Decentralised Teaching and Learning

“Not all who wander are lost”. J R R Tolkien

Decentralised dialogues: a materials-free lesson plan

In this post I talk about some problems when using dialogues in the classroom and give you a fun activity to use with your learners.

camels in a conversation

Dialogues are a great way of learning a language. Especially dialogues that contain little phrases and chunks that learners recognise as important.

In this post, I provide an activity to use with your learners to improve their dialogue/ conversation skills which can be used with all levels and in different contexts (i.e. Business English, General English).

Uber-busy teachers can download the full lesson plan here.


The stimulus for this post was that I’ve always had problems in class getting learners to write dialogues. What tended to happen was that one learner tended to do all the work – or each person got their lines muddled up – which is not how a conversation should be!

Furthermore, one of the criticisms levelled at coursebooks is that the dialogues are stilted and unrelated to real life. This is because, in culinary terms, dialogues are the side salad, while grammar is the meat.

So I want to share with you a dialogue activity that:

– is created by the learners themselves

– has lots of opportunities for peer-correction

– simulates a real conversation

– is fun!

– makes learning German easy!

That last point was a joke…this lesson is for English learners.

But it can  be used with any language.

Multi-level and multi-lingual!


i) Pre-Task

1) Cut up scraps of paper into squares. You can do this easily by folding an A4 piece of paper in half, and then dividing each half into three. This way each piece of A4 gives you 6 squares of paper.

2) You have two possibilities here. Either YOU give the learners a prompt based on what you are doing in class. For example, on the topic of Food, you could choose ‘What was the last time you ate out?’ (here teach the verb to eat out).

Or elicit possible prompts from your learners and choose the best one. Then everyone starts with that prompt.

ii) In-Task

3) Give out the scraps of paper to each pair. Tell them that they have to write out a conversation between two people starting with the prompt. One person is A, the other B. First they discuss what they want to say, then they write their words on their cards.

One person, one line, one card.

(don’t write two lines on one card)

N.B. Tell the learners that in this conversation, you can ‘talk’ at the same time – both of you can ask questions and answer them. (In other words – keep writing, don’t pause!)

4) As learners do the task, the teacher goes round, monitors and corrects language.

5) When the dialogues are finished, the first group performs their dialogue out loud.

iii) Post-Task

6) T. elicits peer feedback on the performance, this is an opportunity for peer-correction/ peer-learning:

Did you understand their dialogue?

Do you have any questions for the people in the dialogue?

Can you think of any ways of improving the dialogue?

7) T. gives feedback on the learners performance (after peer-correction!) on pronunciation, vocabulary, etc.

iv) Task cycle 2

And then the ‘genius’ stage…

8) Learners take all their dialogue cards, ‘mix’ them up and give them to another team.

9) The next team then has to put the lines in the dialogue in the correct order again!

10) The whole thing starts again – learners then perform their ‘new’ dialogues.

Variation: Each time learners change dialogues, tell them they have to add two sentences/ lines (give them extra blank cards for this). This was the dialogues keep getting longer and the task keeps of ‘sorting’ keeps getting harder!


For further reading, a great book on using dialogues in the classroom is Nick Bilbrough’s Dialogue Activities (2007). This has a lot more activities to use with your learners.

If you liked this lesson, and the blog, I’d really appreciate it if you would take 2 minutes just to answer a brief survey here. There’s a free lollipop if you complete it! You can also follow this blog by typing your email into the box on the right-hand side.

And if you use this activity, I’d love to hear your feedback.




Image taken from flickr, CC license 2.0, Peter Nijenhuis.



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