Associations! Conversation Prompts

  • Like Talk It Up, Associations! Conversation Prompts is a simple — and free — web app designed to quickly suggest topics for use in the Conversation Classroom. Associations! is also Zoom- and Dogmé ELT-friendly, providing student-centric content that ultimately generates output that is both meaningful and extensive.
  • Since Associations! contains more than 1200 prompts, an entire conversation course could be built around it. That’s the whole premise of Catalyst, but in truly conversational classes, no such support is needed.
  • The Rational: So why use word associations instead of discussion questions as in the Talk It Up! app? Well, the latter are fine and some students respond well to them. Not all do, however. Others find canned questions to be lame, intrusive, irrelevant and more than a bit hackneyed. A question like “What was your best holiday?” will probably find fertile ground most of the time though many students will agonize over which event qualifies as best, raising the affective filter somewhat. On the other hand, a prompt like holiday will instantly connect up with highly personal memories in wide-ranging ways. A student from Egypt might take it literally and relate a holy day story about undertaking the Hajj or relate experiences associated with fasting during Ramadan. A Japanese or Korean student might relate a particularly memorable weekend because, in their schema, the term holiday tends to include every day off. A Brazilian student might share anecdotes about Carnival while one from Mexico might be induced to relive the Day of the Dead. No evaluation of best is required and a tendency to talk in generalities is replaced with the passionate sharing of highly specific events. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what students talk about, it matters that they talk. And connecting up is the whole point. Through word associations, language is connected with existing neural pathways, grammar and vocabulary find something to stick to, allowing faster acquisition and longer, deeper retention. This is how fluency is achieved.


Check it out here: Associations!


Word Associations Schematic

Word Associations act as a catalyst to instantaneously connect with memories. Word Associations are so much a part of our daily lives that, for the most part, we just ignore them. They guide conversations forward and we’ve even come up with handy little conversational gambits to leverage the power of word associations in the tug and pull of everyday discourse. Phrases like “That reminds me…” or “Speaking of…” enable us to capture a conversation and selfishly take it in a new direction. In the conversation class, prompts first reverberate at a linguistic level but immediately catch on to the experiential. Those associated memories then become the raw material for classroom discourse, a broader retelling, journal assignments and more. Let the following example demonstrate:

At a TESL conference one of the student volunteers dropped by my table and, after a short chat, asked me how the game, Truth or Dare for English Language Learners, works. Rather than drone out a pedagogical explanation that would have probably sent him into a coma, I asked him to pick a card, any card. The one he selected said simply “Water”. Next I asked him to think back and recall any experiences in his past related to the prompt. With that he started telling me about the lake in front of the family hut back home in Indonesia. First he told me about how he taught himself to swim in the lake as a child of eight or nine years old. Then he went on to describe the importance of the lake to his family and other families in their village. Their drinking water comes from the lake and they wash their clothes and bathe in the lake. Villagers fish for food and irrigate their crops with water from the lake. We could have gone much further but from a single one-word prompt he drew an incredibly vivid picture of a highly personal experience in a matter of 30 seconds.

Therein lies the power of word associations.


Check it out here: Associations!

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