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How to Use Dialogues in Class

Activities for using dialogues for more than just reading and passive knowledge

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Dialogues are useful for a wide range of purposes in class. However, it's easy to get stuck in a rut when using dialogues in class. For example, introducing a topic, grammar point, etc. in class and then using a dialogue to practice the topic is just one way to use the dialogue. Students may learn from this exercise, but it doesn't necessarily involve them in a way that can make a real difference to English acquisition beyond improving passive understanding of certain vocabulary and forms. Here are some activities that use dialogues in class to move beyond just rote reading and parroting. Feel free to print out the reading and speaking dialogues on this site for use in class.

Use Dialogues to Practice Stress and Intonation

Dialogues can come in handy when working on stress and intonation. Students move beyond focusing on single phonemic pronunciation issues and concentrate on bringing the right intonation and stress to larger structures. Students can play with meaning through stress by creating dialogues that focus on stressing individual words to clarify meaning.

  • Use dialogues that students are familiar with so that they can focus on pronunciation rather than vocabulary, new forms, etc.
  • Introduce students to the concept of using stress and intonation to highlight content words while "brushing over" function words.
  • Ask students to highlight their dialogues by marking the content words in each of their lines.
  • Students practice the dialogues together focusing on improving their pronunciation through stress and intonation.

Base Impromptu Skits on Dialogues

One of my favorite uses of shorter language function dialogues (i.e. shopping, ordering in a restaurant, etc.) for lower levels is to extend the activity by first practicing dialogues, and then asking students to act out dialogues without any help. If you are practicing a number of dialogues, you can add an element of chance by having students pick their target situation out of a hat.

  • Provide numerous short situational dialogues for a target linguistic function. For example, for shopping students can practice exchanges of trying on clothing, asking for help, asking for a different size, paying for items, asking for a friend's advice, etc.
  • Have students practice each situation multiple times.
  • Write each situation on a small piece of paper.
  • Students choose a situation randomly and act it out on the spot without any dialogue cues.

Extend Dialogues to full Blown Productions

Some situational dialogues just call out for full blow productional values. For example, when practicing modal verbs of deduction using a dialogue to make suppositions about what might have happened makes a perfect scenario for practice. Students can begin with a dialogue to get the gist, and then let their imaginations take over.

  • Introduce target structure in class. Good structures for longer "skits" include: conditional forms, reported speech, modal verbs of deduction, speculating about the future, imagining a different past (past modal verbs of deduction).
  • Provide a dialogue with targeted structure as inspiration.
  • Divide the class up into smaller groups, each in the group should have a role.
  • Using the dialogue as a model, students should create their own longer multiple person skit.
  • Students practice and then perform for the rest of the class.

Paraphrase Dialogues

Paraphrasing dialogues can help students focus on related structures. Begin slowly by asking students to substitute or paraphrase shorter forms. End with more extended dialogues.

  • Provide short dialogues to students and ask them paraphrase shorter phrases. For example, if the dialogue asks for suggestions with a phrase such as "Let's go out tonight", students should be able to come up with "Why don't we go out tonight", "How about going out for a night on the town", etc.
  • Hand out a few different dialogues, ask students to read the dialogue and then create another dialogue "on the fly" without using the same exact words. Students can take a look at the original lines, but must use other words and phrases.
  • Ask students to read a dialogue to another pair. This pair in turn attempts to repeat the dialogue through paraphrase.

As a variation to this exercises for lower level classes, students can expand their use of a wider variety of vocabulary and expressions by using gap fill dialogues. Students still have the structure of the dialogues to hold on to, but must fill in the gaps for the dialogues to make sense.

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