Ideas for Teaching Reported Speech

Reported speech is a very rich grammar area to teach because 1) it can involve considerable manipulation of form and 2) it’s a very easy piece of grammar to locate and exploit with texts. The activities here are divided into different kinds of drill, ways of exploiting texts and analysis.


Basic substitution drill: At its most basic, you can simply read out a sentence and ask the students (S) to rephrase it beginning with “He said…” “She said…”. For example:

T: I don’t like it.
S: He said he didn't like it.
T: I hate it.
S: He said he hated it.

This can be made a little more interesting in the following ways.

Chain report: The following activity is a variation of the well-known ‘broken telephone'. Whisper a sentence in English to a student. That student then whispers it to another and so on until the last student has to say out loud what was said originally.

Chain report version 2: If the above seems too easy, ask students to alternate reported speech/direct speech. If they hear it in reported speech they put it back to direct speech and vice versa. For example:

T:   I like it.
S1: He said he liked it.
S2: I like it.
S3: ....

I didn't get that, what did she say: This is a quick question drill. Ask a student a question. After they answer, ask another student what was said. For example:

T:   Sasha, how did you get to class today?
S1: I came by car. 
T:   Sorry, I didn't get that. Dasha, what did Sasha say?
S2: He said he had come by car.
T:   Thanks.

Mingle drill: Prepare a series of cards/slips of paper, each with a different sentence. Here are some examples:

1)  I'm sorry I'm late.
2)  These truffles are delicious.
3)  What time is it? I don't have a watch.
4)  Excuse me, I'm looking for my husband/wife.
5)  Do those burgers have meat in them? I'm a vegetarian.
6)  I have a PhD from Cambridge.
7)  Do we know each other?
8)  Remember me? We met at last year's party.

Create enough cards so that each student has one. You can repeat the same sentences on other cards. Explain that you want the students to role play the following situation. They are all at a very formal cocktail party. Everybody must circulate and talk to each other. The trick is they must say what is on their card and as little else as possible. If you have a CD player or cassette player in the classroom, you could play some quiet music in the background during the mingle. After 5 minutes (or however long it takes for most students to have spoken to each other) tell everyone to sit down again. Ask people to report back on what other people told them, using rported speech.


Clarifications: This is another teacher-led activity that also focuses on listening skills. It uses an oral text generated by the teacher. For this activity you need to prepare the following:

1) A short anecdote (2 minutes long) that you can tell – hopefully related to the topic that you are already doing in class (eg. If you are doing holidays, make it about holidays).

2) Four or five sentences that contradict things in your anecdote.

Write the sentences on the board. Read them out to the students. Now explain that you are going to tell a story, but that some of the facts in the story are different. The students must listen carefully. When they hear a fact that is different from those on the board, someone must interrupt you and seek clarification, using the following structure:

Excuse me, but didn't you say that...? (and include what you had said earlier, the facts that are on the board). Here is an example:

Teacher writes on the board:

I live in a big house
I'm married
I don't have any children

The teacher reads out the sentences and then she gives the instructions for the activity. She begins the story:

T:  Well, the other day I was in my flat. It's a small flat in the city centre...
S:  Excuse me, didn't you say that you lived in a big house?
T:  Ah yes, I did say that. So, it was in my big house. My boyfriend was at work...
S:  Excuse me, didn't you say that you were married?
T:  Of course. I'm married. I meant to say my husband was at work and the baby was crying....
S:  Excuse me, didn't you say you didn't have any children? 
T:  That's right. It isn't my baby, it's my sister's baby.

Reported interview: For this activity, search around the internet for an interview. This kind of activity works best if the interviewee is someone that your class is interested in, or at least someone they have heard about. Select some of the interview from the web page and paste it into a word document. Make copies for every two students in the class. In class, divide the students into pairs. Distribute the interview and ask them to work together and make a reported version of it. Give them a word limit (150 words). When they have finished their draft report, have them swap reports with another pair. Ask them to reduce the report now to 100 words. Circulate and help.

Reporting back-famous interview: In this activity, students create the interview themselves. Divide students into groups. Tell the groups that they must do the following:

1) Decide on a famous person (living or dead) who they would like to interview.

2) Nominate one person in that group to be the famous person.

Once groups have nominated their famous people to come up to the front and form a new group. Explain that the famous people are all on a panel to be interviewed by the class, who are journalists. Give the journalists some time to think of questions. During this time the famous people can talk about what they are going to say. When the journalists are ready, begin moderating the interview by asking for questions. Once the famous people have answered all the questions send them back to their original seats. Now ask everybody to write a report with at least two things they remember from the interview. They should include examples of reported speech in their report. Asks students to compare their reports in pairs. Circulate and help. At the end, ask different pairs to read out their reports.

News texts: Prepare for this activity by going to a news website (for example, and looking around for short news stories with examples of reported speech. Select examples of these texts and create a small worksheet. First ask students to read the excerpts and tick the stories they already know about. Then ask them to speculate about what the direct speech was. Tell them to write in direct speech the reported speech. They can add more detail if they like. At the end, have different students read their quotes and ask the others if they can see what story it came from. Some examples:

The Indonesian foreign minister said that the summit was held not only as an ordinary meeting to commemorate old memories of cooperation among members of the two continents, but to help create a better future.

Judge Garzon says Spain was a key base for hiding, helping, recruiting and financing al-Qaeda members.

Shades of meaning 1: The choice of whether or not to 'backshift' the tenses in reported speech often has to do with the reporter's interpretation. You can ask students to compare the meanings between two examples of reported speech (minimal pair sentences). For example:

He said he's hungry / He said he was hungry

She said she would come / She said she will come

See the section on tense choices in reported and reporting clauses for further examples that you could use and explanation of the differences in meaning.

Shades of meaning 2: You can also do the above exercise with examples from the news stories. Give the example and ask students to speculate why the tense was chosen.

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