The UCWbL’s Conversation Partner appointments offer English language learners the unique opportunity to practice conversational English in the Writing Center. Since Conversation Partner appointments are so new and distinct from (though entirely connected to) more “classic” Writing Center approaches to written and linguistic development, considering the structure of these conversation-based sessions may feel unfamiliar or even uncomfortable. There’s just something about structuring conversations that seem so… unnatural… inorganic. But there are methods that we as tutors often used to structure our writing-focused appointments that are entirely applicable to Conversation Partner appointments, namely: agenda setting.
Setting an agenda for Conversation Partner appointments may not seem like a conversational thing to do, but agendas can be just as important in a Conversation Partner appointment as in a Face-to-face appointment. Agenda setting gives Conversation Partners the opportunity to reflect upon their language learning experiences and set short term or long term goals for further development. Agendas in these appointments can also help us as Conversation Partners learn more about our Conversation Partners interests, concerns, or expectations for the session.
But how do we interject agendas into the conversation? First, keep in mind that agendas in Conversation Partner appointments do not necessarily need to be formal agendas; instead, tutors can weave questions into the conversation that give them a sense of:
- How comfortable/advanced a Conversation Partner is with speaking, listening to, reading, and/or writing in English?
- What elements of English s/he finds difficult or intriguing?
- What the Conversation Partner’s expectations are for the appointment(s)?
Answers to these questions often come up naturally during the ice-breaking stage of Conversation Partner appointments, but we often forget that these points of interest can point to a Conversation Partner’s personal agenda for their English language learning experience. Of course, establishing formal agendas is entirely appropriate, and questions like the ones listed above can serve as segues into explicit agenda setting.
So, look back and reconsider your past Writing Center appointments. How do you go about agenda setting in your other written-based appointments? How might have this approach been applied or tailored to your previous Conversation Partner appointments? What agenda setting experiences with Conversation Partners, if any, have you had in the past and how did the agenda(s) influence the appointment(s)?
No matter what approach (formal or informal) you choose to take, being more awake to the presence of agendas in Conversation Partner appointments can help us better meet the various goals of the people we work with and, ultimately, become better Conversation Partners.