Conversation Training Wheels: How to Successfully Teach Real English with Prepared Dialogues

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No matter your native language, you’ve probably had one of those moments where you just didn’t know what to say.

Maybe it was when a professor called on you while you were daydreaming about your weekend. Or maybe it was a job interview question that you totally didn’t prepare for.

For me, the most frustrating part about these encounters is knowing the answer deep-down, but being too surprised in the moment to find the words to answer.

For some ESL students, these unpleasant encounters happen almost every time they’re expected to speak English. Despite all the work they’ve put into building their vocabulary and mastering their pronunciation, they freeze up when asked a question in English.

That’s why you should be teaching English with dialogues. They’re kind of like conversational training wheels. They give your students an opportunity to practice speaking in English and get familiar with responding to various real-life scenarios they’ll encounter in English-speaking countries—but without the stress of having to rapidly come up with the words themselves.

In this post, we’ll show you unique dialogue resources and activities for beginner through advanced students. They’ll get your students speaking confidently and more prepared the next time they need to use their own words in English.

The All-in-one Guide to Teaching English with Dialogues: Resources and Activities for Any ESL Classroom

Where to Get English Dialogues for Your Classroom

TeachingEnglish Dialogues

TeachingEnglish is run by the British Council, which means that every dialogue has been carefully created by a team of experienced ESL teachers.

Here, you’re able to download the script and accompanying audio clip of nine different dialogues. Each dialogue covers a different part of everyday life, like ordering coffee at a restaurant, going shopping or scheduling an appointment. The vocabulary presented in each dialogue is perfect for beginner students, while the natural conversation of the audio clips makes great listening activities for intermediate learners.

If you’re looking for even more dialogues and lesson ideas, be sure to check out the lesson plans available on the site. These are broken down into three sections: lessons for childrenlessons for teens and lessons for adults.

ThoughtCo Reading Comprehension Dialogues

ThoughtCo has one of the most comprehensive lists of scripts designed for teaching English with dialogues. What makes this website particularly great is that the scripts are arranged by skill level for your convenience.

When you visit the site, you’ll come across a variety of dialogues for beginner, intermediate and advanced ESL students. Each dialogue covers a different topic that students need to know when living in an English-speaking country, like applying for a driver’s license, working in the office or talking about the weather. There are also specialized dialogues, including sets for medical English, business English, English for the service industry and more.

BusyTeacher’s Roleplaying Guide

BusyTeacher is home to a number of great ideas and activities for the ESL classroom, so it should come as no surprise that their dialogue resources are top notch.

BusyTeacher’s roleplaying section offers you hundreds of dialogues for students of all levels, as well as mixed-level activities that can be adapted to every classroom. Additionally, most of these dialogues come with vocabulary words, reading exercises and other types of assessment criteria to help your students learn new information as they practice their dialogues.

Simply Scripts

Simply Scripts offers scripts from movies, TV shows and radio shows, and makes a nice DIY source for authentic dialogues that you can adapt to your classroom. All you need to do is choose what script you want to download, cut and paste the excerpts you want to use in class and design a lesson around that.

It’s a quick, easy way to come up with dialogues that’ll hold your students’ attention.

“Drills, Dialogues and Roleplays”

“Drills, Dialogues and Roleplays” is a free teacher’s guide that’s filled with ideas for how to use dialogues to help your students improve their listening, speaking and reading comprehension. Whether you’re new to teaching ESL or you’re an experienced veteran who needs a little inspiration for roleplaying activities, this text can help.

How to Teach with Dialogues in the Classroom

Now that we’ve looked at some resources to help you find the perfect dialogues for your students, let’s look at four easy ways to turn these scripts into classroom activities.

Guided Roleplaying

Guided roleplaying is when the students read complete, ready-made dialogues together. While students of all skill levels can benefit from this type of roleplaying, it’s best suited for beginners who don’t quite have the skill level needed to come up with their own sentences and actions.

This activity is quite simple—you’ll assign students to different parts in a dialogue, and have them read their parts out loud. Your role is to follow along to help with pronunciation, work through errors and answer questions. As students get more comfortable, encourage them to “act out” their scripts, adding emotion to match the words.

You want to make sure that everyone has enough speaking time, so try to choose relatively short dialogues and make sure every student gets a chance to roleplay.

For this activity, it can be helpful to choose dialogues based on the subject material, vocabulary or grammar covered in your textbook curriculum. If you’re not using a textbook, use students’ weak points to help you determine how to choose a dialogue. For example, if they’re struggling with past tenses, use a script with people talking about what they did yesterday.

And over time, you can try throwing in some unscripted material to test their speaking abilities and help them prepare for conversations outside of the classroom. This style of roleplaying is great for intermediate and advanced students because it requires them to use the English they already know in order to express themselves. So, not only are they practicing their speaking skills, they’re also learning how to use their own language resources to communicate to with one another.

Dialogue Gap Fills

Think of this activity like a Mad Libs game targeted directly at your lesson of the day.

To prepare this activity, you’ll need to erase key parts of your dialogue to create gaps that students will later fill in (hence the name gap fill). You’ll want to make sure that what you choose to blank out is relevant to your lesson.

For example, if you’re studying actions, remove all of the action verbs from the dialogue and have your students fill in the blanks using a word key.

In class, hand out your blanked dialogues and have students work independently or in small groups to fill in what’s missing. They don’t have to guess exactly the words or phrases you removed—but their input should be grammatically sound and demonstrate that they understand the context of the dialogue.

Comprehension Worksheets

The good thing about worksheet activities is that you can adapt them to any skill level, depending on the questions or prompts. And with dialogues, you can create a worksheet that targets both listening and reading comprehension.

For this activity, you’ll need an audio version of your dialogue. For example you can use a Simply Scripts scene and its corresponding clip on YouTube. You can also just record yourself and a colleague speaking any dialogue you like.

Play the audio for the class, then have students complete a series of listening comprehension questions on what they just heard, without letting them read the script. Your questions can cover the plot, characters, setting and other important details.

Next, hand out the printed version of the dialogue and have students correct their own responses on a separate sheet of paper (so you can assess both their initial listening comprehension and their reading comprehension).

Scripted Puzzle

Another fun activity that works with all skill levels is the scripted puzzle exercise.

Here, you write parts of a dialogue on pieces of paper and mix the papers up so that the script is out of order. After that, have the students work in a group to piece the script together in its correct order.

This activity is good for testing your students’ reading skills while giving them conversation English practice as they work together to construct the script. And since students will need to use contextual clues to determine if the script is correct or not, you get to assess their general English knowledge as well.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

The best part about teaching with dialogues is that students are able to take a break from the usual learning exercises and practice English in a way that maximizes engagement. To get the most out of this, make sure to capitalize on your students’ creativity and encourage them to play around and enjoy themselves when participating.

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