How to teach quotations in the ESL classroom

What is the purpose of teaching quotations?

Using quotations is the cornerstone of any respectable academic essay. Knowing how to; understand the context of a quote, how it could be relevant to a large discourse and how to integrate its concepts into your own assignments or life is an essential skill set.

Academia aside, the everyday skill of making conversation and discussing ideas taken from TV interviews, or radio programmes also help individuals to become involved in a wider public discourse. Learning English is not merely a passive tool, but a way for the world to engage in global public discussions to better solve issues which affect us all.

Early introduction into the sphere of ideas can be lead through quotations. Their depth, controversy or wisdom is sure to spark classroom debate. The fact that they are short also helps students remember phrases and cultural titbits letting them share and pass on their new found knowledge.

Choosing your quotations

Making sure you have the right type of quotations is important. You can either use online sources or books. Below are a selection of the best or both


  • BrainyQuote – A database of quotes which are searchable and organised by theme
  • Good Reads Quotes – A selection of quotes which have been taken from books and submitted by users/readers
  • Quote Garden – Hand selected quotes organised by topic
  • QuoteHD – Quotes which have been placed in a searchable database and comes with an image
  • Quotes from – Quotes from famous people, extensive and lots of sources from ancient history and famous authors


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How to teach quotations in the ESL classroom

Here are a few lesson ideas to have you incorporate quotations into your ESL/English lesson.

Before giving students the printed sheet; take the opportunity to improve their listening, vocab recall, and writing skills. Dictate the quotes in order to the students. Only read the quotations once. After the recital have the students work together to piece together the missing chunks of text or to check the vocab of their dictated notes.

Cloze test
Write up a single quote on the board. However, wipe every fifth or tenth word. Have students work together and guess the missing words.

Guess the speaker
Write up a quote on the board. Have students guess the speaker and why they may have said it, and how it could be used in your own life.

Students are given both quotes (in most cases the quotations on ESL Talking Points are contrary) and students gave reasons they side with one instead of the other. This should create a mini-debate whereby students attempt to defend the reasoning of the quotations. This explores student imagination and persuasive skills.

Art Gallery Set-up
Students are given a selection of quotes (either a variety or from the same person), ensure each student has the whole set. Allow students to read and briefly discuss the quotes. Meanwhile, quick place small printed cutouts of quotes around the classroom. Students then move to the quote they feel most attached to. Select half the students to leave their positions and circulate around the class to discuss with the other students their choice of quote.

Speed Dating Set-up
Give each student a quote which is unique to the class. Pair students together and have them discuss the quote, potential meaning, purpose, context and how it may relate to their life. After a few minutes (no more than 5 minutes), have students find a new partner and repeat the process until all students have discussed their quote. All class activity can focus on their thoughts and feelings during the activity.

Quotations Ranking
Students are put into small groups and are given quotes around a similar topic. They are then asked to order these quotes based on:

  1. Their importance to the subject matter
  2. Their relevance to modern life
  3. Their significance to their own life

Between each round of questions allow groups to interact and have them compare their rankings.

Discussion Pyramid
Students are a static list of quotes and are then asked to rank them according to how much it means to them. They then compare their list with one other person. Later they compare with a group and finally, an all-class discussion can be created to find a class consensus on the quotes.



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