Marta Joyce Sabbadini, Teacher & Trainer, British Council, Cameroon

This is an activity for students to practise reporting speech. It provides a situation for reporting what others have said that can be more realistic than some of the exercises that are found in textbooks, and great fun! My students particular enjoy the fact that in this activity they are encouraged to listen in to each other’s conversations: the concept of ‘eavesdropping’

You will need to decide on a context that will be of interest to your class. One idea that works well with my students is that of 'first dates', with conversations taking place between two people in a cafe.


You may have to explain the concept of eavesdropping (listening to someone else's conversation). With lower levels it may be easier to explain spying.


Before starting the activity, I do a short revision session on reported speech, eliciting from students what happens to speech when it is reported and some of the constructions we can use to do so. I write on the board sentence starters such as:
- First he said…
- And she replied..
- So he then said...
- Only for her to say that...
- He then went on to ask her ...
I also remind students that reported speech is rarely a word per word account, but often more of a summary of what was said.

  • I then start by introducing the context of the a 'first date' in a cafe, brainstorming ideas about who the people might be and what they might talk about in this situation.
  • Next I put students in pairs, of 'first date couples', asking them first to decide on their new names and characters (real or imaginary), and then giving them around ten minutes to prepare a short conversation, which they should write down. I remind students that their conversations can be serious or, if they prefer, humorous!
  • Once students are ready, I set up the classroom as if it is a cafe, with couples sitting face to face. To add interest to the role-play, I ask the students to come up with the name of their cafe and sometimes even allocate a few students to the roles of waiter / waitress.
  • I then explain to students that some of the people in the bar will be eavesdropping on others, as obviously the conversations taking place are very interesting! Couples should start talking, and if I, the teacher, tap someone on the shoulder, s/he should get up and go and eavesdrop on another couple’s conversation (of their choice). S/he then goes back to his/her partner and reports what was being said.
  • I usually tap students on the shoulder to get enough people eavesdropping, and then place myself discreetly at the back of the classroom to observe the activity.
  • This process can continue for up to fifteen minutes, with different students having an opportunity to eavesdrop and report back.
  • The class then comes back together, for each couple to report to everyone what another couple said. The couple in question can then explain to what extent this corresponded to their original conversation!
  • The activity can also be followed-up by a writing stage, where students report the speech in writing, and then compare it with the original conversation.