Using Reported Speech: ESL Lesson Plan

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Reported speech is also known as indirect speech and is commonly used in spoken conversations to report what others have said. A keen grasp of correct tense usage, as well as the ability to correctly shift pronouns and time expressions, is essential when using reported speech.

The use of reported speech is especially important at higher English levels. Students are fine-tuning their communication skills to include expressing the ideas of others, as well as their own opinions. Students usually need to focus not only on the grammar involved but also on production skills. Reported speech includes some rather tricky transformations that need to be practiced repeatedly before students feel comfortable using reported speech in everyday conversations.

Finally, make sure to point out that reported speech is generally used with the verbs 'say' and 'tell' in the past. 

"He'll help him with the homework." -> She told me he would help me with my homework. 

However, if the reporting verb is conjugated in the present tense, no reported speech changes are necessary.

"I'm going to Seattle next week." -> Peter says he's going to Seattle next week. 

Lesson Outline

Aim: Developing reported speech grammar and productions skills

Activity: Introduction and written reporting activity, followed by spoken practice in the form of a questionnaire

Level: Upper-intermediate


  • Introduce/review reported speech by making simple statements and asking students to report what you have said. Make sure to emphasize reporting in the past (i.e., "the teacher said", NOT "the teacher says")
  • Provide review sheet of principle reported speech transitions (included in lesson printout pages)
  • Have students get into pairs and convert the reported speech paragraph into the direct speech form.
  • Correct worksheet as a class.
  • Ask students to divide up into new pairs and ask each other questions from the questionnaire. Remind them to take notes on what their partners say.
  • Have students divide into new pairs and ask them to report what they have learned about the other students to their new partner (i.e., John said he had lived in Breubach for two years).
  • Follow-up with class conversation focusing on problematic tense transformations.

Reported Speech

Study the following chart carefully. Notice how reported speech is one step back into the past from direct speech.

Tense Quote Reported Speech
present simple "I play tennis on Fridays." He said he played tennis on Fridays.
present continuous "They're watching TV." She said they were watching TV.
present perfect "She's lived in Portland for ten years." He told me she had lived in Portland for ten years.
present perfect continuous "I've been working for two hours." He told me he had been working for two hours.
past simple "I visited my parents in New York." She told me she had visited her parents in New York.
past continuous "They were preparing dinner at 8 o'clock." He told me they had been preparing dinner at 8 o'clock.
past perfect "I had finished in time." He told me he had finished in time.
past perfect continuous "She had been waiting for two hours." She said she had been waiting for two hours.
future with 'will' "I'll see them tomorrow." He said he would see them the next day.
future with 'going to' "We're going to fly to Chicago." He told me they were going to fly to Chicago.
Reported Speech Reference

Time Expression Changes

Time expressions such as 'at the moment' are also changed when using reported speech. Here are some of the most common changes:

at the moment / right now / now -> at that moment / at that time

"We're watching TV right now." -> She told me they were watching TV at that time.

yesterday -> the previous day / the day before

"I bought some groceries yesterday." -> He told me he had bought some groceries the previous day.

tomorrow -> the following day / the next day

"She'll be at the party tomorrow." -> She told me she would be at the party the next day.

Exercise 1: Put the following paragraph in the reported speech into the conversational form using direct speech (quotes).

Peter introduced me to Jack who said he was pleased to meet me. I replied that it was my pleasure and that I hoped Jack was enjoying his stay in Seattle. He said he thought Seattle was a beautiful city, but that it rained too much. He said that he had been staying at the Bayview Hotel for three weeks and that it hadn't stopped raining since he had arrived. Of course, he said, this wouldn't have surprised him if it hadn't been July! Peter replied that he should have brought warmer clothes. He then continued by saying that he was going to fly to Hawaii the following week, and he that he couldn't wait to enjoy some sunny weather. Both Jack and I commented that Peter was a lucky person indeed.

Exercise 2: Ask your partner the following questions making sure to take good notes. After you have finished the questions, find a new partner and report what you have learned about your first partner using reported speech.

  • What is your favorite sport and how long have you been playing/doing it?
  • What are your plans for your next vacation?
  • How long have you known your best friend? Can you give me a description of him/her?
  • What kind of music do you like? Have you always listened to that kind of music?
  • What did you use to do when you were younger that you don't do anymore?
  • Do you have any predictions about the future?
  • Can you tell me what you do on a typical Saturday afternoon?
  • What were you doing yesterday at this time?
  • Which two promises will you make concerning learning English?
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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Using Reported Speech: ESL Lesson Plan." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Beare, Kenneth. (2020, August 27). Using Reported Speech: ESL Lesson Plan. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Using Reported Speech: ESL Lesson Plan." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).