Express Yourself: Discussing Quotations to Form Opinions

“There is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides.”

John Steward Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher

Many people experience difficulties finding their voice, let alone finding it in another language. How do we create compelling conversations? We ask more so we know more. Then we can share more. Sometimes we also hear or read other words by famous people, and we borrow those words. That’s one reason quotes and proverbs remain so popular. They also model brevity, clarity, and sometimes wit. Our students can learn from some classic thinkers and writers – and often clarify their own feelings and thoughts too.

Another often overlooked advantage to adding quotations to the ESL and EFL classrooms is they provide context to ideas and introduce important cultural figures. Cultural literacy remains a hidden barrier for many immigrants seeking academic success. These fluency-focused activities also help students prepare short responses to many standardized exams and more clearly express themselves, challenging students to discuss and respond to classic quotations works on multiple levels.

One such exercise – featured in the Compelling Conversations series since the beginning – is Discussing Quotations. Students are presented with curated quotations from different perspectives, cultures, and professions. Each quote succinctly communicates a clear point of view. I often pair dueling quotes, and try to place the quotes in dialogue with each other.  It makes students think a bit. Who wants to disagree with a classical philosopher? On the other hand, some famous folks have said some stupid things!

Beneath each quote, students are asked whether they agree or disagree with that point of view. Students soon add a “why” as they learn more about their classmates and their opinions. This communicative exercise allows ESL students to see wonderful languages of clear communication, assess multiple viewpoints, and builds critical thinking skills. It also helps English students articulate opinions and show their reasoning – in English.

Here some teaching tips for using quotations to create discussions in your classroom that I have found effective with intermediate ESL and advanced ESL students:

  • Divide the class into groups of three or four, ideally around a shared table.
  • Have the students take turns reading the quotes aloud.
  • Pay attention to the speaker. What do we know about this person?
  • Why might they have said this quote?
  • Discuss the quote together. Do you you agree or disagree with the quote?
  • Give reasons to explain your answer.

Here is a sample Discussing Quotations from the Staying Healthy chapter from the soon-to-be-released second edition of Compelling Conversations – Vietnam. Feel free to try it out in your own English classroom!


Discussing Quotations

In your small groups, take turns reading these quotations out loud and discuss them.  Do you agree with the quotation? Disagree? Why? Afterwards, pick a favorite quotation by circling the number and explain your choice. Remember to give a reason or example.

  1. “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

—Siddhartha Guatama (563–483 B.C.), Buddha, spiritual leader

Agree                                                                       Disagree

  1. “The first duty of a physician is that he should do the sick no harm.”

—Hippocrates (460–380 B.C.), ancient Greek physician

Agree                                                                       Disagree

  1. “It is part of the cure to wish to be cured.”

—Seneca the Younger (4 B.C.–65 A.D.), Roman philosopher/statesmen

Agree                                                                       Disagree

  1. “Better use medicines at the outset than at the last moment.”

—Publilius Syrus (85–43 B.C.E.), Roman writer

Agree                                                                       Disagree

  1. “A sound mind in a sound body is a short, but full description of a happy state in this world.”

—John Locke (1632–1704), English philosopher

Agree                                                                       Disagree

  1. “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

—Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), American writer/publisher

Agree                                                                       Disagree

  1. “You can’t lose weight by talking about it. You have to keep your mouth shut.”

—Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), American writer/publisher

Agree                                                                       Disagree

  1. “You can’t ignore the importance of a good digestion. The joy of life…depends on a sound stomach.”

—Joseph Conrad (1857–1924), Polish-born English author

Agree                                                                       Disagree

  1. “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

—Mark Twain (1835–1910), American writer/humorist

Agree                                                                       Disagree

  1. “Be careful about reading a health book. You may die of a misprint.”

—Mark Twain (1835–1910), American writer/humorist

Agree                                                                       Disagree

Please write another health quotation that you like and tell us why.

A Favorite Quotation:  ___________________________________________________________



Do you use quotations as a teaching tool in your English classroom? Have you found it to be effective? Sound off in the comments!

Compelling Conversations – Vietnam, second edition, will be released this Fall! For more information, including sample content, from the first edition, click here. For individual lessons from other Compelling Conversations titles, including Compelling American Conversations: Student and Teacher Editions, visit my store on Teachers Pay Teachers!


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