Prediction Dialogues

From: "MGP" Practical English Teaching, Mary Glasgow Publications Ltd. December 1983, pag. 20-24

Mario Papa gives detailed guidance on exploiting textbook  illustrations and cassette recordings to improve your pupils' ability to learn from dialogues.

In the last 15 years English language textbooks have made great use of visuals in the presentation of dialogues. For example, at the beginning of a teaching unit, the dialogue generally appears with a set of small pictures. The pictures help students to understand what the characters in the dialogue are saying.

This procedure is widely used and we all know how many benefits it provides, but it also has some weak points:

  • • The pictures are often too small and theretore difficult to interpret.
  • • They  are  often  culturally  neutral, theretore  they  fail to transmit  cultura! aspects of the  English-speaking world.
  • • The procedure is too repetitive and students get bored.

Of course many other techniques are used for the presentation of dialogues and any teacher knows what works with his/her classes. What I would like to suggest here are a number of procedures I have been using for some years now. They have proved  to be successful not only tor breaking up the usual routine of classroom work, but also for practising the foreign language in a lively way. The main innovations I suggest are:

1   Students work with one or two large pictures, instead of the usual set of small pictures.

2   Students discuss the pictures first, and then proceed to 3.

3   Students try to predict what the characters are saying before they listen to the tape.

4   Students listen to the dialogue to check their predictions.

The pictures should be large enough to be easily interpreted. They should be in colour and not culturally neutral. Their contents and implications must be culturally specific and easily identifiable with the people whose language and culture our students are studying.

 Pre-listening activity

Before listening to the recording of the dialogue, ask your students to look at the picture(s) which accompany the dialogue. Help them to analyse different  aspects of the communicative situation they represent with questions such as: Who is he/she speaking to? Where are the speakers? What is the relationship between the speakers? What are they talking about? What is their attitude towards the topic? What is their attitude towards each oother?                                                       In the reading of written texts there are many levels of comprehension. So, too, in the reading of a picture there are many levels of interpretation. I have tried tour levels of speculation with the pictures in class:

   * What is seen                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
   • What is known                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
   • What can be inferred                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
   • What can be hypothesised

What is seen

At this level of comprehension, the students' task is to identify the components of the picture. Who/What can you see? How many people are there? What are they wearing? What colour . . .?, Etc.

We can also try to discuss the cultura! elements, for example, the sort of houses shown. lt is best not to go on with many explanations, but comparisons and contrasts could be made between English way of living and the culture of the students' country. By looking at a picture carefully students can better understand not only the foreign culture, but their own.

What is known

When proceeding to the other pictures which accompany the dialogues in a coursebook, students should recognise elements they have already met: people, objects, places, some relation­ ships between people, people and places, people and objects.

What can be inferred

At this stage students can be guided to infer relationships between people, Mrs Cooper is John's mother ; people and objects, lf Peter goes to see John ,what we see in the picture must be John's house; people and actions, Peter is visiting John.

What can be hypothesised

This stage is not really very different from the last one; however, it is slightly more difficult. We can ask students to make hypotheses about relationships between elements shown and what is outside of picture. For example, Where are the boys going? What are they going to do? How are they getting there?                                                                                            The last two stages are very important in developing the creative ability of students. The ability to make hypotheses is an essential thinking skill that needs to be practised both in the foreign language and in the mother tongue.                                                                                                                                                                                                                The specific aims of the four stages  are: to present the general situation; to set the scene; to give a general idea of the story; to present the cultura! environment; to recali known vocabulary and structures; to present new vocabulary and structures; to predict events; and finally, to encourage creativity. This type of discussion is most productive if it takes piace in a friendly atmosphere. This encourages the students to speculate quite freely so that even the shy ones want to contribute.



Each member of the class will contribute as you elicit intormation by asking questions. From time to time supply the lexical item or the structure that the students need. Of course vocabulary and structures elicited will be those present in the dialogue, and we know that in well-graded courses only a small amount of vocabulary is presented in each unit. This point is extremely important, because when students find it very difficult to express what they want to say, frustration will inevitably set in.

And now let's consider the different steps to tollow:

1   The students look at the picture(s) which accompany the dialogue tor two minutes. They try to find out what it is about, who/what  is involved, relationships, etc.

2   Elicit intormation about the picture by asking the class questions. At the beginning of an elementary course, this discussion (and the one in step 3) will be in the mother tongue. Then, when students have built up a small vocabulary and some structures, it will be conducted in English.

3   Play the recording of the dialogue which accompanies the picture(s). At this point try to elicit what the characters in the dialogue say, their behaviour, actions, etc. What really matters at this stage is that the utterances produced by the characters must be given in English by the class and that they try to predict what the characters say in the dialogue.

After each prediction, you play the tape so the class can check what the characters actually say and how good their predictions were.

Picture 1

1   Let the students look at the picture tor two minutes.

2   Elicit information about the pictures by asking questions like: You already know some people here. Who? (Peter and John ). Who goes where? (Peter goes to John's house). Who'the lady at the door? John's mother, Mrs Cooper). What happens here? (Peter asks Mrs Cooper about John. She invites Peter to enter the house. Then she calls JohnJohn is upstairs.)

3   Try to elicit from the class what the characters say in the dialogue: Who speaks firstPeter or Mrs Cooper? (Peter). What does he say? (Good morning, Mrs Cooper). And  what does  Mrs Cooper answer? (Hello, Peter!) ls there a difference in what they say? (Yes, but they both mean the same  thing. They greet each other.) And  then what does Mrs Cooper do? Does she invite Peter to come in? What does she say? (Come in). What do you think Peter asks Mrs Cooper? (/s John in?). And what does Mrs Cooper answer? (Yes, he is) . But she a/so says where John is exactly. (He's in his room). Then what does she do? (She calls John). What does she say?  John!) . Does John answer? (Yes). What does he say? (Yes, mum). And  Mrs Cooper tells John something.  What? (Peter's here). Finally the teacher can ask the class: Where are John and Peter going? (See Sample Text 1).


Sample Text 1


Peter: Good morning, Mrs Cooper.

Mrs Cooper: Hello, Peter! Come in.

Peter: ls John in?

Mrs Cooper: Yes, he is. He's in his room. John!

John: Yes, mum.

Mrs Cooper: Peter's here.

Peter: Hurry up, John! We're late. John: Are we? What's the time?

Peter: lt's ten o'clock.

John: Oh dear! Coming. l'm ready now. Peter: Well, let's go. Goodbye,

Mrs Cooper! John: Bye, mum!

Mrs Cooper:  Bye-bye!  Have a good time! John: And where's Caro!?

Peter: Caro!? She's with her friend Janet.

They're at the bus-stop.


 Picture 2


As you can see, in conducting this activity many of the questions themselves, will become predictable, so the students will understand them without much difficulty and be ready to answer them at once: Who speaks first?  What does he/she say? What does he/she answer? What does he/she do? What happens?

When students have reached a satisfactory elementary level, try to elicit what the people are saying in the dialogue starting from the recording on the tape, without looking at any pictures first. Play the tape: telephone rings; rapid pips; coin inserted; voice of a women;: 568 1108. Then follow the same procedure as before.

Teacher: What's happening? (Somebody is calling from a phone box; you can hear the noise of the coin being inserted. Carol, Peter's sister, is answering the phone). Point out that in England people generally say their number when they answer the phone. A comparison may be made with the different ways of answering the  phone  in other  countries. Who do you think is calling? What does he/she say? Then play the tape:(Hi, Carol!This is Tim).

Teacher: What do you think Carol answers? (Hello,Timi How are you?). How is Tim? What can he answer? (Fine, thanks. And you?). Continue asking questions in this way. (See Sample Text 2 .)


 Sample Text 2


Carol: 568 1108

Tim: Hi, Caro!! This is Tim.

Carol: Hello, Tim!  How are you?

Tim: Fine, thanks. And you?

Carol: Not too bad, thanks.

Tim: Listen, Caro!. ls Peter at home? Carol: Yes, he is.

Tim: Can I speak to him, please? Carol: O.K. Hold on a minute.

Peter: Hello, Tim. Where are you? Tim: l'm in Woodlands Avenue. Peter: What?

Tim: Woodlands Avenue. Peter: How do you speli it?

Tim: W-double  0-0-L-A-N-D-S.

lt's near Acton Town. The tube station, I mean.

Peter: O.K. What time is it now? Tim: lt's three o'clock.

Peter: See you at the tube station at ten past three, then.

Tim: O.K. So long!


The map can also be used for  a pair work  activity. Student  A decides which  phone box he/ she is in (there are six on the map) and he/she writes down  some  notes:

phone box in:  Woodland Avenue

near: tube station

time: 3 o'clock

Student B wants to know where student A is to arrange a meeting. (Use the sample text as a guide.) They then fix an appointment. Then they change rnles. The map can also be used for practising directions.

Alternative procedure

Another way of handling the prediction activity might be the following: the students look at the pictures in groups and they try to imagine the dialogue which takes place between the characters in the pictures. When they finish writing their version of the dialogue they compare it with the version on tape.

I am sure that creative teachers will discover many other ways of using these kinds of pictures. For example, when students have built up a good amount of vocabulary and structures, they can be asked to describe what they see in the pictures orally and in writing, making use of the words and structures they already know .

But in order to do this you must be sure that students are trained in describing pictures, that is to say that they are used to some grammatica! and syntactic changes: switching from the first person (generally used in dialogues) to the third person; substituting demonstrative elements: here/there, this/that, and so on; switching from one tense to anothe1 Mary (to John): See you tomorrow, becomes Mary said she wou!d see him/John the next day ; using performative verbs such as: ask, say, show, greet.

Some pictures can be used again at a more advanced leve! to retell more complicateci stories.



The main advantages of the procedures described above are:

  • Elicitation is used instead of explanation. This greatly increases student talking time and participation;
  • Students find out, among the utterances they know, which ones can be used in a given context;
  • • Students begin to understand/ develop frames of connected discourse in English, even at an elementary level;
  • • Students begin to disccver what linguistic and social behaviour can be used in a given context;
  • • Students develop the ability to infer, assume, make hypotheses;
  • • Students develop cognitive and imaginative abilities;
  • • Students are encouraged to be more creative.

The suggested activities are used with­ dialogues and pictures taken from Communication Tasks*, but you can apply them to any textbook which illustrates its dialogues and also has them available on tape.


 Mario Papa teaches Eng!ish in an ltalian secondary schoo!. Since 1974 he has also been working as a teacher trainer. He is co-author  of Communication Tasks (Zanichelli),  Communicating Strategies (Longman/Zanichel!i) and severa! other textbooks.