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Archive for the ‘Materials, Activities and Ideas’ Category

A map of me

With continuous enrolment, we get new students joining our classes every Monday morning, if they change from another class, on a Monday afternoon, when they’re new to the school, and sometimes on a Tuesday morning too, if they only have morning classes! This means that we’re constantly trying to make sure our students get on well together, and I’m always trying to find new getting to know you activities that still motivate and interest the students who’ve been in the class for weeks.

This is what I used a couple of weeks ago:

Mind map

 

  • Ask students in pairs/small groups to decide what the connections are between the items on your own mind map.
  • Each pair/group writes three questions to find out more about the connections.
  • They then create their own mind maps – give them about 10 minutes, as it takes a while to get a good mind map.
  • Finally, they mingle and ask and answer questions about each other’s mind maps.

My students spent about 90 minutes on the whole process. I copied their mind maps and learnt a lot about my students in the process, something which isn’t always easy in a most of the getting to know you exercises I use. I even found out which of my students were great artists!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy* has been one of my favourite books since I first read the trilogy in five parts at the age of 11. (It also led to me reading A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, because my grandma would only buy me H2G2 if I promised to read A Town Like Alice too!) Since then, I have read all of Douglas Adams’ books, and regularly return to different iterations of them, the latest being the BBC version of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Douglas Adams was a genius, and he is sadly missed.

Douglas Adams -  I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day

When my advanced (C1) class told me they wanted to do some reading, I thought Hitchhiker would be perfect. The activities I put together are in the document below. It contains the complete text of chapter one of the book. No copyright infringement is intended – I only want to introduce the book to as many students as possible!

This activity requires a bit of cutting out beforehand (it’s the activity on page 6 in the document above):

There are also two Quizlet sets, one for general vocabulary from the first chapter. The second set has the collocations from the penultimate section of the chapter.

Overall, we spent about 7 hours on all of the activities, including discussion between them. In the final lesson of the week, we watched the film.

Thinking about it while I write this post, I believe Douglas Adams has had a huge influence on the way that I think. His books were some of the ones that really influenced my teenage years. I don’t know now, but it’s possible that his words were the ones that led me towards being a lover of Macs, or consciously deciding that God doesn’t exist. And his essays on ‘Y’ and on attitudes to technology in The Salmon of Doubt have stuck with me, still memorable 12 years later.

I’ll leave you one of my (many) favourite quotes from Douglas Adams:

“A learning experience is one of those things that says, ‘You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”
― Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt

*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!

My favourite TV show

In my first lesson with my B2 Upper Intermediate group way back at the start of January, I found out that all of the students were fans of American TV series. We brainstormed the series they watched, and came up with about 30 different ones, everything from Big Bang Theory to White Collar (which I’d never heard of before). Because of that, I decided to base my first week on giving opinions about TV shows. (It was possibly a little too easy at times, and I think it could work with a  B1 Intermediate group)

[Well after my lessons, but before I finished writing this post, Scott Thornbury wrote about the value of soaps and TV for language learners.]

Vocabulary

We started with vocabulary, like so:

  • Tell each other about your favourite TV show, and say why you like it. While they were doing this, I monitored and noted examples of missing vocabulary and language would could be improved later in the week.
  • On the board, write as many words as you can think of connected to TV shows.
  • Fill in as many words as you can on this sheet:

20130309-223344.jpg

  • Look at the wordcloud and match any missing words:

TV shows word cloud

  • The teacher check the meanings and definitions with students. They drill any necessary pronunciation.
  • Students test each other by saying the definition, and the others in their group remember the word.
  • You can give students the link to the whole set on Quizlet to practise the words at home.

My favourite TV series

I then introduced the class to one of my favourite series, and one I was fairly sure they wouldn’t know, namely Doctor Who, through this very entertaining video by Charlie McDonnell:

They had to listen to the video twice and answer the questions on the first sheet, then listen again and correct the mistakes in the transcript. It bears repeated listening because Charlie speaks very quickly – be prepared for a look of shock the first time they hear him! The corrected version of the transcript is in the second slideshare document below. To download them, click on ‘view on slideshare’. You need to join to download, but it’s free.


Other people’s favourites

In the next lesson, we started off by revising the vocabulary with a board race. The aim for this lesson was for students to learn some useful phrases to talk about their favourite TV shows. We started by listening to Adam, with three questions:

  • What’s the show?
  • Why do they like it?
  • Do they give you any extra information about it?
Adam – The Walking Dead

Here are the phrases I pulled out of Adam’s text:

  • The first thing you think about when I say…
  • The main purpose of the show is…
  • There are deeper things than this in the show.
  • That’s why I like it.
  • The show really looks at the human condition.
  • It looks at…what happens when…
  • He was in one of my favourite shows.

I then divided the class into two groups (there was an empty classroom next door). One group had my iPad, and the other my phone (I trust them!). Each group listened to three of the other recordings – Vicky/Deniz/Matt or Rachel/Sian/Lea. They had the same questions as above, plus the additional job of choosing any useful phrases they could steal.

Once they’d listened to their three texts, they told the other group about what they’d heard.

They then talked about their own favourite TV shows, trying to use some of the phrases.

Deniz: How I Met Your Mother
  • It’s a sitcom set in…
  • The main character is…
  • In each episode…
  • The reason why I like this show is…
  • If you haven’t watched the series, I really recommend it.
  • I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, just like I do.
Vicky – Glee
  • My favourite TV series is…
  • I really like it because…
  • It deals with…
  • It’s also something I really enjoy because…
  • I really look forward to watching each episode…
Lea – The Borgias
  • It’s set in…
  • It’s all about… [described in present simple]
  • What I like about this series is…
  • You find yourself rooting for them.
  • My favourite character is…

[Side note: thanks to this lesson, I’m now a big fan of The Borgias and How I Met Your Mother :)]

Matt – Six Feet Under
  • My favourite TV show of all time is…
  • It’s about… [described in present simple]
  • It’s an amazing show because it deals with…
  • It can be very dark.
  • The opening credits are something I enjoy in and of themselves.
  • The acting was incredible.
Rachel – Eastenders
  • It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.
  • It’s a soap opera which is set in…
  • I just love it.
  • One of the other reasons that I love it is…
Sian – The Killing
  • One series I enjoyed very much last year was…
  • It’s quite funny that I enjoyed this because…
  • …and that’s something that I’m not particularly used to…
  • There was a good strong central character.
  • By ten minutes into the first episode I was completely gripped by…
  • A fantastic supporting cast…
  • …were so good that…

[Thanks to these lovely people for answering my Twitter/facebook call for one-minute recordings about favourite TV shows. If anyone else wants to record one and post the link in the comments, that would be great!]

To finish the week, I taught this lesson from allatc, based on the first episode of The Walking Dead. They mingled at the end to tell each other about their favourite scenes from any TV show. It brought together everything we’d been discussing all week perfectly.

So, what’s your favourite TV show?

Verb-noun collocations

I’ve just created these powerpoint slides based on some brainstorming we did in class today. What would you do with them? I’ll try to update the post later with what I do with them after the lesson tomorrow!

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday lesson plan

I know it’s a little late for this year, but I thought I’d post this for anyone who wants to use it in the future. I taught the lesson to Upper Intermediate students, and it took about one hour 45 minutes.

Start off by eliciting the prepositions you need to describe a photo: at the bottom, at the top, in the middle, on the left, on the right, in the (top-left…) corner.

Put students in pairs. Give each student in the pair one of the two photos below. One student describes, the other draws. Afterwards, they compare the drawing and the original picture and try to decide what is going on, and what connects the two pictures.

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Put these questions on the board:

  • What are English pancakes?
  • What is Pancake Day?
  • What is Shrove Tuesday? When is it?
  • Why are pancakes eaten on Shrove Tuesday?

Challenge students to guess what the answers to these questions might be. If they have no idea about Pancake Day (which they probably don’t!), encourage them to make it up. Then ask them if they want to know the answers – my students immediately shouted ‘yes’! Give them this text to read, adapted from the excellent Woodlands Junior School website:

Answer any questions students might have – mine weren’t quite clear on the explanation of Shrove Tuesday. Ask them if they know how to make pancakes. Then give them this recipe, cut up, and ask them to put it in order:

I downloaded the original recipe from the Times Educational Supplement website which has thousands of resources created by school teachers in the UK for their students, quite a few of which are suitable for EFL/ESL learners. The recipe is here, entitled ‘Posters and Displays’. Read the original recipe, or hand it out, for students to check their answers. They have lots of other Pancake Day resources too (just run a search, making sure ‘Resources’ is selected). You need to join the website to be able to download things, but it’s completely free.

Go back to the photos from the beginning of the lesson. Ask students what is happening in the first photo (the pancake race). Why do they think people are running with pancakes? Tell them this is a very old tradition. They should read about it and find out when it started, why it is still done today, and what the connection with the USA is:

If you have video access, you can then show them this video of an unusual pancake race which takes place every year. They should find out who is competing and why. You could give them more support with the video, but I ran out of preparation time!

To round off the work on Pancake Day, ask students to put all of their paper away, then try and remember as much as they can about the traditions connected to Shrove Tuesday.

As a follow-up, students could talk/write about ‘unusual’ traditions in their country/city.

After class, I went home and made pancakes. Here’s one in the pan 🙂

Photo by @sandymillin, shared on http://flickr.com/eltpics

Photo by @sandymillin, shared on http://flickr.com/eltpics

Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy – a lesson

It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, and although I don’t normally do anything for it, I thought that this year I would take the opportunity to share one of my favourite poems with my students. Here’s the plan in case you want to do it too.

A heart for you

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @vale360, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Ask your students what day it is, and whether anything special happens on this day in their country. What do they know about Valentine’s Day in the UK?

What kind of gifts do people normally give for Valentine’s Day? Brainstorm them on the board.

Give each group the word cloud. They decide what links the words in the cloud and what she is sending her Valentine. They can also look up any words they don’t understand, so they are ready to appreciate the poem as a whole later.

Show them an onion. What connection could this have to Valentine’s Day and the poem?

Ask the students to close their eyes and put their heads on the desk (but try not to fall asleep!). Read them the poem – take your time and savour the words.

Ask them to discuss how similar the poem was to their ideas. They can then read it and decide whether they would like to receive an onion as a Valentine.

You can then do some pronunciation/speaking work. Read the poem again. This time students mark where you pause using slashes.

They talk about why you pause in those places – it’s because of line/stanza breaks, and also phrases within the lines.

They can chose whether to read Valentine, or an anti-Valentine poem. You can find lots of them on the net. This is the one I chose:

In groups with other students who have chosen the same poem, they practise reading it. They decide where the pauses should be, how fast to read it, how to space the phrases…and then some of the braver students perform it to the class, or the whole group performs the poem together (providing their patterns aren’t too different).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (EFL activities)

This week my students have been reading the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I took my students on a trip to Durham (where some of the first two films were filmed) last week because one of them is a huge fan of the books, and while we were there we talked about reading in English. 

My class in the cloisters in Durham

My class in the cloisters at Durham Cathedral, where some of the Hogwarts courtyard scenes from the first two films were recorded

I discovered that they don’t really read in English, partly because it’s daunting, and partly because they can’t be bothered 😉 so I decided I’d make them do it by bringing it to class. We’ve done a whole range of activities based on the chapter, none of which included comprehension questions, but I’m sure you could write some if you wanted to. Let me know which ones you use, and if you have any more 🙂

Harry Potter

The first question was ‘What do you think of when I say Harry Potter?’ My students are upper intermediate, from six different countries, aged 18-30. There was clearly a whole range of opinions, but nobody was out-and-out negative. As feedback, I asked a list of questions, with students standing up if the answer was yes. I joined in with the standing up. Stand up if:

  • you have never read or watched any Harry Potter.
  • you have watched part of a Harry Potter film only.
  • you have watched a complete film in your own language.
  • you have watched all of the films in your own language.
  • you have watched a complete film in English.
  • you have watched all of the films in English.
  • you have read one or more of the books in your own language.
  • you have read all of the books in your own language.
  • you have read any of the books in English (one student had finished Philosopher’s Stone the day before!).
  • you have read all of the books in English.

The titles

On scraps of paper, students guessed what they thought the titles of the books are in English – one title per piece of paper, with a number (1-7) indicating which book. The students who had no idea became the teachers. They collected the paper and compared the answers against a list I took with me.

I then put the titles on the board one at a time, and we talked about what they meant and how they differed, mostly in terms of word order, from the translations. We also talked about capitalization.

The titles in Britain are:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

For students who didn’t know the books, we talked about the meaning of some of the words, especially goblet and phoenix.

The first page

To get into the book, I started off by asking students to read the first page (until ‘high chair’ if you have it in front of you). When they finished, they had to stand up. It wasn’t a race, but rather was designed to help them appreciate different reading speeds in class. Afterwards, I asked them two questions:

  • How did you read the page? For example, did you follow words with your pen? Did you underline words you didn’t understand?
  • How would you have read it in your own language?

The aim of these lessons was to reduce the students’ fear of reading in English. One of the things I did the first time I tried to read a book in German was copy every word I didn’t know onto a long list. After 2 pages I had about 100 words, and I stopped reading because I was so depressed! My class weren’t that bad, but I strongly believe (from personal experience) that:

If you don’t understand a word, keep reading.

If you see a word you don’t understand three times, keep reading.

If you see a word 10 times and you still don’t understand it, it might be important. You should probably look it up.

Especially in children’s fiction, ‘difficult’ words are generally explained. If a ‘difficult’ word only appears once, then the likelihood of it being essential to a story are slim. We came back to this point at various points during the week, and I think the students are a lot happier to continue reading now.

Adjectives and nouns

Before reading the first page, I handed out this sheet:

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to. For some reason, the word cloud doesn’t always appear properly. If that happens, once you’ve downloaded and opened the file, right click on the word cloud and select ‘arrange’>’bring to front’ or ‘in front of text’. You should be able to see it and move it to wherever you want on the page.)

I challenged students to think of as many adjectives as they could that would collocate with each noun. i had to tell them that ‘people’ and ‘sky’ were two separate words.

Once they’d read the first page and we’d had the discussion above, they returned to the sheet and found the corresponding adjectives from page. Here are the answers:

(no) finer boy

thin, blonde woman (Mrs. Dursley)

dull, grey Tuesday

greatest fear

big, beefy man

good-for-nothing husband

the last/unDursleyish people

cloudy sky

anything strange/mysterious

very large moustache

strange/mysterious things

good reason

small son

most boring tie

screaming baby (Dudley)

Throughout this exercise, and the ones following it, I tried to discourage students from using dictionaries. Instead, they had to use what they know about the world and about Harry Potter in particular to guess what words meant and try and explain them to me so I could confirm, or help them change, their guesses.

As revision, they said the nouns, and their partner had to say which adjective collocated with it.

For homework, they used the BYU-BNC corpus to check which of their collocations were correct – I showed them how to do this during class first.

Peculiar events

On pages 8 (from “None of them noticed…”) to 11 (to “a whisper about the Potters…”), Mr Dursley witnesses, and misses, a series of strange events. Students worked in pairs to highlight the strange events, again without using dictionaries. They then summarised the events using key words, and we talked about how often each description was repeated, and the fact that even if they didn’t understand the description the first time it appeared, they usually did by the last time. These were the key words and events I came up with:

 

owls flying in the day

page 8: “None of them noticed a large tawny owl flutter past the window”. 

page 9: “owls swooping past in broad daylight”

page 10: “there have been hundreds of sightings of these birds flying in every direction since sunrise”

page 11: “Owls flying by daylight?”

 

cat

page 8: “a cat reading a map” “It was now reading the sign that said ‘Privet Drive'”

page 10: “…the first thing he saw […] was the tabby cat he’d spotted that morning. It was now sitting on his garden wall.” “It just gave him a stern look.”

 

people

page 8: “…there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about. People in cloaks”

page 9: “This lot were whispering excitedly.” “‘The Potters, that’s right, that’s what I heard -‘”

page 11: “Mysterious people in cloaks all over the place? And a whisper, a whisper about the Potters…”

 

man

page 9-10: “The man was wearing a violet cloak. He didn’t seem at all upset at being almost knocked to the ground. On the contrary, his face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made passers-by stare: ‘Don’t be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!’ And the old man hugged Mr Dursley around the middle and walked off”

 

shooting stars

page 10: “instead of the rain I promised yesterday, they’ve had a downpour of shooting stars!”

page 11: “Shooting stars all over Britain?”

Peculiar words

Once they’d identified all of the events, the groups had to try to work out the meaning of any of the words they didn’t understand in the lines they’d highlighted. I emphasised that they should focus on these lines, as these are the important events here.

After they’d guessed as many as they could, each group was allowed to choose one word from each page, i.e. one from page 8, one from 9, one from 10, and one from the top of 11, to look up in the dictionary.

They then mingled to share their words.

Fan pictures

The website Harry Potter companion is a repository for everything you ever needed to know about the Harry Potter universe, and many things you probably didn’t. They have chapter-by-chapter guides to all of the books. Each guide has a set of fan pictures accompanied/inspired by quotes from the relevant chapter. Here are the pictures from chapter 1 in a slide show, so you can print them out and cut them up:

Students had read the rest of the chapter (page 11 to page 18) for homework. Only one of them failed to heed the warning that the next lesson would be very difficult if they didn’t. Before looking at the pictures, we started the lesson with students verbally summarising what they could remember from the chapter. I put the pictures around the room. Students had to circulate and try to identify a quote which could be matched to each picture.

You can check the answers by going to the Harry Potter Companion.

Verbs and adverbs

I wrote these verbs on the board:

say, sniff, nod, blink, repeat, appear, whisper, behave, act, climb, sit, lay sth down, look up (emphasising that this is the opposite of ‘look down’ not the phrasal verb)

Students had to decide which adverbs you could use with each verb. Once they had as many as they could think of, they went back to the book and looked for more. While they did this, I checked their lists and we talked about why some of their suggestions were not possible. Finally, we put the adverbs on the board to check, and talked about some of the stranger combinations, like ‘blink furiously’.

Verbs and adverbs

Summarising the chapter

We spent a whole two-hour lesson today on writing a summary. In pairs or groups of three, the students had to summarise the main events of the chapter in not more than 100 words. Inevitably, they tried to include every event they could think of, which meant a lot of editing.

The groups swapped first drafts. They then had to improve on these and rewrite them, with a little help from some prompt questions on the board and some advice about what to look up in the dictionary. Examples of my prompt questions were:

  • Are all of the main ideas included?
  • Is tense use logical?
  • Are capital letters in the right places?

The second-draft summaries were excellent, but unfortunately I forgot to copy one to put on here!

Never judge a book by it’s cover

For our final two-hour lesson, we’re going to look at some of the different covers for the first Harry Potter book:

Students will:

  • identify the objects they can see on the covers;
  • describe some of the similarities and differences between the covers;
  • think about why those images were chosen for each cover;
  • decide which cover would make them most/least likely to pick up the book – disregarding the language barrier of course!

The great Harry Potter language quiz

The final activity of the week will be a quiz bringing together the language we’ve studied this week, so the Harry Potter fanatics shouldn’t have any particular advantage over the newbies!

Adverbs

All of the adverbs are one small pieces of paper, one per piece.

In a variation on the classic adverb revision game, the adverbs will be divided between the groups. They have five minutes to decide how to mime or act out all of their adverbs, without saying it. 

Each group will then perform, winning five points for each adverb another group guesses, and losing one for each one they fail to guess from the other groups. (this scoring system may be edited on consultation with the students!)

Adjectives

One word: pictionary. 

The rest of them

I’ve kept a list of the random words which have come up during the week. The final part of the quiz will be a backs to the board/hot seat game. In this game, students work in pairs. One student can see the board, the other is facing them and cannot. The teacher writes a word or phrase on the board. The student who can see it describes it to the one who can’t, without using any of the words on the board, or variations of them, and without translating. As soon as the student with their back to the board thinks they know what is on the board, they stand up and tell the teacher. Two points for being first, one point for any other pair who gets the correct answer but are slower.

Postscript

Although I enjoy Harry Potter, I’ve only read them once, and watched them twice (once at the cinema, once on DVD) or sometimes a couple more times. I’m interested in the universe Rowling has created, but nowhere near as obsessed as some of my students. Her books are sometimes the whole reason they want to come to the UK! I was lucky, in that only one student didn’t really like Harry Potter at the start of the week, and two of them had never read or watched any of it, and they seem to have enjoyed the classes as much as the fans.

Sharing the richness of her language has made me re-appreciate how good her writing is, and how suitable it is for teaching, as well as the many layers of what she put together, no matter how much it might be sneered at by those who ‘hate’ Harry Potter. I’m sure there’s a lot more you can do with it too. The activities I’ve written about here, I came up with fairly quickly. You could use it to focus on so many different aspects of language. 

The best thing about this week, though, was that today, in our fourth of five lessons, two of the students walked in carrying brand-new copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Neither of them have read a book in English before. One of them had even decided that he would use each chapter to focus on a different kind of language, once he had read it. In chapter two, he had circled all of the verbs of speaking, and all without any encouragement from me.

And if that isn’t an argument for extensive reading, I don’t know what is.

 

Getting to know you with key words

I came up with an easy to prepare getting to know you activity today, which took about 30 minutes with 12 upper intermediate students.

Divide A4 pieces of paper into quarters – as many as you need for one quarter per student.

Students fold their piece of paper in half.

They draw a picture of themselves on one half, then write key words related to their lives on the other half – as many or as few as they choose.

The final step is a mingle where they show their pictures and key words to other students in the class, and use these as prompts for conversation.

I put the names of all of the students on the board to help them too.

This was my paper:

ImageWhen I first tried to end the activity the students all said ‘No, I’ve still got to speak to…’.

Enjoy!

Introducing past modals of deduction

London, the Olympics, train ticket

I wrote these on the board.

Based on these words, what did I do at the weekend? Are you 100% sure? How can you show this in your sentences?

I asked these questions. The students worked in groups to come up with one suggestion for each word, which they then put on the board:

20130114-221740.jpg

We went through the sentences. Is it grammatically correct? Does it talk about the right time? For example: while “She might visit the Olympic Stadium” is grammatically correct, it refers to the future, not the past. In the process, I introduced the perfect infinitive, formed by ‘have + past participle’. One student asked if she could say “She might went to London.” and we talked about why that wasn’t possible. By introducing the perfect infinitive within the first few sentences, the students were well practised at using it by the end of the lesson.

20130114-222704.jpg

This took 45 minutes, including me confirming that I did indeed go to London, and telling them that I lost the return part of my ticket, had to buy a new one – £121 – and then noone checked it (grrr!)

After a brief break, I asked the students to suggest another idea for ‘Olympics’ as none of theirs were correct. I asked them how sure they were, and elicited other words which could be used in place of ‘might’ if you were more or less sure. We also reiterated the form of the perfect infinitive:

20130114-223010.jpg

I showed them a picture of me at the Olympics, and they eventually got to the fact that I went to London for a (very enjoyable) reunion with some of my fellow Games Makers.

The students each had a slip of paper. They wrote three words about their weekend on the paper, plus their name, and left it on their desk along with a blank piece of A4 paper.

They circulated, writing a suggestions as to what the other students might/could/must have done at the weekend on the A4 paper, then folding the paper (consequences-style) so noone else could see their sentence.

When they had written on every other piece of paper, they returned to their desks and read what their classmates thought they had done. I asked how close they were. I also pointed out that all of our original modal sentences were with ‘might’, and asked if their paper had a range of modals.

To finish this stage, the students turned the paper over and used the past simple to write what they actually did. They then circulated and read what everyone had written.

As preparation for homework I showed them this picture from eltpics by @elt_pics (Victoria Boobyer):

20130114-223727.jpg

As a class, they suggested what could have happened. Once we’d covered the obvious “She might have broken/sprained her ankle.” I asked how? When? Where?

As homework, the students have to find a picture, preferably one that isn’t their own, and suggest what might have happened before it was taken.

What worked

The students were engaged by the personal nature of the activity. They were interested in trying to find out what their classmates did at the weekend. There was quite a lot of movement, catering for more kinaesthetic learners, something which I sometimes forget to do, and changing the dynamic. There was a lot of repetition of the target structure and the context was clear. Perhaps best of all for a busy Monday morning, it required minimal prep time.

What I’d change next time

The stage where we looked at whether the sentences were grammatically/temporally correct dragged a little because it was teacher-centred. I should have done a couple of examples then handed it over to the students.
I decided to use this method because I wanted to see whether the students could produce past modals of infinitive in a context which would definitely prompt them from native speakers. However there wasn’t a very clear reason for students to guess what the others had done. Perhaps I could have set up some kind of contest – find someone with the most similar weekend to you for example. Since a lot of them took advantage of the school trip to Edinburgh, this might not be the best example!

Dear students

Welcome to our class! And if you’ve just arrived in Newcastle, welcome to this beautiful city! Why did you decide to come here? I went to university in Durham, and the north-east is my favourite part of England, although I’m not from here originally. I moved to Newcastle a year and a half ago, in July 2011. I’m staying here for at least another 18 months. What about you? When did you come? How long are you staying?

I love learning languages. I studied languages at uni, and I’ve lived in many different countries so I know how you feel. Is it your first trip to the UK? What do you think so far? If you have any problems, please let me know. I’m happy to help 🙂

What are your hobbies? I enjoy going to the cinema, and I’ll watch anything except horror – the people in horror films annoy me! I also read a lot, and I love travelling. I don’t have a lot of free time at the moment though, because I’m studying for my Delta, which is a teaching diploma. When I’ve finished it I will be allowed to train other teachers or run my own school, which is my dream. What do you do? What do you want to do in the future? Do you think English will help you with this?

I hope you enjoy your time in Newcastle and at IH. Remember, this is your class. you should always feel free to tell me if you want me to change anything or if there is something specific you want to study. I look forward to working with you!

Sandy

PS (extra special for the blog!) This idea was stolen from Philip Harmer, one of the best teachers and kindest people I have ever had the privilege to work with. Thanks Philip!

Reading a short story

This week, my colleague Lesley and I decided to work on a short story with our (two classes of) pre-intermediate students. We chose the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia. We have four hours a day with them, divided into two two-hour lessons, so we dedicated the afternoon lessons to the story.

This post is intended as a list of ideas for using a short story, rather than a series of lessons you could necessarily follow yourself. If you want to follow it exactly, you need to find an abridged version of the story – I can’t find a suitable one to link to, unfortunately.

Monday

We showed the students pictures of Irene Adler (x3), Dr. Watson (x4) and Sherlock Holmes (x4), in that order, taken from various TV and film adaptations of the story. The students had to describe the people and decide what they had in common. Until they got to the final group of pictures, they didn’t know it was connected to Sherlock Holmes. After each group, we wrote a set of sentences on the board about the characters (the names were added later).

Character sentences

We then brainstormed everything the students already knew about Sherlock Holmes. Of my seven students, one had read a short story and two had seen the film. This is what we came up with:

Sherlock Holmes mind mapAfter this preparation, it was time to start reading the story. I read aloud while the students followed. I stopped on the second page of our abridged copy, so that the students had seen the description of Adler, Holmes and Watson, giving them enough information to add attach the names to the pictures.

To stop the students from trying to understand every last word of the story, I asked them to highlight every word they understood in their copies. This idea was inspired by Kevin Stein and really motivated the students. I put % on the board, and asked them to estimate how much they had understood so far, getting answers from 70-99%. They then worked together to fill in some of the gaps, highlighting any extra words they understood. Estimating the percentage again after this exercise, all of the students raised it. I pointed out that they didn’t need to understand every word to understand the story, but that it’s a good idea to focus on a couple of new words, and this is where we left lesson one.

Turn into and outsmart

Lesley had decided to start from the title, discussing what a scandal was. I never ended up doing this explicitly, but should have done at some point.

Tuesday

On day two we started by recapping what the students remembered from the first two pages of the story. I showed them the Watson/Holmes pictures again, and asked them to decide which Watson assisted which Holmes, based purely on the images. For example, Jude Law with Robert Downey Jr. and Martin Freeman with Benedict Cumberbatch. We talked about how they decided, using clues like the age of the photo and the kind of clothes they were wearing, as well as prior knowledge of the film. This introduced the idea of observation, and linked to a quote I had on the board: “You see, but you do not observe.”

In the next page of the story, Holmes lists four things about Watson which he has observed:

  • Watson is enjoying married life.
  • He has put on weight.
  • He was caught in the rain recently.
  • He has returned to his career as a doctor.

The students had to identify the paragraph where Watson confirmed each observation by writing a key word next to it, which the students decided would be married, fat, rain, job. They were very motivated when they realised this was easy to do, as they had initially said they couldn’t understand.

For the next sections of the story, Lesley and I had prepared pictures taken from screenshots of a YouTube video. I haven’t uploaded these, as I think they are probably covered by copyright. The students had to read the part of the story where the King describes his problem, and match what he said to the pictures. They then worked together to complete a gapped summary of his problem:

Sherlock Holmes gapfillSherlock Holmes completed gapfillFor the last ten minutes, they divided a piece of paper into four and wrote sentences describing everything they knew about the four main characters. For example:

  • Sherlock Holmes: He is observant. He lives at 221B Baker Street.
  • Doctor Watson: He is married. He works with Sherlock Holmes.
  • Irene Adler: She is very clever. She has a photo of the King and her.
  • The King: He wants to get married. He needs Sherlock’s help.

Wednesday

We started by recapping the summary from the end of Tuesday’s lesson. The students were amazed at how much they could remember! They also added to their sentences as we’d run out of time on Tuesday.

The next part was picture-based again, this time with the students predicting what they were about to read about. They  had pictures of Sherlock Holmes in disguise as a tramp, Godfrey Norton arriving at Irene Adler’s house, then leaving, and Adler leaving. There was another summarising gapfill for them to complete at this point.

Once they had checked their answers, they had to guess what would happen next. They were right in suspecting that Norton and Adler would get married, but were surprised when they read and discovered that Sherlock Holmes was the witness!

To finish the lesson, we read about Holmes’ plan to get the King’s photo back from Adler.

By this point, the students were flagging a little, but I told them we would finish the story the next day and they perked up a bit!

Thursday

The students read about how Holmes and Watson put the plan into action. They then watched three short clips from the TV episode, showing:

To finish the story, the students had to say what they thought would happen in the final four pages, then read to check whether they were right or not.

They then started to work on an 8-10 sentence summary of the main events of the whole story, which they had to finish for homework.

Friday

All of the students did their homework 🙂 They worked together to decide which sentences were necessary in the summaries, as some students had written a lot more than eight to ten.

I divided the class into two groups of three/four students each. Each group had to choose any scene from the story and reenact it. They had about 25 minutes to plan what they would say and do (luckily there was a spare classroom next door). They then performed their scene, to much raucous laughter – one student played the King visiting Sherlock Holmes. In the story he is wearing a mask, but she made do with her sunglasses and headscarf, which none of us expected! It was probably much funnier being in the room, but affective filters were definitely lowered! While watching the scenes, the other group had to decide who was playing who, and which part of the story it was. The task wasn’t very difficult, but they had used a lot of English to prepare for it, and they really enjoyed it, as they told me afterwards.

For the final half hour of the week, we played Hot Seat/Backs to the Board, using words taken from the story. We hadn’t really focussed on anything in particular, but words and phrases the students had picked up and started using during the week included: witness, framed photograph, panel (which Adler hid the photo behind), tube (which the smoke bomb was made of), false alarm, observe, Your Majesty…

When I asked them to think back to the first lesson and how they felt when they first looked at the story, the students all said it looked hard, but that now they could understand. There was a great sense of achievement on looking around the room.

Doing it again

I definitely would! And I wouldn’t change much at all – the students were engaged, motivated, and picked up a lot of new language along the way. Hopefully it will inspire them to read a little more in English, and remind them that it’s not necessary to understand every word of something to get the main points. One student did go home and look up all of the unknown words on Monday evening, but that was the only time she did it.

The final lesson was one of the most entertaining I’ve had for a long time. The students were very motivated by the role play, and put a lot more energy into it than I expected. (The role play was included as part of my Delta Professional Development Assignment.)

What other ideas do you have for using short stories in class?

An extension on a dictogloss

I used this activity with pre-intermediate learners, but you could adapt it for pretty much any level.

The dictogloss

Choose a short text, maximum 100 words, suitable for the level of your students. Our text was:

Hi Marek,

Italy are playing Germany in the World Cup tonight. If you’re free, we could watch it together. It’s on Sky Sports. I haven’t got satellite TV, but we could watch the match in The Castle. It starts at 8.00. What do you think?

Niko

Taken from ‘English Result Pre-Intermediate Student’s Book page 34

We had been practising phrases for making invitations the day before, so the learners were already familiar with the concept, but we hadn’t looked at a written invitation.

Read the text to your students at normal speed. Before you do this, tell them they need to write down key words  – don’t try to write every word! These will probably be nouns and verbs. They compare their key words to a partner. If they don’t have much at all, read it one more time, but no more.

Learners now work in pairs or small groups to construct a text which is a complete piece of logical English. You can decide how similar you want them to make it to the original text. My students don’t focus on accuracy, and aren’t very good at ‘stealing’ good English from other places to use in their own texts, so I wanted them to produce a text which was as similar as possible to the original. This prompts learners to discuss/consider language a lot more than is usual in class, and they are generally very engaged.

(I gave my students the first line ‘Hi Marek’ and the last ‘Niko’ so that they weren’t too confused about the names.)

Finally, ask them to compare their text to the original and note any differences. At this point students will often ask questions about why a particular form is used in the original – be prepared to answer these questions.

The extension

Now that learners have had time to thoroughly process the text, ask them to turn over all of their paper. They then work together to reconstruct the complete text on the board as a class (or in fairly large groups if you have a big class – 5-6 students).

Students compare their text with the original again. Ask them about any differences. For example, my students put ‘It’s starts’ not ‘It starts’ and ‘watch in The Castle’ instead of ‘watch the match in The Castle’. By asking them to explain why the original was different, they noticed the difference.

Clean the board, and repeat. The second time they worked together, my students produced the text almost perfectly, with only one capital letter and one article missing.

I tried it a third time, but here it went downhill, with quite a few more mistakes – it’s up to you how many times you do it!

The extension on the extension

To finish off the process I asked my students to write an invitation to another student in the class, using some of the phrases from the example. I suggested they try to remember the phrases first, then compare their invitation to the original. One student wrote something completely different  which didn’t make a lot of sense (there’s always one!) but most of them produced very well-written invitations. Completely by chance, each of my 6 students wrote to a different other student, so they then had a written ‘messaging’ conversation to arrange their meeting or offer excuses if they had refused.

At the end of the lesson, I asked how easy it was to write their own invitation, and pointed out to the students that this process of remember/write/check is something they could do at home. They were engaged throughout the lesson, and really annoyed with themselves when they made mistakes the second time they wrote on the board.

My Words – the new IH app

At the IH Online Conference 3 this morning a brand new app was launched. I’ve downloaded it, and have already started recommending it to my students.

It’s called ‘My Words’ and allows students to create their own personalised dictionaries in any of about 20 languages. For each word students can add the following:

  • translations in one or two languages;
  • a definition/example sentence;
  • a category (self-defined, so it could be e.g. furniture/food or week one/two or…);
  • the part of speech;
  • the pronunciation, recorded from anywhere, for example their teacher or an online dictionary, or even a film;
  • a photo, taken themselves.

Later, they can search for the words in a variety of ways, including by definition. This means that if they remember the definition but not the word, they can still find the word.

To delete a word, you need to click ‘list’ at the bottom, then swipe the word and a ‘delete’ button will appear.

The only drawback at the moment is that there is no way to rate the words so that only the most important words for you appear in the app. IH are looking for feedback on the app, so why not download it and let Sophie know what you think? sophie.montagne@ihworld.com

As soon as I restart my Chinese studies, I’ll be using it in earnest!

A revision game

On Friday I created a new revision game for my students. I hope you like it too!

Collect a series of mistakes your students make throughout the week/course, for example with tenses or collocations. Or choose a set of lexis you’ve recently taught. You need about 15 things.

Write a key word prompt at the side of the board for each of the mistakes. For example, if your students always say ‘I want to make a Masters’, your prompt could be ‘do a Masters’.

Turn it into a table, like so:
Table

Divide your class into teams of 4-5 students. I had two teams, so there were two empty columns, but if you have more, add more columns! You need one column for each team.

Each team needs a mini whiteboard, a pen and a board rubber. If you don’t have mini whiteboards, you could put a piece of paper in a plastic wallet and give the students tissues to rub out the sentences after they have scored for them.

Now that you are all set up, this is how the game goes:

  • Each team chooses a prompt from the table (they can use the prompts in any order).
  • They write a sentence using the prompt correctly. I was very strict and told my students that all punctuation had to be correct too.
  • They show the teacher the sentence. If they are the first team to use that prompt and the sentence is perfect, they get 2 points. If they are the second team to use it, they get 1 point. If there is a mistake, they don’t get any points. Instead, put a little cross in the corner of the box. They have to rub out that sentence, work on a different one, and then they can come back and try that prompt again later. (With 4 teams, give 4 points for the first team, 3 for the second and so on)
  • When one team has used all of the prompts, the game stops and the points are added up. The team with the most points wins.

They can use more than one prompt in the same sentence if they want to. Remind the students that it’s a race, and that they have to be quick to make sure that the other team(s) doesn’t beat them to all the high point scores!

This was my board at the end of a pre-intermediate class.

My board

Examples of sentences I accepted were:

  • When were you born?
  • I have lived in Newcastle for a year.
  • I like playing noughts and crosses.

Sentences I didn’t accept include:

  • Can I go home (no question mark)
  • He is a student. (not the same as on the board – I wanted to make sure they remember you can use ‘he’s’)
  • My career is teaching. (no ‘in’)

The next teacher saw the game, and asked me to explain it to her, so we played it with her upper intermediate class too.

Upper int boardIt took about half an hour to play. By making the students write a completely new sentence each time they make a mistake, instead of editing what they just wrote, they have to really focus on accuracy. The students were engaged, and really wanted to be accurate, because they knew they wouldn’t get any points if they weren’t!

I hope that all makes sense. Let me know if you have any adaptations.

Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out (infinitives of purpose)

If you’ve never seen Wallace and Gromit, here’s a clip from ‘A Grand Day Out’, the programme which introduced them to the world and won the creators an Oscar:

I created this worksheet to revise infinitives of purpose with elementary students, and to share one of my favourite parts of British culture. It is designed to keep the students paying attention all the way through the episode. You can either give each student the whole sheet, or cut it in half so that you have two different worksheets. You may want to pre-teach some vocabulary, such as ‘rocket’, ‘match’, ‘drawer’, ‘escape’…

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You have to log in, but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Apologies for the lack of numbers! The answers are:

Left half (in order as they appear in the episode)

To go to the moon.

To get cheese/To go on holiday.

To start the rocket./To light a match./To light a fuse./To get crackers.

To see what happens./To get something out./To open the drawer.

To ski

To escape from the robot.

Right half (in order as they appear in the episode)

To get some cheese.

To find a holiday./To organise a holiday.

To protect their eyes.

To catch the ball.

To get a telescope/a club/glue/paper./To put the cup in it.

To ski.

If you want to do more work with Wallace and Gromit in class, there are activity books accompanying a couple of the episodes, although I can only seem to find the one for The Wrong Trousers at the moment.

Enjoy!

Photo box

While I was doing my CELTA, and before I knew about eltpics, I saved photos from magazines in an old biscuit tin. Shortly after my CELTA, I put said tin in my mum’s attic, where it stayed for the three years I was in Brno. When I came back to the UK to work in Newcastle, I thought it was time to retrieve some of the materials banished to the attic and try to make use of them. It took another eight months for me to finally find a good use for the photo box, and they have now become a staple of my current beginner classes. You could substitute eltpics or pictures drawn by students. Here are some of the ways I have used them.

With all of the activities, I modelled first, then the students copied the model to do the activity. I have never given explicit instructions as the students would not understand them at this level.

What’s her name? What’s his name?

After introducing the structure ‘What’s _____ name?’, elicit a selection of names and write them on slips of paper. Save them after the class (I keep mine in the tin with the pictures) as they will come in useful again and again. I wrote girls’ names in pink and boys’ names in blue to help the students. They don’t have to be English names – my students just decided that was what they wanted, and all of the names shown in these pictures come from them.

Ask the students to attach names to the photos by asking ‘What’s his/her name?’ They could also pick up a photo and a name to take on the identity of that person.

Other structures we practised here were:

  • His/Her name is (not) _______.
  • Is his/her name _______? Yes, it is. No, it isn’t.
  • He/She is (not)  ________.
  • Is he/she ________? Yes, he/she is. No, he/she isn’t.
  • (By grouping pictures or using ones with more than one person) What are their names?
  • Their names are ______ and ________.
  • Are their names ______ and ________? Yes, they are. No, they aren’t.
  • How do you spell _____?
Names and photos

What’s his name? What’s her name?

Where is she from? Where is he from?

Using flags, add an extra stage after eliciting the name. You can practise similar structures to those above, and by including pictures of objects you can add structures with ‘it’ too.

  • Where is he/she/it/Jake from?
  • Where does he/she/it/Kate come from?  (introduced by my students)
  • Is he/she/it/Ivy from _______? Yes, he/she/it is. No, he/she/it isn’t.
  • Does he/she/it/Harry come from ________? Yes, he/she/it does. No, he/she/it doesn’t.
  • What country is he/she/it/James from?
  • He/She/It/Lucy is (not) from __________.
  • He/She/It/David comes/doesn’t come from ____________.
Pictures, names and flags

Where is he from? Where is she from?

Colours

Spread a selection of pictures, both people and objects on the table. Ask students to point to a picture showing a particular colour: blue/red…. You could make it harder by including more than one colour in your requirement: blue and green. You could also practise ‘What colour is it?’

Objects/Possessives

First, revise the name questions as above – I normally get students to do this as they are assigning names to the photos. Then, put an object with each name/photo pair. You can use this to practise:

  • Does he/she/Michael have ________? Yes, he/she does. No, he/she doesn’t.
  • He/She/Jack has __________.
  • He/She/John doesn’t have _________.
  • What does he/she/Anna have?
  • Do they have ______? Yes, they do. No, they don’t.
  • They (don’t) have ________.
  • What do they have?

We played a guessing game using the ‘doesn’t have’ structure. One person said a negative sentence, for example ‘He doesn’t have matches.’ The others were allowed one guess (only!), before the first student said another sentence. The other students had to work out which person it was using the fewest guesses.

With the same photos and flashcards, we also practised:

  • It is his/her/their/Jack’s _________.
  • They are his/her/their/Jack’s ________.
  • Is it his/her/their/Jack’s __________? Yes, it is. No, it isn’t.
  • Are they his/her/their/Jack’s ________? Yes, they are. No, they aren’t.
Names and objects

What does he have? What does she have?

Clothes

You could do practise any of the structures listed for ‘objects’ above. You could also practise the obvious structure of: ‘What is he/she wearing?’ ‘What are they wearing?’ I introduced colours as adjectives at this point:

  • She is wearing a grey jacket.
  • He is wearing a black jacket.
  • Michael is wearing a white shirt.

The course

I have managed to teach at least 50 hours of lessons over the last five weeks based largely on a combination of these pictures, some flashcards, a (non-interactive) whiteboard, and trips to the school cafe to introduce other students. The pictures have formed the backbone of drilling and repetition, while providing variety through their mix and match nature. I’ve had a maximum of four students, so this variety has been important. I will continue to use them throughout the course, and will share any more activities as and when we do them. If you have any more ideas on how to use the pictures, with any level (not just beginners), please feel free to leave a comment.

Enjoy!

Creating two PowerPoint games

Most people think that PowerPoint is just for presentations that put you to sleep. In fact, it’s a very versatile tool and fairly easy to get a lot out of, despite seeming a little scary at first glance. Here I’ll show you how to create two simple PowerPoint games.

Hidden Pictures

I made this example a while ago, and if I did it again I’d probably use #eltpics! Although it doesn’t look like much here, if you download it you can see that each time you click a box disappears, gradually revealing a picture and a word underneath. As this happens, students call out or write down what they think the picture/word are.
http://www.slideshare.net/SandyMillin1/adjectives-for-people-hidden-picture-game

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

This is great for revising vocabulary especially with young learners, who get very into it – definitely a stirrer rather than a settler! It could also be used for introducing or revising modals of speculation – as you reveal a picture, students have to guess what’s in the picture, or what the people are doing.

This is how to make  it. I’m using PowerPoint for Mac, so my screen may look a little different from yours, but the names of the menus are normally fairly similar – click on a few things and see what happens! If it really doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll add screenshots from a Windows computer.

Creating the basic template
  1. Open PowerPoint. You will normally see a title slide already in your presentation. Delete it.
  2. Add a blank slide. Insert new slide > Blank
  3. Decide how many boxes you want covering your picture – I would recommend four or six, unless the picture is quite complicated, in which case nine could work. Generally students guess quite quickly, so lower numbers are better to avoid boredom.
  4. Insert a rectangle. Shapes > rectangles then click and drag the box where you want it to appear.
    One box
  5. Copy the box using CTRL + C (CMD + C on a Mac).
  6. Paste it three, five or eight more times, using CTRL + V (CMD + V on a Mac)Four boxes stacked
  7. Click and drag the boxes so that they fill the slide.Four boxes grid
  8. As you can see, my boxes don’t quite fill the slide. This normally happens, so resize the boxes to fit or to leave space for some visible text at the bottom of the slide.
  9. If you want to, you can change the boxes so that they are different colours. This makes it easier for you and your students to see at a glance how many boxes there are and what part of the picture they cover. To do this, double-click on the box you want to change. A box should appear. Edit the ‘fill’ and the ‘line’ to the colours you want.Four boxes coloured
  10. Next you need to animate the boxes so that they will disappear. Click on the box you want to disappear first. Then click Slide Show >Custom Animation, select ‘exit animation’ and choose the style of animation you want to use. I would recommend something simple, as you don’t want it to distract from the purpose of your activity. I would also suggest using the same style of animation for all four boxes. There is normally a preview so you can see what happens with each effect.Exit animation
  11. Repeat this process for all of the boxes on your slide.Exit animations
  12. Once one slide is ready, copy and paste it a few times so that you have as many slides as you need. Multiple slides
  13. To make the slides a little less predictable, go to some of the slides and change the order of the animation so that the boxes disappear in a different order. On my version of PowerPoint, you do this by selecting the name of the shape (‘rectangle 5’ in the example below) and using the arrow keys to move it up or down the order.Animation order
  14. If you want to reuse this type of game for different purposes, save what you have now as a template so you can reuse it without having to start again from scratch.
Adding your content
  1. Choose the images you want to use in your game. I would recommend using #eltpics as you don’t have to worry about infringing copyright, as long as you credit the photographer. To find out how to download #eltpics, watch this screencast. I’m going to use the jobs set in this example. Collect the images that you want to use in one place – I normally put them on my desktop, then delete them when I’ve finished. Don’t forget to record the source!
  2. Returning to your PowerPoint, insert the first image on the first slide. Insert > Picture > From file > [your file name] It should appear on top of the boxes. Resize/move it if necessary.Farmer slide
  3. Right-click on the image, then arrange > send to back. It should now have magically disappeared behind the boxes.
    If you want to see it again, right-click on any of the coloured boxes, choose ‘send to back’ and you should see a corner of the photo. You can then right-click on the photo and choose ‘bring to front’ to see it again.Send to back
  4. Add any words you need, as well as the source of the photo in text boxes. Insert >Text box, then click and drag where you want it to appear. Farmer slide with text
  5. Right-click on the text boxes and choose  arrange > send to back again.Send to back text
  6. Repeat this process for all of your other slides, so that you now have photos and text on all of them.
  7. Preview your slideshow to check how it works. Slide show > View slide show You might want to change the order of the box animation on some slides if it is too easy to guess what the hidden image shows. For example, if removing the orange box first shows the farmer’s body, it will probably be a lot easier to guess than removing the blue box first.
  8. Save.
  9. Play!

Here is the finished version of my example. Click to download it: Jobs hidden pictures game eltpics

Flash vocabulary

In this game, pictures or words flash up on the screen for a few seconds each. Afterwards students write as many of them as they can remember. It is great for revising old vocabulary, especially if it is a few lessons old.

Manual version
  1. Choose the images you want to use in your game. I would recommend using #eltpics as you don’t have to worry about infringing copyright, as long as you credit the photographer. To find out how to download #eltpics, watch this screencast. I’m going to use the same photos as above from the jobs set in this example. Collect the images that you want to use in one place – I normally put them on my desktop, then delete them when I’ve finished. Don’t forget to record the source!
    Alternatively, for every stage saying ‘images’ below, you can do the same with text boxes so that words flash on the screen.
  2. Open PowerPoint. You will normally see a title slide already in your presentation. Delete it.
  3. Add a blank slide. Insert new slide > Blank
  4. Insert the images on the slide. Insert > Picture > From file > [your file name] Resize/move them so that they are all arranged on one slide. Alternatively, you could place each image on a different slide.All pictures
  5. Next you need to animate the pictures so that they will appear and disappear. Click on the picture you want to appear first. Then click Slide Show >Custom Animation, select ‘entrance effect’ and choose the style of animation you want to use. I would recommend something simple, as you don’t want it to distract from the purpose of your activity. I would also suggest using the same style of animation for all of the pictures. There is normally a preview so you can see what happens with each effect.
  6. With the same picture still selected, choose an ‘exit effect’.Appear disappear
  7. Repeat for all of the pictures.All animated
  8. Preview your slideshow to check how it works. Slide show > View slide show
  9. Save.
  10. Play!

You can now play the game by manually clicking through the images so that they stay on the screen for as long as you like. However, if you want the game to be a bit more automatic, you can now add timings.

Adding timings
  1. Click Slide Show > rehearse timings.
  2. Your game should appear as a full-screen slide show. Click through the pictures so that they stay on the screen for as long as you want them to. For this game, 2 or 3 seconds is probably enough.
  3. Once you have shown every picture and clicked out of the slide show, you should be given the option to save the timing to use in the future.

Here is the final version of my example, including timings. Jobs flash vocabulary game eltpics

I hope these two games are useful to you. Please let me know if any of the instructions are unclear.

Enjoy!

Watching movies

While at IATEFL Glasgow 2012, I was lucky enough to see Khulood Al-balushi’s presentation, in which she shared various ideas for using movies with your students, as well as offering advice on how to choose suitable movies, especially important in the Kingdom of Bahrain, where she works as a Curriculum Specialist at the Ministry of Education. I asked her to share her ideas via my blog, and she agreed. Over to Khulood:

How can you make your students benefit from watching movies they like ?

Since movies are a rich source for language learning and they are considered to be fun and enjoyable, here are some practical ideas that you can implement to make use of movies in the English Classroom:

Introductory activity

  • Make students watch a movie trailer of the movie you intend to use and present the following activity:
Trailer activity

This will help you motivate your students to watch and respond to the movie and can tell you if the movie is favored by the students. Otherwise you can look for a different movie.

Watching movie clips

You can make your students watch movie clips if the length of your lesson is short or if you intend to present a specific language skill such as reading, speaking, grammar or writing. The following are a few examples:

  • Students can watch a scene of the movie “The Cat in the Hat” and write down the process the cat uses to make cupcakes.
    Cat in the hat
  • Students watch a scene from the movie “Volcano” and answer the following question: “What would you do if you were in this situation?” to promote critical thinking and present a lesson about natural disasters.
    Volcano
  • Ask students to watch a scene from the movie” Cast Away” and ask them to think about the following question “What would you do if you were trapped on a remote island?” (critical thinking and second conditional)
    Cast Away
  • Students watch a scene from the movie “Titanic” and answer an activity that involves reading and vocabulary and promotes critical thinking by comparing the actual story and the selected scene. Click to download the activity: Titanic movie task
    Titanic
  • Students watch the movie trailer of the movie “Inkheart” and answer the following question: ” What if you had the power to bring a book to life by simply reading it aloud?” to promote speaking and critical thinking.
    Inkheart
  • For creative writing and speaking, you can show your students a clip from “Spy Kids 2” movie and ask them to imagine being in a virtual reality game and ask them to describe their game in writing and present it to their classmates.
    Spy Kids 2

Watching full-length movies

  • Students watch ” Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” and answer an activity that aims at discussing characters:
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Students watch the movie “Oliver” and read the book and then compare between the movie and the actual story by answering a given activity. Click to download the activity: The Movie versus the Book
    Oliver
  • Students watch the movie “Finding Nemo” and asked to produce a creative project such as drawing, creating bookmarks, designing a puppet show, performing a play…etc.
    Finding Nemo puppetsFinding Nemo bookmarks

Of course, all of these activities can be modified based on your needs and your students.

By: Khulood Al-balushi

Party games for vocabulary revision

This post has been contributed by Roya Caviglia as part of the simple games series. If you would like to contribute a game, let me know via a comment on the blog or through Twitter.

Roya is currently teaching in Hamburg, Germany and has recently completed her Delta. She is about to start as a Celta trainer-in-training. You can find her on Twitter or at http://languagelego.wordpress.com/ She’s new to the world of blogging, and this is her first guest post. I think you’ll agree: it’s a great start!

Teaching aim: Vocabulary revision

How to play:

1. Ask each student to write down 3 or 4 words, each word on a separate small piece of paper. Make sure the learners choose vocabulary that they understand the meaning of and that they are sure the others in the class will know too (vocab that has come up recently in class is ideal). They fold up the pieces of paper and pop them into a hat/bowl.

2. Split the class into 2 teams. Ask them to choose team names. Then proceed with the following 3 rounds:

Round One – Taboo
Team A start. One of the team takes the bowl of words. They have to take out a word and describe it to their team, without ever saying the word (just like taboo). When their team guesses a word correctly they get to keep it. The same player then takes another word and continues for 2 minutes (teacher is the timer, time can be adjusted if necessary).

It helps if Team B listen carefully to the words that come up because this will help them in later rounds.

When the time is up Team A keep the words they won and pass the bowl to Team B which then have 2 minutes to collect as many words as possible in the same way.

Then back to Team A who continue with another player describing the words. This goes on until the bowl is empty. Count the scores, each word = one point. Scores go on the board.

Round Two – Pictionary
Team B start. Round two is just like round one, except that the players draw the words instead of describing them. This can be done on the board so everyone can see. Just like pictionary, no talking, letters or numbers are allowed.

Round Three – One word 
In this round, the players can only use one word to describe the word on the paper (obviously not the one on the paper! But usually a descriptive word gets connected to the piece of vocabulary at an earlier point in the game).

There could also be a charades round, where players act out the word, good for young learners or for energising tired adults!

These games are learner-centred and the words are chosen by the students not the teacher, making for a really meaningful and memorable review.

Party games for teachers by @CliveSir

Party games for teachers by @CliveSir at http://flickr.com/eltpics

Spelling game

My intermediate class were really struggling with spellings, so I decided to play a game to make them a little more fun. I have lots of different word games at home, including Scrabble, which include tiles with different letters on them. I also have cut-up letters making up three complete alphabets.

We put two small tables in the middle of the room with the letters spread out on them, and all of the other tables around the edge of the room. Each pair of students was allocated one table.

I called out a word from pre-prepared list. The pairs had to work together to take letters and spell out the word on their table. When they had finished they stood by their table. There were five pairs, so the first team to finish with a correct spelling got five points, the next four and so on down to one point for the last team to get the spelling correct.

As you can see from this photo, the students were all involved, and the most common words we spelt during the game were much more accurate after the class 🙂

Spelling game in action

20121109-140717.jpg

20121109-140740.jpg

Passing pens

I learnt this during a conference at the Park School in Brno, Czech Republic. As will become a theme in these posts, I don’t remember whose session it was, but if it was you, please let me know!

Coloured pencils (bird's eye)

All you need is one of these (photo by @aClilToClimb on flickr.com/eltpics)

All students require to play this game is one pen or pencil each. If you can, push the furniture to the side of the room and have everyone stand in the middle holding their pen. I normally join in the game and demonstrate it at the beginning.

Think of a vocabulary item you have recently introduced to the class. For example, we have looked at verb + noun combinations like “make a sacrifice” or “overcome your shyness”. Your pen ‘becomes’ that vocabulary item. Every student thinks of  a vocabulary item but does not say it yet (this is important!)

As an example, pass your pen (A) to a student and say your words. They should give you their pen (B) and say their item. Then repeat this with another student, giving them your new pen (B), with them giving you their pen (C).

Generally this is enough for my students to get the idea, but you could continue to repeat the demonstration if they are having trouble. When they understand how the swapping works, return the pens to their original owners and ask everyone to think of a new vocabulary item.

Everyone mingles, swapping pens and passing on their vocabulary items. If someone forgets the item attached to the pen they have (very easy to do!), they should just pick something they know is going round and continue the game. If they get their own pen with a different item attached to it, they shouldn’t change it back to their original phrase, but should pass on what they got. They can swap with the same person more than once, as it will be with different pens.

After a few minutes stop the mingle, and get everyone to stand in a circle with the last pen they got.

Starting with the pen you have (if you joined in), tell the students the phrase you ‘received’ with it. Then find out whose pen it is and what phrase they attached to it at the start of the game.If the two are the same, give the class a point. If they are different, no point. Continue round the circle, giving one point for every pen which finished with the same phrase attached to it.

Give the pens back to their original owners, everyone thinks of new collocations and repeat the game. As a class, they shold try to get more points by keeping pens with the same vocabulary items when passing them on.

It’s loud, fun and quite challenging!

Giant noughts and crosses

Sometimes you forget that the activities you use all the time might not be known to other teachers at all. To that end, I would like to share some of my favourite classroom games in a series of posts, and I invite you to do the same.

On to the first entry:

Giant noughts and crosses

I learnt this game (like many I will share) during an observation at IH Brno. Unfortunately I can’t remember who I was observing, so if it was you, please make yourself known!

Start by dividing the board in squares. Aim for more than 25 to give the students plenty of options later in the game.

In each square write an item of vocabulary which your class has recently studied. You could also ask the students to write these up. Your board should now look something like this:

Ready to play

Divide your class into two or three groups. Each group needs a pen and paper or a mini whiteboard if you have them. For two groups, one is noughts and one is crosses. For three, add triangles (or whatever other shape you like!)

Ask the class to choose a number between six and twelve. For example, nine. This is the minimum number of words in the sentences they must produce.

Choose one group to start (A). That group selects any word from the board. Every group (A, B and C; not just A) has two minutes to write a sentence including that vocabulary item. In this example all sentences they produce should have nine or more words.

When every group has a sentence, the group which chose the word (A) reads their sentence out. If the rest of the class think they have used the vocabulary item correctly, they can mark their nought/cross on the word. If not, the other team can try by reading out their sentence. If neither team has a correct sentence, the square is available for another turn, but they must write new sentences.

The aim of the game is to win lines of three squares, horizontally, vertically or diagonally. For every line of three, the team gets one point. At the end of the game, the winning team is the one with the highest number of points.

The game in progress

If you want to add an extra challenge, groups are only allowed to include each square in a maximum of two lines. In the photo above, that means triangles cannot use ‘rise’ in another line, circles can’t use ‘realize’ and crosses can’t reuse ‘actually’.

It is great revision, and can easily fill a two-hour lesson.

What are your favourite games? If you would like to share one as a guest post here, let me know and we can arrange it.

Business: a lesson plan

On Monday I had a cover class with an upper intermediate business group I had not met before. I decided to start with a word and see how the lesson developed. This was the result:

business

We started with just the word ‘business’ on the board. The class discussed what this word meant to them, then added the results to a brainstorm on the board. We talked about any problem vocab and added a few extra words. One student wrote ‘Dow Jones’ so we added the names of other financial indexes and talked about how they worked. Using as much of the vocabulary on the board, students then worked in pairs to create a definition of business.

business?

I then added a question mark, and the students talked about what business should be. They came up with five categories in which businesses should bear responsibility:

  • strategy
  • sustainability
  • people
  • fair trade and money (they felt both were smaller categories)
  • society

Each pair took responsibility for one category and brainstormed specific areas of responsibility within their category. We then set up an onion ring system. [One person from each pair stands in an inner ring facing out, and the other stands in an outer ring facing in. To start with everyone faces their original partner (from the previous activity). One ring then moves round to face the next person in the circle. They share ideas and try to add to them for a specific time, before the whole ring moves round to the next people. By the end of the activity, one person in the inner ring should have spoken to every person in the outer ring and vice versa.] After speaking to five people and hearing about all of the other categories, the pairs sat together again and fed back on what they head and anything which they added to their own category.

The final step in the lesson was to create a short mission statement based on the ideas. We had a quick look at Ben & Jerry’s mission statement and chose some useful sentence stems to put on the board. The pairs then turned their notes into sentences for the mission statement. I typed them up after class, and the resulting statement is now on the board, and below for you to see (click to enlarge):

MIssion Statement of B2 business class

MIssion Statement of B2 business class 2

You can also download a copy.

If I had continued to teach the class for longer, I might have used this mission statement as the first in a series of lessons in which we set up a class company. The mission statement would form the foundation of any ‘decisions’ we made during the project.

I did feel that although there was a lot of speaking and a little writing in this class it wasn’t as challenging as it could have been for an upper intermediate class. I would be grateful for any suggestions to improve it.

Revising numbers and letters

I did this activity in an IELTS class this morning as a fun way to practise listening part 1, where you have to write information down including numbers and letters. These could be product codes, reference numbers and other combinations of numbers and letters.

You could also use it with lower level students to practise the alphabet or vocabulary you’ve studied recently.

Dictate a place name, interspersed with letters and numbers. This was my example (be careful with ‘o’ and zero):

w1o3lv4e79r12h6amp8t10on

Students should write it down as just a series of letters and numbers. Tell them it’s a place which they have to find by underlining the letters. The answer here is ‘Wolverhampton’, the town where I grew up.

They then think of a place name and add some numbers to it to dictate to a partner. They could also choose some vocabulary from a recent class, names of people, or reverse it by having a date with letters interspersed in it.

Revamping writing

In a recent class my students did some writing starting with the (elicited) sentence:

Tom was teaching English at IH in England two years ago.

This was to finish off a week during which we had studied relative clauses, and I hoped that students would include at least one or two of these in their own writing. It has to be said that my introduction to the writing was probably not the best ever seen in a language classroom, and this may have had something to do with the final result. However, since the students are in an Intermediate class, the general standard of their writing needed to be improved anyway.

I took the writing home at the weekend and came up with a set of questions, reproduced below.

Before the class, I cut them up so that each question was on one slip of paper. I turned them over and numbered them, so that the students could see which ones they had already responded to.

In class, I first asked the students to break down their writing onto small pieces of paper, so that one piece of paper had one clause (though I used the term ‘idea’ here). The examples here are from the end of the lesson, after they had worked on the text:

Examples of highlighted slips of paper 1

Examples of highlighted slips of paper 2

This made it easier for them to move the ideas around in the story – more like a puzzle than a piece of writing!

Students then worked through the questions in the same groups which they wrote the original stories in. Once they had a final version, they rewrote it on a new piece of paper. For the fast finishers, I marked a few errors for them to look at.

As the students themselves agreed, the new piece of writing was much richer. They still remember some of the questions I asked them when producing writing now (2 weeks later), although obviously not everything!

With the permission of my students, here are the before and after versions of their stories (click to make images larger):

Before and after 1

Before and after 2

Before and after 3

Before and after 4

Hope that all makes sense! I’d be interested to here if you’ve tried anything similar with your students.

Motivation Stations

I’m currently teaching a B1 Intermediate class, 20 hours a week. As you may have experienced, students at intermediate level have sometimes lost their focus when it comes to learning English: they know that they can get by with the language they have, and it can be difficult to find the motivation to continue studying.

My group asked me if we could look at some more meaty discussion topics this week, and while I was searching for some prompts, I came across the excellent Talking Points series of worksheets from tefl.net. One of them was about ‘Learner Motivation‘ and it seemed like exactly the kind of thing I was looking for.

At the same time, I remembered a talk from TED.com by Matt Cutts, called ‘Try Something New for 30 Days‘, which is helpfully available with subtitles.

I decided to combine these and throw in a few more discussion points, dividing the students into four groups and the tasks into four ‘stations’.  Students moved around from one station to the next every 10-15 minutes. They watched the video using my iPad, but if you don’t have access to anything to play the video on, you could ask students to watch it before the class or give them that section for homework.

I had a paper version of the Powerpoint presentation, not including the first two slides or the last one. To save paper, you could print them as 2-per-page handouts (on the print screen, find the ‘print slides’ option, then select ‘handouts, 2 per page) which should be big enough for students to see clearly.

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Students could also be given the option to work through the presentation themselves, and think/write about the topics at home, ready for discussion in class.

With 10-15 minutes per station, none of the pairs did more than the first three activities from the ‘Learner Motivation’ sheet, so once they had all talked about every topic and we had discussed the final slide as a class, we went back to activity four and looked at how students could motivate themselves to work on their English, especially to learn vocabulary and to do their homework.

The students were motivated 🙂 and enjoyed discussing the topic. They were particularly interested in the video and the motivational quotes. We started the week with this lesson, and they have mentioned it again and again, especially the phrase ‘Carpe Diem’.

So seize the day and enjoy this lesson!

Immigration: Belongings

Last week I stumbled across an excellent photo article from the New York Times about immigrants to New York City and the objects they choose to bring with them. This is the lesson I created based on the article, but it is full of other possibilities too. I hope you find it useful, and I look forward to hearing what you decide to do with it.

Immigration belongings screenshot

I started off with the powerpoint presentation below. I displayed it on the interactive whiteboard, but you could print off the pictures and put them around the room instead. First, students were asked to speculate on what is in the pictures, and naturally they focus on the objects. Next, I asked them what links the pictures together, accepting any suggestions. I then told them that these were objects which immigrants to New York City brought with them. I then asked them to make notes about their thoughts on the gender, nationality, age, job and family of the owners of each object.

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

I then gave the students the texts and asked them to read quickly to match each text to the photos. Some of them needed quite a lot of persuading to skim read and not try to understand everything!

You can find the correct answers by looking at the original article online. The students then had to check their predictions about the people by reading the text in a bit more detail. When a colleague reused the materials, she added a worksheet with a table with spaces for each item of information, which worked better than the notes which my students made.

In the penultimate step of the two-hour lesson, I divided the ‘stories’ up around the class, so that each pair of students had two people to read about. They had to create three to five questions about each person, not including the information we had already talked about (nationality, job etc) and write them down.

Finally, they mingled and asked the other students their questions.

For homework, I asked them to choose a story from the comments board, take notes on it and bring them to class the next day to tell the other students about.

A couple of days later I was working on relative clauses with the same class, and created the following gapfill to help them practise which relative pronoun to use:

The texts could also be used to practise narrative tenses, reported speech, time phrases and much more. You could also use it to lead into a discussion on immigration.

Enjoy!

Forms of the infinitive: FCE Key Word Transformations

Here’s a short worksheet I made for my FCE students to practise different forms of the infinitive ready for the Use of English Key Word Transformations.

We worked through it together and talked about the different forms – it does need a little more explanation than is given on the sheet. I used this webpage as inspiration for the sentences. It was one of the only ones I could find explaining more than just the base and perfect forms of the infinitive. If anyone has any other links or online exercises, please let me know.

Feel free to download the sheet and use it with your own students:

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Enjoy!

Useful links for Business English teaching

One of my colleagues, Katy Simpson-Davies, is moving to Dubai, where she will be teaching business English. She asked me for some links to give her some ideas about how to improve her teaching for business, and we decided it would make a good blog post too.

The list is by no means exhaustive, just what I could find in my bookmarks and on Twitter when I was emailing Katy. She added more links once she’d had time to investigate, so this post is a joint effort. It is not intended to be a list of materials (although some of the sites include them), but rather ways to find out how to teach business English. Feel free to add other ideas in the comments!

Methodology and Resources

For learners

  • Christine Burgmer’s blog for business learners is a great resource, full of short and sweet posts to keep students interested.
  • Business Spotlight is a German-based magazine which also has an online arm. The website includes a number of blogs for business learners.

All of these links are on my diigo (social bookmarking) tag for business English, to which I constantly add new links.

I found out about all of these links through Twitter, where there is a huge community of teachers from all over the world. They are supportive and always happy to help other teachers out. To find out how to join this community, click here.

So now, grab a drink and something to eat, and get surfing!

Coffee, a snack and the internet

Photo taken from eltpics by @aClilToClimb

P.S. Good luck Katy!

Essay writing checklist

I wrote this worksheet based on problems my students have been having with the FCE Writing Part 2 essay-writing task. Feel free to download it, use it with your own students and let me know what I need to change / improve. It fit onto five pages on my computer, but has expanded to six on slideshare. If you adjust the margins once you’ve downloaded, you’ll save a bit of paper! 🙂

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Here are the answers:

Essay writing checklist answers

Enjoy!

Key Word Transformations with Modals of Speculation/Deduction

We’ve been studying modals of speculation and deduction in class today. They are very often included in FCE Part 4 (Key Word Transformations). I couldn’t find any examples of this exercise which only tested these modals, so I made my own. If you have a link to a similar exercise, please let me know. Also, please feel free to add your own sentences. I wrote these ones quickly during a break, so was a bit short on inspiration! (I added a few after class using sentences my students gave me as a jumping-off point)

1.
I’m sure he’s not Michael Jackson. He died a few years ago!

BE

He _______________________ because he died a few years ago.

2.
It’s possible that in the sales cameras will be cheap enough for me to afford one.

ABLE

I __________________________ a camera in the sales if they are cheap enough.

3.
I think Sarah isn’t very ill, because I saw her shopping this morning.

BE

Sarah ____________________ because I saw her shopping this morning.

4.
Perhaps Filip is from the Czech Republic – he speaks Czech very well.

COULD

Filip ________________________ the Czech Republic because his Czech is very good.

5.
He is so rich that I am sure he is always happy.

MUST

He is so rich that ________________ happy.

6.
He looks so pale that I’m sure he has seen a ghost.

MUST

He _________________ ghost because now he looks very pale.

7.
I think Alice worked at a hotel last summer, but I’m not sure.

MIGHT

Alice ________________ at a hotel last summer.

8.
Jana speaks excellent Finnish so I’m sure she’s lived in Finland at some point.

HAVE

Jana ______________________ Finland at some point because she speaks excellent Finnish.

9.
Adam is so loud now that I’m sure he wasn’t a quiet child!

BEEN

Adam ____________________ a quiet child because he’s so loud now.

10.
She is so scared of dogs, that maybe a dog bit her when she was little.

BITTEN

She is so scared of dogs that she _____________________ a dog when she was little.

11.
I know he wasn’t in London on Saturday because I saw him in Newcastle.

HAVE

He _______________________ in London on Saturday because I saw him in Newcastle.

12.
She was so happy on Monday morning that I’m sure she had a good weekend.

HAD

She was so happy on Monday morning that _______________________ a good weekend.

13.
I think Will’s tired because he didn’t sleep much yesterday.

COULD

Will ______________________ because he didn’t sleep much yesterday.

14.
She was probably in a hurry because she forgot to buy a birthday present for her friend,

MIGHT

She forgot to buy a birthday present for her friend and that ___________________ she was in a hurry.

Answers

  1. can’t be Michael Jackson
  2. might be able to buy
  3. can’t be very ill
  4. could be from
  5. he must always be
  6. must have seen a
  7. might have worked
  8. must have lived in
  9. can’t have been
  10. must have been bitten by
  11. can’t have been
  12. she must have had
  13. could be tired
  14. might have been why

Please feel free to correct my answers if you notice a mistake too!

Enjoy!

The Vicar of Dibley meets Johnny Depp

The Vicar of Dibley is one of my all-time favourite comedies. I prepared this vocabulary worksheet for a short episode made for Red Nose Day featuring Johnny Depp. I’m just using it as a bit of Friday afternoon fun, since the students have been working hard all week. If anyone wants to write comprehension questions, I’m happy to add them to the post 🙂

Warning: do not watch/read if you are easily offended. There are some rude words included in the sheet as the double entendres they create are the key to many of the jokes.

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

The answers are here (click to enlarge):

Enjoy!

Here’s a page of notes I made after the lesson. At the top are some extra idioms to teach the students. At the bottom are some possible discussion questions.

VIcar of Dibley extension

The £100 challenge

This was something I did a few weeks back with a group of Elementary students. It could probably be adapted for your students without too much trouble.

We spent a couple of days talking about types of shop and what you could buy from them. I then gave them a time limit and sent them off into the local shopping centre in pairs. They had to decide what they would spend their £100 on and take photos of each item. The pair who got closest to £100 and had the best reasons for their purchases were the winners, as decided by the other students in the group. They really enjoyed it and I hope your students do too 🙂

To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.

First Impressions

I haven’t posted on my blog much in the last couple of weeks as I’ve just left the Czech Republic after three years of working at IH Brno to move back to the UK for a year. I’ll be writing more about the move over the next couple of weeks, but until then, here’s a post I wrote for Ceri about First Impressions.

Introducing British (and Irish) accents

On my first teaching day at IH Newcastle, at least three different students said this to me:

My friend told me that if I can understand Geordie, I will be able to understand any English.

While I don’t know if this is necessarily true, it started an interesting discussion about accents, and the students observed that my accent was not a local one* (many of them are staying with host families). I decided to put together a set of materials to raise their awareness of the variety of accents in the UK. While it’s not comprehensive, it should provide a jumping off point for students to find out more.

In Class

  • Discuss the questions in small groups. (Almost all of my students wanted to speak English without other people knowing where they were from, prompting a quick side discussion on accent and identity)
  • Place the towns and cities on the map (sorry, no answer key, but Google will tell you if you don’t already know) 😉
  • Look at the paragraphs written in different accents/dialects. Compare them to the Standard English and find one feature of pronunciation plus one words which is particular to that accent (this was meant as a way to play with the accents, and show how different they can be.)
  • Watch and listen to the videos/sound clips (posted below, with links in the document too) and grade them according to the criteria in the table.
  • Mingle and compare your opinions to those of other students in the group.
  • For the final reading, divide the class in half. Half read the first two articles, the other half read the last article. The question is ‘How are these findings similar/different to your own opinions?’

The Videos

These were the best examples I could find, but feel free to add other suggestions to the comments.

Geordie: Gary Hogg – Funny Geordie Monologue

Brummie / Black Country: Allan Ahlberg – Talk Us Through It, Charlotte
External Link: http://www.poetryarchive.org/childrensarchive/ singlePoem.do?poemId=86

West Country: The Wurzels – I’ve Got a Brand New Combine Harvester

Scouse: Craig Charles interview

Tom Stalker is a boxer from Liverpool. In this link you can hear him talking about his preparations for London 2012.

Glaswegian: Regional Dialects Meme – Glasgow

Cockney: Michael Caine (being interviewed by Michael Parkinson)

Yorkshire: Michael Parkinson (interviewing Michael Caine)

Scottish (non-Glasgow): Scottish Voice-Operated Lift

Welsh: Tom Jones

Irish: Dara O’Briain – Controlling Children

Homework

The students went to the excellent British Library Sounds Familiar map, chose a person to listen to and made notes about their accent or dialect to discuss in class the following day.

Extension

Other links I shared on Edmodo were:

I used these materials with an Advanced group, but I think they should be OK for Upper Intermediate upwards, and you could even adapt them for Intermediate.

Enjoy!

*In case you’re interested, I grew up in Wolverhampton, but don’t have a Black Country accent. My family are from all over England, including Gloucester, Essex and the Wirral (near Liverpool). On my gap year I started to lose features of my Black Country accent, and this was consolidated when I went to Durham University. The last step was teaching in Paraguay, where I was teased (lightly!) for my pronunciation of words like ‘bus’ and ‘much’ – the only conscious change I’ve ever made to my accent. Now the Black Country features come and go. You can hear me talk here 😉

Weak Forms

It’s another #eltchat on pronunciation, so I thought I’d upload the worksheets I’ve been using recently to focus on weak forms with my students.

Common words which have weak and strong forms, with space to write a conversation underneath

Weak and strong forms table, with word clouds for students to see common weak form combinations.

Weak and strong forms dictogloss (recorded with my flatmate – teacher conversation / Croatia conversation)

Feel free to download them and use them. Please credit the source.

Enjoy!

“Every weekend I go on the cottage in the nature” (a.k.a. translations to combat L1 (Czech) interference and learn idioms)

The sentence in the title above is beloved of English teachers across the Czech Republic. It’s all due to L1 interference, as with many of these things. One of my classes asked me to help them notice their Czenglish mistakes and try to do something about them. I looked back over old writing and speaking notes and asked around in the staffroom to collate a list of common mistakes, then created the first three sets of materials below.

I asked the students to translate their versions of each group of sentences, trying to write small enough that they could write corrections in the box if necessary (I told them they would get a ‘clean’ version of the sheet later). I then showed them each group of words on the Powerpoint presentation and drilled any difficult sentences / any which they had all made a mistake with. We talked about why Czech people make these mistakes (on a sentence-by-sentence basis) and I encouraged them to highlight anything which they got wrong and need to learn. We also discussed the Czech equivalents (I crowdsourced these from my Czech friends on facebook, so feel free to correct any mistakes you find!). I sent them the presentation after the lesson so that they can look at it whenever they like.

Czech sentences for students to translate

Common Czenglish mistakes and how to correct them

Czenglish Powerpoint presentation

The second set of materials were adapted from the fascinating Omniglot website. I had to edit some of the English on there as not all of them were correctly translated. This was a final ‘fun’ lesson with a CAE group and we spent a long time discussing how to use the idioms and whether there are differences between the use of the equivalents in Czech and English. First, they attempted to translate any of the idioms which they knew already (not many!). I had cut up the ‘answers’ cards before class. They used them to find the rest of the phrases and checked them against my master list.

Czech idioms and their English equivalents (worksheet)

Czech idioms and their English equivalents (answers)

The final step was to play a game I learnt from Anette Igel. Lay the cards out as a board game, with the Czech on one side and the English on the other (back-to-back). Take a counter. Roll the die, move the counter, then translate the idiom you land on to the other language. For instance, if you land on “knedlik v krku”, you have to say “a frog in my throat”. If you are right, turn the card over so you can see the English side. The next person to land on it has to translate it back into Czech. We decided to award one point for each complete circle of the board you did. I lost by quite a long way 😉

The students really enjoyed playing the game, and learnt some more colourful language on the way.

Anette's translation game

Feel free to download / adapt these in any way you choose, and if you need any help or would like to know how to do a similar thing with your local language, please let me know in the comments below.

Enjoy!

CAE Speaking Part 3

Here is a presentation I made to help out my CAE students with their final preparation for the speaking exam. I hope your students find it useful too. I used some information from the Splendid Speaking website, which has some excellent tips for many Cambridge exams.

Articles Flowchart: Final Draft (I hope!)

Anybody who’s been following my blog is probably sick of this flowchart by now (first draft, second draft, third draft), but I’m planning for this to be the last post relating to it!

I’ve now used it in class, so have hopefully ironed out most of the problems. I corrected a couple of typos, an incorrect colour (which meant I miscounted the number of each article needed to complete the worksheet) and added a modifier to the musical instruments section. If there are any more, PLEASE let me know so I can annoy people with a fifth post!

Enjoy!

Articles Flowchart worksheets (.doc format)

Articles Flowchart answers (.doc format)

Articles Flowchart worksheet (.pdf format)

Articles Flowchart answers (.pdf format)

Mini reviews

If you have a few minutes between now and Wednesday 25th May 2011, I’d be really grateful if you could contribute to a collection of book/film reviews I’d like to use with my Advanced level students. I’m looking for your own opinions, rather than links online (as I could find them myself) 🙂

I’m trying to encourage them to use a larger range of adjectives than just good/bad/interesting/boring, so anything you could add would be great! They can be as long or as short as you like, and I would really appreciate some negative reviews too, as these are often neglected I think.

How to join in

  • Add a review to the comments in this post.
  • Post your review by adding a post-it note to this page in this link.
  • Record a short review using audioboo
  • Send me a review any other way you choose!
Thank you very much for joining in, and watch this space for a lesson plan showing how I used them.

Articles Flowchart: Third Draft (Student Worksheet)

Here’s the last draft (I hope!) of the flowchart (first draft, second draft), this time as a worksheet for use in class. The complete flowchart with all of the answers is in the second draft. Here’s an articles lesson plan I posted earlier.

It’s available for download, and I’d be interested to know if you use it in class/if there’s anything I should change. Please credit the source. Enjoy!

.docx format

.pdf format


Articles Flowchart: Second Draft

So here’s the second draft of the articles flowchart in two formats (.pdf and .doc). I posted the first draft earlier – thanks to @cerirhiannon for giving me some suggestions to improve it. They are downloadable (click ‘view on slideshare’ and download from there) and could be used as reference materials for your students to decide/learn how to use articles in English. If you think there is anything missing (it’s quite likely!) please let me know. I would be interested to know how you use the sheets. I also wrote a post with an articles lesson plan which you might like to look at.


Articles Flowchart: First Draft

I’ve just created this flowchart to help my Czech students choose the correct articles.

It’s not finished yet – when it is, I’ll upload a downloadable version. You can click the image to see it full-size, and your browser should let you zoom in and out.

I have two questions for you:

  • Does it make sense?
  • What have I forgotten? (I know there are some things, but I can’t think of them!)
Thanks!
Update: I posted the second draft this evening, taking into account feedback received on Twitter.

How to give presentations in English

I created this set of resources for an Intermediate-level group. We used them over a series of five 1-hour lessons, with opportunities during the lessons for students to personalise the phrases. After each lesson I used Edmodo to share the part of the presentation we had done so that students could go over it again at home.

Notes:

  • Although it looks like it says “an Internet”, when you download the presentation you will find “an Internet connection”
  • The video links should all take you to youtube.
  • The ‘structure’ slide is also clickable and takes you to the relevant section of the presentation.
  • The slides with the phrases look messy here, but when you download it you should see that they work as a series of elicitation prompts. To see the phrases without downloading and clicking through the entire presentation, you can look at the ‘Did you remember?’ slides. These are also the best ones for the students to print as they should contain all of the most useful information. I know that having completely gapped sentences is difficult for students that first time they see the presentation, but in the lesson I skipped past them to the ones with the first letters and told students they would be more useful when they looked at the slides again.

We finished the unit yesterday, and next week they will do their own presentations for assessment. I will record them and give feedback based on language and technique.

Feel free to download the materials and adapt them as you see fit (crediting the source please). They are designed to be a cross between teaching materials and a presentation that could present to your group, demonstrating the techniques.

I would be grateful for any feedback you can give me so that I can improve them for future groups.

Enjoy!

Emotions word clouds

I created these word clouds based on The Little Book of Feelings and Emotions which I received at a recent conference as promotional material from Oxford University Press.

I have been using them with my 1-2-1 post-Proficiency student, and we have two questions for you.

Which five-ten of these words/phrases would you be most likely to use?

Are there any which you would never use? Why not?

Thank you!

And as a bonus, I created a downloadable slideshow using the #eltpicsEmotions‘ set on Flickr…

Enjoy!

Spanish Train by Chris de Burgh (linking words for fluent speech)

Alright, I admit it. I love Chris de Burgh. And while this is very unfashionable, I’m not ashamed in the slightest!

This week I was doubly grateful to him for providing me with an interesting story for my students to listen to (following on from ‘Story Prompts with #eltpics‘ last week) and a way to revise linking words when speaking quickly.

I showed the class the first slide of the presentation and asked them to decide what the story of the song is. They had to include something about all of the pictures in their story.

Once they had shared the stories, they listened to the song to find out who had the closest version. (The link in the presentation should take you to the video below)

I then showed them the pronunciation slides and elicited the rules.

Finally they practised saying lines from their own copies of the lyrics.

As their homework, they should find a poem or song of their own and record it, paying particular attention to the linking sounds.

Other ‘story songs’ by Chris de Burgh that you might find interesting include:

Enjoy!

Describing graphs

Here is a set of worksheets I made last year. I used them over a series of lessons with various groups at Intermediate and Upper Intermediate level. (They may take a while to load on this page)
Some of the activities are taken from other sources, in which case they should always be credited. If you believe I have used something which is uncredited, please let me know.
Feel free to use and adapt the worksheets however you see fit. They can be used in whatever order you see fit. I have tried to arrange them here with the more specific items at the beginning and the general summaries at the end. If you think any of the answers are missing or any of the information is incorrect, please let me know too.
Enjoy!











Story Prompts with #eltpics

In April 2010 I attended a talk by Laura Patsko at the IH Prague Conference about storytelling in an adult classroom. This week I finally got round to adapting it to make use of some #eltpics (pictures for teachers by teachers which can be used under a Creative Commons licence) and thought I would share the presentation and the lesson plan with you. Feel free to use it however you like. (My context was an Advanced group, but it could be used with other levels)

I showed them the first slide of the presentation and told them we were going to look at six pictures and talk about the ideas in the word cloud. I copied the cloud onto each picture so that they would have some ideas.

Once they had talked about each picture and I had given them any extra vocabulary they needed, they voted on the most interesting picture. I copied and pasted it onto the final slide, right-clicked on it and chose ‘send to back’. We were revising narrative tenses, used to and would, hence the orange box, but you could change it or delete it entirely.

I told the class to imagine that this picture was an image taken from the midpoint of a film. They were going to create the story of the film. Half of the class worked on the story leading up to the picture, the rest worked on the story after the picture. They were allowed to take a few notes, but could not write out the whole story.

After about fifteen minutes I then reorganised the groups. Each new group had one ‘beginning’ student and one ‘ending’ student. They then had to put their halves together to create one logical complete story.

The final step in the process was for each pair to tell their story to the group. I recorded it using Audacity and emailed it to the students after class. Next week we will focus on their use of narrative tenses, used to and would based on the recordings.

One-to-one variation

I also (unintentionally) taught the same lesson 1-2-1 when only one student turned up from a class of five! We followed the same process, but got through it much faster, finishing all of these steps in about 30 minutes. Once we’d recorded the story, the student then typed out what she had said. We then went through a series of drafts, each time focussing on one or two changes, for example tenses, punctuation and choice of vocabulary. This is the document we produced based on the picture of the two girls at the castle door:

What worked

  • The students found the pictures interesting and were motivated to discuss them.

  • They enjoyed being able to create their own stories.
  • They used their English in a natural way, so it recording their stories really showed the areas which they need to focus on.
  • In the 1-2-1 lesson, the student was given an intensive personalised focus on her errors. She also learned about punctuation in a relevant way, particularly the punctuation of speech (which I personally find can be difficult to teach/learn)
What I should change
  • At the beginning of the lesson I should have introduced the idea of storytelling in more detail. We could have talked about why we like stories and what a good story requires.
  • With more time we could have created more detailed stories, adding in information about the characters, using more adverbs etc.

If you choose to use this lesson (and even if you don’t!) please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions to improve it.
Enjoy!

Cuisenaire Rods

A few weeks ago, I was reading a post on Ceri’s blog and stumbled across a picture of some Cuisenaire rods. I made a quick comment on the post, and Ceri asked me if I would like to write a joint post on how we use them. Ceri is a respected ELT writer and inspirational teacher and it’s an honour to be able to blog with her for a newbie like me. It’s the first attempt at cross-posting and blogging together for either of us: hope you like the results!

Ceri’s story

I bought my box of cuisenaire rods in 1989 when I was doing my induction to the Dip TEFLA (as it was known then) at IH Hastings. I was inspired by a silent way influenced lesson I observed at the school and bought my rods on the way out.  I was fascinated by the atmosphere of engagement and focused attention, of the calm, controlling presence of the teacher and the concentration on the part of the students.  I’ve carried the rods around with me ever since. They’re looking pretty good, despite their age, I think it’s something of the aura of care and respect from that first class I saw that’s rubbed off on them.

Recently I dusted them off and used them in class. But before I did, my kids got their hands on them.  My daughter’s been using them at school for maths.  She squealed with delight and pounced on them.  “They’re made of wood!” (the ones in her school are made of plastic) and proceeded to build a “picture” showing all the number combinations that add up to ten.  There’s a real pleasure in touching them and handling them and the colours are really attractive.  The way they’re laid out so carefully in the box breeds a sense of respect and discipline. When she’d finished with her maths drawings, she very carefully put them all back in their rightful place (not something that happens very often with her toys!).

Inspired by her enthusiastic response , I  took them into my adult class the next day.  We’d been using a lot of internet, Web 2.0 and IWB materials in our classes and I’d taken the rods in as a change of focus.  I wanted to use them first of all as a kind of show and tell activity. I also wanted to know if they too had used them at school and to see what kind of response I’d get.  No-one had used them and they were interested to learn about them.  We’d been discussing the power and associations of colours in the class before so we talked about how colours can aid memory and learning.  And we conducted an experiment, associating specific rods to idiomatic expressions  and explaining why.  We put the rods away until the end of the lesson and brought them out to see if we still remembered the associations.  No surprises, we did. We brought them out again the next lesson. We still remembered.

In the second lesson I introduced them to the rods for language practice using an activity I’d seen modelled back in that lesson in Hastings.  It’s incredibly simple. Incredibly basic. And there’s much, much more that you can do with rods, but it caught their imaginations. This is how our class secretary described the activity in the lesson summary:

Ceri suggested a new game with the blocks.

First ,  she made a figure with some of them and with the explanations she gave us,we were able to make it without seeing it. It was very funny.

After this, everyone of us made a figure and we explained how to make it and the other classmates tried to find out .”

The students were focused, engaged, concentrated, paying attention to the careful choice of each word, especially the “small words” (prepositions, articles, pronouns).  This is a comment one of the students made in her summary after the class:

We noticed our common mistake is when we say “take one block and put it in front of you”. We don´t usually say “it”.We eat “it”.

This seems to be a general pay-off with using rods; the level of attention and the focus on details and precision often help students value small insights, small “noticing” moments that then carry over as a shorthand for correction in less controlled production.

As an extension task I asked the students to write instructions to build a new shape with the rods and to post it on our class blog.  Here’s what one of the students wrote (if you have a set of rods you may want to follow the instructions and see what you come up with):

Hi Ceri!

If you follow the instructions, you’ll reproduce a piece of art made with scaled-up Cuisenaire rods I found on the internet.

Take the rods: 1 orange. 1 blue, 1 brown, 1 black, 1 dark green, 1 yellow, 1 lime green, 1 red and 2 white.

Let’s go!

Take the blue rod and put it on the table in front of you, standing up.

Take the purple rod and put it standing up on the right, next to the blue one.

Take the orange rod and put it behind the blue one, standing up.

Take the brown rod and put it standing up behind the purple one and next to the orange one.

Take the black rod and put it carefully on top of the purple one, standing up.

Take one white rod and put it on top of the orange one.

Now take the red rod and put it standing up on top of the last one you have just placed.

Take the yellow rod and put it on top of the blue one in front of the two smaller rods.

Take the dark green rod put it standing up on the top of the brown one, next to the stack of orange, white and red ones.

Take the lime green and put it on top of the black one, standing up.

In the end, take the other white rod and put it on the top of the red one.

If I’ve given you the right instructions and you’ve followed them correctly, you should have got this sculpture: http://www.tetuhi.org.nz/exhibitions/exhibitiondetails.php?id=8

Bye

M

Follow the link, it’s worth it to see the photo!

Sandy’s story

When I was about four, my parents gave me a set of Cuisenaire rods. A couple of years later, I got a book showing how to do sums using the rods. I loved playing with them, and it’s possibly here that my primary school love of maths originated. Until I was about eleven, I used the rods all the time. Then, I grew up and they disappeared into the cupboard. If it weren’t for a CELTA session, I would probably not have thought about them again until I had my own kids. I came out with loads of ideas and the joy that one of my favourite childhood toys could have a role in my classroom. The next time I went home, out they came and into my bag of teaching tricks. Every time I’ve used them, the students have been engaged and enthusiastic, once they’ve got over the initial “What does the crazy teacher want us to do with THEM?” reaction, that is!

Re-enacting stories

After reading a story in a young learner textbook, the kids used the rods to represent the different characters and retell the story. There was a jack-in-the-box at the end of the story, and they really enjoyed throwing it across the room!

Grammar – phrasal verbs

Cuisenaire rods are great for showing sentence structure. This is a downloadable set of worksheets I created for word order in phrasal verbs (based on New English File Pre-Intermediate Unit 8).

Building models

My favourite activity uses the rods for model-building. It’s especially good for the vocabulary of houses and furniture, but I’m sure it could be used for many other things. I’ve used it at Elementary, Pre-Intermediate and Upper Intermediate levels, with groups ranging from 2-12 students, and it’s always gone down well. This is how to do it:

  • Before the class starts use the rods to build a room in your house / your whole flat (however much you have time to do!). Add as much detail as you can.
    My flat in Cuisenaire rods
  • At the beginning of class, encourage students to guess what it is. They will probably get that it is a house / flat very quickly, but working out the exact details of what is there is generally more challenging. Depending on the level:
    -Draw the outline of the house / room on the board. Students fill it in with the names of the objects. I also left a space for students to write words in Czech they wanted to know. Once we’d looked at the vocab list in their textbook they wrote the English on the board.
    My flat on the board
    – SS use modals of speculation to decide what is where and perhaps why you bought it / put it there.
    – SS describe the room to their partners, focussing on prepositions.
  • Teacher confirms or corrects the names of the furniture / rooms.
  • You could expand the vocabulary, focus on the grammar or generally build on the student-generated language at this point.
  • Students each build one room, without telling anybody which room it is or what objects they have put in it.
    Building a roomRoom
  • Their partner then guesses what is in the room, and which room it is. One really creative student once created a garage, complete with chairs stacked on top of a table. Needless to say, neither his fellow student or I could work out what it was!
    Garage

NOTE: If you don’t have enough Cuisenaire rods for the whole class, encourage students to use other small objects like coins, rubbers, pencil sharpeners… I also have a box of laminated shapes that comes in very useful for many things. Every time I have a bit of space in a laminating pouch, I put in a scrap of coloured paper and cut the result into random shapes.

A box of shapes

Here are links to two great posts that follow on from this theme.

Emma Herrod wrote about using lego blocks on Barbara Sakamoto’s blog Teaching Village in a blog that appeared in two parts.
More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 1 (by Emma Herrod)
Teaching Village Rotating Header Image More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 2 (by Emma Herrod)

Michelle Worgan wrote about the power of colours and associating colours to words and language on her blog So This is English.
Colour Experience

(An) amazing article?

Articles are one of those areas of English that have so many rules that my students often give up. As a Slavic language, Czech doesn’t use articles and many students don’t see the point of them. This is especially true for my intermediate-level teenage class. I prepared this lesson to give them a bit of practice and try to have some fun along the way.

Inspired by Ceri’s post where she practised the use of ‘it’ with her Spanish students, I wrote a text about my film and TV preferences and removed all of the articles. The fastest way I found to do this was to write the text normally, highlight the articles (giving me an answer sheet) then copy and paste the text and delete the highlighted words. This was what the students saw:

I’m teacher, but in my free time I love watching films. I go to cinema three or four times month, normally on Friday evening. Next week, I want to see King’s Speech because everybody says it’s great.

I’ve got huge collection of DVDs, many of which I got in Czech Republic. DVDs I bought here are good because they have Czech subtitles, so I can practise language while I’m relaxing at home. I normally learn one or two new words every time I watch film. Normally I watch English or American films with subtitles on, but sometimes I watch Czech films too. Czech ones are difficult if I don’t know story before I watch them.

I have also bought lots of British TV programmes on DVD here. One of my favourites is Red Dwarf. Series was filmed in 1980s, but is still very funny today. In first episode deadly illness arrives on spaceship and kills everybody except for cat and human called Lister, who was frozen because he had insulted captain. After three million years, Lister wakes up to discover he is only human on spaceship. Only other living thing is Cat, who has evolved from original cat, but now looks like human. Third member of crew is Rimmer, hologram of human, who is very annoying to Lister. In second series, crew finds robot called Kryton. I think you should watch it!

What is your favourite film or TV programme? Who are characters? What do they do? What happens in story?

I challenged the students to spot the problem with the text. Once they’d identified the lack of articles, they then had to go through individually and put them back in. They compared their answers with other students. The final part of this stage was a list of numbers: 4, 8, 21, 2. I told them that this is how many articles should be in each paragraph. They were a long way short in the third paragraph, so this motivated them to look at the rules with me.

I used the set of rules from the Grammar Bank at the back of New English File Intermediate which I had typed up and cut into strips. The students stuck them to the board under the correct heading (a/an, the, no article):

the first time you mention a thing/person: I saw ___ old man with ____ dog
when you say what something is: It’s ____ nice house.
when you say what somebody does: She’s ______ lawyer.
in exclamations with What…! : What _____ awful day!
in expressions like… : three times _____ week
when we talk about something we’ve already mentioned: I saw an old man with a dog and _____ dog was barking.
when there’s only one of something: ____ moon goes round ____ Earth.
when it’s clear what you’re referring to: He opened ____ door.
with places in a town, e.g. cinema and theatre
with superlatives:  It’s ____ best restaurant in town.
when you are speaking in general (with plural and uncountable nouns):  ____ women talk more than ­­­­­­­______ men
with some nouns (e.g. home, work, school, church) after at/to/from: She’s not at _____ home today. I get back from _____ work at 5:30.
before meals, days, and months: I never have ____ breakfast on ___ Sunday.
before next/last + days, week etc.: See you _____ next Friday.

We also added the rule “before the names of people and places: ____ Jana, ____ London” under the ‘no article’ heading, as this did not appear in my original rules.

The students then returned to the text and tried to check and correct the articles they had written in. They then compared it to my original text and we discussed any problems they had:

I’m a teacher, but in my free time I love watching films. I go to the cinema three or four times a month, normally on Friday evening. Next week, I want to see The King’s Speech because everybody says it’s great.

I’ve got a huge collection of DVDs, many of which I got in the Czech Republic. The DVDs I bought here are good because they have Czech subtitles, so I can practise the language while I’m relaxing at home. I normally learn one or two new words every time I watch a film. Normally I watch English or American films with the subtitles on, but sometimes I watch Czech films too. The Czech ones are difficult if I don’t know the story before I watch them.

I have also bought lots of British TV programmes on DVD here. One of my favourites is Red Dwarf. The series was filmed in the 1980s, but is still very funny today. In the first episode a deadly illness arrives on a spaceship and kills everybody except for a cat and a human called Lister, who was frozen because he had insulted the captain. After three million years, Lister wakes up to discover he is the only human on the spaceship. The only other living thing is the Cat, who has evolved from the original cat, but now looks like a human. The third member of the crew is Rimmer, a hologram of a human, who is very annoying to Lister. In the second series, the crew finds a robot called Kryton. I think you should watch it!

What is your favourite film or TV programme? Who are the characters? What do they do? What happens in the story?

I did another set of practice at this point (which I will describe below), but in retrospect I should have got the students to write their own texts and used these for analysis. They did enjoy the other activities, but it probably did not benefit them as much as their own texts would have done.

The next stage was a running dictation. I had the first two paragraphs of a story with spaces for potential articles stuck on the wall. Students worked in pairs to get the story onto their paper 5 words at a time. They could choose whether to complete the articles as they went a long or copy the paragraph and then do all of the articles at the end. The text was given to me by a colleague. I know it came from a book, but I’m not sure which one – please let me know if you do.

This is ____ true story. It’s about ____ politician. He was ____  Member of ____  Parliament (MP) in Britain. ____  story happened back in the 1980s, and ____  MP was called Richard Alexander. At that time, ____  Irish Republican Army was conducting ____  bombing campaign in ____  Britain. A few days earlier, ____  parcel bomb had been sent to ____  government minister. So ____  politicians were warned to be extra careful about opening parcels.

One day ____  parcel was delivered to ____  Mr Alexander’s office at Redford, in ____  English Midlands. ____  MP thought he heard ____  sound of ____  ticking clock inside ____  parcel, so thinking it might be ____  bomb, he rang ____  local police station. Soon ____  squad of army bomb specialists arrived at ____  office and x-rayed ____  parcel.

I then gave the students a fictional 500 Czech crowns to ‘spend’ on deciding which articles were correct. They could bet a maximum of 50 crowns on any one space. Once they had written their bets, we went through the text and checked the answers. For a correct answer we added the amount they had bet (if any); for an incorrect one, we deleted it. They became very competitive at this point, and if the answers differed they had to explain why before they could get the points. (Another retrospective note: I could have given them extra ‘money’ for correct explanations) The score was very close, and they really enjoyed the activity.

We didn’t have time to do any more than a quick discussion about the end of the story, but the plan was then:

  • discuss what they think happened next.
  • read the remaining paragraphs and find out if they were right.
  • complete the paragraphs with the correct articles.

They saw that what Mr Alexander could hear was indeed ____  timing mechanism. Obviously, ____  only safe thing to do was to blow it up which they did. ____  squad then pieced together ____  contents of ____  parcel. It had contained ____  pyjamas, ____  toothbrush and ____  small alarm clock. ____  MP had recently stayed at ____  hotel after making ____  speech one evening, and ____  hotel had kindly sent on his belongings after he had accidentally left them there. ____  clock had been ____  present from his wife.

They saw that what Mr Alexander could hear was indeed ____  timing mechanism. Obviously, ____  only safe thing to do was to blow it up which they did. ____  squad then pieced together ____  contents of ____  parcel. It had contained ____  pyjamas, ____  toothbrush and ____  small alarm clock. ____  MP had recently stayed at ____  hotel after making ____  speech one evening, and ____  hotel had kindly sent on his belongings after he had accidentally left them there. ____  clock had been ____  present from his wife.

They saw that what Mr Alexander could hear was indeed ____  timing mechanism. Obviously, ____  only safe thing to do was to blow it up which they did. ____  squad then pieced together ____  contents of ____  parcel. It had contained ____  pyjamas, ____  toothbrush and ____  small alarm clock. ____  MP had recently stayed at ____  hotel after making ____  speech one evening, and ____  hotel had kindly sent on his belongings after he had accidentally left them there. ____  clock had been ____  present from his wife.

I probably should have done something more productive at this point – the use of the second ‘controlled practice’ activity wasn’t vital with this group, as they understood most of the rules. However, they only got about half of the answers right, so perhaps it was justified, with more ‘freer’ practice coming in later lessons.

What do you think? How do you go about teaching articles? Are they a problem for your students?

By the way, feel free to take these materials and use them however you will.

Enjoy!

Update: I have created an articles flowchart and worksheet which you might like to use in class with these activities.

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