5 Ways to Teach English with Quotes

“Good quotes are timeless. It’s as if someone just ahead of you on the path of life is turning back to give you a helping hand…” —Rolf Gates

We’ve been doing a lot of spring cleaning at ESL Library. This includes redesigning, updating, and editing many of our older lessons plans. In the warm-up section of most of our newly designed topic-based lessons, you will find a quote. Quotes contain memorable bites of English that your students can explore in detail. Here are five ways to use quotes while teaching English.

1. Practice pronunciation

Choose a student to read the quote out loud to the class. Correct any pronunciation or intonation errors. Explore word stress and sentence stress. Have your students practice saying the quote with emphasis.

You could also practice saying the quote in a variety of ways. Try speaking quickly, slowly, or in unison. Our Maple Syrup lesson includes the following quote from Buddy the Elf. In the Christmas movie, Elf, Will Farrell speaks very quickly when he says the following:

“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.” —Buddy the Elf

If you come across a quote from a speech, movie, or TED Talk, why not try to find an audio clip? Here is a great clip of this famous Will Farrell scene. In addition to helping with pronunciation, a quote may inspire your students to watch a full movie or listen to a full speech or song.

2. Deconstruct sentences

Deconstructing sentences can be a dull task when you use See-Spot-run sentences. Why not use interesting quotes to practice sentence dissection? Challenge your students to deconstruct the quotes that you come across in your ESL Library lessons. Here’s a quote from our Robin Williams lesson:

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” —Robin Williams

Can your students identify each part of speech? What else can your students find in this sentence (e.g., a contraction, a modal in the negative form, the passive voice)? Can they rewrite this sentence in the active voice? First they’ll have to discover who or what gives a person this “madness.” That should spark some discussion, too.

3. Review grammar and usage

Before you begin an ESL Library lesson, look at the quote to see if there is a mini lesson that you can teach inside it.  Can you spot any common errors? When my students use “one of the” in a sentence, they often incorrectly follow it with a singular noun. In our Niagara Falls lesson, you will find this quote by Nik Wallenda:

“It is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world. Who wouldn’t want to walk across it?” —Nik Wallenda

Check for tips on common errors in the Teachers’ Notes at the end of our lessons. For example, in our revised Hockey lesson, we included Mario Lemieux’s famous quote:

“Every day is a great day for hockey.”
—Mario Lemieux

This quote gives you the opportunity to review the common error every day vs. everyday.

4. Explore informal language (idioms, phrasal verbs, slang)

Explore the literal and idiomatic meaning of words and expressions that you find in quotes. For example, in our Gender Inequality lesson you will find the following quote by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg:

“We must raise both the floor and the ceiling.” —Sheryl Sandberg

Use this opportunity to teach the expression “glass ceiling” (an invisible barrier). What did Sheryl Sandberg mean by “raising the floor”? Don’t just rely on dictionaries to provide definitions and explanations. Challenge your students to look up words and expressions from quotes in context by searching for the word online. For example, according to this article, raising the floor means “to increase the knowledge, skills, abilities, and capacities of the folks doing the work.”

5. Assign a follow-up writing task

If your students write journal entries for homework, invite them to comment on the quote from a lesson you used. You could also challenge your students to find a related quote on the same topic (maybe they can find a better one). They could also research the person who was quoted and find out more about the context. For example, in our Bullying lesson we include a quote from Taylor Swift. Challenge your students to find out how Taylor Swift has been bullied by her peers.

“If they don’t like you for being yourself, be yourself even more.” —Taylor Swift

Please share your favorite quotes in the comments below!


Leave a Comment ↓

  1. Rebecca Vaughan says:

    Apr 11, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    I was inspired by your post and decided to create a series of mini lessons, the first is based on a movie quote. Please let me know what you think? http://elkvalleyenglish.rebeccavaughan.co.uk/mini-lesson-1a/

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Apr 13, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      Hi Rebecca,

      I love that quote. Great little lesson. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Ahmad says:

    Mar 30, 2015 at 10:50 am

    That’s really great! I love quotes and my learners love them too.
    However, I have 2 questions: do I have to check the lesson plans for all the old lessons in ESL Library?

    the second question is regarding the idiom series, I’m gonna start using one of the series with my C1 students, because they really lack idioms in their production which is hindering them from sounding a native-like speaker. So, my question, along with the series there is a recording with the dialogue, when do you think is the best stage to make the students listen to the dialogue? after practicing it? I really need feedback on this, since it is an essential stage in the lesson.

    Great lessons, and I’m waiting for your 3rd idioms series.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Mar 30, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      Hi Ahmad,

      Great questions!

      We actually had a meeting about your first question last week. We are in the process of coming up with a system that will tag the “revised” lessons, so that you know if you should reprint one or not. For now, you will need to click on the PDF to take a quick look. The revised lessons are in a new font that looks the same as this one.

      As for question two, have a look at the different series (1, 2, and Detective 1) to see which one is more appropriate for your students. Detective 1 might be best for C1. (Detective 2 audio is not ready yet.) Everyday Idioms 1 is a lower level, but if you’re concentrating on idioms and listening, it will still be useful and fun for your students. We recommend listening to the audio after going through the warm-up and vocabulary. You may want to listen a few times and then have students practice role-playing the parts after they fill in the blanks. In Everyday Idioms 2 and Detective 1, students will fill in the blanks as they listen. Check out the Teachers’ Notes in Detective 1 for tips.

      Hopefully Everyday Idioms 3 will be released this year.

      Thanks for your questions.

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