The Social Possibilities of Oral Language: Teaching Conversation (Natural Approach)

Normal Training School - Centennial Stamp

by Elizabeth B. McLellan,
Critic Teacher,
Training School Department,
Michigan State Normal College,
Ypsilanti, Michigan
(page 187-188)
Practical Selections from twenty years of Normal Instructor and Primary Plans,

Historic Moments

1849 – Michigan State Normal School was established by the State of Michigan.

In 1899, Michigan State Normal School changed its name to Michigan State Normal College. This seemingly insignificant change actually describes an important shift in the mission of the school.

Richard Gause Boone lobbied to establish Normal as four-year college, rather than a glorified secondary school.

Normal entered the twentieth century as Michigan’s premier teacher-training school and had become the first teacher-training school in the United States to have a four-year degree program.


How can the time set aside in the primary school program for language-study be utilized for the social education of the child?

By using the larger part of this time for classroom conversation, and generally having the written language done during seat or busy-work periods.

What should be the character of this classroom conversation, and how should it be conducted?

It should be social in character,—that is, it should immediately relate to the social or life interests of the individual child, which are the social interests of the race. It should be conducted, as any other schoolroom recitation is conducted, according to a definite plan, but without visible sign of method, the class interest being caused by the inherent interest of the subject of the conversation; and in the main the members of the class conducting the conversation.

What are the objects to be attained by such a class exercise?

The emancipation of speech and of the child’s emotions. The development of a wholesome sympathy in the interests of others, and of a wholesome social contact. The unmixed pleasure of social discourse for its own sake. The exchange of life experiences and the giving and getting of information. An increase of interest in the home, and a better valuation of its life. An increase of readiness in expressing thought, the enlargement of vocabulary, natural style, grammatical construction, and the use of better English generally.

What are suitable subjects to be used as material for these
oral language lessons?

The subjects selected should be those which are associated with the every-day life interests of the child, and such as are rich in social meaning. They should include material for an ever widening horizon of thought, feeling and action. They cannot be too simple; they must lie
within the actual experience ; they should generally be concrete in character, although they may be such as to serve the purpose of opening emotional and ethical experiences.


1. Occupations.
2. Home happenings—events, joys, sorrows.
3. Family ways and customs.
4. Members of the family and relatives.
5. Family pets.
6. Stories read at home or told of parents’ childhood.

1. Town occupations (or city or country). Great variety.
2. Visits made at homes of relatives.
3. Visits to interesting places,—nature or art.

4. Trips and journeys.
5. Events and pleasures of holidays and special occasions.
6. Games of different seasons. Sports. Plays.
7. Current events. What is happening in the world.

Michigan State Normal College
Originally called Michigan Normal School, the school today known as Eastern Michigan University was the first teacher training college west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Its name was changed to Michigan State Normal College in 1899 and then to Eastern Michigan College in 1956. In 1959 the name was changed to Eastern Michigan University.

Ypsi-Ann 1896 Electric Car

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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