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.

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