Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Environment: a Lesson Plan for Upper-Intermediate Students

As I thrust this lesson plan towards my students, I realize how little I know about what some environmentally-related terms mean. I know I have heard people talking about the carbon footprint and acid rain, but honestly, I have never given it much thought.  I recycle. I really try to. I don’t eat meat and try to buy local products. But thinking hard. I guess that’s it.  I am drowning in eco-guilt, but this needs to change.

I have promised myself two very simple things: to use reusable shopping bags and to cut down on the minutes I spend singing in the shower. The shower thing is going to be hard. Really hard.

I have just read in the The Guardian this list with 50 easy ways to save the planet. Really, point 16 and 34 are just gross.

 

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

You can see this lesson in digital format here and you will also find it embedded at the end of this post

Introducing the Topic

On the board, write I’m eco-guilty of … Ask students in pairs to discuss their environmental dirty secret and then come up to the whiteboard and write it down. Help with vocabulary and then, discuss some the eco-sins written on the board.

Listening: How Environmentally Friendly are you?
  • Lead in: ask students, in pairs, to write their best tips on how to be environmentally friendly. Write their suggestions on the board.
  • Listening Comprehension: How to be environmentally friendly. 

This is a note-taking exercise. Students listen to some more tips and write them down.  Comment on the tips. Correct using subtitles.

Vocabulary: Revising and Introducing New Vocabulary.

After doing the previous activities, students will probably have learnt lots vocabulary. Yes, I know. Wishful thinking. Anyway, let’s keep trying. Draw a mind- map on the board and brainstorm newly-acquired vocabulary drilling pronunciation. Introduce some new terms if appropriate.

Here’s the vocabulary my students will need to learn and use.

Speaking Activity using Posters

An activity my students always enjoy is gallery-walking. It gives them the opportunity to get out of their seats and interact with other students in the class.

  • Display posters on the walls containing some predictions about the future. See my posters here.
  • Ask students, in pairs, to write on a post-it (a scrap of paper+ sellotape would do) a list of 5 words or expressions they have learned related to the topic. Take their lists and put them on the walls next to the posters. There should be at least one list per poster.
  • Gallery Walk: ask students, in pairs or small groups, to stand up and discuss the sentences written on the posters making sure they use some of the words on the list.
Listening: Environmental Issues our Planet is Facing.
  • Warm up: Ask students, in pairs, to brainstorm environmental issues our planet is facing. Write their suggestions on the board and discuss them.
  • The listening task: Play the video below ( only from 0:00 to 1:35)and ask students to find the answers to the following :
  1.  How old is the earth?
  2. How old is the human race?
  3. List 4 general problems mentioned in the video related to the sea, the animals, the ocean and climate change

Check their answers. Play the video with the subtitles on.

Speaking
  • Discussion Questions:

In this part, students will work in pairs. Encourage the use of the vocabulary they have learned in previous exercises. Use the lists of vocabulary students wrote for the posters activity, giving each pair of students one of these lists. Ask them to swap lists as we move through the questions.

Embedded below. you will find the online lesson with the questions for discussion. Just scroll down the different activities.

  • Picture Prompted

Students, in pairs, talk about the topics suggested in the pictures. Brainstorm ideas for a minute or so, and ask them to speak for about 4 minutes.

There are two sets of pictures.

Photo credit: Frits Ahlefeldt – FritsAhlefeldt.com on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

I hope you have enjoyed the lesson.

 

The Environment

Making Vocabulary Stick: a Fun Game to Make New Terms Stick

It is said that you need to use a new word at least ten times to be able to remember it. I don’t know what to say about it.

I should probably not be saying this, I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t let it pass.  For some students, using the word once or twice is enough and for some others, you can work on it and repeat it until the cows come home and still, no luck. If you are a teacher, I know you understand what I mean. Fortunately, this is not true for most of my students  🙂 🙂

 

This is a simple activity you can do to encourage the use of newly-acquired vocabulary and to help students remember it.

I’m afraid if you don’t have a computer and OHP in your classroom, this activity would probably be useless to you. So, I won’t blame you if you stop reading right now.

  • Topic: Travelling and holidays. (You can easily use any other topic).
  • Level: Upper -intermediate (I would say this activity will work well with B1 students and upwards)
  • Time: about 30 minutes

Pre-game

  1. Activating previous vocabulary. I introduced the topic by asking students to discuss in pairs some uncomplicated questions, such as:

      What kind of holidays do you prefer?  Do you prefer package holidays or making your own?

       2.Introducing new vocabulary.  Nothing fancy here. I introduced and worked on new vocabulary using a variety of activities, but most from their textbook.

Boring part over.

Game.

  1. Brainstorming. I asked students to close their books and, in pairs, brainstorm words and expressions related to the topic. I completely forbade “easy” words such as plane, ticket or suitcase. Reserve some “Awesomes and well-dones” for the advanced vocabulary they are likely to provide.
  2. Using a word cloud. In my computer, I opened the free word cloud generator https://wordart.com/ . I like this tool for two reasons:
  • it allows you to maintain words together very easily.
  • It very nicely highlights the words you want to work with.

I asked a student to help me with the typing of the words. So while I was writing on the board the words students volunteered, he was typing these same words in the wordart app.

  1. Magic. When all the words were written and after drilling pronunciation and meaning, I cleaned the board, turned on the overhead projector and magically displayed the word cloud containing all words they had provided.

(click on the image)

Steps 1, 2 and 3 took about 5 minutes.

  1. Teams. I divided the class into two teams and asked a representative of each team to come to the front of the class facing away from the board where the word cloud was displayed. Let’s call them Captain A and Captain B. Place a table (or two) in front of the students and on the table(s) place two reception bells. I got mine from the Chinese Bazaar shops. If you can’t find the bells, any other sound would do! But, there has to be a sound, mainly, because it’s fun!

Procedure:

Team A starts. I point to a word (very nicely highlighted in this app) and team A has to describe the word to their captain using synonyms or paraphrasing. The only problem is that both Captains can press the bell if they know the word. Teams have 1m 30´ to describe as many words as possible.

Award one point for each correct guess.

Some more rules:

  • If the two captains press the bell and answer at the same time, the point is awarded to the captain whose team is playing.
  • If the two captains answer at the same time, but one of them has not pressed the bell, the point is awarded to the other team.
  • If a captain gives the wrong answer, he cannot answer again until the other captain has had a chance at guessing. In this case, the other team can try to explain the word to their captain.

Have fun while teaching and your students will learn better!!!

 

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.

 

Step by Step: How I train my students to pass Part 2 (the pictures) of the standardized speaking exams. Part 1.

Alright, alright!

I know this is the third time I’ve posted this week. It seems I’m full of energy after the Christmas break. I really needed that break, didn’t you? Anyway, happy to go back to teaching, but hanging ominously over my head like a black cloud about to burst is the pressing necessity to start training my students to take their standardized speaking exams which will allow them to promote to the C1 (advanced level).

For those of you who are not familiar with the exam, let me explain how it goes. You might find you can apply it to your own classes, even though it’s not exactly the same kind of exam.

There are two tasks in the speaking exam.

  • Part 1: examiner-led conversation. The examiner asks questions about a topic and the students give full answers.
  • Part 2: the monologue, where the students are given a set of pictures (normally two or three).

About Part 2

In this second part, the one this whole post is built upon, the student is offered two or three colour photographs. Normally, the photos are in contrast or represent different options of the same issue.  Also, there is a title or a statement which suggests the topic of the monologue. After some thinking time, normally a couple of minutes, the student is given the opportunity to speak for about 4-5 minutes without interruption.

At this level, students are expected to talk about the topic using a wide range of vocabulary and grammar structures and they will have to compare and contrast the pictures talking about the most important issues related to the topic.

Students face different fears when preparing for the oral exams. Some of them are:

  • Do I know enough specific vocabulary?
  • Will I be able to use a variety of structures or will I stick to the simple subj+verb+complement structure?
  • Now,  the topic is “food”?  3 or 4 minutes talking about food? Seriously?  For heaven’s sake, I cannot even talk for one minute, let alone three or four!

Vocabulary and ideas. Keywords here.

How I train my students. Topic: Food

This is how I help them step by step. Bear in mind this is the first post of a series of posts dedicated to training students to pass the oral exam. As students gain confidence, guidance will be less necessary and some of these steps will be either unnecessary or done by students as part of their learning process.


1. Brainstorming vocabulary. Learning progresses through prior knowledge, so tapping into students’ prior knowledge is an essential part of learning.

On the board, we brainstorm the vocabulary they already know. This is an important step because it helps students reinforce and bring to life the vocabulary studied in previous courses.

Then, I ask them some very simple questions where they can activate this vocabulary: What’s your favourite food? What is the most expensive restaurant that you have ever been to? What did you eat there?


2.Acquiring new vocabulary. We work on new vocabulary using a number of written and oral exercises. (Any good course book provides enough vocabulary input, at least to get started). It’s important to emphasize here the importance of learning words in chunks. Surely, you can teach the word “ obesity” on its own, but there some other words you really want to teach in collocations like, for example, “eating disorders” or to “be obsessed with”. Also important, essential I should say, is pronunciation.


3.  Getting Ideas. Reading and Speaking. More often than not students find it hard to think on their feet. They find it difficult to come up with ideas that will fill in the 3 or 4 minutes allowed for this part.

You might disagree with me here, but I always tell them that oral exams are like the rest of the exams they might take. They need to prepare. They need to study.

Lack of preparation might result in something I’ve seen very often when assessing oral exams; students might talk for one minute and then, suddenly, stop. Now, you might wait patiently for them to come up with something else but the truth is that very often, when prompted to continue, they just repeat the same ideas they have already used. Why? most of the times due to lack of preparation. They mistakenly think that they don’t need to study for oral exams. They do.

So, listen up dear students! You need to study for oral exams.

 

Reading about different issues related to the topic not only reinforces the vocabulary they have learnt and gives them a chance to see it used in context but also gives them ideas of what they can talk about when doing the real task.

I normally use short extracts from The Pais in EnglishHere’s my choice of extracts for the topic of food. This how we do it:

  • We read the extracts in class or set the reading task as homework.
  • We underline relevant vocabulary.
  • Students discuss the questions in pairs, followed by class discussion.

 


4. The pictures. I am lucky to have a computer and an overhead projector in my class, so I normally display a collage with two or three related pictures on the board. You can see the ones I have used for this topic here and here.

Together we read the title and brainstorm ideas to fill in these 3 or 4 minutes. This step should be easy now as we have previously discussed some ideas in the previous task. Some ideas could be:

Together, we brainstorm vocabulary

  • Pesticides
  • Label
  • To be obsessed with
  • Bulimia
  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • Carbs
  • …etc

  1. Tips.
  • Look at the pictures and the title if there is one. It will hint at what you need to talk about.
  • If you are given some thinking time, use it.
  • Remember that you are not asked to describe in detail what you can see in the pictures. You are asked to compare and contrast the pictures talking about the topic.
  • Focus on three or four ideas and develop them as much as you can without repeating yourself. Start with a short introduction about the topic, talk about the first idea, develop it; start with the second idea and repeat procedure.
  • Don’t forget to use specific vocabulary and a variety of structures.
  • Essential: practise a lot and record yourself taking the exam.

6. Homework. Further practice. Collaboratively writing on a Padlet.

This follow-up task has two main aims:

  • to reinforce acquired knowledge and strategies
  • to share ideas. By asking students to write on a  collaborative Padlet, they benefit from each other and see other ideas which might help them improve their own performance.

All the Padlets created for this purpose will then be shared in a single one where students, at a glance, can decide what topic to revise.

In the next post, we will move from writing to speaking on a Padlet.

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A Simple Activity to Get Started after the Christmas Break

Back to normal after the Christmas break and looking for ideas to get students  back into the mood, my faithful companion The Wheel of Fortune is again unfailingly helping me to provide, with almost no effort, an engaging activity to get started: grammar and vocabulary will probably follow, but let’s start off on the right foot.

So, I have in mind a warm-up activity that gets students out of their seats (have they even had time to sit down?) while animatedly sharing their experiences during their Christmas break.

How to go about it:

  1. I filled the wheel with some questions from the Internet TESL Journal
  2. After the mandatory welcome-back salutation, I asked my students to stand up (initial sceptical look assured, so please, don’t be discouraged and insist with your sweetest voice)and occupy the space in the middle of the class or any other free space available in your classroom. Ask them to choose a partner.
  3. Spin the wheel and ask them to talk about the randomly chosen question with their partner. Allow them 2 or 3 minutes to discuss the question. Use a  classroom timer to add more fun and excitement.
  4. Ask them to change partners and spin the wheel again.

Note: this is a warm-up activity, so I’ll keep it going for just about 15 minutes.

Now, that they are right where I want them, let’s begin this new term.

Photo: Greg Lonbinsk

 

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