Telephoning: one-sided dialogues


Prediction activities followed by checking with an original are well-known with reading texts. Here’s a similar idea that has a listening focus and can be used with just about any coursebook telephoning dialogue. The role-play at the end should go well – it’s been very well prepared in terms of both language and content by the time you get there.


  1. Take a relatively simple telephone conversation that appears in your coursebook audio. Have the script open in front of you, but the students have their books closed.
  2. Looking at the script, read aloud one person’s lines (ie everything said by speaker A). Read the whole script all the way through, leaving a gap of a few seconds where the other person (speaker B) would say something. This will give the students a good context for the whole call. (Note that pausing in the middle to predict what will come next is a different kind of activity covered in an earlier post in the ‘Telephoning’ section).
  3. Now tell the students that you are going to read your lines again, one by one, but this time they should predict the missing lines that speaker B would say next.
  4. Read again, turn by turn , leaving enough time between turns for students to write their imaginary lines for speaker B.
  5. Now play the coursebook audio to compare. Here you may want to play it all through once to hear the whole dialogue, and then go back and play the audio again, stopping after each speaker A turn (just as you did when you were reading aloud earlier). Each time you stop the students can first try to remember what speaker B said next on the audio you just listened to. Then after that you can get other suggestions based on what the students wrote down in their prediction activity.
  6. An obvious final stage is to have a role-play. Tell the students they are going to have a similar call to the one they have listened to, but that it doesn’t need to be exactly the same and it isn’t a memory exercise. Appoint the A/B pairs, ask the students to sit back-to-back with phones to their ears, remind them who is going to speak first and what the first words will be, and then start by making a ringing noise. (With all telephone role-plays the issue of whether to have the original dialogue open on the desk is irrelevant in my experience. Let them have it open if they want because 9 times out of 10 they will be lost in their own mental world within a few turns and the book won’t get referred to).

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Activity 3. Why it works for me: It’s about communication. Over the years I’ve found myself repeating this statement to everyone including myself. I dread when other’s expect it of me and I sure can’t expect it from my Ss. Keeping this in mind, I try to complement the skill-set, learner type and personality Ss already bring to the table with functional language. I want them to appreciate why functional language belongs in THEIR PERSONAL toolbox, not some perfect toolbox. For example: one really interesting group I had consisted of 4 Ss with a normal mixture of learning styles. Then behold, Patrick appeared, who is a classic read-write. It’s not uncommon for him to quote from Cambridge Grammar of English during a lesson. Yes it’s a bit weird at times but hey, he’s great when I’m trying to elicit. So giving each one the chance to craft and RP (real play) their own functional dialogs based on the crisp framework, as mentioned in Activity 3, keeps things realistic; even for Patrick. Otherwise RP = robot play. Thanks Paul! George

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