I am an ESL teacher, and I mostly write resources for other ESL teachers. I am especially interested in obscure topics.
What Is Reported Speech?
In English, the concept of reported speech refers to representing—or “reporting”—other people's speech or our own words. Before beginning lessons on reported speech, it is important for ESL learners to understand that this kind of speech is very useful in conversational English. It will also help them learn reporting verbs beyond “say” and “tell” (you can find more info on this at the end of the article).
There are two primary forms of speech: direct and indirect.
Direct speech essentially repeats someone's words (or how we best recall them). For example:
- Carl said, “I work at the new grocery store.”
Indirect speech, on the other hand, alters the original speaker's words and often does so using the past tense. This type of speech is what is considered reported speech. Here is how you could create an indirect version of the direct speech example above:
- Carl said that he worked at the new grocery store.
Similarly, you can report what someone wrote. For example:
- “You'll always be my best friend,” she wrote, and then taped the note onto Carmen's door. (Direct report of what someone wrote.)
- She wrote that she would always be her best friend, and then taped the note to Carmen's door. (Indirect report of what someone wrote.)
You can even report what someone thought. For example:
- I need to open a savings account with a different bank, he thought. (Direct report of someone's thoughts.)
- He thought that he needed to open a savings account with a different bank. (Indirect report of someone's thoughts.)
Explaining Reported Speech in 3 Steps
Reported Speech Activities for ESL Students
Now that we've covered the basics of reported speech, this article will focus on the following 5 engaging and fun activities to help your ESL students learn how to use reported speech in their daily lives:
- Who Asked That?
- Famous Quotes
- Reported Speech Cards
- The Mediator
1. Who Asked That?
This is a fun speaking activity that will help your learners practise reported speech while learning more about each other.
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Split the class into groups of 4. Cut up the sentences from the table below and hand them out to the groups, keeping a copy of the questions for yourself. Tell them to ask 1 student a question per slip of paper and to vary who they ask.
Let them spend about 15 minutes conversing and encourage them to develop their answers and the flow of conversation. After they’ve finished chatting, go through the list of questions. For example: “Are you going out tonight? – Who asked that?” To which the student replies “Sonia asked me if I was going out tonight.”
Who Asked That? Cards
Have you ever eaten something you didn’t like, to be polite?
Have you ever been stopped by the police?
Do you watch too much T.V.?
Are you frightened of any insect or animal?
Describe your personality.
Are you going to do your homework tonight?
Are you reading a book at the moment?
Do you like watching soaps?
Can you curl your tongue?
Do you think you are a positive person?
What is your a favourite food?
Where did you go on holiday last summer?
What’s your favourite movie?
Can you knit?
What are you doing this weekend?
What did you do last weekend?
Who is your favourite singer?
What did you have to eat yesterday?
Do you like football?
What do you think is a boring activity and why?
Can you describe your job/studies?
Tell me about your family?
What do you want to do next year?
Do you remember losing your milk teeth as a child?
Do you have a healthy diet? What do you eat?
Did you believe in Santa Claus? Do you remember finding out when he wasn’t real?
Where do you live? Describe your home?
Which exercise do you like doing?
What did you watch on T.V. last night?
What is your favourite city/town?
Who in the class do you think would make a good president?
What’s your favourite animal?
2. Famous Quotes
Everyone loves movies, so why not use some of the most famous movie quotes to practise reported speech?
Go to YouTube and watch this short selection of famous film quotes to engage the class. Get students to suggest quotes that they like (preferably not from what they have just watched) or lines from songs. Write these on the board, making sure the quotes/lines have a clause in them.
Go through the rules of the changes from direct speech to reported speech. Ask students to change the quotes/song lyrics on the board into reported speech. For example, “The name's Bond, James Bond” becomes “He said his name was Bond.”
If your students can’t think of any, here are a few to put on the board:
- “You can’t handle the truth!”
- “Say hello to my little friend.”
- “I’m the king of the world!”
- “One does not simply walk into Mordor.”
- “May the odds be ever in your favour.”
- “Sell me this pen!”
- “Houston, we have a problem.”
- “There's no place like home.”
- “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
- “A Martini. Shaken not stirred.”
- “The power of Christ compels you!”
- “Remember, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
3. Reported Speech Cards
This is another fun speaking activity that will help students learn reported speech.
Hand out slips of paper to students. One side of the paper is a direct speech sentence. One student reads out the sentence and his/her partner must report the speech to the class. For example, “I won't go out tonight” becomes “He said he wouldn't go out tonight.” Students award themselves a point for every correct sentence.
Student A Cards
- I can’t reach it.
- I need to go to the dentist.
- Will you phone Mum?
- Shut that door, it’s freezing!
- I haven’t been watching T.V. lately.
- He’s going to collect us at 7.
- What do you want the scissors for?
- We've had the house painted pink.
- Are you ready for tomorrow?
- Get your stuff ready.
- Won’t she be able to call us from the cinema?
- We’re going to pack our suitcases next week.
- We forgot to get the keys from you yesterday.
- I hadn’t thought of that before.
- I don’t believe what Mary said.
- What happened to your father?
Cut along here ________________________________________________
Student B Cards
- They've been saving up for a house for years.
- Is it good enough for you?
- I won’t be able to see you until next month.
- Am I the only one who remembers this?
- I think we need to go over the exercise again.
- Are you sure he is alright?
- When did we book the table at the restaurant?
- I can’t believe she had a baby!
- When do you expect her to come?
- I will try to reach out to our contacts in the city.
- My grandmother went there when she was young.
- I hear your brother is at university.
- Do you know of anybody that wants to buy it?
- Have you seen the Lego movie?
- I was eating that sandwich!
- Will you make me a drink?
4. The Mediator
This exercise, known as “The Mediator,” is an old-time classic for ESL teachers.
Put students into groups of 3. Two of the students are warring countries and do not talk directly to each other, while the student in the middle is the intermediary. The middle student reports to the enemy country what the other country has said. They must try to resolve their differences and make peace. If they cannot think of any ideas, see the list below.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Your GM crops keep blowing into my country.
- Your gasoline is too cheap, my citizens keep going over the border to buy your fuel and it's bad for our economy.
- Your army is too close to my border.
- You invaded my territory.
- Some mad cows escaped from your farms and are knocking down fences and terrorising people.
- The water and air pollution from your leather factories is damaging tourism in my country.
- Your citizens are dumping rubbish across the border.
- Your flag is on a piece of land that belongs to us.
- You complained about us to the UN.
- Your anglers are overfishing the river that runs between both our countries.
Alternatively, you can tell the groups that they were a couple and have broken up. They are then to fight about things in the relationship.
Split the class into pairs. One is the interviewer and the other is a famous person. The interviewer asks the other maybe 5 or 6 questions. The famous person gives an answer for each. For example, “What do you do to relax?” becomes “I find that playing chess relaxes me.” Then the interviewer is asked to report what was asked and answered. For example, “Madonna said that she found playing chess relaxes her.”
Resources and Further Reading
- Reporting Verbs | Perfect English Grammar
This web page explains how to use reporting verbs, gives a list of 15 common reporting verbs, and also offers some more advanced tips.
- How to Teach Reported Speech to Students | ThoughtCo.
Learn how to teach reported speech to ESL and EFL classes with these tips, lessons, and practice materials.
- 7 Musical Hits to Get You Teaching Reported Speech Through Song | FluentU English Educator Blog
7 songs to help your ESL students understand reported speech and when to use it.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Muttface