Personalized telephone dialogues

Tip: Don’t forget to follow up a coursebook telephone activity by asking your students to write a similar but personalized dialogue based on their real-life work.


There are many situations in class where we do ‘telephoning’ using a coursebook unit or material of or our own. It could be a listening exercise, a role-play, a handout with a list of key phrases, or some combination of these. Typical content areas for the call are exchanging information, asking about products and services, arranging to meet, complaining etc.

Now, remember that your in-work students will probably already do these things in English. So, set a homework activity where they write a dialogue similar to the one they heard or practised in class, but this time based on a real-life situation in their work.

In the next class check it and then ask them to read it aloud. I find that asking students to read both sides of the dialogue themselves is absolutely fine – it’s always clear to me and other students which one of the two people in the call is speaking (students naturally use a slightly different voice tone to indicate this). The alternative, to have a partner read one side of the dialogue, never works for me – either because the partner cannot read the first student’s writing, or they are unfamiliar with the content and read it mechanically without bringing out the meaning. It’s always funnier/more interesting if the student who wrote the whole dialogue reads both sides.

Afterwards other students can make comments. Do they have similar calls? What would they have said in the same situation? And then write up good phrases from the call on the board for everyone to make a note.