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Teleprompter: Turning a writing activity into a speaking activity

Lately I have been thinking about ways to generate conversation from a writing activity. One idea is for an activity called ‘Teleprompter,’ which is a reverse dictation activity.

There is a comedy movie about a news presenter who would read anything off the teleprompter. The teleprompter is a screen showing written text about current events that the news presenter reads.

The language used in the joke is not suitable for the classroom, but the idea behind the joke could make an interesting activity.

I have tried to write down my thoughts for how I could potentially run this activity, and some different ideas on how I could offer feedback. This is not an activity I have tried yet, but today, I am using my blog as a sounding board for my ideas. Don’t be too harsh with me if you disagree with them. Be kind.

The idea:

One student is the writer and another student is the reader. The reader can only say the sentences that the writer writes for him. 

The aim behind this activity is to practice different registers of English. This activity could focus on Business English and meetings, or looking at more casual English and language we see every day on social media.

It also encourages students to write text that is legible and clear. The students can write sentences based around a topic or situation, or they can be free to write any sentence that they can imagine. This will hopefully foster some creativity and build confidence.

Although the idea is that the reader says what the writer has written, the readers should understand that they don’t have to speak if what has been written isn’t appropriate or makes them uncomfortable.

Idea: Before the activity begins discuss with the students topics to talk about, or topics to avoid.

 Post-it Notes

Post-It Notes (Eltpics-VickyLoras)
Post-it Notes by @VickyLoras


Using post-it notes is an easy and low-tech way to do this activity. The benefit of using them is that you can have several groups doing this activity together.

Post-it notes may also be preferable if you work in an environment with either internet limitations or restrictions.

The Activity: Divide the class into groups of four students. Each group contains two writers and two readers.

The first writer writes the opening message and passes it to his reader to say the message. The second writer then writes a response and passes it to his reader to say the message. In this way, the students are conducting a conversation on paper, and reading it aloud.

Thinking time

Assign a topic or discuss appropriate topics with the students before beginning the activity. You may want to give the students some thinking time and elicit the topics from them.

Repeat the activity by asking the students to change roles. The readers become the writers and the writers become the readers.

Showing the students what to do

Ask for a volunteer to help you model the activity. Write an introductory sentence and gesture that the student should read it. This should reinforce the idea that the writer doesn’t speak, but it is also an opportunity to bring a little fun into the classroom. Repeat a few times until the speaker no longer require prompting to read the sentence.

Or ask for one student from each group to come to a different part of the class for a demonstration of the activity.  You will need at least four students to demonstrate this activity.

Idea: You can ask the other students who are waiting to brainstorm or work on a conversation diagram with key words. This will keep them occupied and prevent student down time.

Assign each of the student volunteers a role in the group. Ask the first writer to write a simple introductory sentence.

“Hello, my name is …”

Ask the speaker to read it aloud. Ask the second writer to write a reply.

“Hello … , my name is … . How are you?”

Ask the second speaker to read it aloud.

Repeat the demonstration and give the writers a topic. Encourages the speakers to read by gesturing to them.

When you are comfortable that the students understand, ask them to return to their groups and explain the activity to their classmates. I would expect this to be in English with higher-level students but the students’ L1 is perfectly fine with lower-level students in a monolingual classroom.

Starting the activity

Start the activity once you are happy that all the student have understood the activity and that they have plenty of notes and key words, so that they aren’t struggling for things to write about.

Running through this activity in my mind’s eye, I can think of some potential problems that may occur.

Students might pause during their writing because they can’t think of the word they want to write. You could encourage the students to reword the sentence, ask the reader for help, ask the teacher, or write the word in their L1 to revisit during feedback.

Students might pause in their writing because they didn’t understand or hasn’t heard what the speaker said. Encourage the students to ask each other to repeat and clarify what has been said.

Students might pause when they should be speaking because they don’t know how to pronounce a word, or they don’t know what a word means. Encourage peer teaching and ask the writer to explain it to them.

Emphasize that it is okay to make mistakes, and that the idea is to generate lots of writing that we can learn from.

Error Correction and Feedback

As you walk around the classroom and monitor the students, you will notice mistakes in writing or speaking. Take notes for  feedback later, but it might also be worth photographing the post-it notes after the activity has finished, or before you change writers.

Encourage peer correction in group work by writing example sentences on the whiteboard that contain similar mistakes. Another option that can be a time-saver is to show your written notes on a classroom OHP or OHC. Just makes sure that your notes are clear and legible.

Using an app like Skitch it would be possible to annotate photographs with arrows, circles, symbols and text to give individual or group feedback. It seems possible to use it without an internet connection and annotated images can be deleted or saved as pictures on your phone or tablet. However, if you have an Evernote account, you have the option to sync your photos to it. When deciding whether to use the app in this way, please consider your school’s data protection policy, consider what your students have produced and their privacy, and carefully read the privacy statement of any app. I came across Skitch thanks to Richard Byrne from freetech4teachers.com.

Turn error correction into an information gathering activity, but this is best done as a review activity in the following lesson. Give the students a list of examples with common mistakes and place the corrected sentences around the classroom. One student from each group runs to one of the corrected sentences and remembers it. They can’t take the paper back to their group. When they are happy that they have remember the correction, they return to their group and explain it. The group correct the error on their sheet and a new student runs to find the next sentence.

Other ways of doing this activity…

Mini Whiteboards – The activity is the same except the writer writes their message on a small whiteboard. The benefits of using mini whiteboards is that less paper is being wasted but the downside is that written examples are being erased and aren’t available for error correction if you they are missed during monitoring.

If you don’t have mini whiteboard, laminate a piece of white A4 paper. An idea I picked up from Clarissa Peck

Google Docs – Tyson Seburn wrote an article about Google Docs back in January. He wrote about student’s using Google Docs to collaborate and annotate anonymously. The same principle could be applied to this activity.

Open a document on the projector or smartboard and allow students to collaborate on it.

Smartboard (Flickr - Anna)
Smartboard by @Anna



The readers have text appearing on the screen before them, and several students can simultaneously be anonymous writers. This offers a valuable opportunity for error correction and feedback either from the students or from the teacher. The final result can be saved and reviewed at a later date.

So, there it is. A few ideas that I am working on and that hopefully I will get a chance to try them in the classroom and refine them.

Leave a comment below if you have tried a similar activity. I would love to hear how it went.

Alternatively you can send me a message on my Facebook page or on Twitter.


Afterword: I am sure that this is not an original activity and I am sure that it has been written about before. It you recognize this activity from elsewhere, please get in touch and let me know the source and I will gladly update the page.

Featured Image: Altered photo from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @Fiona Mauchline, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Post-it Notes: Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @VickyLoras, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Smartboard: Photo taken from http://flickr.com/photos/annak by @Anna used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/


10 thoughts on “Teleprompter: Turning a writing activity into a speaking activity

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