this class, and a lack of ideas is leading me to use material from the course book which is filled with comprehension material. Not the best method for a class that's supposed to be all about conversation. And they hate it!
By the way i'm new to teaching and this is my first class of this kind.
Any advice is much appreciated,

JenG's picture

Hi Marc, I teach conversation classes in Chinese universities in Shanghai and am also a teacher trainer and you are certainly not alone in this problem!  Getting Chinese teenagers to talk is a big challenge and something we spend many training sessions discussing. Have you tried taking a task-based approach to lessons?  There are loads of great articles and ideas on this website about task-based learning - here's one for a starting point: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/articles/a-task-based-approach And the Willis' website is great for ideas and lesson plans too: http://www.willis-elt.co.uk/ The basic premise as I understand it is that instead of asking students to talk about something, you ask them to do something (the task) that involves talking.  If you give Chinese teenagers a goal/objective, sometimes it can help to focus them on the task and the fact that they are speaking English becomes somewhat incidental.. but in a good way as they are speaking English without being too self-conscious! Another small idea.. if you want your learners to debate a topic, give them opposing views rather than asking them to argue their own point of view.  I agree that rarely works, unless you've got really motivated students.  But telling them they must agree or disagree with a statement removes some of their concern over 'saying the wrong thing' and allows them to passionately argue one side, even if they don't personally agree. Good luck, Jenny

small9's picture

When I work with Chinese teenagers I found them being able to express their point of view if I guide the discussion carefully. On class we together set up a rule of thumb that 'do not laugh at others' and it works. Most of time we do pair work and group discussion. They are willing to participate because they do want to learn! Good luck!    

awesomeenglish's picture

Hi Marc, I suggest you find time to create a rapport with the students. Talk about things that are totally not related to class. Guys usually like to talk about sports or computer games and girls about popular bands or singers. I would usually try to imitate popular celebrities or politicians to get their attention. Once you get them to laugh, you get one step closer to them. It doesn't happen overnight. But once they are comfortable around you, communicating with them should be very easy.