There are thousands of great topics to talk about in your English speaking class. Equally, there are a number of topics you absolutely should not talk about in your English class.
The problem is that it is a speaking class — so people want to talk. And eventually, some uncomfortable topics may come up — especially if they are older students.
It is only natural, as the teacher and the students get to know each other more and more, for everyone to want to open up and talk about topics that ordinarily no teacher would talk about in class.
But you need to make sure that you steer clear of these topics.
Just do not talk about them.
The students may ask you directly about these subjects, but a polite smile may be all you need and then you can change the topic or ask the students a question.
Of course, it should be common sense to anyone that teachers should not talk about certain subjects with younger students. That should be apparent to anyone teaching abroad. And if it is not, then you really have no right to be in the classroom.
But some subjects could just leave the students confused. It would be a waste of time talking about the voting procedure in America with a bunch of nine-year-olds.
So what kind of topics are we talking about?
Each country has its own customs and cultures, so each place has a different set of rules about what is acceptable and unacceptable to talk about in class.
But there is a general list of ideas we can start with. These topics are the kind of things that may be uncomfortable to talk about in any country.
Let’s take a look.
This doesn’t really need much explanation.
Politics is a very difficult subject to talk about in any conversation so avoid it at all costs in your English class. You don’t talk about politics with people you barely know, so why talk about it with your students?
Each country has its own set of politically taboo subjects and after you are teaching there for a little while, you will find out what they are.
But for the most part, just avoid politics altogether.
Sex is another risky subject.
Many countries outside the western world are very conservative. Sex outside marriage is considered wrong and immoral. Asian countries, in particular, have very traditional values with regard to sex.
With older students, you may have conversations in class about dating in their culture. But be careful that this doesn’t veer into anything sexual.
Play it safe — literally! — and stay away from conversations about sex.
Religion is always a sticky subject to talk about at any time.
Some countries may be very religious. Mexican people have very strong religious beliefs, the Catholic faith being their dominant religion. While in the Middle East, people believe in Islam and live their lives by it.
But many western people are often Atheist. It could lead you into trouble if you start talking about religion and then have to explain your position about your beliefs.
You may be asked directly what your religious beliefs may be, but it is best to avoid these discussions at all times.
Money money money.
The root of all evil, many would say. And in the classroom, the root of an awkward conversation.
Some countries in the world are enjoying a very strong economy right now. The people are becoming rich and as such like to show how rich they are.
Rich students may want to show off somewhat about how much money they spend on shoes or clothes. This is never a comfortable conversation to have in any English class.
If the discussion starts to move towards the subject of money, then as the teacher you have a responsibility to move it back out again. This is especially true for teenage students who may feel the need to tell everyone how much their new Nike shoes cost.
Unfortunately, there will always be the haves and have nots — so make sure you have a tight control on any conversations about money.
That said, money and the acquisition of it is part of life, so you may have to talk about money in classes with older students. Just be careful that student questions don’t become too personal.
They may wish to ask you the following:
- How much your salary is
- How much you spend on food every day
- The cost of your rent every month
Or any other personal questions about you and money.
You can politely ignore these type of questions with a smile and a firm no. Or you can make a joke out of it. But do not get into any personal details here.
Anything you tell the students, they will tell all the other students.
Before the day is out, everyone will know about your financial details.
Death is also a funny old topic.
Or not, as the case may be.
In some cultures, death should be avoided in any conversation, let alone in an English class. But for many others, people may regard death as just a natural part of life.
That said, it can often be an uncomfortable subject to talk about.
It goes without saying, that you should not talk to younger students about death. Not unless you want a whole class of students suffering from daytime trauma and anxiety.
But for older students and adults, you may approach the subject of death.
This is best left to the discretion of you the teacher. Once you get to know your students, you will understand what the boundaries may be with them.
Avoid this at all costs!
You might find that some students, especially older ones, may ask you about some office gossip. This will not happen if you are in a government school as the students are often too young, but it could — and does — happen in an English training centre.
The students are often adults and once they get to know the teachers, the staff and other students, they start to gossip about each other.
You could be asked some personal questions about who said what to who, who may have had an argument or some more salacious gossip.
Be professional and avoid at all times.
The best way to handle this is to plead ignorance.
And following on from office gossip, you should never talk about your work problems with the students.
It should be common sense to most people, but you would be surprised how many teachers do this.
Any work problems you have, you should discuss with the management only.
And it should be glaringly obvious to any teacher that you should never talk about any personal problems.
If you are teaching older students, you may feel that you can trust them and that you can share anything with them. But it really is highly unprofessional for you to start talking about any of your personal issues in the classroom.
It will just make them feel awkward and you may feel embarrassed the next time you see them.
Discussions about the following should not be brought up in class:
- Money problems
- Landlord problems
- Visa issues
- Family issues
- Relationship problems
If you need to talk to someone about one of these subjects, then talk to a friend.
Do not talk to students about it.
For most teachers, it should be common sense when deciding what topics to talk about in class.
The purpose of this list is mainly just a gentle reminder of what the boundaries are.
There really is no need for you to talk about any of the taboo subjects listed above. There are hundreds of other subjects that you can talk about — so just pick one of those.
Hope this helps.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!