The Internet TESL Journal

Teaching Reported Speech for Writing: A Game Approach

C. David Smith
aief {at}
Chuo University (Tokyo, Japan)
In this short article, I describe the creation and use of a game to teach the use of reported speech for English writing.


Although Japanese university students study, or are at least exposed to the use of reported speech in late middle school or early junior high school English lessons, they rarely master the accurate application of this language feature. While in conversation, the correct use of reported speech isn't of such great importance, proper use of this form in writing is an absolute necessity to express clear meaning. Issues regarding word order, proper identification of subject, direct object and indirect object, and situation; place and time, can make the conveyance of intended meaning extremely unlikely.

A conventional approach to teaching proper reporting of direct utterances may involve explanation of the grammar involved followed by oral or written exercises for reinforcement and confirmation that the student has mastered the form. For students with at least a perfunctory exposure to this form of written expression, I believe this approach is flawed and produces an unsatisfactory outcome. The syntactic and lexical transformations involved are numerous, and though the situation is not as complex as the rules governing the use of the definite article in English, it is not that dissimilar. A much more effective approach involves utilizing a game format. Not only is this far more efficient; it is much more enjoyable for both learner and instructor. While lecture, exercises and drills may have an ancillary role to play in reinforcement of this linguistic skill, they are exceedingly ineffective in the absence of a more activity oriented approach.


I begin by composing or choosing representative quotations. Among the transformational features which cause the greatest difficulty for my students are tense, auxiliary verbs, proper identification of subject and object; and time and place. I then use the cell (table) function in my word processing program to create cells into which each direct speech quotation is placed. For example: He said to her: "Did you come here by bus today"? I then type the corresponding reported speech expression on the corresponding reverse side cell: He asked her if she had come there by bus that day. A non-interrogative statement such as He said to her: "I didn't know that your sister was married" becomes He told her he hadn't known that her sister had been married. In this way, a set of double faced cards can be created.


She said to him: “I’m tired.”

He said to her: “Are you a doctor?”

She said to him: “Will the train be late?”

He said to her: “I won’t be able to go to the meeting.”

She said to him: “Where is my husband?”

He said to her: “What time does the next bus leave?”

I said to him: “You can’t have any money.”

He said to me: “Can you swim?”

I said to her: “Maria doesn’t understand English.”

I said to him: “Does she know what she’s doing?”

She said to me: “How many people know about the plan?”

He said to me: “It takes about three hours to drive to Cambridge.”

She said to me: “Why do your parents live in Greece?”

He said to me: “I live a long way away.”

I said to her: “I’ve always thought your sister was married.”

I said to them: “When we’ve finished this game we’ll have dinner.”

He said to me: “Have you got a credit card?”

He said to him: “Do you work here?”

He said to me: “Do you know these are my lights?”

He said to her: “Can you give me your phone number?”


He told her he wouldn’t be able to go to the meeting.

She asked him if the train would be late.

He asked her if she was a doctor.

She told him she was tired.

He asked me if I could swim

I told him he couldn’t have any money.

He asked her what time the next bus left.

She asked him where her husband was.

He told me it took about three hours to drive to Cambridge.

She asked me how many people knew about the plan.

I asked him if she knew what she was doing.

I told her Maria didn’t understand English.

I told them when we had finished that game we would have dinner.

I told her I had always thought her sister had been married.

He told me he lived a long way away.

She asked me why my parents lived in Greece.

He asked her if she could give him her phone number.

He asked me if I knew those were his lights.

He asked him if he worked there.

He asked me if I had got a credit card.

These cards can be cut into sets; usually 20 or 25 cards works best. It should be easy for students to determine which side of each card is the direct quotation, and which represents the reported equivalent; but to make things a bit easier for them, distinctly different fonts may be used for each. As I begin the lesson, I provide three or four examples on the board just to help activate the students' memories; an affirmative, negative, and interrogative example of each. Students are then seated in groups of between three and five members. As these groups receive sets of the two-sided cards, they are directed to place them in a pile with the direct quotation sides facing up. In a predetermined order, a student looks at and reads the direct quotation on the top card in the pile. He/she must then say the equivalent reported speech form. Finally, the student turns over the card and checks the answer, which all group members are shown. If he/she is correct, the student may keep the card. If not, it is placed at the bottom of the pile. Then the following student repeats the procedure and once all the cards have been won by the group members, the student with the largest number of cards is declared the winner.


This game can be repeated or, for more intensive practice, a different rule may be applied. In this version, students receive a point for each correct answer, rather than receiving the card. In addition to the above direct-reported speech quotations, functional equivalent expressions may be employed. For example, the direct quotation He said to her: "Will you give me your phone number"? corresponds to the reported expression He asked her to give him her phone number. Of course, this activity can be followed by oral drills or written exercises to confirm mastery of the transformational structure.

This two-sided card game format is also useful for other potentially problematic grammatical features, such as passive-active sentences and relative clause formation.


The content of the cards and the difficulty of the expressions used should relate to the level of the class, of course. They should be designed to generate a high rate of errors, initially. Gradually, students learn from theirs and others' mistakes, and they become completely absorbed in the activity. Often, about 20 minutes of practice is sufficient to refresh and reinforce the grammatical form. During the activity, I circulate around the classroom, monitoring students' progress. If some of the groups finish up early, I spot check their performance and if this is lacking, I direct them to repeat the activity.


Using games and other competitive activities is, in my experience, the best way to introduce or reinforce proper use of grammatical structures. In writing, grammatical accuracy is especially important, and the reported dialog form represents a major element of this. The activity and game format described in this article is definitely both an effective and enjoyable way for students to master the use of reported speech in English writing.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XVI, No. 3, March 2010