The course is finished. That’s it! Another year has gone by. Times flies. I’m almost scared. One minute you’re greeting your new students and the next you are saying your goodbyes. OMG, life seems to be speeding up and before I know it, I’ll be greeting another batch of students.
Anyway, it’s June and, as usual I won’t be around until I resume classes, which will be at the end of September.
In between? More written and oral exams, some holidays, some brush up courses , the Camino de Santiago (St James’s way) and a long-awaited overseas trip. I’m also very excited to share with you that this summer I will be working creating content for Cambridge University Press, which I hope will share with you once I begin posting again. So, a busy summer for me!!
I hope to “see” you all next September. I’ll be calling the roll!!
Admittedly, I’m in sore need of a respite from the pressure of end-of-the-course classes, but it’s also true that I have a lot of ideas to try and share sitting on the drafts shelf of my mind. Little by little they will see the light.
My students struggle with English spelling. Who doesn’t? Little by little I can see they’re making progress, but unfortunately there are some spelling mistakes that I keep finding in my student’s exams. A quick search on the Internet reveals that the occurrence of these spelling mistakes has little to do with your mother tongue though, admittedly, the quiz is based on my students’ spelling mistakes who are, for the most part, Spanish.
What about you? Do you also make these mistakes? Let’s find out!
Some orthodox and unorthodox techniques to get rid of these spelling mistakes
Write them down. This is the dull, traditional but effective way of correcting spelling mistakes. Start with one mistake and write it down, at least 10 times. This was my mother’s favourite method. I guess it served two purposes: to help us learn the correct spelling and also to keep us quiet for a while. I can’t blame her. I have 4 siblings and there are 6 years between the youngest and the oldest.
Do the quiz. Do it once and write down all the targeted words you can remember. Take the quiz again. Correct the ones you misspelled. Repeat procedure.
Ask someone to help you. Write a list of the words you have trouble spelling. Write the translation in your own language next to each one. Ask someone in your family to call any of these words at random. Write them down and ask this person to correct them. Once you have mastered the spelling of the words, you might want to buy your helper a drink. He deserves it.
Write a short story. Write the words you seem unable to spell correctly. Make sure you write them down properly. Read them several times. Write a short story containing them and give yourself a high five if you got most of them right. Warning: don’t ask anybody to read it. The story will probably not make any sense at all.
Stick on the wallsof your house flashcards with the correct spelling. I used to do it with phrasal verbs when I was at uni. It worked but my flatmates were not very happy.
Use Quizlet or any other app to create flashcards. This app is great to work with spelling as it offers a variety of games to practise the correct spelling. I’ve made a short video tutorial. See it below.
Do your students sometimes feel as if they are not making enough progress? Do they sometimes have the impression their language learning has slowed? Do they feel they are stuck in the intermediate plateau?
While this feeling is completely normal, it can sometimes be very frustrating for our students. You might try to explain to them that this is just part of the natural process of learning a language, but the truth is that in their eyes, they are just not progressing as fast as they think they should, no matter how hard they try. It’s true that this perception is not real, but it never hurts to show them how unreal it is.
Today I want to share with you a little experiment I did with my students. Very simple, but very effective too. I did with my intermediate students, but you can easily try it with students of any level.
What’s the aim of the experiment?
to make students aware of how much they have learned at the end of a topic-based lesson. The idea is to brainstorm vocabulary related to the topic twice: at the very beginning and at the very end of the lesson(s) to make them realize how much they learn in the course of a single lesson. Making students aware of how much they are learning can dramatically improve teaching effectiveness as it is a powerful way to boost their motivation.
How long does it take?
5 minutes at the very beginning of the lesson and five more at the end of it. If you dedicate two or more sessions, 5 minutes at the beginning of the first session and 5 minutes at the end of the last one.
Do you need to use technology?
I am afraid you do. For this experiment, students need to use their mobile phones with internet connection or any other device with internet connection. The good news is that you just need one device every three or four students. I have also used Answergarden, which is a very simple free tool used for getting real time feedback from a group. It’s really very easy to use, but if you think you need extra help, you can watch a video tutorial in Teachertrainingvideos.com or read a brief tutorial here.
Go to Answergarden and create a New Answergarden (it literally takes less than one minute). In my case, I created an Answergarden with the title City Life vs Country Life as this was the topic we were about to study in class.
Ask students to work in pairs or in groups of three and use just one mobile phone.
Share the link with your students and ask them to type the url in their devices (as I have mentioned, my students used their mobile phones) You can use Google shortener to shorten the link.
Ask students to brainstorm vocabulary related to “living in the city and living in the countryside”, enter the vocabulary in the box and carefully check the spelling before submitting their answers. Allow 2 or 3 minutes.
Display on the overhead projector the answergarden. As students submit answers, click the Refresh tab on the bottom menu to update the answer display.
(below you can see the first wordcloud)
Go through the vocabulary they have submitted and make sure you save this first word cloud.
Teach vocabulary as any other ordinary day
Repeat procedure at the end of the lesson or the sessions dedicated to this topic.
Display both clouds and ask students to compare them and reflect on how much they have learned on the course of a single lesson. Contrasting both word clouds will undoubtedly not only motivate your students, but also will reinforce the idea of progress that is sometimes lost especially at the intermediate level.
Another idea with the same aim would be to ask students, at the end of a unit, to write everything they have learned in this unir. They’ll be just amazed at how much progres they have made.
I love working with posters and these two activities combine some of the elements that guarantee a successful lesson: movement, interaction, visuals and fun.
It is great if you need to revise a number of topics before an oral exam.
Aim: to revise several conversation topics integrating grammar, speaking and writing.
Level: B1 (intermediate and above)
Time: 50 minutes or more
Materials: post-it notes (alternatively, you can use pieces of paper+ Sellotape/blu-tack). I have used the free website Canva to create my posters. You can see them here. I have used the free website wheeldecide to create a wheel for the wh-words. (short video tutorial here)
Task. In this engaging activity students will need to work in pairs or small groups and provide the questions which will be later answered in groups about a certain topic.
Create as many posters as topics you want to revise and display them on the walls on the class. See mine above. You can also do this activity without posters by writing the different topics on pieces of paper, although obviously this is less appealing. Ideally, the topics should be written big enough to be seen from the back of the class.
Create a wheel containing wh- words and a yes/no question option. See mine below. If you don’t want to use a wheel, you can write the wh- words on pieces of paper and put them in a box.
This activity is divided into two stages
Direct students’ attention to the walls of the class and read the different topics to be revised.
Ask students to work in pairs or small groups.
Spin the wheel. Students in their groups choose a topic from the ones displayed on the walls and write a question about it beginning with the wh- displayed on the wheel. Give students sticky notes and ask them to write their question there, and then stick it next to the poster it refers to.
For example: the wheel displays How?. Group A decides to write a question about City life and Country Life. They might write something like: How are city people and country people different?
Spin the wheel again and repeat procedure as many times as you want. Each time students will need to choose a different topic.
Ask the groups to stand up and stand next to a topic. Students read the questions on the sticky notes and discuss them. Encourage the use of specific vocabulary.
After five minutes, ask the groups to rotate to the next topic.
Aim: to revise several conversation topics .
Level: B1 (intermediate and above)
Time: 30 minutes or more
Materials: I have used the free website Canva to create my posters. You can see them here
Task. In this fun activity students will alternate playing the roles of interviewer and interviewee while reviewing different topics before taking an oral exam.
For this review activity you’ll need to create posters on different topics and write two or three topic-related questions to be used in the interview.
Ask as many students as posters you have displayed on the walls of the class to stand up and stand next to a poster. One student, one poster. Let’s call them Student A. They are now the interviewees. There should be, at least, the same number of students sitting down. Let’s call them Student B. They are the interviewers.
Ask Student B to stand up and choose a student A to interview using the questions on the poster. Encourage Student A to elaborate on the answers. Allow 3-4 minutes.
Ask student B, i.e. the interviewer, to exchange places with Student A and become the interviewee and ask student A to rotate to the next topic and become the interviewer.
In this way, students alternate being the interviewer and interviewee while revising a variety of topics in a dynamic way.
Repeat procedure until all the topics have been covered.
(Note: this activity can also be done if you need to have two Students B in one station. They’ll just have to take the role of interviewer twice before becoming an interviewee.
Wouldn’t it be just awesome to have native speakers almost at your beck and call to answer any of your questions and for free?
That’s HiNative, a free question/answer platform where you can ask questions and get answers about language and culture from native speakers all around the world.
I came across this extremely useful website by chance and decided to check it out. It was Saturday, 9.30 in the evening and thought it was probably not the best time to post a question and get an answer. I was wrong. Within 5 minutes of posting my question, I had 4 answers from native speakers so imagine how fast it would be any other day of the week. Hinative is a give-and-take platform and though you don’t necessarily have to do it, the thing is that I also liked the idea of helping others with questions about my own native language and so the site got me entertained for a long while.
You can also download their free app on your mobile phone.
How does it work?
Sign up. You’ll be sent an email to confirm your account.
The interface is very simple and easy to use.
Home: Here you can find questions other users ask about your own native language. Remember that it’s a give-and-take platform and you’re also expected to help other users
Notifications: this is where you’ll be notified about new answers to your questions.
Profile: Here you can modify your profile and your settings
Ask: where you can pose your questions. Below you’ll see some of the templates you can use to make it easier for you to ask.
3. Ask your question. What kind of questions can you ask?
You can ask questions such as “what’s the difference between “scholarship” and “grant”? or How do you say “___” in English? or Please show me examples with the expression ” take it for granted”
So, I decided to use one of the templates and ask Please show me examples with the expression ” take it for granted”. This is what I got.
So, quite easy really, just register, ask your question and sit back while waiting for someone to get back to you. You won’t have to wait long.
So what do you do to practise listening for exams?
Growing up, I never had the opportunity to do any extra practice to improve my listening skills. We didn’t have the Internet and the thousand possibilities it offers to learners of any language nowadays. The teachers had an old tape player that sometimes stopped and started on its own and old tapes that ended up sounding distorted and most of the times unlistenable so if you wanted to get better at listening, you just listened to the radio and struggled to understand the lyrics and sing along. Not that I ever complained. That was the perfect excuse to listen to music while claiming to be working hard. I have to say that my father never bought it!
So, exams are just around the corner and I know you’re beginning to freak out. Don’t worry! Here I am, coming to the rescue!
These are, in my opinion, the best sites with quizzes to practise listening comprehension. In no particular order.
Levels: three main levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced)
Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: no
Audio Download: no
What I like best: it has some other listening activities like dictations or listening based on pictures for lower levels. It also has a section dedicated to advanced students with a story and some comprehension questions. See here
What I don’t like: In my opinion, the “listening” categorised under “advanced level” is far too easy.
Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: all the lessons have three parts : watch, think (where you can do the comprehension exercise) and discuss (post-listening questions)
Transcript: no, although most lessons are on youtube, and you can watch them with subtitles
Audio Download: the videos are on youtube, so they can be easily downloaded
What I don’t like: the audio is not sorted by level and although most of videos are for advanced students, some of them are much easier than others so I would say that they are suitable for B2 students and higher. You need to register although it’s free.
In the intermediate and more advanced exam you will be presented with one, two or more pictures about the same topic but in clear contrast. It’s important to remember that you are not supposed to give a detailed description of everything that is happening in the picture(s). On the contrary, what is important is that you talk about the topic or idea suggested in the picture(s). If you are given for example 3 minutes to talk, use just one minute of this time to describe in general, using appropriate language and structures; the rest of the time should be dedicated to talking about the topic and giving your opinion.
BEFORE THE EXAM
Make a list of the most common topics asked in the exam.
Brainstorm vocabulary you can use related to this topic. Mind mapping works perfect here. I use the free site Goconqr.
Practise using sets of pictures in contrast. You can use my own selection here. (Scroll down)
If your problem is that you never know what to say, I suggest you have a look at some conversation questions you might be asked about the given topic. It will probably help you get started. Have a look at some common topics with questions here.
Time yourself to control the time it takes you to develop your ideas.
Record yourself and then listen to the recording and see how you can improve it. You can use the app Soundcloud, which allows you to stop the recording and write comments.
(You can write a comment on a track through the text box below the waveform that says ‘Write a comment…’ and press your return or enter key to send. The comment will appear at the point on the waveform where you first started typing. Alternatively, you can click any free space in the comment section to leave a comment at that specific point)
The day before the exam, revise all the topics and the vocabulary you can use.
Half an hour before the exam, don’t speak your mother tongue. Spend the time listening, doing some silent reading or pronunciation exercises in English.
DURING THE EXAM
Before you start speaking:
If you are allowed 1 minute to organise your ideas, use that minute. I have often seen candidates not taking this minute and making a mess of the exam just because they didn’t take the time to organise their ideas.
Scan the pictures and identify the topic. Sometimes there is a title or a heading that helps you.
Try to come up with three ideas about the topic suggested by the pictures. Expand on these ideas.
Taking the exam:
Begin by giving an overall idea of what the pictures are about, using a variety of structures, modals to indicate possibility and the useful “look” or “seem”.
Talk about the topic. It’s easier if you relate it to yourself, but if you don’t have this experience, talk about a friend’s or just lie. This is an English exam, not a lie detector.
Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso
I had a full-blown, real, very much needed holiday. The last two months had been unbelievably hectic: end-of-term exams, working full-time during the week and some teacher training weekends and, to top it all, I was also writing a project to apply for a European grant, which unfortunately I won’t get.
So, there I was, fully enjoying my break , when I stumbled upon an article in El Pais about a short animated short film “Alike”, which had won a Goya award in 2016, and I was struck with how beautiful, touching and thought-provoking the video was. And I just knew I had to show it to my students, do something with it and well, here it is. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
About the lesson: In this lesson, aimed at B2 students and above, students watch a short silent film called Alike (7 minutes) with two main aims:
To give voice to the story and for this:
they will have to collaboratively write the story
they will have to collaboratively retell the story
2. To discuss some questions related to education, the promotion of creativity and daring to be different.
Step 1. Warm-up: Copi and Paste
Tell students they are going to watch a short video called Alike, where the main two characters are a father and a son whose names are Copi and Paste. Focus on the names, write them on the board and ask students to predict what the story could be about. Hopefully, students will come up with some of these ideas
Lack of ideas
Step 2. Introducing the video and the task
Explain that the video they are about to see is an animated short film (7 minutes) called “Alike” where there is no dialogue. However, the video is so touching and thought-provoking that words are not necessary; images and especially colours play an essential role and are enough to tell this beautiful story and to give us something to think about.
Play the video once asking students to focus on how the colours (or lack of colour) help tell the story. You can also tell them that, later in the lesson, they will need to narrate the story so they need to concentrate on everything that happens.
1. Form groups and assign each group a part of the story. The aim is first to write and then to tell their part of the story as it happens, but also to analyse the hidden meaning and the values it tries to highlight.
The day begins (0:06- 1:32)
At school/ at work ( 1:33-2:38)
Leaving the office/school (2:39-3:07)
The next days (3:08-3:52)
Copi’s surrender (3:53-5:00)
But one day (5:01-6:50)
Depending on the number of students, you can ask them to work in pairs or assign each group two parts.
2. Play the story once again for the students to take down notes and get stsrted with the writing task. Walk around offering help and guidance.
3. Play the story again to help students polish their part.
4. Ask each group to name a spokesperson and ask these students to come to the front of the class and give voice to the story as you play it once again. Be ready to pause the video as required.