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

Posts tagged ‘teens’

Returning to the classroom

On 23rd September 2015 I went back into the classroom properly for the first time in over a year, teaching my first class with a B1 intermediate teen group who will be my students for the whole academic year. As a CELTA trainer in 2014-2015, the only opportunities I’ve had to teach English have been in one-off demo lessons, which aren’t quite the same. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to reflect on my teaching, seeing trainees do things I know I’ve often been guilty of, then offering advice about how to get over problems like over-complicated instructions and poorly timed lessons. Time to see if I could practise what I preached!

Anthony Schmidt started a blog challenge asking ‘What did you teach today?‘ Hana Tichá joined in and I decided to record my lesson so I could contribute too:

Out of curiosity and intrigue, and as a means of reflection, write what you did in your class(es) today, from checking attendance to giving a test to blowing students’ minds with the most dogme-inspired, task-based, mobile-assisted, coursebook-free, PARSNIP-full lesson non-plan ever. You don’t have to explain why, unless you’d like. Just give the raw, nitty-gritty details.

  • Circle game: to learn each others’ names. There are nine students, four girls and five boys, aged 13-15. This took about 10 minutes.
  • Setting up routines: I told students that they should only have pens, paper and books with them, and bags and coats should go on the hooks on the wall. They had time to rearrange themselves. (Five lessons later I still need to remind a couple of them!)
  • Getting to know you: I demonstrated a triangle on the board with three pieces of information about me. In pairs, students had to guess why the information is important to me. Listening back I didn’t give them enough time to guess (less than a minute), so only stronger students contributed in the open class stage. A couple of the boys decided the triangle was an Illuminati symbol, added an eye, and have since put it on the whiteboard at the beginning of every lesson.
  • Students wrote their own triangle with information on it. They had plenty of time to do this.
  • Mingle: students had to find out about their classmates. Instructions have always been a problem for me, and although they have improved a lot, the way I set up this activity wasn’t completely clear. The instructions themselves were fine, but to make it completely clear I should have done a T-SS and a SS-SS demo first. I thought the demo I’d done with my information would be enough, but I didn’t factor in that students needed to make notes based on what they heard. I also didn’t specify before the activity that I wanted them to speak English only, so some of the boys were making it a race at the beginning and doing it in Polish. They had about ten minutes, but it could have been shorter if I’d been clearer.
  • Pair check: students tried to remember one thing about each person in the class. Here I had to remind them to expand on what they said, as some of them started with e.g. ‘Sandy – blue, M – cat’ instead of making full sentences.
  • Open class: I moved students into more of a circle to encourage them to speak to each other, not just to me (although in a relatively small, rectangular room this isn’t easy!) ‘Who can tell me something about A?’ A then nominated the next person who we found out about, and so on. This stage was quite relaxed and there was a lot of laughter, but it was also long and the pace dropped. Students had written their notes on scrap paper, so I got them to put them in the bin before moving on. I do like a tidy classroom 🙂 )
  • K points: this is the school-wide points system used for teen classes. I introduced it to them, telling them what they needed to do to win points as a class, and what would mean losing points. Five of the students had the system last year, so I should probably have got them to explain it (especially because it’s new to me!) but I didn’t think about that until afterwards.
  • Break time: students have ten minutes to go to the club, a room at the bottom of the school with vending machines, tables and places to sit. The teacher goes with them, and if they behave well, they get K points on their return to class.

The second half of the lesson was based on a reading text from the coursebook. There are six classes at the school who are at the same level, and each week the teachers meet and plan together in a level meeting. I’m the level head, coordinating the meeting, but all of the teachers contribute to the plan. We work through the book during the year, but I aim to help the teachers adapt it to their students, as ages range from 12-16, and group sizes from 3-12. What follows is the plan we came up with together…

Capoeira

  • I showed students the image above. We have projectors and netbooks, but they were still being prepared when I did the lesson, so they were printed on a couple of A4 sheets in black and white. In pairs, students had to say what’s happening, who the people are and where they are. One student immediately said ‘capoiera’ to the whole class, which kind of stalled the conversation! I still got them to predict in pairs, then asked that student to fill in the gaps once they’d shared their ideas.
  • ‘Capoeira’ was drilled briefly as students would need to say it a few times during the lesson. I wasn’t bothered about spelling or being completely correct though, since it’s not a high-frequency word for this group.
  • Gist reading: students read the text and matched four titles to the four paragraphs.
  • Feedback: students checked in pairs, then I read the answers and they confirmed them. The whole feedback stage took less than a minute. From my monitoring while they read I knew most students had got it right already, but one student hadn’t.
  • Reading for detail: yes/no/not given task. I demonstrated it first, showing students they needed to underline the answer in the text and write the question number next to it. Students did this without a problem. Meanwhile I was monitoring, and checking answers from fast finishers. They became the teachers and checked specified students’ answers.
  • Feedback: We only focussed on question 6, as students had the rest of the answers. There was a problem with an item of vocab (‘slave’) which I should probably have pre-taught, but it came up in the following vocabulary task too, so I’d decided not to. Oops. I gave them an example and got them to look at the text again for number 6, making sure they all underlined the right sentence.
  • Vocab race: changed student groups so they were working in new threes. I read a definition, students had to find the word in the text, then one person from their team ran to the board to write it. The procedure for the task was clear, and I set up the room to make sure nobody would fall over anything, but I should have made the points system clearer, and drawn lines on the board to show where they should write – one group tried to fill the whole board so the others couldn’t write.
  • Written record: returning to their books, students remembered and wrote the words down. I rushed the set-up of this, and had to repeat my instructions.
  • Preparation for speaking: divided the board in half and elicited ‘martial arts’ and ‘dancing’, one in each half. Students worked in two groups to brainstorm as many of each as they could, then switched to add to the other list. I was prompting students for extra ideas when they ran out, and eliciting corrections of spellings if things weren’t clear. There was a lot of Polish at this stage – I should have offered K points before the task to encourage them to speak English, and perhaps fed in some functional language, like ‘Can you think of anything else?’
  • Speaking: students worked in new pairs (trying to divide up the boys who can be a bit crazy when they work together, and encourage the quieter girls to speak up) to discuss if they’d tried/would like to try any of the dancing/martial arts. To add some challenge, I asked them to see which pair could speak for the longest. They repeated it with a second partner. I could have done a bit of feedback in between the two tasks to make the repetition more useful, but hadn’t come up with anything to tell them! I was taking notes about their confidence when speaking, and some info about what they’d tried/liked.
  • Feedback on content: one student shared their experience of martial arts, and one of dance. Other students were interested in what they had to say, and only those who wanted to contributed – I didn’t force everyone to share something.
  • Setting up homework: students looked at the list of dances and said which three they thought I’d tried. I told them a little about my experiences of dancing, and what I do to keep fit. Their homework was to write 50-100 words about what they do to keep fit – I made sure they wrote it down, and reminded them that if everyone had their homework in the next lesson, they’d get K points.

Reflection

I’m much happier with my lesson pacing now, particularly at feedback stages. They often used to drag, but now I have a range of techniques to call on, and feel like they’re much more appropriate to the stages of the lesson. My monitoring has improved too, which also contributes to making feedback more efficient and useful.

Although my activity set-up has improved a lot, and I’ve drastically reduced the amount of waffling I do, I still need to remember to demonstrate activities clearly before setting students off on them. Since this first lesson, I’ve been making a conscious effort to do that (I had lesson six on Friday) by writing it on my plan – I don’t always remember to do that though.

I sit down a lot more in my lessons now, and that’s made a real difference to the dynamic in the room. I feel like the atmosphere was quite relaxed and comfortable throughout, but that I could still be authoritative when necessary.

I was a bit worried about teaching teens as they haven’t been my favourite age group in the past – I normally prefer adults. However, with the K points system, I feel like I finally have the classroom management technique that was missing from my previous attempts, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of keeping lessons interesting and motivating for the group through the year, and helping the other teachers in our level meeting to do the same. Five lessons later, I feel like I’m getting to know the group well, and am enjoying the lessons a lot more than I expected too. I just hope they are too!

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Hitting the drawing board

This is a very simple two- or three-stage activity I’ve successfully used with small classes of young learners and teens to revise both grammar and vocabulary. They love drawing on the board!

Stage one: drawing

Drawing

Drawing the past simple

Divide the board into a space for each student/team.

Say a word (e.g. car, trousers) or a sentence featuring the grammar structure you want to practise (e.g. I went to the beach. I played with my brother.)

Ask the students to draw a relevant picture. They shouldn’t worry about their artistic skills, just draw anything that they feel represents the language.

Repeat, ensuring they don’t clean the board in between.

When they have about 10 pictures, stop! 🙂

Stage two: hitting

Hitting

Before giving students the flyswatters, I normally give them two rules:

  1. If you hit anyone with it, we stop.
  2. They’re very cheap. If you hit the board too hard, it’ll break and we’ll have to stop. (This happened once!)

Give the students flyswatters.

Call out one of the words/sentences.

The students hit the relevant picture.

Start with them hitting their own pictures, then move them around – this can be quite challenging if other students have interpreted the language in a more abstract way!

You can also ask one of the students to be the teacher. With small groups, you replace them as the player.

Stage three: cleaning (optional)

Repeat stage two, but this time, instead of flyswatters, give the students board rubbers. They clean the relevant picture each time you say the language.

When there are only two pictures left, they have to tell you the words/sentences.

Alternatives

You can also use paper rolled into a tube instead of flyswatters. Stage two works well with flashcards too.

Adults would also enjoy this game.

With larger groups it could be done in teams or on paper.

Simple, minimal preparation, and lots of fun! Enjoy!

Pre-teens aren’t stupid

A slightly depressing thought.

I spoke to my students yesterday about why we talk about a reading passage after reading it, and don’t just move on. There are 3 of them, aged 12-13, in that class.

Their comments, and the order they came out with them, were quite telling:

  • because we’re going to study future continuous (the grammar point on the facing page)
  • because we need it later (i.e. as adults)
  • just because
  • because it’s about the environment and we need to know about that

When I suggested it might be to help me see how much of the text and the ideas in it they understood, they seemed quite surprised. They certainly weren’t particularly engaged in the topic itself (changes a boy and his family were making to their life to be more environmentally friendly).

[And yes, I know I shouldn’t necessarily have just done the next page in the book, but I’d been at home all morning because there’d been a small fire in my flat!]

Challenges 4

The book in question, and by no means the only one at fault…

A homemade revision game

This is a very simple game which is perfect for revision, and requires almost no pre-class preparation. All you need is some small pieces of scrap paper, some kind of blutack to stick it to the table, dice for each group, and a counter for each student. The blutack is optional, but it does stop the paper from blowing away! You could use post-it notes instead, but sometimes they curl up making it easy to see the answers! It works best for revising grammar or vocabulary in closed questions.

Give a pile of pieces of paper to each pair/group of students. Ask them to go through the units of the book which you want them to revise. They should write questions for other students in the class, writing one question on each piece of paper, and write the answer on the back. They can create the questions themselves, or copy them directly from the book, along with any relevant instructions, like ‘Write the correct form of the verb.’ My students normally spend about 15-20 minutes doing this. Here are some examples from my intermediate group:

Examples of revision questions

Once you have a pile of questions, shuffle them all up (easier if you have scrap paper than post-it notes at this point!), then divide them evenly between all of the groups in the class. Each group should lay out a track of questions to create a board game, so it looks something like this:

The board game laid out

The groups then play the board game. When they roll, they should answer the question they land on. If they’re correct, they can stay there. If not, they have to go back to the question they were on at the start of the turn. The winner is the person who gets to the end first, or who is in the lead when they run out of time.

Creative students!

The board can even go up and down!

I got this idea from somebody at IH Brno, but unfortunately I can’t remember who. I use it almost every time I’m revising for a mid-year or end-of-year test, and it always prompts a lot of discussion. The group shown in these pictures even asked if we could keep playing it when I said the time was up!

IMG_6383

I like it because as well as reminding the students of the grammar and vocabulary areas likely to appear in the test, it always prompts a lot of discussion and shows them which areas they still need to revise.

Enjoy!

Writing bingo

I’ve got a pre-intermediate teenage class at the moment, and I’m finding it a bit difficult to engage them in class, so when this activity worked well with them the other day, I was over the moon!

It started because I was annoyed with them speaking too much Russian, so I asked them to spend five minutes writing about their last holiday to give me time to calm down/think/work out how to get them to speak more English. They couldn’t show the story to anyone else. After a bit of protesting, they did as I asked, with two students seeming to compete over who could write  the shortest story. While they were writing, I did too:

My last holiday was in Germany. I went with my friend Catherine. We visited Munich for three days, then went to the Alps. In the evenings we went to different restaurants, and one night we went to the cinema. In Munich we went sightseeing. In the Alps we visited two beautiful castles, called Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. We went everyone by train. It was very cold, but the snow was beautiful. I went to my friends’ wedding too.

After five minutes, they turned to page 17 of the New English File Pre-Intermediate Student’s Book and looked at the following questions:

Holiday questions from NEF Pre-Int SB p17

 

They had to add any information which they had not already included. This is what I added to my story:

We stayed at two hostels. We didn’t have any problems and we had a really good time.

For the next stage I drew a table on the board. It had all of the students’ names, plus mine.

I asked the students to think of three words they thought might be in my story and write them down. For example, ‘friend’, ‘walk’, ‘beach’. I read my story aloud, and they had to cross out any word from their list they heard. They got one point each for the words they had predicted correctly. I also got points for every word the students had correctly predicted. For example: A got 2, S got 1, R got 0, M got 1 and D got 3, so I got 7.

We repeated this around the class. Students with longer stories tended to get more points because there was more chance the predicted words would be in their stories.

Once they realised what was going on, the students were competitive, engaged, and eager to read their stories. Russian disappeared completely for the 40 minutes this activity took. For homework, I gave them the chance to improve their stories before I looked at them. Three of them did this (out of five), including one of the students who had been involved in the ‘can I write the shortest’ competition – he ended up writing over 100 words, and it was excellent.

This is definitely an exercise I will use again in future, and I hope it’s useful to you as well (if you can understand it!). 

To finish off, here’s a gratuitous picture of one of the beautiful castles:

Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein

Hyperactive teens

This morning I started teaching four 13- and 14-year-old boys from Azerbaijan. They are in their second week at our school on a booster course for iGCSE English as a Second Language. I have them for two 45-minute slots, which are their 3rd and 4th for the day.
I know that I am very lucky to have such a small class, but at the same time it was quite a struggle. I felt like I was running a race throughout both lesson. They demanded a lot of energy to control them and get them to listen to instructions. They don’t see the point of working in pairs or of peer checking. Getting them to work by themselves was possible, but required quite a battle and a lot of praise when they did anything. Class discussions involved a lot of work from me, with them mostly trying to get me to say words in their language, which I assume were not very complimentary!
We have a points system, where they are given points for doing anything good (including offering answers to questions, writing a couple of sentences…) and points are taken away for problem behaviour (not listening, throwing rubbish on the floor…or even, as one boy did today, pouring water on another boy’s head!). It may well have been them testing my limits today, but I thought I would share the situation and see what others think.
Another teacher has them and the other four students (making a total of 8) from 9-11 and I have them from 11-1. Their speaking is pretty good, with the odd hole for vocab. Their writing is fluent, but very low on accuracy, but I’m not sure how to deal with that, since any attempt to focus them for more than 15 seconds has been pretty futile, so peer correction or group correction seems to be a no-go. They are only with us until the end of this week, so I won’t be able to radically change their learning style.
Tech is also not really an option, although they do have their phones, and repeatedly get them out. The aim for the week is to give them some reading and writing practice to help them with that part of the week, and the topic is ‘Ideas and the future’. They went to London at the weekend, so I got them to write about that today, then edit a picture of London to show it in the future, and write a little about that. My co-teacher is doing some exam-style reading based on the melting of the polar ice caps tomorrow. No idea what I’m going to do yet!
Feels much better to get that all out of my system…looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this group!
Thanks 🙂

Story Prompts with #eltpics

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

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

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

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

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

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

One-to-one variation

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

What worked

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

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

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

Harnessing teen enthusiasm

A couple of weeks ago we were talking about films in my teen class. I asked them to write the names of a few English-language films they knew on the board. The five, normally completely apathetic, teens (2 girls, 3 boys) then proceeded to fill every last centimetre of my 1.5 x 3m board with about 100 film titles.

Since then I’ve been wondering how I can harness this enthusiasm and this language, and haven’t come up with anything, so I thought I’d ask for help.

Cuisenaire Rods

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

Ceri’s story

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

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

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

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

Ceri suggested a new game with the blocks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Ceri!

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

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

Let’s go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye

M

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

Sandy’s story

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

Re-enacting stories

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

Grammar – phrasal verbs

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

Building models

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

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

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

A box of shapes

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

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

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

(An) amazing article?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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