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I facilitated a similar type of informal conversation group when I worked at the Purdue Writing Lab. I think they still hold the groups. They were very popular, and I highly recommend them for both the students and the facilitators--we all learned a lot from each other! They were especially popular with graduate students, who had fewer structured opportunities to speak with native speakers outside the strictly academic environment of classes and labs (a lot of the students who attended were in the physical sciences). Practicing English in an informal, non-academic space allowed us to focus on cultural issues, which I think was very productive since culture is so closely linked to language use.

I think a group like this would be very helpful to your students, since they are also working to understand the culture surrounding healthcare in the US. But, like Mary, I suggest having a facilitator. I also think it would be helpful to have some pre-planned topics so students will be enticed by topics they are interested in, but also letting everyone know that bringing up other topics is okay. 

Deb

-----Original Message-----
From: Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Mary Early
Sent: Tuesday, July 07, 2015 10:36 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Communication Labs for Students

Hi, Cathy,

At our community college, we offer what we call ESL conversation groups for students and community members to practice speaking English. The groups are led by a tutor who has a theme, a reading paragraph, vocabulary, questions, and discussion based on that day's topic. Sometimes the beginning group will take a field trip: to our library to learn about its ESL resources, to the cafeteria to learn about ordering and using U.S. money to pay, that type of activity. We don't charge because these groups are open to our students and we don't charge for tutoring. We offer beginning and advanced groups. This fall, we'll also be offering an intermediate level because our advanced is a bit too advanced for most of our ESL students.

We tried to have groups, led by tutors, in which students in ESL and Spanish students could practice each language, with the students spending one half of the time speaking English and the other half speaking Spanish.
We had interest but couldn't find a time that worked for students in both languages. The ESL faculty member who put it together developed a speed-dating type format: five minutes per pair of students per question, with the speaking partners regrouping after each question (such as What is your favorite restaurant? What is your favorite movie?--conversational questions).

We've found that just putting students together doesn't lead to many conversations in English, but having a leader for the groups, especially someone correcting idiom or pronunciation at times (the students want and expect that) but encouraging them to speak at all times, results in much more conversation among the participants.

Mary

On Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 6:40 AM, Cathy Flores <[log in to unmask]>
wrote:

> I am working with the Learning center and the Health Sciences/Nursing 
> division in a community college to create a communication lab for our 
> international students.  These students have completed all their ESL 
> classes.  The issue/concern is that these students are not retaining 
> their English speaking skills or are uncomfortable with speaking 
> English.  There is a strong need in the health professions for the 
> students to be fluent in speaking English.
>
> We were looking to create an environment where the students could just 
> come and talk to other students to practice their English speaking 
> skills in an open lab area.
>
> I am curious if anyone is doing this type of lab and is willing to 
> share how to accomplish this in the learning center and get possible 
> funding. Or does anyone know of any research in this area.
>
> Thank you
> Cathy Flores
> CPCC
>
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-- 

Mary Early, Ph.D.
Director, Learning Support Center
Paradise Valley Community College
602.787.7183
www.pvc.maricopa.edu/lsc/

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