I like to consider myself a creative person and I’m always designing and devising activities to step away from the course book with the aim of sparking students ‘interest. Unfortunately, I’m not always in that mood. No problem :)Luckily, there are plenty of websites offering free resources that can really save the day.
These are my favourite go-to sites when I am feeling kind of lazy or uninspired, but still want to shine in class.
This site doesn’t probably offer an astonishing variety of discussion topics, but I find the questions in each set quite stimulating. Scroll down the page to find their selection of topics for your conversation classes.
This is an excellent site. The section for lesson plans specifically offers well-designed lesson plans to suit adults and teens. It also provides downloadable worksheets for both teachers and students.
Highly recommendable is also their Facebook page where tips, ideas, practical advice and lesson plans are offered.
I must have been in my teens, but I vividly remember my mother telling my father that someone called James Dean had called. The funny part was not only that the famous now-long- deceased actor had phoned my dad, but the way everybody pronounced his name, /jamez dean/, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, while me and my naughty siblings couldn’t help cracking up, repeating /james dean, james dean/while in stitches. (The Spanish pronunciationof the “j” is similar to the Scottish word “loch” or the German word “Bach”)
In case you are wondering, my parents (now almost 80) had never ever heard a word in English so everybody said /james dean/ just like that and never gave it a second thought. We, me and my three siblings, just liked fooling around. I know better now!! 🙂
About the lesson:
In this lesson, aimed at B2 students and above, students discuss their names and their personalities through some engaging activities.
In part 2, you have the possibility of asking students to use their own devices and complete the task in class or alternatively set the task for homework.
Part 1. Talking about your name
A video-based listening activity
Tell students they are going to watch a short extract from the Graham Norton show, where the actresses Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman discuss their birth names. Play from 0:00 until 2:50.
To be named ( after someone)
To name someone
A pet name
A middle name
Play the video once and ask students some comprehension questions. Play the video a second time if necessary.
Meryl Streep was named Mary at birth. How did she end up being called Meryl?
Is she happy about her surname? How does she wish it to be different?
Why is Nicole Kidman called Hokulani? Who is she named after?
Are you happy with your name? Why (not)?
Does your name have a meaning? If so, what does it mean?
Do you have a middle name? What is it?
Do you have a nickname? If so, what is it and how did you get it?
If you could change your name would you? What would it be? Why?
U2’s lead singer, Bono, called his daughter Memphis Eve and Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter is called Apple. Do you know any “normal people” with unique baby names? What about you, do you prefer giving your child a more traditional name or a unique name?
In some countries, when women marry they take their husband’s last name? What do you think of this?
Part 2. Talking about your personality
In this second part, we are going to revise and learn some more complex personality adjectives. To introduce personality adjectives we are going to use a website which analyses your personality based on the numerical value of your name. Whether students believe in it or not should be irrelevant, we are only interested in language acquisition here.
As this lesson is aimed at upper-intermediate students and above, students will have some prior knowledge of the most common personality adjectives, at least enough to get them started.
Ask students whether they think a name can shape their personality and refer them to this website where they’ll have to write their name in the space provided and read about their personality.
You can always ask them to read their horoscope, but this is “old news”, so I thought this might better spark students’ interest.
At home, students go to the website and find out about their personality based on their names. They look up any new words they don’t know, especially personality adjectives, as they will need to share this analysis with their classmates and say whether they agree or disagree with it, giving reasons.
This activity can be done in a traditional way i.e board and chalk. Students call out an adjective and you write the personality adjective on the board.
Again, with the aim of creating a more engaging activity, I’m going to use a free online tool called “Answergarden” to get instantaneous feedback. The tool is very easy to use. Here’s a tutorial in case you need it, but it really has a very friendly intuitive interface making it very easy to use, even for those teachers who are not too tech-savvy. The app takes students answers and creates a word cloud that can be exported or embedded. Students will need to use their own devices but, if necessary, every three students can share one.
Once you have created the word cloud in Asnwergarden, use the overhead proyector to display it and ask volunteer students to explain the meaning of the adjectives and say whether they think it is positive, negative or neutral.
Below, an example of a word cloud created with Answergarden.
Put students in pairs and ask them to share their name report from the website and say whether they agree or disagree with such analysis.
Ask them to discuss the following questions.
What kind of people do you usually get along with?
What kinds of personality traits do you hate?
Is your personality more similar to your mother’s or father’s?
Do you think we are born with our personalities, or do we develop them because of what happens to us?
Do you tend to fall in love with good looks or with a great personality?
Does one person’s character affect the personalities of the surrounding people? Are you influenced by anybody you know?
Does birth order affect personality? What qualities do a first-born child, a last-born and an only child have?
The Quiz: As Free as a Bird.
Let’s go the extra mile! In this quiz, you’ll find more colourful ways to talk about someone’s personality. In order to learn them, I suggest taking the quiz two or three times, the last time checking if just by looking at the picture students can remember the simile.
After doing the quiz, you can always ask some follow-up questions like:
Admittedly, I’m in sore need of a respite from the pressure of end-of-the-course classes, but it’s also true that I have a lot of ideas to try and share sitting on the drafts shelf of my mind. Little by little they will see the light.
My students struggle with English spelling. Who doesn’t? Little by little I can see they’re making progress, but unfortunately there are some spelling mistakes that I keep finding in my student’s exams. A quick search on the Internet reveals that the occurrence of these spelling mistakes has little to do with your mother tongue though, admittedly, the quiz is based on my students’ spelling mistakes who are, for the most part, Spanish.
What about you? Do you also make these mistakes? Let’s find out!
Some orthodox and unorthodox techniques to get rid of these spelling mistakes
Write them down. This is the dull, traditional but effective way of correcting spelling mistakes. Start with one mistake and write it down, at least 10 times. This was my mother’s favourite method. I guess it served two purposes: to help us learn the correct spelling and also to keep us quiet for a while. I can’t blame her. I have 4 siblings and there are 6 years between the youngest and the oldest.
Do the quiz. Do it once and write down all the targeted words you can remember. Take the quiz again. Correct the ones you misspelled. Repeat procedure.
Ask someone to help you. Write a list of the words you have trouble spelling. Write the translation in your own language next to each one. Ask someone in your family to call any of these words at random. Write them down and ask this person to correct them. Once you have mastered the spelling of the words, you might want to buy your helper a drink. He deserves it.
Write a short story. Write the words you seem unable to spell correctly. Make sure you write them down properly. Read them several times. Write a short story containing them and give yourself a high five if you got most of them right. Warning: don’t ask anybody to read it. The story will probably not make any sense at all.
Stick on the wallsof your house flashcards with the correct spelling. I used to do it with phrasal verbs when I was at uni. It worked but my flatmates were not very happy.
Use Quizlet or any other app to create flashcards. This app is great to work with spelling as it offers a variety of games to practise the correct spelling. I’ve made a short video tutorial. See it below.
Do your students sometimes feel as if they are not making enough progress? Do they sometimes have the impression their language learning has slowed? Do they feel they are stuck in the intermediate plateau?
While this feeling is completely normal, it can sometimes be very frustrating for our students. You might try to explain to them that this is just part of the natural process of learning a language, but the truth is that in their eyes, they are just not progressing as fast as they think they should, no matter how hard they try. It’s true that this perception is not real, but it never hurts to show them how unreal it is.
Today I want to share with you a little experiment I did with my students. Very simple, but very effective too. I did with my intermediate students, but you can easily try it with students of any level.
What’s the aim of the experiment?
to make students aware of how much they have learned at the end of a topic-based lesson. The idea is to brainstorm vocabulary related to the topic twice: at the very beginning and at the very end of the lesson(s) to make them realize how much they learn in the course of a single lesson. Making students aware of how much they are learning can dramatically improve teaching effectiveness as it is a powerful way to boost their motivation.
How long does it take?
5 minutes at the very beginning of the lesson and five more at the end of it. If you dedicate two or more sessions, 5 minutes at the beginning of the first session and 5 minutes at the end of the last one.
Do you need to use technology?
I am afraid you do. For this experiment, students need to use their mobile phones with internet connection or any other device with internet connection. The good news is that you just need one device every three or four students. I have also used Answergarden, which is a very simple free tool used for getting real time feedback from a group. It’s really very easy to use, but if you think you need extra help, you can watch a video tutorial in Teachertrainingvideos.com or read a brief tutorial here.
Go to Answergarden and create a New Answergarden (it literally takes less than one minute). In my case, I created an Answergarden with the title City Life vs Country Life as this was the topic we were about to study in class.
Ask students to work in pairs or in groups of three and use just one mobile phone.
Share the link with your students and ask them to type the url in their devices (as I have mentioned, my students used their mobile phones) You can use Google shortener to shorten the link.
Ask students to brainstorm vocabulary related to “living in the city and living in the countryside”, enter the vocabulary in the box and carefully check the spelling before submitting their answers. Allow 2 or 3 minutes.
Display on the overhead projector the answergarden. As students submit answers, click the Refresh tab on the bottom menu to update the answer display.
(below you can see the first wordcloud)
Go through the vocabulary they have submitted and make sure you save this first word cloud.
Teach vocabulary as any other ordinary day
Repeat procedure at the end of the lesson or the sessions dedicated to this topic.
Display both clouds and ask students to compare them and reflect on how much they have learned on the course of a single lesson. Contrasting both word clouds will undoubtedly not only motivate your students, but also will reinforce the idea of progress that is sometimes lost especially at the intermediate level.
Another idea with the same aim would be to ask students, at the end of a unit, to write everything they have learned in this unir. They’ll be just amazed at how much progres they have made.
I love working with posters and these two activities combine some of the elements that guarantee a successful lesson: movement, interaction, visuals and fun.
It is great if you need to revise a number of topics before an oral exam.
Aim: to revise several conversation topics integrating grammar, speaking and writing.
Level: B1 (intermediate and above)
Time: 50 minutes or more
Materials: post-it notes (alternatively, you can use pieces of paper+ Sellotape/blu-tack). I have used the free website Canva to create my posters. You can see them here. I have used the free website wheeldecide to create a wheel for the wh-words. (short video tutorial here)
Task. In this engaging activity students will need to work in pairs or small groups and provide the questions which will be later answered in groups about a certain topic.
Create as many posters as topics you want to revise and display them on the walls on the class. See mine above. You can also do this activity without posters by writing the different topics on pieces of paper, although obviously this is less appealing. Ideally, the topics should be written big enough to be seen from the back of the class.
Create a wheel containing wh- words and a yes/no question option. See mine below. If you don’t want to use a wheel, you can write the wh- words on pieces of paper and put them in a box.
This activity is divided into two stages
Direct students’ attention to the walls of the class and read the different topics to be revised.
Ask students to work in pairs or small groups.
Spin the wheel. Students in their groups choose a topic from the ones displayed on the walls and write a question about it beginning with the wh- displayed on the wheel. Give students sticky notes and ask them to write their question there, and then stick it next to the poster it refers to.
For example: the wheel displays How?. Group A decides to write a question about City life and Country Life. They might write something like: How are city people and country people different?
Spin the wheel again and repeat procedure as many times as you want. Each time students will need to choose a different topic.
Ask the groups to stand up and stand next to a topic. Students read the questions on the sticky notes and discuss them. Encourage the use of specific vocabulary.
After five minutes, ask the groups to rotate to the next topic.
Aim: to revise several conversation topics .
Level: B1 (intermediate and above)
Time: 30 minutes or more
Materials: I have used the free website Canva to create my posters. You can see them here
Task. In this fun activity students will alternate playing the roles of interviewer and interviewee while reviewing different topics before taking an oral exam.
For this review activity you’ll need to create posters on different topics and write two or three topic-related questions to be used in the interview.
Ask as many students as posters you have displayed on the walls of the class to stand up and stand next to a poster. One student, one poster. Let’s call them Student A. They are now the interviewees. There should be, at least, the same number of students sitting down. Let’s call them Student B. They are the interviewers.
Ask Student B to stand up and choose a student A to interview using the questions on the poster. Encourage Student A to elaborate on the answers. Allow 3-4 minutes.
Ask student B, i.e. the interviewer, to exchange places with Student A and become the interviewee and ask student A to rotate to the next topic and become the interviewer.
In this way, students alternate being the interviewer and interviewee while revising a variety of topics in a dynamic way.
Repeat procedure until all the topics have been covered.
(Note: this activity can also be done if you need to have two Students B in one station. They’ll just have to take the role of interviewer twice before becoming an interviewee.
Wouldn’t it be just awesome to have native speakers almost at your beck and call to answer any of your questions and for free?
That’s HiNative, a free question/answer platform where you can ask questions and get answers about language and culture from native speakers all around the world.
I came across this extremely useful website by chance and decided to check it out. It was Saturday, 9.30 in the evening and thought it was probably not the best time to post a question and get an answer. I was wrong. Within 5 minutes of posting my question, I had 4 answers from native speakers so imagine how fast it would be any other day of the week. Hinative is a give-and-take platform and though you don’t necessarily have to do it, the thing is that I also liked the idea of helping others with questions about my own native language and so the site got me entertained for a long while.
You can also download their free app on your mobile phone.
How does it work?
Sign up. You’ll be sent an email to confirm your account.
The interface is very simple and easy to use.
Home: Here you can find questions other users ask about your own native language. Remember that it’s a give-and-take platform and you’re also expected to help other users
Notifications: this is where you’ll be notified about new answers to your questions.
Profile: Here you can modify your profile and your settings
Ask: where you can pose your questions. Below you’ll see some of the templates you can use to make it easier for you to ask.
3. Ask your question. What kind of questions can you ask?
You can ask questions such as “what’s the difference between “scholarship” and “grant”? or How do you say “___” in English? or Please show me examples with the expression ” take it for granted”
So, I decided to use one of the templates and ask Please show me examples with the expression ” take it for granted”. This is what I got.
So, quite easy really, just register, ask your question and sit back while waiting for someone to get back to you. You won’t have to wait long.
In the intermediate and more advanced exam you will be presented with one, two or more pictures about the same topic but in clear contrast. It’s important to remember that you are not supposed to give a detailed description of everything that is happening in the picture(s). On the contrary, what is important is that you talk about the topic or idea suggested in the picture(s). If you are given for example 3 minutes to talk, use just one minute of this time to describe in general, using appropriate language and structures; the rest of the time should be dedicated to talking about the topic and giving your opinion.
BEFORE THE EXAM
Make a list of the most common topics asked in the exam.
Brainstorm vocabulary you can use related to this topic. Mind mapping works perfect here. I use the free site Goconqr.
Practise using sets of pictures in contrast. You can use my own selection here. (Scroll down)
If your problem is that you never know what to say, I suggest you have a look at some conversation questions you might be asked about the given topic. It will probably help you get started. Have a look at some common topics with questions here.
Time yourself to control the time it takes you to develop your ideas.
Record yourself and then listen to the recording and see how you can improve it. You can use the app Soundcloud, which allows you to stop the recording and write comments.
(You can write a comment on a track through the text box below the waveform that says ‘Write a comment…’ and press your return or enter key to send. The comment will appear at the point on the waveform where you first started typing. Alternatively, you can click any free space in the comment section to leave a comment at that specific point)
The day before the exam, revise all the topics and the vocabulary you can use.
Half an hour before the exam, don’t speak your mother tongue. Spend the time listening, doing some silent reading or pronunciation exercises in English.
DURING THE EXAM
Before you start speaking:
If you are allowed 1 minute to organise your ideas, use that minute. I have often seen candidates not taking this minute and making a mess of the exam just because they didn’t take the time to organise their ideas.
Scan the pictures and identify the topic. Sometimes there is a title or a heading that helps you.
Try to come up with three ideas about the topic suggested by the pictures. Expand on these ideas.
Taking the exam:
Begin by giving an overall idea of what the pictures are about, using a variety of structures, modals to indicate possibility and the useful “look” or “seem”.
Talk about the topic. It’s easier if you relate it to yourself, but if you don’t have this experience, talk about a friend’s or just lie. This is an English exam, not a lie detector.
“To me, old age is always ten years older than I am” John Burroughs
In this engaging lesson students will consolidate the use of future perfect and future perfect continuous through some engaging activities.
Show them a picture of how you see yourself when you are 70 and explain why you see yourself like that. (below you’ll see the picture I showed my students). After some laughs and a bit of explaining, ask students:
How do you see yourselves when you are 70? Do you look forward to getting old?
Ask them to talk in pairs for two or three minutes and get feedback.
THE POEM- WARMING by Jenny Joseph
This is a nice opportunity to introduce poetry in class.
Explain that the poem they are about to listen/read, written by Jenny Joseph, goes hand in hand with the picture of yourself shown above. After listening to the poem, ask students whether they think the author is looking forward to getting old and why.
It seems the poetess is rebellious, but she is only comfortable to ‘break the rules’ when she has the excuse of old age and senility. Ask students what they think about her attitude.
On the walls of the class display pictures of elderly people reflecting different attitudes towards life when they are old.
Ask students to stand up, have a look at all of them and decide which one will best represent their attitude to life. They now return to their desks.
Ask them to write two sentences using the future perfect and two sentences using the future continuous, based on the picture they have chosen.
Get students in threes now and ask them to explain their choice to their partners and use the 4 sentences they have written.
Students now work in small groups and answer the following questions about the future. Remind them that they need to elaborate on their answers giving reasons and using different expressions to give opinion. All the questions contain either a future perfect or a future continous form; encourage students to use these tenses in their answers.
I’m dropping in right quick to show you something that could be really interesting if you need to write a résumé or a CV.
A few days ago, one of my students asked me a favour. She was considering applying for a job outside Spain and wanted me to “have a look” at her résumé.
The truth is that it’s never easy to write this kind of document and even less if it needs to be written in a language that is not your own. So, a bit of help, guidance and a model to copy is always welcome.
Canvais a free graphic-design tool website I have been using for about two years to create beautiful engaging posters for my class, but Canva collection of content types is continually growing and among other content types, they have recently introduced templates for résumés which are fully editable. Make sure you choose the free templates unless, of course, you don’t mind paying a small fee. And remember you can change colours, fonts, insert text, images…etc. Below you can see a small tutorial I have created to help you get started.