Many ESL textbooks, whether focused on speaking; reading; writing; or grammar, use pre-written dialogues in every chapter. The textbook usually encourages the reader to listen to an audio of the dialogue, practice with a partner, or answer questions, among other things. However, as I'm sure you can imagine or have experienced, these activities can become very monotonous for both the teacher and the students. So, how do you spice up the lesson, while still following the curriculum or textbook?
Many teachers will write their own dialogues based on the lesson content, or have students perform the dialogues. Some teachers will focus on correct pronunciation, fluency, or intonation. Yet, the students still become bored by the repetitive "conversations," which don't often encourage creative or personal expression. Below I've compiled a few tips and tricks to help you out! Whether you're teaching pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, or general fluency, check out the activities below!
Pre-written dialogues can be a great resource for targeting pronunciation. Students will be able to repeatedly practice a chosen sound or digraph. Since you've pre-selected (or pre-written) the dialogue, you don't have to worry about students "going off script" or getting confused by other vowel sounds and phonetics within the text. Dialogues may seem very limited in use, but you can use a pre-written dialogue for a while within your classroom if you have a well structured activity in place.
A class chant may sound intimidating at first; however, they don't have to be! It's true that sometimes they are used in monotonous, non-expressive ways; but, they can be used well and within moderation. Since the students are hidden behind the voices of their peers, this activity can be a great opportunity for students to practice pronunciation without fear of their mistakes being heard.
Another positive aspect of this activity is that you, as the teacher, have an opportunity to monitor your students' progress and change the lesson accordingly. Are your students getting caught on the first line of the dialogue? Repeat it a few times. Are your students caught on one word in particular? Write it on the board, model it, have them repeat it back to you multiple times, and then start the dialogue from the beginning. If some of your students are more advanced than others, have them take turns leading the chant. This will give you time to walk around and hear how different students are doing and progressing.
Repeat with a Partner
This is one of the most basic ways to use a dialogue; however, it's worth mentioning as it can be used in various ways. After practicing the dialogue within the safety of the collective class voice, have your students work one-on-one with a partner. Encourage them to help one another when they hear something that sounds off before asking you to step in.
Having students swap roles with one another can allow students to practice listening and speaking both sets of lines. You could have students swap partners, which will allow them to hear different voices, personalities, and accents.
If you have a more advanced class, give each pair of students a different dialogue. These dialogues could all focus on one pronunciation point ('th' digraph), or you could give dialogues that focus on different segments of a larger unit of pronunciation (short vowel sounds). After students practice with one another, have them switch dialogues with the group next to them.
Pre-written dialogues, while really useful for pronunciation, can be great for targeting grammar as well! I don't know if you've experienced this, but many of my students seem to forget grammar points as soon as they walk out of the classroom. The best way to combat this is through practice, and pre-written dialogues allow my students to practice specific concepts, which I've carefully chosen and curated in the text.
There are two main ways to use a dialogue for grammar. They can be used as initial exposure to a structure, introducing the grammatical concept within the context of a real-life conversation or they can be used to practice the structure, after having learned the grammar earlier in the class.
Mad Lib Style
If you're not familiar with the popular Mad Libs game, it's a classic word game based on story-telling. It comes on a pad of paper and each page features a story with blanks in random places. The blanks each have a designated part of speech, which you're supposed to fill in without the context of the story. After filling in all of the blanks, you read the story and, oftentimes, realize how ridiculously the words you've chosen fit the story.
This can be a really fun way to use a pre-written dialogue. It can be great vocabulary practice, but, even more than that, it can be great practice for grammatical concepts. You could use the game in it's original state to practice parts of speech, or you could tweak the game play to fit your needs. If you're practicing verb tenses, have students fill in the blanks with different verb tenses. Get creative! The game is sure to bring lots of fun and laughter to your classroom.
This can be a really fun activity for when you're practicing the difference between statements and questions, or other sentence-based grammatical concepts. All you have to do is take the sentences in a dialogue and scramble up the words. Have your students decide whether the sentence is supposed to be "Are you coming tonight?" or "Tonight you are coming?" To add a level of competition (if that's what excites your students) make it a race and split them up into pairs.
There are so many variations to this activity. To practice sequencing, mix up the sentences. To practice past tense, switch the verbs from sentence to sentence. It's a great, easy way to engage your students, add competition to the classroom, and practice a grammatical concept.
The hardest part about using a written text to practice vocabulary is finding a text that includes your vocabulary words. Writing a short story that includes your vocab can be time consuming, but writing a dialogue can be much quicker and easier! Plus, a quick Google search can often yield countless dialogues based on vocabulary lists.
This makes pre-written dialogues a great resource for practicing vocabulary. They're easy to create and can be a ton of fun!
Create a Dialogue
If you're strapped for time (or even if you're not), having your students write the dialogue can be really good practice in a variety of linguistic areas. They can practice writing, sentence structure, storytelling, and vocabulary use! You can challenge your students to include as many vocabulary words within the dialogue as they can. This can be done individually, as homework, in groups, in pairs, etc.
If your students need more of a challenge, give them each different scenarios or have them pick a scenario out of a hat. You could include things such as at a restaurant, in a taxi cab, speaking to a child, etc. Students then have to create a dialogue, use the vocabulary, and set the dialogue in their chosen scenario.
After your students have written their dialogues have them perform it in front of their peers. If you don't think your students are confident enough or ready for a "performance," you can use the dialogues to do a peer-edit (or edit them yourselves) and use them in the next class period as a one-on-one speaking practice exercise.
Fill in the Blank
Give your students a pre-written dialogue with all of your vocabulary words taken out. Have them place the words within the correct blanks: Should the sentence read "I just bought some bread" or "I just bought some microwave"? Not only does this offer vocabulary practice, but it can also include grammar practice!
Another option is to rewrite the dialogue incorrectly and have students correct the text. If you're looking to offer some more reading/writing practice, this is a great option!
Let me offer a quick explanation of what I mean by fluency. I don't mean the complete knowledge of a language or native-like language use. What I mean is the natural fluidity of my students' spoken English. When I'm looking for fluency, I often ask if my students can read out loud or speak fluidly. Do they sound cut off or are they stumbling over so many words that it hinders communication? When that is the case, I make fluency a priority.
I never target fluency with a text until I know that my students understand the pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and general topics within the written words. You never want to use a dialogue with a lot of unknown words, confusing grammar, or language that is too far above their current level. Fluency can be really difficult for a lot of students, and, in order to more adequately focus on fluent speaking, you're going to want to provide a text that is familiar and easily understood.
When I identify fluency as a struggle for my class and can ensure that the text contains easily understood language, I turn to the activities below.
For this activity have your students practice a dialogue with a partner a few times. They can work with the same partner, or I like to have them switch partners to vary the input that they're getting. While they're practicing, write the dialogue on the board or (if you're lucky enough to have a projector) project the text for the class to see. When you feel that they've practiced enough (maybe 3-4 rotations), erase a portion of the dialogue.
Depending upon the level of your class, this could be a word, sentence, or entire paragraph. Have your students practice a few more times just using the words on the board. They can try to remember what is missing, but encourage them to simply keep the dialogue moving, even if they have to go off-script. Keep doing this and continue to erase more segments of text until there is nothing left on the board.
This is great for encouraging independent speaking (and thinking) in English. Students are often really hesitant and uncomfortable with this exercise, but with consistent practice they'll realize that they are capable of speaking independently.
I love to watch my class do this activity. It's super fun and it helps students to learn more about emoting through language. It also helps to practice intonation. If my students have learned the ins and outs of a dialogue, but I still want them to practice for fluency, I like to give them commands. While dialogues can be boring to repeat and students often get stuck in repeating the words with a monotonous tone, this activity can help break those habits.
For this activity I have my students practice the dialogue once with a partner. Then, I'll tell them to practice the dialogue once more, but this time act as if you're sad. The next time, I'll tell them to say the dialogue with excitement, anger, joy, or sleepiness.
My students often couldn't get through the whole dialogue without laughing, but even so it is great to encourage them to have some more fun with the words. It brought a new life to the conversation, instead of appearing as a flat conversation between two fake people.
I hope that some of these activities were helpful for you and your students, and that the next time you're teaching from a textbook you don't feel pressured to completely scrap the pre-written dialogue or use it simply in the way it is suggested. Get creative with your class!
Pre-written dialogues can be a great resource for teachers and students. Students will have a structured "conversation" to practice their speaking and it's a resource they can look back on. Using a dialogue, though maybe initially boring or time-consuming, can be quick and easy for teachers (especially if it's already written for you!).
I want to hear from you!
Do you use the pre-written dialogue in a textbook or nix it?
If you use it, how?
What are your tips and tricks for re-invigorating the classic dialogue?