Dialogue Substitution | ESL Activity | ESL Conversation

ESL vocabulary activity

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.

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.

Like this ESL speaking activity? It’s from: 39 ESL Vocabulary Activities: For Teenagers and Adults

Teaching Tips:

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.


  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? There are 38 more just like Dialogue Substitution in this book: 39 ESL Vocabulary Activities: For Teenagers and Adults

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