This is a basic tenet of the Dogme ELT approach - the idea that lesson content should emerge out of the talk generated by "the people in the room", that learning input should be based on learner output, and that small effects can often produce large outcomes.
Getting students talking assumes that there is a classroom dynamic conducive to the free exchange of ideas, opinions, and experiences - something that takes time to build, but can be facilitated if (a) the teacher is also prepared to participate; (b) the learners can work in pairs or small groups before opening up the discussion to the whole class; (c) the focus is on communicating meaning rather than on formal accuracy.
One or two interesting questions is usuallly all it takes to get a conversation going. When one question "dries up", students can move on to another. They should also be prepared to report a summary of their conversation, either spoken or written, once the conversation is finished.
I googled "conversation starters" and found several websites with questions that could form the basis of small group discussions in class. Here's a selection:
- What sporting event/concert/entertainment would you buy tickets to regardless of price?
- Whose photo do you carry in your wallet/pocketbook?
- What’s the best/worst advice you’ve ever been given?
- Who would you like to find sitting beside you on a plane?
- Do you know anyone else who shares your name? your birth date?
- What's the longest you've ever waited in line?
- What pictures do you have on the walls of your home?
- If you could re-live a day of your life again, which would it be and why?
- If a film were made about your family, what actors would you choose?
- Describe something that's happened to you for which you have no explanation.
- What teacher influenced you the most?
- What question do you NOT like being asked?
Anybody have any other questions that have generated productive conversations?