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Presentation by Montserrat Mir of Illinois State University at the Language Symposium 2012, hosted at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
Advanced conversation classes and materials are built upon the assumption that intriguing and controversial topics are the key to get learners to speak. However, learners see most of these open-ended activities designed to stimulate conversation and discussion as simple answer the questions exercises. When students are asked to provide their opinion on a topic, they often lack information about that topic and this is the reason why these discussion/debate activities do not work. Research shows that exchange of information tasks elicit more production than any other types of tasks and thus, promotes interaction and language acquisition (Long, 1989; Ellis, 2000). The informational nature of communication needs to be exploited fully in conversation classes. In this presentation we will discuss a task based approach to enhance advanced conversation skills. In this approach students individually research topics of their choice which then are discussed and shared through task-oriented activities in the classroom. In that sense the exchange of information has a clear purpose since listeners in the conversation are learning new concepts or ideas and not simply personal opinions. In order to guide students in the completion of research activities, we provide templates which can be used with the different concrete themes chosen by students. Some of the benefits of these online research tasks include student motivation, control over own learning, amount of reading and content knowledge, and active speaking and listening.