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Learning to write and perform dialogues in class is an integral part of the training I use for groups. Dialogues can be humorous or serious, but they all must have a conflict that is resolved at the end. Here are some sample dialogues to get you going. Also refer to my presentation on dialogues in the presentation section.

  • The Middle Finger (a comedy) I use this dialogue to illustrate one major conflict and its resolution.
  • The Master’s Disaster (theater game) When I teach students how to write dialogues, I usually play a game called “Master Disaster.” You can read the rules of the game in the theater games section below. This game illustrates the importance of conflict to keep a story moving along.

Watching Movies

When students ask what exercises they can do at home to improve their English, I tell them not to do exercises. I tell them to watch movies in English with subtitles in English or Spanish, depending on their level. It’s surprising how many people don’t follow this simple but powerful suggestion, so I watch a movie in English with my students once a month.

When my students watch a movie in class, I ask them to write down important information about the characters and the plot of the movie in very short, clear sentences. Afterwards, we read and discuss the notes and the movie in general. I believe this teaches students how to organize their thoughts.

A movie is so much more than just dialogue; however, ESL students tend to focus on the dialogue to the exclusion of many other factors which can help comprehension. A movie includes action, body language, gesture and tone of voice as well as dialogue. Although they unconsciously take these aspects into account when they watch a movie in their own language, students fail to do so when they are watching a movie in English. This is due to a misguided desire to understand EVERY WORD. Try to do it in your own language. If you focus on understanding every word, you won’t understand anything.


Giving the student an activity to concentrate on while watching forces him or her to use these “non-verbal” clues, as well as framing their thoughts in English so they can jot them down as the movie develops.

I usually coach my students before I begin watching movies with them. I teach them a little about character and conflict so they know how movies work, and how they can anticipate what will happen. I also have them watch a few clips without sound and encourage them to guess what’s going on just from the non verbal clues.

Read my book Guide to Watching Movies for the ESL Student and Teacher (available soon).

Workbooks and Review Documents

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I’m always looking for new ways to teach ESL. I have developed several courses over the years, and some are web-based so the student can see all the course material when he or she needs it.

  • Resident English Sessions is a 12 week focused English communication course for medical residents that I have taught for the past 8 years in three-month cycles. The emphasis is on communication skills, so we do dialogues in class, as well as interviews and presentations. During the course, the students learn to identify the tenses and use them more effectively in communication.

Theater Games

Improvisational theater exercises are aimed at creating sensitivity through peak listening and anticipation of what one actor will say and do. Improvisational actors are able to create entire scenes with solid beginnings, middles and conclusions. If you have ever seen Second City, the comedy troupe based in Chicago, or the early cast of Saturday Night Live, many of whom came from Second City and its workshops, you will know the power of theater exercises. They work great with ESL students as a way of simulating real world conversations, developing listening skills, and also just to break up the routine and have a little fun. Click on each game to see how it’s played.

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  • The Interview

    One person interviews another person. The interviewee plays a famous or well-known person. I use this game in English class to show how the interviewer guides the interviewee. The interviewer can ask outrageous questions and the interviewee needs to follow along.

    “The Ridiculous Expert” is a variation on the exercise. The interviewee is an expert on something ridiculous, such as fastening a seatbelt or scratching dog bellies.

  • The Blob

    Each person gets a turn at being a well-known person. Each contestant gets a chance to ask a yes or no question to guess who he/she is. You can ask 1 question. If the answer is yes, you can ask another. Game continues until someone can guess who the person is.

  • Password

    This is a great vocabulary builder and can be specific to a profession or situation. Each student has a list of 5 words. You have to make your partner say the word without saying the actual word or any part of it. They have to guess all 5 words within a time limit.

  • Master Disaster

    I use this game to demonstrate conflict resolution. 2 players, one is the master, the other is the servant. The master will ask the servant for something simple. The servant always blocks the question, and explains why this should not be possible. The master always accepts this, and asks for something else (which turns out to be impossible as well). Every time the servant has to explain why this should not be possible, the situation gets worse, until the whole thing turns out to be a disaster. And all this for a perfectly logical explanation.

    The idea is for the servant to connect all elements the master brings up, into one and the same disaster.

  • Movie Review

    This is one of my students’ favorites. 4-10 players. Ask the audience for a movie title. 2 players will do an interview: one will be the reviewer. As the movie is discussed, other players play parts of the movie.

    This is a great comprehension exercise, especially for the actors who have to make the story come alive.

  • Story-Story

    I recommend this one for advanced students as it requires good comprehension and command of the language, although some of the rules can be modified to accommodate intermediate students.

    A title for a story and a story genre is obtained from the audience (for example title: The monster from Planet X, genre: science fiction) The director starts the game by pointing to a player, who needs to start telling the story. At any point in time the director can switch to another player, who needs to continue the story flawlessly, even if the switch happened in the middle of a sentence or even in the middle of a word.

    Players that hesitate, or whose sentences are not grammatically correct or don`t make sense, leave the game. The last player left ends the story.