Have you ever searched for conversation questions to use in your adult English class and found endless lists of uninspiring, cookie-cutter questions?

I certainly have. The problem with asking about generic questions is it becomes a drag for both you and your students. It always ends up in one of us changing the topic to something else.

That’s because they don’t take into account the individual interests and preferences of the student. Really, what you want from them is to provide a platform to explore topics that your students enjoy that wouldn’t normally come up in general conversation.

That’s why I’ve written this article. The aim is to provide you with lots of prompts and question stems you can adapt to what your students care about. This might be business, family, travel, whatever you want really.

In all cases, I’ll give some examples to get you going, but only you know what’ll be best for your particular students.

Who would you bring…

This is a great prompt for adult students to talk about the people they know and what different characteristics they have. Fantastic for digging deep into adjectives of personality.

The format is simple. You ask “Who would you bring to…” then add a place or a situation.

For example, “Who would you bring to a food tour around the world?” or “Who would you bring as a lawyer to represent you in court?”

The student has to answer with a single person and give a reason.

There are actually two variations of this. The first limits the answers to people the student knows personally, and the second lets them answer with anyone in the world: celebrities, historical figures, etc.

The second one is better with a group class because students can debate who would be the best person in each situation. However, I prefer the first option with one-to-one students.

The conversation doesn’t stop there, though. You can follow up with a discussion about the place or situation in general.

For example, with the question “Who would you bring to a food tour around the world?”, you could start talking about different cuisines across the globe. Which are the best? Has anyone tried Nepalese food?

And with the question, “Who would you bring as a lawyer to represent you in court?” you could think about what qualities make a good lawyer and even talk about students’ experiences in court – on jury duty, supporting a family member, etc.

I really like this activity because students get to talk about the people they care about, which is always a nice topic.

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Best and Worst

The Best and Worst question structure is fantastic for evoking strong opinions from students and getting them talking with passion.

It can be a bit hit-or-miss, depending on the specific question, but if you know your students well, you can pick ones that’ll surely get them expressing themselves.

You ask “What are the best and worst _________?”

In the blank, you can insert anything that people would have a different opinion on. For example:

  • What are the best and worst things about your job?
  • What are the best and worst cities to visit?
  • What are the best and worst sports to watch on TV?

The best subjects are ones that don’t have a popular consensus, or are particular to each individual.

Ideally, have interesting choices for both best and worst, but it’s okay if only one side of the question creates a debate. For example, “what are the best and worst places to go for a run” isn’t much of a question for the worst (the sea? a minefield?), but the best will have different opinions.

Inevitably, students will end up talking about extreme ends of the spectrum. So they’ll need plenty of superlatives and strong adjectives, and you can get creative with these.

Rather than saying, “Paris is very beautiful,” you can get students to use more powerful language, like “Paris is breathtaking” or “Paris is achingly pretty”.

And think of all the fun ways to say something is bad: dreadful, appalling, unspeakable, the pits, etc.

With many of these questions, you can expand the conversation to talk about what makes something the best or worst. What makes a city good to visit? What things have the biggest impact on motivation at work?

When teaching a group, you could even turn this into a semi-formal debate, with students proposing their candidate for best or worst, and trying to convince everyone why they’re right. At the end, everyone votes and you find a definitive answer (or not!)

Tell me about a time when…

This one is pretty self-explanatory. You get students to tell stories or anecdotes, something which is often amusing and interesting. Obviously, this one will practise a lot of past tense language.

Some good examples are:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to go to hospital.
  • Tell me about a time when you laughed so hard you couldn’t breathe.
  • Tell me about a time when something incredible happened and you saw it.

Notice how all three are about unique and emotional situations. Those are the things that people remember best and make the best stories.

You can adapt these for different topics, like work, sports, travel, etc. but some topics will work better than others depending on your students’ life experiences.

A great idea is to customise the questions around your students’ jobs because they’ve spent a lot of time doing them and will have many stories to tell. Hobbies and holidays are also a wonderful source of anecdotes.

There is a danger that students will tell really boring stories. If it’s a one-to-one class, that’s fine. But if you’re teaching a group and you see others struggling to pay attention, let them put their hands up to ask questions.

This not only keeps everyone engaged, but it helps the story-teller structure their anecdote and provide important details.

Afterwards, if it’s appropriate, you can all talk about whether you agree with what people did in the story and if you’ve had any similar experiences.

What three things

“What three things” is a bit like “Who would you bring” from earlier in the list. You give students a place or situation and get them to think of the three most useful, entertaining or interesting things they’d take.

The classic example is: What three things would you take to a deserted island?

Basic, yes, but it always provokes a discussion about what is most important to survive.

Here are some other ideas:

  • What three things would you take on a road trip with friends?
  • What three things would you take to a high-stakes negotiation with an international corporation?
  • What three things would you take on a trip to the moon?

In some of these, you might want to ignore the obvious choices. For example, going on a road trip, you’d need to take a car. That doesn’t count. Get students to think of other things like a mixtape of all your favourite songs, a neck pillow to sleep in the backseat, or a statue to stick to the front of the car.

This doesn’t have to be about the “best” things to take. Instead, it could be about the coolest ideas or most unusual items that would be really useful.

As long as students can justify their choices in English, there are no correct answers.

But if you have a group class, it may be fun to let them whittle down a few choices to a final three.

And then, when they’re done doing that, they have to decide on the single best option. In that way, they’ll practise language for negotiation and compromise which are very useful skills!

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Controversial statements

One way of provoking some great conversation is to say things that people are generally split on, and get students to explain which side of the fence they fall.

Something like: “Cats are better than dogs.”

Most people have a preference between cats and dogs, and some feel quite strongly about it. Other examples are:

  • Pineapple on pizza is fine.
  • We should all work four days a week instead of five.
  • Sportswear isn’t acceptable at social events.

Notice that these statements are all controversial, but they don’t have particular politics or emotions attached. I’d strongly advise against anything to do with politics, religion or serious social issues. Keep it light unless you’re absolutely sure your students can handle it.

If you teach a group, the ideal situation is that students have differing opinions. In that case, you can let them hash it out between them. Arguments can occur and that’s fine, as long as they don’t get too heated.

In the situation that all your students agree, or you’re teaching a one-to-one class, it’s up to you to provide the opposite opinion. Play the devil’s advocate and challenge them to elaborate on why they think the way they do.

Describe your ideal

I like this prompt because you can adjust it to the makeup of your class. If students can talk at length on their own, they can do so, but if they’re less confident or don’t have the language yet, you can make it a collaborative effort.

These prompts take a significant amount of time. They’re not quick fire. They could take an hour or more if you choose to go deep with them.

The typical example would be: “Describe your ideal holiday.”

Everyone has their own picture of the perfect holiday in their head, but we want to get down into the details. Not only where they’d go, but the accommodation, activities, how long you’d go for, the best way of travelling. You could even go online and look for real flights and hotels to book.

If you want to make it a team activity, get them to share their own preferences, then come up with something that includes what everyone wants. There may have to be some compromise – that’s great language practice!

Or, you could turn it into a presentation topic. Students prepare the ideal thing, then tell everyone else about it, as if trying to sell it to them. This can work great if you’re teaching a business class where presentation and persuasion are important.

Here are a couple of other ideas you could use:

  • Describe the ideal gadget to improve your life.
  • Describe your ideal family day out.

If you could change

A fantastic prompt to practise conditionals. “If you could change” gives students the hypothetical power to change one thing about a particular place, person, event, or anything really.

For example, “If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?”

I’m sure most people would love to change many things about their job, but they’re only allowed to pick one. That’s where the interest comes in. As a teacher, you should probe into different options, suggesting some as wells, in order to set up a decision.

Giving reasons for and against a change, then deciding on the best one challenges so many aspects of language.

Here are some more examples:

  • If you could change one thing about the town/city where you live, what would it be?
  • If you could change one thing about the internet, what would it be?

These two are about general topics rather than specific personal things, like a job. As a result, you can turn this into a mini-debate with a group, culminating in a vote.

Hold a mock election with students promoting the one thing they would change and trying to convince the others that they’re right. This works especially well when all students work/study/live in the same place.

And while it’s just a bit of fun in the classroom, you never know, maybe your students will go and change that thing for real!


This article certainly isn’t like all the others online that just throw a massive list of generic questions at you. They’re just so boring.

I want you to do better. Hopefully, this list gives you the tools and ideas to find what questions work best with your students and avoid having to filter through those long lists just to find something interesting.

What’s more, you can use all these prompts to launch into much deeper or broader discussions about the topic. Adults will get tired of a repetitive question-answer format, so switch up the question formats and turn them into something much more.

Click here to buy 480 ESL Conversation Prompts and never run out of engaging topics!

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