Adelaide ESL Meetup -  All Discussion Questions


The discussion questions below have been created by Thor May to encourage English speaking practice in a bi-weekly meetup. The question-core approach for speaking appears to work well. The process of creating questions is itself one of the most empowering skills that anyone can practice in any language.


Thor May contact:




1. English as a Second Language Meetup site:


2. An index of general discussion topics from earlier meetups run by Thor is online at


3. Articles on many topics by Thor May at :




Topic 24: 23 June 2017 - Pretend to be someone else -  "The most Interesting and Puzzling Questions for a Chameleon"

<> A chameleon is a small animal (a lizard) which can change its colours in different situations. We call someone a chameleon if they change their opinions or actions in an unexpected way.

<> In this meetup we are going to play a game of pretending to be different people; (you have to "change your colour" like a chameleon). We will then ask your opinion while you are each different person. If you can put yourself in the shoes of someone else, we say that you have "empathy".

<> For example, imagine you are an angry old man. As an angry old man, what is your opinion about, say, smart phones? Now imagine you are a middle school student. As a middle school student, what is your opinion about smart phones?

<> Here is the grammar for answering questions like this: "IF I WERE an angry old man I WOULD ...."

<> Here are some different people you can pretend to be (please think of others too): 

<> a) an educated professional (e.g. an engineer);  b) a bus driver; c) a housewife; d) a nurse; e) a politician; f) an elementary school student; g) a university student; h) a mid-life office worker; i) a retired man or woman; j) a teacher; k) a librarian; l) a salesman; m) a soldier; n) a diplomat; o) a journalist ...

<> Here are some questions you can answer while you pretend to be these different people (please think of other questions too):

1. What is a fair salary for me?

2. How many hours a week should I have to work or study?

3. What is the best way to relax?

4. What are the most interesting shops? Why?

5. What is the most interesting question in my life? ... and when can I expect to get an answer?

6. What people do I care about most?

7. What is something that I will probably never understand?

8. What am I most afraid of?

9. How should I plan for the future, or maybe should I just live day to day?

10. What are some problems I need to solve soon?



Topic 23: 9 June 2017 - Surviving the Human Jungle – liars, cheats, thieves, animals in the forest 


This topic is a little funny (sometimes!) but it is a good talking subject. We all have experience in “the human jungle”. Here are some questions to start the discussion:

1. What is a story you remember about being cheated?

2. People who tell lies all the time are called “pathological liars”. Describe someone you know about who is a pathological liar (you can change names).

3. Almost everyone tells small, social lies sometimes, like “I am sick today”. These small lies are called “white lies” or “fibs”. How often can you tell fibs without getting a bad reputation?

4. There is a common idea that women lie more than men. Is this true? Why would people say it? Do men and women usually lie about the same kinds of things?

5. The people in some cultures and some countries have a reputation for usually telling the truth. Other culture groups have a reputation for lying often. These differences also exist among different groups and areas of a country, and at different times in history. What do you think causes a lot of lying in a country/culture?

6. Trust depends upon people telling the truth. In some places, only family members are trusted. In other places there is a fair amount of wide social trust in a country. What are the advantages of having wide social trust in a community?

7. We hear bad news all the time on radio, television, in newspapers etc. (bad news sells, good news is boring). Therefore many people become afraid. Actually, if you check the real statistics, most places in the world are much safer than a generation ago. How can we challenge false fears?

8. Coming to a new country, people sometime think they are being cheated. Maybe they just didn’t understand the local laws and customs. Do you know about this happening to anyone in Australia?

9. My mother refused to lock any door in her house for 93 years. (This is common in rural places). The house I live in now has security alarms and many locks. When does too much “security” actually make you a prisoner?.

10. What is the best way to teach children to be honest? (Or do some people teach their children to cheat and lie?).




Topic 22.  26 May 2017 :  Money !!


1. Why is money so important in people’s lives?

2. Do men and women often have a different attitude to money? If so, how and why?

3. Some people prefer to ‘live for the day’ while others think they should always save some money. Which group do you belong to? Why?

4. The Australian government has lately been talking about “good debt” and “bad debt”. What do you think they mean by this?

5. Many psychological studies show that for most people, the more money they have, the more they want. At the same time they become less generous. Why is this?

6. Currency (money) issued by the government used to be guaranteed by gold. Now it is not (it is called fiat currency). What happens when people lose confidence in fiat currency?

7. What will be the most expensive things you buy in your life? Are the most expensive things the same in Australia as in other countries?

8. How important is money for your idea of lifetime success? Why / Why not?

9. If you had a billion dollars, what would you do with it? Really?

10. In England 500 years ago it was common to say that “money is the root of all evil”. What did this mean? What, if anything, has changed?





Topic 21.  12 May 2017 :  Do you really believe that !?   

Sometimes we are amazed by what other people believe. Sometimes it is scary. So we might ask where they got those ideas from and how they are likely to act. For example, 19% of Americans believe that they are in the top 1% of income earners, while a further 20% are sure that they will achieve the status in their lifetime (Gigerenzer 2014) . Huh!?!

1. What, in your opinion, are some crazy things that other people believe? [Be polite. We don’t want to upset our friends ^_^ ]

2. We hear a lot about “fake news” lately. Why do people believe this stuff? How do you know when news is fake?

3. What kind of lies are people most likely to believe? Give an example.

4. How often do you doubt professional people like medical doctors? [Professionals often believe they know things when they don’t. For example, Professor Gurt Gigerenza has found that 80% of doctors don’t understand statistics. “In one Australian study of fifty doctors, only thirteen said they could explain what the “positive predictive value” is (the probability of a disease given a positive test). And when asked to do so, only one succeeded.” ]

5. Who do you believe the most and who do you believe the least? Why?

6. What is the best way to persuade someone that something they believe is wrong?

7. An alternative to believing something is to be agnostic about it (say “I don’t know if it is true or not”). What are some things you agnostic about?

8. A quarter of Americans don’t know that the earth revolves around the sun (Poladian 2014). Does it matter that so many people are ignorant about basic science?

9. Do you believe that much of what you learn in school, college and university will be useful when you get a job? If not, how else will this knowledge be useful for you?

10. What are the things that you believe most strongly?





Topic 20.  28 April 2017 :  Travelling (2)


1 Describe a journey that you have made. Remember as much detail as you can about people, places and events.

2. At this moment about half a million people are in the air flying somewhere. Only a generation ago these journeys had to be made by sea or rail or road. What are some ways (good and bad) that air travel has changed the quantity and quality of travel?

3. Can you remember any film or book or article about traveling somewhere? Tell us about it.

4. Some people travel with no more than a T-shirt and a toothbrush. Others take many suitcases. How do you prepare before you take a long journey?

5. Travel can be for a holiday, or for business, or to emigrate, or for education, or for many other purposes. What kind of travel do you like best? Why?

6. When we travel things often go wrong. Can you talk about a travel experience you had where something went wrong?

7. Some people like tourism, and some people hate it. What are good and bad things about tourism? (think about personal experience, the environment, business, the national economy, an so on).

8. Now more and more people take selfies and digital photos of everywhere they go. This is quite new. Do people experience more, or experience less when they photo everything? Why?

9. Is it best to travel alone, or with a partner, or in a group? Why?

10. Newspapers, TV, media, are always full of stories about wars, danger, revolutions, terrorists, and other threats. Is this a false picture of the world? How dangerous really is it to travel to other places? What precautions, if any, do you take?




Topic 19.  31 March 2017 : Making Questions About a Topic   


Task: With your partner, write down three questions on each topic below, then try to answer. Remember, you are practising English, so say as much as you can.

1. Now there are over 60 million refugees in the world who have no country. (Australia's population is 24 million).

2. First generation immigrants to a new country always have their heart in two places.

3. Many Australian university classes are now full of overseas students. Is this a good thing?

4. Countries with the longest working hours and least holidays often have the lowest productivity per worker.

5. Most Australians live in large cities but many love to own big 4 wheel drive SUV vehicles. Are they crazy?

6. Australians now probably spend more time in supermarkets than any other place. When I was a child, there were no supermarkets ...

7. In 1980, 10% of Australians were overweight. In 2017 more than 60% of Australians are overweight. An estimate is that by 2025, 85% of Australians will be overweight.

8. People in every culture have a different sense of humour. Newcomers to Australia often have a problem with the Australian sense of humour.

9. In some countries, people are very careful about how they dress in public. In other countries people don't care much. These fashions also change over time.

10. Mother's are supposed to be the best cooks, but maybe this is a myth. My mother was a terrible cook. How do people come to like certain kinds of cooking?




Topic 18.   17 March 2017 :  Playing “Devil’s Advocate”


[*This is a good idea borrowed from the Catholic Church (note: personally I have no religion). When the Pope speaks, all Catholics are supposed to obey what he says. Therefore he must be careful. The Pope has a special helper, a bishop called The Devil’s Advocate. The job of the Devil’s Advocate is to test every idea the Pope has by opposing it with strong arguments. If the Devil’s Advocated finds weaknesses in the Pope’s idea, then the Pope will give it up. If the Devil’s Advocate can find no weaknesses, then the Pope feels confident and speaks in public. Personally I think that being a good Devil’s Advocate is a very, very important job to help good decisions everywhere].

Task: Play the Devil’s Advocate with your partner. Whatever they suggest, you look for weaknesses and counter-arguments. For example:

1. Passports are a fairly new idea. Let’s have a system again where people can travel worldwide without passports.

2. Everybody should be paid a Universal Basic Income for living needs. After that they can work extra if they want money for other things.

3. In Australia now, married couples separate on average after 8.7 years and divorce after 12.3 years. Therefore marriage contracts should be short term, not for a lifetime. [These numbers are similar in most countries now]

4. Most people are naturally lazy (physically and mentally). There should be some kind of tax on laziness to discourage it.

5. Most diseases now are a result of eating too much, not under-eating. Gluttony used to be one of “the seven deadly sins”. People should have to pay for illnesses that come from eating too much.

6. Wars are a disaster for everyone except arms companies Therefore we should abolish armies.

7. Public transport should be free.

8. Only people who speak English should be allowed to immigrate into Australia.

9. Some countries do not allow private schools. Australia should forbid private schools.

10. It doesn’t matter how you dress. People will see your true character, no matter what you wear.




Topic 17.   3 March 2017 : Teach me something!

The very best way to learn something is to teach it. (Teaching forces you to organize and remember your ideas)

1. example: I am a diplomat (or spy!) coming to your country. Teach me how to blend in with the local people without being noticed.

2. What is the best way for me to dress so I look like a local person?

3. What should I avoid talking about so I don’t upset local people?

4. What kind of people should I make friends with to help me quickly be accepted by many local people?

5. How much should I tell local people about the country where I come from? Will they be interested?

6. What is something I might offer to teach local people which they might find useful?

7. When I have to deal with officials in your country, how should I behave? What is the best way to get what I want from officials?

8. If my children go to school in your country, what will they have to do to be accepted by the teachers and other children?

9. What kind of TV, sports and other things will the people in your country like talking about?

10. If I am looking for a house to rent in your country, what questions should I ask the owner or agent? What information will they want from me?




Topic  16.    17 February 2017 :  How does your thinking change with time and experience?


1. What was/will be the most interesting question in your life when you were/will be 8 years old .... 15 y.o. .... 20 y.o. ... 25 y.o. ... 30, 35, 40, 60, 100 ... ?

2. What were some things you imagined about Australia before you came here?

3. How has your view of your home country changed since you travelled overseas?

4. How did your ideas about paid work or a career change after you left school?

5. Do you think you would change as a person if you became very rich? How?

6. How have your ideas about friendship changed from when you were a child? How many kinds of friendship are there?

7. What is something you thought you could never do that you finally succeeded in doing?

8. The young often want to “change the world to a better place” while the old are often more satisfied with “finding a comfortable place in the world as it is”. Why do people alter like this as they grow older?

9. My mother (who is 93) didn’t see a light switch until she was 12 years old. What are some technical things that have greatly changed your experience of life?

10. At what age do you think most people become happiest? Why?




Topic  15.  27 January 2017 :  The Meaning of Travel  (1)      

1. What does the word “travel” make you think of?

2. “The journey is more important than the destination”. What do you think this idiom means?

3. Most tourists want their travel experience to be only a little different from home: same food, same laws, same hotel rooms etc . Why do you think this is so?

4. What custom in another country did you find hardest to accept or adapt to?

5. How is the experience of working in another country different from the experience of being a student there? How are both different from just being a tourist?

6. “Medical tourism” is a very fast growing industry. For example dentistry can be 5 times more expensive in Australia than some other countries. What do you think are some risks and benefits of medical tourism?

7. How much reading and Internet research do you do before you visit another country?  Do you think learning about a country and culture before visiting can improve your experience when you go? Why/why not?

8. Most tourist photos are of ‘famous places’ and of the tourists themselves. There are already thousands of photos of these places, so what is the purpose of the photos? What might make more interesting photos of foreign places?

9. What difference does speaking another language make to your travel experience?

10.  Has travel changed your attitudes? Why/why not?





Topic  14.  13 January 2017 :  Plans for the New Year 

At the beginning of each year we think of all the things we would like to do in the next 12 months. We also think of our bad habits we plan to change! So how about you?

1. What do you HOPE to achieve this year? What do you actually EXPECT to achieve?

2. What can prevent you from achieving your plans? Why?

3. What might help you in achieving your plans? How?

4. What is a bad habit you intend to change this year? (This is called a New Year Resolution)

5. What do you expect to be doing in 5 years time (guess)?

6. Sometimes world events and politics force us to change our plans. What might happen in the world in the next 12 months which could change our lives?

7. If you could choose to be a different person (at any time in history) who would you choose to be? Why?

8. Number these things from the most important to the least important: a) money; b) friends; c) good health; d) time to do what you want to do.  Why did you make those choices?

9. a) What is the most interesting question in your life?; b) When do you expect to get an answer to that question?

10. Give a description of the best year in your life so far. (Paint a picture with words. Remember that you have ideas, feelings and 5 senses – hearing, touch, taste, smell and vision. Try to use words for these things in your description).





Topic 13.   16 December 2016 :  Diet, exercise, having a long and happy life

1. Exercise and certain diets have become fashionable for some people. Others are sarcastic about diet and exercise. What do you think?

2. 63.4% of Australians are overweight and it is getting worse every year. What is the cure? What is the situation in your home country with obesity? (e.g. see this China Daily report )

3. The world's oldest woman is 117 years. She is Italian and for 90 years has lived on 3 eggs a day (2 of them raw) and a few biscuits. She hates vegetables! Would you follow this diet plan? Why or why not?

4. In experiments, rats on a restricted diet live about 30% longer. People were healthiest in England during World War II, when everybody was on rations. Would you eat less to live longer?

5. Your organizer, Thor, is 71 y.o. and runs 3 times a day, 8 km altogether. He has been running since 16 y.o. and thinks it keeps him young. Why do so few people do real exercise after about 30 y.o. ?  What about you?

6. Mental illness is common. Each year about a quarter of Americans  (57.7 million) suffer mental illness, and about 1 in 5 Australians. What is the number for your home country? Much mental illness comes from being unable to manage stress. Exercise makes you resilient against stress. Why do people use drugs, medicines, alcohol ... as a solution to stress when exercise works better?

7. "green", "organic", "healthy", "wellness" are very popular words in advertising now. Many businesses make money from the fashion for health. How does this influence what people really do, or is it all just talk and wishes?

8. Quite a few people now wear an 'activity tracker'. For example I wear a Fitbit Charge HR. This constantly measures my heart rate, how many steps I take each day, how long I am active, how long I sleep ... and so on. In your opinion, how useful is this kind of information? Would it influence your personal diet and exercise?

9. Maybe until about 30 y.o. being fit and healthy is about being sexy. Maybe for older people being fit and healthy is about staying alive! What do you think?

10. What is your diet and exercise plan for the rest of your life?




Topic  12.   2 December 2016 :  The Environment

“The Environment” can have many meanings. It may mean just where you live, or it may mean the whole world. The environment may include the atmosphere (temperature, pollution, rainfall etc), the oceans, wildlife, the land, food, human buildings and society, and so on. Many people have an opinion about “the environment” because it is changing, maybe dangerously.

1. How is the Adelaide environment different from your home country?

2. What parts of the environment are most interesting to you personally? Why?

3. Most scientists agree that the world environment is changing because of human activity. Some people disagree with this. What is your opinion?

4. What evidence for climate change do you know about?

5. How do you think that climate change might affect you and your children?

6. Many world political leaders now believe that human caused climate change is a big, urgent problem. They think it could destroy most human life. They are trying to make agreements to control it. Some leaders think it is nonsense. The American government (Obama) thinks it is very important, but the new President (Trump) apparently thinks it is nonsense. The Chinese government thinks it is important. The Russian government (Putin) thinks it is nonsense. The Australian government (ruling party) doesn’t really believe it. What do you think will happen?

7. Many deserts are partly man-made (Africa, China, The Middle East, Australia). How does this process of making deserts actually happen?

8. More people are alive now (over 7 billion) than would exist if we put all the dead people in history together. How does this huge number of living people affect the environment?

9. 100 years ago most people in the world were farmers. Soon most people will live in cities. What does this mean for the environment?

10. There is a big argument (worldwide) between a) people who believe that making money is the most important aim, and b) people who believe that money is less important than having a healthy environment for everyone. Which side of this argument are you on? Why?




Topic  11.  18 November 2016 :  Why do I think like this?

1. How independent are you? (really?)

2.  How important are other opinions to you?

3.  Whose opinions influence you the most?

4.  Which media do you get information from?

5.  How do media controllers try to influence your opinions?

6.  Why do media controllers try to influence your opinions?

7. What is the best way for someone to change your mind?

8.  If you study a course, how reliable is the information?

9.  Do you usually trust your teachers or your textbooks more?

10.  How often do you try to change other people’s opinions?

11.  What opinions would you like to change in others?

12.  How do you change other people’s opinions?

13.  What do you think “manufacturing consent” means?

14.  What do you think “confirmation bias” means?




Topic  10.  18 November 2016 :  A Day in Your Life  – compare countries


1. Describe your day, in TWO countries, from the time you get out of bed until the time you sleep again.

2.  Who are the people you meet or see on a typical day in these two countries: How do they look? How do they speak to you?

3. Describe your house or apartment in each of these two countries

4. What do you see on the streets in these two different countries?

5. Give a “guided tour”, step by step, hour by hour, in each of these two countries

6.  What amuses you, and what annoys you during your day in each of these two countries?





Topic  9.  21 October 2016 :  Crime and Punishment  – compare countries


1. What do people in  different cultures think is OK and think is bad?

2. How are children controlled when they are naughty?

3. Whose fault is it when things go wrong?

4. How should different kinds of criminals be punished? Rehabilitation?

5. Can the police be trusted?

6. Can the courts (judges) be trusted?

7. How can corruption be controlled?

8. When should people be sacked (lose their jobs)?




Topic 8.  7 October 2016 :  Work Culture

1. Working in different cultures and countries is not the same!

2. How you work and how your parents worked is not the same!

3. Working in different kinds of jobs is not the same!

4.  => In this meetup you will talk about working in different countries, working in different generations and working in different jobs. Think of examples, ask your friends, ask strangers. You will be more successful when you can adapt to these differences.



Topic 7.  23 September 2016 : Food! Tell us exactly how to prepare your favourite dinner.

1. What ingredients do you use?

2. How much of each? How many steps?

3. Imagine you are running a TV cooking show. How would you instruct a new cook?

 4. What foods do  you hate? Why?

5. Are the ingredients you get in Australia different? 

6. How often do you eat out?

7. What are some good places to eat in Adelaide?

8. Do you usually eat with other people, or usually alone?

9. Is only one person the cook in your family?

10. Australians try many different national dishes, but often immigrants only eat their own national dishes. Why?



Topic 6.  9 September 2016 :  Practice comparing things. For example ..


1. Compare your home city to Adelaide.

2. Compare speaking in English with speaking in your first language.

3. Compare one kind of food with another kind of food.

4. Compare one job with another job.

5. Compare one person with another person

… and so on.

Here are two websites for comparing the cost of living between any two cities in the world: 1. Expatistan ; 2. Numbeo



Topic 5.  26 August 2016 :  Task: Work together in twos or threes to demonstrate how to do something.

This is useful in many situations. Examples :

1.  Maybe somebody has just started a job and you need to teach them the routine.

2. Maybe you are selling a very complicated vacuum cleaner.

3. Maybe someone has broken their leg in the bush.

4. =>  Sometimes diagrams help. Here is an instruction diagram I used for teaching nurses:




Topic 4.  19 August 2016 :  INVESTIGATION! How to ask questions

We will practice asking questions. The answers you get in life depend upon how clever your questions are. If you can't ask good questions then you become a zombie!  Work in pairs: one person is the interrogator (questionar), one is the person being questioned. Examples:


1. You are investigating a crime. (Describe the crime before you make up questions).

2. You think somebody is a spy. Ask questions to trap them.

3. There has been a terrible accident. You are a journalist. Ask questions about the accident.

4. You own a shop. One of your employees is stealing money. What questions will you ask them?

5. You have a teenage son or daughter. They have been out all night without asking you. What questions will you ask them?

6. You come from a hot country but you are going to a very cold country. What questions will you ask your friend before you go.

7. You are very attracted to a man or woman but are too embarrassed to talk to them at first. What questions might you ask someone else who knows them?

8.  You have never been out of the city before, but your car breaks down in the countryside. What questions might you ask a local farmer?

9. You have an idea for starting a new business, but you have never tried to start a business before. What questions might you ask an advisor?

10. Your boyfriend or girlfriend thinks you have no fashion sense. They are embarrassed to be seen with you. What questions can you ask about how to be more fashionable?



Topic 3.  1 August 2016 :  TALK ABOUT AN INTEREST YOU HAVE


We will practice talking about a personal interest.

You have to make it interesting for us too!

Maybe this is a sport, or music, or a hobby, or something else



Topic  2.   18 July 2016 : English for Persuasion....example....



We will practice pretending to sell something like your house, your car,  your furniture...

This is very good practice in learning to persuade someone in English. U

sing English is the best way to learn it, just like becoming an expert by playing a game.




Topic 1.   4 July 2016 : Disagreeing in English


1. How do  we disagree in (Australian) English?

2. How is this different from disagreeing in your first language?

=>  Learning how to disagree in English is important for keeping friends and not making enemies!



Professional bio: Thor May has a core professional interest in cognitive linguistics, at which he has rarely succeeded in making a living. He has also, perhaps fatally in a career sense, cultivated an interest in how things work – people, brains, systems, countries, machines, whatever… In the world of daily employment he has mostly taught English as a foreign language, a stimulating activity though rarely regarded as a profession by the world at large. His PhD dissertation, Language Tangle, dealt with language teaching productivity. Thor has been teaching English to non-native speakers, training teachers and lecturing linguistics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven countries in Oceania and East Asia, mostly with tertiary students, but with a couple of detours to teach secondary students and young children. He has trained teachers in Australia, Fiji and South Korea. In an earlier life, prior to becoming a teacher, he had a decade of finding his way out of working class origins, through unskilled jobs in Australia, New Zealand and finally England (after backpacking across Asia to England in 1972).


Adelaide ESL Meetup -  All Discussion Questions ©Thor May 2017

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