Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘activities’

Social distancing in the ELT classroom

On 26th June 2020, I took part in a panel for the IATEFL Leadership and Management Special Interest Group (LAMSIG) entitled ‘What now?’ with Nik Peachey, Sandra Pitronaci and Josh Round, and moderated by Jenny Johnson.

This second question-and-discussion led webinar provides a forum for ELT academic managers to connect with a panel of expert academic practitioners to understand and share our understanding and response to Covid-19 and how we prepare for the future. How much will return to our familiar “normal” and how much will be a “new normal”?

My role on the panel was to consider the academic implications of restrictions on physical distancing (a.k.a. social distancing), gatherings and class size. The management/financial implications were discussed in a business management panel two weeks previously.

What is social distancing and why is it important?

image of two schoolchildren with a double-headed arrow between them and a mask below the arrow.

Image by Katherine Ab on Pixabay

Social distancing is a term which has come into wide circulation since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but each country has its own rules on what that distance is (there’s a helpful infographic in this BBC article). It’s therefore important to check what the requirements are where you are teaching and stay up-to-date with any changes.

Social distancing is important because coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets – packed with the virus – into the air.

These can be breathed in, or can cause an infection if you touch a surface they have landed on, and then touch your face with unwashed hands.

Virus transmission is less likely when ”fresh” air is involved – usually when people are outside.

– Quote taken from the BBC on 23rd June 2020

As I write this, some countries allow people to be closer together providing they wear masks, have plastic screens between them, or sit side-by-side rather than face-to-face. There may also be legal requirements for ventilation (the virus seems to spread more indoors than outdoors, direction of any fans/drafts can influence the direction of the virus) and frequency and depth of cleaning.

Timing is also a factor – the longer you spend with someone, the more risky it is.

Timing is also key. The longer you spend in close proximity with an infected person, the bigger the risk.

Scientists advising the UK government say spending six seconds at a distance of 1m from someone is the same as spending one minute at a distance of 2m.

Being exposed to someone coughing is riskier. Being 2m away from a cough carries the same risk as someone talking to you for 30 minutes at the same distance.

– Quote taken from the BBC on 23rd June 2020

All this means that when setting up classrooms for face-to-face teaching, we need to consider:

  • the amount of space between people
  • the number of people present
  • which direction they’re facing
  • whether masks are required or not
  • whether we use other methods of screening people from each other
  • ventilation of rooms
  • cleaning of surfaces
  • the amount of time spent together

Apart from this, we also need to have clear procedures in place if students or teachers show any symptoms or get the virus. This includes notifying anybody who might have come into contact with people showing symptoms to tell them to self-isolate, and may lead to whole schools being shut down again.

Getting back into the classroom with social distancing

Many schools do not have the option of using bigger classrooms, and there’s a limit to how many students we can lose and still maintain a viable business. We need to get smart with the spaces we have available. Our classrooms have chairs with folding We’ve played with various options at our school, though none of them are fixed yet. We won’t be trying any of them out until September 2020, so please let me know if you have other ideas!

  • Creating boxes marked with tape on the floor of the classroom to show which space each student should be in. Instead of our normal horseshoe pattern, it would be a grid using every part of the room, with all students facing forward (which feels like complete anathema to an experienced EFL teacher!) The first student to enter goes to the furthest box and the last student is in the one closest to the door. This also helps us to work out/manage exactly how many people can be in each classroom. The teacher has a slightly bigger box including the board.
  • Asking students and parents/carers to wear masks as they move around the school, until they arrive at their seat.
  • Telling parents/carers that they cannot come into the school building – they must drop their child off at the door.
  • Keeping windows open where possible to provide ventilation (not sure how that will work in the Polish winter though!)
  • Combining face-to-face classes with online ones (a hybrid approach), having one of each per week rather than two in the classroom.
    • This provides the benefits of both types of lessons, and means that if we have to go into lockdown again, students are already used to an online environment.
    • It also reduces the amount of time people spend in the school in relatively small rooms with groups of people, and therefore should reduce the risk.
    • This means we can use our bigger rooms for twice as many groups, as they will only be in school on one of their two lesson days, instead of both.
    • For off-site lessons, it reduces the need for teachers (and students!) to travel on one day a week.
  • Creating a code of conduct for students/parents to sign on how they will behave when in the school and in class, including staying the correct distance away from others.
  • Attempting to stagger class start and finish times to reduce the number of people moving around the building at the same time.
  • Having teenage group breaks in the classroom instead of moving to a communal space.
  • Requiring students to bring all of their own resources (pens, paper etc.). No resources will be lent to students by the teacher or by other students.
  • Using this large common space as a classroom, instead of a meeting place.
  • Working out a cleaning regime that can be run between lesson times, not just at the end of the day.
  • Ensuring there are large enough bins in every classroom for tissues so that they can be disposed of as soon as possible.
  • Changing the way that we teach, again.

A(nother) new way of teaching

Same same, but different: we’re back in the classroom, but not as we know it.

Students have their own boxes in the classroom which they must stay in during lessons, so we can’t change pairs or groups at will.

They can’t share resources, so we can’t do activities which involve passing paper or mini whiteboards around.

Both of the above mean that they can’t stand up and write on the whiteboard, as that’s a double-whammy of moving past other people and touching shared board pens.

Children can’t move from their seats, to the floor, to moving around the classroom. No more running games, or gallery walks with information stuck to the walls.

Teachers can’t walk around the room monitoring how successfully students are completing an exercise.

So what can we do?

  • New pairs can be formed by students turning in different directions, for example working with somebody from the box in front of them, to the left, to the right, or diagonally.
  • Include movement breaks or exercise breaks, with students standing up and moving around within their box but in a prescribed pattern so that they continue to stay the right distance away from others. Alternatively, they could put masks on while doing these activities.
  • Continue using some of the online resources which students are familiar with, for example Quizlet or Google Docs for collaborative writing. These can create a sense of team work.
  • Play Quizlet Live Cacophony (my students loved this when I did it in a non-socially-distanced way last year!)
  • Ask students to write large and legibly enough for the person in the box next to them to read their work. When they need to do a peer check or get a second opinion, they can hold up their notebooks so that their neighbour can read it.

The useful links section below has more ideas.

Potential problems

As lockdown has been lifted in Poland over the past few weeks, we’ve now arrived at a point where a lot of people seem to have forgotten that there’s such a thing as coronavirus, and we’re still at risk from it. Some people still wear masks and gloves, but most don’t. As I write this on 26th June, it’s 13 weeks until we start teaching in September, and only 14 weeks since we went into lockdown on 16th March. As we’ve all learnt in the past few months, a lot can change very quickly, so who knows how people will feel about social distancing in September.

I feel like some students and/or parents might refuse to follow the rules, creating potential conflict situations. We need to make our expectations very clear and explain that we’re putting these rules in place to ensure the safety of all of our staff and students. We don’t want everyone in the school to have to go into isolation because one person came in with the virus.

Another problem might be a lack of rapport in a group which has only met online or in a socially distanced space. If they can’t easily work with everyone in the group, it could be harder for them to feel comfortable using their English in front of their classmates.

The upsides

It’s not all doom and gloom: students can benefit from a socially distanced classroom too.

If we have a first-in-sits-furthest-from-the-door policy, this could mean that people are working with different students each lesson because of the order in which they arrive.

Students will have to enunciate more and/or use clarification strategies if they can’t hear/be heard by classmates, rather than getting closer to each other.

We’ve got another chance to be super-creative with our teaching, and I know we’ll all benefit from that, however hard it might be at first!

Useful links

These are all of the links I’ve managed to find so far for social distancing in the classroom. There don’t seem to be very many as I write this in June 2020, but I’m sure that will change! I’ll update the list as I find more.


Sara Davila wrote about social distancing and young learners (and teens) for the Pearson blog, including ideas for helping them to deal with stress and think critically. I think the discussion she suggests could be adapted as part of a first lesson, though the post seems to be aimed at teachers working with the same group all week, rather than a couple of lessons a week as our school does.

Alex Case has social distancing variations on his TEFLtastic classics.

Miranda Crowhurst suggests 19 ESL games to play while keeping social distance.

If you want to discuss social distancing with your students, you might want to use this lesson plan about distance dining from LinguaHouse.

General education

After many attempts, the most successful search term I found was ‘activities for the socially distanced classroom’.

Sara Devila’s article (above) had a link to an article about a clever idea from primary schools in China: one-metre hats. A headteacher in Amsterdam had a different idea about keeping her distance by using a large skirt (though I’m not sure about the cleanliness of hand on the stick!)

Teaching experimental science in a time of social distancing includes some great experiments students could try at home, and shows how another branch of education is completing rethinking how they work.

This article from Spaces4Learning has some useful questions if you’re considering a hybrid approach (some face-to-face, some online classes) to help you think about what you do in each lesson.

These social distancing games shared on Twinkl are for primary school children, and many of them require a large open space, but they could provide some inspiration.

Asphalt Green has a bumper list of Kids’ Games for Social Distancing.


Please add to the comments if you have any extra ideas or useful links to add. Good luck!

100 ideas for exploiting activities

On 3rd June 2020, I presented a webinar for IH Bucharest demonstrating how to exploit activities in lots of different ways, with minimal planning required by the teacher. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to use every activity in the same lesson, but the ideas I shared were designed to demonstrate how you can make a single exercise lead to a much wider range of practice activities, depending on what your learners need help with. The slides are here (though they’re much more useful when presenting than referring to them later! See below the slides for a more useful link!):

All of the ideas in the webinar were originally designed for a face-to-face classroom, but most of them can be used as is or with only minimal adaptations in an online classroom. They were originally shared on my blog in the post One activity, multiple tasks, based on a task from ELT Playbook 1. ELTPB 1 is a book of short tasks for teachers to help them reflect on their teaching.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is also available, both at prices designed to fit a teacher’s pocket!

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

During the webinar, I mentioned Sarah Mercer’s CAN DO for improving engagement:

Competence (mindsets and self-determination)

Autonomy (give choices, learning strategies)

Network (of relationships: T-S, S-S)

Do (action to beat boredom)

Oh! (grab and keep their attention)

(from Sarah Mercer, IH Barcelona conference, 7th February 2020)

You can find out more by watching her webinar, the foundations of engagement: a positive classroom culture. She has recently published a book with Zoltan Dörnyei called Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (Amazon affiliate link). I haven’t read it yet, but I have no doubt it’s full of useful advice!

If you’d like more ideas to make your planning easier, 101 things to do with a coursebook page (all of which take less than 5 minutes to prepare!) covers a whole range of different ways to adapt coursebook activities. Why should they care? has lost of ideas for helping students engage with the materials or activities you are using.

My ebook, Richer Speaking, costs less than $1, and contains 16 ways to adapt speaking activities to help students get more out of them. You can find four of the ideas for free in this post.

Richer Speaking cover

If you’d like ideas specific to teaching online, particularly using Zoom, then try ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom. Some of these may take a little longer to prepare, but I’m a firm believer in teachers doing less work and students doing more!

Let me know which ideas you’ve tried out and how they go with your classes.

Enjoy 🙂

The end of normal teaching

normal: ordinary or usual; the same as would be expected

Definition from the Cambridge English Dictionary, 31st May 2020

My Zoom lessons

I chose the title of this week’s post because over the past ten weeks teaching on Zoom has become normal, something which is no longer worthy of comment when planning or teaching. My students understand how to use every feature of Zoom I use in the lessons, including screen sharing in rooms. They use Google Docs with ease, and ask for favourite activities again. When I don’t make instructions clear, they ask me: chat or notebooks? We’ve all settled in to this new way of teaching and studying. And this week was the end of that: I’ve got four lessons left with my groups, three of which are test lessons, followed by our final round-up lesson. So no more normal teaching with them any more!

Having said that, this week was also the one where I had the most number of connection and technology issues since we started on Zoom, so it wasn’t completely normal.

In group one, one student appeared six or seven times in the waiting room but couldn’t get in – in the second lesson she finally managed to connect by borrowing a different device. I started with 10 students and was left with only 7 as people lost their connections in the first lesson. In the second lesson I started with four students I could see and hear, one I could hear but not see, and one who we could only connect with through the chat box. Another student was an hour late due to connection problems. In the second class we had fewer connection issues, though two students dropped out multiple times and one dropped out fifteen minutes before the end of both lessons. Another student was fine in the main room, but his microphone wouldn’t work in breakout rooms. I’m lucky to have escaped for so long without all of these tech problems!

What shall we do today?

Our first lesson introduced some verb phrases which I thought my groups might already partially know, so we looked at them quickly at the start. Students had a few minutes to play with the vocab on Quizlet, then matched vocab and pictures in their books, then wrote what they could remember in the chat box.

We listened to two cousins discussing what to do and when and where to meet, with students guessing what they might do and listening to check their predictions the first time, completing a table to check understanding of specific information the second and third time, then filling in gaps in the conversation with target language phrases the fourth time.

What ____ we do today? Why don't we play _____? OK. Where shall we ____? Let's meet at the bus _____. etc.

I elicited the phrases for suggestions by writing gapped sentences onto my mini whiteboard and holding it up to the camera. These phrases had already appeared in last week’s story. I tried to show that “Shall we play tennis?” “Why don’t we play tennis?” and “Let’s play tennis.” all have the same idea of suggestions/the same meaning, but not sure how clear that was at first. To practise, students completed a transformation exercise in their workbooks where they saw a suggestion in one form and had to change it to the other two. With the first group, we ran out of time at that point because of all the technical problems. The second group had time to write their own version of the dialogue and perform it to the class.

What do you remember?

We had one full revision lesson before our tests start on Monday. This was particularly important for me to see what the students could remember as they’ve had lessons since September, but I’ve only taught them since February. There was a puzzle to start the lesson, which my students really got into once they’d figured out how it worked:

Read the clues to find the letters. Use the letters to find Martin’s birthday present. the fourth letter in Easter the third letter in the twelfth month The sixth letter in holiday The eighth letter in geography The twenty-third letter of the alphabet His present is a ____________

Jude created a quiz with a couple of short exercises for each unit of the book. This was on a master document. During the lesson, we copied a couple of exercises at a time into a running document. Students worked in teams in breakout rooms, with one student sharing the screen with the questions on it. They wrote their answers in their notebooks. They had about 7-10 minutes to complete each round, after which we returned to the main room, checked their answers and added up their scores. This worked really well with both groups: I managed three rounds with group one and four with group two, and it showed up really well that they still have trouble with irregular verbs and choosing direct and indirect pronouns, but are fine with everything else from the first half of the year.

Jude also included some brain break challenges, though my group didn’t do any of these. This was partially because I forgot about them, and partially because they were so into the quiz and there was enough variety in the format that they didn’t seem to need them. I think they’re great ideas though! Here are two of them:

Break round! Which team can make the healthiest meal? You’ve got 2 minutes to get 5 items of food from your kitchen. Ask first! Show your team your food. What can you cook together? ‘We’ve got some…” We’re going to cook

Break round! What’s the weather like? (It’s your idea!) Find clothes for that weather.

We now have plenty of revision material for our final few lessons, alongside the Quizlet sets we’ve been making all year to go with the book.

Zoom tips

This week I discovered two things you can do with videos: hide non-video participants (thanks Ruth!) and hide self-view. The first is useful if you are being observed and you want to forget the observer is there 🙂 It’s also useful if somebody has to connect on two different devices: one for video, one for sound – you can hide the non-video/sound-only box on your screen. Hide self-view is great for any time you don’t want or need to see yourself, especially while in gallery view! I found it useful for meetings and chats with my friends.

To use these functions, hover over your video. Click on the three dots which appear in the top-right corner to see a menu. This should display both options.

I wouldn’t use either of these during lessons as I find I have to consciously remind myself to include students who are sound only when I can’t see their faces, and I think it’s important to see what your students can see in your videos, especially if you’re trying to show them something.

The personal stuff

Tomorrow (Monday 1st June) Poland enters the fourth stage of our four-stage post-lockdown plan. That means that masks are necessary on public transport, but not in open spaces. When I went out on Friday and Saturday there were already a lot of people not wearing them, or not wearing them properly (covering their mouth and not their nose: what’s the point?!) Kujawsko-Pomerania, the region I live in, had it’s last new confirmed case on 25th May, so six days ago. We’ll see what kind of second wave there is, as many people don’t seem to be paying much attention to the rule that you should stay 2m away from others.

I’m still staying at home a lot, but I went out on three consecutive days this week: first to my flamenco class, then to physio followed by a meal at a restaurant, then to pick up some shopping which I can’t get online. The meal was nice because I didn’t have to do any washing up 🙂 but I realised again how much my cooking has come on over the past six years! Restaurants for me are about eating in different places, and perhaps trying different combinations of food, but I’m so much more adventurous in my cooking now anyway that that side of restaurant eating is much less important for me now.

Useful links

Anna Loseva describes her experiences of teaching on Zoom without any prior training. The post is full of useful tips for anyone new to Zoom. I especially like the idea of having a running document for students to type questions into during lessons. Her university in Vietnam has now returned to face-to-face classes.

10 minutes of listening to this episode of TEFL Commute, and you’ll have plenty of warmers for your upcoming lessons.

Katherine Martinkevich shares links connected to taking your students on a virtual field trip. This could be particularly useful for summer school courses. She also shares a link to/summary of a Q&A session with Sarah Mercer on wellbeing for teachers and managers.

Rachel Tsateri is linking classes together through Flipgrid, and is looking for volunteer teachers to join her.

Cristina Cabal shows how she’s used ClassroomQ in her classroom. It looks like a simpler version of Mentimeter in some ways, where you’re able to ask a question and see the order your students answer it in.

James Egerton has tips on how to consciously build your post-quarantine habits. Habits are something that I’ve worked on a lot over the last few years, and they’ve made my life a lot more positive through the small gains building up over a number of years.

Sue Swift talks about the value of task repetition/repeating activities, and shows how a little challenge can be added in future lessons. This applies equally both online and off.


Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

What a difference a week makes

Personal stuff

A week ago I wrote about how frustrated I got every time I went outside my flat. After a relaxing weekend, a chance to talk over my feelings with friends and family (thank you!), and a chance comment on Tuesday about case numbers in our region being pretty low (10 cases in the last 7 days as I write this), I started to feel a lot better.

I’ve been for three walks in the last week, and while I still got frustrated with people, I was able to calm myself down much faster. This was easier when I closed my eyes and waited until they had gone past, in the manner of a small child: if I can’t see them, they’re not there 😉

After those small steps, there were two huge ones.

Our flamenco teacher is allowed to have classes with up to 5 people, so that’s how many of us were in the room on Thursday night. I live by myself and have been getting shopping delivered, so being in a room with actual human beings for an hour was an adjustment. It felt normal quickly, but I wanted to notice it and remember that feeling. The lift home which my friend gave me was also strange: the first time I’ve been in a vehicle of any kind for about 10 weeks.

The other step is something I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time: I finally got around to buying myself a bike. That means I now have the freedom to go further afield if I want to without having to rely on public transport. I just need to motivate myself to carry it down and up three flights of stairs every time I want to use it!

So as you can see, I’m in a much better place this week. Thank you to everyone who sent me a message after last week’s post!

My Zoom lessons

Our teen elementary lessons this week were extra practice of ‘have to’ and a break from all grammar!

Do we have to do this all again?

The concepts of ‘have to’ and ‘don’t have to’ really challenged our students last week, so Jude and I decided it was worth dedicating another lesson to it.

We also wanted to do a bit more work on adverbs, so for the warmer students worked in teams in breakout rooms to add sentences to Google Docs to describe pictures. For example, She acted badly. He shouted loudly. This activity showed that about 80% of the students have got the idea of adverbs, and none of them remembered ‘suddenly’ from last week.

The homework check showed that both groups continued struggled with the form of ‘have to’ or avoided it completely.

With group 1 the rest of the lesson went:

  • Dictation (see below).
  • Rewrite the text in groups in breakout rooms, replacing ‘I’ with ‘she’ and making other necessary changes so the grammar agreed.
  • I highlighted the question and negative forms again and they copied them into their notebooks.
  • Go back to your homework, try to correct it, then we’ll confirm if the answers are right or not.
  • 5 minutes left: in the chat answer the question: What jobs does your mum/dad have to do in the house?

With group 2, they’d got enough of the homework right to check it then, and I’d prompted them while they were comparing answers in breakout rooms to deal with the remaining problems. Their lesson went:

  • Dictation.
  • Rewrite text.
  • Question and negative forms again.
  • Write sentences about a mystery job for other students to guess (they only had 10 minutes for this, so the guessing happened next lesson).

For the dictation, they all wrote this text in their notebooks.

A day in the life of a teacher! I don’t have to get up early because my lessons start at 3pm. I have to correct some tests and check my students’ homework. I have to plan my lessons, so I have to read about grammar. When the lessons finish, I don’t have to cook dinner, but I have to eat, so I’m going to order a pizza. After dinner I want to watch Netflix, but I can’t because I have to plan my lessons for tomorrow. Luckily, I don’t have to go to bed early - I can stay up as late as I want. What do you have to do?

To help them manage the process, I said I’d read each sentence three times and held my fingers up to show which repetition it was. They could then ask me to repeat it again if they wanted me to.

In hindsight, we should have done some kind of pre-listening gist task, raised interest a little more first, had some elements they could change…but hindsight is 20/20.

In general, the lessons seemed fine when we were planning them, but when we taught them they felt uninspired and only partially engaging. The students seemed to enjoy the challenge of the transformation and they concentrated during the dictation, but I’m not sure how much they’ll remember this in future. On the other hand, they needed this focus on the grammar to fully understand (yes, I know that’s not ideal).

Look, it’s a penguin!

After lots of consecutive grammar lessons, it was time to take a break. We had a tiny bit of grammar at the start, with group one playing a wheel from wordwall. They read the prompt, then wrote the sentence in the chat box. They really enjoyed it and asked for more.

Group 2 read their sentences from the end of the last lesson in groups in breakout rooms. The other students guessed which job it was.

We used a story page for the basis of the lesson. We started with a couple of screenshots from the story, with students writing ‘I see…’, then ‘I think…’ sentences in the chatbox – a routine they’re familiar with. I encouraged them to use adjectives and adverbs, make predictions using ‘going to’ and say what the people ‘have to’ do. A couple of students got very into this.

I played the video for them to check their predictions.

In breakout rooms, they completed a gapfill comprehension task in groups where they had to finish the sentences by reading the story.

With group 1, I did a memory challenge. They saw frames from the story with words blanked out which they had to remember. Then I played the video, paused it, and they told me what’s next. They then went into breakout rooms to practise acting out the story in groups of 3, came back and performed it. However, they weren’t listening to each other as they were all telling the same story.

With group 2, I skipped the memory challenge. Instead I walked them through the story and got them to change details. For example, instead of a lost penguin, they chose another animal. Instead of going to the park, they went to the zoo/beach/mountains. In breakout rooms they chose their favourite idea for each bit of the story, then rehearsed it. When they acted it out, the others were a bit more engaged because every story was different.

Teacher training

Friday 22nd May was the 12th IH Teachers Online Conference, 10 hours featuring 30 talks from teachers across the International House network. You can watch all of the talks on YouTube. My favourites were by Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone, Shannon Thwaites and Danny Coleman. Here’s the full programme. My talk was on making and using paper fortune tellers. I got so many ideas from the talks, and only have a couple more lessons to try them out in before the end of the year! Thank you to everyone who gave talks, and to Shaun Wilden for putting it all together.

On Sunday 24th May I took part in an event organised by IH Moscow (thanks for inviting me Anka Zapart!). I really like the format, which is manageable :

  • 10 minutes of house rules
  • three 20-minute presentations
  • 10-minute break
  • three 20-minute presentations
  • 10-minute general Q&A session

Each presentation featured activities teachers had tried out in class, and there were a few bonus activities in between. There’ll be a recording which I’ll also share. Lots of the teachers use in their lessons, which I hadn’t seen before. It looks like a very versatile tool. You can have three virtual whiteboards with the free account. Vita Khitruk has compiled an example board with different ideas for games – I love the idea of ‘climbing’ a mountain with little challenges.

A series of post-it note pictures with challenges on them for students to complete - the notes follow the shape of the mountain

Some of the other things I learnt about/was reminded of were:

  • Playing noughts and crosses with an image behind the grid. To win the square, students have to describe that section of the picture. (Anka Zapart)
  • has lots of games for young learner classes, for example this costumes game which you can use to get kids to describe what she’s wearing and practise words like put on/take off, or room decorating. You need Flash. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • Sesame Street has a restaurant game that kids enjoy too. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • WheelDecide can be used for lots of different ideas – here’s an example for present simple questions. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • WaterAid has some topical games which you can adapt to the classroom, including Germ Zapper, which you can use to practise objects in a room and prepositions. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • SentenceDict allows you to get good example sentences for any word, including being able to search for simple sentences only. (Vita Khitruk)
  • A reminder that Tekhnologic templates are very versatile and easy to adapt. (Irina Chan-Fedorova)
  • Kids can be very motivated by habit trackers, such as ticking a box for each of four challenges every time they do them: do homework, use Quizlet, watch a video in English (Masha Andrievich)
  • Use a ‘discourse clock‘ to help very young students say a lot more when doing mini presentations. (Anka Zapart)

A paper clock with moveable hands showing (at different times) big and small, a colour wheel, food icons, a house/a fish tank/trees

You can watch the full recording here:

Useful links

James Egerton has a lesson plan for upper intermediate and above learners based on an article about Zoom fatigue. James Taylor has one on working from home, with an entertaining video showing different ‘types’ of home-workers. He also wrote an article for the IATEFL Views blog on the resilience and creativity of English language teachers. Jill Hadfield’s IATEFL Views post shows snapshots of lockdown life in New Zealand, and a few activity ideas too.

Nik Peachey has a one-page interactive summary of six areas teachers need training and support in to successfully teach online.


Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Fortune teller decision maker (IH TOC 12)

It was the 12th IH Teachers Online Conference (TOC) on Friday 22nd May 2020. Nearly 40 people presented for 15 minutes each on the theme of online teaching.

For my presentation, I decided to go for something low-tech that you could still do online, and what’s better than making a fortune teller. It’s a very simple origami project, one I think most of us have probably made in the past. Here’s a video of how to make one:


My decision maker

As a lot of us are working on our mental health while we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, my fortune teller was a way to choose your response to different people in different situations. The three sets of choices are:

Who are you talking to?

  • your boss
  • your colleague
  • your student
  • a parent

What are you talking about?

  • an activity you tried
  • how you feel
  • your plans tonight
  • something you’ve read
  • the news
  • IH TOC 😉
  • your lesson
  • your day

What do you say in that situation?

  • I give up!
  • I need chocolate!
  • Thank you!
  • That’s great!
  • Tell me more.
  • Help!
  • What should I do?
  • (Don’t say anything…take a deep breath!)

Other ways to use them

You could also use fortune tellers for:

  • predictions
  • practising spellings
  • practising lexical sets
  • question forms
  • making decisions in a role play
  • choosing with activity/game you’ll do next

And they’re not just for children: you can use them with teens and adults too with the right topics. Most people like to make things 🙂

What else could you use them for? Have you tried them out with your students?

Here’s the video if you want to watch the whole presentation:


Personal stuff

We’re very lucky that in Poland that coronavirus case numbers have been relatively low. That means our lockdown is being lifted, and phase 3 begins on Monday 18th: restaurants and cafés will reopen, as will hairdressers. More people can travel on public transport, and some sports facilities will reopen.

The night before reading about restrictions easing, I read a reminder that coronavirus may never go away. I knew that, but it’s different thinking it and seeing it written down.

Those two sets of information played against each other in my mind.

If a problem or unpleasant situation smoulders, it continues to exist and may become worse at any time.

– Cambridge English Dictionary, accessed 16th May 2020

I couldn’t help but think about my stress levels every time I go outside my flat. I get frustrated and angry at people not wearing masks, or not wearing them properly, at those not distancing or moving away from me or others. I’m not particularly worried about catching the virus – I know there’s a very slim chance of that, and I’m doing what I can to protect myself: wearing a mask and gloves, washing my hands, using alcohol rubs, keeping away from crowded areas. But there’s no cure for the actions of other people. I can’t control any of that and it makes me very stressed, and means that going for a walk is not particularly relaxing right now.

These are natural feelings right now, and they’re things I know that I need to face up to and deal with. I can’t stay in my flat forever as Poland begins to open up again. I can’t avoid people completely when I’m outside. I don’t have the option of leaving my flat, hopping in a car and driving to somewhere quiet. To get to ’empty’ places like the forest, I have to walk through populated areas.

All this going around in my head led to a complete breakdown on Friday morning. 30 minutes of tears and overwhelming emotion with my very understanding director, as I worked through my feelings about reopening after lockdown and how I will deal with that.

I hadn’t put any of that stress into words before, but it was all there under the surface, waiting to emerge.

If a strong emotion smoulders, it exists, but is prevented from being expressed.

– Cambridge English Dictionary, accessed 16th May 2020

I feel much better now, but it’s not problem solved yet as I do need to start to get out more.

So how will I deal with it?

I’ve found a way to get groceries delivered from a local shop, with fantastic fresh fruit and veg. I’ve even had ice-cream delivered from a business I would like to stay open. That means there’s no need for me to go to supermarkets or shopping centres.

Each weekend, I aim to go out for a longer walk early in the morning, at least a couple of hours and preferably somewhere in nature like the river or the forest.

The Botanic Gardens across the road from my flat is open 9-1 Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll go down for at least 30 minutes at 9am on both days before other people really start to arrive.

Just doing those three walks should be the first steps towards getting used to being outside again. And at some point cinemas will reopen, and I really miss them, so that will probably push me a little more…watch this space.


Today is our two-month anniversary of teaching on Zoom – we started on 16th March. It feels simultaneously much longer and much shorter than that! This week has been a longer week than usual, which probably contributed to my state on Friday…I’d tired myself out, and need to keep an eye on this in future weeks.

I’m very proud of the beautiful spreadsheet I produced working out the details of the end of our school year, when lessons end (so many groups were interrupted in the shift online), and various other bits and pieces – I do like a good spreadsheet!

We’ve been working on the details of how we’ll run our end of year tests, and starting to prepare them. Fingers crossed it all works out!

It was also the week of PDIs, Professional Development Interviews. We normally do them in March or April, and they’re a chance for me to have individual meetings with each teacher and help them reflect on their progress over the past year and look forward to their future careers, either with us or elsewhere. I love these interviews because they help teachers realise just how far they’ve come, and this year they also showed me just how much effort many of our teachers have been putting into their professional development beyond what our school is offering. They were also a chance for me to personally thank each teacher for all the amazing work they’ve done in the shift to online teaching, and praise their enthusiasm and creativity. We’ve been teaching on Zoom for exactly two months today, and they’re like pros now! I’m so proud to work with them.

My Zoom lessons

This week our two teen elementary lessons (mine and Jude’s) were revising adjectives and adverbs, introduced last week, and introducing ‘have to’ for the first time.

A partially successful lesson

We didn’t have much time to practise adjectives and adverbs last lesson, so we wanted to give students a chance to use them this time.

With group 1, my lesson went:

  1. Warmer: Simon Says (e.g. dance slowly, eat carefully, drive dangerously)
  2. Homework check (with a nomination chain for questions like What do you do carefully? What do you do well?)
  3. Correct the mistakes (one sentence at a time in the chatbox)
  4. Copy the corrected sentences into notebooks (they were still having problems with a few areas)
  5. Sentence expansion (see below)

With group 2, it went:

  1. Sentence expansion
  2. Homework check
  3. Correct the mistakes
  4. Copy the corrected sentences into notebooks
  5. Expand your own stories (written as homework ready for last lesson)

Sentence expansion is laying out a sentence vertically, then asking students to add to it to make it as long as possible, while still remaining logical. For example, the sentence below might produce ‘The tall thin old man and the short young lady walked slowly and carefully to the beautiful sunny beach.’

This took ages with group 1 because I tried to elicit their own basic sentence first for all of us to expand on, i.e. eliciting nouns and a verb. I then used the annotate feature to show how to make the sentence longer. That meant when they went into breakout rooms they all thought they should create their own sentence from scratch and didn’t really use adjectives and adverbs. With group 2, I shifted it to the warmer as they don’t really get into activities like Simon Says, and I gave them the sentence shown on the slide, meaning the activity worked much better.

The lessons went OK, but they still need a lot more practice with this. Adjectives aren’t really a problem, but adverbs confuse them because the word order is generally different in Polish, and they sometimes overuse the adverb form.

On a technical level, I finally managed to persuade both groups to click ‘Ask for help’ in breakout rooms when they had a problem instead of waiting for me to turn up (it’s only taken 8 weeks!)

What do I have to do to get your attention?

For the second lesson, we started with a word cloud of adjectives and adverbs for students to write their own long sentences in the chatbox. This showed up very clearly which students still need extra practice with differentiating adjectives and adverbs, and with adverb word order. I did a lot of verbal correction and getting students to rewrite sentences.

We played Quizlet live with film genres which they’d looked at for homework. They asked to do it in breakout rooms, and this worked really well. They were actively working together, and in the first group each of the three teams won one round each 🙂

To introduce the grammar point ‘have to’ and link back to films, we showed an image of The Rock and told them he’s making Jumanji 3, reprising his role as Dr Smolder Bravestone. Here’s some of his smouldering intensity in case you haven’t seen it:

They had to come up with things he has to do each day. In the first group I tried to do this verbally, which worked to some extent, but not really. We then moved to them listing two things in their notebooks which they thing he does every day when he’s working. A few students protested they hadn’t seen the films, but I said they should write what they think any actor does every day. (If you too haven’t seen the two new Jumanji films, please do. Thank me later.)

During breaktime with group 1, I had a flash of inspiration, which resulted in possibly one of the funniest classroom experiences I’ve ever had 🙂 I changed my profile picture and name to The Rock.

I quickly installed the voice moderator Connor told me about last week. This allows you to change how your voice sounds to other people. With the free version, there are random voices available. I chose the deepest one, and when the students came back from break The Rock was running the lesson. It was hilarious, and I had to try not to giggle and destroy the illusion 🙂 The look on their faces was brilliant, and there was much discussion (in Polish!) about whether it was me or not. One student even went on Wikipedia to try to quiz me by asking The Rock’s age. But they did get into it, and were asking me questions as if I was The Rock. This is something that absolutely wouldn’t be possible in a physical classroom! (Tip: if you use this voice mod, you may need to delete it from your computer afterwards – it kept switching itself back on again during Jude’s PDI the next day!)

The actual aim of the activity was for them to ask questions starting ‘Do you have to…?’ to find out about The Rock’s day on a film set. They used the notes they’d made and quizzed me.

I had a slide prepared to elicit language into:

Once they’d remembered some of the things The Rock said, I checked the meaning by asking the questions on the right and doing gestures – finger wagging for I have to… and two hands upturned and moving (so hard to describe!) for I don’t have to. I dragged the boxes with the summary onto the slide.

I have to go to the swimming pool. I have to go to the gym. I have to have muscles. I don’t have to brush my hair. I don’t have to go to Poland. I don’t have to eat sweets. (in boxes: next to 'have to' Can I choose? Maybe? Maybe not? NO! Next to 'don't have to' Can I choose? Maybe? Maybe not? YES!

I highlighted the relevant parts of the structure using the annotate function.

They wrote a couple of examples of things they have to/don’t have to at home into their notebooks, as well as copying the rules. They wrote their sentences in the chatbox so I could check and correct them. ‘Don’t have to’ is a particularly challenging concept, and students also confused ‘have to’ with ‘have’ as in ‘I have to a cat.’

With the first group we ran out of time to focus on the question/third person forms, so I wrote it quickly in the chatbox at the end for them to copy into their notebooks ready for their homework.

With the second group we had a few minutes to do that, and they also had time to imagine they’re a celebrity and write their own sentences. In breakout rooms, they quizzed each other asking ‘Do you have to…?’ and had to try and guess which celebrity it was.

This lesson really showed up how challenging it is to take in lots of new structures in quick succession: despite us spacing out our lessons to provide extra practice with ‘going to’ and adjectives and adverbs, the students were trying to combine them all here and getting very confused. Some of the sentences they wrote were things like ‘I have going to the garden.’ When they wrote their own sentences, they asked me ‘With adjectives?’

I’d like to space this all out more, but we only have a few lessons left before we reach the end-of-year tests. Some students can take it all in, but it’s too much for a couple of them. Luckily we have one or two lessons for revision at the end of the year, though we do need to look back over the whole year. (Yes, I know, coursebooks. Tests. Yes. But that’s how are classes work.)

Zoom problems

Two of our teachers had new problems with Zoom this week. Nothing that’s going to stop us using Zoom, but things that are useful to be aware of:

  • One had a 121 who couldn’t join the Zoom meeting. Apparently he was just sat in the waiting room, while from the teacher’s perspective nobody was there (meaning he couldn’t admit anyone). This problem stayed after he’d re-started the meeting too!
  • The other kept getting removed from the meeting despite being the host. All students who weren’t in breakout rooms were also removed from the meeting.

Useful links

Last week saw the Cambridge three-day At Home event (summaries of day one, two, three). Skimming through the programme, I like the balance of practical ideas for the classroom, stories being brought to life by famous readers, and things to help our wellbeing, such as a workout for beginners and a cook-along. I watched this ‘inspire session’ by David Valente on using songs with young learners, and it’s probably one of the best webinars I’ve ever seen: practical, clear, fun, and instantly usable. Rachel Tsateri summarised some of what she learnt from it in this post.


Naomi Epstein writes about her feelings as her school reopens at full capacity on May 17th. She’s based in Israel, where cases have decreased a lot according to Worldometers. Here’s an article from the Times of Israel about schools reopening.

Pete Clements talks about settling into a new job at a new school when you’re meeting everybody online for the first time.

TEFL Commute did a 10-minute podcast episode about how to use pictures in the online classroom. TEFL Training Institute spoke to Russell Stannard about what you need to put in place to help learners become more autonomous.

I remembered the existence of Telescopic Text, which is very simple to use and allows users to play around with sentence structures. Make sure you sign in if you want to save your work – access old texts again by click on your username. Here’s a strangely fitting example I produced for my students a few years ago.


Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Mentimeter and word clouds

On Thursday 7th May I did a 60-minute Zoom training session on how to use Zoom…meta! I worked with about 20 teachers from Urban School and other language schools in Barcelona, showing them how to use Mentimeter and word clouds in their online lessons, and in the process answering questions on a few other aspects of using Zoom. Thanks to Urien Shaw for organising it.


We started by playing with Mentimeter, which is interactive presentation software.

I used an open-ended question displaying a flowing grid so we could get to know each other a little:

What's your name? What's one interesting thing about you?

To answer a question, participants go to and type the code from your presentation.

Here is a full list of all of the Mentimeter question types and how to make them. The Mentimeter blog has lots of ideas for how to use the different types of questions which are available, including lots of examples.

Multiple choice, word cloud, open-ended, scales, ranking, image choice, quiz, select answer, type answer

Here are some ways you can use Mentimeter in class:

  • Multiple choice
    Which (form of this) activity do you want to do? Gist reading/listening questions. How much time should I give you?
  • Word cloud
    Vocab revision, what vocab do you already know, word association as a lead in (i.e. what do you associate with this topic), produce examples of a grammar structure, what do you know about this person/thing/place, what do you remember from last lesson
  • Open-ended
    Brainstorming ideas, get feedback on your lessons, getting to know you, lead in to a topic, what do you remember about…, create example sentences using this grammar structure/word, correct the mistake
  • Scales
    Do you prefer X or Y? To what extent do you agree with this statement? How much do you like/enjoy…? For feedback on your lessons/particular activities…
  • Ranking (participants can only choose one option)
    Class survey of most/least popular anything (food, book, animal…)
  • Image choice
    Which holiday type/item of clothing/animal/celebrity/computer game… do you prefer?
  • Q & A
    Brainstorm questions for a guest speaker/the teacher/other students, what questions do you expect this reading text/audio/video will answer, what questions do you still have after watching/listening, what would you ask the person in the video…
  • Select answer – scores appear after these slides
    Any closed multiple choice quiz questions
  • Type answer – scores appear after these slides
    Open quiz questions where any answer is possible

The free account allows you to include an unlimited number of PowerPoint-style presentation slides, two ‘questions’ and five ‘quiz slides’. You can have an unlimited number of presentations, so if you need more of these slides in a single lesson you can just make more than one presentation.

Students can make their own questions, though they need to open an account to do this.

Word clouds

Next we used a word cloud to discuss ideas for doing feedback or error correction in online lessons. The ideas in this word cloud were taken from a workshop at IH Bydgoszcz a few weeks ago (thanks again to our great staff there!). I then showed how you can produce very different word clouds using the same input data with the simple insertion of ~ between words to keep them together. So these two things appear differently in a word cloud:

  • highlight problems and they rewrite
  • highlight~problems~and~they~rewrite

Words which appear more frequently in the source text appear larger in a word cloud, as can be clearly seen in the second word cloud above. is my current favourite tool to produce word clouds.

Here are some ways you can use word clouds in the EFL classroom (the links take you to lessons on my blog using this idea):

  • As a lead in to a reading/listening, put the text/transcript into a word cloud and students predict what they’re going to see/hear.
  • Use the same word cloud afterwards for them to remember what they saw/heard.
  • Challenge students to find all the phrases in a word cloud.
  • As a prompt for students to remember particular grammar forms, e.g. comparatives and superlatives, or irregular verbs.
  • Use as a prompt for debates.
  • Ask students to create a story using the words in the cloud.
  • Students can ask you about vocabulary they don’t understand.
  • To show possible answers for a controlled task, once students have had a go at it themselves first.
  • Students can test each other by defining a word for others to guess.
  • To summarise ideas generated during the lesson.
  • Students make their own about a particular topic/place/person/thing.


  • Make sure the words are spaced out as much as necessary for them to be clearly visible.
  • Use a legible font.
  • Ensure the contrast between text and background is clear.
  • Use a theme with various colours in it, rather than just one or two.
  • Check that words don’t run into each other if you need students to write them out in some form (for example, with the word cloud below one student wrote: crowdedsunny, more crowdedsunny, the most crowdedsunny, highlighting the mechanical nature of this task beautifully!)

I have lots of bookmarks connected to using word clouds: and it’s one of the first things I ever presented about and wrote up on my blog, way back in February 2011. Writing this post was a trip down memory lane!

Adding movement to your online lessons (crowdsourced from IH Bydgoszcz teachers)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m absolutely privileged to work at International House Bydgoszcz. Our staff are motivated, engaged, and creative, and always willing to share their ideas. Everyone really cares about teaching and doing the best for our students.

For the last couple of weeks, our Friday workshops have become brainstorming sessions. We start a Google Doc on a specific aspect of teaching online, then head into breakout rooms to share ideas and add to the document. They add their names, and when we return to the main room we ask for clarification or explanations of anything we don’t understand. So far we’ve covered warmers, feedback and error correction, and now movement.

In just 30 minutes on Friday 8th May, IH Bydgoszcz teachers past and present produced this fantastic list of ideas for adding movement to online lessons, and they agreed to let me share it on my blog. I’ve organised them into categories and removed school-specific terminology, but apart from that, they’re as written during the session. Thanks to everyone who added to this list! If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments.

Please note: if you share this post (thank you!), please credit ‘IH Bydgoszcz teachers’, rather than me!

At the computer

Flash card, touch body – two flashcards on PPT or in hands. T says – word. If it is one flashcard – SS touch nose. If it is other flashcard, SS touch head. = receptive stage (Flash and touch – Jodie??) 

Debate – They show you how much they agree/ disagree with a statement physically i.e. how much they stand up. Then, you group them with people who have the same/ or very different points of view in BOR for activity.  (Jodie)

Body parts vocab: students stand up, T says show your ankle, S .. (Lotte)

Using mime to revise body / sports vocab using mime and the others guess. (Ranmal)

Use standing up/sitting down for feedback e.g. stand up if you agree. (Ranmal)

Storytelling- Ss suggest actions for parts of the story/ characters particularly repeating words that they do while you tell the story (Helen)

Alphabet actions- do an action for each letter of the alphabet (Jude G)

Mime a TV programme scenario to revise TV vocab (Jude G)

Simon says (Jude F)

True/false game (with kids): Come up with a random movement for true/false, e.g. stand up and wiggle for true, pat your head if false. The teacher or a student says a sentence about a picture. Ss do the movement for T/F. (Char)

“Board” slap > notebook slap – Ss write/draw words in notebook and touch. Or on post its to stick on walls in the house (Shannon, via Sandy a few weeks ago)

One student goes outside/behind the computer for 30 seconds with their sound off – the rest of the students make a shape/start doing an action. That student comes back and has to guess what the word is. You can do it with the waiting room function too, but this is potentially more fun. (Sandy)

Play some music for everyone to dance to. When it stops, they need to make a shape that represents a recent piece of vocab. Everyone then calls out what they can see: James is an elephant, Sandy is a lion, etc. (Sandy)

Away from the computer

Scavenger hunt- items, vocab, fun (Lee and Ash)

Mute mic and run – T has list of vocab on the board. Class is in 2 teams. T says ‘which one is…. + def’. Then, says two SS names. The ss run (by which I mean walk sensibly) and start the microphone and say. Fastest = points. (Jodie)

Vocab: Find something you can describe as ‘______’ i.e. ancient. (They go find one of their many ancient artefacts at home). (Jodie). 

Ask students to get something from different rooms in their house – practicing rooms in a house (Ranmal)

Let students get a book or another prop from their room or house. Give them a time limit (Lotte)

Birdwatching. I taught young learners the names of some birds & some bird vocab. Then they could go to their window/balcony, do a spot of birdwatching, and tell each other what they saw. (Gareth)

Show us your garden! Connections and gardens permitting (Helen)

Run and get something to introduce to the group related to grammar vocab for that lesson – this is my dog which I…, this is my sister who.. (Jude G)

Give Ss 3 mins to run and find something to explain a concept from the lesson. In my advanced adult group they had to find something to explain the concept of time (Katharine)

Go and find something to tell a story about and other Ss have to guess if it’s true or false (Katharine)

Find an object to describe using new vocabulary e.g. pretentious art adjectives (Katharine)

Go on Pet Safari to practise present continuous. Follow a pet around the house and narrate what they are doing. Can use a stuffed toy if they don’t have a pet (Ruth)

New vocabulary such as films or books – (adjectives for or categories) get ss to get up and find as many examples as they can in their house and show to each other on the camera. (Monica)

As mental breaks

Star jumps etc. as a little break for young learners. (Lotte)

Random brain breaks (for kids): (Char)

  • rub your belly and pat your head
  • try to lick your elbow
  • pinch your nose with your right hand and touch your right ear with your left hand, then swap
  • find something (green)
  • be a (cat, chair, rock)

Yoga for kids’ – share video via YouTube and Ss do at home (Shannon) 

Click your fingers: one hand click a triangle, one hand click a line (Lee)

Dance to a Super Simple Songs video (Sandy)

Get Ss to dance along to old 70s/80s aerobics videos (purely for teacher’s entertainment but also as an energy burner) (Connor)

Useful links

Here are two other posts about how to add movement to your online lessons:

What we do

There isn't a way things should be. There is just what happens, and what we do. Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

The personal stuff

Last week would have been Terry Pratchett‘s birthday, hence the quote above. It was also the 30th anniversary of Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. To mark the occasion, and to provide a little light relief, Gaiman and team have put together this conversation between Crowley and Aziraphale:

I’ve been really enjoying all of the culture that we’re now able to access from our homes. Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, National Theatre plays (consistently showcasing the most amazing staging I’ve ever seen!), Royal Opera House performances, and Shakespeare plays from The Globe. That’s why I donated to Acting for Others this week – I’m lucky enough to still have money coming in, but many performers are out of work for who knows how long. If you have a few spare pennies at the moment, consider donating to a charity that means something to you as a lot of charities are struggling right now (and if you don’t have any, don’t worry about it! I hope you do soon!).

The other change that I’ve really enjoyed in the past few weeks is the number of international group conversations I take part in every week, both with old friends and making new ones. Also online quizzes, online games with friends and family, and Crafternoon (genius, Laura!). As somebody who’s lived abroad, moved around and lived alone for most of my adult life, this is a great way of maintaining continuity within different areas of my life and making me feel less lonely (luckily I don’t feel like this very often any more!) Thank you to all those organising these 🙂 I really hope they continue when the world opens up again (not when things go back to normal – normal doesn’t exist).

My Zoom lessons

I’m going to…no, I’m not!

I’m very lucky that it’s taken 7 weeks before internet problems have interrupted a lesson. In my second lesson on Monday it cut out at exactly 18:17 for ten minutes, then at 19:17 for ten minutes – weird! Apparently my provider had problems across Europe. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that when I came back the first time Zoom had reopened my personal meeting room instead of the room for my lesson, so I lost an extra 15 minutes before I realised that I was in one place and my students were in another. That meant a total of 40 minutes of our 90 had been lost (we only managed to get to ‘I’m going to…’ in the lesson described below). Thankfully, this was the first of two lessons on the same language point so we could make up for lost time on Wednesday.

The warmer was really successful with group one: Silent TV from Film, TV and Music [Amazon affiliate link]. Thanks to Jude for spotting it! They had to mime one of the TV genres from last week’s lesson for their classmates to guess. I put them in breakout rooms, and it was very entertaining dropping in and out as they got really into it. With group two (as expected!), they didn’t go for it at all. Instead when I went in the rooms I discovered they’d all come up with their own versions. One groups drew pictures of the genres to show classmates (like pictionary), another were listing examples of programmes from that genre, and the third were describing what you see on that kind of programme. I applauded their creativity 🙂

To test whether these elementary teen students already knew the ‘going to’ structure, we did a drawing dictation. I described my plans for the May Day weekend, and they drew pictures. At each point I showed which part of the grid they should draw in using a mini whiteboard:

These were the results from group one:

They got really into it, showing me their pictures after every couple of sentences. This also helped me to check they’d understood the sentences.

They went into breakout rooms in 3s, working together to remember what I’d said. I dropped in and out to see if any of them were using ‘going to’. One or two were attempting it, with results like ‘I go speaking with my friend.’ ‘I going play game.’ but most of them weren’t (as expected!)

I showed them the whole text so they could check what they’d remembered, and to expose them to the language one more time before presenting it.

We then went through a series of slides (I; he/she/it; we – and by extension you/they; question form), eliciting the structure using the Zoom annotation tool (so I typed ‘____ going ____’ for example)…

I sit on my balcony in the sun. I use my computer.

…then showing the full structure with colour coding to highlight the different parts.

I'm (blue) going to (pink) sit (underlined) on my balcony in the sun.

As a written record after each slide, the students wrote personalised sentences using that form. For example, ‘I’m going to play in the garden.’ ‘My sister isn’t going to watch Netflix’. I was able to correct the form of all of these as the students asked if they could read them out – everybody ended up reading out their sentences to the whole class, which didn’t take that long as they finished at different times.

In hindsight, I should have include the time marker in the sentence e.g. On Saturday. We did this verbally, and I clarified that it was the future repeatedly, but visual support would have helped.

They then drew their own weekends. The final step was to go into breakout rooms and guess what their partner was going to do. If student A got the right answer, student B had to show them the picture. This worked really well and students were attempting to use the form, and seemed to enjoying the guessing game.

And you?

The second lesson started with ‘find the mistakes’ based on form problems both groups had had on Monday. I copied the sentences into the chatbox one by one for them to correct.

I’m going watch Netflix. Marta going to read. You is going to go shopping. They are going to seeing their friends. I’m don’t going to play Minecraft. My mum not going to make lunch. We are no going to see my grandma. We’re going to cinema.

With the second group, I then asked them to copy the following into their notebooks – this was a replacement for the part of the lesson we’d missed on Monday.

You are going to go shopping. (NOT You going) They are going to see their friends. (NOT seeing) I’m not going to play Minecraft. (NOT I don’t going) We’re going to go to the cinema. (NOT going to cinema)

The homework slide used the same colour coding as the previous lesson, and I spent time with the second group to make them check the forms carefully in their workbooks, as we hadn’t been able to go through them on Monday. They had much more intensive correction throughout the lesson, including brief pauses where I clarified aspects of the form that group one had grasped by the end of Monday’s lesson.

(I'm = blue, Are = orange, is = yellow, not = red, infinitive = underlined) 2 I’m not going to miss The Simpsons. 3 Are you going to watch it all? 4 I’m going to watch that. 5 Are you and your brother going to finish your homework? 6 I’m going to record In the House. 7 Dad is going to watch the football. 8 Mum is going to see her programme. 9 Karina isn’t going to miss her reality show. 10 I’m going to do some work.

To introduce a short listening activity, we did a chain drill of ‘Are you going to… on [day]?’ ‘Yes, I am.’ ‘No, I’m not.’ – student A asked student B, student B asked C, C asked D, etc. I drilled them all chorally first so they would be more confident producing them. This allowed them to personalise the topic a little and understand the prepared them to match the phrases they heard to the pictures (taken from Project 2 4th edition).

Are you going to...? Yes, I am. No, I'm not. (images of football, homework, piano, bed, swimming pool, messy room)

The listening answers provided the context for more short answer practice: Is Marco going to go swimming? No, he didn’t. Are Di and Kris going to do their homework? No, they aren’t. By the way, I insisted on ‘going to go’ not just ‘going’ as some of them understandably confused the structure with one of motion, and all of their examples were things like ‘I’m going to my grandma’s.’ ‘I’m going to the video games.’ I think it’s clearer when they include a full verb every time when students first learn this structure, even if it sounds a little odd.

For the final practice I prepared breakout rooms for pairs of students, but didn’t start them yet. Instead, I told them who their partner would be – first they just had to write down their name: ‘Sandy, write Emma.’ ‘Emma, write Sandy.’ Then they had 5 minutes to write as many predictions as they could in their notebooks about their partner’s weekend, including family members, e.g. ‘Sandy isn’t going to go to the cinema.’ ‘Sandy’s mum is going to speak to her.’ When they went to the rooms, they had to ask Yes/No questions to find out if they were right or not and tick/cross the sentences. To round off the activity in the main room, they wrote as many correct sentences as they could in the chatbox in five minutes.

Again, this lesson worked really well and the students were engaged throughout. I feel like both groups now understand the structure of ‘going to’ for future plans and can spot and correct the mistakes they make. Let’s see if they remember it next week!

Thoughts and ideas

Char and I were chatting about why young learner classes are much more tiring for everyone concerned when they’re online than in the classroom. She pointed out that you no longer have all of those little transitions or natural breaks that you would in the physical classroom, for example when they move from sitting on the floor to sitting on the chair, or those routines that always seem to take ages, like putting their coats on and getting their bags at the end of the lesson (5 minutes at least!) These give everyone a mental break in the lesson. We talked about finding activities to replace them that aren’t too cognitively demanding, such as adding in some song routines at the start and end of the lesson, or adding in little dances between activities. Is this something you’ve noticed? How do you deal with it?

When preparing the drawing lesson, I discovered Google AI experiments, some of which I think have a lot of potential for the online classroom.

In AutoDraw, you scribble on a whiteboard and it suggests images you might be drawing. You can click on the one you want. Here’s the first very random picture I produced when experimenting with the features:

Submarine under waves, with a yellow and blue monster holding a red suitcase (yes, it's as disorganised as it sounds!)

In Semantris blocks, you write words which are connected to the ones in the blocks. The AI guesses what you’re talking about and removes that block, plus any of the same colour which are connected to it.

In Semantris arcade, you write words which are connected to the one with an arrow next to it. If it’s classed as highly associated with the target word, it moves below the line and all the words below the line disappear. The game gets faster as you play. (Both of these games make more sense when you play them than from my description!)

Thing Translator works by taking a picture, identifying the object, then telling you the word in one of 10 languages.

Useful links

James Egerton shared ideas for including movement in lessons. I had an idea inspired by James which might work: play some music for everyone to dance to. When it stops, they need to make a shape that represents a recent piece of vocab. Everyone then calls out what they can see: James is an elephant, Sandy is a lion, etc.

Alex Case writes about how to organise drawing games on Zoom and useful language for giving instructions on Zoom.

Kate Martinkevich shared this post from Ditch That Textbook with 10 tips to support students with slow internet.

The TEFL Commute are producing a series of short podcasts called ‘Who’s Zooming Who?’ featuring conversations between Lindsay Clandfield and Shaun Wilden about teaching online. So far they’ve discussed what language to teach students to help them with Zoom, online whiteboards, and Zoom itself.

Reading a letter seems like a lovely idea, and something students could get involved in – that genuine authentic reason for reading aloud that some teachers have been looking for for years 😉

And here’s Caitlin Moran’s contribution to the series with advice to parents who are homeschooling:


Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

How do we teach when teaching online (guest post)

Laura Edwards talk on teaching online at the IATEFL Global Get-Together a couple of weeks ago was one of my highlights. If you’d like to watch the talk, it’s available to IATEFL members in the member’s area. Find out how to join IATEFL. She’s kindly agreed to share her ideas here.

This month I was part of the Global Get-Together, an online conference run by IATEFL. I was asked to present by telc language tests and I thought I’d talk about something connected to my work there in test development. But everything I came up with seemed irrelevant when most conversations with my teacher friends and colleagues revolved around coronavirus and their anxiety and frustration at having to suddenly teach online. I knew those feelings were completely valid. I have a Master’s in Education and Technology and ample experience with online teaching and I still felt overwhelmed. I also noticed that many articles and blog posts about teaching online explained the merits of various video conferencing tools, but few mentioned actual teaching. The implication seemed to be that once you get the hang of the tool, everything will fall into place, but that’s not the reality, which is why I decided to talk about how we teach when teaching online.

With schools suddenly shut, we find ourselves having to design materials suitable for online learning, change our assessment techniques and find new ways to manage student interactions, with very little preparation time. We’re also dealing with the stress of the situation, concern for our students’ well-being, and for self-employed or freelance teachers, there’s the potential loss of income to consider. 

Overwhelming really is the word for it! 

Adapting to the situation

I started my talk with a few inspirational quotes. This one from H. Jackson Brown, Jr. seemed particularly fitting.

Let perseverance be your engine and hope your fuel

As well as effort and perseverance, we need patience, hope, humour and plenty of self-compassion to help us face this challenge. 

It’s unfortunate that many teachers see teaching online as something to suffer through. Of course, it’s difficult to be positive about something that’s forced upon you. I can rave about how it creates great opportunities, frees us from geographical limitations, allowing us to learn whatever we want, wherever we are. But we’re human – we require time to grow accustomed to new ideas, technologies and teaching methods. The habits and biases we develop during our lives can cause us to reject alternative ways of thinking or acting. We face what’s known as the Adaptability Struggle. Change is difficult and some may question the appropriateness of a tool or initially dismiss something that doesn’t fit their perception of learning. Talking to students about their feelings and discussing the benefits of online learning definitely helps. If there’s a moment when your students aren’t reacting as you’d hoped or you’re feeling frustrated, remember it could be the Adaptability Struggle.

How learning happens

When it comes to actual teaching, the first step is to consider how learning happens in your classroom.

I teach large groups of mixed-ability adults, who are returning to education having worked for several years. To tap into their knowledge, deal with the differences in abilities, and make sure that in a group of 30 students everyone has a chance to speak, I incorporate a lot of pair and group work, projects, and peer feedback into my lessons. 

Make a list of the activities or approaches you use in your physical classroom and refer to it for guidance when planning your online lessons.

Exploiting the technology

Then think about the tech tools you have at your disposal. The SAMR Model helps us evaluate our use of a technology. SAMR stands for

  • Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change
  • Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement.
  • Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign.
  • Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.  

The first two refer to the enhancement of learning, the second to transformation. 

One example of the SAMR model is …

  • Substitution: Instead of writing texts by hand, students type them out. 
  • Augmentation: Students type their texts using word processing software, with spell check and formatting tools.
  • Modification: Students use Google docs to share their texts with classmates and get feedback, perhaps even working simultaneously on the document.
  • Redefinition: Students use their texts to make video presentations which they share online.

The goal is to move beyond merely replacing traditional tools, tasks or resources with digital ones, to a situation where technology is facilitating new ways of learning. Of course, under present circumstances, we may not be ready to think about transforming our teaching just yet. We might be thinking at the enhancement level, which is fine.  

The SAMR model helps us reflect on how we can use the tools we have to help our learners best reach their goals. 

Exploiting video conferencing

Many of us are using a video communication tool now. How can we change our lesson design to take full advantage of the tool? Can the tool offer an improvement?

One idea is inviting a guest speaker to join the lesson (if allowed by your school). This is something you couldn’t do as easily without the video conferencing tool. As you and your students are online anyway, it’d be easy to add a friend, colleague or family member to your meeting to be interviewed by the students. Even 10 minutes would be sufficient for them to talk about their job or industry, answer questions about their daily life, or give people a quick tour of their house (ideal if you’re teaching things in the house). It can be informal, even fun, while involving multiple tasks for students:

  • Researching the speaker, for example using LinkedIn
  • Writing an email inviting them to join, explaining why you are interested in speaking to them 
  • Preparing questions 
  • Planning who asks what
  • Conducting the interview
  • Writing a thank you email, outlining what you enjoyed or found useful
  • Preparing a post-interview report

If the conversation was recorded (with the guest’s permission, of course), the video can be replayed for comprehension and vocab activities. So much learning from just a short video call! 

Recording your lessons or parts of your lesson is another example of using the tool to transform learning. Students can watch the videos as often as needed, the repetition helping them notice things they didn’t catch initially. This also helps them reflect on their own contributions. We’re often so focused on expressing meaning, we’re not as aware of our language. Students could transcribe short sections of their speech and reflect on their language. 

The SAMR model reminds us to be open to the opportunities that teaching online offers us, rather than seeing it merely as something to tolerate until we return to the classroom. 

The downsides

Moving to online teaching isn’t without its issues. In some cases, students’ verbal participation decreases, causing you to wonder if they’re paying attention at all. There are many reasons why this might happen. Students may be shy, uncomfortable with the technology, distracted or having tech issues. But they might also be unsure about when they should speak or trying to avoid the situation where everyone is speaking at the same time.

What can we do about this?

Start with Small Talk

Begin each lesson by greeting students individually and asking them how they are, giving each a chance to say something. Then ask students to write something in the chat box: what they had for lunch, what they did yesterday. This easy warm-up allows you to check that everyone’s equipment is functioning. It also allows students to try things out, get accustomed to the situation and connect with their classmates.

Create and discuss guidelines for communication

This is a must. Should students mute their mikes? Should they raise a hand (visually or using the function in the tool, if it exists) or type something in the chat box to indicate they want to speak, or can they speak at will? Do they have to turn their video on, or can they participate by voice only? Are they allowed to record the video call? (Consider privacy regulations.) These things should be communicated clearly in the first meeting or beforehand. It’s also helpful to explain why you set each rule.

If your expectations are unclear, you risk intensifying the adaptability struggle, resulting in some students initially rejecting the technology. We cannot expect students to participate the way we want them to if they don’t know what that is. This may sound logical, but we’re all guilty at times of assuming students understand our intentions and motives when, in fact, they don’t.

Try chatting

A lot of interaction in the classroom is spontaneous. The frowns indicating which students haven’t understood the task, the rolled eyes at your jokes, the groans when you announce an upcoming test, the witty comments. So much impromptu communication gets lost online if everyone’s on mute or has to wait their turn before speaking.

One way to facilitate this valuable communication is by encouraging written communication. The chat function in video conferencing tools is often used by teachers as a place to type corrections, but that shouldn’t be its only use.

Instead of asking questions to students individually, ask the group to respond in writing in the chat box. Give them enough time, then tell them to hit send. You can go through the answers to compare responses, ask follow-up questions and point out improvements.

You may consider moving some of your discussions to the chat box altogether. This takes a little getting used to but works essentially like a group chat on whatever messaging app you’d use on your phone. A written discussion gives everyone time to think up a response and prevents discussions being dominated by more confident or out-going students. This would also benefit the less confident speakers among our students who just prefer writing anyway.

It can be a bit chaotic but it’s worth it, as the use of this function not only helps increase participation but, going back to the SAMR model, we see it is transformative in that it allows for greater inclusion.

Using forms

Further ways of increasing interaction would be to use tools like Google or Microsoft Forms to share listening or reading comprehension questions with students. As the students complete the activity, you can assess in real-time how well each understands the material and quickly discover where misunderstandings lie. Questions can be multiple choice or open-ended, students can see which ones they get wrong or right, and you can display the results to the group for discussion. Gaps in knowledge are quickly identified, and you can deal with these questions without wasting time on the ones everyone got right.

Use the same tools to create feedback forms for your students to be used at the end of the session or week. Find out what students like most and least, and if there’s anything else they’d like to cover in the lessons. This gives students a voice, increases their engagement and aids your own development.

Many teachers find that once they move their class online, they suddenly become the centre point, through which all communication flows. They feel pressure to keep things moving and teacher talk time increases. The use of chat and survey forms can help prevent that.

Promoting engagement

What else can we do to ensure student engagement and interaction? Let’s return to the question of how learning happens in your classroom. If you were in the classroom, what would you be doing that you’re not doing online?

My big challenge teaching online is pair work and peer feedback. For me learning is a social activity and communication and collaboration with others are essential. Although some tools allow for break-out rooms, it’s not always practical. If your students can’t conduct pair work during your live session, how about moving that to outside the allotted class time? Give students a task to complete for the next session and assign them a partner. During the following lesson, the pair can report back to the group.

Peer feedback is another collaborative activity that increases students’ engagement and self-awareness as learners. The key to making it effective online is sharing the task rubrics with the students. Explaining to students what they have to do to complete the task successfully brings transparency to the evaluation process, and helps them effectively evaluate and help others. To really enhance the reflective process, students can create the rubrics or evaluation checklists with you. This further helps them develop a common language to use when giving each other feedback.

Students can also give feedback more informally. During speaking tasks, those listening could use pre-assigned emojis or a comments sheet with short sentences like ‘I agree’ or ‘Good vocabulary’. These could be quickly copied and pasted into the chat box, helping students give feedback faster while eliminating typing errors. The added advantage of this is that it builds community among learners, which is even more important when we are not all sitting in the same room together.

All of these things take practice, which I guess was the main message of my talk. We’re in a difficult situation, and it takes time to adapt to any change so we need to be kind to ourselves. I hope this post gives you a few ideas to help you along the way.

After university, Laura left Ireland to work as an English teacher. Now in Germany, she teaches adults and creates content for digital and print language tests. She has Master’s degrees in Education Leadership and Education Technology. She tweets as @edlaur. In her free time, she turns all devices off to read a good book.

Half a week

We were lucky to still be able to take our Easter break – I know that some teachers had to work, and I hope that you’ll be able to recover that time at some point. We were off from Thursday to Tuesday, so working for only three days this week, with one English lesson and one Polish lesson. I used the time off to blog, catch up with friends, play Jackbox games with family and friends, and watch some of the fantastic online cultural offerings that we are currently privileged to be able to access, like Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and shows from the Royal Opera House.

My Zoom lessons

As we’re at the end of a unit, we wanted to do something a bit more project-based to pull everything together. I got inordinately excited (genuinely, I was jumping up and down and clapping my hands after I finished the plan!) at the Top Trumps lesson I planned, involving the students creating their own cards. Needless to say, the students were nowhere near as excited as me. It also only worked up to a point, but we live and learn…

The warmer worked excellently, with students writing a range of sentences about superheroes using all of the structures we’ve looked at in the unit, and asking for any adjectives they didn’t know, all based on this slide:

After a quick homework check, these two slides introduced Top Trumps. I asked a couple of students who were familiar with the game to explain how it works in Polish, then demonstrated using the number of pets the two presidents have.

To create our own Top Trumps cards, I first wanted students to come up with their own categories. I gave one example, highlighting the adjective ‘strong’ and not worrying about the noun for the moment.

They had 2 minutes to write 2 ideas each in their notebooks, then copied this functional language into their notebooks.

I demonstrated using the language to negotiate choices, then students went into breakout rooms in groups of 3-4. As they’re elementary students, I expected them to need to translate a few ideas, and told them this was OK, but found my group actually stuck to quite basic ideas. In their group they had to narrow down their 6-8 ideas to 2 ideas. When they returned to the main room, they wrote their ideas in the chat box. I then created a poll out of their suggestions:

  • Go to (there are lots of different free instant poll creators, but I liked the ease of this one)
  • Copy and paste the question: Which Top Trumps categories do you want?
  • Copy and paste possible answers from the chat box.
  • Tick ‘Allow multiple votes’
  • Click ‘Create your poll’
  • Copy the link into the chat box for students to vote. Share the results on screen.

It was break time, but only took 2-3 minutes so if you have it prepared you should be able to make something similar quite quickly in your lessons.

As the students were voting I screen shared the results, and they were spontaneously calling out to the others which categories they wanted their classmates to vote for.

I copied the winning five categories into the categories slide, either as nouns or adjectives, depending on what the students had used. I added nouns/adjectives to the other side, and students copied all of the nouns into their notebooks.

Next I wrote each adjective into the chatbox, with the students suggesting the comparative and superlative structures they’d need to say to play Top Trumps. In hindsight, they should have made their cards first, then done this afterwards, but I planned it this way to help their understanding. I actually think it confused them more. The final slides from our four groups (mine and Jude) looked like this:

You can spot Jude’s groups by the much more creative categories they chose 😉

Then students had 5 minutes to create their own cards. They already had the categories written down.

They produced beautifully drawn cards, with the template carefully copied into their notebooks in most cases. The points scores were quite confusing in the first group (it originally said ‘You have 100 points’), and I should have given an example of how to divide 100 points between the six categories. Most, but not all, of the students interpreted my instructions as 100 points per category, so I updated this for the second group. This confusion meant we didn’t have time to play in the first group.

The second group went into breakout rooms in small groups to play the game. I wanted them to say how many points they had in the category they chose, then make a comparative/superlative sentence, but when I dropped into the rooms this wasn’t happening at all, despite having done what I thought was quite a clear example with a couple of students in the main room first. Instead they were just saying ‘Coco, speed, 20’, ‘Wonder Woman 2, speed 40’, then moving onto the next set of scores. I think I need to have clearer functional language for them which they could copy into their notebooks again. I’d be interested in any other suggestions here, as I’m planning for this to be the fast finisher activity in our test lesson next week.

Overall the students were engaged in the lesson, and we revised the structures to some extent. They had the chance to be a bit creative (something that’s been lacking somewhat in recent lessons), but I don’t think I was able to push their language as much as I wanted to.


One of the privileges of being a manager is that I can observe other teachers. Watching the lessons has highlighted how good teachers are at giving clear instructions, supporting them by showing things on the camera and making notes in the chat box. They are using the technology confidently and in a range of interesting ways. There is a variety of activities and interaction patterns. The biggest problem, and one I’ve had too, is the feeling that we need to fill the silence, especially when students are writing in the chat box or working in their books. I’ve started to mute my microphone, or put my finger on my lips to stop myself from speaking at these points. I also try to make sure that comments add value, for example by giving named students specific feedback on what they’ve written in the chatbox.


Testing has been the other major topic of the week, conducting my first online placement test, discussing testing and assessment with IH DoSes from around the world, and building on the work of Jude F at our school who came up with a strategy for us to run tests for adults and teens. This is what we’re doing at the moment:

  • Create a test in a Google Doc.
  • Make one copy of the test per student with their names.
  • Put the tests into a single folder.
  • During the lesson, when it’s time for the test remind them to go to the toilet and get a drink before they start (thanks Lucie!) They put their books/phones somewhere out of reach of the computer (if they’re using one) to make it a little harder to cheat.
  • Then share the folder link with edit permissions. You can share the whole folder, or if the group is small enough send a private message to each student with their link (prepare these before the lesson).
  • Students can switch off their microphones while doing the test. If they have a question, they can come on the microphone or type in the chat box.
  • When they finish the test, they tell the teacher. The teacher makes the test view only, then puts the student into a breakout room with a fast finisher task.

We can never be completely sure if students are cheating or not, but as long as the test is low stakes, we need to trust them. If we’ve been assessing them throughout the year, formally and informally (as our school does), we’ll be able to see if there are any huge differences between their offline and online scores. This has worked well for teen and adult students, and we’re currently working on assessing young learners. If you have any ideas, please do share them.

Here are a couple of tips:

  • If you upload a test containing pictures into Google Docs and the pictures don’t show, right click and choose to display the picture ‘in line’ – this made them reappear when I did it.
  • Don’t use activities which involve spotting a mistake. The red/blue underlining of the checkers will give away the answers!
  • Make sure that students will be able to manipulate the test easily, even on phones. For example, ask them to underline words in a multiple-choice activity, rather than circling them.

Teacher training

Our weekly workshop was very different this week, based completely on sharing. Teachers suggested ideas they’d tried for conducting error correction, post-activity feedback, and revision activities. As they did this, I added everything to a Google Doc. There were lots of useful

Beyond our school, another shift I’m watching with interest is in how CELTA courses are being run, with many fully online courses now taking place, including online teaching practice. CELTA trainers are actively discussing the impact of this shift, a discussion I’m trying to keep up with. Because I only work on one course per year, I can’t see how this is affecting CELTees directly. As a recruiter of many CELTA graduates, I’m currently considering what extra training we might have to provide to CELTees who have never stood in a classroom before. So far I think we’ll need to work on:

  • classroom presence
  • ability to use classroom space
  • monitoring a group speaking simultaneously (not in breakout rooms)
  • including consistent pair/peer checks

What else would you add to that list?

Zoom learning, tips and activities

To share sound only (for example for a listening activity), click on screen share > advanced options.

If you’re sharing a video, make sure you optimise for video. Otherwise it skips frames and is very jumpy from the students perspective.

The classroom timers from Online Stopwatch are a great way to help learners keep track of their break times, though you may want to stick to a more basic one for in-class activities! (Thanks Char)

Useful links

If you’re concerned about security on Zoom, this guide has comprehension information about how to prevent ‘Zoom-bombing’ and keep your meetings as secure as possible.

General Plan IH Shanghai are just starting to emerge from the other side of the COVID-19 lockdown. Their Academic Director Simon Cox explains how it has affected them and what might happen next.

The IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG) produces a regular podcast called Developod. The latest episode includes tips for teaching online.

The IATEFL Global Get-Together took place on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th April, two days of sessions on a wide variety of topics. The recordings are available for IATEFL members after the sessions. Sessions I found particularly useful were Tammy Gregersen talking about teacher wellbeing, Hala Ahmed talking about working with second language learners who have experienced trauma, and Laura Edwards on how we teach online, all of which included practical tips and activities. Here’s how to become a member if you’re not already.


Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

The new normal?

Yesterday marks one month since the day I first used Zoom, when Shaun Wilden trained IH DoSes in the basics, and tomorrow it’s a month since we trained our teachers to use it. It’s amazing just how quickly life has changed. During my crazy year of CELTA, I realised it took me three weeks to settle into a new place, and from this situation I now know it takes me three weeks to settle into new habits of any kind. I wonder if it will be that quick to settle back into ‘normality’ again afterwards? Or how long we’ll feel we need to keep 2m away from other people for?

Thanks to Lesley Cioccarelli again for this entertaining video from Wellington Paranormal, and shared by the New Zealand police, on how to get people to stay 2m away from you:

My Zoom lessons

I teach two groups of elementary teens, in tandem with Jude, who has two other groups at the same level at the same time. We plan our lessons together, and share the materials making. In the last few lessons, all on Zoom, we’ve looked at comparatives and superlatives, and words for features in a town (see links at the bottom of this post).

Quiz time

In our first lesson this week, we worked up to the students making geography quizzes.

As the students entered the lesson, I displayed this word cloud of all of the adjectives we’ve studied recently, made with

They had about 7 minutes to write as many of the adjectives in the chat box as they could, along with their comparative and superlative forms, while we dealt with tech problems and late arrivals.

After checking their homework, which included some quiz-style questions from the workbook, students played Quizlet Live in teams with the ‘My country‘ vocab. This is one of their favourite activities from class, and worked really well online too. I have 8-11 students in regular attendance, so we played in the main room on Zoom. Everyone put their microphones on. They got K points (our classroom management system) for speaking lots of English while playing, with phrases like ‘I’ve got it.’ ‘I haven’t got it.’ ‘It’s [cliff].’ While they played I had a screen share with the Quizlet scoreboard and a Word document which had the useful phrases and a copied list of who was in each team (I have two screens, but you could arrange everything on one equally well). They enjoyed it so much that it was the first thing they asked for in the next lesson! [Tip: mute the annoying music or they can’t hear each other! If you’ve forgotten to do it before the game starts, on Chrome you can right-click on the title of a tab and choose ‘Mute this tab’.]

Quizlet Live on Zoom

Next up: error correction. I copied each of the following sentences, one at a time, into the chatbox, with students writing the corrected version. I told them the information is good, but the English is bad. Again, the group were really engaged with this.

  • Asia is biggest continent.
  • London is more expensive Warsaw.
  • Cat is smaller than horse.
  • Polish is the most easy language to learn.

The next part of the lesson didn’t go very well for the first group, as I didn’t make it clear enough that we were going to make a quiz. It reminded me that my expectations need to be clearer than ever. With the second group I told them straight away and it went smoothly. On a slide, I showed them an example of a quiz question about the UK for students to answer:

The highest mountain in Great Britain is in…

  1. a) England
  2. b) Wales
  3. c) Scotland

Then I displayed the question structure and students copied it into their notebooks:

The [superlative] XYZ in Poland is…




The [superlative] XYZ in Poland is in




We then looked at how the structure mapped onto the example question. Then we repeated this for a comparative question:

London has got a bigger population than Scotland.

True / False

…with the structures…

ABC is ___________ than DEF.


ABC has got a ____________________ than DEF.


To set up the task, we had the instructions on a slide:

Make your geography quiz! 

Work with your team. What’s your team name?

Write in your notebooks.


  • 3 questions
  • 1 superlative
  • 1 comparative

Good luck!

Once they were in breakout rooms, I copied and pasted the instructions into the chatbox in each room. They had 10-15 minutes to make their questions.

Being online has forced me to think much more carefully about the support that I give students before they complete a task, particularly in breakout rooms, because I know it will be harder for them and me to spot and remedy any problems. This is good for me and them!

With the first group, technical problems meant everything had taken quite a long time, leaving only 10 minutes at the end. One student from each group chose a question to ask the whole group, who wrote the answers in the chat box. In the second group we had about 35 minutes, which meant they could quiz every other pair. I put them into breakout rooms with the following pairings:

  1. AB / CD
  2. AC / BD
  3. AD / BC

After each round they came back to the main room and I added up points to give us an overall winner.

As a filler for the last couple of minutes, we had a slide of pictures of various things in groups of 3 (e.g. Mars/Venus/Mercury, or elephant/hippopotamus/rhinoceros – thanks Piotr!) Students wrote sentences with comparatives or superlatives in the chat box using these items, and some of them spontaneously made them into quiz questions.

I think this was the most engaging, varied and interesting lesson we’ve had so far on Zoom, mostly because it’s the first time there’s been plenty of time for them to play with the new language with a real purpose. Everything takes so much longer to set up and run on Zoom, and I haven’t been great at prioritising having a purpose for practising the new language so far: definitely something I should continue to work on.

Also, that was 6 activities for the whole lesson, 5 if you count the quiz setup and making it as a single activity. That’s a lot fewer than I would probably include in a plan for a face-to-face lesson – I’m learning to take my time a little more and not try to squeeze too much in.

As blue as the sky

The second lesson this week introduced as…as… comparisons through a range of similes like ‘as white as snow’ or ‘as big as an elephant’. Our warmer was Piotr’s pictures from last lesson, with students making quiz questions again. The context was the camping story from last week. Here’s how we clarified the structure:

The tent is dry. A bone is dry. = The tent is _as_ dry _as_ a bone. as ______ as ______ =

I also clarified with a few more examples from the things around me at my desk.

They had time to complete the matching exercise in their coursebooks, then to play Quizlet match and send me their fastest time (another favourite game in class, including trying to beat my time), then to test each other in breakout rooms, one student with their book open, one with their book closed. To round off, they wrote the phrases they could remember in the chatbox.

So far, so normal.

Then, we tried a movement activity which was more thought-through than last week, although with the same general idea. One student selected an as…as… phrase from the book. Everybody had 1 minute to find an object which matched that description and bring it to the screen. As they brought it, I told them what they had (if I could work it out!) and wrote it in the chatbox. They then wrote a sentence using their item and the phrase. Two of my favourites were ‘My watermelon is as big as an elephant.’ and ‘My foot spa is as white as snow.’ 🙂 They produced lots of language, and because they had to hold the phrases in their heads while they found the items, they will hopefully remember them for longer.


We did our first Zoom drop ins this week. It was fascinating to see how other teachers (who now all have far more experience than me!) have adjusted to the new medium. As in a physical classroom, it’s immediately obvious to students that somebody new has arrived, so it’s important for the teacher to introduce the observer, and for the observer to briefly come on the camera and say hello so that the students know who’s watching. Apart from that, being able to sit in the background with camera and video off is fascinating. Thank you, teachers and students!

I also attended two lots of international training via Zoom. The first was a session for IH DoSes run by Barrie Roberts, the DoS at IH CLIC Seville, about online placement testing. This is something I’ve wanted to instigate for years, and now we have no choice. About time too!

The second was run by Giovanni Licata and Michael Haddock for AISLI, the Italian language school association, about including every student in our lessons. We looked at examples of how materials can be inclusive to different identities, and accessible to students with different SEN. Key tips were to remove time limits that might create extra stress for students, to provide choices whenever possible, and to include a wide range of different activities (my favourite was how many times could our group jump on one leg/hop in one minute) and interaction patterns, both of which I’ve been trying to do anyway. If anybody else has tips on working with students with SEN via Zoom, I’d really appreciate them.

I really hope this kind of training format becomes more common after the current crisis is over. I really like the fact that we can share our ideas internationally on an equal footing.

Zoom learning, tips and activities

  • When you’re a student/participant and someone is sharing a screen, you can switch the video and the screen share. You could tell students to do this briefly if you need to draw attention to something on the video but don’t want to wait for the screenshare to stop and start.

  • If you’re sharing your screen but need to see the participants’ videos, share the window, not the whole screen. Resize the window to make it fill half of the screen, then use gallery view on the videos to see everyone’s faces. I’ve also just discovered the side-by-side mode, which I think will do the same job.
  • To stop yourself from talking when the students are working, put your fingers on your lips. This helps to combat the feeling of awkwardness when everything has gone quiet and you can’t see what they’re doing.
  • Get students to put them thumbs up, either literally or digitally, when they’ve finished what they’re doing, or when they understand the instructions. I use this a lot, especially when they’re copying things into their notebooks.

Lesson planning tips

It’s more important than ever to avoid unnecessary presentations of language that students already know, as things generally take much longer on Zoom. Assume that they know at least some of the target language until you find out that they don’t. Use tasks that prioritise eliciting/using language before you move into presentation mode. Simple examples for low levels would be ‘What can you see?’ with a slide of all of the items that you’re going to work with that lesson. For higher levels, try out task-based learning. At the very least, use a controlled or freer practice activity at the beginning of the language part of your lesson, then present afterwards, filling in the gaps you’ve noticed from students.

Break down long language presentations into smaller chunks, particularly with younger students. Again, this is good practice anyway, but more important than ever. Deep dive 2-3 items, then repeat for the next 2-3, then repeat the next 2-3, rather than working on 9 shallowly, then going back over all of them. For example, if you have 8 phrases for buying clothes accompanied by images, here’s possible sequence (which I estimate would take 60-75 minutes, depending on the students’ confidence):

  • Show them all of the images on one slide. Ask them where it is (a clothes shop). This sets the context.
  • Ask them to write what they can see in the chatbox. This shows what they already know. Maybe that includes a couple of the phrases.
  • Take the first 3 phrases. Try to elicit phrase 1 in the chatbox or on the microphone. Perhaps give them the first letter of each word as a clue. This mental processing and challenge will help the students remember the phrase. Once they have it, students repeat it 2-3 times, perhaps with an action if they can think of one. Repeat for phrase 2. Then get them to repeat phrase 1,2,1,2,2,1,2,1 switching between them quickly – make it fun! Add phrase 3. Repeat all three: 1,2,3,3,3,2,2,1,2,3,1. Play with the phrases, and keep the pace up.
  • Ask students to write the three phrases in the chatbox. Help them as needed. Once they have the correct version, they copy it into their notebooks and draw a picture to help them remember. They number each item to make them easier to refer to later.
  • Repeat for phrases 4-6.
  • Then phrases 7-8.
  • Send students into breakout rooms. They can use their pictures to test each other on the sentences. You can pop in and out and help with form or pronunciation problems.
  • Bring students back to the main room. Challenge them to remember as many phrases as possible in the chatbox. If they need extra support, show them the images again. This will show which parts of the form they’re still having trouble with.
  • Then students can create their own dialogues in a clothes shop, which they can practise in breakout rooms. Perhaps, they can use clothes they have at home to ‘buy’ and ‘sell’. This gives them a chance to move around. Again, you can do error correction and feed in extra language in breakout rooms.
  • Any students who want to can perform their dialogue in the main room. Praise all of the students for their effort.
  • Put one or two problem sentences into the chatbox for students to correct.
  • If time at the end, challenge them to remember all of the phrases again.

Include more ‘beginnings’ and ‘endings’ in your lessons to help students stay engaged and remember the new content. Again, this is good practice generally, but at home students have so many more distractions. By creating more natural breaks in the lessons, students can process the content more. Breaking down the language above into three smaller groups creates 3 beginnings and endings instead of just 1 for example. (This is definitely something I read about when preparing a session on engagement last year, but I can’t find the link now! Any ideas where it might be?)

Random thoughts

These have come up during discussions with colleagues through the week – thanks for asking the questions or making the statements that prompted them!

  • In the gallery view on Zoom, we’re all equal. Teachers and students are the same size, or trainers and trainees. What influence does that have on our and their perceptions of the lesson/training session? (Thanks Julie Wallis for pointing this out)
  • Parents are watching our lessons. While this might seem quite worrying at times, it’s actually a fantastic opportunity to show the range of activities we do with their children in class. For some children, it may mean they are reluctant to speak at first, but give them time and hopefully they’ll get used to it. It may be the first time some parents have ever heard their children speak English!

Questions I have

What are the safeguarding implications of being in a breakout room with one or two under 18s, when you are the only adult there? How can we work around this? Does anyone have any guidelines for this? (Apart from just not being in the room – but sometimes tech failures mean you end up in that situation.)

Is there anything extra or different we should be doing/thinking about when working with students with SEN that we wouldn’t need to consider in a physical classroom? We’ve tried to address the needs of our students as well as possible, but I’m wondering what we might have missed.

Useful links

Sarah Mercer, Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre would like teachers to complete their questionnaire “to inform understandings about the effects of the move to online and remote teaching on teachers’ health and wellbeing” as part of their ongoing research into teacher wellbeing.

5 of our teachers from IH Bydgoszcz share activities they’ve tried out with teen or young adult students in this post on the IATEFL Young Learners and Teenagers SIG blog (all I did was compile them in one place!)

The IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG (LTSIG) are presenting a webinar every Friday on How to teach English online. I attended Graham Stanley’s session on engaging students, including how to exploit the Zoom virtual backgrounds. I hadn’t tried them before, but am now trying to work out how to exploit them in my lessons. You can find the full list here, including highlights from webinars which have already happened.


Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

The world is changing

The title of this week’s post is inspired by this cartoon from Michael Leunig which appeared on my facebook stream this week:

The world is changing - it's always changing. Our lives are in danger. We are in lockdown. Life is always dangerous. We were never free. Many of us could die. We all get our turn. Nobody knows what's going to happen. Nobody _ever_ knows. This makes life interesting. We don't know what to believe any more. Keep an open mind. This also makes life interesting. We are living in strange times. When were we _NOT_ living in strange times?Thanks to Lesley Cioccarelli for bringing it to my attention.

The personal stuff

This week has been my first full week of being at home – I left the flat on Saturday morning to do lots of food shopping, then the next time was Friday morning to treat myself to a 30-minute walk for my birthday (which was far more stressful than I expected as I was constantly looking to see what everyone else was doing).

I live by myself, so the thing I was most worried about when I knew that we might end up being at home was feeling isolated, but actually I think I feel more connected than ever. Yes, I don’t have actual humans in front of me, but I’ve had more social conversations with friends in the last few days than I have for a very long time, and my birthday was far more fun than I expected. It included a virtual birthday party (thanks Laura!) and a group of teachers playing online games from Jackbox (thanks Connor!).

It’s been a week of learning to adjust to the new normal, and of maintaining a sense of perspective: my birthday was the day the world hit the milestone of 1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide. Just over 20% of those people have recovered, but over 50,000 have died.

If you’re not already, please, please, please STAY AT HOME. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, the weather is getting nicer in the northern hemisphere as spring arrives. Walks are good for your mental health, but how far do you need to go? Can you stay close to home? Have you got a garden you can go out in instead or a balcony you can use? By staying at home, you are protecting other people, and giving health services and scientists valuable time to respond. You’re also reducing the likelihood that COVID-19 will enter your home in the first place. Please also think before you buy anything that needs to be delivered – do you really need it? Is it worth putting that delivery person at risk?

THANK YOU to those who are continuing to do essential jobs, like working in health services, making deliveries of food and medicine, and caring for vulnerable members of the community, and to every single one of you who is staying at home.


On Tuesday and Wednesday I worked my way through all of the teachers, having a 10-15-minute chat with each to find out how everything’s going. Somebody from the IH DoS group suggested this – I can’t remember who, but thank you very much! This covered each teachers’ groups, their 121s, whether the tech was working, their general mental health, and any other problems or questions. I’m really glad I did this, and hope to repeat this periodically while we’re still on this pattern. I learnt that attendance is generally very high, barring a handful of students with tech problems (many of which were resolved between the first lesson and second), some exam students are handing in more work than ever, some teen groups are speaking more English than ever (they can feel the need for it now!), teachers are experimenting with functions on Zoom, and we’re still a strong community.

My Zoom lessons

This week we revised comparatives and added in superlatives in my elementary teen lessons.

At the start of Zoom lessons, I prefer to have something that students can get on with using the chat box for the first few minutes while we wait for everyone to join the lesson and deal with any technical problems. We repeated the comparatives challenge from last lesson the first time round, then in the second lesson one student called out an adjective, and everyone had to race to write the comparative and superlative forms. This helped me to see what aspects of the form students remembered and what they needed to revise.

Exploiting the chat box part 1: functional language

In the first lesson, the context for introducing superlatives was a multiple-choice quiz about geography. For example: Which is the longest river in the world? In order for students to do this in breakout rooms, they need some functional language. Here’s how I staged this:

  • Get them to open their books to the quiz page and show me.
  • Lay the book face down (I showed them this on my camera).
  • Tell them: “You’ll work together to do the quiz. You need some English to help you. Look at the chat box.”
  • Paste the first phrase with one word blanked out (I had them all prepared in another document). Elicit the missing word – a student comes on the microphone to say it.
  • If nobody can guess, give them the first letter.
  • Gradually add letters until somebody knows it.
  • Ask all students to copy the phrase into their notebooks.
  • Repeat for the other three phrases.
  • Paste all four phrases into the chat and ask students to check they have them all.

We had four phrases in total, and the chat looked like this by the time we’d finished:

Exploiting the chat box part 2: post-activity feedback

As students returned to the main room after they’d completed the quiz in breakout rooms, they wrote all of their answers in the chat, but nobody pressed enter until I counted down 3-2-1. That way I could see everybody’s answers at the same time, and there was no risk of copying from other people. It’s also a good way of double-checking that everyone participated (though I knew they had from popping into the breakout rooms). We then checked the answers as a group, with me telling them the answer and them debating if they disagreed. Feedback took 5 minutes, but they were definitely engaged throughout. Here’s what our chat looked like at the end of this stage:

Both of these strategies worked really well and I’ll definitely use them again.

I didn’t think this one through properly…

In contrast, the final activity of the lesson absolutely didn’t work the way I wanted it to. The vision:

  • A student calls out an adjective.
  • Everybody runs to find something ‘superlative’ matching that adjective, e.g. the oldest, biggest…
  • We choose which is the ‘superlative-est’ in the class.
  • Students write a sentence in the chat box using the superlative.

The reality:

  • A student chose ‘long’.
  • Everybody went to find the longest thing they could. This took about 3-4 minutes.
  • I tried desperately to get students to produce a superlative sentence in the chatbox.
  • Instead, they told me the measurements of the thing they’d got, and in some cases wrote it in the chatbox (the funniest was the pug who accompanies most lessons, who I now know is 26cm long thanks to T and his ruler!)
  • I realised that any sentence they produced needed the word ‘thing’ as we hadn’t specified a noun and few people knew the names of the things they’d grabbed.
  • I tried not to laugh at the inappropriateness of the sentence I was trying to elicit: ‘XYZ has the longest thing’. Oops!

The whole process took the final 7 minutes of the lesson – thankfully I’d already set their homework, so I could just let them go once we were done.

If anyone has an idea for how to exploit students’ environments to produce superlative sentences at elementary level, please comment!

Raising interest

The second lesson was based around a cartoon story in the coursebook about the characters going camping. I had the first panel on a PowerPoint slide, and used a simplified see – think – wonder thinking routine to raise interest. Students wrote sentences starting ‘I see…’ in the chat box for 90 seconds, then ‘I think it’s / he’s / she’s…’ for the next 90 seconds. I tried to elicit potential problems when you go camping, including some of the language they’d shared in the chat box – the first group didn’t get it, but the second group did (they’re a little older). We then watched the story video to check their predictions. I’m still feeling out how much I can push this level – my teen experience is limited, and I’ve only had these groups since late February.

Performing a story

After checking comprehension of the cartoon story, I wanted to experiment with students performing it. I’ve had mixed success with this kind of activity in the physical classroom and haven’t tried it with these groups before, but it seemed to work quite nicely in the end, with students generally engaged, and a few of them getting really into it.

  • (Group 1 only) Microphones off: I read the story line by line, students shadowed my reading.
  • (Group 2 only) Microphones off: I drilled some of the words group 1 had struggled to pronounce.
  • Breakout rooms: in pairs, students decided who’d play each character. They read out the story a few times. When I dropped in, I corrected pron and encouraged them to add emotion.
  • Main room: pairs performed one panel each, with everybody performing the punchline of the story together.

Zoom learning, tips and activities

  • Various posts/articles have been shared about privacy/security problems with Zoom this week. Zoom are working hard to combat these issues as quickly as they can. We’re already using waiting rooms on all of our classrooms, so teachers have to approve anyone who joins. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to read any of the links, but thanks to Phil Longwell for linking to this video produced on April 3rd:


  • When students are having connectivity problems, try communicating with them using the ‘rename’ function, as they may not be able to hear you or use the chatbox. I haven’t tried this year, but it might work.
  • There’s a lag of 5-10 seconds between when you share a screen and when the students can see it.
  • Some students appear twice in the room, with a separate video/audio feed. We suspect this happens if they’re on mobile devices and use the ‘dial in’ function for audio, though we’re not sure. This is a function you can disable in the settings. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • If students are working in groups on different Google Docs simultaneously, you can have them all arranged on your screen at the same time. You can then highlight anything that’s a problem for them to sort out. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • If you want to screen share and also see all of your students at the same time, arrange your screen(s) so that the software/document to share only takes up half of the screen. Share only that document, not the whole screen. Then use the other half of the screen for their videos: click on the gallery view icon, and resize the box until all of their videos are there. This is particularly useful if teaching young learners. (Will hopefully have a screenshot of this next week)
  • After setting up breakout rooms, go to each briefly to check everyone is on task. Then stay in the last one for a little longer to do some correction/upgrading. Vary which room is last each time. If time, sit in one or two other rooms for a longer period too. This ensures students still get hot correction/upgrading of their spoken language, without it being in front of the whole class.
  • Breakout rooms have various options, including:
    • Move all participants automatically – this means students don’t have to click on anything.
    • Close automatically after X minutes – good for timed activities.
    • Countdown timer after closing – I’ve found 30 seconds allows students to finish what they’re saying and come back. 60 seconds is too long if everyone comes back except one student!

Zoom breakout rooms options

  • Post-activity feedback ideas:
    • Teacher reads out answers (good if only one or two are there)
    • Student reads out answers
    • Nomination chain
    • Chat box simultaneous typing (see above)
    • Chat box – fast finisher types
    • Teacher types in chat
    • Display on slide/doc and screen share
    • Display with one or two mistakes for students to find
    • Display on course book software (if you have it) and screen share
    • Any other ideas? Please comment in the chat
  • ‘What’s missing?’ works really well and can be run in a range of ways (thanks Jodie!) For example, a series of pictures on a PowerPoint slide with a white box on one of them. Screen share the slide on edit mode, students say/write what’s missing. Stop screen sharing, move the box, share, repeat. Alternatively, students go to breakout rooms. They show the pictures in their books/on homemade flashcards, but cover one up. Their partner says what’s missing.

Questions I/we have

All ideas gratefully accepted – please add comments!

  • How can you quickly ensure students have successfully completed activities in their course books/notebooks during the lesson, especially if their video isn’t working or the image is poor? (I’m mostly taking it on trust at the moment, but maybe you have other ideas)
  • Providing feedback on spoken language is challenging to do evenly across the group (and I only have 8-11 students!) I feel like the balance has shifted from the physical classroom. There I can give hot feedback on speaking to everyone throughout the lesson, and spend a little more time with individuals on writing while ‘ignoring’ others at that moment (obviously not ignoring them, but that’s the best description I can come up with!) Online, they get lots of hot feedback on writing in the chat box, but when speaking in pairs/groups I have to ‘ignore’ the others as I can only be in one breakout room at a time. It’s great that everyone is getting so much writing practice and feedback, but we don’t want to neglect their speaking. Apart from ‘sitting’ in a breakout room as mentioned in the tips above, any other ideas for what we could do to increase feedback on speaking?

Useful links

Laura Patsko did a webinar called Moving your instruction online – fast!

Russell Stannard continues to add to his Zoom playlist, including ideas for keeping lessons student-centred.

A timely reminder from Kirsty D. Major, just as I was about to post this: Walk a mile in their shoes – or stay a day in their self-isolation house.

And, as every week, this one: Phil Longwell’s Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing post.

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Moving a school online: reflections from week one of using Zoom

Our school, IH Bydgoszcz, has successfully completed a week of teaching teen and adult groups using Zoom. We’ve made plans (largely facilitated by Ruth and Char – thank you!) to move our young learner classes online, with a staggered start – half from Monday 23rd, the rest from Monday 30th. Our teachers are still able to go into the school building, which has made it easier for us to support them with problems throughout the week, and to continue to share ideas.

This week has truly demonstrated the power of a supportive team, as we all simultaneously became beginners again in our move to online teaching. Ruth and Emma, our ADoSes, have worked tirelessly to support teachers in their planning (often more so than me as I’ve often been coordinating other things). Grzegorz, our Director, and Mariola and Sandra, our office staff, have helped it all to come off smoothly. But of course, without the teachers’ willingness to try this, we couldn’t do anything – thank you, thank you, thank you! We’ve had generally good feedback from our students so far, and attendance has been pretty high. This is testament to everyone’s planning and hard work to make it all happen.

Reflections on my Zoom lessons

I’ve now taught three lessons on Zoom (you probably have more experience than me!), two with one group, and one with another. They were all with high beginner/low elementary (A2.1) teens, aged 11-13.

I really enjoyed them 🙂 It’s been a fantastic chance to get to know my students better. We’ve had visits from a rabbit, a dog, a cat, and a sister. 😉 One student spontaneously played her piano and violin during the break – I had no idea she was musical. We’ve also had a toy sword, spontaneous dancing, putting on make-up, and rather more eating than I would have liked!

Lesson 1 was an introduction to Zoom. We then played a guessing game. Students went to their kitchens for 3 items of food or drink (our most recent topic in class), which they had to keep secret. In breakout rooms they asked ‘Have you got a…?’ ‘Have you got any…?’ to guess what they others had. If they were right, the student had to show it on the camera. When they came back to the main room, they typed what they’d found out in the chat box. For example: ‘Sandy has got some oranges.’ ‘Sandy hasn’t got any cheese.’ This activity went down really well, lasted for about 15-20 minutes, and was a great opportunity to use their homes.

Most of the students adapted to Zoom pretty quickly, though two students still struggled to find functions at the end of lesson 2, and one student missed the Zoom tutorial in the first lesson. Another had huge connection problems in the first lesson, but this was much better in the second.

Lesson 2 was a continuation of our book (Project 2 from OUP), planned mostly by Jude (thanks!) After revision and a homework check, I screen shared a Quizlet set to introduce country vocab, with students calling out the words on their microphones, or writing them in the chat box. We stopped every few words for them to call out what they could remember. They matched the words in their books. To prepare for a short listening, I asked them to type what these measurements could be: 1000m, 6km, 10,000m etc e.g. a river, a bridge, a road. We listened to the audio – they filled in the correct number. We checked them one at a time using the chat box. I then introduced them to ‘high’, ‘wide’, ‘long’ and ‘deep’ from the listening by using gestures and asking them to draw different arrows next to the words in their books, e.g. an up arrow for ‘high’, a down arrow for ‘deep’. I set up the homework (the reading from the next page of their book) and did the first example with them. For the last couple of minutes they typed all of the new words from the lesson in the chat box.

If I taught the lesson again, I’d skip me introducing the vocab through Quizlet. Instead, I’d send them the code and get them to play Quizlet match and learn modes – they’re used to doing this from classroom lessons. I’d then do a quiz, showing them three or four pictures at the same time and getting them to write all of the words. The listening and adjectives were fine, but there wasn’t much time left by this stage. I’d like to have something creative in every lesson, and I assumed we planned this but 5 days later can’t remember what it was! There certainly wasn’t time for it in the lesson.

Overall, I think my students have done more writing this week than in the entire proceeding month, and they’ve spoken to students in the breakout rooms that they wouldn’t dream of talking to in class, both without any complaints. Classroom management has been fine, because I can switch off microphones and videos if necessary – often the threat of this is enough to get students to concentrate again. If students consistently misbehave, you can put them into the waiting room for a minute or two to calm down, or speak to them individually in a breakout room (thanks for that idea Jude).

Let’s see how long the novelty of online learning lasts!

Zoom troubleshooting

  • Do a sound/video check at the start of each lesson. Get students to switch on their sound and video to make sure it’s working. If they’re having problems, put them in the waiting room (three dots in the top right corner of their video = move to waiting room) and let them come back in again. They may need to restart their computers/apps.
  • When one student is having lots of technical problems, give the others something to do while you help them out. You could put them in breakout rooms, with the ‘tech problem’ student in a room by themselves for you to help. Or give others something to do in their books. Make it clear to the other students that you’re helping the person with technical problems and how long this might take. If the technical problems are coming and going, make sure that student is in a 3, not a pair, when put into breakout rooms.
  • It’s better to have your computer plugged in or not at all through the lesson – it might not cope with the transition between two different battery settings. (Thanks Connor!)
  • If you’re having problems with the internet connection, switch off the video. If you’re at home, ask other people not to use internet-heavy apps at the same time as the lesson, like streaming.
  • If students are using Zoom on their phones, they need to be looking at the video (not the chat/participants list/screen share) when you put them into breakout rooms. That’s where the message pops up to invite them to the room. Alternatively, tick the option that says ‘Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically‘ and it doesn’t matter what they’re looking at!
  • If you’re kicked out of the meeting, one of the students will become the teacher with host privileges. Log back in, and (I think!) you’ll automatically become the host again.

Zoom tips

  • With small groups, prepare a piece of scrap paper with all of your students’ names before the lesson. Write C for computer/M for mobile/T for tablet – check what device they’re on as they come in. Don’t assume it’s the same as the previous lesson. That way, if they can’t find something, you know what instructions to give them to find it (the menus are different on different devices). I also used my list for noting which groups I’d put students in, tech problems they had, and how many K points (classroom management points) the group had got, plus reminders to myself about problems with Zoom/things to consider next time.
  • Recurring meetings: extend the date on your meetings for ages. If you let the last date pass, you’ll have to resend new links later. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • When you’re on mute, hold down space bar and speak – students will hear you only while the spacebar is depressed. (Thanks Emma!)
  • Make sure you remind students how to find functions – don’t just assume they remember.
  • In some browsers (Android phone?), the participant menu is a speech bubble with three dots in it. This is almost the same as the ‘more’ button, so students may be a little confused. (Thanks Ruth and Jude!)
  • Students can use the chat while in breakout rooms, but only they can see it. Nobody from another breakout room or the main room can see it. If you join the breakout room, you can’t see what’s come before, only what’s added after you join. A student without a working microphone can therefore still participate in the activity. (Thanks Connor!)
  • You can make the chatbox text bigger/smaller when you’re on a computer (not sure about a phone). Click into the chatbox. Press CTRL and + to make it bigger (CMD + for Mac), CTRL and – to make it smaller (CMD – for Mac), and CTRL and 0 to make it the default size (CMD 0 for Mac).

Google Docs tips

  • If you’re coupling Zoom with Google Docs, make the files directly on Google, rather than on Word then uploading them. If you have pre-existing Word documents to upload, make sure you save it as Google Docs if you want students to edit them. It’s not strictly necessary, but it makes things a little smoother.
  • If you’re using lots of Google files during a lesson, put them all into a single folder and send students the link to this before/at the start of the lesson. Then tell them which file you want them to open at the right point in the lesson. You can change from can view to can edit during the lesson if necessary. (Thanks Ash!)
  • Create designated sections of the document for students to write in. For example, we used red team/blue team/green team/purple team in the lesson I described above. (Thanks Jude!) Once students have accessed the document, ask them to write their name next to their team colour – this helps you to check instructions. (Thanks Connor!)

Lesson planning tips

  • Plan for a 60-minute lesson, not a 90-minute face-to-face one – everything takes longer! However, if you often spend a lot of time dealing with classroom management, you may find that your lessons are faster thanks to mute/stop video buttons. 😉
  • Keep the lessons simple. If you’re going to try something new, stick to a maximum of one new tech tool per lesson to avoid overwhelm.
  • Have a couple of zero-prep revision games to play at the end or discussion questions where they can go into breakout rooms, e.g. Pictionary, define the word and guess it (from anywhere in the book).
  • Put students into breakout rooms for the amount of time that you have groups. For example, if you have 3 breakout rooms, put them in there for a minimum of three minutes. If you have 5 breakout rooms, 5 minutes. 10 rooms = 10 minutes. That gives you time to check them all. It’s probably not really worth putting them in there for less than 3 minutes though as it’s a lot of faff and time, and sometimes the tech breaks!
  • Include breaks in the lesson. We normally have one 10-minute break in our 90-minute face-to-face lessons, but with my students I changed this to two 5-minute breaks. Even if you don’t normally have a break, it’s good to include stretching time and eye breaks to reduce muscle pain and eye strain. If you’re having problems with your neck or back because you don’t have an ideal position/posture, consider raising your computer. For example, put a couple of reams of paper under a laptop, or even put a chair on the desk and stand up during the lesson.
  • Include time when students don’t need to interact. For example, a drawing activity. They could switch off their video/audio while they’re doing this, then switch it on to signal that they’ve finished. You can switch off yours too.
  • You can ask students to do grammar controlled practice at home because they have grammar references, then use the lesson for problem solving, rather than trying to present the grammar from scratch.
  • For vocabulary, supplement with Quizlet sets – students can hear the pronunciation and practise the spelling.
  • Reading can be done for homework. You can check reading in class, or students can email you the answers to use it as an assessment. You can also do listening this way by emailing the audio to students (though be aware of copyright rules).
  • At the end of the lesson, consider sending an email summarising the content of the lesson, and including the homework, especially for teens e.g. Today we learnt some Zoom vocabulary from this Quizlet set We practised how to use Zoom. The homework is WB p39 Ex 6. See you on Wednesday!

Activity ideas

Here are some activities that (might?) work via Zoom, some of which we’ve tried, some of which we haven’t. If you want more, take a look at Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom.

  • At the start of the lesson, display a puzzle, a Where’s Wally image, or an Every Picture Tells a Story ELTpic on the screen. Students write what they can see in the chat box – higher levels could imagine what’s happening, or what people are saying (reported speech revision?) This gives time for you to help people with connection problems. (Adapted from Lisa Wilson’s idea to display a wordsearch.)
  • Show an album from ELTpics that is connected to your lesson topic. Students brainstorm what they can see in the chatbox. Give them a sentence frame if you don’t want them to just write single words, e.g. There’s a… / There aren’t any…
  • To get students (of all ages!) moving, play run and touch. (Thanks Rosie!) e.g. run and touch something blue, green, red, new, old, wooden, metal, complicated, funny…
  • Ask students to make things out of the objects around them. For example, make a person, a house, etc. Other students have to guess what they’ve made. If planned with the responsible adult in advance, this could work particularly well with children – they could have a plate of e.g. pasta to make pictures out of (not rice – it’ll get stuck in the computer!)
  • With smaller groups, experiment with all of the students having their microphones on simultaneously at certain points in the lesson. For example, this worked really well with the homework check and drilling in my lessons. Students can also drill without their microphones on – they can practise repeating, then come on the microphone when they’re more confident.
  • Use Jazz Chants for drilling. Your students can make them too. They can say them with the microphone on or off.
  • Total cloze: before the lesson, write a sentence on a Word document. Set the text to white, but the underlining to black. Share the screen. Students guess what words are missing. If they guess correctly, you change the text colour to black for that word. (If you have a less fiddly way of doing this, please tell me!)
  • Organise for remote guests to visit the lesson. Students can prepare to interview them, or to listen to a short speech/presentation from the guest. There are lots of people looking for things to do right now!
  • Ask if you can observe other teachers remotely by joining their class as a student – this is much easier now. Make sure that schools and students are OK with you doing this if you’re the observed teacher before you invite anyone else in. (Please don’t ask me for the moment – I’m not quite ready!)
  • Fast finisher idea: students can build up a single picture using all of the vocab introduced during the lesson. For a few minutes at the end of the lesson, or as a warmer at the start of the next, they hold up their picture to the camera and describe what’s in the picture. You may need to demo this is a whole-class activity in a previous lesson.
  • Get students to write emails to their future selves using FutureMe. These are incredible times we’re living in right now, and it could really help them to consider that this is not how life will always be. (I hope!) 

Useful links

Here are a handful of the many, many resources that have been shared in the past couple of weeks. Feel free to add others in the comments:

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Richer Speaking: how to get more out of speaking activities (IH Barcelona conference 2020)

On 8th February 2020, I had the pleasure of presenting at the IH Barcelona 2020 conference. I shared 4 activities from Richer Speaking, my ebook of 16 ways to get more out of the speaking activities you do in class with minimal extra preparation. 

To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.

If you’d like more reflection activities, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at There’s a 10% discount until 29th February 2020 if you buy it via Smashwords [affiliate link] using the code WG94S.

Here are my slides:


I did a version of this presentation in July 2019 which I’ve fully written out here.

Thank you to those who attended my talk, and I’d be really interested to hear from you if you try out any of these activities in your classroom. And don’t forget to get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]!

Activities with purpose – how I build self-esteem in upper secondary learners (guest post)

I’ve always found it easier to work with adults than teens, so at conferences I often look for sessions which have ideas for improving what happens in the teenage classroom. At IATEFL 2019 in Liverpool, Sofia Leone presented activities to build teen self-esteem, inspired by her work as a language coach. Here she shares two of them, and I hope you’ll find them as interesting as I did!

For the past eight years I have worked closely with secondary learners in southern Italy. It was clear from day one that the only way I could make a career in EFL work for me was if I could make it meaningful. After numerous conversations with teens over the years, it is apparent that many of them are missing supportive teachers at secondary school who give them space to express themselves. I realised that the reason teenagers have always enjoyed themselves in my classroom is that I give them a gift they don’t often get at school: a chance to be heard.

My coaching journey started a few summers ago when I started researching the role of a coach in sport and how those skills could be transferred to the EFL classroom. What started as a hobby (and a lifetime obsession with Rocky!) turned into a learning development project and is now my career as an EFL teacher, materials developer and qualified life coach for young people.

When I talk about my great passion for working with teenagers, I often get very strange reactions from stressed out teachers who are tired of trying to get teens on their side. They ask me how I do it and the answer is always the same: I give young people permission. Permission to express themselves in a supportive environment. Permission to discuss the topics they feel strongly about. Permission to make mistakes and learn from them. This permission empowers the teens which, in turn, leads to increased self-esteem.

I combine a supportive classroom space with a variety of materials which I have branded Activities with Purpose (AWP). These are activities which I develop and use throughout the year with a strong focus on self-improvement, self-exploration, resilience and building self-esteem in young people.

Class cone

An activity that I love kicking off the academic year with is one of my Activities with Purpose entitled class cone. This came about after my first lesson last September with an upper secondary group preparing for the Cambridge Advanced exam. I genuinely love spending my life with young people, but I will admit, it is always nerve-racking walking into a classroom of 14 brand new faces on the first day of term. I had started the lesson with a simple get to know you mingle and as I came over to Vincenzo and his partner to listen in he turned to me (in perfect English) and said:

“Sofia, can I ask you a question? Why do we do the same activities every year? It’s just so boring.”

Ask the teens to be honest - they're actually honest (meme photo of woman with hand on head)

I could have taken offence at his honesty, but I thought it was a fantastic and accurate insight and I later thanked him for inspiring this activity!

At the start of the lesson, students are given a blank scoop of ice cream and I give them time to think about their perfect English class (pace, teacher, amount of homework, activities etc). They then take their time to draw and colour their ideal class. The students then mingle and share their ideas with each other and this gives me the chance to listen to everyone’s requests. I take in everyone’s scoops and make a nice wall display without saying too much about the activity. The best part of this is the challenge that you can then set yourself: to try and fulfil as many of the requests as possible without making it too obvious. The teens want personal topics? I can easily make lessons about sport and nightlife. They want time to dedicate to their passions? We can dedicate a whole lesson to “my passion” presentations and learn from each other in the process.

This worked incredibly well for me this year and on the last day of term I gave my students back their scoops and asked them to write me a letter answering this simple question:

Did I meet your expectations?

This may seem like a simple activity, but a teenager who feels listened to will give you so much more than one who is told what and how to learn.

Me, My Selfie and I

Another AWP which I’ve developed sheds a positive light on something which is often branded superficial and detrimental: selfies. I ask students to take out their phones (brownie points with teens!) and find a selfie they don’t mind showing to their classmates. The students mingle and ask each other questions about where they were and how they felt on that day etc. The students then get a chance to see my not so typical (hey, I’m not 17) selfie.

A selfie of Sofia, with the adjectives determined, motivated, loyal, resilient, written around it

I model four positive adjectives which I would use to describe myself and I then ask students to take some time out to reflect and do the same. Once the students have got at least four adjectives I show them my selfie poem and I ask them to create theirs.

I am proud of all I've done // Even though there have been some // days when I felt I couldn't do it // but no matter what I will never quit

Some students will jump at the chance to try writing a rhyming poem in English and others will need a helping hand. I always tell them that copying the first two lines is a good start. This activity can then lead on to a mingle activity or an even longer poem. Some of my students this year wrote longer poems and asked if they could present their selfie poems to the class! What started as a mini poem ended up as a class celebration of our wins and I feel that the learners had a real chance to show that selfies can be meaningful when given the chance.

Maria Francesca’s beautiful poem which she then presented

Why is building self-esteem important?

The real question should be, why is it not important? I love building up teenagers, but I am also an EFL teacher at the end of the day with deadlines and exam courses to follow. I therefore understand the pressure to ‘fit it all in’. I do, however, believe that by supporting teens to help develop their strengths and cultivate new habits, I am in fact helping to create the right environment for solid language acquisition to take place. By bringing the teens’ lives to the classroom, I bring the classroom to life and my students’ feedback and exam results are testament to the power of active listening and positivity.

I can’t wait for you to try out these activities and watch your teenage classroom vibe go from good to amazing!

Sofia Leone has worked in southern Italy for the past 8 years and is dedicated to helping young people achieve their potential both inside and outside the language classroom. She is a British Council teacher and qualified life coach for young people and her mission is to incorporate meaningful life coaching activities into the upper secondary classroom.
For more information you can visit her website:

ELT Playbook Teacher Training e-books

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is now available as an ebook via Amazon and Smashwords (affiliate links). It’s currently retailing for around £7.50/$8.99 on both platforms.

The 30 tasks in the book are in 6 different categories and are designed to help teacher trainers reflect on their practice (please ignore the ‘coming soon’!):

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

Don’t forget that you can earn badges for your CV/blog/etc. if you share your responses to the tasks using the #ELTplaybook hashtags across social media.

You can also buy the book as a paperback from Amazon and Book Depository.

For teachers

If you’re still in the classroom, you might also be interested in ELT Playbook 1, 30 tasks particularly designed for early-career teachers, but useful to anyone I hope!

ELT Playbook 1 cover

These are the 6 categories for the tasks:

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

…and the badges:

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

Buy it at Smashwords, Amazon and Book Depository (affiliate links).

Find out more at

Please tell everyone you know! 🙂

Making input processes explicit

Today on the NILE trainer development course we read an article by Briony Beaven about how to make trainees aware of all of the different methods of input that we use on a course, as well as the variety of interaction patterns and activity types we use. She suggested using a poster at the end of each session with a tick list that can build up over the course. Trainees are often not able to notice input processes because they are so focused on the content of sessions. The poster draws explicit attention to input processes and will hopefully help trainees to vary their own input, activities and interaction patterns in their lessons. The original article appeared in English Teaching professional issue 74, in May 2011 and includes examples of such a poster. We’ve started using one for our course too.

What I learnt at the ETAI 40th anniversary conference

On 3rd and 4th July 2019 I attended the English Teachers’ Association of Israel (ETAI) international conference. They were celebrating their 40th anniversary, so there were a few special events. This included a musical celebration hosted by Leo Selivan and Jane Cohen, which I really enjoyed. Attendees were mostly from Israel, but Poland, Serbia, Greece, Austria, and other countries were also represented. I learnt a lot about how the Israeli school system works, and particularly the shift to try to get more speaking in the classroom, hence my own session on Richer Speaking.

Ideas from the conference

Penny Ur has written A guide to talking which is a useful beginner’s guide for getting more speaking in your classroom, including a selection of ready-to-use activities.

There are resources available for 7th grade students to help teachers get their students comfortable with speaking (aged around 12). Let’s Talk includes games to teach the language of basic role plays. We were shown these by Rachelle Borenstein and Renee Binyamini.

Early on in her courses, Timna Hurwich asks her students to discuss the Einstein quote below and answer the questions ‘When is a mistake good?’ ‘When is a mistake bad?’

I happened to see the same quote in this street art two days before this conference presentation!

Mitzi Geffen said “There is no glue on the bottom of your shoes!” which I think is a great way to remind teachers to move around the classroom, or ‘circulate and facilitate’ as she put it.

She shared how she helps reluctant students get over their fear of speaking in an achievable way, in this case when she wanted them to talk about a project they had done at home.

  • Step 1: each person stands at the front and says “My name is [Sandy] and my project is about [Einstein].” Everybody claps. They sit down again. When they’ve all done that, Mitzi points out that they all spoke and nothing bad happened!
  • Step 2: in the next lesson, other students have to ask questions about the project. They can use the questions they based their project research on. As everybody has the same questions, it’s easy to be successful, and takes the pressure off the presenter to work out what to say next.

Mitzi also suggested a really simple structure for brainstorming ideas for a debate, using the phrases “Yes, and…” or “Yes, but…” Anybody can add an idea. For example:

  • Chocolate is really delicious.
  • Yes, but it’s unhealthy if you eat too much.
  • Yes, and you can get fat.
  • Yes, but you can exercise more.
  • Yes, but exercise makes you tired.
  • etc.

Marta Bujakowska woke us up with a series of lively activities, including a conditional chain of actions, and countable/uncountable conversations. I’ve asked her to write a guest post so won’t say any more here!

James Kennard suggested we rethink some of the terminology connected to leadership and management. He emphasises that we often talk about them both like they should be part of the same job, but that the role is almost always given the title ‘manager’, unless you’re in a political party! Would it make a difference if we changed the terminology? He tried it at his school and it didn’t change much, but still something to think about. He also believes that ‘focus’ is a better word than ‘vision’ when it comes to describing your priorities as an organisation. Leaders need to identify the focus of the organisation and articulate it to others, so that members of the organisation can make the right decisions every time, in line with this focus.

Books as bridges: why representation matters

The two talks given by Anne Sibley O’Brien were probably the most influential for me. She was born in the United States, but when she was 7 her family moved to Korea, and she grew up there. You can read more about her story in the interview Naomi Epstein did with her. Her background has led Anne to work in diversity education, and she is the author and illustrator of various children’s books. She talked about the development of our identities, including racial identities, bias, and contact theory. Her perspective is unusual as she grew up with a minority identity, but a privileged one. We all have a mixture of identities, and generally some of them fall into majority and some into minority categories.

We learn who we are by the mirrors that are held up to us and what is made salient to us.

For Anne, she was constantly told that she was American and white, but her Korean friends were never told they were Korean, thus emphasising her difference. Majority identities are taken for granted because they are ‘normal’ and they end up disappearing. Minority identities are highlighted and everything you do becomes tied to that identity.

For example, consider being the only girl in a football team, versus being a boy in the same team. The fact of being a boy is unlikely to be commented on in this case, whereas being a girl will probably always be commented on. Members of a majority identity stop seeing what is actually there or can never see it, whereas members of a minority identities can often say quite incisive things about the majority identity because they have to be aware of the other side too, not just their own. For example, white Americans often don’t see how race affects the everyday lives of non-whites.

Children already notice racial and cultural differences from a very young age – I think Anne said that it’s around 6 months old. They get their attitudes about race from community norms, more than from parental norms (consider the analogy of accents and where children pick them up from) and from their environment, including who visits their house and what is and isn’t talked about. Three year olds already know that we don’t talk about skin colour. Consider when you’re describing pictures in a book to a child: you would probably say that it’s a blue ball, or a yellow car, but you’re unlikely to say it’s a brown or a pink baby. This is an example of our silence when it comes to race.

We all see the world through lenses, but we’re often not aware of what we see.

Our brain uses cognitive processes to make it easier for us to deal with the world. It sorts things in an unbiased way all the time, for example familiar/unfamiliar, same/different, like me/not like me, etc. This sorting initially does not contain judgement, but then we layer associations onto the categories, which can add bias. For example, same = good, different = bad.

The brain creates bias based on what it’s fed. If it only sees ‘white’, it will create white bias, but by making conscious decisions about what we feed our brains, we can change the bias. We all carry bias, but if we don’t understand this, how can we help others? If you’d like to find out more about your own biases, Anne recommends

We can also help children by referencing people they know and books they have read to start a discussion about race, instead of staying silent.

Aren’t we amazingly different? Look how we’re the same!

As we get to know each other, it can reduce prejudice and inter-group anxiety. This is known as contact theory. Anne has worked on something called The Storybook Project (?), where children and their teachers looked at 1 book a week for 6 weeks showing positive interactions between people of different races, followed by a short discussion of how much fun the children are having in the book. They found this made a difference to how children felt about interacting with people from the groups represented.

She also works on the website to help people think about who is represented in the books they use, and how. Are there interactions between two named characters of different races? Are they positive?

Her two latest books I’m New Here and Someone New [Amazon affiliate links] tell the same story of three children arriving at a new school (one Guatamalan, one Korean, one Somali) from the perspective of the children themselves in the first book, and from the perspective of the other children in the class who don’t know how to react in the second book. I will definitely be getting copies of these!

Thank you to everyone at ETAI for organising the conference, and especially to Naomi Epstein and Leo Selivan who encouraged me to attend. As you can see, I had a really good time!

Richer Speaking: how to get more out of speaking activities (ETAI 2019)

On 4th July 2019, I had the privilege of presenting at the English Teachers Association of Israel (ETAI) 40th anniversary international conference. Here is a summary of my talk:

Richer Speaking: how to get more out of speaking activities

This session will demonstrate a range of low-preparation ways to adapt speaking activities that appear in coursebooks and other materials, based on my self-published book ‘Richer Speaking. These adaptations are aimed at helping students to speak comfortably for longer and produce higher quality language while minimising the effort for you!

To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.

Richer Speaking cover

What do I want to know?

Original activity

Tell your partner about you.

Richer activity

Before speaking, come up with three questions you want to know the answers to. Pool the questions with a partner and add two more to your list. Tell your partner about you. If your partner gets stuck, ask one of your questions.

Feedback stage

Did you find out what you wanted to know?


This gives students a real reason to listen, and helps them come up with ideas for their own speaking turn too. It also helps to create more of a conversation instead of two monologues.

Language challenge

Original activity

Any list of conversation questions.

Richer activity

Answer the conversation questions. Afterwards, list the language you used (either in English or your own language). For example:

  • Grammar: tenses, sentence structures (conditionals? relative clauses? etc.), modal verbs…
  • Vocabulary: phrases, collocations, key words…
  • Pronunciation: intonation, stress for emphasis…

Consider what other language you could use. Look at your notebook or coursebook to help you. Change partners and repeat the activity.

Feedback stage

Did you use all of the language on your longer list?


This challenges students to use a wider range of language and adds a reason for them to repeat the same speaking activity. It can be particularly good for exam students who need to show off the range of language they know.

Who am I?

Original activity

A role play. In the session I used one from Now You’re Talking! 2 by Rivka Lichtner (A.E.L. Publications, 2018) where an Israeli teenager sees an American celebrity on the street. The teenager thinks the celebrity looks familiar and tries to speak to them, while the celebrity is on holiday and wants to hide their identity. [I love this idea!]

Richer activity

Create a mini biography for a teenager or celebrity in this situation. Here are some ideas:

  • Celebrity: Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you visiting Israel? Why are you hiding?
  • Teen: Who are you? Who do you think the celebrity is? Why do you want to talk to them?
  • Both: How do you feel right now? Why? What did you do before the conversation? What are your plans later?

Optionally, exchange biographies with another student. Read your biography, then put it away. Meet as many celebrities/teens as you can in the time limit.

Feedback stage

Teens: Did you find out who the celebrities were?

Celebrities: Did you hide successfully?


By giving students time to prepare before they speak, they can get into the role more fully and the role play should be much more interesting for them. Adding dimensions such as feelings and how this conversation fits into the character’s whole day can make it feel more realistic and part of a larger story.

Not me, you!

Original activity

Talking about why two cartoons are funny. Again, the cartoons in my session were taken from from Now You’re Talking! 2.

Richer activity

For 1 minute, think of as many reasons as you can for why these cartoons are funny. Choose an object with your partner (for example, a pen or a coin). List ways that you can pass a conversation over to a partner. For example:

  • What do you think?
  • Do you agree?
  • How about…?
  • I really don’t think…, but maybe you do?

Have a conversation with your partner. Every time you pass the conversation to them, give them the object. When the teacher says stop, you shouldn’t be holding your object! Don’t be the last person speaking!

Feedback stage

Who is holding the object?


Because students don’t want to lose the game, they push themselves to find something else to say to be able to hand over the conversation to their partners. This extends the conversation and gives them turn-taking practice.


ELT Playbook 1 cover

To finish off the session, we used these reflection questions based loosely on ‘Supporting students in speaking tasks’, an activity from ELT Playbook 1.

  • Choose 2-3 speaking activities you’ve done in the last school year. Could you adapt them using these ideas?
  • Do you often include stages like these? Why (not)?
  • What other support do/could you give your students to help them:
    • prepare to speak?
    • speak for longer?
    • repeat activities in a varied way?
    • have a clear reason to listen?

If you’d like more reflection activities like this, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at There’s a 10% discount until 31st July 2019 if you buy it via Smashwords [affiliate link] using the code YM64U.

Thank you to those who attended my talk, and I’d be really interested to hear from you if you try out any of these activities in your classroom. And don’t forget to get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]!

Exploiting your materials with minimal preparation (IH TOC 2019)

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

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

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

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

Planning questions

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


  • How can we do these pages?


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

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

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

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

Elementary functions lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intermediate grammar lesson

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

Here are my answers to the seven planning questions:

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

In conclusion

The lessons as described above:

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

ELT Playbook 1 cover

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

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

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

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

ELT Playbook 1 cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*My list

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

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

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

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

Energy breaks for young learners

You’re teaching a group of young learners and they just won’t sit still, no matter how many times you tell them to. They can’t seem to concentrate on anything you want to do with them. What can you do about it?

Give them an energy break, of course!

Try some of these ideas to use up at least a bit of their energy.

  • Brain Breaks therapy – the first one in the video, ‘ear and nose’, is my go-to. Lots more on their blog.

  • Board races – great for revision too, though think about how to set it up if you have pre-literate students. Divide the students into two teams (more if the board is big enough) and have them run to the board. Loads of ways to vary these:
    • Say a definition, they write a word
    • Say a word, they draw a picture
    • Show a flashcard to the person at the back, they whisper to the next person in line and so on until the person at the front writes/draws it
    • Say a word in English to the person at the back, they say it in L1 to the next person, who says it in English, and so on to the front. Either L1 or English is written on the board, depending on what they finish on.
    • And many, many more (please add them to the comments!)

Energy breaks can mean encouraging calm too. Meditation and mindfulness exercises change the energy levels in the room.

  • This video is a 1-minute meditation.

As a side note, if this is a regular problem in your lessons, you might want to check that your plans are interspersing activities which stir and settle. Here’s and introduction to stirrers and settlers from Teaching English British Council, and some tips on planning tasks for young learner lessons from ELT Planning.

What would you add to this list?

Teenagers losing their luggage

Today I taught two low-intermediate teen classes at the same level, covering for another teacher. The first half of the lesson was a test. The topic of one of the recent units they’ve done is travel, so I finally got the chance to try out Mike Astbury’s lost luggage activity, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages. The basic idea of Mike’s materials is that students role-play travellers who’ve lost their luggage and airport workers who take the details. Here’s what I did with it.

Setting the scene

You’re going on holiday. You’ve just arrived at the airport. Your luggage didn’t arrive. What’s missing?/What was in your suitcase? How do you feel about it?

I said this and students discussed it in pairs or small groups, then I took a general poll of feelings for feedback. This also served to generate some ideas for later in the lesson.

Describing luggage

I projected the second page of Mike’s handouts with 8 images of different items of luggage. Students had two minutes to describe what they could see using the language they had available. I didn’t really do any feedback for the first group. In the second we talked about Polish ‘It has green colour.’ versus English ‘It’s green.’ which came up for most groups.

I’d prepared pieces of paper with Mike’s descriptions of the luggage which I laid out on the floor. They had to discuss which description matched which item. Feedback was them using magnets to stick them to the board.

We checked them as a class, and I pulled out items of vocabulary to check the meaning. Examples were ‘buckle’, ‘handle’, ‘strap’ and ‘lock’.

They then described the cases again, with me gradually removing the descriptions.

Preparing their luggage

On the board, I showed students what I wanted them to write on the back of their luggage cards.

I handed out one luggage picture per person at random. They had 90 seconds to write a few items that were in their luggage and to make up their address. They then put their luggage under their chairs for later.

Working out questions

I organised students into pairs or small groups, with one notebook and pen shared between them. I displayed the lost luggage form (page 4 of the handouts) on the board and elicited a couple of example questions – a simple one (What’s your name?) and a more challenging one (What time did you land/arrive?)

In their groups, students had to write a question for each part of the form. I told them that flight details are things like the airline (Lufthansa) and the flight number (ZX 123). I monitored closely and did a lot of on-the-spot error correction, aiming for grammatically correct questions by the end of the exercise.

As soon as a pair/group had a full set of questions, they had to test each other by saying e.g. ‘flight details’ with the reply ‘What are your flight details?’ or ‘What was the airline?’ Each group had different questions. All groups had a couple of minutes to try and memorise the questions.

At the airport

Half of the students had time to look at their luggage cards again, then had to hand them to me. That way they were remembering the information, probably imperfectly – I don’t know about you, but I can never remember exactly what’s in my case or the finer details of what it looks like!

The other half lined up their chairs and stood behind them, as if it was an airport counter. They each had a pen and a lost luggage form. They had to ask questions and complete the form as accurately as possible. Then they put their completed form under the chairs and switched roles. When there were three students in a group, first one person had to collect information from both of them, then two of them had to collect the same information from one person. One student in the second group got particularly into it and kept bothering the airport worker by trying to rush them and asking ‘When will I get my luggage back?’ 🙂

Finding their luggage

I laid out all of the luggage on a ‘carousel’ on the floor. Once everybody had performed both roles, they used their forms to try to identify the luggage. They had to give it back to the owner asking ‘Is this your luggage?’

To round it all off, I asked them to put their hands up if they didn’t get their luggage back, and told they how successful our airport is. In both groups about a third didn’t get it, which I suspect reflects real life nicely!

In sum

The activity worked really well with this group of students, although we were a bit rushed at the end. I allocated 45 minutes, but I think 50 would have been enough, and 60 ideal.

I completely forgot to give them tickets from page 3 of Mike’s handouts, even though I’d prepared them, but this didn’t matter as most students seemed to enjoy making up this information. One student got a bit flustered about it though, and definitely would have benefitted from having something to draw on, although she managed to work around it in the end. The rush at that stage probably didn’t help either!

They were a bit confused by the way that we arranged the room for the role play at first, but as soon as they worked out what was going on they seemed to appreciate it.

They were definitely trying to use some of the new language to describe luggage, and I didn’t hear any ‘green colours’ in the second group during the role play 🙂

All in all, I’m really glad I finally got a chance to try out this activity from Mike’s blog. The students were engaged and it generated a lot of language and helped to further practice travel vocabulary and past tense question formation (which some of them had struggled with in the test). It worked well as a task-based lesson, which is something I’m trying to experiment with more, with students pushing themselves to speak as much as possible. Thanks for sharing these materials with us Mike, and I would encourage everyone to take a look at the materials on his blog!

A black cat sitting on a half-packed suitcase

Ironically, I’ve lost my picture of my lost luggage after it was returned to me, so instead here’s a picture of Poppy the cat (not) helping me to pack

Some things from the IH Torun Teacher Training Day 2018

Torun - Copernicus

A wise man in Torun

Saturday 21st April 2018 was the annual teacher training day at our sister school, International House Torun. I attended sessions by Lisko MacMillan, Matthew Siegal, Rachel Hunter and John Hughes, and presented on Making the most of blogs. Here are few of the things I got out of the day:

  • Although I hated drama at school, and did my best to avoid it, I really ought to embrace activities borrowed from improvisation. They make great warmers and energisers, and there are lots of opportunities for revision there.
  • I wish I’d been relaxed enough to enjoy drama at school, because it’s a lot more fun now that I don’t care about appearances as much!
  • It might be a good idea to swap your writing with another teacher and mark each other’s when possible to avoid the bias you get when you know your students.
  • One way to make feedback on Cambridge writing much faster is to give students a copy of the mark scheme with the relevant sentences for their work highlighted. Obviously you need to explain what it means, but the more they see it, the more they know what is expected of them.
  • gw = good word, ag = advanced grammar, are possible additions to a writing code that focus on positives. Although I haven’t used a writing code for a long time, this was a useful reminder.
  • To encourage students to engage with writing criteria and to kill two birds with one stone, turn the criteria into a Use of English open cloze exercise.
  • An activity to make students plan before writing: you plan your partner’s answer. They only get to see the plan, not the question, and write the answer. Then show the question and they get rid of what they didn’t need.
  • Give students a list of things they can when proofreading their text. They should do as many as they have time for. For example:
    • Task completion and paragraphs
    • Spelling and vocabulary repetition
    • Grammar accuracy
    • Grammar range
    • Linking words
  • Art is an interesting alternative to photos, and lends itself to a lot of the same classroom activities.
  • There are loads of activities you could do with a single picture, like The Bedroom by Van Gogh. Try asking ‘If you lived in a room like this, what would you change?’ Show the picture, then hide it and ask students to remember as much detail as possible. What isn’t in the picture? Whose room is it? Be art critics. Give them half a picture each and make it an information gap.
  • With pictures of people, make the person the subject of an interview. If there are a lot of people, recreate the image by making a tableau vivante. Imagine the relationships between the people or describe their personalities.
  • If you want students to describe and draw, why not given them something like a Picasso or a Dali, and do it as a head drawing exercise (with their paper on their heads)? It’s already an odd picture, so they won’t feel as bad if they can’t reproduce it!
  • There is a blog by a Polish teacher in Polish about teaching English written by Beata Topolska. If you can recommend any other good blogs which are about teaching English but not written in English, please let me know!
  • Problems with teenage students are often due to rapport. Get to class early and get chatting to find out more about them.
  • Watch out for being too shallow or deep with personalisation – it’s a fine line. Try using Speak/Pass/Nominate, so students can choose whether they want to answer (Speak), don’t answer (Pass) or choose somebody else (Nominate).
  • To help students engage with a word bank of photos (e.g. types of food), try getting them to engage using sentences like:
    • I really like ______, but I don’t like _______.
    • I often eat ______ for breakfast, but I never eat _______.
    • I’ve never tried to cook _______ but one day I’d like to.
  • When you give students a list of topics, encourage them to find things in common. This is more authentic, as it’s what we try to do during small talk. You could give them a simple Venn diagram (you/both/me) to frame the discussion. For example, see ‘making connections’ in John Hughes’ post about personalisation.
  • With teens, try asking ‘What do you really hate/dislike?’ rather than ‘Which do you prefer?’ They’re more likely to respond.

All in all, this was a great local conference, and I walked away with loads of ideas for my classes. Thanks to Glenn Standish and IH Torun for organising it!

Questions (paragraph blogging)

Inspired by Matthew (again), as well as the lessons I’ve been teaching this week…

My current favourite getting-to-know-you activity to do with new students, especially 121s, is simply to get them to write a list of questions they want to ask me. With 121s I’ll write a list of things to ask them at the same time, so it doesn’t feel so awkward watching them write, and we take it in turns to ask them. 10 questions seems to work well in 121; in groups it’s about 5 each with students then selecting the ‘best’ from their lists. Questions are inevitably an area that students need to practise, regardless of their level. Students rarely form questions themselves, and are much more likely to answer other people’s/the teacher’s questions in the average lesson [I know I’ve read blog posts about this before, but can’t remember where – all links gratefully accepted].

The lists of questions students produce in this activity tend to show up the same kind of problem areas: present simple v. continuous, present perfect (or the lack thereof), word order, common mistakes (like Where are/did you born?), articles, etc, giving you a starting point for grammar areas to focus on. They may also throw up slightly more unusual problems: one of the ones I’ve noticed this week is capitalisation of ‘you’, following the Polish pattern of politeness, e.g. Where are You from? In addition, student-generated questions demonstrate which topics students are most interested in, as they tend to ask at least one or two questions about those areas. To push higher-level students to show off their grammar, especially if they’ve picked very simple questions to ask, you can encourage them to reframe one or two things from their list as indirect questions, and talk about politeness, especially if you’ve never met the students before.

Of all the things this activity makes me consider though, I have to say the oddest thing is how often the question How old are you? comes up in a typical student list. It’s one of those things students often ask at the start of lessons without thinking twice, though I’m pretty sure they would be unlikely to ask it that quickly if they were meeting people at a party or a conference!

Have you tried this kind of activity? Do you have a similar experience of it?

Stop asking me questions!

Based on an ELTpic by @ij64 (I believe!)

DIY festive homework (guest post)

When I walked past my colleague’s desk at work a few days ago, I noticed a really interesting handout, and asked her if she would be willing to share it with the world. I’m very happy that she agreed 🙂 Over to Katie…

‘Tis the season for teachers to hand out Christmas holiday homework, and if your students are anything like mine, ’tis also the season for students to ignore their Christmas holiday homework until half an hour before their first lesson back in January. So I came up with an idea that will hopefully motivate them to actually do something different every day, without having to personally visit them on Christmas day and force them to talk to me.

The format is simple and can be adapted for any level, but mine was for an advanced class (hence the uninhibited use of the word “regale”). I’ve made a calendar for my students, with a box for every day between our last lesson of the year and the first lesson of next year. Every day they choose a task from the list, and they note down which one they did into the right day. On their return to the class in January, they use the calendar to recall the different things they got up to over the holidays. My hope for this exercise isn’t necessarily to test or challenge my students, so I won’t take in any of their work to be marked. Instead the aim here is to train them to keep working at their English even when I’m not standing over their shoulder.

The list is based on my class and what I know might be interesting to them, but you should edit the list to make it appropriate for your class. I’d especially recommend adding in any online resources that you regularly use with your students, but to keep all the tasks relatively low-effort.

Christmas homework handout

Here’s the list again, for ease of copying and pasting:

  1. read your book for 20 minutes
  2. watch a film in English
  3. write a New Year’s resolution and summarise it in exactly 20 words
  4. go to and read a news story
  5. put a photo on social media with an English caption
  6. write an email to Katie wishing her a Happy Christmas & tell her what you’ve been doing (
  7. listen to some music, look up the lyrics and try to sing along (obviously only songs that have English lyrics!)
  8. write a diary entry about something interesting that happened to you
  9. watch something in English on YouTube & tell someone about it
  10. learn a Christmas song in English and sing it to your mum/uncle/pet/neighbour
  11. compose a haiku about Christmas Day
  12. go into a shop and pretend that you don’t speak any [Polish], and ask them to speak English to you
  13. write a Christmas recipe out for Katie to try at home (please make it very clear, and with minimal pickling)
  14. regale your family members by speaking to them in only English for part of the day (even if they’re not sure what you mean)
  15. look at your textbook, sigh, and say “maybe I won’t do anything in English today today” *ONE USE ONLY*


Katie Lindley

Katie Lindley has been teaching at IH Bydgoszcz since September 2016.  She hasn’t published any books (yet), or spoken at any conferences (yet), but the 9-year-old girls in her kids’ class think she’s brilliant.

I hope you enjoy adapting Katie’s festive homework, and I’m sure you’ll join me in asking her to write more posts in the future!

An accidental discovery

When I was looking through my diaries yesterday to write my post about starting different teaching jobs, I opened a diary at random and came across a folded handout:

Speaking games handout

What was so confusing was that it was from 16th June 2005, so two years before I started CELTA, and I had no memory of it at all. At that point I was coming to the end of my first year at Durham University, and it was just after our exam period had finished.

When I opened it up, it said:

Thank you for helping us out today! We hope that your participation will be fun and helpful to the students. This worksheet will give you some background information and ideas for activities to help the students with their speaking on Saturday.

The exam

The students are sitting the Cambridge KET exam. The oral paper lasts about twelve minutes. [The exam was then described.]

Today’s Exercise

To prepare for the test, it is important that they gain confidence in speaking to and understanding people they have never met before, perhaps with accents to which they are not accustomed. It is also important for them to have practice with the exam tasks in a ‘real’ situation outside the classroom. […]

We will start by dividing the students into groups with an even number of volunteers in each group. You can then take your group into another classroom or area where you can do a number of icebreaker games, followed by some more formal conversation practice, for about 90 minutes. Then we would like you to take your groups into Durham to give them practice in making questions and finding and relaying information as they will in section 2 of the exam.

Overleaf are a number of activity ideas for you to try. You don’t have to do them all, and you can use your own judgement about which activities will work, and if you have your own ideas please feel free to try them.

Most importantly – have fun!

On reading my diary entry, it turned out that this was for Japanese students who studied at Teikyo University’s Durham campus.

I really like this way of helping the students to meet people outside their campus, and to make exam practice more realistic for them. It’s also a great example of how you can show non-teachers what to do to help them to interact with and assist learners, without it being too much of a strain for either of them.

Sadly I didn’t write anything about how I felt about participating, but I’m assuming it wasn’t that traumatic or dramatic as it had completely disappeared from my memory. I wonder if there are any other teaching connections hidden in my diaries? 🙂

From rules to reasons

At this year’s IATEFL conference, I bought a copy of From Rules to Reasons by Danny Norrington-Davies. I can only afford to buy a couple of books at each conference, so I have to choose carefully. I went for Danny’s this time because:

  • I’m interested in alternative ways of thinking about grammar teaching, as I don’t feel the coursebook-led way we teach reflects the way I know I learn, and I’ve been led to believe it doesn’t reflect Second Language Acquisition theory either (I can’t comment on this as I’ve never read any SLA theory myself!)
  • Grammar lessons can be downright boring if students feel they know it all already, but they often can’t then apply their knowledge to their own language production.
  • I’ve seen Danny present a few times, including at this year’s conference, and I’ve always found his ideas to be very interesting, though I’m not very good at applying them (or any ideas I get from conferences!), so having them in a book might make me more likely to experiment with them.
  • It’s Danny’s first book, and I like being able to support friends 🙂

I finished reading it last week, and found Danny’s suggested alternative approach intriguing. In a (very small!) nutshell, we should encourage our students to think about the reasons why a particular writer or speaker is using particular language in a particular text at a particular time. The emphasis is on how the language is being used in that context by that person. Danny gives some theoretical background for this at the beginning of the book, including arguing why it can be more useful for students to consider reasons than rules, and examples of possible follow-up (replication) tasks that are based on them using the language in a similar context if possible, or in a different but related context (transformation, I think – I haven’t got the book in front of me now!)

In his book, Danny includes 18 lesson plans, some text-based and others task-based, which serve as models for anyone wanting to experiment with his ideas. Each plan includes examples of reasons formulated by students working with the same plan in the best. This practical thread of the book gave me a much better idea of how it might work in the classroom, and gave me the impetus I needed to try it out with my own students, so last Wednesday I experimented with an upper intermediate class.

We were looking at a report in a coursebook about places to eat in London, which would be followed by them writing their own report about Bydgoszcz, the city we live in. To get them to think about some of the language in the text, I pulled out a few phrases and put them on PowerPoint slides along with an alternative sentence that could be used instead. Students walked around the room writing the reasons they thought were behind the writer’s choice of phrasing. They then folded them under so others couldn’t see what they’d written. Hopefully you can read some of them below, but here are a few of them:

  • More formal (by far the most common!)
  • Offensive language (if you are poor)
  • It’s opened to all of readers (There are many options)

Why this phrase? - four examples Why this phrase? - four examples

Some of the comments were from the point of view of an exam marker, rather than a real-life reader:

  • It makes reader think writer has bigger word list.
  • Writer wants to show off his range of vocabulary.
  • Range of words.

For me, this backs up one of the arguments in Danny’s book that most speaks for looking at reasons and not rules: (my wording!) reasons treat the language as language, and not as a means to passing an exam.

After the students had looked at their own reasons, I gave mine, which went something like this:

  • Generally speaking, – emphasising the generalisation by putting it at the start. Varying sentence patterns, so not just S-V-O.
  • if you have a limited budget – more polite than if you are poor
  • has to offer – more open than has, it implies you have access to it and London is inviting you in, not just that these restaurants exist
  • relatively inexpensive – a more positive connotation than cheap, and therefore more attractive, as you’re more likely to buy/pay for something relatively inexpensive than something cheap which may also be poor quality
  • The majority of – more formal, seems more scientific (or at least, it does to me!)
  • nearly always means – more impersonal, varies the sentence structures used
  • tend to be, a bit – varies the language, and varied language makes something more interesting to read. tend to be also shows that it’s not always true, in contrast to the factual nature of are – the writer is saying they might be wrong, and giving themselves a get-out clause if they are!
  • There are many options – more impersonal, and therefore more formal. Again, varies the sentence patterns in the text.
  • serve high-quality food – ‘advertising speak’ – you’re more likely to choose high-quality food over great food. It’s also specific about what makes it great – the quality as opposed to e.g. the presentation or the price.

Having gone through these reasons briefly with the group, followed by a quick look at the assessment criteria (it was a continual assessment text), they then wrote their own reviews. Marking them, I noticed the students had used a lot of the phrases we’d looked at, possibly because we’d spent more time on them, possibly because I said they needed to when we looked at the criteria, but maybe, just maybe, it was because they understand the reasons behind why a writer might choose to use this language.

In short, I would encourage you to get a copy of From Rules to Reasons by Danny Norrington-Davies, and try out his ideas in your own classroom.

(You can also read a review of the book by Chris Ożóg in the June 2017 issue of the IH Journal.)

Revision squares

Tuesday evening. 7:15pm. I walk out of the cover lesson I’ve just completed, working with a lovely group of pre-intermediate teens. Running through my head: right, I need to take the key downstairs, pick up my stuff, and pop into the supermarket on the way home. Followed almost immediately by: [Four-letter word], I forgot to find cover for the last lesson! That’s my evening out the window! Cue 10 minutes of running around trying to work out where to get some food from to get me through the rest of the evening (thanks Shannon and Emma!), telling people how stupid I am, and canvassing for ideas for an unplanned cover lesson with low elementary adults I haven’t met before.

As (nearly) always with these things, the lesson itself was absolutely fine. Two students came, one of whom had forgotten to do his homework. The first 45 minutes were spent working on pronunciation of comparatives from the homework, and with them testing each other, plus practice of very large numbers. For the other half of the lesson, I gave them the choice of unplanned functional language (the next spread in the book), unplanned superlatives (the spread after), or revision (which they’d also had, along with a test, in the previous lesson). They went for revision, and this is the activity which I came up with, based loosely on collaborative profiles, an idea suggested by my colleague Sam just before the lesson (thanks!) I joined in to, so see if you can work out which drawings were mine!

Pawel page 1

Pawel page 2

Revision squares

  1. Fold A4 paper into 6 squares (or 8 if you have more language points).
  2. In the first box, each person draws a person.
  3. (Optional) In the second box, the next person asks three questions about the person. (This didn’t work very well, as I hadn’t thought it through, and I decided I wanted different people’s drawings on each paper, not the same person every time in our group of three.)
  4. In the second box, the next person answers the questions about the person/writes a basic profile describing them.
  5. Pass the paper on (do this after each stage to get a truly collaborative piece of work). Under the person, draw where they live.
  6. Write about where they live.
  7. Draw two or three hobbies, plus one thing they can’t do.
  8. Write about them.
  9. Draw three things they do every morning.
  10. Guess what…write about them!
  11. Draw their last holiday.
  12. Write about it.

Ola page 1

Ola page 2

As the paper was passed on, I encouraged the students to read what others had written and link their texts if they wanted to. I also corrected texts as part of my turn, because it was obviously a bit easier for me to write! The students asked me questions about what they were writing, and about my corrections. There was also negotiation in English as we tried to work out what other people had drawn. Obviously with only two students, it wasn’t that hard, so you might have to think about how/if you want to correct/join in if you’re using the activity with a bigger group. To round it off, we all read all three stories quickly and decided which person we would like to be friends with and why.

Steven page 1

Steven page 2

In about 30 minutes, these elementary students produced about 100 words of English, and practised:

  • question forms
  • interpreting and replying to basic questions
  • There is/are
  • rooms and furniture
  • like + -ing
  • can/can’t
  • hobbies
  • daily routine
  • past simple
  • holiday vocabulary
  • prepositional phrases of various kinds (time, place, manner)
  • vocabulary they wanted to use, based on their drawings

We had an empty box as we ran out of time, but I think I probably would have done something with future plans, like plans for the next weekend, though I don’t think they’d got to that in their book. Alternatively, drawing their family, their job, their favourite clothes…lots of options!

I’m pretty sure it could be adapted for a wide range of other language. I’d be interested to hear what you decide to do with it.

Memorisation activities

I put together this selection of memorisation activities for a CELTA course at LangLTC in Warsaw and thought it would be a good idea to share the activities here too. The activities can be used:

  • after error correction
  • to help students fix bits of new language in their heads before they need to produce it at a later stage in the lesson
  • to exploit decontextualised sentences, for example from a gapfill
  • to improve students’ confidence with bits of language
  • as learner training – once they’ve learnt them, a lot of the activities are things they can try themselves or with fellow students, without needing a teacher to set them up

They are taken from various wonderful people I’ve worked with in the past, plus a couple of my own ideas. If you think there are any that should be credited differently, please let me know. It would also be great if you could add your own ideas for activities in the comments. Enjoy!

Draw your sentence

Aims: To exploit students’ creativity. To personalise language.

Use this after students do a controlled practice exercise or study a new set of vocabulary.

  1. Students fold a piece of A4 paper into 8 boxes and put small numbers in the corner, like so:
1 2 1 2
3 4 3 4
  1. On the left half of the paper only (which should have 4 boxes), they illustrate four of the sentences/words in any way they choose, one per box. They shouldn’t write the sentence/word.
  2. Everyone puts the original sentences/words away.
  3. Give them the paper from another group. On the right-hand side of the paper, they should write the corresponding sentence/word.
  4. The original group corrects their answers and gives them feedback.

Mini books

A more high-tech version of ‘draw your sentence’, via Luke Raymond. Use this video to help you make your book:


  1. Page 1 (the front cover) shows the target word/sentence. Each student should have a different item.
  2. The book is passed to student B who draws a picture on page 2 to represent the target language.
  3. Student C looks at the picture and writes the word/sentence they think it is on page 3, without looking back to page 1. They fold the book so page 3 now becomes the front cover.
  4. The process is repeated until the book is finished.
  5. Much hilarity ensues as the students see the way the language has been illustrated and how it has changed throughout the book.

Students love the ‘Chinese whispers/telephone’ nature of this game 🙂

What do you mean you didn’t read the sentences?

Via Olga Stolbova
(I now call this ‘evil memorisation’!)

Aims: To encourage students to notice context. To make them aware of gaps in their language.

Use this after students do a gapfill exercise.

  1. Check the answers by writing them on the board (just the answers, not the complete sentence).
  2. Students put away the original exercise.
  3. They look at the answers on the board and have to recreate the original sentences. Expect protests! 🙂 Encourage them to write whatever they can remember, even if it’s just isolated words or phrases.
  4. If they’re really struggling/When you start feeling sympathetic, give them one minute to look at the exercise without writing anything, then close their books again and continue to work on reproducing the sentences.
  5. Students compare their recreated sentences to the originals. What were the differences?
  6. Optional extra evilness: put away the sentences you’ve just rewritten. Now say them all to your partner./Write them all again. You can also do this at the end of the lesson when they’ve done other things in between.

If students are depressed that they can’t remember everything, tell them you don’t expect this. I normally say that I want them to remember about 80% of the sentences immediately (with some effort), and about 50% by the end of the lesson, once we’ve done a few other things and they’ve had time to forget. It can be useful to show them the forgetting curve too.

Vocabulary revision game

Via Anette Igel

Aim: To revise vocabulary covered in previous lessons.

  1. Give each group a stack of small pieces of scrap paper (about 1/8 of A4 in size).
  2. They should write the English word/phrase on one side, and put either the translation, definition or example sentence on the other side. The game can also be played with word/vocabulary cards if this is something you use with your students.
  3. To create counters, rip one piece of small scrap into coin sized pieces. They write a letter or draw a symbol on each to indicate which is theirs. Alternatively, they can use any small item they can find (e.g. a paperclip, pen lid, etc).
  4. The final thing they need to prepare the game is either a coin, or a scrap paper ‘coin’, which can be made by folding another small piece up into a tight square, then writing ‘heads’ on one side and ‘tails’ on the other.
  5. The words should be arranged in a circle to create a game track. All of the counters should be placed on the same word to start.
  6. One player flips the coin. Heads = 2, tails = 1. To help them remember which is which, H has two legs, T has one leg. They move 1 or 2 spaces around the circle. When they land, they can do one of two things:
    1. If the word/phrase is face up, say the translation, definition or example sentence.
    2. If the translation/definition/example sentence is face up, say the word/phrase.
  7. In either case, if they are correct, they turn the card over and stay there. If they are wrong, they turn the card over and go back to where they started the turn.

The winner is the person who has moved furthest around the circle at the end of a specified time.

Back translation/Reverse translation

Aims: To help students notice differences between L1 and L2. To help them notice gaps in their language.

  1. Select one sentence per pair or ask students to choose one. Sentences could be from controlled practice exercises, tapescripts, reading, sentences produced by students…
  2. Each pair translates their sentences from English into L1. For multilingual groups, they work alone.
  3. Either: give the sentence to another pair immediately (if they share a language) OR take sentences away and return them to the same person/pair in the following lesson.
  4. Students translate the L1 sentence back into English.
  5. They then compare their English version to the original, and notice any differences. The teacher’s job is to point out whether the students’ English version is still acceptable, and to help them understand any mistakes or differences in meaning. Though it obviously helps, you don’t need to speak L1 to do this activity.

This could also be set up as a mingle activity. Student A says their L1 sentence, student B says it in English, then student B says their L1 sentence and A says it in English. If they get it wrong, the ‘L1’ student should say ‘No, try again.’ until they get it right. My students seem to get a lot out of this, especially with language that differs structurally from Polish, like verb + gerund/infinitive.

Drill, drill, drill

Aims: To improve student confidence before speaking. To help students internalise the language.

There are hundreds of ways to drill new language.

  • Point at words/flashcards, moving rapidly between them and returning to problem words often.
  • Whisper, shout, go slow, speed up, say it like an old lady/Arnold Schwarzenegger, be happy/excited/sad.
  • Boys and girls, call and response (e.g. half say question, half answer).
  • What’s missing? Students close eyes/turn around. You remove one or more flashcards/words.
  • Disappearing text (good for dialogues): start with the whole dialogue on the board. Gradually remove parts of it, either a line at a time or leaving behind key words, with students repeating it multiple times.
  • Key word drills (good for functional language): draw a table with numbered cells. Put one word from each sentence in each cell e.g. for the phrases How about going to the cinema?  What about seeing a film? Let’s watch a film. you could have:
    1. How    2. What    3. Let
    They say the phrase from memory. They can test each other by saying the number and their partner saying the sentence. Removing the words (but not the numbers!) increases the level of challenge. Follow up: can you remember all the phrases without looking?
  • Mingle: students have one picture/word each. They mingle, show their paper to their partner who has to say the correct word/phrase. To add challenge, they swap after each turn.
  • Circle drill: pass a flashcard around the circle. Each person says it in turn. You can also turn it into a dialogue e.g. Receiving student: What’s the weather like today? Passing student: It’s sunny. To add challenge, time the class to see how long it takes to pass around the whole circle, then repeat faster.

Some important things to remember are:

  • Make sure students know the meaning of the language before the drill.
  • Choral > group > individual. Don’t put students on the spot too early.
  • Model language naturally: you need to sound like a stuck record. It’s easy to overstress when correcting.
  • Keep the pace up. Add variety wherever possible. For example, can they drill it in pairs and listen to each other?

Mini challenges

Many of these can be done as pairwork after a teacher demonstration. Some are useful for fast finishers too.

  • Say all of the new vocabulary/sentences from the exercise as fast as you can to your partner.
    You can do this before drilling as a test, so that you only drill language students struggle with.
  • Can you remember the word/sentence before X on the list?
    If students really struggle, give them 1 minute to look and remember before doing the exercise.
  • How many of the words from the page can you write alone in two minutes? Compare with a partner.
    This can be at the end of a lesson after lots of work with the language, or at the start of the next class.
  • Mistake sentences: read the sentence with a mistake and students correct it.
    Mistakes could be false friends, articles, tenses (especially ones where connected speech confuses)…
  • Pause sentences: read a sentence but pause in the middle of the collocation. Do students know what comes next?
    Good for improving the ability to predict upcoming language when listening. 


Quizlet is an easy-to-use website which allows you to create lots of activities for the price of one – add some vocabulary and you immediately have about 6 games, plus the ability to print flashcards for lots more. For a full guide to how to use Quizlet and create your own content on there, plus links to level-specific groups, see – it’s a bit out-of-date as the site has changed it’s layout, but most of what’s on there still holds. If you have at least 6 devices (phones, tablets etc) in your classroom, you can also play Quizlet Live – my students absolutely love it!


Quizlet Live with a room of 40+ teachers

Quizlet Live with a room of 40+ teachers in Kazakhstan

What are your favourite memorisation activities?

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Continuous professional development

One of the reasons that I go to the IATEFL conference so regularly is to give me a boost for my own CPD. It’s always a bonus when I get ideas of alternative ways to develop too, and that’s what these sessions reflect.

Glasgow continues to develop

Glasgow continues to develop, and so should we!

Continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises (Gabriel Diaz Maggioli)

The opening plenary of the conference gave us an overview of how CPD could be integrated into professional organisations more effectively. You can watch the full plenary at IATEFL online, or read my summary here. 

There’s also an interview with Gabriel recorded after his plenary.

Much CPD is decontextualised, one size fits all, prescriptive, and not relevant to the teacher, leaving 90% of the profession behind, with only a few ‘lighthouse schools’ as the exception to this. A lot of it is self-driven, and it can be very superficial. If they do anything, teachers pick two or three techniques from superficial learning, for example from a one-day conference once a year, and use them too much, meaning it is not effective as it should be. They are often not given the time or support to follow up on CPD, and if an expert comes in to tell them how to teach and they don’t implement it, it’s considered their fault, not the management’s.

Teachers need time, resources and support to ensure that CPD is neither useless, nor pointless. Real life CPD needs to be timely, job-embedded, personalized and collegial. Diaz Maggioli says we need to think in terms of learning communities to come together to investigate areas of mutual interest.

CPD is an investment, not an expense. The end user of CPD is the student, not the teacher, and more investment in CPD benefits everyone.

Diaz Maggioli suggests that every school should provide one hour of paid CPD, away from the students. He’s created a framework: ‘The Teacher’s Choice Framework’ (2004). On the vertical access, we have outdated/updated knowledge, and on the horizontal access, we have aware/unaware. In every organisation, there are people in all four quadrants, for example who are unaware that their knowledge is outdated. Here are some ideas for differentiating CPD to ensure that there is something for people in each quadrant:

  • Mirror coaching: ask a colleague to come and write ethnographic notes about your class. No judgements, just notes about what you do, which you then get. You access your behaviour through somebody else’s eyes, in a way you can’t with video. You can ask them questions too. This is great for teachers who are unaware that their knowledge is updated or outdated.
  • Collaborative coaching: especially co-teaching, which is good for those who are aware their knowledge is outdated.
  • Expert coaching: for those who are unaware their teaching is outdated. This is not a deficit view: you are giving them the strength to renew their teaching.
  • Study groups: a teacher volunteers to show a sample of student work, and explain how they got the students to learn. They have 5 minutes to describe it, then other teachers have 10 minutes to ask questions, then a 10 minute break for the teacher to build a case to respond, then 20 minutes to form conclusions as a group. 
  • Critical friend teams: this works as a sounding board, especially when teachers are struggling with new methodology or classroom management. Some of them look for resources for you, others ask questions. Groups are adhoc, but the results should be recorded. It may lead to ideas like collaborative action research, with teachers planning and implementing ideas together.
  • Exploratory action research: teachers are taught to answer questions that are in their context. They communicate this through posters that they share with their colleagues, and it is highly contextualised. It gives the teachers a voice.
  • Lesson study: a group plans a lesson together, then one of them teaches it while the others observe the students learning, They get together and decide whether it needs replanning, then another teacher teaches it, and the process repeats. It’s also highly contextualised.
  • Learning circles: ad hoc professional development meetings. One person has something they want to find out about. They open the circle by asking others what they know and what they want to know. Teachers work together to plan a project together and implement it. They then decide how to publish the knowledge, and close the circle when they’re ready to do so.
  • Mentoring: working with a more experienced teacher who helps you to work throuh changes. These are more personalised approaches to CPD, and work best when pairs are self-selected. 
  • Professional portfolio: by putting this together, you reflect on your own development.
  • Dialogue journals: work together with another teacher to record your development and ask your own questions.

These are all things which can be done within work time and don’t have to be self-driven.

Follow-up ideas:

  • Explore one of the strategies in depth and share it with colleagues.
  • Help administrators find resources to start a small-scale pilot programme, using money in the budget that won’t be used. Gather evidence, and build a case for the maintenance of the project.
  • Talk to colleagues and administrators to start a discussion about embedding PD in your workplace.
  • Come up with your own PD strategy and share it with the world.
  • Join IATEFL, and get involved in the amazing communities of practice that are the SIGs.
  • There’s a summit on the future of the TESOL profession that you can find online and get ideas from.

Blog posts following Gabriel’s plenary:

The selfie classroom observation (John Hughes)

John described six possible observer roles:

  1. As assessor
  2. As trainer (often mixed with role 1)
  3. Observer as peer
  4. As learner
  5. As researcher
  6. As yourself (through photos or audio/video recordings)

The last is the one he terms the ‘selfie’ observation. He did a survey to find out more about these, and shared some of the results with us in the session, as well as on his blog.

Benefits of self-observation:

  • more flexibility
  • can focus intensively on one area over a series of lessons
  • observing students’ reactions is easier
  • you can question your own assumptions
  • more ‘real’, less ‘staged’ than formal observation
  • snapshots of a lesson help you to remember it better
  • observations become then norm, not the exception, so teachers become more relaxed

The #eltwhiteboard hashtag is a good place to find and share pictures of whiteboards. In the session we looked at one particular whiteboard and our impressions of the teacher and lesson behind it. John also mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink [affiliate link] and a study about teachers and first impressions, which Gladwell also referred to in this New Yorker article.

If you do decide to video a lesson, remember that you don’t need to watch the whole thing.A lot of self-observations are focussed on what’s being said (e.g. instructions, student talking),more than what’s seen, but remember that you can use different kinds of observation task to help you notice different aspects of the lesson. John has a range of them on his blog. Ways of using self-observations:

  • Observe yourself teaching out of general interest
  • Observe yourself to address a specific issue
  • Personal record-keeping and reflection
  • Part of certification/further study e.g. DipTESOL, Delta
  • Share with other teachers e.g. #ELTwhiteboard
  • Observe the students
  • Videos can be sent to students to help them to catch up on lessons they’ve missed
  • Create worksheets using whiteboard photos to provide a follow-up in later lessons
  • For use on teacher training courses by trainers
  • To enrich a ‘blind’ observation when describing a lesson to a peer

John also highlighted the importance of training teachers to observe, so it’s not just the preserve of managers and teacher trainers. I think this is really important, and takes a lot of the mystery out of the observation process. If you know what’s happening from the other side, it shouldn’t be as scary any more. According to a friend who teaches in state schools in the UK, this is a normal part of training new teachers there – I’m not aware of it happening in any kind of formalised way in ELT.

Developing through IATEFL

Jon Burton is the new CEO of IATEFL. In this interview recorded at IATEFL Glasgow 2017, he talks about what IATEFL is doing to attract younger teachers, and the #myiatefl hashtag which you can use to give feedback on the organisation.

Tweets from other sessions

Me three! I think we all started blogging at a similar time 🙂

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Listening and pronunciation

Since I did an assessed lesson based on listening for my Delta, I’ve been interested in finding out more ways to help my students develop their listening skills. I even did a presentation on it myself at IATEFL Harrogate 2014, heavily influenced by John Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom [affiliate link]. Richard Cauldwell’s book Phonology for listening: Teaching the stream of speech [another affiliate link!] has also been very useful in helping me to understand why it can be so difficult for learners to decode fluent connected speech. I was therefore very pleased to be able to attend presentations given by both John and Richard during this IATEFL. The other presentations summarised in this post were from the Forum on Listening.

Listening attentively

Still my favourite listening picture…

I haven’t tried to summarise Jane Setter’s plenary on intonation for two reasons: 1. I couldn’t get it all into tweets, 2. to fully appreciate the intonation differences, you really need to watch/listen to it yourself!

You can also watch an interview with Jane recorded after the plenary.

I definitely feel like I understand intonation and how to teach it much better now! Sue Swift also wrote about the plenary at ELT Notebook.

Listening: ways out of the fog (John Field)

John started by telling us that he has been ‘worrying about listening for the last 34 years’.

The typical comprehension approach starts with pre-listening and activating schemata, something that doesn’t reflect real life. We also don’t pre-teach vocabulary in real life, so it’s counter-productive in training. The next step is to set questions to target listening, then play the recording, check answers, and replay key sections (providing answers as we go). However, this approach doesn’t actually train learners to become better listeners.

(not a great picture, I know, but it shows why the student thought the answer to a question was ‘crack’, when in fact it was ‘nature reserves’ – they misheard the word ‘attract’ in the stream of speech)

John thinks that we can get a lot more out of the comprehension approach. We should forget about activating schemata and pre-teaching vocabulary, as these don’t happen in real life, though we should quickly introduce students to the context and the number of speakers, as they would normally know this, e.g. two people talking on a bus.

It isn’t usually the script that causes the problem, it’s the recording. The item writer is not involved in the recording. Tasks also need to be carefully thought out, as we give away in writing a lot of what’s in the recording, and encourage test-wise strategies, rather than strategies for general listening. To improve their approach, the teacher needs to prepare the listening in detail – using the script WITH the recording. What’s perceptually difficult?

There should be a first play for SS adjust to speakers’ voices, listening globally without the pressure of questions, and without using questions to guess in advance what they’re likely to hear. If you’re going to use questions, set them before the second listen, so that they don’t interfere with the learners’ perceptions the first time they hear the text. Check and DIAGNOSE reasons for learners’ answers, then replay parts identified by you AND students as perceptually difficult. Transcribe short sections, especially if they are particularly problematic. Listeners are individuals, each with their own problems with a recording, and these change over time and with experience. If you can afford it, provide a listening centre where listeners can work on their own problems individually. Give learners a transcript at the end of the lesson and ask them to listen again. Set listening homework. Though my students almost never do it – I need to have more engaging tasks and clearer developmental reasons for them to do it!

Do we need better materials? YES! New writers often don’t have a clear idea of what a skills approach is. Materials should take pressure off the teacher, guiding them, and focussing on the difficult parts of the recording. Field suggests open-ended questions, so the class can talk about possible answers. Sometimes you could use short clips with a single question, instead of the more normal long excerpts with multiple questions. You could also embed oral questions in the script rather than written questions to stay within the same modality (so have the speaker ask a question, then pause for answer).  Materials should demonstrate a better understanding of the processes that underlie successful listening and design questions to target them.

We also need to understand better what it is we’re actually teaching! When you listen you:

  1. decode sounds
  2. search for words
  3. parse (grammar)
  4. construct meaning
  5. construct discourse

Sometimes context makes us distort the phonemes we think we’ve heard to make it fit the context. To handle the speech signal, we have to adjust to speaker’s voice (pitch, speech rate etc), then match the set of squeaks/buzzes we hear to the sound system of English. But do phonemes really exist? They are so variable, maybe they don’t. This echoes Richard Cauldwell – see below. To handle words, we have to divide connected speech, recognise spoken word forms, link them to what’s know about the topic. To parse, we must hold in our heads the words which have already been said, recognise grammatical patterns, and work out the word’s sense in it’s co-text. To construct meaning, we have to put what we’ve heard into a wider context, interpret new information in relation to this, infer information the speaker has taken for granted, and link words like he/she/it to what they refer to. This is followed by putting it into wider discourse (I couldn’t keep up at this stage!) There’s an awful lot going on!

How does this knowledge help us? An expert listener does these things automatically, but L2 listeners need lots of effort to do each of these things, so it can be hard for them to form the ‘big picture’ of what they’re listening to. Up to about B1, learners have to give a lot of attention to decoding at word level, limiting their ability to tap into wider meaning (I’ve definitely found this with Polish). Strategy instruction should therefore mainly be done with lower-level learners to equip them with the fact that they often can’t make wider sense of what they’re hearing. Strategy training helps them with real-world situations and to compensate for gaps in text. Lower-level learners needs process training and strategies training to fill in gaps.

You can use the same audio, but vary the task to target any of the five levels of listening.

We should also vary the levels of our strategies instruction:

A syllabus for listening: less top-down! More bottom-up (Richard Cauldwell)

Richard relishes fast, messy speech and tries to find ways to help learners understand it. His CoolSpeech app was an ELTons 2013 winner for digital innovation, and he is currently in the process of writing a follow-up to Phonology for listening: Teaching the stream of speech [affiliate link] which will provide a clear syllabus for listening for language teachers to work from.

All words have multiple sound shapes. Decoding is the skill of recognising words in the sound substance (or ‘fog’ in John Field’s words). The sound substance is the acoustic blur of speech, which exits the mouth, travels through the air, and hits the ear. It’s what exists before perception.

Richard uses a metaphor for different speeds and qualities of speech. The greenhouse is the place for citation forms. In the garden, sounds touch each other gently through the basic rules of connected speech. In the jungle, wild things happen and all bets are off. He argues there are different goals for pronunciation (clarity/intelligibility) and listening (understanding fast, messy, authentic speech).

Teachers tend to brush the mess of sound under the carpet, so even CPE Grade A students have ‘can’t do’ listening points. Every word has a ‘word cloud’: a range of possible word shapes in fluent speech, of which the citation form is the least likely.

The examples of ‘and’ above were all taken from a single conversation, with only one instance of it even vaguely approaching the citation form.

Here are just some of the changes which can happen in fluent speech (in the jungle):

  • Consonant death: this can appear in many ways e.g. that changes to ‘at
  • d’eth drop: anenatwasat– no ‘th’s (instead of and that was that)
  • B-drop/B-soft – often happens with adverbs e.g. superbly – the ‘b’ can be lost or very soft
  • Smoothie: when diphthongs/long vowels change to just one of their elements: like > læ

There were a lot more, but I just couldn’t keep up!

To help student, we need to delve below the word that is meant to the sound substance itself – what sounds were actually produced. Field and Thorn both advocate using short clips to help students focus (see ‘the bathtub experiment’ below too). Audacity is the best tool to help you break up the stream of speech.

Try this activity: replace the ‘i’ with each of the vowel sounds in the image. This helps students to prepare for different possible ‘shapes’ and accents:

Or take a phrase for a walk in the jungle, and give your students an earworm to take home with them:

The earworm should be short term, memory length, annoying, and stick in their head to prepare them for perception. I sometimes wake up with words or phrases like this in my head from foreign languages.

Have students listen along with an audio, and when they get to the most important part of it (the ‘wave’), get them to speak along with it (‘ride the wave’):

If you’d like to find out more, have a look at Richard’s website.

After the conference, I noticed that Richard shared Tubequizard as a link on his handout – it’s an excellent way to help students to focus on connected speech.

Adventures in listening: the bathtub experiment (Marie Willoughby)

Marie teaches students who attend full-time classes at IH London. She finds her students only get so far with listening before they begin to disengage. Sheila Thorn inspired Marie to start trying different ways of approaching listening in the classroom, and after listening to an episode of the The Moth podcast, she realised she had the perfect material to use, talking about a man who sailed across the English Channel in a bathtub. The only problem was that it was 17 minutes long! Marie decided to break it into a series of mini episodes, each with a cliffhanger. She then used these over a series of lessons.

Marie found that the best texts to use as episodes have a clear narrative, but are outside normal experience. In this case, pure sound is better than video, as students are more invested in understanding what they’re hearing, and will therefore try harder to apply the decoding strategies. If they have pictures to help them, they don’t need to work so hard to apply the strategies. Once she had the episode, she asked two questions: What stops them underrstanding? What will help them understand later?

First, they always listened with no task, then worked together to co-construct the text with other students. They then moved on to focussing on a particular decoding strategy, which students were then able to apply in later lessons. By using short excerpts in small chunks you have time to pause and get students to consider the language in  more detail. For example:

  • Decode past perfect v. past simple when listening, first as a gapfill with a section they were familiar with, then listening to the next part of the story and saying what they heard.
  • Say why a speaker would choose one particular phrase, or why they would repeat it.
  • Listen to his description of a problem. Draw it on mini whiteboards.
  • The storyteller talked about English/French attitudes to each other, so Marie asked them to research it, after which the students understood the jokes better.
  • Vocab was a problem, especially familiar words in a new context, so she got students to listen and complete a sentence, then think about the meaning.

What are the benefits of using an ‘adventure in episodes’? There’s no need to reset context or activate genre knowledge each time. Prediction is a natural part of listening to such a story. The students were really motivated to find out what happened next. Intensive decoding work really bore fruit – they were invested in doing detailed intensive listening work. It also developed their autonomy.

I really like this idea, especially for summer school or 121 lessons, though I think it could take quite a lot of work to prepare. It reminds me of my French teacher introducing us to the French musical version of Roméo et Juliette, with us listening to one song each week and trying to follow the story. You could also use the BBC Short Cuts or Listening Project podcasts. Of course, once you have it for one adventure, they don’t date much, so you should have it for the future. If teachers share this kind of thing on blogs, you could have examples to draw from. If you choose to do this, please share the link below!

Listening using smart devices: effects on student interaction and autonomy (Clive Shaw)

The conventional classroom layout has speakers at the front, but Clive wanted to know what happens if we change where students/teachers are in the room. If the teacher is in control, it’s not easy to monitor, and students don’t have much of an opportunity to work on their own listening strategies. It’s also difficult for students to transition from the controlled environment of the classroom to the unguided environment of the lecture hall (Clive works in EAP – I think this is true all the time, and this prompted by IATEFL Harrogate presentation).

Clive investigated how listening from a smartphone changed the dynamic, encouraged autonomy and gave students the opportunity to employ strategies. He designed the materials based on two sources: taken from YouTube or by creating his own recordings. To get the recordings to the students he used TubeChop for YouTube and Audioboom for his own recordings, then a link shortener (my preferred one is Recognising that these took longer to prepare than coursebook audio, Clive deliberately selected easy-to-prepare tasks, for example two-column notetaking.

The biggest difference in the classroom was the seating plan:

Each group had one phone, and the weakest student was normally in control of it. Clive found out that students became more aware of listening strategies they employed when using smartphones. Students were more able to use context/syntax to decode problem areas as they could play it again as many times as they wanted to. Students were also encouraged to make their own decisions about when and how to review extract.

I’ve always played with seating arrangements, but it had never occurred to me to do it with listening extracts before. This seems like a great way of helping mixed-ability groups in particular, and also helps students to get used to background noise when listening, something we don’t do enough of.

Tweets from other sessions

Here’s Pete Clements’ summary of the above session.

One day I’d like to actually see Mark Hancock present! This year it was about accents:

Laura Patsko’s session on how to give feedback on learners’ pronunciation was one I was sad to miss, but luckily Cambridge recorded it, so I’ll be able to catch up. Here are some tweets to give you a flavour of it:

Things I learnt in Torun today

Today I had the pleasure of attending the annual International House Torun Teacher Training Day, which consisted of pizza, twenty small workshops divided into four slots of five sessions each, a break with more pizza and some yummy Torun gingerbread, a walk to a local hotel, a plenary with Adrian Underhill, and a Q&A session with various experts, of which I am now apparently one 😉


Here are some of the things I learnt:

  • Growth mindset should be influencing the feedback I give students and trainees, by focussing on effort and process/strategy, rather than natural talent and results. James Egerton gave us examples like ‘You concentrated hard on my last comments, so well done.’
  • Yet‘ is really important in feedback, as it implies that something is achievable. Consider: ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian.’ and ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian yet.’ It turns out that even Sesame Street know the power of ‘yet’!
  • The reason the sentences ‘They just don’t have a language learning brain.’ and ‘You must be really good at learning languages.’ annoy me so much is probably because they imply a fixed mindset, whereas even before I had a term for it, I always believed that anyone can do anything with some degree of success if they have the motivation and put in the time.
  • I think it could be a very good idea to have a CELTA input session on mindsets very early in the course. I wonder what influence that would have on trainees’ ability to accept feedback?
  • It doesn’t matter how many times I see Kylie Malinowska do the elephant story, it’s still enjoyable, and I still can’t keep up! I discovered that it comes from Drama with Children [affiliate link] by Sarah Phillips.
  • There are at least 15 things you can do after doing a dictation when students have put the paper on their heads to draw the picture you describe. Before today I only ever got them to describe it to each other. Though the only one I can remember without asking Kylie for the slide is battleships!
  • Using MadLibs with children is actually incredibly useful, as it encourages them to solve problems and notice when language doesn’t fit, but also appeals to their love of the ridiculous. I’d always thought they were a bit pointless before!
  • You can bring language from a student’s family and friends into lessons through things like doing surveys, doing project work, writing biographies, sharing photographs or doing show and tell. Dave Cleary explained that even if students do these in L1 at home, they’ll bring them to class in L2, and they’ll have a real reason to use the language.
  • A great activity for playing with language is to take a photo of a famous person the students know, and get them to finish sentences like ‘He’d look really great/silly with…[earrings, a long ponytail, etc.]
  • Telling students the story behind an idiom, whether real or made up, can help them to remember the correct wording, and maybe also the context where you’re most likely to use it, according to Chris McKie.
  • There is a Hungarian idiom meaning something like ‘Let’s see what happens’ which translates as ‘The monkey will now jump in the water’.
  • Adrian Underhill may have been talking about the pronunciation chart for a long time, but he still considers it to be outside the mainstream of ELT.
  • He’s incredibly passionate about it, and it’s very entertaining and engaging to be taught to understand the chart by him. I knew bits and pieces about how it fit together and how to teach it before, but I now understand it in a lot more depth.
  • All pronunciation can be boiled down to four core muscle ‘buttons’: lips (spread and back or rounded and forward), tongue (forward or back), jaw (up or down) and voice (on or off). This helped me to understand how I produce some sounds in English in more depth, and even one in French that I managed to learn but had never been consciously aware of how to produce!
  • If he was a cheese, Adrian would be some form of blue cheese – he went into a lot more depth about this, and I’m glad I didn’t have to answer that question!

Thanks to Glenn Standish and the IH Torun team for organising such an enjoyable day. Lots of ideas to think about, as always!

Three things I’ve done in class this week

As a Director of Studies, I no longer get much time in the classroom or much time to plan for my lessons (!), but when I do, I like to try and experiment a bit. Here are three things I’ve tried this week:

Translation mingle

After introducing a new set of vocab or bit of grammar:
  • Get students to write 2-3 personalised examples of the language, which you check as they write.
  • They choose one sentence to translate into L1, in this case Polish.
  • Students mingle, saying their Polish sentence. Their partner has to translate it back into English.
  • The L1 speaker tells them “Yes, that’s perfect.” or “No, try again.” Once they’ve tried it a few times, the L1 speaker gives them the correct version if they’re struggling.

This worked particularly well with gerunds and infinitives, where patterns differ from Polish. You don’t need to know the L1 to do this activity, as students will correct each other. It’s probably the second or third time I’ve done it, and it definitely won’t be the last.

Mystery words

I learnt this activity years ago, but have never had a chance to try it. Having worked with some easily confused words (e.g. remind/remember, avoid/prevent) in the previous class, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it this week. We revised the words at the beginning of the class. I then gave each student a piece of scrap paper with one pair of words on it. They remembered them, wrote their name on it, and gave it back to me. Throughout the rest of the lesson, they had to use the words as much as possible and notice what words other people used. At the end of the lesson, they said what pair of words they thought other students had.

Unfortunately it didn’t work particularly well, as although I tried to change pairs a couple of times, students didn’t really have the chance to use their words with a lot of others in the class, so they could only guess about two or three pairs. Some of the cunning ones used a whole range of words to confuse the rest of the class, which was a good idea. I asked the group if they liked it, but they weren’t that enthralled, so it’ll be a while before I use it again.

Listening training

Listening attentively

Regular readers will know that I’m quite interested in trying to work out how to train students to become better listeners. A 5-minute audio in our coursebook this week prompted me to find a different way to approach it, as the two tasks in the book seemed like an invitation for boredom (listen once, tick the things the speaker mentions; listen again, make additional notes). Instead, students had to listen and clap when they heard one of the things the speaker mentioned, at which point I paused the audio. They then had to tell their partner/group what they’d heard, and write on a mini whiteboard what they thought would come next. For instance, this could be ‘an example of X’, or some specific phrases they expected to hear. We then listened to check if they were correct. The idea here is to tap into the natural prediction that we do all the time when listening/reading, and show students that they were able to do it in English. We used about half of the audio in this way, then did the original tasks for the second half. It seemed to go down well, and I think the group were generally quite surprised at how well they could do it. I was also very pleased that one of the weaker students in the group was the only person to clap the first time round, as the others were listening for exact words instead of the general message – hopefully this served as a confidence boost.

What did you try in your classroom this week?

IH Bydgoszcz and IH Toruń Cambridge Day 2017

Each year IH Bydgoszcz holds a Cambridge Day to give ideas to teachers in the local area to help them teach Main Suite exams. Recently, our sister school, IH Toruń, has become an exam centre too, so to celebrate, we held events in both cities this year. My session was designed to share some (perhaps) less well-known online resources which can be used by teachers who are preparing students for both exams. These are the sites which I shared:

Cambridge Phrasal Verbs apps

Amusing cartoons and a matching game designed to help students remember 100 phrasal verbs. As far as I know they’re a different hundred in each!

The Phrasal Verbs Machine (cartoons in a historic style)

Phrasalstein (cartoons with a comedy horror inflection)

Alex Case

A one-man activity-writing/worksheet-producing machine, and everything I’ve tried so far has been good quality!

Key word sentence transformations advice and activities (including TEFL Reversi, which you can try by printing this Quizlet set: click ‘more’>’print’>’small’ and ‘double-sided printing’ and you’ll get cards you just need to cut up

All of Alex’s FCE worksheets

My blog

A collection of FCE resources for students and teachers which I recommend, including among other things a link to FCE: The Musical!, a 60-minute webinar by Andy Scott with lots more ideas of ways to make exam preparation interesting.

Various FCE activities I’ve shared on my blog, many of which could be adapted to other exams.

Richer Speaking cover

Richer Speaking is my ebook, which includes a section with activities for extending speaking, aimed at encouraging students to produce longer stretches of language. This is especially useful for the picture tasks in Cambridge exams.

A Hive of Activities

Emma Gore-Lloyd has a range of Cambridge exam activities on her blog.  One of my favourites uses pictures as a prompt to remember pairs of sentence transformations.


One of my all-time favourite resources, which is great for vocabulary learning in general, and which can be exploited for Use of English practice too.

How to use Quizlet, including links to classes/groups organised by CEFR level.

FCE/Upper Intermediate sets

CAE/Advanced sets

A good set to play Quizlet Live with is ‘Making your writing more interesting

Useful links on Mental Health in ELT

[March 2020: Phil Longwell has compiled a list of links to help you with mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak.]

Panic attacks can affect anyone. After my interview for the CELTA course which I was trained on, probably the easiest interview of my life, I was walking to my friend’s house thinking it over. As I walked I started to hyperventilate, and I thought I might be having an asthma attack. I couldn’t understand what was happening because although I have asthma, it causes coughing fits, not ‘normal’ asthma attacks. When I got to her house, I couldn’t really talk, and I couldn’t calm down. I started to get pins and needles in my fingers and toes, gradually moving up my limbs. She phoned 999 because neither of us knew what was going on. When the paramedic came, he gave me oxygen and explained what was happening. It took at least 15 minutes for me to start breathing normally again and for the pins and needles to go away. I suspect the thought that triggered the attack was probably me worrying that they wouldn’t accept me onto the course, though I already knew they had: it was my final year of university and my entire plan after my degree was based around getting a CELTA and becoming an ELT teacher. It has only happened to me once so far. I had the first steps towards another one when I was ill at New Year a few weeks ago, but thankfully my amazing best friend was looking after me, and falling sleep due to exhaustion meant I didn’t go all the way into the pit this time.

It's time to talk

Apparently, 2nd February is Time to Talk Day 2017, a UK event “to get the nation talking about mental health and keep the conversation going round the clock”. For a combination of reasons, mental health is an area I have become more and more aware of over the past couple of years, and I’ve been thinking of putting together a list of connected resources for a while. This seems like the perfect opportunity.

Two years ago, Laura Patsko described the conversation starters which she was given for Time to Talk Day 2015, something which you could use yourself or with students.

Phil Longwell made me aware of this year’s Time to Talk Day through his very open interview with about how mental health has affected his life and career.

My panic attacks they come from the tiniest smallest thoughts—and if you don’t know anything about panic attacks you tend to think that panic attacks are something huge—that they are huge, really life-threatening situations but for me they can be the smallest things. It starts from a tiny thought—and that thought can be a trigger which sets you off. Then you’re into a cycle. A panic cycle, they call it.

In May 2020, he recorded an interview for the TDSIG Developod podcast talking about mental health in general and within ELT.

The UK’s NHS website has a page explaining the symptoms of a panic attack, with a video showing how to tackle the vicious circle that starts it, and a link to tips for coping with a panic attack if you’re having one now.

Rebecca Cope has also had problems at work caused by anxiety attacks, and has written about them very movingly. If this happens to you (and I sincerely hope it doesn’t), you are not alone. Please please please do not be afraid to talk about it. There is nothing wrong with you. If you talk about it, then we can all help the stigma to go away and we can all try to move towards supporting each other and being there when things happen. By the way, as well as being a great writer, Rebecca is a talented artist, as can be seen here:

Four panels by Rebecca Cope: 1. A girl I once knew who always felt blue told me once with head bowed she was trapped by a cloud. 2. She said

Elly Setterfield talks about her self-confidence issues and offers advice on what to do when you can’t stop criticising yourself, in which we learn about the inner critic, and how to respond to it constructively. She has also created an A-Z of self-care for teachers. Marie Delaney has a shorter post in a similar vein about how to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your students. Jade Blue describes how to deal with imposter syndrome when teaching advanced grammar.

Lizzie Pinard talks about her first steps with mindfulness and the benefits she has felt from it.

Accepting that thinking (and overthinking!) is what the mind does, and not getting frustrated about it, is key. Instead, it’s a case of gently and repeatedly bringing the mind back to the present moment. And from there, you can identify which of the thoughts, if any, are useful to listen to and pursue, rather than just being stuck amidst a load of endless mind babble.

She has also summarised a webinar by Emma Reynolds called ‘Mind full or Mindful?’ which was part of the 2019 Macmillan World Teachers Day Conference.

Here’s a post from WeAreTeachers asking the question Should teachers take mental health days? including advice on what to do with one of those days when you decide that they are necessary for you.

Not specifically ELT, but the ‘Behave‘ episode of the language podcast The Allusionist is about how to defuse the power of words going round in your head. James Egerton has a post about ways to help students diffuse exam anxiety, which I think could be useful at other times too. Liam Day tells you how to beat depression and anxiety in the classroom. Ricardo Barros describes his experiences with depression and how he sought help to get through them. Anna Loseva reports on a session she attended about Frustration Regulation which was run by Sam Morris, including ideas like a frustration journal.

For those on the outside looking in, first, consider how lucky you are that you don’t have first-hand experience of this. Then read about how to support a friend who is struggling with their mental health.

A management perspective comes from The Secret DoS in You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps, which includes some key advice at the end of the post, and the important line:

Let’s be clear…mental health issues are simply health issues.

Emma Johnston talks about what a mental-health friendly language school could and should look like.

One of the things Phil mentioned in his post was the extra pressure that those of us living and working abroad add to our lives by choosing to move away from home, often into places where we don’t speak the language or understand the culture. Here’s an 8-minute talk on helping teachers settle in, which I did at the IH DoS conference a couple of years ago based on my own experiences of arriving in many a new place. It was designed for managers/employers and not directly related to mental health, but it might give you ideas of what to ask for/about on arrival, especially if anxiety is a problem for you. Working with difficult colleagues can also be problematic, so here are some tips from Chris Wilson to help you.

Another area that can cause a lot of problems is work-life balance, which I have a lot of bookmarks related to. They include tips for getting a better balance yourself, information about the importance of planning breaks into your day and examples of what other people have done. This is one of my favourite reminders of what you can do to help yourself take a break:

50 ways to take a break

Sarah Mercer did an excellent plenary talk at IATEFL 2017 about psychologically wise teachers. The third section includes tips on how to look after yourself. OUP have a webinar called ‘Destress your classroom: stress management and wellbeing for teachers and students‘. Claire Hart writes about taking control of your workload instead of letting it control you, particularly for freelancers, but also for others too.

Burnout is also an issue which can affect people in many professions, particularly the so-called ‘caring professions’. Clare Maas has quotes from various teachers on avoiding burnout, and a list of tips and suggestions, of which I think the final paragraph is particularly useful. Roseli Serra describes her experience and those of teachers she has interviewed, then offers advice on how to reduce the likelihood of burnout happening to you. Andrea Camara also has advice about how to reduce the stressors in your life that may lead to burnout. Rachael Roberts describes the ‘four burners’ theory and explains how this can help you to understand how to avoid burnout. Christina Jones describes some of the research into teacher burnout and how a technique from positive psychology called PERMA could help you outChris Mares, Theodora Papapanagiotou and a teacher with ADHD also contributed articles to the iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) issue on Mental Health at the same time. Marc Jones is blogging about his ADHD and how it affects his life and his job as an English teacher. Other people who have talked about their experiences of mental health issues as English language teachers include Lizzie Pinard, and the podcasters at TEFLology. Lizzie has also summarised a workshop she attended on promoting positive mental health, particularly for LGBT+ people, but with tips that everyone should find useful.

If you’d like to discuss mental health with your students, AllAtC has a B2+ level lesson plan based around mental health and employment. The Mental Health Friendly Initiative has run competitions for mental health lesson plans, though I’m not sure if they’re available to download. They have various resources for promoting social inclusion on their blog (thanks for recommending it Phil).

Phil Longwell used his IATEFL 2018 talk to describe the findings of research he has done over the past year about the mental health of English language teachers. You can read about his findings here. The recording is here:


He also did a 10-minute interview for the IATEFL YouTube channel:



The 8th March 2018 Twitter #ELTchat was about Teachers’ well-being and mental health, including stories, possible causes for poor mental health, and how things are slowly starting to change.

Although epilepsy doesn’t quite fall into the same category as the other mental health issues discussed above, I feel it’s also important to share Kate Cory-Wright’s story of Coping with Epilepsy in the World of Education, and this post seems like the best place to do it.

If you know of any other useful links or if any of these don’t work for you, please let me know so that I can update the post. Together we are all stronger.

You cannot run before you can walk – reading in Arabic EFL learners (guest post)

I’m very happy to be able to share another guest post by Emina Tuzovic with you. The first time she appeared on this blog, she wrote about how to help Arabic students with their spelling. Now she’s back to tell us more about working with Arabic students, this time focussing on helping them develop their reading skills.

In the UK, a growing number of Arabic learners are joining English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and IELTS courses as they would like to enter British universities. Generally speaking, this group of students tend to have very good communicative skills; however, they considerably lag behind when it comes to reading and writing. As in the Anglo-American educational system, these skills are paramount, Arabic learners tend to struggle with their studies here. As a teacher, I often felt I didn’t know how to cater to their needs which led me to research this topic in more detail. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on reading and give you some tips which will hopefully help your Arabic learners improve this vital everyday, as well as academic, skill.

Now, think about how many times you have asked your students to skim or scan an academic text. While most of the students get to grips with the task, our Arabic students generally struggle with this. So how to tackle this problem?

I think what we teachers need to do is break things down instead of throwing our students in at the deep end. We should start with reading words, before moving on to reading sentences, paragraphs and finally the whole text. If we build things up, reading will suddenly become a less daunting process for our Arabic learners.

There are several reasons why they find reading challenging. Firstly, how much students read in their L1 usually predicts how much reading they do in their L2. Judging from what my Arabic students tell me, they don’t read that much in their mother tongue. This is reflected in their reading habits in English, where suddenly they are faced with a different script and a different orthography, as well as a different reading direction – all of these making the reading process much more challenging. As they lack exposure to print, they often do not accumulate a sufficient range of vocabulary. This, in turn, affects their reading comprehension, which is the reason why they do not want to read in the first place! This vicious circle needs to be broken.

Let’s start from the beginning. We need to tackle words in isolation first.

Vocabulary and word decoding

As we said above, vocabulary size plays a significant role in our students’ reading comprehension. Lack of vocabulary slows down the reading process and hinders their understanding of the text. Additionally, when I ask my Arabic students to read something for homework, they will often translate a lot of words, most of which are low frequency and therefore not very useful:

Translations by an Arabic-speaking reader of English

Therefore, in order to catch up with other groups of learners, I think it’s important for a teacher to prioritise useful, higher frequency lexis and monitor what vocabulary students actually record. For instance, I usually check the words they have selected during a speaking activity. I allow my students to look up no more than ten words per text which will force them to prioritise vocabulary that is worth looking up!

Secondly, like all other learners, they need to be able to guess unknown lexis from the context. One of the most useful lexical aspects for this group to focus on is word formation. It is a very important lexical process in Arabic therefore our learners will be able to identify with it. So whenever possible, I get them to extrapolate the root, notice any affixation and derive other parts of speech:

Word formation example

I would also strongly suggest pre-teaching vocabulary before reading a text. The next day you could do a spelling exercise as vocabulary revision. You can give your students an initial letter string with the exact number of gaps and get them to produce the word they learnt the day before:

  • st_ _ _ _ _ _ _ (strenuous)
  • acc _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (accidental)
  • sl_ _ _ (slope)

[Read more about how to help students with spelling in Emina’s previous post, and find out more about why it’s a particularly difficult problem for Arabic learners in one of my posts.]

Word decoding

Another reason for poor reading skills in Arabic learners is slow and inaccurate processing of words, (word decoding). When it comes to multisyllabic lexical items, my Arabic students often read the beginning of the word and then unsuccessfully predict the rest of it. Also, it is not uncommon that words get confused with similar lexical items (negative L1 transfer). This group of learners will tend to focus on consonants so century might become country, revelation becomes reflection, etc.

To fix this problem, one of the most important exercises to recycle vocabulary would be gapping vowels. This will help them not only to improve their spelling but also their word decoding:

  • c_rt_n               (carton)
  • _xh_b_t_ _n   (exhibition)
  • _cc_l_r_t_       (accelerate)

I think it is also essential for Arabic learners to learn to divide words into syllables which will also markedly improve their word processing (e.g. con-se-quence). They can clap/tap syllables and while doing so. I ask them not to look at the words as irregular spelling patterns will only confuse them (e.g. just think about how we pronounce common words containing ‘ea’ – meat, learn and heart).

Overall, I believe, starting with vocabulary accuracy is paramount. Once the visual form of the word is consolidated, students will decode it more quickly and as a result, they will eventually get faster at reading.

Sentence level

Besides working on accurate word decoding, I get my students to focus on the sentence structure at the same time. I think it’s really important to pre-teach sentence elements (S-V-O: subject-verb-object) and parts of speech (noun (n), verb (v), adjective (adj), etc.) as this will immensely help our learners ‘decipher’ long sentences and orientate themselves in a text. ‘Grammatical labels’ might seem superfluous; however, I’ve noticed once the students get the hang of those, it’s much easier for me to give instructions and explain various grammatical structures e.g. passive, relative clauses, participles, etc. As students gain the knowledge of the sentence structure, they will start processing sentences faster.

Another thing I do is give students the beginning of a sentence which they have to finish e.g. I went to the shop (to)…; My car stopped in the middle of the road (because)…. This is how they learn to predict the content and increase their reading speed.

Last but not least, it is already at sentence level that I get my Arabic learners to start noticing punctuation. We often analyse sentences and I get my students to answer the following questions:

  • Is there a capital letter? (Where is it? Why is it there?)
  • Is there a full stop? (Where is it? Why is it there?)
  • Is there a comma? Why is it there? (How is it different from a full stop?)

Try to do it every day (or as often as possible) until you see your Arabic students use capital letters and full stops automatically in their writing. While analysing the sentence(s) in terms of punctuation, you can also ask them to find the subject, verb, etc.

Complex sentences

In EAP and IELTS classes I have noticed that it helps a lot if we break down complex sentences. I get my Arabic learners to pay special attention to subordinate linkers (if, when, in spite of; however, etc.) as these do not feature very prominently in Arabic. After they have grasped the concept of sentence elements and parts of speech, I get them to focus on complex noun groups (consisting of head nouns, prepositional phrases, (reduced) relative clauses, etc.) as well as to notice the difference between active and passive. For example, I put a complex sentence on the board:

One surprising factor is the willingness with which the public in most countries accept the by now well-known risk of developing lung cancer in spite of the evidence of its connection with cigarette smoking published by WHO.

Taken from Nuttall (1989)

They can answer these questions either individually or in pairs:

  • Mark the beginning and the end of the sentence with a double-slash.
  • Can you find the linker? What does it express?
  • Divide the sentence into two clauses.
  • Can you find the head noun? Which verb goes with it?
  • What is additional information? Use a slash (or underline it)
  • Is published by WHO active or passive?             (passive)
  • What is missing before published by WHO?     (which was)

So in the end, we get something like this:

//One surprising factor is the willingness/ with which /the public in most countries accept/ the by now well-known risk /of developing lung cancer

in spite of the evidence/ of its connection with cigarette smoking / published by WHO.//

I try to stick to colour-coding and always use one colour for nouns, another one for verbs, etc.

Afterwards I give students another complex sentence which they have to break down answering the same questions as the ones in the grid. Alternatively, you can give them the key words beforehand and get the learners to develop their idea(s) of how to build it into a sentence first:

factor…willingness…public…accept …risk…lung cancer… in spite of…connection…smoking

How to extend the activity: After they’ve received, read and analysed the complex sentence in detail, you can ask them to cover it and go back to the key words. Now they have to try to produce the complex sentence just by looking at the key words. This will additionally consolidate their awareness of the English sentence structure.

Paragraph and text level

The analysis of punctuation continues when we read paragraphs and subsequently texts. If you teach multilingual classes, you can give these questions to your Arabic students separately on a piece of paper and tell them they need to answer the questions every time they read a text for homework.

  • How many full stops are there?
  • How many sentences are there?
  • Do all the sentences start with a big letter?
  • How many commas are there? Why are they used?
  • How many linkers can you see? Circle them.
  • How many paragraphs are there?

It’s particularly important for this group of learners to become exposed to whole paragraphs and texts as soon as possible. In this way they will be able to internalise the structure of a paragraph/a text which will also help them with their writing.

In order to generate interest in a text and for Arabic students to be able to identify with the topic, I would suggest tackling familiar topics for them (e.g. family and relationships, food, technology, customs and habits, weather, travel and transport, etc). In a multilingual class, I usually get non-Arabic students to explain various cultural references to them (e.g. the Beatles).

Other elements which slow down their reading

We’ve probably all witnessed many of our Arabic students using their finger in order to read in a line. To help them drop this habit (apart from the obvious: Don’t use your finger!), I would first of all use regular typeface, such as Calibri or Arial (not the ornate ones that look like script!), as well as font size 12+ as this will genuinely improve their word decoding skills and consequently their processing speed.

In order to help them follow the text on the line as well as to monitor their speed, I would get the students to use a ‘mask’ (see below). This will also discourage them from using their finger!

Mask for reading

Taken from: Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language by Nuttall (1989)

You can make it yourself by cutting a window in a sheet of paper. Get them to place it over the line and as they read, and pull it down to uncover the remaining text.

Another prominent feature which slows down our Arabic learners is subvocalisation (pronouncing words under their breath). Reading aloud and subvocalisation are commonly used when reading in Arabic, therefore this, in many ways cultural difference, needs to be pointed out early on in their learning process.

In order to read faster, as we all know, predicting the content is vital. I have noticed that stories often go down very well with Arabic learners. I give them a text and ask them to read the first paragraph. Afterwards they need to predict what will happen in the next paragraph, etc.:

It was a cold, dark night

Taken from: New English File Pre-Intermediate by Oxenden et al. (2011)

You can also give them a series of pictures and ask them to explain to their partners what they think happened before they read the story.

Extension of this activity: Afterwards they cover the text and tell each other the same story but this time in more detail, based on what they have read.


So we’ve finally come to the notorious skimming. This technique works well with students who are competent readers in their L1 and who can successfully transfer their reading skills into their L2. Apart from expanding lexis, if we want Arabic-speaking students to improve their skimming and pick up their reading speed, our students also need to learn to ignore non-key, usually low-frequency words and just continue reading!

I choose a text and gap every eighth word in it, next time every seventh, sixth word, etc.:

Read the text. Ignore the gaps.

Grace Simmons is only fourteen, and she speaks French, but she’s famous in Paris. She’s become a _______ model for a well-known _______ designer. Grace is from _____, Michigan. Her father is ______ car salesperson and her ______ is a teacher. Grace_____very unhappy as a _____ girl because she was _____ tall-almost six feet. _____ other children laughed at_____all the time and ______ had very few friends. ______ she was eleven years _____, Grace’s mother took her ______ a modelling school.

Taken from: More Reading Power by Mikulecky & Jeffries (2004).

How many words you gap depends on the students’ level and the lexical density of a text (the denser the text, the fewer the gaps). You can also gap grammatical words (determiners, prepositions, etc.) as well as adjectives and adverbs (basically words which are not absolutely essential to understand a text).

When we get our Arabic students to attempt to skim a text, I recommend selecting texts which are considerably below their oral level of proficiency. I don’t think there is much point in getting them to skim a text which contains a lot of lexis unknown to them. Another piece of advice would be, as mentioned before, to pre-teach new vocabulary.

I also get my students to skim a text more than once. But the most important thing is that they get into the habit of doing it on a daily basis, either in class or at home or even both! I also get them to time themselves and write down how long it took them to skim a text the first time, second time, etc.

Last but not least, it’s very useful to set up a reading routine. You can get them to choose the texts they want to read in their free time. I usually put a grid on the wall where they write down what they read the day before:

Reading grid

To recap…

Reading is a very complex cognitive process which requires a long time to ‘master’. Our Arabic speakers are in many ways disadvantaged as when reading in English, they are faced with a completely different writing system alongside considerable linguistic as well cultural differences (e.g. knowledge of the world; various cultural references) which influence their reading in English.

I believe we can help our Arabic learners a lot if we break things down, starting with words in isolation before moving on to higher levels of processing. In the same vein, I think accurate word decoding should be tackled before working on reading speed.

After skimming for the gist, I think it’s vital to do the post-reading analysis in terms of:

  • prioritising vocabulary and breaking the words down into syllables;
  • guessing key vocabulary from the context;
  • analysing the sentence structure (especially in complex sentences);
  • analysing how ideas are developed in each paragraph and in a text as a whole;
  • analysing punctuation.

All of these things will help our Arabic students improve their accuracy and speed when reading. This will build up their confidence which will motivate them to read more in their free time. And we all know developing extensive reading is paramount if you want to become a competent reader!

After employing all the strategies that I have outlined in this blogpost, the reading skills in my Arabic learners have improved significantly within a fairly short period of time. It did require a lot of time and effort on both sides but as I always say, hard work pays off! So in the end, the majority of my students got significantly higher scores in their IELTS reading as well as their writing, which got them a step closer to getting into a university of their choice. Vicious circle broken, mission accomplished! 🙂


  • Mikulecky, B.S. & Jeffries, L. (2004) More Reading Power (second edition) Longman
  • Nuttall, C. (1989) Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language Heinemann
  • Oxenden, C.; Latham-Koenig, C.; Seligson, P. & Clanfield, L. (2011) New English File Pre-intermediate Teacher’s Book OUP

About Emina

Emina Tuzović works as an English language teacher at the London School of English, predominantly on EAP, ESP and exam preparation courses. She has designed an online spelling module for Arabic learners of English for CUP as well as reviewed various syllabuses for spelling materials for the Middle-East market. She is currently completing the final year of a PhD on word recognition and orthographic awareness in Arabic learners of English at Birkbeck College, London.


Using podcasts to develop listening skills (Teaching English Associates)

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the blogs section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

Teaching English Associates names word cloud

My contribution for May is advice for both teachers and students on how to use podcasts to develop their listening skills.

How professional development is structured where I work (TeachingEnglish blog associates)

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the blogs section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

Teaching English Associates names word cloud

My contribution for April is a description of the way that professional development is set up at International House Bydgoszcz. I’m always looking for suggestions to improve our CPD programme, so please let me know if you have any good ideas.

Images in the classroom (Torun Teacher Training Day 2016)

ELTpics session IH Torun TTD Sandy Millin 23rd April 2016 title slide

This was a slightly shorter version of an online workshop which I ran in January 2015 for International House called Picture This. You can find all of the links to the posts and online tools I mentioned, plus a recording of the one hour webinar, on the Picture This page.

You might also be interested in my recent review of the book Working with Images [affiliate link] by Ben Goldstein.

The talk was part of the Torun Teacher Training Day, which also featured talks by Marjorie Rosenberg, Hugh Dellar, Glenn Standish, and various local teachers from Torun and Bydgoszcz, including some from IH Bydgoszcz.

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Corpora

corpus (pl. corpora)
a collection of written or spoken material stored on a computer and used to find out how language is used
From the Cambridge English Dictionary online

I’ve been interested in corpora for a while now, but never seem to have time to go beyond my very basic understanding of how the Brigham Young University corpus interface works. I’ve always used it for the BNC (British National Corpus), which covers 1980-1993, but discovered a few seconds ago (!) that COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) is constantly updated, so I think I’ll be switching to that from now on!

All I knew before was how to do a basic search for a term and how to look for collocates, possible with a verb or noun near the key word if I was feeling very adventurous. Thanks to three talks I attended on different versions of corpora during the conference, I now feel like I know much more! 🙂


Jennie Wright did a very practical session introducing us to the basic functions of COCA, with three activities you can take straight into the classroom. Mura Nava, the master of corpora, helpfully collected my tweets from the session (and added notes to make it clearer – thanks!) which show all three activities, and Jennie has shared the list of corpora resources on her blog. She particularly recommended COCA Bites, a series of very short YouTube videos designed to introduce you to the corpus.

One thing I particularly like about COCA is the fact that parts of speech are highlighted in different colours. Here’s an example of a KWIC search for ‘conference’, giving concordance lines with the key word in a single column (a function Jennie taught me!)

COCA 'conference' search


James Thomas taught us how to answer language questions from corpora, focussing on the SKELL (Sketch Engine for Language Learning) concordancer (thanks for correcting that James!). I didn’t realise that SKELL was created by the people at Masaryk University, in (one of) my second home(s) Brno 🙂 Again, Mura collected the tweets, this time by me, Leo Selivan (another corpus master) and Dan Ruelle.

What makes SKELL different to many corpora is that it uses algorithms to select 40 sentences from however many the search finds, getting rid of as many as possible with obscure words or which are overly long to make it easier for learners to use. This works well for common words, but not always for slightly more obscure words, like ‘mansplain‘ (possibly the word of the conference, thanks to David Crystal’s opening plenary!) You can also use the ‘word sketch’ function on the corpus to show you lots of collocates, a function I think I will now use instead of a collocations dictionary! Michael Houston Brown has a very clear introduction to SKELL on Mura’s eflnotes blog.

One slight problem, as with all corpora, is that it cannot distinguish between different senses of the same word, which may confuse learners. In this example, conference is listed both in the sense of the IATEFL conference, and as a sporting league. This could also be seen in the COCA image above, but I think it is easier to spot here.

SKELL 'conference' search

If you’d like to find out more, James has recently written an article for the Humanising Language Teaching magazine.

Making your own corpus

Chad Langford and Joshua Albair are clearly die-hard corpus fans. They trawled through over one million words from over 8,000 TripAdvisor restaurant reviews to create their own corpus of review language. The findings were very interesting and showed up some clear features of the genre, but I’m not sure how practical it would be for most teachers to do this kind of project as anything other than a hobby. They’re based at Lille University, but they didn’t say how much of their time was dedicated to this project versus teaching, or how many groups they used it with, so it was difficult to work out the return on their investment of time. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to see how you go about building a corpus. Again, thanks to Mura for collating my tweets with more information in them.


Mura also collated tweets for one more corpus-related talk at IATEFL, based on the English Grammar Profile. Cambridge have recorded all of their talks from the conference, including this one, so you can watch it at your leisure. He has a free ebook with examples of the BYU-COCA corpus interface.

There are interviews with some of the presenters of corpus talks at this year’s IATEFL, including James, Chad and Josh, on Mura’s blog. This list of talks shows everything connected to corpora from this year’s conference.

Richer Speaking – my first book

I’m very excited to announce that I have written and published my very first ebook:

Richer Speaking cover

Cover designed by Luke Meddings at the round

Here’s the blurb:

Are you tired of your students running out of things to say? This book will show you 12 different ways to adapt a wide range of speaking activities to get more out of them in the classroom, divided into four categories:
– Preparing to speak
– Adding repetition
– Extending speech
– Having a reason to listen
There is a full index showing you what kind of activities the techniques work particularly well with, as well as worked examples of each technique in action. All of them are ready to take into the classroom with the minimum of preparation.

Richer Speaking is available to purchase at Smashwords and Amazon [affiliate links] and costs less than 1USD. It’s part of the round minis series, all of which you can spot on their titles page by looking for similar covers to mine, and all available at the same bargain price.

I could never have done this without the help and encouragement of Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings at the round and editor Karen White, as well as the people who helped me come up with some of the ideas included in the book. Thank you so much!

I hope you find Richer Speaking useful, and I would of course appreciate any and all feedback which you have.



I’ll try to collect any reviews that I see here. Thanks to everyone who has said such nice things about the book!

A review in the English Australia journal, Vol. 32 number 2 (p82-83)

Cambridge Exams: The Writing Paper (IH Bydgoszcz Cambridge methodology day 2016)

Today I had the pleasure of taking parting in the IH Bydgoszcz Cambridge methodology day. I presented a range of activities to help teachers prepare students for the Cambridge First and Cambridge Advanced writing exams.

The slides from the presentation and all of the resources can be found below. You can download everything from slideshare, for which you will need to create a free account. The links in the presentation are clickable. You’ll find full details of all of the activities in the notes which accompany each slide, which you’ll be able to see when you download the presentation.

Potato talks was taken from Thinking in the EFL Class by Tessa Woodward (published by Heibling Languages – affiliate link)

FCE essay to put in order (via Pavla Milerski):

For more on linking words of contrast, please see my Contrast Linkers post.

Telescopic Text is a way to get your students to play with language and experiment with writing longer stretches of text. Here’s the example I shared.

The other links I shared were my Useful FCE websites page, flo-joe, Cambridge Write and Improve and my student’s guide to Quizlet, including the link to my B2/FCE Quizlet group. While the last link may not seem so connected to writing, a) it’s amazing, and b) it’s great for practising spelling as well as expanding the range of vocabulary students know.

Cambridge exam writing IH Bydgoszcz Sandy Millin 13th February 2016 (presentation title slide)

I’d like to thank David Petrie and Pavla Milerski for activities which they allowed me to incorporate into the presentation, and Anna Ermolenko and Tim Julian for other ideas which didn’t make it in in the end. If you’d like more ideas, you can watch David’s webinar on writing skills for exam practice. Being connected to a network of such helpful teachers is so useful. Thank you!

Activities for Christmas and New Year (BELTA webinar)

On Sunday December 13th 2015 I did a webinar for the Sundays with BELTA series from the Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association.

Sandy - Sundays with BELTA square poster

Here are the slides from my presentation, including links to all of the activities.

All of the links are below, just in case you can’t see them or click on them on the slides:

Many of the activities should be self-explanatory, but if not, you can watch the recording to find out how to run the activity. If you’re a BELTA member, you can watch recordings of webinars from the past six months. Anyone can watch older webinars from the series. My recording should be freely available to all from July 2016.

I’d be interested to hear how you use the activities in your own classrooms, and what adaptations you needed to make to fit your context.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar

For the last few months I’ve been considering different ways of offering professional development to teachers within a school. To that end, here is a collection of alternatives/supplements to weekly seminars in no particular order. 

Lesson jamming: get together with a group of people for a couple of hours, take a prompt and come up with a lesson plan or two, which you can then take away and use. Read more about it (the penultimate section of the post) and an example.

Examining principles: consider your beliefs about what happens in the classroom and the materials you use in more depth, perhaps using some of the activities shared by Jill Hadfield in her IATEFL 2015 talk (the second section of the post)

Debate: take a controversial subject in ELT, and have a debate about it, perhaps encouraging teachers to find out more about it before the time. Potential topics could be the use of course books or whether testing is useful.

Webinars: watch a webinar together, then discuss it. Find some here to start you off.

Reading methodology books: but not alone! You could try something like Lizzie Pinard’s ELT Book Challenge or start a reading group as Gemma Lunn did. And it doesn’t have to be books, it could be blogs too.

Using ideas from one of these books about professional development

Action research projects: running workshops on how to identify areas of teaching to research and/or how to make the most of peer observation (or here), sending people off to do their projects, then bringing them back to report on their progress and share their results. Read about examples of projects.

Project-based professional development: as proposed by Mike Harrison, with the idea that teachers do a series of things related to a particular area they would like to investigate. I think it could be seen as a variant on action research.

Reflective practice group: encourage teachers to share reflections on their teaching regularly. Here’s an example from Korea.

Sharing is caring: as an extension, teachers could bring along their current problems in the classroom and the group can brainstorm solutions. This could also lead into more in-depth action research.

Critical incidents: “A critical incident is any unplanned event that occurs during class.” (Farrell in the Jan 2008 ELT Journal) Share an example of a critical incident and discuss different ways of responding to it.

Activity swap-shop: every teacher/four or five teachers bring along activities and share them with the group. They should take about ten minutes, and probably involve a demonstration followed by reflection on which groups it might (not) work with and why.

Video observation: watch part of a lesson together and discuss it. Try these if you don’t have any in-house recordings.

CPD and a cup of tea: as run at IH Palermo, with teachers working in small groups to discuss various questions related to teaching, with the hot drink of their choice. 🙂

Open Space: a kind of mini conference, as seen at bigger events like IATEFL conference

Free for(u)m: a very open structure, based on discussion: I’m…, ask me about…, tell me about…, as suggested by Marc Jones

Scholarship circles: as run at Sheffield University, consisting of a series of teacher-led groups focussing on different areas, as chosen by the teachers involved. You can join in with as many circles as you like.

Professional development groups: a suggestion from Josh Round where teachers take control of their own development.

Exploiting materials: brainstorming as many ideas as you can based on particular materials through the use of post-it notes.

Bite-size reflection: Anthony Gaughan and Phil Wade have put together a free e-book containing twenty 5-minute reflective ideas.

Abstract art on a classroom wall

Working through the maze of professional development (From ELTpics by Carmen Arias Blázquez, used under a CC 3.0 license)

Let me know if you try out any of these ideas or if you have any to add to the list. 


Zhenya Polosotova shared five different types of reflective sessions on her blog back in December 2013.


Questions you can ask to reflect on a lesson (TeachingEnglish blog associates)

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Here are the topics for October 2015, focussing on planning lessons and courses. Anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

My contribution for October is a set of questions you can ask yourself after a lesson to help you reflect on what happened. Can you add any to the list?

Road in Utah, USA

If you do choose to join in, why not share the link here so that others can read your posts?

Hobby circles

I came up with this activity for our getting to know you session during induction week at IH Bydgoszcz this year, so I’ve only used it with teachers, not students. I’d be interested to know how it works with real classes! I was inspired to create it by seeing the list of hobbies on our new teachers’ CVs, and I realised that it can take a while to discover which free time activities we have in common. I hope this can prove something of a shortcut. Thanks to Lizzie Pinard for helping me to figure out how to run the activity.

  1. Students draw three circles on a piece of paper.
    Three circles
  2. In each circle, they write one of their hobbies.
    Three hobbies in circles
  3. The teacher introduces and drills functional language appropriate to the level.
    For example, at lower levels you might introduce:
    “I love _____. Do you?”
    “Me too.” / “Not really. I prefer ______”
    Or at higher levels:
    “Would you be interested in _________?”
    “I’d love to.” / “I’m not really into that. I’d rather _______”
  4. Demonstrate the activity with teacher-student, then student-student in open class.
    The teacher says “I love hiking. Do you?”
    If the student says, “Me too”, the teacher writes their name in the circle and asks another question to find out more, noting that information too. For example “Where do you go hiking?”
    Student name in circle if me too
    If the student says, “Not really. I prefer going to the cinema.”, the teacher writes their name and the hobby outside the circles, and again asks one more question to find out more.
    Student name outside if not really
  5. Students mingle and speak to as many people as possible to find out about their hobbies.
  6. Students sit with a partner and share what they learnt. They could also say if there are any hobbies they’d like to try or find out more about. Again, functional language could be introduced here to help students discuss their answers more easily, especially at lower levels: “I love hiking, and so do Maria and Ahmed.” “Stefan likes reading science fiction and he said Terry Pratchett is really good, so maybe I’ll read one of his books.”
  7. Possible open class feedback options would be: “Put your hand up if you found somebody with the same hobby as you.” and/or “Who has the most interesting hobby?”


Tekhnologic took this idea and ran with it, creating video diagrams showing how to set it up and introducing a Venn version which I think is an improvement on the original!

Highlights from my teaching story (TeachingEnglish blog associates)

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Here are the topics for September 2015, some of which are to celebrate World Teaching Day, and anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

My contribution for September includes some of the highlights of my teaching life – a random collection of moments showing how I’ve evolved as a teacher.

Road in Utah, USA

If you do choose to join in, why not share the link here so that others can read your posts?

Rethinking the visual, again

Last summer I had the immense pleasure of meeting and working with M, a nine year old from St. Petersburg who spends her summers in Sevastopol. I decided to blog about her classes because I found it very difficult to find information about how to teach a 121 class with a young learner who was almost completely blind, and hoped my posts would help others. Teaching M required me to approach lessons in a completely different way and the result on my blog was the Rethinking the Visual series. If you’d like more background I’d recommend reading them first.

This year I was back in Sevastopol for four weeks to do a CELTA course, and I was very happy when, on my first day at school, M and her mum came in to see if she could have classes for the summer. They’d just arrived in the city and didn’t realise I was there, so there was lots of hugs and laughter 🙂

The first lesson we had was based around a present I’d bought her just one week before at the Casa Battló in Barcelona, without knowing if I’d see her or not.

This is the only picture I can find of the gift – a braille picture of the house. I was so excited when I saw it and bought it instantly because I’ve never seen anything like it before (please let me know if you have and where I can get others!) M really enjoyed exploring it, and we revised some house vocabulary. Using the palm of her hand I showed her where Spain is in relation to Crimea and where Barcelona is in Spain. We also talked about Gaudi.

Over the next four weeks I had eight one-hour lessons with M, and I was very happy to see how much difference another year of school has made to her reading and writing abilities. Last year she vaguely knew the letters in braille, and I needed to refer to my list often to confirm which dots she needed to make some of the letters. She can now read braille pretty fluently, and write it confidently. We wrote down new vocabulary in every lesson, which is a big difference from last year, and she could still remember where Barcelona is and who Gaudi was at the end of the month.

The main problem she still has is that of all children her age (and many adults too!): spelling. Whenever M wrote down new words I always tried to elicit the spelling from her, and she had about an 80% hit rate. During one lesson she asked me about how to know if a word is spelt with ‘c’ or ‘k’. It happened to be the first lesson when I was being observed by A, the teacher who has taken over from me for the rest of the summer. Between us we came up with sets of words to help M remember some spelling rules. I thought we’d come up with most of the c/k rules during that hour, but kept coming across more exceptions or ‘groups’ during the rest of the month – the rules are so much more complicated than you can come up with off the top of your head!

M’s school had lent her two books for the summer, Mary Poppins, and another of short 1-2 page texts accompanied by exercises on topics such as dinosaurs and Tutankhamun. Some of our lessons were spent reading the short texts, with M spelling out any words she didn’t know. We would then take the exercises and answer them orally, and I would try to expand her world knowledge wherever I could. After reading a text about the jungle, she was particularly excited to discover I’d lived in one for four months and asked me lots of questions about the experience. I used her hand again to introduce her to Borneo.

Most of the texts were accompanied by a project, although I don’t think they were designed with visually impaired students in mind. Her school wanted her to do one of these projects as part of her summer homework, but it was difficult for her parents to help her because they don’t speak English. M chose a project about dinosaurs. In it, she needed to find out about different dinosaurs and put together fact files about them. The problem is that she still doesn’t know how to use a computer, so the only ways she can do research are if she is lucky enough to be in a braille library (do such things exist? I assume they must somewhere!) or if someone else does it for and tells her about it, which is what we did. I went on to a dinosaur site and tried to give her as much autonomy as possible by getting her to choose the ones she wanted to find out about and tell me exactly what she wanted to know – I tried to work as a search engine rather than doing the work for her. The project also said that she should draw or find pictures of the dinosaurs, but we ran out of time to do that, so I hope her parents will be able to help her with that.

M really wanted to find a girl in the UK to chat with. She’s ten now and was looking for someone of a similar age. I have a thirteen-year-old cousin so have put them in touch. They’ve sent each other a couple of voice messages. M was very excited by the exchange and is looking forward to having a proper Skype chat with my cousin. If you know a ten-year-old girl with a B1 or higher level of English who’d like to chat with M, let me know and I can try to put them in touch.

The biggest challenge with the lessons this year was that they were at school rather than at her house. In the third lesson, when we were in our third different classroom, I gave her a tour of the school, showing her where all of the rooms and doors were so she could find her own way around and had a better idea of the size of the rooms and school. It was interesting for me to see how being in a different environment affected her confidence initially, and how much more comfortable she obviously felt once she knew the layout of the school.

I did get to go to her house one day though, for pancakes and home-made cake with her family. We explored their garden, full of home-grown fruit and veg, and played with her two little sisters, the older of whom was trying to teach me Russian by pointing at a picture of a unicorn and saying the word repeatedly until I said it back to her 🙂 She was also singing ‘Let it go’ when we arrived, but only knew that line. Films and songs are certainly powerful – she’s four!

I’ve really enjoyed teaching M again this summer. I have no idea when I’ll be back in Sevastopol, or if I’ll be in Saint Petersburg at some point, so I’m not sure if or when I’ll see M again. I really hope I do because she is one of the fastest learners I’ve ever met. She’s already B1 (intermediate) in English, and has just started learning Spanish. I’m sure she’ll be an interpreter one day. I’ll watch her progress with great interest, and I hope I’ll get to teach her again at some point.

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