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Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Use dialogs creatively.

Dialogs are short and sweet, no more than 9-10 short lines, which demonstrate language functions like "requesting," "clarifying, and "giving directions".  They will help your students to talk more and you to be quiet!

Here's some examples:

A. Hey, Joan! [function: get someone's attention]

B. Yeah?

A. Can you help me? [function: make a request]

B. Sure, what do you need? [function: get more information]

A. I need to move the table over there.

B. Okay. (student moves the table)

A. Thanks a lot.

B. You bet.

The next dialog includes strategies for clarifying and paraphrasing, which will prove very useful for our students:

A. Hey, Ka! Can you bring me a piece of yellow paper? [function: make a request]

B. Sure. Where is it? [function: accept a request/get more information]

A. In the paper cabinet, on the top shelf, in back. [function; 3-step instruction]

B. In the paper cabinet, on the top shelf, in back? [function: paraphrase and clarify]

A. Right.

B. Okay. (Student retrieves the yellow paper.) Here you go.

A. Thanks!

B. No problem.

Make up several so your students can choose which one they want to ask.  Eventually they will substitute other items or requests in  the dialog.

Step 1

Teach the dialogs - the meaning and the vocabulary. Teacher talk will be dominant at this point in the process, but it will be of short duration.

Step 2

Students practice the dialogs in pairs.

Step 3

Add physical action to the mix. It is critical to synchronize the action with the words in the dialog. This is the step that will begin to put the dialog elements into long term memory and make the application of the dialog to real life more obvious.

Have students actually perform the tasks in the dialog - help move a table, retrieve the yellow paper, pick up a box, address an envelope, find a stapler, answer the phone, bring me the scissors. Demonstrate various tasks that the students can do and provide them with the wording they need to talk about them. Remember - in these dialogs, some students are asking for help, and some are providing help, so students need to be able to do both parts of the dialog.

Step 4

Have students perform the dialogs with each other. Everyone has to listen closely now because they don't know what their partner is going to ask them to do. Thus, the clarification strategy is suddenly very useful because students who fail to paraphrase and clarify usually perform their tasks incorrectly, so the value of these strategies and the necessity of using them becomes obvious to everyone.


This 4-step process allows ample opportunity for every student to listen, speak and practice English for the duration of the class while the teacher has hardly had to say a word. The content of the dialogs, and the context in which they are used, do all the explanatory work. All the teacher has to do is guide the students by providing realistic and useful dialogs, and supplying vocabulary when needed.

Try it. You'll see the energy level in your classroom zoom up as students become more physically involved in their language learning, and as they see how immediately applicable the lesson is to their everyday lives. Having the opportunity to practice and master a new language strategy in a safe, yet not completely predictable environment, and being actively involved instead of passive - all of these potential attributes of dialog learning can be brought to the fore in a well-structured lesson or series of lessons. (Depending on class level, these steps might be completed in one class session or they may take a week or more.)

And don't forget - review review review! Spend 10 to 15 minutes during the next lesson reviewing and using the dialogs. As time goes on, you can stop the formal review, but continue to incorporate the dialogs and apply them in the classroom whenever a situation arises naturally. For example, ask students to bring you a pen when yours stops working, or to help you move the desks around before class starts, or to retrieve a book off the bookshelf. And don't forget that they have to be able to ask for help too, so don't let them get away with pointing and gesturing and shrugging their shoulders to get their point across. Instead, encourage them to use what they learned in the dialogs to ask for help when they actually need it. Make it clear that the dialogs are not just a classroom exercise. Rather, they provide useful strategies for living the real world.