Creating and Performing Dialogues
By Hall Houston
Dialogue writing is an activity where students collaborate to compose a dialogue, which can later be performed for the entire class. I have found dialogue writing to be extremely motivating with my university students, and I’m always very impressed with their compositions.
One benefit of this activity is that it is extremely student-centered, giving students the opportunity to create their own materials for speaking and listening. This allows them to create material is more personalized than a dialogue in a coursebook.
Students who are reluctant to speak out in class enjoy the progression from writing to speaking.
In addition, this type of activity gives students a chance to be creative. They can make their dialogue dramatic, funny, serious or crazy. Students are always curious to hear what their classmates have created.
The following are a few dialogue activities you may wish to try out in your classroom. Several of these are based on the brilliant ideas found in the book Dialogue Activities by Nick Bilbrough (Cambridge University Press), a highly recommended resource book about using dialogues in the classroom.
Beginning and End
Prepare a handout that has 10 lines, each marked “A” or B” on the left side. On the first and last line, add a simple sentence or phrase in English such as “Excuse me” or “Hello” for the first line or “I gotta go” or “Goodbye” for the last line. Prepare one copy of the handout for every two students in your class. Pass out the handouts. Tell students you want them to create a dialogue that begins and ends with the phrases on their handout. They are free to write whatever they want, but they cannot alter the beginning and end of the dialogue. Once students have finished writing, give them time to rehearse, then call on a few pairs to perform the dialogues for the class. Variation: if you want to give this activity an additional twist, you can assign each pair a theme for their dialogue, such as THE ANGRY DIALOGUE, THE HIP-HOP DIALOGUE, THE OLD PEOPLE DIALOGUE, THE RUDE DIALOGUE, THE SUPERHERO DIALOGUE or THE NERD DIALOGUE.
Building a Dialogue from Short Phrases
Write on the board 7 expressions that you want students to practice. You can use expressions from your coursebook, or some that you want students to learn. Aim for expressions that students can use in their daily conversation, such as “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about…” or “I have no idea.” Drill them with the students, each time asking students to say them in a different way (a whisper, in a drunken voice, very quickly, in an angry voice, in a nervous voice). Next, put students into pairs. Give each pair a sheet of paper. Ask them to write A and B vertically on the left side of the page 5 times each, creating a total of 10 blank lines. Tell each pair to choose three expressions from the board and write them on three different lines, anywhere on the page. Point out that each expression can be written at the beginning, middle or end of a line. Collect all papers and redistribute them. The pairs now must add words and sentences to the lines to create a complete dialogue. When students have finished writing, ask a few students to read their dialogues for the class.
Inside the House
Bring to class a photo of a house. Ask students to speculate how many people live in the house and what they are like. Give them a few moments to look at the picture and imagine. Ask them questions such as “How many people live in the house?” “Is it a man or a woman?” “How old is she?” “Is she tall or short?” “What does she do for a living?” Write their answers on the board to create a short description of all the people in the house. Put students in pairs. Assign them to create a dialogue between two people in the house. (If the class decided that only one person lives in the house, tell them to imagine a visitor to the house.) Ask each pair to perform their dialogues for the entire class. When each pair finishes, choose students to ask questions to the two characters about their lives, their relationship or the house. Acknowledgment: I learned about this sort of interactive character building exercise from a presentation by Andrew Wright a few years ago at a British Council presentation in Hong Kong.
Meeting a Stranger
Bring to class a random collection of pictures of people, making sure to include a wide variety of faces. Put students into pairs and give each pairs two pictures. Tell the class that the two people in their pictures are going to meet today, but they are both strangers. Ask them to decide who the two people are, where they will bump into each other, how they will meet, and what they will talk about. You can ask them to close their eyes and imagine the interaction, then jot down notes , and finally discuss their ideas. Next give them a sheet of paper. Ask them to write a 10 line dialogue between the two people. Give them a few minutes to practice performing their dialogues at their desks, once they’ve finished writing. Ask each pair to perform their dialogue for the class.
Writing from Music
Play students a short piece of instrumental music. You might choose a bit of classical, jazz, or something from an old movie soundtrack. Tell students to close their eyes and imagine a scene from a film with two characters talking, as you play the music again. Put students into pairs and ask them to write 5 lines of dialogue, based on what they imagined. When everyone is finished, ask them to change partners, working with someone who is sitting in a different area of the room. Students now work with their new partners to write 5 more lines of dialogue, completing the conversation. When all pairs are finished writing, give students several minutes to practice reading their dialogues. Ask one student to stand up. Read out the names of two pairs and ask the standing student to choose one pair to perform their dialogue. Repeat this procedure until all pairs have read out their dialogues.
Ask students to imagine what a baby must be thinking about. Call on students to tell you what is important to a baby. Write their ideas on the board. Next, tell them you are going to play a video that contains two babies talking, but not in any identifiable language. Play one of the two very famous Talking Twin Babies Videos:
Talking Twin Babies Part 1
Uploaded by jayrandall22011
Talking Twin Babies Part 2
Uploaded by jayrandall22011
Play it a second time and get your students to call out any items they see in the video. Play it once again and ask more questions, such as “Where are they?” “How old are they?” “Do they look happy or angry?” Again, write their answers on the board.
Put students into pairs. Tell them you want them to write the English translation of the conversation. Encourage them to use the language that you wrote on the board earlier.
When students have finished writing, collect all their dialogues, and pass them out so that each pair now has a new dialogue. Tell the pairs to spend a few minutes reading over the dialogues written by their classmates. Give them some time to practice reading them. When they’re ready, ask the pairs to perform their dialogues for the class.
Acknowledgment: This activity is inspired by “If cats could talk”, a charming lesson which appears on Jamie Keddie’s Lessonstream website (www.lessonstream.org)