Category Archives: General

Six Low-Preparation Vocabulary Activities for the English Classroom

When I teach something new, I’m always worried about one simple thing. Will my students internalise any time soon the new “whatever it is”? How can I help them? How long does it take for them to feel confident using the new structure/expression/word? How many times do they have to be exposed to the new term? How many different examples/contexts do you have to give them? How long does it take before a word becomes familiar and therefore usable?

This is an article I wrote for Voices, the British Council magazine, where I suggest  Six Low-Preparation Vocabulary Activities for the English Classroom, which can help.

Winner of the British Council Blog of the Month Award

I am humbled and grateful that my blog has won this month’s British Council Teaching English blog award for my post

Lacking inspiration? 6 awesome resource websites to find stuff for your classes

Thank you so much to the British Council for so much support. This is a day to celebrate lots of hard work and perseverance; always with a smile on my face ’cause teaching really makes me happy.

This award is dedicated to my students who are the source of my inspiration.


Do you Think Translation Exercises are Boring? Just the Opposite!

Believe me, they don’t have to be boring. In fact, just the opposite.

I know some teachers consider translation activities a thing of the past and that, arguably, they should be banned from our classes. I don’t completely agree.
If I am honest with you, I can’t say that I like giving students a whole paragraph to translate, but a one-sentence translation exercise can help consolidate and reinforce grammar and vocabulary.
And it doesn’t need to be boring. In fact, it can be a lot of fun. How?

Easy. Let’s combine a seemingly boring traditional exercise with an online fun tool and let’s turn it into a competition.


• Decide on few sentences you want students to translate. I’d suggest 6-8 sentences. If you like exploring tools, my favourite for this kind of activities is Playbuzz flip cards.
• Slips of paper

How to go about it:

1. Pair learners and give them as many slips of paper as sentences you want them to translate.
2. Write the first sentence on the board and ask students to translate into English. If you use the online tool I mentioned above, just show the first card. (See mine below)
3. Depending on the length or difficulty of the sentence to be translated, set a time limit.
4. Once the pair have their sentence, ask them to write it on the slip of paper big enough for you to see from a distance.
5. When the time is up, ask the pair to hold it up and quickly go through all the translated sentences awarding 1 point to the pair who has the correct translation.
6. The winner is the pair who get the most points.

Note: Be strict with spelling mistakes or any other tiny mistakes. Students love it when you are strict and don’t give away the points easily.

Follow-up: Revise again all the sentences, but this time orally.

Fun and Simple: Adjective Order

If you have following me for a while, then you know how much I love stepping aside from the course book and surprising students with activities that might add a spark to my classes.

Things like flip cards or wheels of fortune are constant guests in my classes. But for this activity, I have decided to invite an old friend I haven’t used for some time. Don’t ask me why. I still love him very much. Word clouds have a lot of potential when teaching languages and they are very easy to use. For this activity, I have used

Aim: to practise the order of adjectives before a noun (attributive position) in a writing competition.

Time: 5 minutes

Level: B2 students

Time: 10 minutes

Preparation: Go to or any other word cloud generators and just type the words you want to see in the cloud. In my case, I typed five or six nouns and five adjectives relating to opinion, size, age, temperature, shape, colour, material and origin.

How to go about it:

1.  Revise. You might want to revise the order of adjectives before the noun before doing the activity.

Although not all grammarians agree on the order of the adjectives and the rules for adjective order are quite complicated, it is necessary to give them some kind of order they can stick to. I always use this sentence to help them remember.


Important points:

  1. Don’t overuse adjectives. While having two adjectives before a noun sounds natural, more than three would have the opposite effect.
  2. Purpose adjectives go just before the noun: riding boots (boots for riding), sleeping bags (bags for sleeping).
  3. Numbers go before adjectives: three huge houses.

2. Competition

  • Ask students to form pairs and either display the word cloud on the board or photocopy it.
  • Underline the nouns in the word cloud
  • Tell students they have two minutes to come up with the longest description for the any of the nouns in the word cloud.
  • The winners are the students who have managed to write the most adjectives before the noun.


  • The adjectives before the noun must be placed in the correct order. Have the class check it while the students read their sentence.
  • It has to have sense, ie “a narrow boy” would be incorrect.

Have fun!

Health and Illness: A Lesson Plan for Upper-Intermediate Students

This lesson is aimed at students with a language level of B2  (upper-intermediate) and focuses on revising, learning and using vocabulary related to health and illnesses through a variety of engaging activities which will help them improve listening and speaking.

This lesson plan works well on its own, but I have used it to complement Unit 2 of the course book New English File Upper-intermediate.


The Hot Seat. Revising and consolidating vocabulary.

A fun way to revise and consolidate vocabulary is playing the hot seat with the wheel of fortune.


    1. Divide the class into two teams and ask them to choose a person to play for them and take the “hot seats”. These two students will be facing their teams and with their backs to the whiteboard
    2. Decide which team starts the game by tossing a coin. Let’s say Team A starts the game. Tell them each team will have one minute to describe and guess as many words as possible.
    3. Spin the wheel. Team A will have to define the word for its player. Once the player has guessed the word, the teacher will spin the wheel again for the same team. For every word they guess, they will get 1 point. If the player for Team A doesn’t know the word, then Team B gets the chance to define the word for its player. If he guesses, the team gets 2 points for this word.
    4. Repeat procedure for Team B.

Role-Play: at the doctor's

At this stage, students will have already learned the vocabulary for minor and more serious illnesses and conditions so now, it’s time to practise it.

Step 1.  Working on pronunciation

On the board, write some of the words students have found most difficult to pronounce and revise their pronunciation. In my case, they might include:

Stomach ache   cough   temperature   consciousness   sprained   antibiotics   antihistamine  wound     blood pressure   medicine    paracetamol

Step 2.  Visiting the doctor

      • Ask students about the last time they were ill. What symptoms did they have? Did they go to the doctor? What was the treatment? Did you follow his advice? Could you go to work/school?
      • Tell students that they are going to role-play a conversation at the doctor’s where half the class will be patients and the other half will be doctors.
      • Students playing the role of patients will get a card with their ailment and they will need to talk to the doctor, describe their ailment and get some advice or treatment.
      • Students playing the role of doctors will have to ask questions and then prescribe some medicine, if necessary, and give some advice (rest, diet…etc).

Step 3.

Build the basic guidelines of the conversation on the board with the students’ help

Doctor: “Good morning/afternoon. What seems to be the problem?”

Patient: “I haven’t been feeling well for a few days/ I don’t feel well”. Explain your symptoms

Doctor: Asks more questions like ” Are you taking anything for… ?“Do you have a headache”? When did it start?” Have you taken your temperature?” …etc

Step 4.

Ask half the class (the doctors) to remain seated at their desks and ask the other half (the patients) to stand up and move to a corner of the room. Give each of the patients a card with their illness and ask them to choose a doctor and role-play the conversation.

When a student playing the role of patient finishes, he should go back to the corner and wait there for another student (patient) to swap the cards. Students will role-play as patients twice.Once this step is over, change roles: patients will now be doctors and doctors will role-play as patients.  Give them new cards or reuse the previous ones.

Cards here

Listening comprehension: Complementary and alternative medicine

Write “alternative medicine” on the board and ask students if they know what it is and if they have ever tried it.

Tell students they are going to watch a video where Dr Mc Cann discusses traditional medicine and alternative medicine. Ask them to listen once and then, in pairs, share any ideas they got from the video.

Ask students to listen a second time (even a third, if necessary) and answer the following:

True or False? Justify your answers

      1. Integrative medicine is a combination of traditional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine.
      2. At medical school, professors show you some alternative and complementary medical practice.
      3. Dr McCAnn thinks a doctor needs to treat patients with either conventional or alternative medicine
      4. According to alternative medicine, the human being can heal himself
      5. Patients of integrative medicine are willing to take an active role in their healing process.
      6. Some patients of integrative medicine are not ill at all.
      7. Dr McCAnn believes integrative medicine is here to stay.

Answers: At the end of this post

Going the extra mile: Introducing more advanced vocabulary
      • To feel under the weather = to feel slightly ill
      • To be as fit as a fiddle= to be healthy
      • To phone in sick= to call work and say you’re ill
      • To suffer from a disease
      • To be a hypochondriac or a cyberchondriac /ˌhaɪ.pəˈkɒn.dri.ək/
      • To give someone a diagnosis /ˌdaɪ.əɡˈnəʊ.sɪs/ Ex: The doctor cannot give a diagnosis without doing some tests
      • To treat an illness such as asthma, depression, high blood pressure
      • To relieve a headache, dental pain, arthritis /ɑːˈθraɪ.tɪs/
      • To practise self-medication with non-prescription medicines /ˈmed.ɪ.sən//ˈmed.sən/
      • To have an operation, to undergo an operation
      • To donate organs, to be a donor
      • To go down with a cold / the flu
      • To need surgery /ˈsɜː.dʒəi/
      • Symptoms
      • A life-threatening illness
      • A tumour /ˈtʃuː.mər/ (UK) /ˈtuː.mɚ/ (US). Ex: Brain tumours develop in fewer than one in 50,000 people
      • The side effects of drugs
      • Vaccination
      • Integrative medicine: a combination of traditional and alternative medicine
      • Home-made remedies
      • Alternative medicine /ɒlˈtɜː.nə.tɪv/
      1. Homeopathy /ˌhəʊ.miˈɒp.ə.θi/: a way of treating illnesses using very small amounts of natural substances,
      2. Osteopathy /ˌɒs.tiˈɒp.ə.θi/:  the treatment of injuries to bones and muscles using pressure and movement
      3. Yoga
      4. Reflexology: a treatment in which your feet are rubbed and pressed in a special way in order to improve blood flow and help you relax,
      5. Acupuncture /ˈæk.jə.pʌŋk.tʃər/: to insert very fine needles into the body at points along the meridians
Controversial Statements about health.Discussion Posters

Using vocabulary is key in this lesson. In fact, all the lesson is aimed at motivating students to use vocabulary they are already familiar with and to give them a chance to use newly-learnt terms.

So, this lesson could not finish without devising another strategy to help them use the target vocabulary; this time with the help of visual images in the form of posters and with controversial statements that will, hopefully, spark discussion.

Procedure: Gallery Walk

On the wall of the class, display the posters. Ask students in threes to choose a poster and discuss the statement written on it. Encourage the use of target vocabulary.

You can download the posters here.

Listening Comprehension Answers:

1.T  2.F  3.F  4.T  5.T  6.T  7.T

Don’t miss any posts. Follow us on facebook

Lesson Plan: I don’t believe in paranormal but….

Fall has finally hit!This is Halloween’s week and it seems the weather has finally chilled out and stopped being silly. The truth is that I don’t see myself telling scary stories in class while the sun outside is shining bright. It just wouldn’t do! Telling scary stories requires a dark, grey, gloomy day; one cannot be telling scary stories and thinking about going to the beach.

Level: B2


  • to introduce and revise vocabulary used to talk about paranormal or unnatural phenomena
  • to give students’ some listening and speaking practice.
  • to develop students’ writing skills


Write Paranormal on the whiteboard. Ask students if they know what it means (if necessary, explain that a paranormal activity is not scientifically explainable), and ask them if they believe in paranormal phenomena.


Ask students if they know what a Ouija board is and ask them whether they, or anybody they know, have ever played with a Ouija board. I have a real experience to share with them but in case you don’t, there are plenty of terrifying stories online you might want to share with your students (just to build the right kind of atmosphere).

  1. Play the first 0:53 seconds of the video and ask students to predict what will happen next. Listen to their predictions and then, play the rest of the story.
  2.  Play the video a second time and ask the following questions:

True or False? Justify your answer

  1. The narrator and his brother had just bought a Ouija board
  2. The narrator’s brother was willing to play with the board
  3. The first time, the narrator’s brother moved the planchette.

Answer the following questions in your own words:

  1. Why did they decide to play a second time?
  2. What is the ideal environment for a Ouija board?
  3. Why did the narrator leave the room?
  4. Why did he run back to the room and what did he see?



Before asking students to discuss the questions you might want to pre-teach or revise some vocabulary.

  • To set the mood: gloomy, desolate, haunted, abandoned, scary, spooky, frightening, creepy and supernatural
  • To say how you feel:  horrified, terrified, petrified, panic-stricken, trembling, paralysed, shuddering
  • To talk about “people”: a ghost  ( a ghostly figure), an apparition, a shadow, an entity, an (evil) spirit, a hallucination, a medium, a UFO.

Ask students to work in groups and answer the following questions.

  • Do you believe in ghosts? If not, how do you explain people’s claims to have seen them?
  • Have you experienced the feeling of déjà vu? How do you explain this strange feeling?
  • Telepathy is communication directly from one mind to another. Is it possible to communicate this way?
  • Sometimes, the police use psychics to help them. What do you think about this?
  • Do you believe in hypnosis? What happens when a person is hypnotized?
  • Can people predict the future? Have you ever had a feeling about the future that turned out to be true?
  • Have you ever visited a fortune teller?
  • What do you think about UFO sightings?
  • Are you a superstitious person? What things are you superstitious about?

Most of the questions are from this site. 


I love telling stories, don’t you?  Well, the heading in this Step 4 needs no explanation. A contest.  A contest which will give me the opportunity to revise narrative tenses and connectors to help students sequence their ideas.

I’m going to use this excellent post from Thought.Co

A good contest, deserves a nice poster. Here it is.

Gone on Holiday! Back in October! + Most Popular Posts This School Year

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!!


A little Experiment: Hitting the Intermediate Plateau? No, you’re not.

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 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.



2 Superb Activities with Posters to Review Topics before Oral Exams

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.

In class

This activity is divided into two stages

Stage 1.

  • 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.

Stage 2

  • 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.

In class

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.

Hope you enjoy the activities!

Blog de Cristina is on Facebook too. Don’t miss any posts.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...