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

Posts tagged ‘teens’

Days of the week (come on everybody, sing the days of the week!)

This week I’ve managed to have two engaging and useful lessons with my beginner teens – that doesn’t always happen online!

The first lesson was yes/no questions with ‘be’, which we worked on with a PowerPoint where we moved sentences around to make the questions. After that, the students saw statements which they turned into questions, before asking each other questions in the chatbox and writing short answers.

The beginning of the second lesson repeated the final activity from the previous lesson – I’ve found this to be a very successful pattern with this group as they feel comfortable repeating the same activity again. It meant I could focus on structures they’d had trouble with, like Yes, I’m. No, I not. or pairing the wrong short answer with the question.

But the reason I’m writing the post, and the thing which was the absolute winner for this group of 10-12 students was this song:

I’ve had it in my head for most of the subsequent three days! The students were varyingly super excited and cringing when they first head the song, but even the student who originally put a cushion over his face was bopping away by the end and got really into it. Most of the group knew at least some of the days before we started (I asked each of them), so I played the song, put them into breakout rooms and showed them how to share screen. They had 10 minutes to sing whatever they wanted – either focussing on the days, or the other parts of the song if they already knew the days.

After that, I went through Quizlet Spell in open class, highlighting funky spellings like Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The students then had about 5 minutes to play by themselves. In breakout rooms, they took it in turns to write the days of the week, then came back and had to write all of the days by themselves in the chat. Yep, that was 90 minutes! I’ll find out in two days whether they remember all of the days…


One of the early lessons with any group of beginners is the alphabet one. You know, the one where you teach them the song and they recite it back to you beautifully…

…but forever afterwards they have to go through the whole alphabet to work out what letter they need next, and there’s a bit of a mush in the middle because L-M-N-O-P is too fast and they can’t hear it.

That one.

I can’t remember the last time I taught that one.

Instead, I approach it as an exercise in de-confusing, not with the aim of teaching the alphabet, but of teaching the letters, so that students can spell and understand spellings. Today with my beginner teens it worked better than ever before, in part because they were teens and in part because we were on Zoom 🙂

Caveat: there are only 4 students, and I speak enough Polish to be able to justify what I’m doing with them sometimes.

I started by showing them the alphabet in the book. Cue rolling eyes and one kid saying ‘No’ loudly and repeatedly. Another kid started to immediately recite the song, so I got them to try that first. Two knew the song perfectly, one had the L-M-N-O-P problem, and the fourth one is generally pretty shy and said she didn’t know it at all.

I told them that was great because now I knew what was a problem. One of them said “No problem!”, so I asked them to write ‘A’ in the chatbox. Cue a series of E’s and I’s. “Not E, A.” I I I E E. “Not I, A.” Eventually we got there. I could then explain that for the rest of the lesson we’d be working on groups of letters and helping them to remember what the difference is. I already had the first group (A-E-I-Y) written in black on a mini whiteboard.

I pointed to each letter and elicited it, writing some prompts in green next to the letter to help them remember. For these four letters the prompts I normally use are:

  • A a (b c)
  • E eeeeeeeee [but drawn linked together, coupled with me ‘pulling’ the sound out of my mouth]
  • I like dogs [or in a classroom I’ll stand very straight and indicate my whole body, as in ‘I’, which compares to…]
  • Y Why? [or stand with my arms in a Y shape to compare to I]

We then worked out how these letters might be written in Polish ‘spelling’, and I wrote it in red on the board, something like this:

  • A /ei/
  • E /i/
  • I /ai/
  • Y /uaj/

They copied the black letters, green reminders, and red sounding out into their notebooks. I asked any student who had finished and was waiting to spell their first name, and helped them with the problem letters.

We then played a game in the chatbox where I said one of the four letters and they wrote it, then they took turns being the teaching and calling out a letter.

With revision of 1-100 and a homework check, that took the first half of the lesson. I wasn’t sure how interested they’d be when we came back after break and repeated the process with other sets of letters:

  • G-J-H
  • C-S
  • K-Q
  • U-V-W
  • X-Z
  • O
  • R

…but they absolutely loved it. This is mostly because they started racing each other to be the first person to get it right in the chat box, with no prompting from me. Then they started racing to show me what they’d written in their notebooks, to the extent that by the time we got to the final board (shown below), they wanted to copy the black letters immediately. Then when I was writing the red they were saying ‘Pani pisze’ (Miss is writing!) and were poised and ready to go as soon as I held up the board.

The whole lesson was very entertaining, and they really loved challenging each other on the particularly confusing combinations which they knew their classmates would get wrong because they were rushing. This forced them to think a little more.

I’m pretty confident that in Thursday’s lesson they’ll remember most of the letters because they know we’ll play the letter race game again, and they know I’m going to ask them to spell their names so they’ll practice that too.

The best kind of lesson: minimal planning, just enough variety to keep them engaged, lots of practice, driven by students, fun, and memorable for a long time!

A selection of short webinars to help you teach under 18s

Here are eight of my favourite sessions from previous IH Teachers’ Online Conferences. They cover various areas of working with:

  • very young learners/VYL (aged 2-6)
  • young learners/YL (aged 7-12)
  • teens (aged 13-16)

There are tips for classroom management and activity ideas, both for online and offline teaching.

All of them take less than 20 minutes to watch, and are full of useful ideas.

Routines in the VYL classroom

Lisa Wilson, IH Palermo

Time: 18:28

Very young learners

Dorka Brozik, IH Moscow

Time: 13:46

VYLs – what works well with them in a digital classroom

Justyna Mikulak, Lacunza IH San Sebastian

Time: 17:25

Engaging kids through Zoom

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone, IH Pescara

Time: 16:57

Ideas for YL vocabulary activities involving movement

Shannon Thwaites, IH Reggio Calabria

Time: 13:44

Implementing classroom management procedures (YLs and teens)

Glenn Standish, IH Torun

Time: 16:26

Class contracts

Estelle Helouin, IH London

Time: 12:11

Ways to ungrumpify and motivate teenage learners

Rachel Hunter – IH Torun

Time: 11:40

ih logo

The IH World YouTube channel has lots more webinars where these came from. Which ones are your favourites?

The end of normal teaching

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

Definition from the Cambridge English Dictionary, 31st May 2020

My Zoom lessons

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

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

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

What shall we do today?

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

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

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

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

What do you remember?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoom tips

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

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

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

The personal stuff

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

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

Useful links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

There’s always a story

The personal stuff

I’m aiming to be more conscious in how I use words right now, as I’m more and more aware of how much impact tiny changes in wording can have (social distancing/physical distancing anyone?) As Terry Pratchett says in A Hatful of Sky:

“There's always a story. It's all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything's got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.”  ― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Things I’ve stopped saying/writing:

  • In these difficult/challenging times
    They’re as difficult/challenging as you feel they are, this differs for everyone, and nobody needs to be reminded.
  • The new normal 
    Yes, I know I wrote a post called that a few weeks ago. Normal is what you decide it is.
  • As soon as this is over, I’m going to… / I wish I could…
    These phrases frustrates more than help. There is no end date on this thing, but one day we’ll look back and it’ll be in the past. It’s like growing up: there’s no fixed point when you become an adult, but you definitely look back and you’re not a child any more. Why not say ‘Next week, I’m going to…’ and give yourself things that are manageable now to look forward to? And create a jar of post-lockdown plans.

Things that frustrate me when I see/hear them:

  • Now that you have all of this time on your hands…
    An assumption that is not universal. My workload has stayed pretty similar, and I know others who are busier than ever and are not necessarily taking breaks as they would have before. I know we are lucky to still have work and things to do that are similar to pre-coronavirus times, but you are lucky to have a different range of stressors than previously (I’m not going to say to have nothing to stress you out, because I know that’s not true either). Yes, we might not be able to do all the things we would like, but there are so so so many things we can choose to do. 
  • We/I don’t know what’s going to happen.
    We never do. Now is no different. We need to change what we can and accept what we can’t.

I entirely realise you may not agree with this, but that’s why it’s the personal stuff…it’s how I feel, and you’re allowed to feel different. We’re all allowed to deal with this in our own way. 

However, one thing is always true: if you’re finding it difficult to deal with, please don’t do it alone: ask people for help. You are absolutely not alone, and this is more true than ever before. COVID-19 affects the entire human race and, quite literally, none of us are immune to it or the side-effects of restrictions that it brings along with it. Look after yourselves, and don’t bottle up the frustration.

Here’s some fantastic advice from Stephen Fry on dealing with anxiety and stress whilst self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s 2 minutes and 39 seconds of time well-spent to listen to him talking. And here’s Phil Longwell’s post on Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing for teachers. 

My Zoom lessons

This week our lessons with elementary teens introduced a story, the longest text they’ve read so far, and worked on adjectives and adverbs.

Are you sitting comfortably?

I decided it was finally time to teach my students how to use annotation themselves – previously only I had used it. We had 10 minutes at the start of the lesson where they could write or draw whatever they wanted on a blank slide. I turned on ‘Show names of annotators‘ so I could check who was doing what. We were going to play a game, but it took so long to figure out the annotation that we didn’t bother!

They’d finished 8 sentences for homework where they wrote about things they and their family were (not) going to do. In breakout rooms, the students compared their plans and helped each other improve the grammar if needed. As a mini writing assessment, they copied the sentences in the chat box. I told them I was testing their writing and I wanted to check their work, and only one student complained slightly 😉 

By this time, it was break time – a prime example of how everything takes so much longer in Zoom!

The story we were using came with pictures to put in order. Before listening, students wrote sentences starting ‘I see…’ (e.g. I see a boat. I see a boy. I see a computer.) then ‘I think…’ (e.g. I think he’s good. I think the computer is important.) in the chat box to engage them with the story.

The first time they just read and listened to it, then showed thumbs up/down/in the middle on their cameras to indicate whether they liked it or not – the first time I’ve included a pure enjoyment reading/listening task in my lessons!

In breakout rooms, students put the pictures in order. They underlined the part of the text which went with each picture. I had to go to the rooms a few times to clarify how to do this as we’d never done this before (the readings we used were never really long/challenging enough in the rest of the book, or were far too hard and we skipped them!)

The final part of the lesson was a reading assessment which we did using a Google Form. There were seven three-option multiple choice questions, with images to support their understanding of the options.

With the first group, we had just enough time to manage this. With the second, we had a few extra minutes but not enough time to do anything else, so I told them their scores and encouraged them to keep resubmitting. This was very quick and easy because the form was self-marking (yay, multiple choice!) and they all submitted it at least three times in the time we had available, some more, focussing on the questions they had problems with. The image below shows only the resubmissions, not the original ones – there are 8 students in the group!

I used conditional formatting to show problem questions (thanks Ruth!) so I could tell the students which ones to retry quickly.

As you can see, question 5 was a particular problem. By the way, this is a rare example of some coursebook reading which provided a good level of challenge – most of the ones I come across are either far too easy or far too hard! 

Making things interesting

The homework from the previous lesson was to write a very short story, around 3-4 sentences. Whenever I’ve set non-workbook homework before, only one or two students have done it. This time, only one or two didn’t in each group 🙂 One girl wrote two 1.5 page stories – I know she used Google Translate to help her, but I don’t really care – I’m so impressed at her motivation!

The lesson started with them in breakout rooms reading their stories to each other. The ones who hadn’t written one were in a separate room and had to write something very short: who went where to do what. The aim was to use the stories at the end of this lesson, but realistically I knew that probably wouldn’t happen, so they’ll be used on Monday instead.

To set the context, students looked at the pictures from Monday’s lesson and retold the story. In both this activity and the one where they told their own stories, I only heard a couple of adjectives and no adverbs, so I knew the lesson would be useful 🙂

We looked at four sentences from the story with and without adjectives. I asked if 1 or 2 is better in a story and why (2, because it’s longer and more interesting. I get a better picture in my head.)

I was pretty sure the students wouldn’t know the names for parts of speech in English, but would in Polish, so I had a list of the translations on my plan. I showed them the ‘2’ sentences with adjectives and nouns highlighted, elicited the parts of speech, told them the English word, then asked them to write down ‘Adjectives talk about nouns.’ and colour it in as on the following slide.

(Adjectives are yellow. The nouns they describe are blue.) Justin Time was in a strange room.   What’s that horrible noise?   Chelsea was there too. She was very sad.   ‘Well done! The world is safe again now,’ said Justin. (The next part is in a box) adjectives   nouns   Adjectives talk about nouns.

This was the beginning of a very staged process to give them a really clear written record. In a physical classroom or with older students, I would probably give them a worksheet to go through and fill in the gaps working at their own speed alone or in pairs, but this was the only way I could think of to keep everyone with me in a Zoom lesson.

We worked through four different adjective sentence structures and they wrote then read out their own versions of the sentence, and colour-coded it. This gave them the chance to personalise the grammar point. Fast finishers could write extra sentences. 					   (in/on/at)   (a/an)   ADJECTIVE     NOUN  Justin Time was   in       a    strange   room.  Justin Time was   __      _   ______   ____.

After break, I showed them three different things from my flat. They had to ask me questions using an adjective and a noun e.g. What’s that brown bear? Who’s that cute baby? I answered with an adjective and a noun too: That brown bear is my favourite teddy bear. That cute baby is my friend’s daughter, Megan.

They then got three things of their own and played the same game in breakout rooms.

We repeated the grammar introduction process with adverbs and different colour-coding, but didn’t have time to practise them in this lesson.

(Adverbs are purple, verbs are orange) She laughed horribly.   I think we can escape easily.   Chelsea took the boat safely back to the harbour. (in a box:) adverbs   verbs   Adverbs talk about verbs.

The students were generally engaged in the grammar introduction process because it was broken down so much. I probably got them personalising the language a lot more than I would have done in a lesson I’d taught in a physical classroom previously. This is definitely something to remember later!

Zoom thoughts and tips

When using the annotate tool, students on phones and tablets only have the ‘pen’ option. They can’t type, stamp, draw boxes, or any of the other fun things those on computers can do.

On Thursday I did a Zoom training session which I’ll be sharing later. Dan, one of the participants, suggested assigning each student a question number from an exercise. They type the answer to only that question in the chat box. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before 😉

My colleague Connor has been playing with the free VoiceMod software with his young learners. This allows you to change how you sound with a huge range of effects. He used it to add some fun to pronunciation drilling, with the kids trying to copy the way his voice sounded. It’s Windows only at the moment, with Mac and Linux versions in development.

I’ve been trying to get my second teenage group to consistently have their cameras on because it makes a huge difference to how the lesson feels. This recent Twitter thread made me frame my thoughts differently (click this tweet to see the whole thread):

It might be worth showing reluctant students that they can use speaker view and pin the teacher’s video. When using full screen they can hide the rest of the students, including their own video. It may just be that they don’t want to see themselves – I get it, I tend to try to minimise my video when I’m just chatting to one or two people on Skype or similar. 

Useful links

Scott Donald has a thought-provoking post about why you shouldn’t necessarily ‘hover’ in breakout rooms when students are doing activities, but instead give them some space to get on with it. 

Jane Maria Harding da Rosa’s blog is back 🙂 In her most recent post, she shares personal anecdotes about chanting and how it helps students remember new language. I’d highly recommend her articles called Creating Chants and Don’t Drawl the Drill if you’re looking for ways to improve your drilling and help students remember new language for longer, both in the online and offline classroom. If you’re teaching asynchronously, you could do this through recordings.

The Virtual Round Table conference happened on 8th and 9th May. I attended Graham Stanley’s session demonstrating how to set up an escape room in your online classroom. The recording is here:

There’s lots of useful information on escape rooms in ELT on this blog, including the definition of an escape room if you’re new to them:

Hana Ticha is teaching asynchronously (i.e. not via a video conferencing tool like Zoom). She talks about the pros and cons of synchronous and asynchronous teaching, and how she aims to overcome the cons of asynchronous teaching in this post.

Kate Martinkevich shares a post from the Learning Scientists blog on six strategies for effective distance learning and notes how it could be applied to ELT.

Jim at Sponge ELT describes how he includes experimental lessons in the teacher development programme at his school, and some things teachers have been experimenting with when teching online.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the computer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon says (Jude F)

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

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

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

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

Away from the computer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As mental breaks

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

Random brain breaks (for kids): (Char)

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

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

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

Dance to a Super Simple Songs video (Sandy)

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

Useful links

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

4 tips for teaching teens online (guest post)

This is a short post I’ve written from Cambridge University Press summarising four things I think it’s key for online teachers to do (not just of teens!) The short version is:

  • Be their teacher first
  • Keep it simple
  • Include variety
  • Experiment and reflect

You can read the full version on the CUP blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class cone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I meet your expectations?

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

Me, My Selfie and I

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Francesca’s beautiful poem which she then presented

Why is building self-esteem important?

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

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

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

Can teaching teens be a boost for tired teachers? (guest post)

I’ve always preferred teaching adults to teens and young learners, though just occasionally being able to run a good teen/YL class can be a great boost to my confidence. Erica Napoli Rottstock’s post has some useful tips that could make a real difference next time I head into the teen classroom!

I am pretty sure that on seeing the heading to this article you will have immediately and unconsciously nodded your head and maybe added a decisive ‘no way’. As a matter of fact, teenagers are often seen as moody and undisciplined and their lack of motivation can be a ‘nightmare’ if we are teachers.

However, taking a break to teach teens can be a real boost for demotivated teachers, an unexpectedly refreshing experience that ripples through to the rest of your EFL praxis.

I think everyone has experienced times when things don’t go as we assume; maybe you have felt tired and demotivated. The first thing to do is to find the real reason why you have lost your enthusiasm. If you think you need more fun and you strongly believe that connecting with people can help you, in this case a change is as good as a rest. Taking time out to work outside of one’s comfort zone may bring new inspiration to routine, in this case take also some time to watch this inspiring TED talk. Based on my personal experience, one year teaching in a teen class could be your solution.

The first thing to consider is that the so-called moody, undisciplined teens’ behaviour is strongly influenced by how teens’ brains are wired, ruled by the limbic system, since the frontal lobe, specifically responsible for controlling emotions, takes significantly longer to develop. This may be the reason for their short attention span, their laziness or lack of interest, but on the other hand teens are ready to get involved very easily. A trustworthy teacher with an engaging topic will soon spot ways of driving and channelling such traits.

Secondly, allow for flexibility. We can be less like control freaks and thus much more likely to enjoy the lesson. Even if we have a syllabus to follow, we can still be flexible. Interestingly enough, by releasing control, we gain students’ trust and attention. Surprisingly, if you listen to them, you get their attention and you feel less tired! I would suggest you enter the class with a multiple-option lesson plan – say a plan where you let your students decide how to develop it. I have noticed that if you start your lesson with a sort of declaration of intent, teen students are happy to follow you and are extremely pro-active. This environment is stimulating for their learning and also a boost for ‘tired teachers’. Even classroom management can become less stressful if you can let students move freely in their class, choose their peers for their activities and decide when they need a break. By respecting their pace you can have less stress indeed.

The third thing to consider is that teens are very curious, so when you teach them you can make your lesson very personal and arouse their interest. Clearly, this doesn’t mean sharing one’s closest personal issues. You can simply offer up your point of view, your personal opinions, bringing an element of humanity and showing we are far from being superheroes. I can assure you that this is not only very conducive to learning but also very positive for your well-being.

Last but not least, the environment of your class will become more relaxed and you can simply work on emergent language without wasting any opportunity for learning. Besides, you will notice that students themselves will ask you to practise more if they become aware of their limits. Teaching teens becomes a real boost, if you consider a more autonomous learner approach. You can foster students’ autonomy by developing their awareness with self-assessment, you may guide students to be aware of their own weaknesses and strengths, with a reduction of your workload or at least less time-consuming ways to evaluate your students.

Also, I recommend stimulating learning beyond the class, so that you can build a deeper rapport with your students, as you can understand their needs and interests better. In my experience, WhatsApp was extremely useful, not only in terms of conducting on-going class service communication and light conversations outside the classroom, but also when it came to assigning/performing and giving feedback on written, oral and aural homework (short writing/speaking tasks performed via voice and video recordings and text messages). This particular means of communication provides the added value of reduced practitioner workload in terms of evaluating learner performance on a day-to-day basis. We ask parents’ permission to have WhatsApp groups with students when they join the school.

To sum up, if you want to feel regenerated, go for a teen class; they have an extremely positive attitude provided one is prepared to embrace flexibility and promote autonomy.

If this is still not enough to boost you, then perhaps a good long holiday is actually in order! 🙂

About the author

Erica Napoli

Erica is a DELTA-qualified teacher with an MA in foreign literature. She has been teaching English for more than 15 years, but she likes to be considered as a life-long learner herself. Previously DoS and founder of a little private language school in Milan, she then decided to become a full-time teacher at high school and she’s currently engaged teaching teens at Istituto Europeo Leopardi in Milan. This article is based on her talk from IATEFL Brighton in April 2018.

Some things from the IH Torun Teacher Training Day 2018

Torun - Copernicus

A wise man in Torun

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

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

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

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…


  • 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.


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!

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 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


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.


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!


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.


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:



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.

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:



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!

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.


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

Teens and technology: a lesson plan

I did this lesson with my students a few weeks back, based on an article from The Guardian. They got really into it, and we ended up making a video. Feel free to download it and adapt it as you see fit. (click on ‘View on Slideshare’ and the download button should appear above the presentation)

The video:


Comic Relief and Red Nose Day

To me, Comic Relief is one of the greatest charities around – it raises the profile of so many organisations, and sends all of the money it makes off to where it is needed instead of spending it on admin (the ‘Golden Pound‘ principle). Every two years, with the help of the comedians who set it up, it takes over BBC1 for a night in March. Red Nose Day 2011 is on the 18th March. I’ve created a couple of lessons to share it with my students. Even if you’re not planning to use them to teach, I hope it’ll be interesting for you to learn a little something about an aspect of UK culture which isn’t necessarily well-known abroad.

Feel free to download them and edit them as you see fit, with appropriate credit. The last two slides contain teacher’s notes and the links to the pictures.

For more advanced students:

For lower-level students, including a focus on modals of speculation:

If you use it, please let me know. I’d also be grateful for any feedback on how to improve it.


Vocabulary box-ing (with added monsters)

I’ve just read Cecilia Coelho’s post about using a vocabulary bank with her classes, which was a response to Emma Herrod’s vocabulary blogging challenge. This is the first challenge which I’ve taken part in, so here goes…

As a relatively new teacher, I’m still constantly finding new activities to revise and practise vocabulary. The one which I use most is very popular at my school (IH Brno), and was introduced to me by Lily-Anne Young. With all of my groups, especially the adults, I have created a vocabulary ‘box’. All new words which are introduced to the students are written on folded slips of paper. The word / phrase is on the outside of the paper, with a definition and example sentence on the inside. I then use them in most sessions with a variety of activities, often variations on a theme. Here are some of them:

  • I / a SS read(s) a definition. The SS call out the word. The first person / team keeps the word.
  • Spread the cards on the table / floor. SS are divided into teams. Each team has a fly-swatter. Somebody says a definition and the teams swat the correct word. The team that gets the word gives the next definition. (from Anette Igel)
  • A selection of cards are placed around the room. Each SS / team has a ball of scrap paper. Somebody reads a definition and the SS must through the paper at the correct card. They then get to keep it. (from Lily-Anne Young)
  • Divide the cards between all of the SS in the class. They mingle and give definitions. When the other SS guesses the word correctly they take the card. If you want to make it competitive, you can give them a time limit and the winner is the person with the most cards at the end.
  • Give SS 5-10 cards each. They have 20 minutes to write a story including as many of the words as possible.
  • Put the SS in teams. One SS comes to you to see a definition. They run back to their team and tell them the word. The team must create a grammatically correct sentence using the word / phrase. (based on a game for pronunciation revision from ‘Homework’ by Lesley Painter)
  • Use 9 of the words to create a noughts and crosses board. SS must use the words/ phrases in a short conversation to win the square.

In order to avoid ending up with too many words in the box – you could easily have a couple of hundred by the end of the year – I ask SS to put a small mark in the top corner of each card after the activities if it has been correctly used. When there are three marks in the corner of the card I ask SS if they think they know the word. If they agree we remove it from the box. I normally keep the cards and a couple of months later pull them out and do a quick revision activity with only the old cards.

With most of the groups I encourage SS to write the words on the cards during the session, then take them home to write the definitions / example sentences. Occasionally the words don’t make it back to class, but there are always more than enough cards to keep us going!

With teens I use a pared down version of the vocab box. We just have large slips of paper with only the words (generally I can remember the context of most of them). They fight over who gets to write on the cards after each vocabulary activity!

For YLs, I use a variation of the vocabulary box, called a vocabulary monster. I got this idea from a book in 2004, but I have absolutely no idea which book it was – if anyone can provide me with the source I would be eternally grateful, as it’s stood me in good stead through the years! This is how to make one:

  • Stick two A3 pieces of paper together along the short side, making a long thin piece of paper.
  • Fold a piece of A4 paper in half and attach it to the bottom of the paper to make a pocket – make sure the sides are sealed, but not the top. This is the monster’s plate – you can draw a picture on there or ask your kids to do it.
  • Use two pieces of A5 paper to make a mouth and stomach and draw your monster around this. I’m not an artist, but I can manage a monster 🙂
  • The final result should look something like this (the second pair of legs was added by the confused software which I used to stitch the photos!):

You can use word or picture cards with the monster. At the end of the class put the words into the monster’s ‘plate’ pocket. At the beginning of the following class, take out the cards and show them to the SS. They should call out the words / draw a picture / do the action / use the word in a sentence. If they do this correctly, the card goes in the monster’s mouth. If not, it stays on the plate. In week 3, any correct words from the mouth go into the stomach. In week 4 any correct words are taken out of the monster. If SS use the word incorrectly it always goes back to the plate. Obviously if you have a large class, it’s your call whether to move the word on or not – it depends what percentage of the class you think is comfortable with the word. I’ve used this with 5 or 6 small classes and they’ve always really enjoyed it.

These activities are just a taster – the great thing about the vocabulary box is that the cards can be used for literally hundreds of activities, and require almost no work at all to prepare. It’s great for warmers, coolers, revision lessons and waking up sleepy students half way through a lesson. And the best thing is, you can use scrap paper for all of it, so you’re not even wasting resources 😉


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