Conversation Control

Useful classroom English phrases that students can use to ask for help

This is a lesson that has gone surprisingly well with my first and second year high school students! This is helpful for the beginning of the term to help break their Eigo Muri wall down a bit. Remember to review these phrases across different classes to ensure that they stay fresh!


Quick conversations.
For my academic school, we'll review question words and I'll write them on the board. Then I'll have the students pair up. For two minutes, one person can only ask questions and the other person can only answer. I'll challenge them to ask at least 5-7 questions and use a different question word for each one. For my technical school, I prepared two questions in advance (Where do you want to travel? What do you want to do there?), we went over translation and model answers, and the students practiced with their partner.

Connect to the Lesson
When I speak with my students, they sometimes freeze. Or they'll turn to their friend and talk about how they don't understand what I'm saying. Or they'll immediately ask the JTE for a translation. Emphasize that it's totally okay if they need help! If they don't understand what I'm saying or if they see an unfamiliar word on their worksheet, they need to tell me or the JTE so we can explain or change our words to make it easier for them to understand. They won't be perfect all the time, but they won't improve if they don't ask for help either.


Phrase Explanation
Write the following phrases on the board one by one. Elicit the Japanese meaning, then practice pronunciation of each phrase. I like to ham it up with the "I can hear you" and "Say it slowly" bits, imitating my students' tiny voices when they give me answers and speaking at my natural speed in English. I always emphasize how often I use these phrases in Japanese, too!

  1. Excuse me (すみません)
  2. One more time, please. (もう一回お願いします)
  3. I can't hear you. (聞こえません)
  4. Say it slowly, please. (ゆっくり言ってください)
  5. What does "~~" mean? (「~」どういう意味ですか?)
  6. I don't understand. (わかりません)
  7. I understand. (わかりました)

Quickly review the pronunciation one more time, then have the students practice yet again with a partner.

Model Conversation
Practice these with a JTE! Raise your hand with a quick, "Excuse me!" and ask your JTE about whatever topic you like. I usually asked them about Japanese grammar words like 代名詞 (daimeishi - pronouns) or 形容詞 (keiyoushi - adjectives). The JTE should mumble or speak quickly so you have to use the phrases. If acting or comedy's your thing, this is where I get a lot of laughs from the class. Depending on the level of your students, your JTE can speak in English or Japanese.

Practical Practice
Another comedic but helpful bit! Call on a student at random. Go up to them and give them a sentence with some slang, or try speaking in a whisper or reallysuperfast. The student must use some of the phrases on the board to ask for help until they perfectly understand what I'm saying! Here are some sentences I used:

  1. Do you like Mrs. Green Apple? Their new song "Dance Hall" slaps!
  2. Do you like Pokemon? Sylveon is my favorite, she's so cute!
  3. Oh no, your pen broke! What a bummer.
  4. That person over there (point to the JTE or another student) looks a little shady...

Worksheet Time
I have three tongue twister worksheets prepared, but I only used two of them. Print them on different colored paper so they're easy to separate. Alternate the worksheets by row so the students have a different tongue twister from their partner. Practice pronunciation of the tongue twister with one group while the other group closes their ears. Repeat for the other tongue twister group.

Students janken with their partner, winner speaks first. When they speak their tongue twister, they should try to mumble and/or speak quickly to force their partner to use the phrases we just learned. The partner can use the phrases in any order and as many times as they need in order to understand the sentence. When they understand it perfectly, they switch roles and repeat.

For my academic school, this was strictly listening and speaking practice. They couldn't use any Japanese and they couldn't write down what they heard. If they needed any extra help, maybe with pronunciation of a word or understanding the meaning a little more, they could raise their hand and ask me or the JTE (using the phrases they learned, of course). For my technical school however, they were encouraged to take notes on the back of their sheets, and they could use Japanese to check the meaning.

If any pairs look to be totally finished, or if you have extra time at the end of class, ask them questions about their partner's sentence to check how well they understood. Ask them to describe a certain word in English, or draw a picture of the word on the board, or tell me the meaning of the sentence in Japanese. If they can't answer, they need to ask their partner for help and try again!

Hope this works well for you!

Small files
  • Conversation Control - tongue twister sheets.pdf (924 KB)
  • Medium files (requires an account to download) -
  • Conversation Control - lower level tongue twister sheets.pdf (1.61 MB)
  • 21
    Submitted by razzmactazz June 14, 2024 Estimated time: 45 - 50 min

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