Interpreting Dialogue

Levels: strong pre-intermediate to advanced.
Ages: teens; adults.
Type: creating, performing and reviewing dialogues based on short, authentic text.
Skills: listening; speaking; reading; writing; pronunciation (conveying feelings and status).
Language focus: grammar and vocab structures as they arise; formal and informal spoken registers.

Preparation: if you like, on a scrap of paper, you can write a short, interesting sentence you encounter on your way to work, and use this in the classroom.


  1. Give the students a short sentence – e.g., “So I asked him round for tea.” Tell them to think who might have said this sentence and why. Then ask the students to stand up and walk around the room, trying out the sentence on the others and listening and commenting on the other versions they hear.
  2. While the students are walking about, board a short, open, ambiguous dialogue (e.g., “A: It was amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it before!” “B: It sounds scary!” “A: Well, it was!”)
  3. Ask the students to find a partner. Draw their attention to the boarded fragment. Ask pairs to decide who A and B are, their relationship to each other, and the context. When they’ve decided, they practice the dialogue. They can add to the start or end of it, but not change the central part.
  4. When they are ready, they try their dialogue on other pairs. Listening pairs try to guess as much as possible about the context of the spoken dialogue.
  5. The students then work together to add to the dialogue – deciding on what might have been said before and after – and create a short piece which can be performed. This time, they can change any part of the original, including the central (boarded) part. The teacher can monitor and help with vocabulary or grammar points.
  6. Groups then perform their dialogues and listeners try to decide on the dialogue’s context AND on the characters’ personalities, relative power statuses, and how they are feeling.

Brainstorming with Beginners

Level: beginner.
Ages: adults.
Type: creating a poster of English words and phrases; “breaking the ice”.
Skills: writing; pronunciation (of the words and phrases that arise).
Language focus: vocabulary.

Preparation/Materials: some A3 paper or a whiteboard; pens.


  1. Ask your beginner Ss to individually write down any words they already know in English. Allow five minutes maximum for this. T helps everyone write something, even if it is just a name (e.g., London).
  2. Form pairs. The Ss exchange their items and write them down.
  3. Join the pairs to make groups of four, and continue the exchange.
  4. Break the groups and form new groups of four. Continue the exchange.
  5. Collate the list on the whiteboard or an A3 piece of paper. Make sure everyone has
    a copy. Drill the words and phrases, and elicit meaning as necessary.
  6. You can display these words and refer back to them via various word games (see
    here for some ideas).

Acknowledgement: The brilliant idea above is not mine (which is why I can call it brilliant); I found it in The Minimax Teacher by Jon Taylor (DELTA publishing, 2001). I can’t recommend this book highly enough, by the way!

DIY Board Game

Levels: strong elementary to advanced.
Ages: kids; teens; adults.
Type: board game; conversations.
Skills: listening; speaking; writing; pronunciation (difficult phonemes).
Language focus: question forms; vocab revision.

Preparation: draw a board game “track” on a large-ish piece of paper and make enough copies for each group of 3 to 4 Ss. Some dice or coins. Some spare pens.

1. EITHER board a topic (e.g., living in London, careers) and elicit and board vocab OR elicit and board vocab from a recent lesson OR use the class vocab bag (see here for the general idea).

2. Elicit and board a couple of questions based on the vocab or topic. Board a tongue twister. Elicit and board an interesting challenge.

3. Divide your students into groups of 4 or 5. Explain they will be making a board game to revise this vocabulary for another group. Ask them to work together to write questions on a separate piece of paper. Tell them they should have enough questions for each square on the board (show the board now), minus 6, which will be for 3 tongue twisters and 3 challenges.

4. Monitor and elicit corrections for the students’ questions. When theyʼre finished, they transfer these neatly to the board, leaving occasional spaces for challenges and tongue twisters.

5. In their groups, students decide what the 3 challenges are and create three simple tongue twisters using phonemes they find difficult to produce (e.g., “red leg, red leg, red leg”).

6. Each group passes their board to the group on their left, along with challenges and tongue twisters.

7. Tell your students they will play against each other in groups. The first to the finish is the winner. Explain that they have to talk for 1 minute when they land on a square with a question. If they run out of things to say, the other students in their group can prompt them with questions. If they land on a tongue twister, the whole group has to say it, first slowly, then as fast as possible. The winner is the student who can say it fastest but still accurately – they get to move forward one space, but donʼt have to do the task. Challenges are for the student who lands on the square.

8. Monitor and note down vocab or grammar issues for subsequent feedback.

Category-Match Newspaper Reading

Levels: strong pre-intermediate to advanced.
Scope: teens; adults.
Type: reading from whole newspapers; conversations about the news.
Skills: listening; speaking; reading; writing.
Language focus: grammar and vocab structures from the ‘papers.

Preparation/Materials: bring some recent newspapers into class, enough either for each student or for each pair of students.


  1. Board a couple of headlines from the newspaper. Elicit what kind of story they are (political, animal, funny, weird, green, etc.)
  2. Elicit other categories of newspaper story from your students. Aim to get about 15 different story types – you can add more if necessary.
  3. Ask your students on their own to choose a type of story they would like to read. Ask them to keep this type secret for now.
  4. Show your students the newspapers and explain/ elicit that they are going to quickly look through the paper trying to find stories of the type they have chosen. When they find a story of this type, they should read more closely and make notes to help them remember what the story was about. Elicit that they should not just copy chunks of the article when they write their notes, but should always use their own words.
  5. Distribute the newspapers, or newspaper halves if you have enough only for each pair.
  6. Circulate and help with any unknown vocabulary, if other students can’t help.
  7. Once the students have found and made notes on a story of their type, put them together in groups of 4.
  8. In their groups, ask them to share the information they have found. Encourage listening students to ask questions at this stage.
  9. This activity can lead into a discussion on news values and the order and choice of stories in newspapers. It can also remind students that newspapers contain many different types of story and are therefore usually an interesting and varied resource for reading practice.
  10. Ask the students if they enjoyed the activity and would like to repeat it sometimes.

Acknowledgement: I have adapted this idea from Newspapers by Peter Grundy (Oxford Resource Books for Teachers, 1993).

Pictures in the News

Levels: strong pre-intermediate to advanced.
Scope: teens; adults.
Type: listening and responding to broadcast news; dictogloss.
Skills: listening; speaking; writing.
Language focus: news vocab and grammar structures.

Preparation: record the BBC news headlines (available on their website). Copy one picture for each of the 5 or 6 broadcast stories, paste them onto an A4 sheet in a random order, and photocopy one for each pair of Ss.


  1. Pair the Ss and distribute the pictures.
  2. Ask Students to quickly decide what the stories in each picture are, and to number the pictures in the order they think they will hear the stories on the BBC news broadcast. Students compare their ideas in groups of 4.
  3. Play the recording and ask Students to number the story as they hear them.
  4. Go through any important unknown vocabulary with the class (e.g., “MP,” “the Prime Minister,” “a pandemic”).
  5. Board “who?,” “what?,” “where?,” “when?,” “how?,” and “why?” and ask the Students to listen again and make notes to answer these questions.
  6. Play the recording again, then ask Students to check their notes in pairs.
  7. Turn the pairs into groups of 4 and allow them to continue sharing their notes.
  8. Play the recording again if necessary, this time pausing after each story (or during each story) to elicit details from the Students.
  9. Students could then try to recreate one of the stories as a dictagloss.