Activity: Everyday Dialogues  

Are you looking for an engaging way to focus on natural-sounding idiomatic language, pronunciation, intonation, and rhythm?   Wanting to focus on these particular elements, I did what I always do when I wanted to fill a gap: I searched the internet. While I found a number of resources for dialogues, I was mostly disappointed with what I had found. I found short dialogues that were disconnected and unnatural where the intention was clearly language-focused – but with the result of feeling meaningless and maybe even pandering. I tried a few of those dialogues and quickly thought: I wouldn’t enjoy this if I were learning a language.   

The next thing I did was take those language-focused scripts and impose story and characters to develop my own dialogues. This worked much better. It got me excited and it got the class excited.  But it was a great deal of work. However, this plan did create opportunities. For example, while practicing with Advice and Recommendations, we sent the characters in the dialogue to therapy (for a speaking assessment, the class roleplayed a therapist talking to one of the characters). After, I sent the narrative of the dialogues in the direction of the most useful advice that the class had generated.  

It eventually occurred to me (later than it should have): Why am I creating dialogues? There are already so many natural-sounding scripts. With just a little effort, I discovered that I could find scripts for many movies and TV shows online.   

Active Learning

  1. With a found script, present in small chunks to the class. This works best when you can start with just a few characters – sitcom scripts are great for developing narratives from just a few characters. It was better when I found source material that the learners were unlikely to know. The class got excited and curious about the story; that wouldn’t happen if they already knew the story. 

  2. With the dialogue, start with volunteers to read for one character in the dialogue. I found the best routine was to start with a cold reading with no preview of vocabulary or meaning. 

  3. The class attempts to resolve vocabulary from context.   

  4. The class resolves appropriate tone. This was a critical exercise: they got better and better at recognizing sarcasm and innuendo.       

  5. New volunteers read through the dialogue again. 


It’s such a straight-forward routine and the class quickly understand expectations. Besides focusing on improving reading and speaking skills overall, this activity creates a number of opportunities:    

  • To routinely practice understanding and building vocabulary from context  

  • To be exposed to natural-sounding idiomatic language   

  • To focus on improving pronunciation   

  • To understand and recognize intonation – including sarcasm, innuendo, jokes, and diplomatic language; and 

  • To continue building speaking rhythm (rhythm, I think, is a really challenging thing to teach and to learn and I found this activity quite useful for this particular element).

Many learners become invested in the narrative and the characters, and investment goes a long way toward engagement and learning. There are a couple of wonderful by-products to this activity. Firstly, some learners who might be naturally shy really find a space to shine with this activity. Secondly, many learners are able to transfer improved reading rhythm to other texts.   


  • Once we resolved meaning and the most likely tone, leaners were encouraged to try lines of dialogue in different tones. For example: “try this line as if you were angry, suspicious, tired, drunk…”  

  • From the dialogue, learners describe the scene and characters. 

  • Play a scene without audio while small groups generate their own dialogue.      

  • Practice dialogues with disappearing words – to focus learners on pronunciation, rhythm, and memory.     

  • Small groups rewrite and perform the dialogue but as if it were a telephone call 

  • Small groups create and perform missing scenes or off-screen scenes.   

  • If one character has a lot to say, present this content as a listening dictogloss exercise.  


One thing to consider – although it is my experience that I am more concerned about this than the learners are – is inclusivity. It can be challenging to find (TV and movie) scripts that address inclusivity and representation.  


My name is Kevin Slack. I am new and old. I mean: I have been teaching ESL for the TDSB for the last three years, but I taught EFL in Korea and Ecuador years ago (when nothing at all popped or cracked when I stood up). I also taught high school English and Visual Arts. Between my bookends of teaching, I was an artist, a writer, and a freelance web developer. I am ever-curious about language, communication, and self-expression, and it continues to excite and satisfy me to be part of a welcoming, engaging, and enriching space where people can connect, share, and expand – with language, of course, but not only for language. I like coffee, irony, Oxford commas, and semicolons; I generally dislike socks – huzzah for teaching online! – and exclamation points.


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