Memorable faces, memorable English: writing and performance

John W. Roberts, Aichi University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Contextualizing English, creative writing, performance
  • Learner English level: Beginner to advanced
  • Learner maturity: Junior high to adult
  • Preparation time: 5-15 minutes
  • Activity time: 30-45 minutes
  • Materials: Worksheet, blow up of worksheet, enlargements of characters’ faces

This activity provides an avenue for students to think abstractly about the grammar they have learned in class and the English they already know. By using dialogue worksheets with unusual characters, students contextualize textbook grammar into memorable situations. Not only do students practice reading facial expressions, but they also generate associative connections between learned grammar and unique characters through creative writing and performance. This activity also helps stimulate motivated students to seek new grammar and figures of speech to develop their skits. Having students write and perform in front of the class is beneficial to all, as it applies English to creative, and even fantastical situations.

Step 1: Create a dialogue worksheet (see Appendix) with two characters, real or imagined, historical or current. Use characters with memorable features or expressions, as they yield wider ranges of responses and provide creative starting points for dialogue (see first line of Appendix). Public domain images are easily found at Wikimedia Commons.
Step 2: Provide dialogue lines; each line assigned an A or B, indicating which character is speaking. To avoid discouraging students, four to six lines per character works well.
Step 3: Make enlargements of characters’ faces for students to wear as masks or around their necks as they perform. This establishes visual connections between the character and dialogue. Masks need not be elaborately made.
Step 4: Make a worksheet enlargement big enough for all students to see.

Step 1: Use the character masks to introduce the characters. Ask students who the characters are.  Giving some context to the characters will aid the students in their creative writing.
Step 2: Use the worksheet enlargement so that the students’ attention is centered at the front of the class. Write something that can be easily associated with character A on the blow up sheet. Try to avoid standard greetings as conversation starters. This is why unique pictures are most useful.
Step 3: Elicit a response to character A from the class, and write it down for character B. Response should be part of the reviewed grammar.
Step 4: Explain that the activity is a pair exercise. Remind students that they should use covered grammar from the textbook to create original situations. Setting limits on how many times a grammar point is used is a good idea so as to avoid forcing the grammar.
Step 5: Have students gather materials like pens and textbooks. Hand out worksheets. Let them know that they will have to perform their dialogues in front of the class.
Step 6: Move students into pairs. The class example may be used as a starting point if they wish. Have students complete the dialogue lines. Assist students with phrases and grammar. Set a 10-20 minute time limit. Depending on classroom dynamics and performance goals, time can be adjusted.
Step 7: Allot 5 minutes for pairs to practice their dialogues. Memorization is encouraged and rewarded, but written dialogue sheets may be used to foster a sense of security during performances.
Step 8: Remaining class time is used for dialogue performances.

More advanced classes need not be so structured around grammar. Freer dialogues may be more useful in stimulating abstract English usage.
Using more than two characters is fine, provided the teacher allots an appropriate amount of time to writing larger pieces.

The importance of providing characters with unique expressions lies not so much in the novelty but in the way students are forced to read the faces of the characters and contextualize them in English. Students are able to create memorable situations by utilizing known English, covered grammar, and new grammar to complete their dialogues. Though the creativity of the output will vary between ages and levels, it will be useful in cultivating practical English usage and memorable performances.

The appendix is available below.