I like to consider myself a creative person and I’m always designing and devising activities to step away from the course book with the aim of sparking students ‘interest. Unfortunately, I’m not always in that mood. No problem :)Luckily, there are plenty of websites offering free resources that can really save the day.
These are my favourite go-to sites when I am feeling kind of lazy or uninspired, but still want to shine in class.
This site doesn’t probably offer an astonishing variety of discussion topics, but I find the questions in each set quite stimulating. Scroll down the page to find their selection of topics for your conversation classes.
This is an excellent site. The section for lesson plans specifically offers well-designed lesson plans to suit adults and teens. It also provides downloadable worksheets for both teachers and students.
Highly recommendable is also their Facebook page where tips, ideas, practical advice and lesson plans are offered.
Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world- Nelson Mandela
I’m so excited. Truly. I am. It’s been months since the last time I taught a class full of students. I know it’s going to be hard but I’m really willing to get back in the swing of things. I’m also preparing material for my workshops, and I have a bunch of work to catch up on, but I’m anyway feeling really motivated. So, it seems I am off to a good start.
This isa lesson for upper- intermediate students (B2) about education. In this post, you will find
Some vocabulary you might need to revise/learn when discussing this subject.
A small challenge with some confusing terms related to education
A video about 6 problems of our education system
Speaking practice: questions to discuss
A written assignment
The warm-up. Setting the context
I don’t think there is a better way to introduce a topic than by showing students a picture that will probably spark interest and hook students into the lesson. That’s the aim of the picture below.
Show the picture and listen to student’ reactions. Probably, the first one would be “Me, neither”, but let’s dig in for more profound reactions.
Tell students to get into pairs and think of three reasons why this boy wouldn’t want to go to school. Allow them 2 or 3 minutes and the write their suggestions on the board and discuss them.
Ask students: Can you relate to the boy in this picture? What can you remember about your kindergarten? In your opinion, what’s the ideal age to start school?
Ask students to work in pairs. Write on the board the word “education” and ask students to brainstorm vocabulary related to the topic. Encourage them to mind map to help them revise vocabulary related to this thematic area. Allow them some minutes and get feedback from the whole class. I gave handout 1 to my intermediate students last year, so this year (B2), I will probably need to revise and add the terms in handout 2 explaining difficult vocabulary.
The challenge.Did you know?
In this part of the lesson, students are presented with some confusing terms.
Ask students, in pairs or small groups, to answer the following questions about education, where they will revise some of the vocabulary learned in the previous step. Encourage the use of new vocabulary.
You can get the PDF with the questions here, but isn’t it more appealing to use the Spark below.
Listening. The video: 6 problems with our school system.
Methodology: collaborative retelling
It is a longish video. It lasts almost 6 minutes so I’d suggest breaking it up and asking students to work on different parts of the video. In the video, 6 problems with our education system are mentioned.
This activity will be set as homework.
Introduction. In class, play the first 34 seconds of the video and tell students to give you a summary. They will probably say that the video shows how our system of education has become obsolete and is not preparing children for the real world. Ask them whether they agree with this idea.
Explain that everybody will need to listen to the introduction again (first 34 sec) which summarizes the content of the video.
Tell students the video talks about 6 problems our current education system is facing nowadays.
Form groups of six students and tell them that, in the next lesson, they will be working in groups of six and each of them will share what they have learned about their assigned problem and their opinion on whether this is a real problem in their country providing examples, if possible.Alternatively, you can form groups of 3 students and assign each student two problems.
Assign tasks to the different students in the group
Student 1: Industrial Age values 0:35-1:26
Student 2: Lack of autonomy 1:26-2:18
Student 3: Inauthentic learning 2:18-3:12
Student 4: No room for passion 3:12-4:15
Student 5: Differences in how we learn 4:15-4:40
Student 6: Lecturing 4:40-5:56
Writing. An opinion essay.
Write an opinion essay on the following:
Our current system of education is now outdated and ineffective.
Here’s a nice post I wrote last year which might help you.
I must have been in my teens, but I vividly remember my mother telling my father that someone called James Dean had called. The funny part was not only that the famous now-long- deceased actor had phoned my dad, but the way everybody pronounced his name, /jamez dean/, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, while me and my naughty siblings couldn’t help cracking up, repeating /james dean, james dean/while in stitches. (The Spanish pronunciationof the “j” is similar to the Scottish word “loch” or the German word “Bach”)
In case you are wondering, my parents (now almost 80) had never ever heard a word in English so everybody said /james dean/ just like that and never gave it a second thought. We, me and my three siblings, just liked fooling around. I know better now!! 🙂
About the lesson:
In this lesson, aimed at B2 students and above, students discuss their names and their personalities through some engaging activities.
In part 2, you have the possibility of asking students to use their own devices and complete the task in class or alternatively set the task for homework.
Part 1. Talking about your name
A video-based listening activity
Tell students they are going to watch a short extract from the Graham Norton show, where the actresses Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman discuss their birth names. Play from 0:00 until 2:50.
To be named ( after someone)
To name someone
A pet name
A middle name
Play the video once and ask students some comprehension questions. Play the video a second time if necessary.
Meryl Streep was named Mary at birth. How did she end up being called Meryl?
Is she happy about her surname? How does she wish it to be different?
Why is Nicole Kidman called Hokulani? Who is she named after?
Are you happy with your name? Why (not)?
Does your name have a meaning? If so, what does it mean?
Do you have a middle name? What is it?
Do you have a nickname? If so, what is it and how did you get it?
If you could change your name would you? What would it be? Why?
U2’s lead singer, Bono, called his daughter Memphis Eve and Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter is called Apple. Do you know any “normal people” with unique baby names? What about you, do you prefer giving your child a more traditional name or a unique name?
In some countries, when women marry they take their husband’s last name? What do you think of this?
Part 2. Talking about your personality
In this second part, we are going to revise and learn some more complex personality adjectives. To introduce personality adjectives we are going to use a website which analyses your personality based on the numerical value of your name. Whether students believe in it or not should be irrelevant, we are only interested in language acquisition here.
As this lesson is aimed at upper-intermediate students and above, students will have some prior knowledge of the most common personality adjectives, at least enough to get them started.
Ask students whether they think a name can shape their personality and refer them to this website where they’ll have to write their name in the space provided and read about their personality.
You can always ask them to read their horoscope, but this is “old news”, so I thought this might better spark students’ interest.
At home, students go to the website and find out about their personality based on their names. They look up any new words they don’t know, especially personality adjectives, as they will need to share this analysis with their classmates and say whether they agree or disagree with it, giving reasons.
This activity can be done in a traditional way i.e board and chalk. Students call out an adjective and you write the personality adjective on the board.
Again, with the aim of creating a more engaging activity, I’m going to use a free online tool called “Answergarden” to get instantaneous feedback. The tool is very easy to use. Here’s a tutorial in case you need it, but it really has a very friendly intuitive interface making it very easy to use, even for those teachers who are not too tech-savvy. The app takes students answers and creates a word cloud that can be exported or embedded. Students will need to use their own devices but, if necessary, every three students can share one.
Once you have created the word cloud in Asnwergarden, use the overhead proyector to display it and ask volunteer students to explain the meaning of the adjectives and say whether they think it is positive, negative or neutral.
Below, an example of a word cloud created with Answergarden.
Put students in pairs and ask them to share their name report from the website and say whether they agree or disagree with such analysis.
Ask them to discuss the following questions.
What kind of people do you usually get along with?
What kinds of personality traits do you hate?
Is your personality more similar to your mother’s or father’s?
Do you think we are born with our personalities, or do we develop them because of what happens to us?
Do you tend to fall in love with good looks or with a great personality?
Does one person’s character affect the personalities of the surrounding people? Are you influenced by anybody you know?
Does birth order affect personality? What qualities do a first-born child, a last-born and an only child have?
The Quiz: As Free as a Bird.
Let’s go the extra mile! In this quiz, you’ll find more colourful ways to talk about someone’s personality. In order to learn them, I suggest taking the quiz two or three times, the last time checking if just by looking at the picture students can remember the simile.
After doing the quiz, you can always ask some follow-up questions like:
I can’t believe I am starting a new course. Did summer fly? It surely did and here we are again, about to begin a new course and greet a new batch of students. Batteries? Fully charged?
It’s been donkey’s years since I last wrote a post and although this is the first after a longish break and one that should be devoted to first-day icebreakers, I have seen and read so many good ones lately that I felt I wanted to write about something completely different.
One of the problems my students almost always have is saying numbers, especially big numbers so, wouldn’t it be great to start the course working with numbers while having some fun? It never hurts to start the course in a light mood. God knows they will have plenty to study in the coming months.
Some boring, yet necessary things you might want to tell your students before you start playing.
BEFORE THE GAMES, REVISE
Before you start, it would be a good idea to revise how to say large numbers in English. You can use this video for “inspiration”. Although the teacher in the video certainly goes out of her way to teach big numbers, I find that it”s not in my nature to go to such lengths so something that I always do and that my students enjoy is the following: I start by writing a small number on the board and ask my students to say it. Then, I add a new number to its left, like this:
..etc ( make it real big)
Every single time they have to say “and” (BrE), I make a gentle cutting gesture with my hand. Then I put them in pairs and they try with a new number.
WHAT’S THE POPULATION OF…?
Ask students: Can you guess the population of the smallest capital city in the world? As students make their guesses, correct any mistakes they might still be making.
Ngerulmud, the capital city of Palau an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, only has 391 people.
In this challenging game, students will have to guess the population of a given capital city or country.
Ask students to work in twos or threes.
Give each team a slip of paper. Tell them they will need to write their answer there, big enough to see from a distance.
Write on the board or display a picture of a well-known country or capital city and ask students to guess its population.
Allow one minute and then ask them to show their answer to the class and read the figure.
The team that is closest to the real figure gets one point.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT.
Have you ever watched The Prize is right” and wished you could play? Here’s your chance. If there is anybody out there who has never heard about this world-famous contest, here’s a clip from the contest to give you an idea of what it is about.
Rules of the game: Participants try to guess the retail price of a chosen object. Whoever is closest to the actual retail price without going over wins the object. If all the participants overbid, the lowest bid is announced and they’ll need to guess again.
Before the game: You’ll need to find pictures of different objects and bring them to class. A good source for pictures, description of the product and prices is Amazon, ( in case you are wondering, no, this is not a sponsored post 🙂 .If you like using new technology in the classroom, you can always make your own flip cards. (see mine here)
Note: Revise how to say prices in English and the name for the currency you are going to use in the game.
How to play in class:
Divide the class into teams of three.
Give each team as many slips of paper as objects you are going to display.
Display an object, give a short description of it and ask students to guess its correct prize without going over it. Allow 45 seconds.
Ask students to show the slip containing their guess and ask them to read the number aloud for the rest of the class.
Award one point to the team who is closest to the actual retail price.
If you feel students are having difficulty guessing prices, an easier variation would be giving teams the first figure.
GUESS THE NUMBER
This is a very simple but effective game that requires no preparation.
Students in pairs.
Student A thinks a random number. Student B needs to guess it in as few attempts as possible.
Each time student A makes a guess, Student B should offer one of the following answers.
-My number is (much/ a bit) bigger
-My number is (much/ a bit) smaller
-Exactly! You did it!
A MAD RAFFLE
Before the class, select a few inexpensive things you want to give away such as some chewing gum, a pencil, a sweet, a sheet of white paper, a free homework pass…etc.
Tell students you’re feeling very generous today and with a lot of suspense and drama show the first item to be given away.
Briefly describe the item as if it were priceless: for example, tell them it is the first chewing gum that helps people pronounce English as a native… or some other silly reason.
Tell students that to get the prize they will need to guess its exact price.
Decide on a price but don’t tell your students. Remember that the chewing gum is unique so you want to give it a prohibitive price. Let’s say the retail price for the chewing gum is ₤ 765,888
Count the number of students and if there are 20 in class, tell them that the exact price is somewhere between ₤…. and ₤…. ( a window of 20 possibilities, ie, as many possible prices as students in the class) Write this range on the board.
Now, students need to shout out their guesses. Give the prize to the student who correctly guesses the price.
And you? Do you use any other games to practise saying big numbers?
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.