Author: British Council | Published on 1 November 2022


Stage 1: Present examples

Write these sentences on the board with the words underlined as shown. Ask. “What do you notice about the underlined words in the sentences?”

a) She said they would be late.

b) She told me they would be late.

c) She said to me she was cold.

d) She told me she was cold.

e) “I’m cold,” she said.

To help learners, ask:

  •  “What’s the difference between sentence a & b?
  •  “What’s the difference between sentence c & d?

Stage 2: Take feedback

Ask learners to share their feedback on what they noticed in the examples. Some key points you might want to share with them include:

  • With ‘said’ we don’t need to say who is being spoken to, but with tell we do. (Sentences a & b)
  • If you want to say who is being spoken to with ‘said’ you need ‘to’ (Sentence c) 
  • We usually use ‘said’ not ‘told’ to introduce direct speech.

Stage 3: Use the grammar

a. Say or Tell?

Write up some sentences with a choice between ‘say’ and ‘tell’ and say: Choose the correct word to complete each sentence. 

  1. They said / told us they were coming soon.
  2. Abdoulaye said / told he loves Ethiopian food.
  3. What did she say / tell?
  4. What did she say / tell you?
  5. “I’ll be there by 3 o’clock.” he said / told.

b. Matching

Write up some half sentences on the board and say: “Match the correct ending to the correct sentence start.”

1. He saida) me he was sorry.

2. He told b) he was sorry.

3. She saida) to me that she had finished her homework.

4. She toldb) me that she had finished her homework.

5. She saida) him she was tired.

6. She toldb) “I’m tired.”

7. He saida) her he liked her.

8. He toldb) to her that he liked her.

c. An interview

Choose a learner to come and sit at the front of the class. Say: Ask <learner’s name> some questions about their hobby. The other learners interview the learner sitting at the front for a few minutes.

Put the learners in groups and say: “Now try and remember what <learner’s name> said and write up a short report about the interview.”

In large classes, you can do this in groups rather than as a whole class activity.



Direct speech: a sentence in which the exact words spoken are reproduced in speech marks

See also