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

Posts tagged ‘materials’

Science and diversity lesson plan

This was a lesson I did with my Proficiency group towards the end of the last academic year. It’s inspired by a podcast episode and general discussions about science and diversity, particularly the number of women who leave science at various points. The PowerPoint shows the structure of the lesson:

And here are the reading texts – I did it as a jigsaw, with each student having one person to read about.

The part of the lesson the students responded best to was sharing their drawings of four different people for the first activity. After they’d shared them, I asked how many were male and how many were female, and whether that surprised them at all. Considering we had a female scientist as one of the students in the group, only one picture out of twenty showed a woman! The statistics also prompted a lot of discussion.

As a mini language focus, we looked at how the four different biographies were structured in an attempt for me to figure out how to get more discourse in my lessons. Here’s what I said:

  • Peggy Whitson: almost every sentence has a background > result/event structure.
  • Marie Tharp: there’s a lot of potentially emotive emphatic language like controversial, dismissed, painstakingly etc.
  • Wanda Diaz-Merced: a straightforward narrative in order of events.
  • Quarraisha Abdool Karim: a list of some of her achievements.

Discourse is not something I know much about, so please feel free to give me more technical information about this! Based on this, students could choose a female scientist to write their own biography about, using one of these structures as a possible framework.

We only spent a very brief time on the final activity about possible solutions as the plan actually took nearly two whole lessons.

I’d be interested to know how it goes down with your students if you choose to use it, and what you would add or change.

Good Omens lesson plan

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is probably my favourite book, and one of very few I’ve read multiple times. This is how Wikipedia summarises it:

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990) is a World Fantasy Award-nominated novel, written as a collaboration between the English authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The book is a comedy about the birth of the son of Satan, and the coming of the End Times. There are attempts by the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley to sabotage the coming of the end times, having grown accustomed to their comfortable surroundings in England. One subplot features a mixup at the small country hospital on the day of birth and the growth of the Antichrist, Adam, who grows up with the wrong family, in the wrong country village. Another subplot concerns the summoning of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, each a big personality in their own right.

In preparation for the upcoming series, which I am incredibly excited about, I’ve been re-reading it for the fourth or fifth time. In the process came across a short excerpt which can stand alone and decided it would make a good lesson for my Proficiency/C2 students. I think it could work for C1 students too.

We used it over two 90-minute lessons, but it’s very flexible so you can make it longer or shorter as you choose – it depends on how into the tasks the students get!

If you teach a 121 student, you may choose not to read the extract yourself beforehand, and go through the lesson making predictions, producing your own version of the text and reading it for the first time at the same time as your student. I promise there’s nothing offensive there! 🙂 A couple of teachers from our school who had never read Good Omens themselves used this plan successfully with their 121 students in this way.

Lesson stages

  • Tell students they’re going to read a short excerpt from a book. Before they read, they’re going to predict what happens. Emphasise that there are no right answers to this.
  • Show the pictures from Slide 1 of the Newt meets aliens Good Omens p203-205 presentation. Students work in pairs to make predictions of general events that might happen in the excerpt. Switch pairs to compare predictions and/or elicit some ideas as a class.
  • Show the word cloud from Slide 2. Tell students that this is a word cloud showing all of the language from the original excerpt. A word that is larger appears more often in the original text. Newt is the name of one of the characters from the book, and Lower Tadfield is the village he is travelling towards.
  • Students work in groups of three to write a version of what they think happens in the excerpt. They can use any of the language they want to from the word cloud. Give them plenty of time to do this: 20-30 minutes would be ideal. This is a chance for them to be creative, and to check language they’re not sure about in the dictionary or with you. Again, emphasise that the aim is not to reproduce the original extract, but to play with the language and experiment with ideas.
  • Groups read all of the other stories. Have they come up with similar ideas?
  • Slide 3 shows two covers for the book. Tell students that the excerpt they’ve been working with is from a comedy written about the end of the world. This part is a small event that happens half-way through the book. “Would you like to read it?” Hopefully their interest has been piqued by now and the answer will be yes!
  • Give them the Word document (Newt meets aliens Good Omens p203-205). As they read, they should compare the events in their versions of the story to the original, and decide how similar they are. They shouldn’t worry about language they don’t understand. They’ll need about 4-5 minutes to read, then should discuss in their groups the similarities and differences between their versions and the excerpt.
  • Slide 4 has follow-up questions for students to discuss in small groups. This is a great chance to work with emergent language that students are producing.
  • This excerpt is incredibly rich linguistically, as is anything written by Gaiman or Pratchett. Slide 5 gives students the chance to mine the text for any language that might interest them (see ‘language to mine’ below). They should take the lead in deciding what they want to steal.
  • Students then return to their original writing and write a new version of it. They can insert phrases directly lifted from Good Omens, or simply be inspired by the variety and richness of the original excerpt to make their own text richer through the use of synonyms, similes, and highly descriptive language.
  • They then share their original and rewritten texts (side by side) with other groups and answer the question: ‘What difference does the writer’s choice of language make to the enjoyment of the reader?’
  • As an optional extension, students could role play the situation of Newt meeting the aliens, or of Newt/the aliens telling somebody else what happened a few hours later. This would give them the chance to reuse some of the language they stole from the text.
  • To finish the lesson, show students the trailer for the upcoming series and ask them if they want to watch it. Slide 6 has the video embedded; slide 7 has the link in case it doesn’t work.

What happened in my lesson?

I only had three students out of a possible six, so my pair and share activity didn’t work when they wrote their own texts. They were surprised that the text they produced had the same broad strokes as the excerpt.

Although we used two lessons, we didn’t have time to go back to the writing and upgrade it, which would have been valuable. I felt like adding a third lesson to do this would have been dragging it out too much though.

Students were engaged in mining the text, and said they would like to try this with other texts in the future. We looked at the language of officialdom and how it was used to create humour in this excerpt.

One student had already read Good Omens before I introduced it, and went back and re-read it in Polish between the two lessons 🙂 [Here’s an Amazon affiliate link if you want to get your own copy.]

Language to mine from the text

This is very much NOT an exhaustive list of examples of language that could be taken from the excerpt. Any of these could be used by students to create new texts as a follow-up (for example a description of a crazy car journey), or could be used as a language focus if you want something more targeted than the word cloud from slide 2.

  • Phrases and phrasal verbs:
    fall over
    wind (the window) down
    think of (sth) (as sth else)
    wander off
    run sth through a machine
    (let sth) build up
    let yourself go
    see to sth
    turn sth over in his mind
    turn around
    bawl sb out
  • Features of spoken grammar:
    an’ suchlike
    one of them phenomena
    Been…, haven’t we sir?
    Been…perhaps?
    Well, yes. I suppose so.
    I’ll see to it. Well, when I say I…
    We’d better be going.
    You do know…don’t you?
  • Ways of describing speaking:
    gabbled
    flailed
    rasped
  • Ways of describing movement:
    a door in the saucer slid aside
    skidded down it and fell over at the bottom
    walked over to the car quite slowly
  • Descriptive phrases for a spaceship and aliens:
    satisfying whoosh
    gleaming walkway
    It looked like every cartoon of a flying saucer Newt had ever seen.
    Brilliant blue light
    frantic beeping
  • Connected to cars:
    He had the map spread over the steering wheel.
    He had to brake hard.
    rapped on the window
    He wound it down.
    He drove up on the verge and around it.
    When he looked in his rearview mirror…
  • Connected to officialdom:
    in the worldwide approved manner of policemen already compiling the charge sheet in their heads
    Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you, sir…
    …are below regulation size for a [planet] of this category, sir.
    We’ll overlook it on this occasion, sir.

A little bit of theory

This is a task-based lesson, with the focus on meaning early in the lesson. For the initial task, students have to use their own linguistic resources to come up with an episode in a story, and they are free to go in whatever direction they choose. They have the scaffolding of the pictures and the word cloud, but are not required to use any particular language point. Sharing their texts is the report phase, and they then see a model which they can mine for language. This language can then be incorporated into their own work – it is student-led, with them choosing the language they focus on, rather than following the teacher’s agenda of what ‘should’ be learnt next. This task repetition and upgrade stage is where a lot of the learning will happen, as students experiment with the language. There is then another report phase, with reflection on language use in general (writer choices), not just the specific language used in this lesson.

The language I’ve pulled out above reflects principles of the lexical approach (I hope!), working with longer chunks of language rather than isolated words. Collocations can be explored, as well as areas like features of spoken language. This can help students to move away from a focus on single words and verb tenses plus other structures typically appearing as part of a course book syllabus, which they often still have even at proficiency level.

Teaching students how to mine a text in this way can also be useful for their own self-study, thus developing learner autonomy. Techniques like this can be challenging for students to incorporate into their own learning without being shown how to do it the first couple of times.

More of this kind of thing

I’ve previously shared materials connected to the first chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Materials writing

As a member of the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, my IATEFL conference now normally begins with their Pre-Conference Event, the theme of which this year was ‘Nuts and Bolts: Practical Considerations for the ELT materials professional’. It was a particularly good start this year because it was also my birthday 🙂 This Storify draws together all of the tweets from the PCE.

MaWSIG logo

There are also a selection of tweets at the end of the post from throughout the conference, all connected in some way or another to materials writing.

The benefits of coaching (Daniel Barber)

Daniel recommended getting a coach to help you think through areas you want to change in your life. He set seven goals for areas that he wanted to change, then worked with his coach to help him make sure that he was committed to making these changes. One such change was to reduce the amount of procrastination he did and to help him avoid distraction when he was supposed to be focussed on his writing work. His coach makes him feel more accountable, promotes curiosity and pushes him to think more, particularly through the question ‘What else?’ She’s never satisfied with the first answer he gives, and this question pushes him to be more creative in his thinking. Daniel also used a coaching journal to reflect on what worked and what didn’t when trying to achieve his seven goals. One of the main things he learnt was that in order to achieve what you want to, your main block is normally inside your own head, reflecting Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game Theory:

The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions.

The opponent within one’s head is more formidable than the one over the net.

As well as pushing him, Daniel’s coach also provides balance, reminding him not to put so much pressure on himself, and helping him to celebrate his success. As I often say, we’re all human, and we should remember that!

In response, Jill Hadfield had some other good ideas to help you stay focussed when working, taken from some training she had participated in:

  • Find out about your ‘barrier self’. This includes analysing which distractions you use just to avoid work, and which you actually enjoy. You can then work for 45 minutes, then reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. (This is a variation on the Pomidoro technique which Daniel mentioned in his talk)
  • Work on the next thing: Rather than writing a long and potentially overwhelming list, just write down the next thing you need to achieve. Once you finish that, write the next thing again, etc.
  • ‘Park your car facing downhill’: if you stop  working, leave yourself clear instructions for what to do next, so that it’s not as hard to start working again.
  • ‘Bring in the nearest jumbo first’: finish the thing with the closest deadline before you work on anything else. This will reduce the stress you put yourself under.

Daniel wrote up his talk for the MaWSIG blog.

Optimizing the author-editor relationship (Penny Hands)

Penny has worked as both an author and an editor. She was prompted to find out more about how to improve the relationship between the two by an author who told her that the first time they’d received feedback, they cried. I know that I’ve sometimes found it difficult to respond to feedback without either crying or raging first, especially when I’ve put a lot of work into something which turns out to not be ‘right’ in some way. As Penny said, crying may sometimes be an inevitable part of the feedback process when you care so much about something. According to a survey she did, positive words related to working with an editor included helpful, supportive, communication and collaboration, and negative ones were things like frustrating, struggle and even nightmare!

Here are some of the tips which Penny and audience members shared:

  • Mutual respect is important. You’re working together for a reason, because the project managers believe you’re the best people to do the job.
  • The most positive relationships with editors were when it felt developmental: the editor teaches the author how to improve.
  • A Skype call between an author and editor at the start of a project can really help the relationship, as it helps you to realise that you’re both working together.
  • Feedback should be friendly and personal, but not involve over-sharing. Sometimes Skype can help here too. One member of the audience mentioned an editor who questioned their teaching experience, and another talked about inappropriate comments about the writer’s age and interests – these are definitely not the way to go!
  • Authors don’t want editors who are tentative, and they’re also frustrated by those who correct work which is already correct.
  • Good editors provide constructive feedback, rein in the author’s flights of fancy, offer positive comments and suggestions, and even a little praise now and again. Don’t just focus on the holes in the project. Examples of positive comments include: I can imagine this working with…,  I’ll try this with my kids, or a general comment about the manuscript as a whole. Authors should also remember that if there’s no comment on something, that means it should be fine! As an editor in the audience mentioned, sometimes they don’t put positive comments/praise as it’s more to read, and there might not be a specific area to comment on.
  • There’s a lot less mentoring in the publishing industry than there used to be, so the Society for Editors and Proofreaders can be a really useful organisation to join. They provide courses, mentoring and support.
  • Audience members described positive experiences where the editor and author had in jokes, sent each other pictures, and gave each other presents 🙂
  • It’s worth giving editors feedback on their feedback: otherwise it can be hard for them to improve it.
  • Advice from authors to editors: be prompt, clear, think of it as cooperative, constructive. respect, listen and be willing to discuss feedback.
  • To deal with negative feedback, wait 24 hours to respond. Get somebody else to read the comments before you respond to them (like a friend or family member) as they have more distance.
  • Julie Moore suggested setting out (maybe in an imaginary email) what you consider to be fair, a matter of opinion (perhaps because you interpreted the brief differently), and totally unjustified.
  • If you are having a problem with editors, publishers would like you to raise issues as soon as possible, preferably directly with the editor rather than going above their head. (For me, this is true of all problems – the sooner you start to deal with, the sooner they’ll go away!)

One of the best things I’ve got out of being a member of MaWSIG is meeting editors, and hearing about the experiences of authors and editors. It’s made me realise that editors are people too (!) and that we should all be pulling in the same direction. It also helped me to get in touch with the editor for my own ebook, Richer Speaking.

To find out more about what it’s really like being an editor, you can take a look at the Catch the Sun blog. I’d also add the LibroEditing one. You can read Penny’s write-up of her talk on the MaWSIG blog.

In conclusion:

What makes the relationship successful is both sides being comfortable to challenge each other, while both are ultimately prepared to give way.

I think that’s probably a lesson for life too, not just author-editor relationships!

A short introduction to negotiating contracts (Chris Lonsdale)

These are very general tips which I found useful, sometimes from Chris and sometimes from the audience.

  • Negotiation isn’t an ‘extra’ – it’s key to running a business in an industry where costs need to be minimised. Sometimes companies will offer you less than the maximum they’re willing to pay because you might just accept it (I don’t know why this had never occurred to me before!)
  • Remember that you’re always negotiating, not just when you’re in the middle of a negotiation. It’s all about building a relationship with the person you’re negotiating with.
  • As freelance writers, we have every right to negotiate: we’re businesspeople. Sometimes this is difficult for those who were originally teachers to remember.
  • Negotiation doesn’t just have to be about money. It can also be about clauses in a contract, deadlines etc.
  • Don’t feel pressured. Ask for time to consider your response.
  • A lot of audience members recommended joining the Society of Authors. They have really helped a number of people with negotiations.

Creativity, collaboration and coursebooks (Julie Norton and Heather Buchanan)

Julie and Heather did research with publishers, asking how authors fit the bigger picture in publishing, what makes a good editor, and what publishers are looking for from authors, prompted by a quote from Santos (2013:93) “Publishers’ views are rare in the literature”. Everyone involved in the process needs to be more aware of what’s going on. They also quoted Barfield: “Collaboration creates something more than you can achieve alone.” But managing collaboration on a project can be extremely complex, and the editor is a lynchpin. One project they heard about in their research involved over 450 individuals! Interpersonal skills are a key part of collaboration: communicating, negotiating, trust, and thanking. Authors (each person?) can collaborate on many different aspects of a publishing project, for example, but not only:

  • Concept of product
  • Visiting markets/teachers
  • Selection of artwork
  • Choosing the title/cover
  • Involvement in the piloting process
  • Audio recordings
  • Proofing stages
  • Marketing and promotion

I had no idea that authors could be involved in so many different areas – it might be something to consider when negotiating contracts in the future.

What does creativity need? For Maley and Bolitho it’s time, unpunished risk-taking and more. For Wallas (1926) the four stages of creativity are preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Jill Hadfield (2013) says there are two kinds of thinking: chaotic and ordered, and they interact in the ‘chaosmos’ (a great word!) Some of the problems with being truly creative in materials though are the fact that you have to meet the brief and the issue of market expectations. In their research, Julie and Heather discovered that more experienced writers are more ready to abandon an idea and start from scratch if it looks like it won’t work, whereas less experienced writers will try for much longer to get something to work before they choose to abandon it. Editors want authors to have ‘spark’, but this can be difficult to pin down, and hard to show if you are writing to a tight brief.

Creativity can also be about ways of working, for example in the creative ways that experts can make ideas simple and accessible. One of Jill Hadfield’s ideas for this is 5-3-1: force yourself to come up with five possible ways to do something/five possible ideas, choose three to develop further, then choose the one you’ll use – this gets your creative juices flowing more than just going with the first idea. Another creativity framework from Jill is to write two lists of ideas, e.g. topics and activity types, then choose two that aren’t normally connected. This is based on Kerslake’s idea that creativity comes from the collision of two usually unrelated frames of reference. That’s how the fairytale dominoes activity in Intermediate Communication Games [affiliate link] was born – one of my favourite activities! Dorothy Zemach talked about a fiction writers’ facebook group where everybody writes as much as they can in a given period of time (‘sprints’), for example an hour, then reports back on it. Because you’re working at the same time as the rest of the group, there’s some accountability, but it also forces you to be creative because you don’t want to be the one person who hasn’t written anything! Phil Bird said that he finds it easier to be creative when bouncing ideas off another person in the same room than via Skype or email. All of these ideas came up during the discussion that formed the last part of the presentation – I often think this is the best part of any presentation, and know that I should factor in more time for this in my own sessions!

Tweets from other sessions

An alternative definition of PARSNIPs (normally the areas which rarely appear in coursebooks, i.e. politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, pork) and one I prefer:

On principles for materials writing:

Tips for new authors:

The next few tweets are from Dorothy Zemach‘s session on self-publishing ELT materials:

(The ELTFreelancers website)

On accessibility, and gaps in the market:

(and this is one of the reasons I wrote my Rethinking the Visual series – making it up as I went along!)

Special guest host Scott Thornbury talks to Angelos Bollas about representation of LGBT people in teaching materials, and the impact that can have on LGBT learners.

(for more information about Field’s views on listening materials, take a look at my listening and pronunciation post from this year’s IATEFL)

Simplified articles chart

Once upon a time, I created many different versions of charts to help students work out whether they needed articles or not. Some of them were very complicated because I tried to include way too much information in them. Then I went to the other extreme. Now I think I’ve found a happy medium:

Articles chart

Here’s the Powerpoint version for you to download.

The 90% figure in the box is obviously a complete guess. I’ve found that most article choices can be covered by the chart, though occasionally you have to be a bit creative about it! The box gives students a set of fixed phrases which they can learn to start them off with the exceptions that aren’t covered.

‘Normal noun’ is something like ‘republic’ or ‘kingdom’. This covers the use of phrases like ‘the Czech Republic’, ‘the United Kingdom’, and also ‘the University of Durham’, but not ‘Durham University’. By the way, does anyone know why the latter two uses operate differently when it comes to articles?

Countable > plural > specific covers ‘plural’ countries like ‘the United States’, but also groups of islands like ‘the Maldives’ or ‘the Canary Islands’.

Uncountable > specific covers deserts like ‘the Sahara’ and bodies of water which aren’t lakes, like ‘the Atlantic’, ‘the Sargasso Sea’. Lakes are an exception as they don’t normally take an article: ‘Lake Tahoe’, ‘Windermere’.

Hopefully this will be my final version of this, although I know I’ve definitely said that before…

Writing ELT materials for primary (guest post)

At this year’s IATEFL Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event, Katherine Bilsborough offered us tips on writing materials for primary-age young learners. These were really useful, so I asked her to put together a blog post summarising them for you.

Writing ELT materials for primary can be great fun but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s somehow easier than writing materials for an older age group. It isn’t. It has just as many challenges but some might be less obvious at first. Following on from the talk I did at this year’s MaWSIG pre-conference event at IATEFL, here are five things to take into consideration for anyone thinking of writing for primary.

1 What does primary actually mean?

The term primary usually covers six years – a long period in the life of a child. Materials that are suitable for a year 1 or 2 pupil aren’t suitable for a year 5 or 6 pupil – for a number of reasons. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the age group for which you are writing. The best way, of course, is to teach this age group yourself, but this isn’t always possible. The next best thing would be to observe some classes being taught – but fortunately there are a few easier things you can do too.

When you know the age group for which you are writing, check out the kind of things they are doing at school by using the UK’s Key Stage classification. Once you know the key stage, you can go to sites such as BBC Bitesizeand look at what children are doing in terms of subject matter and activity types. Remember this is a site for British school children whose first language is usually English so the language used might be more complex that the language you need to use in an ELT context. A good place to go to get an idea of the kind of vocabulary and grammar your target users need for their age group is the Cambridge English Exams website**. The word lists are very similar to word lists in the syllabus of most course books, especially since more and more course books now include exam preparation materials.

2 Primary appropriateness

The most important starting point for anybody writing materials for primary children is appropriateness. There are lots of ways to interpret this but we all know what it means. Primary materials have all the usual no-no’s and then a few more. Publishers usually provide a list of things they wish to avoid. Many of them are common sense but others might surprise you. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with all of the potential restrictions to your creativity. It’s frustrating having to completely rewrite a story, for example, because you’ve included something that needs to be cut … and the story won’t work without it. This is why it’s also a good idea to run your ideas past your editor before embarking on a writing marathon. I haven’t given any specific examples here … that’s a whole blog post in itself!

3 Illustration

Illustration is important in primary materials and once again the importance of age appropriateness needs to be considered. Look at some storybooks for five-year-olds and then at some others for nine-year-olds. You’ll notice all kinds of differences. Not only obvious things like word count or language used but also themes, genres and art styles. I have heard that more and more photos of real-life people and objects are appearing in materials for ever-younger learners. This might reflect changes in their real worlds where they are watching an increasing number of youtube videos and have much more access to photos.

It’s worth investing in a scanner if you start writing primary materials. Editors, designers and illustrators appreciate getting a scanned sketch of your perception of a page. They also like to see more detailed drawings of story frames or pages where the illustration is key to the understanding of the text. It’s worth pointing out that one of the best things about seeing the final product is seeing the brilliant work of the artists in transforming your roughly sketched ideas into work of true beauty.

4 Instructions/rubrics

When it comes to writing materials for primary I think a good rule of thumb for an instruction is ‘the simpler, the better’. That’s probably the case for all kinds of materials, for all ages and levels, but with primary it’s especially important because in the case of the youngest learners, some might not be able to read yet. Have a look at the instructions in materials for this age group. Note how they change according to the age and how simple icons are used for year 1 pupils to support the learning.

5 Useful websites for a primary materials writer

All professionals have their favourite websites and primary materials writers are no different. Here are 6 of mine. If you have any others, let us know. It’s always great to discover a new one.

http://vocabkitchen.com
Paste a text and get an instant colour-coded version, showing at a glance where each word lies within the CEFR guidelines or the AWL (academic word list) guidelines. Perfect for adapting the level of reading and audio texts.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/education
*BBC Bitesize archives for different UK curriculum key stages.

www.vocaroo.com
Easy-to-use, quick and simple recording site. Useful for sending your editor an audio of how you imagine a chant, song etc. sounding.

http://www.timeforkids.com
Age appropriate news stories from around the world (older primary).

http://www.puzzle-maker.com
Free online puzzle maker where you can create crossword grids and word searches quickly and easily. Other online puzzle makers make anagrams, jumble sentences and create other kinds of puzzles.

http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams/young-learners-english/
** Downloadable pdf wordlists for each level (Starters, Movers, Flyers, KET and PET).

 

Whether you are writing primary materials for your own classes or to share with others, for a blog, a website or a publisher, don’t forget the most important thing – have fun!

About Katherine

Katherine has worked in ELT since 1986 as a teacher, teacher trainer and author. She has published coursebooks and materials for all ages and contexts. Her primary materials include Dream Box, Ace! Oxford Rooftops, a new course book for OUP and a new online course for BBC English. She develops print and digital materials for the British Council and the BBC and regularly contributes to the LearnEnglish and TeachingEnglish websites. When she isn’t writing, she is gardening. Not having a blog of her own, Katherine enjoys gatecrashing other people’s blogs and was recently named ‘the interloping blogger’ – a title she approves of.

Katherine Bilsborough

If you want to find out more about materials writing, why not get a copy of Katherine’s new e-book How to write primary materials, written for the ELT Teacher2Writer site. (If you decide to buy it through Smashwords with this link, I’ll get a few pennies!)

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: MaWSIG pre-conference event

This year’s MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) pre-conference event was based around comparing print and digital publishing.

Lizzie Pinard documented the whole thing in four parts on her blog, so I’m going to cheat and give you links to them instead of writing my own summaries. I can’t really add anything she hasn’t already said! 🙂

Links on ‘parts’ will take you to Lizzie’s blog, links on names will take you to blogs or profiles of the speakers.

Puffin poo: white Belgian chocolate with toasted rice and mallow, hand rolled in coconut

If you’re interested in the interface of print and digital, you might also like to watch the recording of this presentation by Laura Patsko and Rolf Tynan, based on research done at Cambridge University Press into the use of face2face ebooks at the Embassy English school in Cambridge.

Thanks to MaWSIG for organising another fascinating pre-conference event. Looking forward to next year already!

Addendum: a few things from the rest of the conference

Lizzie went to the MaWSIG Open Forum during the main conference and reported back on it, as well as Here’s one I made earlier – designing effective classroom materials by Katherine Bilsborough and Sue Lyon-Jones.

Here are some slightly random tweets from talks I didn’t attend, but which are all related to materials writing:

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!

What is the best way to exploit authentic materials? (#ELTchat summary)

It’s a very long time since I wrote one of these (nearly 3 years to be exact)! On Wednesday 14th January 2015 I took part in my first ELTchat for about a year, and since my topic was chosen, it’s only fair that I did the summary too 🙂

If you’ve never come across ELTchat before, it’s a weekly hour-long conversation which takes place on Twitter (almost) every Wednesday, alternating between 12pm and 9pm UK time. At the end of the chat, one lucky person takes the transcript and summarises the discussion. All of the summaries are then added to the amazing summaries index, which goes back to October 2010. These are the people who took part in this chat (no underscores, so check the transcript for their proper Twitter handles!)

Word cloud of participants

What are authentic materials?

There were many aspects to the definition of authentic materials. There’s a bit of repetition, but you can pick and choose the parts that make up the best definition for you:

  • Anything written for any purpose other than language instruction;
  • Not designed for linguistic purposes (no input flood/specific language point);
  • Anything from the real world;
  • Might have been designed with non-natives in mind (just not for language teaching);
  • Can be audio or visual;
  • Need to contain some text (either written or spoken);
  • Provided by the students (? – perhaps more real/relevant to them);
  • Could be material for other school subjects, e.g. history.

Examples of authentic materials

This list is by no means exhaustive, but is designed to inspire you!

  • Packaging
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Menus
  • Literature
  • Conversations
  • Webpages
  • Blogs
  • Leaflets
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Text messages
  • Posters
  • Billboards
  • Stickers
  • T-shirts
  • Slogans
  • Logos
  • Tweets
  • Facebook statuses
  • DVD cases
  • Maps
  • Logic puzzles
  • Emails
  • Leaflets/pamphlets, maybe collected during a walk with your students
  • The Internet (yep, all of it)
  • Signs (ELTpics/Map of Linguistic Urban Landscape are good sources)
  • Voice mails (you can find apps to download them, such as this paid one)
  • Reviews (e.g. from TripAdvisor or Rotten Tomatoes)
  • Children’s books (although you should consider the language carefully, as well as whether the content is suitable for adult classes)
  • And if that’s not enough for you, try this list from Michael Griffin.

Things to consider when choosing authentic materials

  • The function/purpose of the text, not just the language included in it.
  • Is it interesting/motivational for your students?
  • What will they learn from it?
  • What do the learners need to be able to produce themselves? Can you find real examples of it?
  • Can the learners provide them for you?
  • With ESP (English for Specific Purposes) materials, do you need to know the jargon/terminology, or can your learners explain it to you?
  • Will the students’ knowledge of the content make it easier for them to access the text?
  • They don’t have to be perfect. Materials with mistakes can be just as useful for students as ‘perfect’ ones, particularly if they’re documents that the students may encounter, e.g. in-company documentation.
  • It’s not a magic bullet – the text and tasks still need to have relevant content and be at an appropriate level.

Ways of using authentic materials

  • Exploit language to develop vocabulary, raise awareness of grammatical patterns/collocations/connected speech etc.
  • Encourage students to personalise chunks of language taken from the text.
  • Correct the mistakes/improve the text.
  • Analyse the text structure and/or style (text/genre analysis).
  • Develop skills in the same way as you would with non-authentic materials (e.g. coursebook texts).
  • To promote discussion about the content of the text.
  • As warmers for writing lessons (videos from BBC Breaking were particularly recommended)
  • Top-down: start from the context and move towards the language.
  • Bottom-up: start from the language and move towards the wider topic.
  • For enjoyment! Extensive reading/listening practice.

You can even use authentic materials with exam classes: Laura Plotnek uses real news with her IELTS classes. Podcasts are also an excellent resource for IELTS students, as are articles from magazines like BBC Focus magazine.

Packaging

Show examples, then let students create their own.

Menus

Match pictures of food to items on the menu.

‘In a restaurant’ role play.

Text messages

Focus on the connections between the messages and the development of the conversation.

Review websites

After working with the examples, students post their own reviews on the websites.

Resumés/CVs

Choose the most suitable candidate for a job.

Write a story based on the characters whose CVs you have.

Emails

Email your students with a problem you have. Get them to reply, then screenshot/print the replies and work on the language in them. They’re responding to a real text you’ve written. [Note from Sandy: I did something similar by asking friends on Twitter/facebook to tell my pre-intermediate students their problems so they could solve them – SS loved it!]

Points of debate

Should you pre-teach vocabulary?

It may be easier for students to access the text if you do, and some ‘blocking vocabulary’ (things which are vital to understanding the text) may be important so that students have an idea what’s going on in the text and don’t get too depressed.

If you don’t pre-teach, it reflects real-life conditions more and may help them to develop coping strategies. Giving students the chance to look up vocabulary might be more useful to them than pre-teaching it, as would priming them for the content/ideas in the text rather than specific vocabulary (activating schemata – alerting the students to prior knowledge they may have of the topic).

Consider your aim: are you using it primarily for the content, or as training in how to approach authentic materials?

Should you choose materials to fit your aims or just things which take your fancy?

One idea was that it’s important for the teacher to be interested in the materials, otherwise it might be difficult to put together a ‘super duper’ lesson! Although our training is there to help us make boring stuff more exciting 😉

We need to consider what materials students need to access outside class and base our choices on this.

Should you adapt or simplify the materials?

Adapting or simplifying the text removes the authenticity of the language. It is also time consuming. Managing to understand a text without knowing all the words is a vital skill which students need to develop. You can train students to use paralinguistic features, such as images or layout, to help them understand the text. Being able to understand unadapted materials can be very motivating for students.

On the other hand, simplifying the text can help students to access it in the first place, and you can build up to exposure to the original once they are familiar with the content. This could help beginner/elementary students in particular. If students become frustrated with the material because it’s too difficult, they may just stop trying to understand it. Audacity is a useful tool for slowing down audio through changing the tempo.

You could also choose ‘usable excerpts’ from a text, rather than using all of it. Examples might be a short section of a longer video, or a couple of paragraphs from a longer article.

Is authenticity important in the tasks too?

i.e. Should the texts be used in a way which is faithful to real life?

Authentic tasks can be more motivating for the students, perhaps because the purpose of the tasks is clearer to them. However, they may require extra tasks (scaffolding) before you get to the authentic tasks though to ensure students are prepared sufficiently. There is also the argument that language work is a necessary part of what we do in the classroom in order to aid learning. On the other hand, authentic texts sometimes have a ‘magic’ of their own and help to motivate the students without language work.

Using materials like menus in atypical ways could add an interesting twist for students. Examples of tasks include using the menu to practise reading prices, rather than just for ordering food, or an information gap with different information blanked out for each student. The intended use of the text in real life doesn’t need to be paramount.

Can you use authentic materials with lower-level learners?

Yes! Grade the task, not the text. Give them achievable targets, for example, identifying the names of the main characters in a short story could train learners to notice the use of capital letters for names. Another activity could be reading a DVD case to find the length of the film and whether the actors have won any awards.

Support can also be provided in the form of pictures, pre-teaching vocabulary and/or a summary of the text beforehand. With audio materials, you can repeat it as many times as necessary. Pausing helps learners to assimilate the text, and you can discuss what SS have heard and what they think will come next.

Bear in mind, though, that sometimes the text is just too difficult for the students. Widdowson suggests that authentic materials may be too challenging for lower-level students, but those living in English-speaking environments have to deal with them, so as teachers we need to help them.

Is it worth it?

The general consensus was that when used correctly students really enjoy authentic materials, even if they don’t understand it all. You’re exposing learners to real patterns of language which they can use. Those teaching in English-speaking environments thought it was particularly important to use authentic materials with their students as this is what they encounter as soon as they leave class.

Links and further reading

Pinterest or wikis were suggested as ways to collate authentic materials.

Robert O’Neill discusses the use of authentic materials in the final section of Dogmas and Delusions in current EFL methodology.

Shona Whyte discusses authenticity in the FL classroom.

A selection of lessons based on authentic materials, organised by level.

Marjorie Rosenberg wrote regular ‘Jargon Busters‘ for Cambridge. They started with vocabulary, then an article, and ended with discussion questions.

Speakout books use BBC videos and has video podcasts. Life uses National Geographic ones.

CEFR profilers or vocabulary profilers like the Oxford Text Checker can be useful to identify potentially difficult words and to decide whether to use a text.

Richmond Skills Boost: my materials

For the first time I’ve designed materials which have now been published. Richmond have put together a series of additional reading and listening materials for each level from A1-C1. At each level there are 12 reading and 12 listening worksheets available for teachers and students to download. To find them, you register on the Richmond ELT site. This takes a few days as they approve your school. Once you’re in, go to the teacher’s area, and click on Skills Boost on the left. There you’ll find all of the worksheets, audio, tapescripts and answer keys. My contributions are the C1 listening worksheets 1-6.

SkillsBoost C1 Listening

My work 🙂 (and a few other people’s too!)

I’m so proud of how they’ve turned out, and I’d like to thank the people at Richmond who made it all look so good, Stephanie, Shona and Susan, along with all of my lovely friends who contributed ideas and materials to help me come up with the ideas I needed. Thanks particularly to Ela, for putting me in touch with Richmond in the first place 🙂

It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it. I think the audio is a little slow and careful for C1 level (it would be useful for them to hear more natural speeds), but the range of topics are interesting, and a bit different to what’s in the coursebooks, as well as there being a range of accents. I’m looking forward to trying them out with my students when I get back to Sevastopol, and I’d be interested to hear your feedback if you get to use them.

Your challenge is to spot the bits I put in there to make me smile and to figure out the references to my friends in there 😉

How to challenge yourself

Challenge considered

This was a lesson plan in the form of a presentation I put together for the weekly 90-minute English Speaking Club at IH Sevastopol. The notes for the plan are visible when you download the presentation (in the notes pane, normally found under the slides):

Here is the SMART goals jigsaw reading (jigsaw reading is where you divide a text into sections. Student A reads part A, B reads part B, C reads C and so on. They don’t see the other parts. They then work together, with or without the text, to build the meaning of the whole by sharing information from their own parts.):

There are also tapescripts to accompany the two videos, which could be mined for language if you choose (that wasn’t the purpose of this club):

It was the first topic for the speaking club for 2014, and hopefully we’ll revisit the goals the students set for themselves later in the year. Unfortunately I was ill, but my colleague taught it and said it went well. Let me know what you think!

Christmas activities

Here is the collection of Christmas activities which I presented at the International House Sevastopol seminar on Saturday December 21st 2013.

Some of the activities are available on the web, some I have created, and some are versions of time-honoured none-Christmas EFL activities adapted to the festive season. If there’s no link, click on the picture within the presentation and it should take you to the activity. Hopefully the slides are self-explanatory, but if not, feel free to leave me a comment.

In addition, here are some photos from Christmas 2010 which my family gave me permission to take and share. I talked about one of them using fotobabble.

Lights on a garden tree Snow on Christmas Day! Barrel organ as part of Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Red phone boxes in the snow Stuffing the turkey Pigs in blankets Part-cooked turkey Table set with crackers Table set with crackers Turkey in the oven Fully-cooked turkey Ready to pull crackers Eating Christmas dinner, wearing cracker hats Christmas pudding in the microwave Pouring brandy on the Christmas pudding The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) Evening meal of Christmas cake and leftovers... Christmas cake IMG_4106

I realise that this is a bit late for many of you, but you can save it for next year 🙂

Please Mrs Butler

I can’t imagine my childhood without Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Two of my favourite books were Please Mrs Butler and Heard it in the Playground (affiliate links), both collections of poems based around being at school.

I created a worksheet based on the title poem from Please Mrs Butler and the recording Allan Ahlberg made of it on The Children’s Poetry Archive.

I used it with pre-intermediate students as part of our ongoing thread of listening and pronunciation practice. We listened to the numbers in the introduction four or five times, and they managed to get them all. We finished the 90-minute lesson with the students repeating the poem after me, then performing it together. This was the final result:

The poem has since served as a warmer in later lessons. For homework, I asked them to watch a group of children performing the title poem from the other book, Heard it in the Playground.

What poems do you like using in class?

Linking words of contrast (FCE Use of English and Writing)

Here is a worksheet I put together to help my students with some of the linking words of contrast which commonly come up in FCE Use of English part 1, and which they can use in their writing. The first page has rules for using but, however, nevertheless, although, even though, despite and in spite of. I know it’s not exhaustive, but it’s hopefully a good start!

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

Answers: 1b 2c 3a 4c 5d 6d 7b 8a

Do you have any other suggestions for helping students to understand the differences between these words?

Related links

Useful FCE Websites

Itchy feet

A few days ago I shared a lesson plan which Claire Hart created based on a recording I did about Moving to Sevastopol.

Now Lizzie Pinard has got in on the act, and created another set of materials based on the same recording. You can find the post she wrote about how she will use the materials on her excellent blog, as well as the materials themselves (scroll down to number 3: Itchy Feet).

I hope you find them useful!

Another gratuitous picture of Sevastopol, this time at Chersonesus

Another gratuitous picture of Sevastopol, this time at Chersonesus

Moving to a new country (Sevastopol)

A few days after I arrived in Sevastopol, Lea Sobocan posted this on facebook:

I have a request for my PLN – more specifically for the segment of you who have experienced living in another country/culture.

I’m currently discussing moving to another country/immigration with my students and I’d really appreciate any thoughts, feelings, difficulties and joys to be found in living abroad. Preferably in audio form, but whatever works for you.

Some of the people I’ve spoken with saw immigration to another country as something you just get up and do and they seem to be certain everyone will greet them with open arms. I’d like to offer a more balanced view and a first-hand account of someone who had this experience.

Any help, in form of text, audio clip or similar will be greatly appreciated.

Lea had helped me before by recording a clip about her favourite TV show, so I thought it was only fair I return the favour. I recorded this audioboo about moving to Sevastopol, then promptly forgot about it:

A few days later I was surprised to get a message from Claire Hart telling me that she had created a series of activities around my two-minute recording. I asked her to share the result with you, and I think you’ll agree, it’s a pretty good lesson. Thanks Claire!

How Claire used the recording

Killing a bit of time before the first class of the day, I found myself reading my Twitter feed. One of the tweets that popped up was from Sandy Millin. It was a link to an audio recording she had posted on Audioboo where she talked about her experience of recently relocating to Sevastopol, Ukraine. The class I was about to start teaching was a C1 group who had asked for practice listening to British people speaking because they tend to find their British colleagues difficult to understand. I’d been using excerpts from BBC television series and BBC world service podcasts with them over the previous weeks, but Sandy’s recording seemed to provide a refreshing alternative to that.

I decided to take a chance and improvise an activity around Sandy’s recording with just 2 minutes to go before the class started. This was a bit of a challenge, but I found that having to think on my feet rather than going through a pre-planned, pre-rehearsed routine made me more present and alert. What was striking is how surprised the learners were to learn that Sandy is a real person and she’s talking about experiences that she has really had. I suppose this just goes to show how learners get used to listening to people playing fictional characters having scripted conversations with each other. When I told them that I actually know Sandy, their enthusiasm shot up even more. I’ve used this recording with several groups at a range of levels and, interestingly, all of them seem to have understood more of what Sandy said than they usually understand when we listen to a recording designed for English learning. Even my A2 group could accurately recount the key points that Sandy made and include some of the detail.

The “real-ness” of this activity was particularly palpable when I used the recording with a group of eight, five of whom have moved to Germany from either Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Poland or Romania. When I asked them to consider why people would move to a foreign country, what difficulties you can face when you make that move and how you can overcome them, the non-Germans in the group were able to tap into their real experiences and share those with the others. When I asked them to write short texts evaluating the benefits and difficulties of moving to a foreign country, what I got back from them were honest and touching accounts of how hard moving to a foreign country can be, but how it can help you to find a better quality of life. They put a lot of effort into writing these texts because the topic was important to them. Even the learners who haven’t had the experience of moving to another country themselves, seemed to have a lot of empathy for Sandy and were keenly interested in what is going on in her life.

The lesson skeleton

1. Look at the statement “I’ve just moved to Sevastopol”

  • What have I done?
  • When did I do it?

2. Ask the learners if they know where Sevastopol is. Can they find it on a map of Europe? What do they know about Ukraine? Which countries are its neighbours? What languages do they speak there? What food do they eat? Have they ever visited this part of the world?

Memorial to Heroic Defenders of Sevastopol

Memorial to Heroic Defenders of Sevastopol

3. Show them information about the population of Sevastopol, its climate and its landmarks and ask them to say what questions this information gives you the answers to. You can also use this as an opportunity to practise saying long numbers, comparing temperatures or discussing what sights they enjoy visiting.

Chersonesus, an Ancient Greek town in the suburbs of Sevastopol

Chersonesus, an Ancient Greek town in the suburbs of Sevastopol

4. Ask them if they think Sevastopol would be a good place to go on holiday to. Why/ why not?

5. Ask them to brainstorm reasons why someone would move to Sevastopol. Then ask them to speculate about why Sandy, an English teacher who is originally from England but who’s lived in a few different countries, would move to Sevastopol.

Why would you move to Sevastopol?

6. Listen to the recording and give them level-appropriate questions to answer. A lower-level question could be: What words does Sandy think you should learn first when you move to another country and why? A higher-level question could be: What difficulties did Sandy face when she arrived in Sevastopol and how has she been able to overcome them?

7. As a follow-up or homework task, you can ask the learners to write a text on the benefits and difficulties of living a foreign country.

This presentation has slides connected to each of the steps in the lesson skeleton:

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

What I’ve learned here is that if you make a recording where you honestly describe interesting, unusual or important experiences in your life and share it through sites like Audioboo, you can produce meaningful authentic audio material that learners will respond really well to because it’ll resonate with them and their lives. The response I’ve received to using this recording has been extremely positive and my learners are now keen to know what Sandy does next.

About Claire

Claire Hart

Claire Hart teaches general English, business English and technical English to university students and business people in Southern Germany. She frequently presents on topics such as using authentic materials, mobile learning and teaching technical English at ELT conferences. She’s also a course book and teacher’s book author and an online materials writer, specialising in business English and ESP materials.

Short answers for agreeing and disagreeing

Students often ask me about the difference between ‘either’ and ‘neither’ and it normally results in me drawing a table on the board. I finally put this into a document and thought I would share it in case anyone else finds it useful.

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

Let me know if there’s anything you think I should add/change to improve it.

Small talk

My Advanced level students are very good about talking about ‘topics’ like the environment or health but sometimes struggle to strike up conversation with native speakers in a natural way. I decided to teach them about small talk, but couldn’t find a handy lesson anywhere so made my own. 🙂

Before the students came into class I pushed all the tables back and put some party music on. As they walked through the door I asked them to put their bags on the tables and write their names on the board (we had some new students joining the class). I then gave them a card from a tin my friend gave me for my birthday (Thanks Kim!):

best_ever_dinner_party_ice_breakers

and said “Talk”. [This combatted my common problem of confusing the students with complicated instructions…even after working on it during Delta!] The cards had questions like “What’s your favourite holiday destination?” “What do you normally do at the weekend?”

Once all of the students had arrived and they’d chatted for about five minutes I switched off the music and the light, which stopped the conversations quickly. I switched the light on again 😉 and asked them how comfortable they felt speaking to people they didn’t really know in their own language and in English. Understandably, they said it was more difficult in English.

I elicited the term ‘small talk’ and asked them to discuss the first four questions on the sheet below. For every activity during the lesson they had to work with someone they hadn’t spoken to previously during the lesson. I left the tables at the side of the room throughout, so students perched on desks and moved around a lot.

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

Students then completed the second task (You’re now going to read about…) by looking at five short texts stuck around the room. They are on the first two pages of this document. I adapted them from the Wikipedia entry about small talk.

As they finished reading, the students compared the things which they found interesting or surprising, and talked about whether small talk operates in the same way or a different way in their culture, for example, whether the same topics are considered taboo.

The students stood in a straight line across the classroom. I stood about 1.5m from each student in turn and asked them to move towards me until they were at a comfortable distance away from me for a conversation. We talked a bit about personal space and how, for the Brazilian students especially, this could often be quite different in different cultures. We also talked about how normal it is to touch other people when you’re talking to them, and how this differs when you know them or not. One of the Brazilian students was surprised that an English person wouldn’t normally touch the other person, for example on the arm, while speaking to them.

I divided the class into A, B and C groups and gave them each one section from the next three pages of the second document above, which were adapted from Wikihow. They read their section, helped each other with vocabulary and tried to summarise the ideas. They then regrouped so that the new groups had representatives from A, B and C. The students shared the tips they had read about and talked about whether they are useful or not.

Talking about the tips

Talking about the tips

Students then thought of two or three opening gambits and wrote them in the last section of the first worksheet. Taking those, they made small talk for the last 25 minutes of the 2-hour lesson at what I told them was probably the most boring IH Newcastle party ever! That meant they needed to liven it up by meeting as many people as possible, and making sure they ended at least one conversation during the time limit – it’s often hard to know how to escape from a conversation. I also told them it was their responsibility to make sure everyone had someone to talk to – nobody could be left out at the party. I didn’t correct them or collect errors. The aim was fluency and making sure that the students would be as comfortable as possible for the other 18 hours we would spend together during the rest of the week.

Their homework was to make small talk with a random native speaker at some point during the week, then tell me about it. They had to make an effort to do this – it couldn’t just be an extension of a transactional conversation. One of the students ended up having a very interesting hour-long conversation with an old man who happened to be Jehovah’s Witness, something which my student had never heard of before (and therefore had no cultural baggage about!).

Overall, the lesson seemed to go well, and for the rest of the week whenever students had finished a task early I could ask them to make small talk. Making small talk successfully can be a difficult skill to master, but it’s an important one, and one which I don’t think we examine enough in the classroom. It’s important for students to be able to start and end conversations themselves, as we tend to control any small talk that happens in the room. I’m looking forward to hearing about the small talk experiences of the rest of my class!

Update: Here are .doc versions of both worksheets: Small talk question sheet / Small talk

If you’d like more small talk activities, you could download the short book At Work by Paul Walsh, available via The Round. Alex Case also has lots of small talk worksheets.

Ways to practise your languages

One from the archives, from my first year of post-Celta teaching. I’ve just found this file on my computer, last opened on 1st April 2008. I’m still pretty happy with it, although I’d probably make it a lot longer now! What do you think?

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

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verb-noun collocations

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

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

Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday lesson plan

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

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

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

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

Put these questions on the board:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy – a lesson

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

A heart for you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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

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

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

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

Apologies for the lack of numbers! The answers are:

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

To go to the moon.

To get cheese/To go on holiday.

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

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

To ski

To escape from the robot.

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

To get some cheese.

To find a holiday./To organise a holiday.

To protect their eyes.

To catch the ball.

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

To ski.

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

Enjoy!

Watching movies

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

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

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

Introductory activity

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

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

Watching movie clips

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

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

Watching full-length movies

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

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

By: Khulood Al-balushi

Business: a lesson plan

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

business

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

business?

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

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

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

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

MIssion Statement of B2 business class

MIssion Statement of B2 business class 2

You can also download a copy.

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

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

Revamping writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of highlighted slips of paper 1

Examples of highlighted slips of paper 2

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

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

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

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

Before and after 1

Before and after 2

Before and after 3

Before and after 4

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

Useful FCE websites

Here are all of the useful websites I can find to help students preparing for the Cambridge First Certificate exam. Please let me know if there are any broken links, or if you find something you think I should add.

General

www.flo-joe.com/fce/

Great website, full of tips, especially for Reading, Use of English and Writing. I’d definitely recommend students look at the word bank every day, and that teachers try to make use of those words in their classes to motivate students to use it! There is also a bank of writing showcasing all of the different text types, including teacher feedback.

http://www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/fce/index.html

The official Cambridge FCE website, with information about the length of the papers and the task types, as well as some free materials to download.

http://www.fceexam.com/

http://firstcertificate.wordpress.com/

http://www.fcepass.com

Three sites aimed at students. All include information, tips and exercises covering all parts of the exam.

http://tefltastic.wordpress.com/worksheets/exams/cambridge-exams/fce/

Alex Case’s excellent collection of FCE worksheets.

FCE Result (affiliate link – I will earn money from Amazon if you buy anything after clicking this link), the OUP coursebook, has online exercises for each unit of the book. (via Anna Yermolenko)

And finally, these are the activities tagged ‘FCE’ on my own blog, including ones for speaking and use of English.

Practice exams

Two sets of Reading, Writing and Use of English practise exercises

A free practice test, not including speaking

Vocabulary

http://quizlet.com/group/114523/

http://quizlet.com/subject/fce/

Two places to find online flashcards to play games with on the Quizlet website, to download onto smartphones or to print off and use in class. If you’ve never used Quizlet, here’s my guide.

Oxford Word Skills Intermediate and Advanced (affiliate links) can also help you to build your vocabulary, and they have online exercises too. (via Anna Yermolenko)

Grammar

Oxford Practice Grammar Intermediate and Advanced (affiliate links) have a test you can use to assess your level, along with practice exercises online. (via Anna Yermolenko)

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

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

The rest of the links are organised by paper. The links above also include some information for each paper, and there doesn’t seem to be anything specific for Paper 1: Reading that isn’t just a practice test.

Paper 2: Writing

General guidelines for the whole exam and for each part of the writing, including useful language

Flo-joe writing class, including a task every week, writing makeovers, and exercises on proofreading

First Certificate Writing is full of examples and tips, plus information about common mistakes.

A seminar for teachers from the IATEFL Birmingham 2016 conference, with Anette Capel sharing tips to help you prepare students for First.

Teaching students how to organise extended writing, with templates for essays and reports

Informal email

http://www.cristinacabal.com/?p=8947

Review

http://languagesint.blogspot.com/2010/05/fce-advice-how-to-write-review.html

Article

http://languagesint.blogspot.com/2010/05/fce-tips-how-to-write-article.html

Report

http://languagesint.blogspot.com/2010/05/written-by-languages-international.html

Story

http://languagesint.blogspot.com/2010/05/12-top-fce-story-tips.html

Essay

Tips on how to write essays of opinion or argumentative essays, including useful language

A sheet based on an opinion essay about sport

An exercise to practise the structure of an essay by putting missing phrases into an essay about computers

Essay writing checklist

Two fun interactive tools for planning essays, via British Council Las Rozas

Paper 3: Use of English

http://www.ihbristol.com/learn-online/exercise-esol.php

Lots of Use of English exercises.

http://www.imparareinglese.co.uk/esercizi_inglese.htm

Use of English exercises (under the ‘Intermediate’ heading)

http://practiseenglish.blogspot.com/2009/03/fce-key-word-transformation-practice-3.html

72 key word transformation sentences, but no key.

http://www.autoenglish.org/FCEUse/FCEUsePart4.htm

This link will take you to Use of English part 4 Key Word Transformation information and exercises. At the top of the page you can also find links to Reading and the other Use of English sections.

http://quizlet.com/8782322/fce-sentence-transformations-1-20-flash-cards/

http://quizlet.com/8782817/fce-sentence-transformations-21-40-flash-cards/

http://quizlet.com/8782986/fce-sentence-transformations-41-60-flash-cards/

Key word transformations on quizlet. Students can play games to help them practise the forms.

http://www.usingenglish.com/files/pdf/cambridge-first-certificate-fce-use-of-english-part-4-sentence-transformation-hangman.pdf

http://www.usingenglish.com/files/pdf/cambridge-first-certificate-fce-making-use-of-english-part-four-questions.pdf

http://www.usingenglish.com/files/pdf/cambridge-first-certificate-fce-use-of-english-part-four-sentence-transformation-tasks.pdf

Key word transformations activities from Alex Case (plus tips for the teacher to show you how to deal with them in the classroom)

Paper 4: Listening

Listening practice from the British Council

Tips for teaching every section of the listening paper

Paper 5: Speaking

http://www.britishcouncil.org/professionals-exams-fce-speaking-intro.htm
Speaking practice from the British Council.

http://www.splendid-speaking.com/exams/fce_speaking.html
Tips and example questions to help students prepare for the Speaking Paper (Paper 5)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=LxCoEdFUcBw
A video showing two students doing part 1 of the Speaking paper. Once you have watched the video, click on the links to the right to take you to the next section. All four sections are available.

http://www.usingenglish.com/articles/how-to-teach-cambridge-first-certificate-fce-speaking-part-two.html
A very comprehensive guide to language students need for FCE speaking part two (comparing pictures), in order of priority, along with ideas on how to teach it.

https://www.cristinacabal.com/?p=13346
Tips, do’s and don’ts for students to maximise their score in paired parts of speaking exams.

In the classroom

Andy Scott presented a webinar entitled ‘FCE: the musical’ for the International House Live Online Workshops. It was an hour of useful and fun activities to prepare students for the exam.

A Hive of Activities has a range of great FCE activities, covering various papers, with more being added all the time.

Alex Case has many very useful activities for FCE on http://www.usingenglish.com. This example is a selection of activities for speaking part 3 phrases: presentation, practice and games. There is also a key word guessing game for speaking 2.

Nicola Prentis has written Teach First Certificate, a beginners guide for teachers showing how to approach the exam, available on Amazon as a paperback or ebook [affiliate links].

Update

Here is another directory of links from teflgeek.

An amazing video of tips for FCE students from students at IH Santa Clara.

Immigration: Belongings

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

Immigration belongings screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Forms of the infinitive: FCE Key Word Transformations

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Jobs and Personality: my lesson today

Today we were going to talk about jobs, write job adverts for the students’ dream jobs and then short letters applying for them. Instead we generated a lot of vocabulary, and did a lot of discussion, like so:

Students brainstormed jobs in pairs (they are upper intermediate/B2). While they were doing this, I typed words which appeared on more then one list into Tagxedo. After a few minutes they called out anything which was missing, and we came up with the following wordcloud:

Jobs wordcloud

Generally I would get them to do this on the whiteboard, but we were in a small classroom, and I had to choose between the whiteboard or IWB – I couldn’t arrange the classroom to be able to use both!

Next, I asked them to decide which two jobs from the selection above are the most difficult and to think of good reasons. They gave their reasons to the class, and we ended up with a list of seven jobs: fireman, doctor, president, thief, lawyer, policeman and [company] director.

Starting from this list, the students came up with a list of characteristics which you need to be good at these/your job(s). During this stage the students were all asking me for specific vocabulary which they wanted for certain characteristics. Again, I entered them into tagxedo and came up with this list.

Characteristics for jobs

We pushed the tables against the walls and they mingled to try to persuade each other that the two jobs they added to our list of seven were the most difficult, using the adjectives where appropriate. A couple of students did change their minds, and in the final vote fireman and doctor were the clear winners.

To finish the lesson, students wrote short descriptions starting with:

  • The best fireman in the world (is)…
  • The best doctor in the world (is)…

Tomorrow we’re going to compare the descriptions which they came up with and use these to create adverts for these two jobs. Then we will move on to students writing their own adverts as I originally planned to do today.

What worked

Students were constantly asking me for the specific words they needed to describe things, particularly personality adjectives.

Students were motivated and engaged in the topic.

Things to improve

The stage where the students mingled and tried to change the minds of the other students didn’t work as well as I hoped it would. Does anyone have a good alternative here?

Essay writing checklist

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

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

Here are the answers:

Essay writing checklist answers

Enjoy!

Key Word Transformations with Modals of Speculation/Deduction

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

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

BE

He _______________________ because he died a few years ago.

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

ABLE

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

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

BE

Sarah ____________________ because I saw her shopping this morning.

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

COULD

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

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

MUST

He is so rich that ________________ happy.

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

MUST

He _________________ ghost because now he looks very pale.

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

MIGHT

Alice ________________ at a hotel last summer.

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

HAVE

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

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

BEEN

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

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

BITTEN

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

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

HAVE

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

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

HAD

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

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

COULD

Will ______________________ because he didn’t sleep much yesterday.

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

MIGHT

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

Answers

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

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

Enjoy!

The Vicar of Dibley meets Johnny Depp

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

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

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

The answers are here (click to enlarge):

Enjoy!

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

VIcar of Dibley extension

FCE Speaking Part 3: our version

On Thursday I introduced my students to Speaking Part 3 of the FCE paper. In this section of the exam, two students have about three minutes to discuss a set of 5-7 pictures and answer two questions. The first question involves some kind of scenario where they have to refer to every picture, and the second involves making a decision. The examiners are looking for whether the candidates can have a discussion (interactive communication) rather than monologue, among other things.

We were focussing on holidays all week, so in a similar way to the Present Simple / Present Continuous activity I shared a couple of weeks ago, I asked my students to draw a picture of themselves on holiday.

Since there were 11 students, plus me, we had twelve pictures in total (I’ll leave you to work out which one was mine!) That created two convenient groups, like so:

Speaking part 3The notes at the top show two language points which came up during the discussions. We ended up doing the task four times, using each set of pictures twice. The questions I asked were:

  • Imagine you are taking your family on holiday. What are the benefits of each kind of holiday when travelling with a family? Which is the best place to take a family too?
  • Imagine you are organising a holiday with your friends at the end of your exams. What could you do with your friends on each of these holidays? Which place will you go to?
  • Imagine you are going to have a week’s holiday by yourself. What are the advantages and disadvantages of travelling along to these places? Which is the best place to travel alone?
  • Imagine you are organising your next holiday. Why do people go on these kinds of excursions when on holiday? Which one would you go on as a one-day excursion?

We had done an example of the activity from Complete First Certificate, and I used their excellent speaking guide (at the back of the book) to give the students tips on how to approach the task. The general idea for this lesson was to familiarise the students with the format and to encourage them to converse, rather than monologue. In the end, that wasn’t really a problem as they’re very good at interacting with each other. They definitely improved as they did the task more times, although I think after doing it five times they never wanted to see it again! 🙂

(We used the class timer from the Triptico suite to keep the students in line!)

FCE Use of English Part 2 Open Cloze: creating your own

Last week we looked at the FCE Use of English Part 2 Open Cloze for the first time. I wanted to help the students become aware of the kind of words that are usually missing from the texts in this part of the exam.

We had been looking at housework vocabulary, so I went on the internet and found this article about one woman’s attitude to housework. I chose a section of it and pasted it into a word document, which I printed for the students:

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

Using flo-joe’s excellent Spotlight Paper 3 section, the students worked in pairs to highlight each of the things listed below, using a different colour each time. We chose a few examples of each on the board before we started.

  • Pronouns/relative pronouns
  • Articles/quantifiers
  • Modal/auxiliary verbs
  • Conjunctions
  • Prepositions

I also highlighted that there are a few words which don’t fit into these categories, but that this was enough to start us of. It’s important that the students realise that this part of the exam is largely testing grammar, rather than content. You can see all of the words highlighted in the second page of the document above (please feel free to correct me if you think I’ve missed any – I did it quite quickly!)

Finally, they chose 13 of the highlighted words to circle, evenly spaced throughout the text.

At home, I plugged the text into the OUP cloze maker (you need to log in, but it’s free), then created five versions of the cloze task based on the words students had circled. You can see them here:

It only took about 10 minutes to make all of them once I’d worked out how to use the cloze maker! You can also use texts from the FCE Result coursebook to create your own cloze tasks.

I think I got this idea from Phil Warwick, at a conference in either Brno or Bratislava, so thanks to him for inspiring me 🙂

The £100 challenge

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

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

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

FCE Speaking (Paper 5) Part 1

I’ve just started teaching a Cambridge FCE group, so expect to see a lot of posts about my lessons over the next few months (they take their exam at the end of November). Hopefully I’ll be able to share some of the ideas I’ve been using and get some in return 🙂

For the first session I decided to focus on FCE Speaking Part 1. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, there are four parts to an FCE Speaking exam, the first of which is an interview where the interlocutor speaks to each candidate in turn. The questions are general ‘getting to know you’ ones, along with some which are little more in-depth. They are designed to ease the candidate into the exam.

We started off by brainstorming topics you might talk about when you meet someone for the first time. The students came up with:

Speaking Part 1 topicsI then divided the topics up into groups and gave the students some pieces of scrap paper. Each piece of paper was for one topic. Working in small groups, they brainstormed as many questions as they could for each area and wrote them on the paper.

We then passed the questions around the room for other students to correct and add to.

Once the questions were as good as they could be, the students took one set of questions each and mingled to find out the answers.

As homework, they typed the questions into this Google Document, which I had started with ‘personal information’ questions. I also added the bonus topic of ‘your house’. My job for this evening is to correct them!

Feel free to use the questions with your groups, or add to them if you think of any more.

Enjoy!

Introducing British (and Irish) accents

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

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

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

In Class

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

The Videos

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

Geordie: Gary Hogg – Funny Geordie Monologue

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

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

Scouse: Craig Charles interview

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

Glaswegian: Regional Dialects Meme – Glasgow

Cockney: Michael Caine (being interviewed by Michael Parkinson)

Yorkshire: Michael Parkinson (interviewing Michael Caine)

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

Welsh: Tom Jones

Irish: Dara O’Briain – Controlling Children

Homework

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

Extension

Other links I shared on Edmodo were:

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

Enjoy!

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

Weak Forms

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Using lino-it to crowdsource ideas

lino-it is an online noticeboard which you can make public or private. You can add sticky notes (a bit like Post-It notes), links to videos, images and more. This week I’ve made two boards to collect ideas from my colleagues on Twitter.

The first is to collect ideas for practising listening to be passed on to my students. Some ideas have already been added, but feel free to add more and share it with your own students. I can’t embed it, but you can click on the picture below to go to the canvas:

Listening Lino

The second is to collect cultural ‘nuggets’ to explore with my Advanced students for their final two classes. For their homework they had to choose an area of English-speaking culture which they find interesting and present it in class (that will happen on Tuesday). I would then like to introduce them to some new areas of culture which they’ve never thought/heard of before, and this is where you come in. So far, there’s only one idea from me on there, so again I need your help! Click on the picture to add your ideas 🙂

Culture lino

Thanks very much for your help, and feel free to use these with your own students.

Enjoy!

If I were a boy (Beyoncé and the Lexical Approach)

As part of my CAM course I was required to teach an experimental lesson using an approach which I haven’t tried before. This is similar but a lot less intense than the DELTA experimental lesson. The lesson had to part of a longer series of lessons trying out a lesson descriptor (like PPP or TTT), again which we hadn’t used before. I decided to use Micheal Lewis’ Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment, which I had trouble with understanding and blogged about here.

I chose to try out the Lexical Approach since it linked directly to the descriptor I had chosen for the other lessons. We’d been looking at conditionals, and herein lay my problem – the Lexical Approach is for vocabulary, but I wanted to teach grammar with it. So, as with all of these things, I put out a call on Twitter, and Fiona Mauchline responded. With her help I put together the materials below. They worked well in class, but whether or not it was a true Lexical Approach lesson or whether the students will remember the phrases afterwards I still don’t know.

If you have any suggestions on how to improve the lesson or add more Lexical Approach aspects, please leave a comment below. Feel free to download and use the materials any way you like, crediting the source please. If you have any problems with it, I’m happy to help.

Enjoy!

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

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

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

Czech sentences for students to translate

Common Czenglish mistakes and how to correct them

Czenglish Powerpoint presentation

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

Czech idioms and their English equivalents (worksheet)

Czech idioms and their English equivalents (answers)

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

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

Anette's translation game

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

Enjoy!

CAE Speaking Part 3

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

Articles Flowchart: Final Draft (I hope!)

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

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

Enjoy!

Articles Flowchart worksheets (.doc format)

Articles Flowchart answers (.doc format)

Articles Flowchart worksheet (.pdf format)

Articles Flowchart answers (.pdf format)

Articles Flowchart: Third Draft (Student Worksheet)

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

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

.docx format

.pdf format


Articles Flowchart: Second Draft

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


Articles Flowchart: First Draft

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

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

I have two questions for you:

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

How to join in with #eltpics

eltpics Shape collage

Made using shapecollage.com

All of the pictures in the image above are taken from the #eltpics photos on Flickr. #eltpics was started in October 2010 when three teachers (@VictoriaB52, @vickyloras and @cgoodey) decided to tweet pictures to each other on a given theme each week. As Victoria said in this interview with tefl.net:

The idea blossomed, so we asked ELT folk on Twitter to join in and share our diversity. In 3 weeks [we had] over 200 images from 20 countries on our Flickr site.

As of this week, we’re up to 3000 images in 30 categories including all of the following:

eltpics topics wordle

Made using wordle.net

You can see the 10 most recent pictures in the bottom-right hand corner of this page.

So how can you join in?

1. If you are not a member of Twitter, sign up for free.

2. Find out the topic for the week by searching for the #eltpics hashtag or asking @sandymillin, @fionamau or @cgoodey (the current curators of the site). A new topic is announced every Sunday. (By the way, if you have any topic suggestions, feel free to let us know!)

3. Choose the photos you want to share and upload them to a site like flickr, yfrog or twitpic. You can also use a Twitter client like Tweetdeck. Please ensure that the photos are your own and that you have the copyright.

4. Tweet the links to the pictures you want us to upload. Don’t forget to include the hashtag #eltpics so we can find them! If you want to help us out, you could also mention the set you want us to add the photo to.

5. Sit back and wait for us to tell you they have been uploaded. If we don’t reply within a couple of days, please let us know, as we sometimes miss one or two pictures.

Using the pictures

All of the photos are shared under a Creative Commons licence:

Attribution-NonCommercial
CC BY-NC

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

If you’re not happy with your pictures being shared and used in this way, please don’t send them! 🙂

Once they are on the flickr page, all of the images are available for teachers to use in their classrooms, for materials or for teaching-related blogposts. We would love to hear how you use them.

Links

How to give presentations in English

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Tag Cloud