ESL Discussion Topics

Instructor: Vanessa Botts
For ESL students to improve language proficiency and gain speaking practice in class, it is important to incorporate meaningful discussion in the classroom. In this lesson, we will discuss some simple and effective discussion topics.

Discussion in the ESL Classroom

As an ESL teacher, you know that discussion in the classroom plays a pivotal role in the achievement of linguistic proficiency. Discussion can help the ESL learners to improve their acquisition of linguistic skills. It can also play an important role in curriculum for younger students or students at lower linguistic levels. Using discussion as a technique for teaching English has the added benefit of facilitating authentic learning that students can translate into their lives outside of the classroom. Also, it can be a lot of fun!

Discussion Topics

An interesting way to help your students improve their language skills is by getting students to discuss topics that are important to them. Students become more engaged in discussions where they get to share their ideas, knowledge and what is meaningful to them. Below are a few ideas of topics to spark meaningful discussion among your ESL students.


Students of all ages and language skill levels can benefit from discussing realistic or hypothetical situations. With this type of discussion, older students will likely see the practical value of the activity, and younger students will have fun using their imagination. Below are a few ideas for discussion.

What Would You Do?

This prompt lends itself to many interesting scenarios such as:

  • What would you do in case of an emergency? Students can discuss what they would do in a variety of emergency situations.
  • What would you do if you got lost in a strange city? This scenario provides students with the opportunity to discuss how they would handle themselves, what they would say and how they would find help if they got lost.
  • What would you do if you could change one thing about the past? What would it be? Students will activate their imaginations as they discuss the possibility that they could change what has happened in the past.

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Getting to Know You

Discussing experiences and goals is an interesting way for students to increase their language skills while getting to know each other. Some topics that will engage students in lively discussion include:

  • What is on your Bucket List? After explaining the term Bucket List, students can take some time to think about theirs and then discuss a few items on their bucket list. This type of discussion is best suited for students at higher levels of education.
  • What do you like to do on your free time? Students of all ages and levels will have a great time discussing what they like to do during their free time
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?/What do you want to be when you grow up? Both of these questions are a variation of the same theme, but the first on is more suited for older students, and the second one is appropriate for younger ones.

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Facts, Statistics & Opinions

ESL students at the intermediate and advanced levels will be able to have meaningful discussions about facts, statistics and opinions. Some topics that could be discussed are:

Technology in Our Lives

A great class discussion can include how technology affects our lives in positive and negative ways. You could divide students into two groups with each group tackling a different side of the issue.

  • Stereotypes: Discussing stereotypes and comparing those to facts is another way to engage students in a discussion topic that is interesting and relevant. Your students could share their personal experiences or do some research prior to the discussion.
  • What does success mean to you?: As students discuss their own definition of success, they work towards clarifying their goals and getting to know each other. As a benefit, you will get to know your students better as well!
  • Facts vs opinions: This type of activity can engage students in lively discussion about the difference between facts and opinions. You can present students with statements that can be considered facts and statements that are opinions. Conversely, you can have students research or create their own for the class to decide which is which.

Around the World

Students in your classroom likely come from different countries or cultures. You can help them learn about U.S. culture while you learn about theirs by discussing some of the following:

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