Category Archives: Grammar and Exercises

Hey! Hold On! A Simple Activity to Fix Slipping to the Present Tense when Talking about the Past

Oh my goodness, I’ve been completely obsessed with this tense these past few weeks. Even though my students are studying a B2 level, they still seem to have problems when talking about past events, especially those related to their own lives.  It might be because they are so focused on telling their own real stories that grammar tends to be forgotten. It might or it might not. The thing is  that I find myself constantly reminding them not to slip to present tenses. I have used several techniques but none of them seem to be working.

You might think I am a bit nuts here but when I have some time to kill, I sometimes find myself thinking about my students’ problems with the language and trying to devise new games or strategies to help them overcome their difficulties.

This strategy came to my mind on my way to Marbella to run a workshop. The plane was delayed by an hour and I had some time to kill. The technology I have used to display the prompts is one that I often use, but the idea for the layout sprang from seeing one of the teachers in the workshop work with Spark Adobe Page ( thanks Monica Redondo).  Obviously, you don’t need technology to do this activity but it looks so much nicer!!

Aim: to help students avoid making the mistake of using the present simple when talking about past events.

This engaging past simple activity requires that students help each other fixing the very common mistake of switching to the present tense when talking about events, situations or anecdotes related to their pasts.

  • In this activity, students work in pairs. Display the first prompt. Student A will talk while Student B will listen. Every single time, Student A slips to the present simple when referring to the past, Student B will stop him by saying: ” Hey! Hold on!”
  • At this point, student A will need to start again.
  • Points: every time the student needs to start again, he will score -1 point :(.
  • Fun: every time a student slips to the present simple, he will have to quickly stand up and sit down 🙂  This also allows you, as a teacher, to see who needs more help.
  • Allow about 3 minutes and emphasize that even though they don’t make a mistake, they’ll need to talk for the entire three minutes. This will prevent stronger students from finishing before the 3 minutes are over and will challenge them to keep talking by elaborating on their stories.
  • When the three minutes are over, display a new prompt and ask Student B to do the talking and Student A to help him by paying close attention to the tenses he uses and stopping him using the “Hey! Hold on” technique.
  • After both Student A and B have talked, ask them to stand up and choose a new partner. Display a new prompt and repeat procedure.

Ready? Let’s start!

Hey! Hold On!

Learning or Teaching Reporting Verbs? 5 Low-Tech and High-Tech Activities

And finally, it’s springtime. “Here comes the sun da-da-da-da”. After, like two months raining non-stop and cold spells whimsically coming and going, I was beginning to flirt with the idea of leaving “sunny” Spain. But, fortunately, it seems spring is here to stay. And this means light. Don’t you feel more energetic when you wake up in the morning, and there is this beautiful sunny day waiting for you outside? I do.

It seems to me that even explaining reported speech introductory verbs is a lighter task.

Here you can read some of the activities I did with my students to introduce, revise and consolidate reporting verbs. I have used a variety of online free tools. Free tools, as usual.

  • Aim: to introduce, revise and consolidate reporting verbs other than “say” “ask” and “tell”
  • Level: B2

AN INFOGRAPHIC TO CONSOLIDATE THE GRAMMAR STRUCTURE OF SOME REPORTING VERBS

I like infographics. They are colourful and can be displayed on the walls of the class for students to refer back to if they, God forbid, forget the grammar of these verbs. Honestly? I like creating them. I like playing with the fonts, icons, lines and anything the site has to offer to create them.

reporting verbs by cristina.cabal    I have created this infographic with Canva.

Direct link here


A "HALF-A-CROSSWORD" GAME TO HELP THEM REMEMBER THE MOST COMMON REPORTING VERBS.

This kind of exercise gives students a nice opportunity to use a variety of skills.

I have used a free website with a very complicated name, which I am not even going to attempt to write. Here’s the link. The only thing you need to do is write the terms in the box provided and then print the outcome. It’s magic.


A GALLERY QUIZ: A MATCHING EXERCISE WITH SOME REPORTING VERBS

This exercise takes students a step further as they will have to associate the meaning of a sentence in direct speech with the corresponding reporting verb.

This is a visual exercise you can do more than once to consolidate knowledge.


A STUDY-SET OF FLASHCARDS

Students should be ready to get into more demanding exercises as are the ones I suggest below.

In this exercise, students orally provide the reporting sentence.  The exercise has been created with quizlet, a well-known free tool I highly recommend as study sets are very easy to create and it’s great for rote learning. Although it offers a premium version, the free one is quite generous.
Depending on how confident your students feel, you can set this task to be done as an individual written exercise or orally as a whole class exercise.

Created with quizlet


USING GRASS SKIRTS: A TRANSLATION EXERCISE

This is game from the archives. I highly recommend you do it with your students. Lots of learning and lots of fun too. Your students are going to adore you.

Before the class: Decide on 8 sentences using a variety of reporting verbs you’d like your students to translate. You can use Tekhnologic’s template or create your own. Write the sentences in the spaces provided. Print as many copies as you need and cut along the dotted lines. Each group of three or four students will be assigned a copy. A good idea would be to use a different coloured paper for each group, but this is entirely optional. Put them on the walls of the class.

Now, you are ready to start.

Procedure:

Ask students to work in groups of three or four. Draw students’ attention to the walls of the class and assign each group a poster with the 8 sentences.

Tell students that the aim of the game would be to translate all the sentences on their assigned poster on the wall. To do so, they must nominate a runner who is the one who must run to the wall, tear off the sentence, run back to his group and then together translate the sentence.

Once it’s done, the runner must go to the teacher and show him their translated sentence. If it’s correct, the runner can tear off the second sentence. If it’s incorrect, he must return to his group and correct the mistake(s). The teacher can help a bit by underlining where the mistake is. Only if the teacher has marked the sentence with a tick, it is considered correct.

Rules.

  • The runner cannot tear off a new sentence until the previous one has been shown to the teacher and marked with a tick.
  • The runner cannot correct the sentence at the teacher’s desk. He must return to his group and there, correct the sentence.
  • Groups can only tear off sentences from their assigned posters.
  • The first group to have a tick in all 8 sentences is the winner.

Follow-up: Whole class. Read out the sentences from the poster and ask students to, orally, translate them.  Focus on any common problems you might have noticed.


THE FRUIT MACHINE: A MORE DEMANDING EXERCISE ALLEVIATED WITH A BIT OF FUN

This activity is probably the most challenging in this compilation.

How to go about it:

  • Divide the class into two teams, Team A and Team B. Ask a representative of each team to come to the front of the class facing away from the board where the fruit machine is displayed. Let’s call them Captain A and Captain B.
  • Set a timer for 90 seconds.

The activity has two parts:

Part 1.  Team A starts playing. Spin the fruit machine and a reporting verb will be randomly chosen.

For example: Suggest

Team A  needs to, using direct speech, come up with a sentence to exemplify “suggest”

For example: “Why don’t we go to the cinema?”

Captain A needs to guess the reporting verb associated with the sentence. If he does his team scores 1 point.

Part 2. Ask team members to repeat their sentence and have Captain A report the sentence using the reporting verb in indirect speech. If he does, his team scores an extra point.

Teams have a maximum of 90 seconds to do part 1 and 2.

Now, it is Team B’s turn to play.

I have created this activity with classtools.net. Click on the image to see the fruit machine in action. Warning: you might want to turn down the volume in your computer.

First Conditional Sentences: Advanced Grammar and Moral Dilemmas for Discussion

Oh, this tool. I cannot tell you the number of times I have used it to teach English.

Not going to lie to you, although it’s one of my favourite sites to create visual activities, play buzz is way less exciting than using other tools such as Flipgrid. Still, a lot of fun.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t like teaching grammar. I’m not one of those enthusiastic teachers that eat up grammar books in search of the perfect written exercise to give students. I devour vocabulary and speaking activities, but to be honest, grammar exercises bore me. That must be the reason why I always try to find a fun activity so that not only my students but also me, can have a nice time when dealing with grammar. So, it felt really nice to create this visual activity where I could see my students using the First Conditional in context.

Firstly, after explaining the grammar we reinforced its form by watching this video I have created with Lumen5. This tool is the latest craze. If you are attending my workshop on “Using Images” on Tuesday 20 or Thursday 22 (Feb) this is one of the tools we are going to work with. Let me tell you that it is one of the easiest tools I have come across and nowadays, on social media, you can see a lot of presentations created with it.

Secondly, I asked my students to form small groups and discuss what you’ll see below. The questions are thought-provoking, morally challenging and with a touch of fun. It might also be a good idea to ask yourself what you would do in any of these situations.

Display the first photo+caption and ask students to finish the sentence using the first conditional. Encourage discussion within the group and then a whole class discussion.

  • If I find a wallet in the street, I might take it to the police.
  • If I find a wallet in the street, I will probably call the police to let them know I have found it, but will probably keep it until the owner called me.

Show the second picture+ caption and repeat procedure.

A Word on Grammar: Relative Adverbs: Where, When and Why. use and Omission

I have to say that I have an incredibly complicated relationship with grammar. I don’t like it and that’s my problem. I wouldn’t go as far as Michel de Montaigne and say “The greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar”, that’s probably going too far but, for me,  “Grammar is a piano I play by ear” as Joan Didion said,.

Obviously, this is something that, as a teacher, I cannot share with my students.

So, in order to make teaching grammar more palatable, I am forever trying to present it in a more appealing way. Not only to my students, but also to me.

Embedded below is a more visual explanation of the use and omission of the relative adverbs: where, when and why.

I have used one of my fav free tools, PlayBuzz, which is not specifically designed to be used as a teaching tool but it really has a lot of potential for language teaching.

 

Introducing Reported Speech Statements,Questions and Orders in a Different Way

This week’s post was not supposed to be a grammar post, it just so happened to turn out like that. Come to think of it, I have been teaching lots of grammar lately so I shouldn’t be surprised if my brain is filled with ideas for grammar teaching.

If I want my classes to be different from the ones I had when I was studying English at school (teacher-centred and book-centred), I cannot introduce all those digital tools I’m so keen on using and then go and spoil it all by asking students to read straight from a photocopy when it comes to grammar. I’m not saying it’s the wrong way to go about it, I’m just saying it’s not the way I teach or the way I’d like to be taught.

Admittedly, grammar is grammar, but can we make it a bit more appealing to our students?

Reported speech is probably one of my favourite grammar points and this is how I have introduced reported speech statements, questions and orders in my classes this week.


INTRODUCING STATEMENTS.

To introduce statements I often use quotes from famous people. The presentation you’ll see below is one I often use as my students, for the most part, are adults. But if you’re teaching teenagers, you can easily change the people in the slides and use celebrities they can relate to.

So the idea is to play the presentation, read the quote and then ask: “What did Marilyn say?” Guide students through the changes in reported speech and then show the second slide where the reported sentence is displayed.


INTRODUCING QUESTIONS.

I’ve been introducing reported speech questions in this way all my teaching career. The reason? Students collaborate from minute one and this is something I treasure.

I tell the students my son Daniel is 4 years old and he’s always asking questions. With all the drama I can muster I tell them that yesterday I got home really tired and wanted to rest a bit but my son Daniel had other plans for me and could not stop asking questions.

I draw on the board a boy and I call him Daniel and a woman and I call her Cristina- my name. I draw a big bubble next to Daniel and I ask students to guess what sort of questions he might have asked me. As they provide the questions I write them inside the speech bubble making sure there is a variety of wh- and yes/no questions and a variety of tenses. Once the questions have been written, I go on telling them that when my husband got home I was lying on the sofa with an ice pack on my forehead and looking dead tired  -remember drama is important- and when he enquired why I was so tired I told him all about my day and how I couldn’t rest because Daniel had asked all those questions.

  • He asked me why I was smiling
  • He wanted to know if he could watch cartoons.

INTRODUCING REQUESTS AND ORDERS.

To introduce request and orders I write inside a circle on the board

First day instructions

and ask students to try to remember some of the instructions I gave them on the very first day in class.  Encourage them to tell you the exact words I used. They will probably say:

  • Use English
  • Put your mobiles on silent mode
  • Don’t be late.
  • Change partners regularly.
  • Don’t forget to bring your workbook

Write them on the board and choose a student who couldn’t attend that first day.

Tell students they now need to inform this student of the instructions I gave this very first day.

  • The teacher told us to use English in class
  • Cristina told us not to forget to bring our workbook

Hope it’s helpful! You might also be interested in this other post

Some nice activities to practise Reported Speech

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The Article in English: Explanation, Exercises and a Challenging Quiz

Although the use of the article in English seems a priori an easy subject to teach, the truth is that some students struggle with the use and omission of it.

What can you find in this post?

  • Intermediate level:
  1. Animated video with some rules on the use and omission of the articles “the, a/an”
  2. Some links to exercises from around the web to consolidate knowledge.
  • Advanced Level:
  1. An engaging quiz with feedback notes featuring some difficult cases related to the use and omission of articles.

 

Grammar. Watch the presentation. Pause it as often as necessary to understand and assimilate the rules.

Exercises: Links to interactive exercises  from around the web to consolidate knowledge.

 


The quiz

 

Teaching Both, Neither and Either with List.ly

Several times I have been on the verge of almost writing a post exclusively to share with you this beautiful presentation tool without any reference whatsoever to English teaching.

But I didn’t. I don’t know why, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Normally posts about tools and apps you can use in the classroom go unnoticed, unless you’re clearly into incorporating technology into your classes.

So, next week I’ll be teaching the grammar for both, neither and either and I thought it would be nice to use this tool to present and teach these pronouns as, among other things, List.ly helps you build beautiful presentations, add text and links.

Now, if you’re not interested in incorporating List.ly into your classes, you can skip all about List.ly below and go straight for the grammar. 🙂 although I hope you don’t.


About List.ly


What is List.ly?

Basically it’s a tool for creating and curating lists. With List.ly you can

  • Curate content
  • Create original post content
  • Get feedback from your students

Other features

  • You can add items with or without links, photos, text, video, audio…etc
  • Also, it’s a highly collaborative tool. Students can participate:

-by voting individual lists items up or down

-by adding to the lists

-by writing comments

  • It’s free ( you can create 3 free lists) and you can easily share it and embed it on your blog.
  • You can choose from 6 formats: list, gallery, magazine, slideshow, minimal and badge.
  • You can make it private. You can obtain the link and share it privately.
  • You can moderate the list to approve any comments or contributions to the list.
  • You can decide the order in your list: curated order (great for collaborative storytelling), crowdrank (great for voting), alphabetical or newest.
  • Below you can see some of the things you can add to your list

 Tutorial: here

   How can I use it in the classroom?

Given that you can allow students to collaborate, there are endless possibilities. To mention just a few:

  • Create a list of tips. For example: for scoring high in the oral exam and have students vote the most helpful.
  • Choose a topic, for ex. stereotypes and let students add their own ideas to the list.
  • Create a list linking to specific content they need to see or study: videos, grammar exercises, topic-related lessons, …etc.
  • As you can also upload audio, give them a topic for discussion and ask them to add to the discussion by uploading a recording with their own view on the issue.
  • Create beautiful presentations with links to extra content.
  • Writing contest: share their writing and ask students to vote on the best.
  • Start a list with the songs they would like to work with, ask them to add their favourites and then vote on the best.
  • Collaborative Speaking activity: brainstorming of ideas.

Any other ideas?

 


 Using BOTH, NEITHER AND EITHER


  1. Traditional? Pdf with exercises here. 
  2.   A bit less traditional? Down here!

I have embedded the presentation using two formats:

  • slideshow format
  •  List format

An Engaging Activity to Work with Modals in the Past

Dear readers,

Let me start thanking you for all your comments, likes and shares on my posts. That’s really encouraging!

In today’s post I want to share with you an activity I did with my B2 students that worked really well. It’s the kind of activity that I like because it includes movement and it encourages interaction between students. The focus is on grammar but, at the same time this activity gets them out of their seats and moving. They  will need to interact with other classmates and use English to discuss English grammar while having fun at the same time. So, what else could one wish for?

Aim: The focus of this lesson is on students integrating grammar, speaking and writing using modals of certainty and possibility in the past.

Level: B2 (upper intermediate)

Time: 20-30 minutes

Materials: post-it notes and pictures to display (see mine here)

Although this is an activity to reinforce learning and the grammar should have been explained beforehand, it might be a good idea to revise orally or on the board the targeted grammar.

Warming-up

Remind students of the use of the structure modal+have+past participle to make suppositions about actions that did or did not take place in the past.

Explain that for this activity they will be working with the modal “must” to speculate about the past and with the modals could/may/ might in the past to discuss different possibilities. Drill pronunciation of must/might…+have+past participle

  • Must have been | ‘ mʌstəv ‘biːn |
  • might have gone | ‘maɪtəv ‘ɡɒn |

The Task

On the walls of the class display the pictures you want to use. See the ones I used here. Ask students to try to guess the answers to the questions in the pictures and then, write them down on the post-it notes provided using the modal must in the past to speculate about what must have happened. Tell them that on the back of each picture you have written the answer to the question. They’ll win one point if their answer is the same as the one written on the back of the picture.

Procedure

  • On the walls of the class display the pictures you want to use.
  • Ask students to work in threes.
  • Give each group a different number and some post-it notes. You will need to give them as many post-it notes as pictures on the walls. They will need a post-it note for each picture.
  • Now, ask students to stand up and have a look at the different pictures.
  • In their groups they will have to discuss the different possibilities using the structure may/might/could +have+ past participle.
  • Then when they reach an agreement, they will need to write their suggestion on the post-it note using the modal “must” in the past. Ask students to write their assigned number on the post-it note. Ex. He must have saved someone or he must have discovered a bomb
  • Ask students to sit down. Take the first picture and turn it around. Read the sentence explaining the picture. Read the post-it notes to see which group guessed correctly. Award them one point. Needless to say, the winner is the group that gets more points.

Thanks for reading!

Creating visual content for my classes with two awesome free online tools

Let’s go visual!

If you have been following my blog for a while you probably know how much I like exploring new tools to spice up my lessons. We all know students prefer looking at a screen than at a book so, for this lesson I have decided to explore two new free online tools, which have a lot of potential for language teaching.

 

Perhaps  you have never considered creating your own content because you think you aren’t tech-savvy and you don’t really know how to go about  these  modern things, but I can assure you that creating these two videos has been as easy as falling off a log.

In class, we are studying how to express preference with the structure would rather and (would)pefer  and this is just the perfect excuse to “play” with these two little tools.

1. For a revision of the grammar for Would Rather and Prefer, I have used biteable.com. This is how this tool works:

  • Login for free.
  • Click “create a new video”.
  • Choose your scenes one by one and enter the text. You can choose between animation scenes, footage scenes and image scenes where you can upload your own pictures. Click + to add a new scene.
  • Choose the colours for your presentation and then the music track or upload your own.
  • Click Preview and the video will be sent to your email address once it’s created.
  • At this point, you can download it, share it on facebook and twitter, or post to youtube.

(presentation created with biteable)

2. For a speaking activity using Would Rather, I have used emaze.com. This is how this amazing free online tool works:

  • Log in for free.
  • You can create a new presentation form scratch or upload a power point presentation.
  • Choose a template.
  • Share it or embed it on your blog.

(presentation created with emaze)

Powered by emaze

Give them a go! You won’t regret it!

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An Engaging Combination: First-Day Introductions+Indirect Questions + Concentric Circles Technique

Last week was crazy. No lessons yet but lots of tests to be marked and tons of red tape to go through. So, I am shockingly super excited about beginning a new course; yes, excited about getting up early and teaching non-stop for six hours and   no…  I did not trip and fall  into a bucket full of cider   😉 (typical drink where I live).

First days are for introductions and little more, but  this year I think I am going to kill two birds with one stone  and combine introductions and some grammar that needs to be reviewed. So, I have got this idea in mind of asking students to introduce themselves to each other using indirect questions. I hope most of my new students will have, at some point over the years, studied  with me and for the rest, I will have to find a way to deal with the OMG- shocked looks I am sure I am going to get. But let’s cross that bridge when I come to it!

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Level: Intermediate and Above

Time Required: 30-45 minutes

Description of the Activity .This engaging activity has been designed as a  first-day oral introduction activity and to teach/help students revise how to make indirect questions . I will use the concentric circles  technique,  which is a mingle activity .The technique is explained below and I have also published a picture of my students doing the task.

STEP 1.Revision of Indirect Questions.

Indirect questions were studied last year, so we will just do a quick revision with this video I have  created using the free tool powtoon.com

If necessary, we will spend some minutes brushing up in two different ways

  1. Doing some online exercises you can find here  or , here  or if you do not have a computer, you might want to photocopy this worksheet here
  1. Orally producing some questions and asking students to provide the indirect question.

 STEP 2. Writing .

Ask students to write a question they would like to ask their classmates. For example: ” Do you speak any other languages?”, “Where do you live?” or “How long have you been studying English?”.

Give students slips of paper containing the beginning of an indirect question and ask them to make sure they know how to ask their question beginning with the phrase on their card. Cards here. (template downloaded from Teknologic). For example : “Can I ask  you where you live?” or “Would you mind telling me how long you have been studying English?”. 

STEP 3. Explaining the concentric circle technique.

This technique is a kind of mingle. Although mingles can be a bit noisy  and a bit disorganised, most students love it.The distinctive feature of a mingle activity is that all the students work simultaneously and switch from one classmate to another while speaking. Mingles allow constant repetition and this raises students’ confidence in their use of English.

Students arrange themselves so that they are facing each other in two circles. The inner circle faces out, the outer circle faces in, so that each participant has a partner that they are facing (Note: If the group has an uneven number of people, the teacher should participate in the circles). Each student from the outside circle, after speaking with the person facing him or her, moves one step clockwise to speak with a new classmate from the inside circle. I would suggest asking students to switch partners every four minutes for this activity. This concentric circle technique can very well be adapted to talk about any given topic of discussion. Encourage students to elaborate on their answers and use targeted language structure.

STEP 5. Speaking.

Students introduce themselves to the person they are facing and then ask their indirect questions making conversation with their partner. After four minutes, call time and rotate for the next question, forming a new partnership.

The conversation might go something like this:

Student A: Hi, I’m (student’s name)

Student B: Hello, my name’s  (student’s name)

Student A: Can you tell me how long you have been studying English?

Student B : (answers the question giving as many details as possible)

Student B : Can I ask you a question now? Would you mind telling me why you are studying English?

Student A: Answers

Teacher  says :”  Rotate” and students from the outside circle move one step clockwise to speak with a new classmate from the inside circle.

Model an example of a conversation with a student.

Stop the activity when they have had a chance to speak to most students.

 

 

 

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