Dialogue Substitution | ESL Activity | ESL Conversation

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ESL vocabulary activity

If you want to help your students out with remembering new vocabulary words, here is one way to do it. Instead of just reading a dialogue mindlessly, students have to fill in the blanks with key words that you’ve given them.

Works a whole lot better, right? That’s assuming your goal is to help your students out with vocabulary! Keep on reading for all the details.

Dialogue Substitution

Skills: Reading/Listening/Speaking
Time: 10-15 minutes
Materials: PowerPoint or handouts of photocopied textbook dialogue with parts removed.

Lower-level text books contain many dialogues but their effectiveness is reduced when students don’t have to listen to their partner in order to successfully complete their role. An easy solution to this is to use dialogue substitution which provide the dialogues with key elements missing.

Students then have to listen in order to respond appropriately. Dialogues are an excellent way for students to see how new vocabulary is used in real-life situations.

Remember that the goal is to challenge your English learners during your lessons! Keep on reading for all the information you need to use this activity successfully in your classes. Let’s get to it!

Beginners: You May Have to Scaffold It

You may want or need to scaffold this activity by providing a list of possible words, phrases, or grammar patterns that could be used to fill the gaps. Alternatively, you can make the activity more difficult or realistic by allowing students to complete the dialogue using any language that makes sense, even if it hasn’t been presented in that lesson.

This activity is also useful for reviewing some basic conversation strategies: asking a speaker to repeat what he/she has said, or asking for clarification (as well as others). This is an area where students may need a bit of scaffolding, such as a few ways to politely ask others to repeat themselves:

One more time, please?

Sorry, I didn’t understand.

Also, remind students that when they speak to someone, they should be looking at the person, rather than at a handout or screen.

Some Possible ESL Dialogue Topics

There are certain topics that lend themselves better to this activity than others. For example, food or sports, directions, school or classroom life often work well. Holidays, or planning for them lend themselves well to this too (for more ideas, check out: ESL Thanksgiving Games).

You just want to make sure that there’s a distinct word for each blank spot and it’s not too ambiguous.Something like culture, travel or health might be too difficult! But, of course, it depends on the level of your students.

What about for Business English?

If you teach business English to lower-level students, then you may find this activity particularly useful. It can lend itself well to all sorts of things like:

  • At the airport
  • Phone conversations
  • Answering questions about a product
  • Small talk with customers
  • Etc.

A quick tip: Ask your students what they want to work on, or what situations they feel nervous about. Adults are usually quite willing to tell you. Then, you can build your own dialogues for ESL students around this. It’s a great way to make your class even more useful.

Teaching Tips for Dialogue Substitution:

This can work with any size class, but you may need to remind students to use their “inside voices.” Also be sure to circulate around the class monitoring their language choices, and making corrections as needed.

This activity is best for beginners to low intermediate students. Advanced level students are able to have conversations without the framework already there like lower-level students need.

Teachers often neglect pronunciation skills, but this activity lends itself well to some focus on it. Point out particularly difficult words or phrases before getting started.

Procedure for this Dialogue Activity:

  1. Before class, scan or photocopy a textbook dialogue with the target language removed.
  2. Optionally, create a list of possible words or phrases that students can use to complete the dialogue or, encourage students to use other words or phrases that will fit the target language. Also, introduce any language needed for practicing communication strategies (see above).
  3. Divide students into pairs and have them take turns being A and B.
  4. To extend the activity, have students change partners and repeat the dialogue, using different words to create a new conversation.

Like this ESL Vocabulary Activity?

39 ESL Vocabulary Activities: For Teenagers and Adults
2 Reviews
39 ESL Vocabulary Activities: For Teenagers and Adults
  • Jackie Bolen, Jennifer Booker Smith
  • Kindle Edition
  • English

If you found this ESL dialouge activity useful, then you’re going to love this book: 39 ESL Vocabulary Activities: For Teenagers and Adults. It’s the book you need if you want your students to have fun while learning new English words.

The book is available on Amazon in both digital and print formats. It’s super easy to download the e-version onto any device by using the free Kindle reading app. Yes, it really is that easy.

You can keep a physical copy on the bookshelf in your office to use as a handy reference guide when you’re doing your lesson plans. Or, take a copy with you on your phone or tablet to your favourite coffee shop for lesson planning on the go.

Check it out for yourself over on Amazon, but only if you want to get yourself some ESL awesome in your life:


All About Student-Centred Teaching

This activity is an excellent example of student-centred teaching and learning. Instead of just giving students a complete dialogue that they can read without even thinking about, you’ve left some blanks so that they have to work hard to figure it out.

Good work and a job well done! Keep it up. If you want to learn more about this style of teaching, check out this short video below:

Have your Say about Substitution Activity!

What are your thoughts about this ESL dialogue practice? Do you think it would work in your classes, or do you have another go-to one that you’d like to share?

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. It’ll help other busy teachers, like yourself find this useful ESL conversation dialogue activity.

Last update on 2019-07-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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