Starting with Quotations


Stuck for an idea for a lead-in?

Starting a new unit and don’t want to go straight into the book?

Not sure how to set the context in a communicative way?

This simple idea might be just the activity for you.

Getting learners discussing quotations on a topic can be an engaging, communicative and student-centred start to a lesson; it can come as a welcome alternative to discussing questions in pairs.  Quotations on most topics can be found pretty easily, though the more abstract topics perhaps lend themselves best to this activity.  Many course book units have an overarching theme, for example ‘success’, ‘challenge’, ‘love’, ‘laughter’, ‘music’, ‘travel’ etc.  Discussing quotations on the topic can introduce the theme in a thought-provoking way.

How to go about it:

  1. Search for quotations on the internet.  A simple google search for ‘success quotes’, for example, delivers over 129,000,000 results, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding some!
  2. Cut and paste any appropriate quotations into a document.
  3. Whittle down your list of quotations to about 10 or so.  This is not an easy task – include quotations which are most likely to stimulate discussion and not cause too many vocabulary issues, perhaps choose quotations from people your students might have heard of.
  4. Print or write out the quotations on small strips of paper and pin them up around the room – ideally do this before the lesson starts for a seamless start to the activity.
  5. Ask students to circulate with a partner discussing the meaning of the quotations.  Give them a task to focus them (e.g. choose their favourite quotation, or the quotation they agree/disagree with most).  Allow plenty of time for this.
  6. Once back in their seats, you could pair students up with a new partner to exchange ideas.
  7. Get some content feedback open class – e.g. which was the favourite of the class and why?
  8. Pick up on some language areas – e.g. common vocabulary issues, different interpretations of meaning.


Success quotations (found via a google search)success

“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison

“Opportunities don’t happen. You create them.” Chris Grosser

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.” Stephen Hawking

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”  Michael Jordan

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” Theodore Roosevelt

“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” Bob Dylan

“If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.” Malcolm X


It can be difficult to judge how long this activity will last; you may need to ‘go with the flow’ somewhat.  Depending on the length of your lesson and what you intend to cover, you may want to use fewer quotations for a snappier lead in, particularly if you have some meaty lesson content coming up.  For more tips on timing, see this previous post.


  • The students start communicating right at the start of the class.
  • The quotations provide a stimulus for discussion, helping students who might struggle for ideas, or those who are less opinionated.
  • Discussion of more abstract ideas stimulates deeper engagement and thought, rather than simply talking about personal experiences.
  • The discussion that emerges is real-life and is engaging for the students.
  • This activity provides variety of focus and pace, and is student-centred.
  • Quotations tend to be memorable.

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So, why not give it a go?  Hopefully it’ll be a success.

For more ideas on lead-ins, click here.

Comments welcome below.

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2 Responses to Starting with Quotations

  1. eflnotes says:

    good idea!
    there is a nice set of quotes that may be easier to use than the general web –

    you can ctrl-f to search for author or quote


  2. Lolly or Rita Nakadaira says:

    I have been using quotations since 2016 , I think …. and my students like them a lot ! They complain when I forget to bring a new one to class. It helps with vocabulary and can also be used to start a new topic or make them think out of their boxes ….

    Congrats !


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