Center for International Studies

WESL Conversation Mentors

Over the past several years, the Conversation Mentors Program has provided the WESL students with the opportunity to practice their English skills, learn about American culture, share about their own cultures, and get to know people from the WIU community in a pleasant and friendly setting. The conversation mentors are volunteers from the WIU and Macomb-area communities who participate in organized small group conversations with the WESL students. The conversations are held in WESL speaking classes, and they are coordinated by the respective WESL instructors for those classes. Designated cultural topics and/or communicative activities are the focus for each conversation meeting. These topics and activities directly support the students’ learning objectives in their WESL courses.

For the spring 2015 Semester, the conversations will be held during WESL speaking classes on several Tuesdays and Thursdays. Anyone interested in joining as a conversation mentor, can select from the choices listed below. The first conversation sessions start on February 19 (Thurs) and on February 24 (Tue):

  1. WESL Foundation level (beginning), 9:45 – 10:45 am on several designated Thursdays during the semester (February 19, March 5, 26, April 9, 23)
  1. WESL Foundation level (beginning), 11:00 – 12:00 pm on several designated Thursdays during the semester (February 19, March 5, 26, April 9, 23)
  1. WESL Intermediate level, 9:45 – 10:45 am on several designated Tuesdays during the semester (February 24, March 3, 31, April 21)
  1. WESL Intermediate level, 11:00 – 12:00 pm, on several designated Tuesdays during the semester (February 24, March 3, 31, April 21)

The conversations will be in small groups, typically with one or two mentors and two or three WESL students per group. At the start of each session, the conversation coordinator will go over the topic for the day and organize the participants into the small groups. Usually, in the latter part of the session, all the groups will reconvene back into one large group, and share points of interest that they discovered and learned from each other.

The conversation topics will usually be on certain aspects of American culture and/or cross-cultural differences. In some sessions, communicative activities may be done, such as guessing contests, interactive language games, and imaginary “press conferences” (for question-answer practice). The instructor of the WESL class that you’re mentoring in will e-mail a description of the topic or activity a few days before each conversation period.


The goals of the Conversation Mentors program and some background on the communicative needs of the WESL students are listed below.

 An important goal is to help the students improve in their ability to communicate in the spoken language. Conversation will provide them with the needed input for vocabulary, expressions, and pronunciation. Through their conversations, they will also gain greater self-confidence in their use of English. The relaxed, friendly, and happy atmosphere of the small groups is intended to help them get over their fears and inhibitions about speaking in English.

  • The conversations provide the students with insights on American culture. The mentors explain American customs, beliefs, and expectations. They encourage questions about American culture and ask the students about their cultures. This can be a way to make discoveries about other cultures for both the mentors and the students.  
  • The range of language proficiency and the level of self-confidence for the students may differ considerably. If there are any reticent or weaker individuals, the mentors draw them into the discussion by using visual cues, such as pictures, maps, and simple diagrams or quick sketches on paper.
  • Needless to say, the WESL students greatly appreciate the conversation mentors’ encouragement and support as they try to communicate their ideas.
  • Knowing that humor goes a long way with helping the students to tune in, the participating members of each group are encouraged to approach the conversations in a light hearted way and enjoy a good laugh.

Signing Up For Conversation Mentors

Anyone interested in signing up as a WESL conversation mentor can contact the WESL department or call Deborah Edwards at: (309) 298-2485 or email