Sometimes what you say doesn’t really matter | A dialogue activity

I’ve been attending a lot of drama-related workshops recently. A couple of weeks ago, I attended the second installment of Writing through Movement – this time with Yuki Ellias and popular playwright, Mahesh Dattani.  As usual, one activity stood out for me for its ability to engage learners and deliver a powerful aha moment.


Materials: Photocopies of whichever dialogue you choose to use.


1. Divide Ss into pairs. Distribute the dialogue and ask Ss to commit it to memory (they should learn the lines for both A & B).

2. Give each pair 5 minutes to discuss and create a setting in which they can enact the dialogue. There are some rules they need to follow:

  • They can’t introduce any additional words or lines.
  • They can’t provide any context before performing.
  • They can’t use any physical objects; they must mime any props they require.
  • They can’t involve anyone else in the performance.

3. Have each pair perform their dialogue in front of the rest of the Ss.

4. Debrief by asking Ss about what they observed and what brought the dialogue to life.

Although each pair will say the same words, the result will be very different. By using the voice, body language and action, some pairs will completely transform the dialogue into something enigmatic, hilarious or magnificent . In the workshop I attended, one pair set dialogue 1 in a prison with an inmate on death row – really moving stuff; another had an at home scene with a constipated husband on the commode.  The best performances will be those where Ss interact effectively with each other and their imaginary setting and the objects it contains.

The activity is meant to teach writers how dialogue, which they may pour their souls into, may not be as important as the setting, characters and objects that surround it. However, I reckon the activity holds an important lesson for teachers. Our approach to language with its focus on form and lexicon puts Ss at a disadvantage when it comes to “performing” in real life – situations where your non-verbal skills and proxemics may be far more important in helping you stand apart.  Sometimes, what you say doesn’t really matter. 


  • With advanced Ss, while they are performing, impose new constraints or settings on them e.g., you’re the same husband and wife going about your morning routine but now you’re in a leaky little boat in the middle of the Pacific.
  • Insist that Ss deliver their lines as they perform the actions instead of separating the two which is what most non-actors will do.
  • While Ss are performing, have them suddenly swap roles so A becomes B and B becomes A.


Dialogue 1

A: Two eggs

B: Yes

A: Brown bread toast

B: Yes

A: Two slices

B: Yes

A: Orange juice

B: Yes

A: Freshly squeezed

B: Yes

A Masala chai

B: Yes

A: Without sugar

B: No

Dialogue 2

A: It’s over

B: No

A: Finished

B: No

A: Khatam*

B: No

A: Tomorrow

B: Yes

*Khatam in Hindi means ‘finished’


3 thoughts on “Sometimes what you say doesn’t really matter | A dialogue activity

  1. A very interesting drama activity where the voice, body language and action are more important than the dialogue itself. It is surely very good for stirring the imagination of Ss and could be really fun. As you said it is an activity that can engage learners, but can you explain to me: it can deliver a powerful aha moment (I don’t understand this and i’m curious 🙂


    • Well, the aha moment was really meant for writers who often spend a lot of time constructing what their characters will say to each other and making dialogue central to a piece of writing. But, in the activity, all of the pairs used the same dialogue and yet the quality of the performances was radically different. The facilitators were trying to get us to realize that dialogue is not be all and end all when you are writing prose fiction or even a play. There are other things that set the writing apart. The aha moment happened when the participants went “Aha! Good grief and I have been focusing on conversational exchanges all along! 🙂 I think you could replicate this epiphany for educators as well in teacher training where the learning outcome could be the fallacy of focusing exclusively on form and lexicon in language teaching.

      I really appreciate all your wonderful comments Ljiljana 🙂 Thank you!


      • Thanks a lot for the explanation Adi, and thanks for sharing some interesting activities from the workshops you’ve attended! I really enjoy reading all you’re writing 🙂


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