Tag Archives: A2

A Low-Prep, Low-Tech Discussion Game to Activate New Vocabulary with a Simple Scrap of Paper

Naturally, I am a huge supporter of any activity that involves students getting out of their seats and interacting with other students. Also, if you have been reading me for a while, you will surely know that I am always worried about making vocabulary stick.
So, this super simple activity combines these two things+ zero preparation. How does that sound? Yes, I know. Besides, it’s compatible with any topic you are working with. Believe me, this activity is a hit.
There is a 99% chance that you will end up participating in the activity, but please, do not get all proper and spoil the fun by telling students to keep their voices down. Let them enjoy.

Aim: to make vocabulary stick by revising, reinforcing and using it.
Topic: Any. I was working with the theme of environment, but any topic would do
Level: Any.

How to go about it

Revising.

1. Revision with slips of paper. Start by revising the vocabulary you have introduced in previous lessons. I usually write the vocabulary I need to revise on slips of paper, place myself in the middle of the classroom (desks are arranged in a U shape) and very quickly give a short definition, synonym or antonym. The student who guesses correctly gets the slip of card. The winner, as you might have guessed, is the student who has more cards at the end of this activity. I do this activity very often. I think I like it because I can see that my students love it and it is a good exercise not only to revise meanings but also to work on pronunciation.

Writing.

2. Writing 5 newly- acquired words. Ask students to write on a small scrap of paper 5 words they have learned. If they have learned “make the most of” for example, encourage them to write the whole expression and not just “make the most “.

Speaking

3. On the board, write a question for the students to discuss in pairs.

4. Tell the students to stand up with the scrap of paper containing their words and choose a partner to talk to. They can sit down if they want to or they can remain standing.

5. Ask them to swap the pieces of papers and read the 5 words on it making sure they know what they mean. If they don’t, they should ask their partner to explain or clarify meanings

6. Point to the question on the board and ask them to discuss it trying to introduce as many words as possible from their list of words. Allow 4 or 5 minutes to discuss this question.

7. Important step: Ask students to swap lists again before asking them to stand up and find a new partner.

8. Write a new question for discussion on the board. Ask students to sit down with their new partner, swap the scraps of paper and repeat procedure.

My students said they loved the game! Let me know what your students think if you decide to give it a go.

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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.

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.

Preparation:

• 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.

Quiz: Persistent Spelling Mistakes and some Orthodox and Unorthodox Techniques to Get Rid of them

The course is almost finished.

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


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Stick on the walls of 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.
  6. 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.

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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 Teachertrainingvideos.com or read a brief tutorial here.


THE EXPERIMENT


  • 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.

 

 

HiNative: Ask Questions, Get Answers

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?

  1. Sign up. You’ll be sent an email to confirm your account.
  2. 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.

10 Best Free Listening Websites with Quizzes to Practise for Listening Exams

So what do you do to practise listening for exams?

Growing up, I never had the opportunity to do any extra practice to improve my listening skills. We didn’t have the Internet and the thousand possibilities it offers to learners of any language nowadays. The teachers had an old tape player that sometimes stopped and started on its own and old tapes that ended up sounding distorted and most of the times unlistenable so if you wanted to get better at listening, you just listened to the radio and struggled to understand the lyrics and sing along. Not that I ever complained. That was the perfect excuse to listen to music while claiming to be working hard. I have to say that my father never bought it!

So, exams are just around the corner and I know you’re beginning to freak out. Don’t worry! Here I am, coming to the rescue!

These are, in my opinion, the best sites with quizzes to practise listening comprehension. In no particular order.


TALK ENGLISH


  • url: http://www.talkenglish.com/listening/real.aspx
  • Levels: three main levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: no
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: no
  • What I like best: it has some other listening activities like dictations or listening based on pictures for lower levels. It also has a section dedicated to advanced students with a story and some comprehension questions. See here
  • What I don’t like: In my opinion, the “listening” categorised under “advanced level” is far too easy.

 ELLLO


  • url: http://www.elllo.org/
  • Levels: six levels (beginners-advanced)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: grammar or vocabulary activities
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: only audio for vocabulary
  • What I like best: there are seven activity types (see them here) and a variety of accents.
  • What I don’t like: a bit disorganised.

ESL LOUNGE


  • url: http://www.esl-lounge.com/student/listening.php
  • Levels: four  (elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate and advanced)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: no
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: yes
  • What I like best: it offers different kinds of comprehension exercises (multiple choice, cloze, true/false…etc)

BRITISH COUNCIL


  • url: http://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/skills/listening-skills-practice
  • Levels: five levels ( A1, A2, B1, B2, C1)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: both
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: yes
  • What I like best: very user-friendly for both students and teachers. PDF available for exercises, answers and transcript.
  • Extra: The British Council also runs some other sections to improve and practise your listening skills and learn about Britain, its culture, its language and its people. See here

 EDTED LESSONS WORTH SHARING


  • url: http://ed.ted.com/lessons
  • Levels: advanced
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: all the lessons have three parts : watch, think (where you can do the comprehension exercise) and discuss (post-listening questions)
  • Transcript: no, although most lessons are on youtube, and you can watch them with subtitles
  • Audio Download: the videos are on youtube, so they can be easily downloaded
  • What I don’t like: the audio is not sorted by level and although most of videos are for advanced students, some of them are much easier than others so I would say that they are suitable for B2 students and higher. You need to register although it’s free.
  • Extra: you can also create your own lessons

ESOL COURSES


  • url: http://www.esolcourses.com/content/topicsmenu/listening.html
  • Levels: four main levels (upper elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper-intermediate)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: most of the times
  • Transcript: no
  • Audio Download: the videos are on youtube, so they can be easily downloaded
  • What I like best: carefully designed  user-friendly lessons plans

ESL VIDEO


  • url: http://www.eslvideo.com/index.php
  • Levels: five ( from beginner to advanced)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: no
  • Transcript: not always
  • Audio Download: the videos are on youtube, so they can be easily downloaded
  • What I don’t like: anybody can create a listening quiz so it might contain mistakes
  • Extra: You can create your own quiz

 


BREAKING NEWS ENGLISH


  • url: http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/index.html
  • Levels: seven levels
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: both
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: yes
  • What I like best: you can listen to the same piece of news at different levels and the news can be read at different speeds.
  • Extra: Sean Banville’s also runs eight other sites, check them out here

 


RANDALL’S ESL CYBER LISTENING LAB


  • url : http://www.esl-lab.com/
  • Levels: three levels ( easy, medium and difficult)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: Both
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: No
  • What I like best: the post-listening activities and the vocabulary section ( see here) where you can learn how to pronounce words associated to different topics.

LYRICS TRAINING


  • url: https://lyricstraining.com/
  • Levels: four ( from beginner to expert)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: no
  • Transcript: any lyrics site will have the lyrics for the song
  • Audio Download: the videos are on youtube, so they can be easily downloaded
  • What I like: it’s fun and a different way to approach listening exercises.
  • Extra: You can create your own exercises (beta).

Check also:

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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

 

The Writing Process and 13 Tips to Raise your Essay Score

Writing is a process. For some students it might seem like a daunting task, but if you look at it as a succession of small steps to follow instead of looking at it as the big final product, writing can be fun and easy.

Useful Links:


Part 1. The Writing Process


Brainstorm for ideas

  • Write down all the ideas you can think of. You can try mind mapping your ideas. It is a good technique to generate ideas and expand on them. You can begin by writing a big bubble in the middle of the page with the topic and then use arrows to draw new bubbles with ideas and again arrows with more specific points or observations about this idea.
  • At this stage, don’t worry about spelling or grammar mistakes.

Organise your ideas

  • Decide which ideas to keep.
  • Group similar ideas together.
  • Organise your ideas according to the writing task.

Focus on language 

  • Think of words and expressions you will need in your work.

Write a draft

  • Write quickly. Don’t worry about things such as accuracy or neatness.
  • Use a pencil so that it is easier to make corrections and erase things.
  • If you are writing your draft by hand, leave a wide margin for notes and space between the lines for additions and corrections.
  • If you can’t think of a word in English, write it in your own language. You can look it up in a dictionary later.
  • If you don’t know the spelling of a word, write it anyway you can. You can look it up in a dictionary later.

Improve your draft

  • Do it slowly and conscientiously.
  • Check spellings in the dictionary and look up any word you felt unsure of. Here’s a very useful post Six Amazing Websites that Make your Writing Stronger.
  • Use a checklist to improve your work. See the one my students use here.
  • Read your draft aloud. Circle the things that need to be improved, reworded or clarified.
  • Take a break from writing and reread your draft after 30 minutes. Does everything sound right?

Write a final draft

  • Copy your corrected work neatly on a clean sheet of paper.
  • Make sure your paragraphs are clearly indicated.

Adapted from Burlington Books


 Part 2. Writing an Essay


An essay consists of several paragraphs about a topic. Although there are many different kinds of essays, they all have the same basic structure.

Opening

It is the general presentation of the topic. Try to get the reader interested in your essay. How can you do that? For example, by beginning

  • With a surprising fact.

Humans usually imitate the speech of someone with a strong accent due to empathy and to create a bond and assimilate with them.

  • With a short anecdote.

If you could interview anybody in the world, who would you choose?” asked the teacher. “Nelson Mandela”, I replied.

  • With a question.

Did you know that there is an island in Japan that has more than 450 people living above the age of 100?

 The Body.

The body can have one or more paragraphs which develop the topic. The first paragraph should contain the strongest argument or example. The second paragraph the second strongest argument and the third the weakest.

A paragraph consists of several sentences about a certain topic. It has the following parts:

  • A topic sentence, i.e. an idea.
  • One or several supporting sentences to expand on the idea.
  • A concluding sentence.

The parts should flow logically and the ideas should be easy to understand.

  • Go from general to specific. Give a general idea and then expand it.
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition by using pronouns to refer back to nouns already mentioned.
  • Use connector to join sentences and show the connection between ideas.

 The Closing

It is the paragraph that summarizes the main idea or presents a conclusion, depending on the kind of essay you need to write. Some things to bear in mind:

  • It should not bring new ideas.
  • It shouldn’t be very long.
  • It can be similar to the opening, but presented in different words.

 


13 Tips to Raise your Essay Score


  1. Read the assignment thoroughly, several times if necessary and underline anything relevant. Sometimes there is a question or several. Make sure you cover all of them. Focus on the purpose of the composition, on the tone and the style required and also on the length requirements.
  1. Plan your writing. You need to dedicate several minutes to planning what you are going to say and how you are going to say. It makes a big difference.
  1. Write a first draft. Use pencil, if possible, to erase or correct errors.
  1. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence and then write some supporting sentences about this topic sentence. 1 idea= 1 paragraph.
  1. Use a variety of vocabulary and grammar structures. Avoid repeating the same words over and over again. Use synonyms or paraphrase. A thesaurus or a lexicon is useful as a source of alternative words. Use a range of grammar, sentence structure should be varied and clear.
  1. Use connectors to join ideas. They also play an important part in stringing together sentences and paragraphs.
  1. Time management. Organize the time you are given to write the essay. If you have one hour to complete the task, dedicate 10 minutes to planning and organizing your ideas and allow about 10 minutes at the end to proofread your essay before giving it to the teacher. You will still have 40 minutes left to write and develop your ideas.
  1. Keep to the topic. Don’t write about things that have nothing to do with the assignment.
  1. Sound natural. Just because you know lots of connectors, it doesn’t mean you have to use all of them.
  1. Punctuation. Pay attention to punctuation, especially to the correct use of commas and periods. Your text can be confusing if you don’t use them adequately.
  1. Style. Think about the purpose of the assignment and the audience it addresses and use the correct style and tone. If it’s informal, you can use colloquial language, simple and shorter sentences, contractions, abbreviations and emotional language. On the contrary if it’s a formal assignment, you will need to use more complex sentences, avoid contractions and abbreviations and you should definitely avoid emotional language or colloquial expressions.
  1. Proofread your essay. Have a coffee or go for a walk. Come back, take your essay and reread it aloud. Does it sound “right”? Then, it’s ready!
  1. Read a lot and try to write about anything for 30 minutes every day. You’ll soon get better.

Thanks for reading!

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Spinning the Wheel: an Engaging and Productive Speaking Activity.

This is a very simple communicative activity that works wonders because it is highly engaging, students love it and it is very productive. It takes 2 minutes to create and it is adaptable to any topic of discussion and suitable for all levels.

 

Aim: activating new vocabulary through discussion questions.

Levels: all

PROCEDURE.

  1. Easy peasy! Just go to wheeldecide.com and fill in one wheel with the target vocabulary and another one with the questions you want your students to discuss.
  2. Students in pairs
  3. Spin the wheel containing the questions and then, the wheel containing the word/ expression you want your students to use when answering the question.
  4. Student A has 2 minutes to talk about the question and use the target vocabulary. If he does, he scores a point.
  5. Spin the wheels again. It’s student B’s turn.

NOTE: When creating the wheel, go to the advanced section to choose colour and whether you want the option to be removed after it is landed on or not.

 

 

If you are a student and you’re preparing for exams or studying on your own, you probably have your own studying strategies, but I invite you to try this new one. I’m sure you’ll find it engaging and productive.

I ‘d like to thank Cristina Serafim for bringing wheeldecide to my attention.

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