A Telephoning lesson using just an audio script


This is a ‘student-centred’ rather than a ‘book-centred’ lesson, but still uses the good audio that’s in the book. First the telephoning phrases are noticed by the students in their own way, then you generate a few other phrases by eliciting from the students, and then there is a practice role-play that also allows plenty of student improvisation. So if you want a change from just ‘following the book’ try this – the dynamic in class will be very different, with much higher attention and energy levels.


1  Warmer. I usually write up on the board the names of the two people in the call, and a little information about them taken from the book or the script (eg their company names and jobs). Then I say: ‘You’re going to hear a telephone call between A and B. What do you think is the reason for the call?’.  After hearing a few suggestions from the group (but making no comment about whether they are right or not) play the audio once and ask the group if any of the suggestions were indeed right.

2  Now say to the students: ‘We’re going to listen another couple of times. I want you to make a few notes about the content of the call. Just a few facts or figures, what they talk about, their decisions, whatever.’ Then play the audio again, two times, and let them make notes.

3 Put the students into pairs and let them briefly compare what they heard.

4  Hand out the script and let the students read through silently and check their comprehension. Take very brief class feedback on what they got right/wrong, and explain any difficult vocabulary.

5 Now ask the students, working individually, to go through the script and underline ‘all the phrases that are useful for telephoning’. Don’t define this any further – let them decide. Allow time for them to do this.

6 Again, they can check in pairs to see if they underlined similar phrases.

7 Working as a whole class, go through the script slowly, taking feedback on what the students underlined. On a few appropriate occasions, elicit and write on the board some alternatives. Eg: ‘What other phrases would be good to start the call in a friendly way?’ / ‘What other phrases could you use to check information?’ / ‘Do you know another way to suggest a time to meet?’ etc.

8 Now tell the students that they are going to do a similar role-play. Establish a scenario: make it very similar to the one they have just studied, but introduce just one small difference (I do this just to signal to the students that they can improvise if they want to). It might be that A and B are from a different kind of company/are talking about a different product/finally arrange to meet next month rather than next week/whatever.

9 Set up the role play. Divide the students into pairs and ask them to sit back to back (essential). Tell them to use their real names in the call, and allocate A/B roles, reminding them briefly about the roles, why the call is being made etc. Remind them that it is not a memory exercise and that they can improvise in whatever way they want. Check that the students know who is going to speak first (ie who is the person receiving the call) and what their opening line will be. Finally tell them to get out their mobile phones and hold them to their ears (essential). Now make a telephone ringing noise from the front of the class as a signal to begin.

(Note: I personally ignore the issue of whether to have the original scripts visible on the desk. In the past I used to ask students to turn them over before starting, but this introduced an unnecessary tension. Now I just don’t say anything, and in fact students nearly always ignore the scripts once they are ‘into’ the call and focussing on the interaction. If they do want to occasionally read a phrase from the script, fine.)

10 Withdraw eye contact and start circulating with unobtrusive body language making notes for feedback. Let the students do the RP.

11 (optional) If you notice one pair really enjoying themselves, then when everyone finishes you could ask that pair to perform their RP again for the whole class.

12  Have a language feedback slot.


In the next class, or after the break, the students can do the same RP again, either changing partners, or roles, or both. Try all these options on different occasions and notice the effects on accuracy/fluency/complexity/fun.



I’m really pleased that I came across this site and I’ve immediately taken something away from this first technique on telephone role-playing. I can relate to this subject perfectly as I have a couple of very capable but very shy and quiet students with whom I’ve been working recently on telephone exhange with English speaking colleagues. As the piece implies, the audio dialogues can often be excellent but this highlights a few little tweaks in technique which can spice things up a bit and detract from the usual ‘following the book’ approach. In my more flambouyant groups I will try the ‘sitting back-to-back’ exercise but I’d need to test this out on the less serious ones. Thanks for these thought-provoking tips.


Hi Paul

I really enjoyed this. Of course it has been quite some time since I taught a business course but they were always my favourite. Telephoning in English was very often a major difficulty for my students and I tried hard to give them strategies for improving their chances of concluding successful phone calls. Many of these focussed on reformulation or phrases to encourage reformulation by the other speaker.
I liked the structure of your lesson and the essential use of their mobile phones. In the past I often put students in seperate rooms to try and get that little bit of realism into the task….but of course this meant me tearing from one room to the next and only hearing part of each call!

If I have to do some emergency cover on a business course in the near future, I’ll try this out. Thanks!


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