ESL Discussion Topic Ideas to Try for Teachers

The key goal of every ESL student is to essentially gain the ability to speak English and communicate well with others. Luckily, despite the rather lackluster grasp of the language, they come to the classroom with a unique advantage - life experience. As a teacher, this concept and truth about life can help you teach the language better. Why? Because life is universal - we may come from different backgrounds and cultures, but the flow of life remains the same. 

These ESL students wish to speak English as well as speak their native languages, so what better way to achieve that than through discussions about everyday life? Studies show that ESL speaking activities work better when they speak from personal perspectives, thoughts, recollections, and ideas. Interactive exercises work, of course, but they can also do so much. The improvement of not only fluency but confidence can come from these lengthy ESL discussions. 

ESL Topic Discussion Ideas for Teachers

With this, we have gathered ESL discussion topic ideas to try for teachers, most of which are questions about everyday life. These are the type of questions, though, that will definitely motivate them into thinking and sharing, inciting fascinating discussions among your students, set in a (assuming) multicultural classroom. Here are some of the best ESL discussion topic ideas to try, compiled especially for you:

Hobbies

A little bit of a no brainer, actually, but hobbies can be a good starting point for ESL discussions. If you think about it, everyone has hobbies. Moreover, people enjoy talking about the things that they love. Combine these two, you will have a discussion that perhaps will never end! It could be about clubs they joined in college, cooking family recipes, or essentially doing productive things during the holidays. Here are some questions to ask:

  1. What do you usually do in your free time?

  2. Why do you enjoy doing your hobbies?

  3. Do you have enough time to do your hobbies?

  4. How did you discover your hobby? 

  5. How long have you been doing your hobby?

  6. Do you have any hobbies you used to do but do not anymore?

  7. Do you think it is important to have hobbies? Why or why not?

Time

Time is another concept everyone interacts with. As we get older, our perceived value of time changes. Essentially, it is a subject most people will have something to say about. Here are some good questions to ask:

  1. Do you have free time? How much free time do you usually have?

  2. Is time important to you?

  3. If you were given more free time, how would you use it?

  4. People express the idea that “time is money”. Do you agree?

  5. What do you think about time being wasted?

Music

And yet another universal concept people can relate to is music. Human beings are naturally inclined to music, language barriers aside. Most people begin to feel strong emotions towards it, especially when it involves the kind of music they love the most. Below are some questions to start the ball rolling:

  1. What kind of genre do you like best? Why?

  2. What kind of genre do you hate the most? Why?

  3. How does music affect your emotions?

  4. What kind of music is your country known for?

  5. Who is your favorite artist?

  6. What do you think of listening to music made in a language you do not understand?

Work

To survive, people work to earn money. Many have things to say about it. There are experiences in finding your career path, taking summer jobs for college students, and even answering common interview questions and how to nail them. Here are some of the best questions to ask:

  1. Do you have work experience? 

  2. What kind of work did you do? Or what kind of work do you do?

  3. Do you like working? How do you feel about the concept of work to survive?

  4. What is your dream job?

  5. What is the most common job in your country?

  6. What do you think about the American Dream?

 Food

More than anything else in the world, food is the most universal topic, and the easiest ESL discussion topic you can try. There is a certain nostalgia that comes with food, be it talking about the best college dorm meals or Michelin star restaurants. It is an ideal topic for ESL learners, as the vocabulary necessary is usually quite simple. Here are some good questions to ask:

  1. What is your favorite food or dish? Why?

  2. What is your country’s specialty?

  3. How does food make you feel?

  4. Are there any food dishes that you do not like?

  5. Where do you usually eat? At home? Restaurants?

  6. Does your family bond over food?

  7. What are your favorite memories involving food?

 Motivation

Motivation is a tricky thing to come by, and even though your students may come demotivated, starting this ESL discussion topic can turn things around. Perhaps these questions can spark inspiration on your students:

  1. Take a little bit of time to reflect. In general, how motivated do you think you are at the moment?

  2. What is your main source of motivation?

  3. What do you think motivates a person to succeed?

  4. What do you do to get rid of feelings of demotivation?

  5. What do you think is the best way to motivate other people around you?

  6. What are some of the best motivational movies you have seen?

Beauty

Beauty is subjective, and a topic that conventionally leans towards femininity rather than masculinity. However, it is essential to learn how to appreciate beauty in all its forms, as there is beauty not just in appearance but culture, human nature, and society, as well. Perhaps you could discuss the controversial topic of Beauty and Miss Universe, but for now, these are some simple questions to get started:

  1. What is “beauty” to you?

  2. Who do you consider beautiful? What do you consider beautiful?

  3. Discuss “inner beauty”.

  4. How do you feel about plastic surgery?

  5. Do people put too much importance on beauty nowadays?

  6. What should people teach about beauty?

Love

Love is an emotion people experience a lot. There are many different forms of love, more so than the romantic kind. This makes it a good ESL topic, as every single person in the room will be able to relate. You can talk about heartbreak, familial love, and even friendship:

  1. How would you define love?

  2. Who do you love? What do you love?

  3. Do you have any good or bad experiences with love?

  4. How do you feel about love?

  5. Can love be harmful sometimes? How so?

Goals

As your ESL students, they are probably striving hard to learn English because they have goals. Talking about them helps with encouragement and motivation, and sharing them with others can help students get their goals done. Here are some good questions to ask:

  1. What goals do you have for your life at the moment?

  2. Do you have concrete plans to help you reach these goals?

  3. What are your short term and long term goals?

  4. Do you have any goals you have achieved in your past?

  5. What kind of emotions do you feel when you have achieved a goal?

Dreams

We all have dreams, and not just those that form our visions of success. In deep sleep, our brains remain awake, which is why we dream. Using dreams as an ESL discussion topic can incite interest and creativity, as students will be encouraged to be whimsical. Such questions include the following:

  1. How often do you dream?

  2. What kind of dreams do you usually have?

  3. Do you think our dreams mean anything?

  4. Do you remember any of your dreams?

  5. How does your country view premonitions? Do you believe in them?

  6. Do you have any memorable dreams you would like to share?

 Money

Even though most would try to deny it, money makes the world go round. It is a topic most would relate to, even if they are broke. It is a relatable topic, one that has the power to keep conversations going. Some good questions to ask are:

  1. How do you manage your money?

  2. Money is important. Discuss.

  3. Money is not important. Explain.

  4. Why do you think some people develop money problems?

  5. What is the best way to make money?

  6. If you were given $1,000,000.00, what would you do?

  7. Do you save money?

  8. How important is saving money for students?

Life

Life exists everything, transcending language and cultural barriers. Expressing life experiences in English can make for a great ESL discussion topic, as everyone will be able to contribute unique perspectives on such an omnipresent topic. Yes, it is not just for writing admission essays. Start the discussion with these questions:

  1. In your opinion, what is the meaning of life?

  2. Where is your life going at this point?

  3. What happens after we die? Is there truly something after death?

  4. Are there any life lessons you have learned?

  5. Should the world end tomorrow, what would you do?

Learning

Learning surrounds us. Science dictates that our brains are built to store, absorb, and filter information. It is the reason why you have ESL students now, and the reason why you are teaching. Talking about learning can motivate even more English learning, which is why it is a good ESL discussion topic. Here are some questions you can ask:

  1. What is the importance of learning to you? How so?

  2. What are you currently learning besides the English language?

  3. Is there anything you are good at learning? Bad at learning?

  4. What would you like to learn after mastering the English language?

  5. What is the most challenging part of learning?

  6. What is the best part about learning?

These are just some of the best ESL discussion topics to try for teachers. Depending on your class’ skill level, you are more than allowed to tailor the questions to make them either easier or challenging. You can also invent your own - just keep in mind that the best topics are those they can relate to in their own native languages. This could be everyday things, as they are usually open-ended and can spark discussions after discussions. Good luck!

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