Compelling Conversations:

Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics
  • Chosen by English teachers and tutors in over 50 countries!
  • Creates memorable English classroom conversations
  • Increases student ability to express personal opinions - and provide explanations
  • Includes 45 self-contained chapters on timeless conversation topics
  • Asks over 1,350 stimulating questions encouraging ESL students to reflect, share and discuss on timeless topics
  • Introduces 250 classic proverbs from around the world
  • Features 500 memorable quotations from ancient sages to modern writers to encourage discussion and critical thinking
  • Written by two experienced American English teachers for their own ESL conversation classes
  • Works as a “grab and go” conversation lesson for busy English teachers and online private tutors
  • Increases fluency in Advanced English language learners
  • Adopted as an ESL/EFL course textbook in community colleges, adult schools and English language programs
  • Can also be used as an outstanding supplemental  English teacher’s resource
  • Chosen by English teachers, language tutors, and conversation clubs in over 50 countries
  • Encourages critical thinking and self-awareness with engaging materials
  • Makes teaching and tutoring English easy and comfortable
  • Appeals to college students, working adults, and sophisticated souls
  • Allows exceptional range of topics and vocabulary for English teachers and students
  • Provides preparation for speaking sections of TOEFL and IELTS exams
  • Creates authentic conversational practice where meaning matters most.

Quality Conversations Matter

The art of conversation, once considered the sign of a civilized individual, seems less common today. Yet we count the pleasures of sharing experiences, collecting news, and exchanging ideas one of the pleasures of life. These natural conversations provide information, encouragement, and pleasure.

Many people say that they are too busy to have long talks. Other people prefer to watch television, play computer games, or listen to the radio rather than talk to relatives and friends. Sometimes people feel too shy to speak to the people next to them. Many Americans, it seems to us, have forgotten how to hold good, deep conversations, or even a friendly chat with neighbors. we suspect this lack of real communication lessens their joy.

Barriers to Conversation in English Classrooms

Of course, people learning English as a second, third, or fourth language face even more barriers. English remains a strange, confusing, difficult, and misspelled language - and it's easy to feel uncomfortable when speaking in this new tongue.

  • What questions can I ask?
  • How do keep a conversation going?
  • What is the word for ……? What vocabulary words do I need?
  • How do show my agreement, or disagreement, in a lively, yet polite way?
  • How can I share my experiences with a limited vocabulary?
  • Will I be understood?
  • How else can I ask a question?
  • How can I reduce the possibility of being misunderstood?
  • How can I have better and more engaging conversations in English?
  • Where can I practice my speaking skills in a safe, tolerant atmosphere?

Creating Meaningful Classroom Dialogue

Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics addresses these issues for both native and non-native English speakers. The focus is on learning by doing, and making good mistakes. (Good mistakes are mistakes that are natural, and we can learn from so we can make different and better "good mistakes" next time.) Each chapter includes 30 or more questions, 10 or more focused vocabulary words, a few proverbs, and 10 or more quotations. Although designed for advanced students (and English teachers!), intermediate ESL students will find plenty of material to use and can benefit from exposure to the new words, phrases, and questions.

45 Timeless Topics to Spark Conversations

Each of the 45 chapters focuses on a common conversation topic. The questions allow the reader to practice exchanging experiences and ideas in a natural style. You can add questions, skip questions, and move on to related topics. Each chapter begins with easier questions and moves on to questions that are more abstract.  This scaffolding makes the conversation exercises suitable for a wider range of English language learners.

Not your typical ESL class

Natural Conversations Evolve

Real conversations naturally evolve. Both native and non-native English speakers will find the questions allow one to share experiences, exchange insights, and reflect on life. Therefore, the questions include conversation starters and many clarification questions. These are not artificial "look, see, do" scripts to rigidly follow. The goal remains to create dialogue, increase understanding of other people, and gently push you toward using a richer vocabulary in English conversation. This flexibility has also made Compelling Conversations popular with online  tutors who teach English conversation over the internet.

Created from Community College ESL Conversation Classes

Many of these conversation worksheets were originally developed for an Advanced ESL Conversation class that met 4 hours a week, 15 weeks a semester at Santa Monica Community College. (Other worksheets came from tutoring private students in conversation and supplementing regular advanced adult education ESL classes .) The original "conversation" textbook offered little more than vocabulary lists, cost too much, and avoided any topic that might cause any controversy. Several lessons talked about the weather, colors, and very light topics. So the boring, expensive book, was dropped and conversation worksheets with 30 or so questions on set topics were created to generate interesting, quality conversations and memorable discussions.

Deepen Understanding with Proverbs and Quotations

Many ESL students would contribute proverbs during our classroom discussions and partner interviews. Proverbs, sayings, and idioms can be very useful in daily life. Often similar ideas, like "the sky is always blue somewhere." can be found across cultures. Proverbs can point out some universal aspects of the human experience - in 21st century America, 19th century England, 17th century Paris - 4th century China, or 1st century Rome.

Proverbs Provide Perspective

Proverbs will also often contradict each other, yet the trick is to use the right proverb at the right time in the right situation. Sometimes it's good to know, and even hold, two opposite ideas. "Where you stand, depends on where you sit." Therefore, each chapter includes a proverb section. Pithy proverbs are also easy to remember, use vivid language, and often short words. As a result,  we can often memorize them – even with an evolving vocabulary – and display our  intelligence and sophistication in conversations.

This collection of proverbs and quotations also includes many insights from religious leaders and philosophers that go back even more than 2,000 years such as Buddha, Confucius, Aristotle, and the Biblical prophets. Again, bringing classical wisdom into the ESL/EFL classrooms deepens discussions.

Dueling Quotations Encourage Critical Thinking

These quotations remind us that some conversations have spanned centuries and cultures. The selected quotations present a wide range of ideas, beliefs, and perspectives. Some quotations might make you laugh, some might make you sigh, and a few might even annoy you. This collection is a free speech zone. Join the conversation. Share your ideas.

Including classic quotations also helps preserve the insights and comments of well-known and significant cultural figures. This helps us escape the too-common delusion that the world began where we were born and helps provide perspective. Sometimes knowing the speaker and historical era provides another way of looking at modern pleasures and problems.

Practice Makes Progress

Practice may not make perfection, speaking English every day – especially in meaning conversations - does lead to significant progress. Compelling Conversations gives you the tools and phrases to talk more and listen better to friends and strangers in English . So go ahead. Ask more. Know more. Share more. And create your own Compelling Conversations!
Eric Roth

Toni Aberson


highly effective

"In my own teaching, I have found questions and quotations to be highly effective in promoting student discussion. Questions are useful in that they require a response from the listener. Asking them also helps students master the tricky rules of the interrogative. Quotations are brilliant flashes of wit expressed in the shortest space possible, often just a sentence or two. The authors have compiled a formidable collection of
quotations by famous people.

The authors also add some wise proverbs here and there. My two favourites were 'Recite "patience" three times and it will spare you a murder' and 'When money talks, truth keeps silent,' which are from Korea and Russia.

In sum, Compelling Conversations is a recommended resource for teachers who want to make their conversation classes more learner-centered. It should be especially appealing to those who wish to escape the confines of the Presentation-Practice-Production approach and do without a formal grammatical or functional syllabus. It reflects the authors’ considerable professional experience, and would be a notable addition to any English teacher’s bookshelf."

Hall Houston
English Teaching Professional magazine, January 2009


...should be on every ESL teacher's bookshelf!

"Suitable for intermediate and above, Compelling Conversations has topics that will fit in with any lesson based on topics, or just as a stand-alone speaking lesson. The questions have been designed to build the conversation, taking the discussion to a deep level....Each topic has consistency of structure with the four sections, talking, vocabulary, sayings, continued conversation and quotations that fit with the topic. Overall, a book that should be on every ESL teacher's bookshelf!"

Gramarye website, April 16, 2011
Click here for the entire long, detailed, personal, and
very positive book review on Compelling Conversations!


… high-stakes conversations

"Listening events are not difficult to set up. Ideas that have worked for me: values clarification exercises (see Hall Houston’s Provoking Thought, Chapter 4, for numerous ideas), watching emotional speeches (see for some inspiring examples; check out the “Movie Speeches” for some great moments), and “high-stakes conversations” (see Eric Roth and Toni Aberson’s Compelling Conversations Section 1 for launchpad ideas)."

Michael Rost
Author of Teaching and Listening Reseach (2nd Edition)
on A Teacher in Taoyuan blog (April 9, 2011)

… allows students to learn by speaking

"This outstanding resource allows teachers to confidently walk into an advanced ESL classroom with self-contained, engaging conversation lessons. The 45 thematic chapters allow you to both evoke student experience with long lists of practical and savvy questions.

The inclusion of global proverbs and classic quotations also provides larger cultural contexts to inspire deeper conversations - or writing assignments. Students should also appreciate the generous amount of authentic language. I wish I had this book in my old adult/university classes. A great book for adult education teachers, university instructors, and private tutors!"

Eric Busch
Director/Founder of, August 2007


...The Language of Opportunity

"Dedicated to his father, Dani Roth—who spoke six languages and 'could talk with almost anyone'—the book provides an alternative to 'presentation-practice-production' approach to language learning, instead using quotations, questions, and proverbs to prompt conversation.

'Some [quotes and questions] will have students roaring with laughter, while others require careful introspection,' wrote a reviewer (Hall Houston) for the ESL journal English Teaching Professional. 'They are highly effective for promoting student discussion.'

'In the classroom and in the book we try to create a space that’s tolerant and rigorous at the same time,' Roth says.'“The focus is on learning by doing, and we want to give people room to make good mistakes—errors that help us learn. When people expect themselves to be perfect, they go silent.'

Most of the book’s prompts ask for recollections or personal opinions.

'Whatever perspective you bring to the book, I want you to find validation in some great thinker, that it’s okay to see things that way. That gives us all the freedom to be ourselves and less of who we think we should be, or who we’ve been programmed or conditioned to be.'

Roth believes that the English language itself can be liberating.

'Learning English can allow some to escape the prison of their national background. In many languages, the words are either masculine or feminine. English doesn’t do this. Much has been written about why English-speaking countries were the first of women’s rights; the language doesn’t discriminate against women structurally.'

Wabash College Magazine
Fall 2011 by Steve Charles

…helpful in lesson planning

"I recently received a copy of Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics by Eric Roth, a Weekly Tip subscriber who thought the book might be useful to other subscribers. It consists of 45 sections, each a common classroom topic, e.g., Eating and Drinking, Talking about Movies, and Crime and Punishment, and each unit is made up of a series of discussion questions, a short vocabulary task, a few proverbs, more questions and a list of quotations. The book is suited to intermediate students and up, useful to have on hand to help in the lesson planning process."

Alistair Dickinson,
Editor, Developing Teachers newsletter
Madrid, Spain - newsletter 2/6/11


… easy to use

"America is a great land of opportunity. I am sure we all want to get ahead in this country. We want to find the type of employment that is suited for us. We wish to advance in the work world. We wish to make friends.

The best way to get ahead in the world is to speak the mother tongue of the country you are living in. In this case, we are talking about English. With so many 'English as a Second Language' courses being taught there is no excuse for not learning. The problem is, what book do you use to learn from?
Have you been looking for a good ESL manual? If you have, I think this [Compelling Conversations] is one to consider. The topics cover: Your Life, The Civic Life, along with the everyday aspects as dating, enjoying money, handling stress.

The editors put it together in an easy to use form. You have conversation starters such as, 'How much time do you spend each week in cars? Why?'"

Dane Robert Swanson
Santa Monica Daily Press Book Review - January 16, 2009



"How can I keep a conversation going? What vocabulary words are needed? How do I show agreement, or disagreement, in a lively, yet polite way? How can I share my experiences in a clear manner? Allow your students to develop authentic, meaningful conversations in English and deepen their critical thinking skills with this amazing text! Offering hundreds of hours of material for compelling conversations, this one-of-a-kind book encourages learners to practice exchanging experiences and ideas in a natural style."

ALTA Catalog - Fall 2007

Profile Photo Eric H. Roth

About Eric H. Roth

Eric H. Roth teaches international graduate students the pleasures and perils of academic writing and public speaking in English at the University of Southern California (USC), and holds the title of “Master Lectuerer”. He also consults English language schools on communicative methods to effectively teach English, and writes and edits ESL/EFL books for English language learners with Chimayo Press.

Given a full scholarship as a Lilly Scholar, Roth studied philosophy and American history at Wabash College (1980-1984), and received his M.A. in Media Studies from the New School (1988). Since 1992, Roth has taught English to high school, community college, adult, and university students. Highlights of his career include: teaching the first Saturday morning citizenship class in Santa Monica (1994); directing the CES Adult Education Center (1995-1998); working with international students in summer IEP programs at UCLA Extension (1997-2000, 2003-2005); teaching USC engineering students in Madrid, Spain (2007) and Paris, France (2008); and directing the APU International High School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (2009). USC promoted Roth to the title of Master Lecturer in 2013.

Roth co-authored Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics in 2006 to help English language learners increase their English fluency. Recommended by English Teaching Professional magazine, the advanced ESL textbook has been used in over 50 countries in English classrooms and conversation clubs. Easy English Times, an adult literacy newspaper, has published a monthly column, "Instant Conversation Activities," based on the book since 2008. The first specific version for a particular country, Vietnam, was published in 2011. Compelling American Conversations: Questions and Quotations for American English Language Learners , designed to help American immigrants develop both academic vocabulary and strengthen speaking skills in English, came out in 2012.

A member of the USC faculty since 2003, Roth is a member of numerous professional organizations including: California Association of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CATESOL); the International Communication Association (ICA); the International Professors Project (IPP); and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Roth has given several CATESOL and TESOL conference presentations and led many English teacher training workshops. He writes short reflective essays, reviews ESL/EFL related books and apps, and shares teaching tips at

Roth looks forward to learning something new today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow.

Toni Aberson

After 35 years of teaching English and supervising English teachers, Toni Aberson (M.A. English; M.A. Psychology and Religion) believes that a lively classroom is the optimal learning environment.

"If people are thinking, sharing, and laughing, then they’re learning," notes Aberson. "The mere fact that those adults are in an English classroom attests to their courage and their determination to learn."

"Adult English students bring a wealth of interesting experiences with them," continues Aberson. "They bring the world into the classroom. The challenge for English teachers is to put students at ease and encourage them to practice English. What better way than to ask students about their lives? I love teaching English."

Aberson wrote It's a Breeze: 42 Lively ESL Lessons on American Idioms (2012). This collection of 42 short English lessons focuses on specific American idioms and common phrases. The thematic chapters are organized into seven categories: Let's Get Started, Fun with Food, Body Language, Animal Wisdom, Colorful Language, How's the Weather?, and Where Are You?. Each concise self-contained chapter explores a single American idiom with clear definitions, sample sentences, short readings, comprehension checks, vocabulary lists, writing activities, and conversation questions for adult students.

"The key in a classroom is engagement," Aberson says, "and English students become interested and excited when they’re learning about the daily stuff of life. When they are thinking and writing and talking about their real lives—food, jobs, family, homes, sports, movies—that’s when they learn the language. Learning English is not easy. It can be a real challenge, but it can also be fun and stimulating. That’s what I’m aiming for—the real life and the fun that stimulates ESL students so they want to learn more. They want to jump in."

Aberson also lives in Southern California near the beach.


All books by Eric H. Roth

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