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.
Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world- Nelson Mandela
I’m so excited. Truly. I am. It’s been months since the last time I taught a class full of students. I know it’s going to be hard but I’m really willing to get back in the swing of things. I’m also preparing material for my workshops, and I have a bunch of work to catch up on, but I’m anyway feeling really motivated. So, it seems I am off to a good start.
This isa lesson for upper- intermediate students (B2) about education. In this post, you will find
Some vocabulary you might need to revise/learn when discussing this subject.
A small challenge with some confusing terms related to education
A video about 6 problems of our education system
Speaking practice: questions to discuss
A written assignment
The warm-up. Setting the context
I don’t think there is a better way to introduce a topic than by showing students a picture that will probably spark interest and hook students into the lesson. That’s the aim of the picture below.
Show the picture and listen to student’ reactions. Probably, the first one would be “Me, neither”, but let’s dig in for more profound reactions.
Tell students to get into pairs and think of three reasons why this boy wouldn’t want to go to school. Allow them 2 or 3 minutes and the write their suggestions on the board and discuss them.
Ask students: Can you relate to the boy in this picture? What can you remember about your kindergarten? In your opinion, what’s the ideal age to start school?
Ask students to work in pairs. Write on the board the word “education” and ask students to brainstorm vocabulary related to the topic. Encourage them to mind map to help them revise vocabulary related to this thematic area. Allow them some minutes and get feedback from the whole class. I gave handout 1 to my intermediate students last year, so this year (B2), I will probably need to revise and add the terms in handout 2 explaining difficult vocabulary.
The challenge.Did you know?
In this part of the lesson, students are presented with some confusing terms.
Ask students, in pairs or small groups, to answer the following questions about education, where they will revise some of the vocabulary learned in the previous step. Encourage the use of new vocabulary.
You can get the PDF with the questions here, but isn’t it more appealing to use the Spark below.
Listening. The video: 6 problems with our school system.
Methodology: collaborative retelling
It is a longish video. It lasts almost 6 minutes so I’d suggest breaking it up and asking students to work on different parts of the video. In the video, 6 problems with our education system are mentioned.
This activity will be set as homework.
Introduction. In class, play the first 34 seconds of the video and tell students to give you a summary. They will probably say that the video shows how our system of education has become obsolete and is not preparing children for the real world. Ask them whether they agree with this idea.
Explain that everybody will need to listen to the introduction again (first 34 sec) which summarizes the content of the video.
Tell students the video talks about 6 problems our current education system is facing nowadays.
Form groups of six students and tell them that, in the next lesson, they will be working in groups of six and each of them will share what they have learned about their assigned problem and their opinion on whether this is a real problem in their country providing examples, if possible.Alternatively, you can form groups of 3 students and assign each student two problems.
Assign tasks to the different students in the group
Student 1: Industrial Age values 0:35-1:26
Student 2: Lack of autonomy 1:26-2:18
Student 3: Inauthentic learning 2:18-3:12
Student 4: No room for passion 3:12-4:15
Student 5: Differences in how we learn 4:15-4:40
Student 6: Lecturing 4:40-5:56
Writing. An opinion essay.
Write an opinion essay on the following:
Our current system of education is now outdated and ineffective.
Here’s a nice post I wrote last year which might help you.
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:
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.
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.
Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso
I had a full-blown, real, very much needed holiday. The last two months had been unbelievably hectic: end-of-term exams, working full-time during the week and some teacher training weekends and, to top it all, I was also writing a project to apply for a European grant, which unfortunately I won’t get.
So, there I was, fully enjoying my break , when I stumbled upon an article in El Pais about a short animated short film “Alike”, which had won a Goya award in 2016, and I was struck with how beautiful, touching and thought-provoking the video was. And I just knew I had to show it to my students, do something with it and well, here it is. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
About the lesson: In this lesson, aimed at B2 students and above, students watch a short silent film called Alike (7 minutes) with two main aims:
To give voice to the story and for this:
they will have to collaboratively write the story
they will have to collaboratively retell the story
2. To discuss some questions related to education, the promotion of creativity and daring to be different.
Step 1. Warm-up: Copi and Paste
Tell students they are going to watch a short video called Alike, where the main two characters are a father and a son whose names are Copi and Paste. Focus on the names, write them on the board and ask students to predict what the story could be about. Hopefully, students will come up with some of these ideas
Lack of ideas
Step 2. Introducing the video and the task
Explain that the video they are about to see is an animated short film (7 minutes) called “Alike” where there is no dialogue. However, the video is so touching and thought-provoking that words are not necessary; images and especially colours play an essential role and are enough to tell this beautiful story and to give us something to think about.
Play the video once asking students to focus on how the colours (or lack of colour) help tell the story. You can also tell them that, later in the lesson, they will need to narrate the story so they need to concentrate on everything that happens.
1. Form groups and assign each group a part of the story. The aim is first to write and then to tell their part of the story as it happens, but also to analyse the hidden meaning and the values it tries to highlight.
The day begins (0:06- 1:32)
At school/ at work ( 1:33-2:38)
Leaving the office/school (2:39-3:07)
The next days (3:08-3:52)
Copi’s surrender (3:53-5:00)
But one day (5:01-6:50)
Depending on the number of students, you can ask them to work in pairs or assign each group two parts.
2. Play the story once again for the students to take down notes and get stsrted with the writing task. Walk around offering help and guidance.
3. Play the story again to help students polish their part.
4. Ask each group to name a spokesperson and ask these students to come to the front of the class and give voice to the story as you play it once again. Be ready to pause the video as required.
“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.
If you think that teaching both, neither and either is a bit boring, I have good news for you. In fact, I dare say great news! It can also be fun!
It’s no secret on here that I love having fun in my classes but what people may not know is that although flexible when necessary, my classes are carefully planned and games are not played just to keep my students entertained; on the contrary, they are carefully designed and used to improve certain abilities and with a clear goal in mind. If at the same time we can have a nice time, that’s the icing on the cake.
This is a team game and it aims at practising the structures
Both/Neither of them
Both… and / neither…nor
2 white cards with YES written on one side and NO on the other
Ask students to work in pairs and give them Handout A and B.
Ask them to complete the answers.
Explain the context. You have just changed schools and you don’t know anybody in the class. You want to make new friends quickly and the best way, if not the most honest one, would be to agree with whatever the student sharing your desks says. So, five minutes before the next class starts you decide to strike a conversation with the student sitting next to you.
Start by introducing yourself and then ask your classmate some questions.
Your classmate will introduce himself and also ask some questions. Make sure you agree with everything he/she says using the structures.
So do I- to agree with a positive statement
Neither do I or I don’t either- to agree with a negative statement
Ask students to report back to the class using:
Both/Neither of us..
Both … and … / Neither … nor…
Ex. Both of us have one brother/We both have one brother/ Both Peter and me have one brother
Neither of us can speak Norwegian/ Neither Peter nor me can speak Norwegian