Tag Archives: writing

Storytelling Contest. Help me Find the Winner

About two weeks ago, to celebrate Halloween, I decided to set up a contest where my students could try their hands at writing a paranormal story. The task was to write a story beginning with:

I don't believe in paranormal, but one day...

I want to thank my students for making the contest a resounding success as 58 students wrote 58 great stories. Thank you very much for your effort. Your contribution was vital to the success of the contest.Now, it’s time to choose a winner!

I have selected these 4 stories. Please, read them and help me pick a  winner. After reading the four stories, you can vote. Please, vote only once!

Lesson Plan: I don’t believe in paranormal but….

Fall has finally hit!This is Halloween’s week and it seems the weather has finally chilled out and stopped being silly. The truth is that I don’t see myself telling scary stories in class while the sun outside is shining bright. It just wouldn’t do! Telling scary stories requires a dark, grey, gloomy day; one cannot be telling scary stories and thinking about going to the beach.

Level: B2

Aim:

  • to introduce and revise vocabulary used to talk about paranormal or unnatural phenomena
  • to give students’ some listening and speaking practice.
  • to develop students’ writing skills

STEP 1. INTRODUCTION

Write Paranormal on the whiteboard. Ask students if they know what it means (if necessary, explain that a paranormal activity is not scientifically explainable), and ask them if they believe in paranormal phenomena.

STEP 2. LISTENING COMPREHENSION. A PARANORMAL STORY.

Ask students if they know what a Ouija board is and ask them whether they, or anybody they know, have ever played with a Ouija board. I have a real experience to share with them but in case you don’t, there are plenty of terrifying stories online you might want to share with your students (just to build the right kind of atmosphere).

  1. Play the first 0:53 seconds of the video and ask students to predict what will happen next. Listen to their predictions and then, play the rest of the story.
  2.  Play the video a second time and ask the following questions:

True or False? Justify your answer

  1. The narrator and his brother had just bought a Ouija board
  2. The narrator’s brother was willing to play with the board
  3. The first time, the narrator’s brother moved the planchette.

Answer the following questions in your own words:

  1. Why did they decide to play a second time?
  2. What is the ideal environment for a Ouija board?
  3. Why did the narrator leave the room?
  4. Why did he run back to the room and what did he see?

 

STEP 3. SPEAKING

Before asking students to discuss the questions you might want to pre-teach or revise some vocabulary.

  • To set the mood: gloomy, desolate, haunted, abandoned, scary, spooky, frightening, creepy and supernatural
  • To say how you feel:  horrified, terrified, petrified, panic-stricken, trembling, paralysed, shuddering
  • To talk about “people”: a ghost  ( a ghostly figure), an apparition, a shadow, an entity, an (evil) spirit, a hallucination, a medium, a UFO.

Ask students to work in groups and answer the following questions.

  • Do you believe in ghosts? If not, how do you explain people’s claims to have seen them?
  • Have you experienced the feeling of déjà vu? How do you explain this strange feeling?
  • Telepathy is communication directly from one mind to another. Is it possible to communicate this way?
  • Sometimes, the police use psychics to help them. What do you think about this?
  • Do you believe in hypnosis? What happens when a person is hypnotized?
  • Can people predict the future? Have you ever had a feeling about the future that turned out to be true?
  • Have you ever visited a fortune teller?
  • What do you think about UFO sightings?
  • Are you a superstitious person? What things are you superstitious about?

Most of the questions are from this site. 

STEP 4. WRITING CONTEST. I DON’T BELIEVE IN PARANORMAL, BUT….

I love telling stories, don’t you?  Well, the heading in this Step 4 needs no explanation. A contest.  A contest which will give me the opportunity to revise narrative tenses and connectors to help students sequence their ideas.

I’m going to use this excellent post from Thought.Co

A good contest, deserves a nice poster. Here it is.

Lesson Plan: Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world

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 is a 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?

The vocabulary

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 them to work in pairs and discuss the questions posed in the flip cards. Award 1 point to the student who has guessed the right answer.
Flash Card Deck created by Cristina Cabal with GoConqr
 

Speaking. The questions.

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.

Education

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.

  1. 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.

2. Homework.

  • 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.

Five Steps to Writing an Excellent Opinion Essay

Thanks for reading!

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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Photo via Visual hunt

2 Superb Activities with Posters to Review Topics before Oral Exams

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.

 

ACTIVITY ONE: 

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.

Preparation:

  • 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.

In class

This activity is divided into two stages

Stage 1.

  • 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.

Stage 2

  • 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.

 


ACTIVITY TWO: 

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.

Preparation:

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.

In class

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.

Hope you enjoy the activities!

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Are we Killing or Promoting Creativity? A Collaborative Writing and Speaking Lesson

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:

  1. 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)Creativity
  • Imagination
  • Routine
  • Lack of ideas
  • Plagiarism
  • Inspiration
  • Deception

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.


Step 3.Working on vocabulary.


The next step will focus on teaching/revising the vocabulary they will need to know to write the story.  Below, some flipcards I have used with my students.
Flash Card Deck created by Cristina Cabal with GoConqr

 


Step 4. Collaborative Writing and Retelling

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.

(below my students performing)

via GIPHY

 


Step 4. Speaking


For this activity there should be a supportive atmosphere within the class.

Form groups to discuss the following questions. When all the questions have been discussed, the groups should report back to the whole class.

  • Have you ever done something different or behaved differently from your peers?
  • Do you remember a time when, for some reason, you stood out as different?
  • Do you remember a time when you went against the established rules?
  • What’s something you know you do differently than most people?
  • Do you think the way education is organized destroys children’s creativity?
  • Do you think education for children under seven is excessively focused on the curriculum?
  • Do you think that be learning to be creative is more important than knowing how to spell correctly?

Five Steps to Writing an Excellent Opinion Essay

Doesn’t the title itself already encourage you to start writing straight away? Just kidding! I guess you need a  stronger push than just a title.  Well, I can provide this little push in the form of real examples of my students’ essays after following all these 5 steps. Just skip to Step 4 if you don’t believe me and bear in mind when you read their essays, they are B1 (intermediate) students.


Step 1. The difference between an opinion essay and a persuasive essay.

Opinion essay: in an opinion essay the writer states his opinion and supports it with facts, evidence and examples but he doesn’t try to convince the reader.

Persuasive essay: in a persuasive essay the writer tries to convince the reader to agree with his opinion. The author uses logic and facts, definitions and examples in order to persuade the reader to share his point of view.


Step 2. Top tips for writing an opinion essay

1 Basic do’s when writing an opinion essay

  • Introduce each paragraph with a topic sentence, outlining the main ideas.
  • Do not write about advantages or disadvantages or points for or against.
  • Write in formal style.

2. Basic don’ts when writing an opinion essay

  • Don’t use colloquial expressions.
  • Don’t use short forms.
  • Don’t use emotive vocabulary.

3. Decide whether you agree or disagree with the title. Try to think of at least two or three good reasons to support your opinion, including examples of why you think the alternative point of view is wrong.

4. Organise your essay into clear paragraphs.

  • Introduction: Introduce the topic and give your opinion. Say whether you agree or disagree with the statement.
  • Body: 2 or 3 paragraphs. For each paragraph give a reason to support your opinion.
  • Conclusion: Summarize your ideas and repeat your opinion using different words.

5.  There is a process to writing. Try to follow it. It will help you a lot


Step 3. Useful expressions and linkers

 

Download the pdf here


Step 4. Examples of opinion essays written by B1 students

Three essays written by B1 students to help you get started.


Step 5.  22 opinion essays to choose from

Your turn!  Choose from one of the options and write an opinion essay.

Plan your content and organise it in four or five paragraphs (introduction, reasons and conclusion).

Write your CV or Resume with Free Editable Templates

Do you dread having to write your résumé or CV?

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.

Canva is 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.

Some Activities to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives

I always claim that English grammar is easy, especially when compared to the Spanish or French grammar, but it gets a bit messy when it comes to verbs followed by infinitive or gerund.

The easy thing to say is that

  • some verbs are followed by infinitive (promise to go)
  •  some verbs are followed by gerund (can’t stand ironing).

But then we find that,

  • some other verbs are followed by infinitive or gerund with no change of meaning (start to study/start studying)
  • while some others are followed by infinitive and gerund with a change of meaning (stop to smoke/stop smoking)

And to add insult to injury,

  • some verbs are followed by infinitive with to (offer to help)
  • some others by infinitive without to ( make me study)
  • some verbs are followed by gerund, but if there is an object pronoun in between the verb and the gerund, then the gerund becomes infinitive (recommended reading / recommended her to read) …

Amazing, isn’t it?

Well, I suppose there’s nothing we can do about it, so let’s get down to some serious studying.


  • Level: Intermediate
  • Time: 60 minutes

THE GRAMMAR.

      THE PRACTICE:

Exercise 1. The Quiz


 


Exercise 2: The Rewriting Exercise


 


3.  Speaking and/or Writing: Storytelling Competition


  • Go to wheeldecide.com. Ask students to tell you verbs followed by gerund first, and then verbs followed by the “to” infinitive. Feed the wheel with these verbs.
  • Explain that in this activity they will need to seat in a circle in groups of 4.
  • Explain that you will write on the board the beginning of a story and then, in their groups, they will need to continue it.
  • Write on the board the beginning of a story. You can use this Short Story Generator.
  • Spin the wheel.
  • To make sure students will use the verb in the correct way, ask them to tell you whether the verb displayed in the wheel is followed by infinitive or gerund.
  • The oldest person in the group will start telling the story using the target verb in the wheel.
  • Give the student one minute to continue the story and then spin the wheel again for the next student.
  • If a student cannot come up with an idea to continue the story, he’s eliminated.
  • Continue until there is only one student left. This student will be the winner if he manages to give the story in his group a suitable ending.

Here’s the wheel I have used with my students.

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Integrating Technology for Active Learning: An Activity Using Google Slides and Padlet.

There is no denying I use a lot of technology in my classes. It gives me great pleasure to discover a new tool and design an activity around it. I really think this is what keeps me motivated after so many years teaching. The challenge that mastering a tool brings and the possibility to use it in my classes to boost students’ motivation and spark their interest is certainly something that keeps my own motivation alive and kicking

Today, I would like to share with you an activity that I did with my intermediate students. I loved designing the activity and the way my students got involved activating their communicative and writing skills during the whole process.

Tools used:

Aims:

  • to develop students’ communicative skills
  • to develop students’ writing skills
  • to revise vocabulary related to “work”
  • to integrate technology in the classroom
  • to encourage collaborative work

Before the class.

I created a Google presentation using Google Slides and wrote the content for the first two slides. I also added three extra blank slides (see below)

I created three Padlets and called them: Work 1, Work 2, and Work 3

In each of these 3 blank slides I inserted a link to one of these Padlets.

 

During the class.

 One. I asked students to form groups of 4. I have 12 students in this class, so I had three groups, one for each blank slide. If you have more students, you can easily add another slide to accommodate two more questions. I asked each group to write three or four questions related to “work”. I certainly encouraged them to come up with some juicy questions and avoid simple ones such as “Where do you work?”

Two. Once they have written their questions, the groups read them aloud and the class decides on the best two from each group to keep.

Three. At this point, there are two things you can do

  1. Assign each group one of the three slides and ask them to write their two questions, being careful not to delete the link to Padlet. Share the link for your Google Drive presentation making sure you share the link with editing permissions (read and write).  I have shortened the link using Google shortener.
  1. If you think this step might be complicated for your students, you can always write them yourself. Have the groups dictate their two questions and move on to the next stage.

Four: Speaking. Ask students in their groups to discuss the questions in the three slides encouraging them to use work-related vocabulary. Get feedback.

Five: Set homework.

Show the presentation from the very beginning where they will see the instructions for their homework.

Explain that at home they will need to answer one of the two questions in each slide. They can do it by writing their answers or by recording them.

Remind them it is the same shortened link you shared with them in Three.

See one of the Padlet below

 

Hecho con Padlet
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