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Archive for the ‘Lesson planning’ Category

Questions to ask when planning post-activity feedback stages

I recently observed a teacher who wants to work on the feedback stages of her lesson, making sure that she is as responsive as possible to the needs of her learners and helping her as part of her DipTESOL studies. Most of the reading and methodology we’ve found about feedback has been connected to error correction and upgrading language. We haven’t been able to find very much about feedback on content and skills work and how to do it effectively. Please share if you can recommend anything!

In our post-observation discussion, one thing we discussed was the pacing of feedback, and that not everyone was fully involved in feedback stages. Feedback also didn’t really feed into later stages of the lesson. We identified that this was partly because the method of post-activity feedback chosen didn’t always appropriately match the activity itself – something neither of us have been specifically trained in. As a result, we came up with a series of questions to use to help her (and me!) when planning a lesson to work out how to get the most out of post-activity feedback.

  1. What is the purpose of the task?
    For example:
    Is it comprehension of specific information?
    Brainstorming ideas for a storytelling activity?
  2. How can you most efficiently find out whether the purpose of the task has been achieved in the lesson?
    For example:
    By looking at students’ books while monitoring.
    By students putting their ideas onto mini whiteboards, then walking around and looking at other people’s ideas.
  3. What is the feedback stage actually for?
    For example:
    To make sure the students know the correct answers. To get a general idea of how well students have initially understand what they listened to.
    To steal ideas from other students ready to use later in the lesson.
  4. Where is the learning happening? For who? How many students are actively involved in this?
    For example:
    In pairs, students don’t just say what’s correct, but why, referring back to the text/transcript. If they’re not sure about something they circle it. The teacher monitors and notices what is circled to deal with in the next stage of the lesson.
    You ask them to add ideas from other people to their whiteboards.

What other questions would you suggest? Would you use them in this order? Would you edit/remove any?

Listening attentively

Still my favourite listening picture…

For example, in the lesson I observed there was rather a long listening task where students had to fill in a table with 4 rows and columns about the problems presenters had had during their presentations. Students checked their answers in pairs, then some of them wrote up the notes onto the whiteboard. Of the eight students in the class, four were writing up answers and the others were watching. In the peer check, one student who has general problems with listening comprehension had struggled a little with some of the points in the listening, but most were fine. It took a relatively long time (3-4 minutes) and once it was confirmed that the answers were correct, they were rubbed off the board.

Using the questions above, how would you approach the feedback from the activity in your lesson? How could it feed into later stages of the lesson to develop the students’ listening skills beyond pure comprehension?

Exploiting your materials with minimal preparation (IH TOC 2019)

Every May, International House World Organisation runs their Teachers’ Online Conference (TOC) event. This is a day or two of short talks on a huge range of topics presented by teachers from across the IH network. They are recorded and you can still watch talks from previous years. I’ll add the recordings from this year once they’re available (in the next week or so).

This year, the event happened on Friday May 17th. My presentation was designed to help you reduce your planning time, but still teach an effective lesson. It’s based around adapting a double-page coursebook spread to maximise the usefulness for my students while not adding huge amounts of planning/materials creation to my day.

If you want more minimal preparation ideas for exploiting a coursebook, here are 101 of them (approximately!)

Here are links to the rest of the  English language online conference and the Modern Languages conference.

Planning questions

The questions I suggested you could use when thinking about planning are:

INSTEAD OF

  • How can we do these pages?

ASK YOURSELF

  1. What do my students need the most?
  2. What do they already know?
  3. How much time do they need to bridge the gap?
  4. How can I maximise engagement?
  5. What can the book support the students in?
  6. What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
  7. How much variety is needed? How can I add it?

Another possible set of questions I’ve come up with in the last couple of days is:

  1. What do my students want to know (how to do)?
  2. What aspects of that language/skill/function etc. do they already know? How will I find that out in the lesson if I’m not sure?
  3. How can I help them bridge the gap between what they can already do and what they want/need to do? What problems might they have with this language/skill/function? What can they/I do about them? (Is there something in the book that already deals with this? Do I need to add/change something?)
  4. How can I check/make sure students realise they’ve improved?

I’d be interested to know what happens if you try out either of these sets of questions as a planning approach as they’re a reflection of what I think I do when I approach planning, and I’ve only written them down this week!

Elementary functions lesson

Speakout Elementary Students’ Book, Frances Eales and Steve Oakes, Pearson Longman, pp.92-93

These are my notes for the Speakout Elementary coursebook spread above, which I used to generate the questions. You can see me voicing them and adding extra detail in the recording of my session.

“Teaches itself” – Everything is here – could work through page from start to finish, and SS would learn. But book-bound, little variety and most importantly… probably too long – potentially 2-3 hours of lessons here if you really exploit it. Start with timing – 90-minute lesson, take away warmer/homework check = 70 minutes-ish left over.

Need to prioritise. What’s main aim? What’s most useful to my students? Unlikely to have time to do justice to both function and telling a story so pick one to really work with in depth. Ask students which one in previous lesson? At elementary = aim should be building confidence, rather than rushing through and ‘finishing’ everything. Repetition, practice, chances to use the language.

So I choose apologies (I think my students will be able to use this every lesson – they’re always having problems! And useful when they travel/meet new people) Stories are great too, but I’ve got to pick one – not enough time to do justice to both.

Where could you start? How can you engage them in the topic?

The image in 3A might not generate much conversation, though the story is good. Set up situation – clear context. Going into work. You had this problem from image (either cartoon or p93 pictures). What did you say to your boss? Mini roleplay – test what they already know. Start from communication rather than language (TBL) + help students to notice the gap. Tells you how much you need to teach them later.

Could also start with images from p93 – what are the problems? Who apologies? Why? Start with finding out what students already know.

Or the excuses vocab from 2A/2B if they’re a lower level and really need the help, or this could follow looking at the images if it turns out they don’t know the language – they’re producing ‘lost keys’ ‘didn’t wake up’.

> Materials needed = images scanned/photoed from your phone (with copyright information!) rather than spending time Googling other images, or the book software if you have access to it, or a quick cartoon you can draw on the board of one of the situations from the book, or you need 3A/3B from book/board. If in book, ask students to cover ex 4 onwards.

Various options for next stage: if you’re confident, you can work with student-generated language and build up dialogue with them on board, adding in phrases from 4A/4B/4C as needed – could be engaging if you can keep everyone involved, could also be very teacher-centred! Less teacher-centred = they write out their roleplay in pairs/groups and you go round feeding in language. If less confident, work through 4A/4B/4C as is. = meaning, form. Language bank gives some extra practice if needed.

BUT what’s missing? What about pron, drilling, memorisation, student confidence? Will they be able to use these phrases accurately and fluently later? This is where your time will probably go in an elementary functions lesson! What could you do that’s minimal prep here? Key word drill, deletion drill, first letter drill, remember/test/write – all useful. Decide how much needed in the lesson.

> Materials needed: book, board, choice of key words (but students can help you decide those in the lesson – better if from them!)

Lots of practice of phrases, now back to context and communication.

Show them the framework from 5A (in book/photo on board with copyright/key words written on board – up to you, but minimal prep!) – pairs think of conversations between teacher and student, practice for a couple of minutes, ask if anyone wants to perform.

Could use 5B to show who apologises to who, or could elicit from students on board – probably more engaging and creative

They come up with more conversations, perhaps in a mingle – they haven’t moved yet in the lesson! Or use 5C as is – they listen and guess = engaging, reason to listen. Feed back on what they’ve done / Language upgrades / Ask if they’ve improved their confidence.

Intermediate grammar lesson

I ran out of time to discuss this in my presentation – I wanted to show how you could use the questions generated by the elementary spread to plan with another coursebook/level. I’m imagining planning a lesson for a group of 12 students, aged 16-45, about half and half teens and adults, with a 90-minute lesson of which the first 20 minutes are revision/HW check.

Here are my answers to the seven planning questions:

  1. What do my students need the most?
    Aim is to get them using relative clauses (which I know my intermediate students don’t use from observing them in previous lessons), not learning about Che; communication key – lots of speaking.
  2. What do they already know? (in this case, at the planning stage what do I think they already know?)
    Have seen defining clauses before, but probably don’t use. Maybe first time with non-defining within our school, but teens are likely to have seen it at school fairly recently and will probably be faster.
  3. How much time do they need to bridge the gap? (in this case, what’s my prediction when I’m planning?)
    Time spent on seeing what they already know about relative clauses, and giving them plenty of time to produce their own = start planning with the end of the lesson? Adults will need more time than teens.
  4. How can I maximise engagement? (when answering this, I ended up writing out a whole plan!)
    Teen students unlikely to know about him, and I’m not sure the adults will be that interested in him either. So raising interest important (could find another person to describe, but that creates loads of work and we want minimal prep!) Right from start, get them talking about films about famous people & they could return to this at end of the lesson producing their own description of person/film for example. Should be more accessible for all ages (could be real film or one they wish existed) – so a twist on the topic.
    To segue to the reading, do a KWL chart. Or they could write 5 questions they want a film about Che to answer, rather than testing their knowledge (which I suspect most of them don’t have!) – student-generated = more interesting. Or use the photos but not the quiz? Lots of options!
    When they were talking about their own people/films, did they use relative clauses? Probably not – so point this out to them before 1d to give them a reason to pay attention. 1g is OK as text follow-up, but won’t use that many relative clauses. But you could use it as another test of whether they’re producing relative clauses, since they’ve seen examples of them now – retelling a text is a great way to see what language they already use.
    Bridge the gap by working with sentences you collected while monitoring when they were talking about their films, or predicted they’d get wrong before the lesson (this is a good approach if you’re less confident/find it difficult to hear what students say) – with relative clauses, the biggest problems are normally the form (word order, which relative pronoun to use, producing sentences like GGB is the actor who he played Che where the word the pronoun replaced isn’t removed) and the intonation difference between defining and non-defining clauses (Can they ‘hear the commas’?), so these are the things you should plan to help them with. Do memorisation work with Ex 1d to keep it in context – get students to reproduce sentences without looking (probably with some form of key word prompt), or read-remember-cover-write-check, or translate the sentence into their mother tongue then back into English with their books closed. In all cases, compare the differences between what they wrote and the original – they’ll notice the problems and you can point them out if they don’t! None of these ideas require extra prep! Keep the grammar bank in reserve if they really need extra form help, but you’ll lose the context of Che/famous people here.
    For pron work, they read all of the sentences in 1d in pairs as quickly as possible, though without worrying about the pron of words like Che, Bernal and Rosario! You can get them to write he or it above the sentences to make it easier. Do an open class drill of any sentences that cause problems, including pointing out the commas and the difference that makes to intonation if they had trouble with it.
    Another possible activity for practice: students write out a sentences from 1d, but separated (The photo is probably one of the best known photos in the world. It was taken in 1960.) on scrap paper, then test each other by mingling with one piece of paper each and asking their partner to recombine them verbally. You don’t need to prep this – it’s a challenge to work out how to separate the sentences and students will learn from this, also chance to mingle and move around. This activity can take quite a long time though, so decide in the lesson whether it’s needed and have your scrap paper ready. No point spending ages prepping it yourself if you’re not going to end up using it! Could be reused as revision in future lessons too if you collect the scrap paper.
    Then they do the writing/speaking about their film again at the end but with a new partner, and you can praise them on how many (more) relative clauses they’re using and/or how accurately they’re using them now compared to before!
  5. What can the book support the students in?
    See point 4.
  6. What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
    See point 4.
  7. How much variety is needed? How can I add it?
    They’ve moved, changed groupings, worked with heads up and heads down, and produced something creative (talking about their films). There’s speaking, listening (to their partners), writing (if you do the scrap paper activity), reading, grammar, pronunciation, and probably a bit of vocab from the reading or fed in during the speaking activities.

In conclusion

The lessons as described above:

  • are relatively flexible
  • leave the students space to show what they know
  • allow you to respond to their needs by filling gaps in their knowledge instead of trying to cover everything because it’s in the book (and are therefore more focussed and engaging)
  • require no extra materials, or some quick-to-prepare materials if you want to do this, using what’s in the coursebook as a jumping-off point
  • include time for memorisation and confidence-building
  • prioritise communication
  • upgrade language
  • have a range of activity types, not just completing exercises from the book
  • give students the chance to notice their progress
  • require minimal preparation beyond thinking about the answers to the questions! No cutting up 🙂

ELT Playbook 1 cover

If you want to have a go at this kind of brainstorming yourself, there’s a task called ‘One activity, multiple tasks’ in ELT Playbook 1. Find out how to get your copy via the ELT Playbook blog and share your ideas on social media or in the comments below.

If you want more minimal preparation ideas for exploiting a coursebook, here are 101 of them (approximately!)

101 things to do with a coursebook page (all of which take less than 5 minutes to prepare!)

I created this list a couple of years ago for a workshop to help early career teachers see how they can exploit the materials available in a coursebook without needing to spend hours reinventing the wheel or cutting things up. The list is designed to:

  • help teachers add variety to lessons
  • go beyond their materials
  • think about skills lessons in a different way, not just testing but teaching
  • add bits of learner training to lessons
  • be a bank of ideas for activities teachers can pull out in the lesson if they need to change something
  • give teachers tasters of bits of methodology they might not be aware of (like metacognition or ways of improving

It is not designed to be a comprehensive list – 4 sides of A4 is quite enough as a starting point. It’s also not designed to be a critique of coursebooks – that’s for another place and time. There might be one or two ideas which are ‘Sandy Millin originals’ 🙂 but generally they were collated from throughout my career so far, so thank you if you’re the source of any of them!

Feel free to use the list or the handout in training sessions/workshops, but please credit the source. My 60-minute workshop went something like this:

  • In small groups, teachers shared their own ideas of things they do to exploit coursebooks.
  • The list was cut into sections and placed around the room.
  • Teachers had time to read it, add question marks next to anything they couldn’t understand, and add their own ideas to the paper. This is why there’s an empty bullet point at the end of each category.
  • I demonstrated/explained any confusing activities.
  • Teachers decided which activities they would try out in the next week (I can’t remember if we had time to do this, but I’d make sure if I ran it again!)
  • We took photos of the annotated sheets and emailed them to everyone after the session.

You can download the handout as a pdf or a .docx file.

Coursebooks

Image taken by Sue Annan, from the ELTpics collection and shared under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence

Vocabulary

  1. Test students: get them to draw pictures, which you can then use to:
    – Play games: point to…, find…, take…, run to…, what’s missing (…all the typical ones)
    – Give each group a pile of pictures – they turn them over and make sentences
    – Show a picture – they race to write the word (in notebooks, on mini whiteboards, on the board)
  2. Categorise words (meaning):
    – I like, I don’t like
    – In the bedroom, In the kitchen, In the living room, In the bathroom
    – Know/Don’t know
    – With /i:/ /e/ /3:/ etc (pron)
  3. Using the exercise in the book: do it as is, then…
    – cover the words and work with your partner to say them (pron)
    – cover and write the words, while looking at definitions (form)
    – look at the words and remember the definitions
    – one student closes book, other open and tests them
    – groups of 3/4: one student = teacher, says definition. Others race to say word – point for each/they become the next ‘teacher’.
    – point to the word/picture on software, students say it
  4. Memorisation:
    – Close your book and write down all of the words.
    – Board race of all of the words.
    – Translation Chinese whispers – e.g. English, Polish, English, Polish
    Evil memorization of sentences around gap-filled words (show on software, they write in answers, switch off software, they remember sentences)
    – Little books: students make a book out of A4 paper, then write a word on the first page. Next student draws a pic of the word on next page. Next student looks at pic (not word!) and writes word, etc. At the end, see how different final picture is from original word. (Chinese whispers)
  5. Pronunciation (pairs first, then remedially drill problem words, especially for higher levels):
    – Different types of drill: stressed syllable, stickman…
    – Point to the picture, they say the word – as fast as possible (use their pics from idea 1)
    – Students write out words – one each (can have more than one of each word) – use for disappearing drills

Exploiting images

(particularly for warmers – on coursebook software or in their books, or PowerPoint if you want to spend more time prepping)

  1. Students discuss in pairs: 1 minute to think first, then…
    – What can you see?
    I see, I think, I wonder
    – What was it like five minutes before/after?
    – Create personalities for the people.
    – Add something to the picture, then tell your partner what and why.
    – Have you ever been anywhere like this? Seen anything like this? Would you like to?

Grammar/functional language

(see also the vocab ideas above!)

  1. Eliciting it (after students have already seen it in context!):
    – First letters of each word
    – First word of sentence – they find it in text. Add a word at a time until someone gets it.
    – Sentence hangman
    – Hum the stress pattern
  2. Pronunciation (hand over to students ASAP):
    – Different types of drill: key word, first letter of each word, substitution…
    – Draw/ask students to draw an image to represent a sentence (e.g. a door for ‘Can you open the door?’ – use these as prompts.
    – ‘Grammar’ sentences e.g. you / work / office? = ‘Do you work in an office?
    – What are the stressed/unstressed words?
    – Can you say it as fast as me? Backchain to help them with this.
    – Use rhythm to aid memorization. Try jazz chants:
  3. Exploiting controlled practice:
    – Say the sentences as quickly as you can.
    – One student says the answer, the other student says the whole sentence.
    – Translation mingle: write one sentence on a bit of scrap paper. Translate it to Polish. Mingle – say Polish sentence, other person says English. Encourage them to give feedback: That’s right. You’re nearly there. That’s completely wrong!
    – Students create 2-3 extra questions to extend the activity.
    – How many of the sentences can you remember from the text?
    – Close your books. Can you retell the story? (If it’s a complete text)
    – 1 student says a sentence from the activity. The other student remembers the one before it.
    – Contextualise the sentences: put them into a longer ‘text’. If they leave a gap, other students can try to work out which sentence it is.
  4. Semi-controlled/freer practice:
    – Type up 6-10 sentence starters taken from the book (e.g. ‘As soon as I got home yesterday…’). Have some scrap paper. Students write the endings, then mix them up. Move around the room. Other groups then match endings to starters.
    – Draw the sentences: Students fold a piece of A4 paper into 8 boxes and put small numbers in the corner, like so:
1 2 1 2
3 4 3 4

They draw a picture each for four different sentences on the left, and don’t write the sentence! They pass the paper to a second group, who try to remember the corresponding sentences. A third group checks if they are correct (with or without books depending on how evil you feel).
– Students create their own ‘find someone who

Exploiting reading/listening texts

  1. Explore context/genre:
    – Where would you see/hear this text?
    – Who would be like to read/listen to this kind of thing? Would you?
    – What other titles could the text have?
    – Which features of this text make it an article/blogpost/radio interview e.g. The introduction of the people at the start…
    – What features make this readable? Or make a listener want to continue listening? If any!
  2. Extend the text:
    – What happened next?
    – What extra question could the interviewer ask?
  3. Mine the text:
    – What phrases do you want to steal?
    – Choose a sentence. Remember, cover, write, check.
    – How could you say the sentence in a different way?
  4. Improve listening skills:
    – Do a micro dictation of problem sentences.
    – Focus on some of the connected speech, then get students to repeat it.
    – Ask students to reflect on what made a text easy/difficult e.g. speed, accent, topic.
    – Play, pause, students say what’s coming next, then listen and check.
  5. Look at ’40 things to do with a text’ http://teachertrainingunplugged.com/other-writing/40-things-to-do-with-a-text/

Extending speaking activities

  1. Read Richer Speaking 🙂 https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/richer-speaking/
  2. Work with another partner:
    – After error correction from the teacher (this helps them to upgrade language)
    – To find out if their new partner is similar/different to their previous partner.
    – To report on partner 1’s answers. They could then change again to report on three people’s answers (partner 1, partner 2, and partner 2’s first partner!)
    – After the teacher has fed in some extra functional language.
  3. Change the situation:
    – Have the same conversation as if you are a manager and employee / parent and child / old person and teenager…
    – Would the conversation be the same in a café? An airport? At a friend’s house?
  4. Reflect on a task (a.k.a. metacognition):
    – What extra words did you need? How did you get them?
    – When did the conversation stop? (How) did you get it started again?
    – What made the task particularly easy/difficult? What could make it easier in future?

Extending writing activities

  1. Upgrade your writing:
    – Add five adjectives/a conditional/two more sentences…
    – Rewrite it so it’s more formal/informal/legible (!)
    – Proofread it for commas/capital letters/past simple forms/your favourite spelling mistakes
    – Add a title/subtitles
  2. Switch texts and:
    – check it for content – does it include everything?
    – correct three spelling mistakes
    – choose a word/phrase you want to steal and add to your text
  3. Walk around and read texts while:
    – adding post-it note comments
    – choosing which [holiday you would like to go on] – try to avoid ‘the best’ as this is subjective

Exploiting the coursebook software

  1. Use the extra functions:
    – Games
    – Audioscripts
  2. Block things out (either using the in-built function or putting another window over the top!):
    – Parts of images/vocabulary banks – what’s missing
    – Half a text – remember the other half
    – Only show the first letter or two of words in a vocab list – race to write them on mini whiteboards
  3. Check the answers:
    – Students write the answers in when projected on the board.
    – Show the answers and ask students if they’ve got them right.
    – One person can look, the other can’t and has to listen to the answers.
  4. With practice exercises:
    – Sentence pictionary: one person can look and has a mini whiteboard, the other has their back to the board. You circle a sentence number. They draw the sentence and their partner has to remember it.
    – Hot seat/backs to the board: circle/underline words in the word bank for them to define.
    – They race to define 4/6 words as fast as possible: guesser puts them on a mini whiteboard.
  5. Display texts for students to:
    – Run and point to the vocabulary item you define (team game). Items can be hidden in a vocabulary bank or hidden in a reading text/audioscript.
    – Remember a sentence and write it down, then look and check.

Being creative 3: One activity, multiple tasks – a minimal preparation workshop based on ELT Playbook 1

Way back in December I ran a 45-minute conference session based on a task from ELT Playbook 1, ‘One activity, multiple tasks’, which appears in the ‘Being creative’ section of the book.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

The book features 30 tasks designed particularly to help new teachers to reflect as they start out in ELT, but they are also suitable for managers and trainers who need ideas for professional development sessions. I was also partly inspired by the ideas in The Lazy Teacher Trainer’s Handbook by Magnus Coney [affiliate link], which advocates minimal planning and exploiting the knowledge in the room wherever possible. The final reason I chose this was that I was running out of time to plan my session as I was organising the whole day, and I needed to run two workshops! The other one was about how to learn a language, in case you’re interested.

Before the session, I choose an activity at random from a teacher’s book. The one I ended up with was to revise future forms, taken from page 146 of English File 3rd edition Teacher’s Book Intermediate Plus. It features a page of questions like this:

  1. A   Mum! I’ve dropped my ice cream!
    B   It’s OK, don’t worry – I’ll get / I’m getting you a new one!
  2. A   I’m freezing!
    B   Shall I turn on / Will I turn on the heating?

…and so on. There are 12 mini dialogues like this, each with two options to choose from – students can also tick if both are possible. At the bottom of the page is an ‘activation’ activity, where students write two mini-dialogues, one with will and one with going to. This planning stage took me about 15 minutes – 10 to decide what I was going to do in the session (i.e. which ELT Playbook 1 task I was going to exploit!), and 5 to pick and photocopy the activity.

In the abstract for the session it said that teachers would come away with lots of ideas for how to exploit activities. As the session started, I told them that those ideas would be coming from all of us in the room, not just me!

We started by them completing the original exercise. I demonstrated how to do quick feedback by getting different pairs to write their answers on the board, then just dealing with any questions where there was confusion. We were about 10 minutes into the session at this point.

In the same pairs, teachers worked together to list as many ways as they could think of to set-up, vary or exploit that same activity. They did this on the back of the sheet (minimal materials prep!) I put a few prompts on the board to help, something like: speaking, writing, listening, reading, alone, pairs, groups, class, etc. and elicited one or two examples to start them off. They had 10 minutes to make their lists.

At the same time, and once I’d checked they were all on track, I made my own list* on the back of my paper (minimal prep! Also, I ran out of time to do it before the session and thought it might be useful if at least some of the ideas came from me!)

We put our lists face up on our chairs for the ‘stealing’ stage. We read everybody else’s lists, putting a * next to any activities we didn’t understand. More *** meant that lots of people didn’t understand. This took about 5 minutes, so we were 25 minutes through the session.

Next people added any of the extra activities they liked the sound of to their own lists. 5 more minutes, 15 minutes left.

For the next 10 minutes, different people demonstrated the activities that had stars next to them in front of the whole group. As I expected, most of the ‘different people’ were me – I’d deliberately picked some slightly obscure things to stretch their range of ideas a bit!

In the final 5 minutes, I told them about ELT Playbook 1 and suggested they try this kind of brainstorming with other activities they want to use in class to help them vary their lesson planning. Right at the end, they had to tell their partner one activity they’d thought of or heard about in the session which they planned to try next week. The whole session went pretty well, I think, and I got good feedback afterwards. 🙂

*My list

These are the ideas I came up with in 10 minutes:

  • Remove the options.
  • Mini whiteboards.
  • I say A to the group, they predict B. Then in pairs.
  • Gallery walk (one copy of each question stuck up around the room)
  • Evil memorisation (one of my favourite activities, learnt from Olga Stolbova – the third activity in this blogpost)
  • Say all the sentences as quickly as possible (AQAP on my lesson plans!)
  • Banana sentences (replace the key words with ‘banana’ for partner to guess)
  • Extend the conversations (what was said before/after)
  • Decide who/where/when/why it was said (by)
  • Take the ‘wrong’ answer and create a context where it would be right
  • Translation mingle (students translate one conversation into L1 on a slip of paper, copying the English onto the other side. They then walk around showing other students the L1 to be translated.)
  • One group does 1-6/odd sentences. The other does 7-12/even sentences. Give them the answers for the other half. They check with each other.
  • Say them with different intonation/voices to create different meanings/situations.
  • Remember as many conversations as you can with your partner. Lots of variations for this: freestyle (no prompts), with A/B as a prompt, with (own/sketched/teacher-generated) pictures as prompts…
  • Hot seat/Backs to the board with a picture prompt for student looking at the board to say sentence A, person with back to the board says sentence B in response
  • Board race. Again, lots of variations: list as many sentences/conversations as possible on the whiteboard; teacher/a student says A, teams run and write B; combine with ideas above like banana sentences…
  • Teacher says first half of the sentence, pausing at a convenient point. Students say second half. Then in pairs. e.g. “Shall I…” “…turn on the heating?”
  • Students have A sentences. They write their own Bs on separate pieces of scrap paper, then mix them up. Another pair tries to match the As and Bs together.
  • Change A to the opposite/a slightly different phrase. What’s an appropriate B? e.g. “I’m boiling!”

Thanks to all of the people I’ve stolen those ideas from over the years 🙂

Let me know if you try out the brainstorming activity, the session, or any of the other tasks from ELT Playbook 1. I’d love to know how they work for you!

Why should they care?

In lessons I have observed, it is often a little step that is missing that could make a real difference to the students’ engagement in a particular activity. By asking yourself ‘Why should they care?’ at every stage of the planning process, it’s easy to make little tweaks that could help students to get more involved.*

Do you recognise any of these situations?

Speaking

You ask students to discuss a question like this in pairs:

Tell your partner what you did at the weekend.

They each monologue for about 30 seconds, and the whole activity peters out after less than two minutes. Neither student really listened to their partner, and apart from saying a few words in English, they haven’t really got anything out of the activity.

Why should they care?

Here are a few little tweaks that might avoid this situation.

  • Give them a listening task too. These can also be used as questions for feedback after the activity.
    ‘Find something your partner did that you didn’t.’ > Feedback = ask one or two students to say what their partner did and why they didn’t do it.
    ‘Decide whose weekend was more boring.’ > Feedback = put your hand up if you had the most boring weekend.
  • Add challenge.
    Students have 15 seconds to tell their partner what they did – time it strictly. Afterwards they change partners and tell someone else what their partner did. Give them thinking time first to decide/rehearse what to say in that time.
    Students can only say two sentences before their partner speaks. Give an example, and make sure you include questions!
  • Change the interaction pattern.
    Students mingle, speaking to as many others as possible. They have to find one person who did the same three things as them/did none of the things they did/did something they wish they’d done.
    Play Chinese whispers with two teams racing to correctly write down one thing each person in their team did.
  • Give them some functional language you want them to use.
    ‘No, really? Why did you do that?’
    ‘That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.’

If you want more ideas for how to adapt speaking activities, I’ve got a whole e-book of them!

Writing

You ask your students to write a blog post about a place they want to visit. Some of them write a paragraph, others write a whole page.

Why should they care?

  • Get them interested in the topic first.
    Talk about the most popular places a tourist can visit in the students’ countries.
    Get them to decide three things which make a place worth visiting, then compare the list with a partner and narrow it down to three things from their combined lists.
  • Show them what you expect from them.
    Give them a framework, e.g. Paragraph one = a description of the place, including at least three pieces of information about it. Paragraph two = why they want to visit it. Paragraph three = why they haven’t visited it yet/when they plan to visit it. > This can also be used for marking if necessary, giving you an objective way of deciding if they get full marks for content.
    Show a couple of examples from real blogs.
  • Change the interaction pattern.
    Allow students to choose if they want to work alone or in pairs.
    Get students to write a paragraph, then pass it on to the next student/pair who write the next paragraph, then pass it on again for the final paragraph.
  • Give students other choices.
    They could write about a place they don’t want to visit/the last interesting place they visited/the most boring place they’ve ever visited.
    Let them decide on the format: a blog post, a poster, a newspaper article, a comic strip…

Listening

There is a three-minute audio recording about straw bales in the course book your school requires you to use. 30 seconds in, the students are clearly incredibly bored, and starting to fidget.

A straw bale

Image from Pixabay

Why should they care?

  • Use an image.
    Show them the picture above. Give them a minute to imagine this is real – they think about what they can see/hear/smell/touch/taste. Then tell a partner.
    Give them the image in the middle of a piece of paper. They should draw the bigger picture, then compare it to a partner. Do they have similar pictures?
  • Set them a challenge.
    Get them to think of a minimum of five different things they could use a straw bale for, then compare to a partner.
    Somebody has dumped a straw bale in front of the school. It’s too heavy to lift easily. How will they move it?
  • Make sure they have a clear task to do while they’re listening.
    The first time they listen, they could check predictions they’ve made before listening.
    Get students to come up with three questions they want the answers to. They can be as simple as ‘Why am I listening to a text about straw bales?’ 🙂
  • Use the audio in other ways.
    Break it into 30-second chunks. After each chunk, students should tell a partner what they remember. They could also come up with one question they think will be answer in the next section.
    Pause the audio at a particular point and ask the students what they think the next three words are. You can decide on these points before the lesson if you want to focus on particular pieces of language. This can build students’ confidence when listening to English if you choose chunks of language students are already familiar with.

Reading

There’s an article about gender pay gaps in the news, which you think is an important issue and should be discussed with your students. Some students have previously said they would like to read ‘real’ things in class, but in the lesson the students just aren’t interested in the article, and you end up moving on to something else after a few minutes.

Why should they care?

  • Deal with part of the topic first.
    Have pieces of paper around the room, each with the beginning of a statement. Students walk around and write as many sentences using these beginnings as possible in two minutes. Examples might be ‘Women are…’ ‘Men are…’ ‘Women can’t…’ ‘Men can’t…’ ‘It’s important for women to…’ ‘It’s important for men to…’
    Ask students to list five jobs where people get paid a lot of money, and five where they don’t get paid much. They compare lists with other students, then decide whether they think more men or women do those jobs.

Gender pay gap word cloud based on http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-42580194

  • Use a word cloud. Wordart.com allows you put a whole text into their creator.
    Students have five minutes to write as many sentences as they can using the words in the word cloud. These become predictions – they read the text to check what was included.
    They choose one big word, one medium word, and one small word, then predict how these are connected to the story. You could also give them the headline to help.
  • Reflect real life.
    Show students the headline. Ask them if this is something they would read about in their own language. Encourage them to discuss why or why not. If they say they would, ask them to read it. If they wouldn’t, ask them to choose another article from the BBC homepage (give them a time limit). In both cases, get them to tell a partner what they think they’ll still remember about the article tomorrow.
    We often read online articles by skimming them quickly as we scroll down the page. If you have a projector in your classroom, replicate that process. Scroll down relatively slowly, but fast enough that students can’t read everything. When you get to the bottom, minimise the window and ask students to tell their partner what they saw, what they understood, and what (if anything) they’d like to go back and read in more detail.
  • Work with the language.
    Ask students to find phrases which describe companies or replace the name of the company, e.g. ‘major companies’, ‘organisations with 250 or more workers’, ‘the carrier’, ‘the firm’. They discuss why these phrases were selected in each case.
    Get them to list five different sentences with a percentage in them, e.g. ‘Many financial firms feature in the list, including the Co-op Bank – where mean hourly pay is 30.3% lower for women.’ or ‘It said 7% of apprentices last year were men, compared with zero in 2016, while 41% of roles involving helping at children’s tea time were filled by men – compared with 25% in 2016.’ They can analyse the structures these percentages appear in, e.g. ‘X is % lower for Y.’ or ‘% of X were blah blah blah – compared with % in year’

Grammar points

You’ve recently taught students how to use the passive in news articles. In a follow-up piece of writing, there is no evidence of passives at all.

Why should they care?

  • Contextualise.
    Make sure that example sentences you use are all taken from clear contexts, not plucked at random from thin air. Context can really help students to understand new grammar.
    After doing a practice exercise, ask students to choose three sentences. For each sentence they should add a minimum of two sentences before and two after, making a longer paragraph or dialogue. They could leave a space where their chosen sentence appeared for other students to remember what it was.
  • Get them to notice how it’s used outside the classroom.
    Ask students to open an article from English-language news at random. They should underline all of the passive structures they can find. Afterwards, they can compare usage of the passive in different kinds of article – for example, is it used more in articles describing a crime? A sports event? An election?
    Send students on a treasure hunt. Ask them to find one example in the news of each kind of passive you have studied, e.g. present simple passive, past simple passive, present perfect passive. They should find as many as they can and write out the full sentence, all within a specified time, for example 15 minutes.
  • Compare and contrast.
    Give students pairs of sentences in the active and the passive, with each sentence in the pair conveying the same information. Ask them to choose their ‘favourite’ sentence in the pair and say why. For example: ‘The dog ate the cake.’ ‘The cake was eaten by the dog.’ ‘Somebody stole my bag.’ ‘My bag was stolen.’
    Show students a 2-3 sentence paragraph including a passive structure. Ask them to translate it into another language they know. They then use the translation to analyse differences between how the idea of a passive is expressed in their own language(s). For example, emphasis on the object might be conveyed through a change in word order but no change in the verb form.
  • Add it in.
    Give students a short news article in pairs. Ask them to add three passive sentences into the article, wherever they like. They can then compare the results to another group.
    Tell students you expect to see a minimum of two passive structures in the news article you want them to write. Include this in criteria for peer checking before the article is handed in.

Vocabulary

You introduced a range of words connected to clothes in your last lesson, like ‘button’, ‘zip’, ‘sleeve’. During a revision activity at the beginning of this lesson, the students need a lot of prompting and they can’t really remember any of them accurately.

Why should they care?

  • Find out what they know.
    If you’re working on vocabulary from a particular lexical set, do a board race first. In this case, divide students into two teams. They race to write as many clothes words on the board as possible in five minutes. Teams switch and work out the points for their opponents: one point for completely correct, half a point if there is a spelling mistake.
    Show them pictures of clothes – three or four items is enough. Ask them to list as many things they can see in the pictures as possible. Point to various things and ask ‘What’s this?’ to prompt students to notice features like the buttons or sleeves, not just the items of clothing themselves.
  • Help them to notice the gaps in their knowledge.
    Display all of the words you’re planning to teach on the board. Ask students to draw pictures for as many of them as possible, but not to worry if they don’t know any of them – they will by the end of the lesson! To reinforce this, repeat the same activity at the end of the lesson and point out how much they’ve improved.
    Give them the first and last letters of the words, like this ‘b_____’, ‘z__p’, ‘s_____e’. Ask them to complete the words to describe parts of clothes. Again, they shouldn’t worry if they don’t know them.
  • Add extra processing.
    Don’t just ask students to read words from a flashcard, show them the picture and get them to remember the word. For extra challenge, they could then spell it. It’s better to do this chorally or in pairs/groups, rather than putting individual students on the spot, as this may affect their confidence if they can’t do it or increase their fear if they think they might be next.
    Display all of the pictures on the board/floor. Students should write as many of the words as possible in their notebooks, then compare the spellings with the vocabulary list. To add challenge, you could get them to switch notebooks with somebody else for the checking stage.
  • Make it real.
    Ask them to choose a word which is new for them. They should think of one time they would expect to say/write the word, and one time they would expect to read/hear it. For example, they might say ‘button’ if they’ve lost a button, or read it in a craft magazine which tells them how to make a teddy bear.
    They choose three new words they want to remember, and write them into short sentences connected to their lives, e.g. ‘I’ve lost three buttons from my coat.’. As an extension, they could then google the sentences and see if they exist on the internet anywhere.

All of the vocabulary tips can be connected to the idea of ‘hooks’. This is a metaphor I use to describe how you remember new information. The more hooks you hang something on, the more likely it is to stay where you put it. When you think about learning new vocabulary (or grammar for that matter), you need to give the students as many hooks as possible to ‘hang’ the new vocabulary from and keep it in their heads.

Pronunciation

When you ask students to repeat sentences after you as part of a drill, they sound really bored and/or refuse to do it.

Why should they care?

  • Do you care?
    Record yourself doing some pronunciation work. Listen back to it. What do you think your tone of voice and body language conveys to the students? What does your intonation sound like?
    Before you drill anything, imagine somebody is going to ask ‘What was the point of that?’ Do you have a good answer for them?
  • Play.
    Experiment with different tones of voice, speeds, characters (the Queen, Arnold Schwarzenegger…), positions (standing, sitting, superhero poses)…
    A really popular activity at my school is a stickman drill, where students are in teams. Each team gets a stickman, with one or two extra features of their choice, like a hat or an umbrella. Each team repeats the sentence. Whoever the teacher decides did it best can remove part of their opponents’ stickmen. The aim is to have the most complete stickman by the end of the game. [I still haven’t actually tried this, but I’ve seen it used many times!]
  • Add challenge.
    Don’t just ask students to repeat the same sentence again and again. Get them to change parts of it. For example, in the first sentence of this paragraph, you could change the verb (ask), the person (students), the infinitive phrase (to repeat the same sentence) or the time adverbial (again and again). This is known as a substitution drill. Students or the teacher can decide what changes.
    Use key words or images as prompts, so students have to remember the language without having it all in front of them.
  • Add extra support.
    Give students a minute to read and remember the language you’re going to drill, then close their books during the drilling process.
    Break down longer sentences into smaller chunks, then put them back into the full sentence. This is known as backchaining if you do it from the end of the sentence.

*I recognise that a lot of the tweaks I’ve suggested above may more appropriately answer the question ‘What can I do about it?’, but I find the phrasing ‘Why should they care?’ adds a bit more impact when I’m asking my teachers!

Have you tried any of these tweaks? What other little tweaks do you use to encourage students to care more about activities in class?

P.S. This blogpost has been in the back of my mind for a while now, and reading this post about lead ins by CELTA train is what made me actually write it today 🙂

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