Flowers by Miley Cyrus in my Class

I can’t. I couldn’t resist the temptation of using this song in class. I know you have heard it everywhere, as it has become a global hit in just a few days. And as it turns out, it is also in my English class.

How can I incorporate the song into my lesson plan in a way that goes beyond just a fill-in-the-blank exercise?  Easy. We are going to do an activity that combines some of my favourite ingredients:

  • A touch of technology
  • A game-like speaking activity
  • Singing? if not singing, lip-syncing.

STEP 1. Before the game: working on form
  • Show students the lyrics with the gaps and ask them to predict the lexical category or part of speech that could fit each of the 10 gaps in the song: is it a noun, an adjective, a preposition or maybe an article? Allow a couple of minutes for this task. You might want to show an example.

For example, I wrote a letter___ my mother (students will most likely agree, they’ll need   a preposition to fill in this gap)

STEP 2:  Defining and Guessing

  • Hide the gapped text. To begin the activity, the text will be hidden from the students’ view.
  • Students will work in pairs. Student A will face the board. Student B will face away and write on his/her notebook numbers 1 -10 (there are 10 gaps/words to be guessed)
  • Tell students you’ll write the missing words on the board in random order, but each of the words will be identified with a number.
  • Write the first of the missing words in the cloze on the board, and ask student A to define the word, or give a synonym or antonym for student B to guess and write down. For example, if the word on the board is “1. wrote”, Student A might say, “number 1 is a verb in the past, and you use a pen or a pencil to do it”. If Student B guesses the word, he will write in his notebook, next to number 1 wrote. If he cannot guess the word in the allotted time, he will write 1-___.
  • Tell students you’ll write a new word every 30 seconds.
  • Continue in the same way until you have written all the missing words on the board. Remember that the words should be written in random order.

STEP 3:  Fill-in the Gaps Race.

  • Once they have all the words, Students A and B will work together to complete the gapped test.
  • Place a bell on your table. The first pair to complete the task ( i.e. putting the words in the right order to complete the lyrics of the song) rushes to the teacher’s desk. The teacher checks that the exercise is correct and if it is, they ring the bell on your table (well, if you have a bell to ring). From that moment, the rest of the class will have one minute to finish the exercise.

STEP 3:  Singing or lip-syncing

Yes. If some students need a pit of persuading, tell them it is a very good exercise to improve pronunciation.

STEP 4: Conversation questions. We talk a bit now.

  • Can you describe a time when you experienced a heartbreak?
  • How did you cope with the feelings of heartbreak?
  • Have you ever helped a friend through a heartbreak? How did you support them?

The List: A Simple Retrieval Activity before a Speaking Exercise

I spend a possibly unhealthy amount of time designing activities that have to do with retrieval practice. I think I might be becoming an expert.  In my head, I design the idea and then, I am confronted with two options:

  1. Make it simple, using a simple sheet or slip of paper.
  2. Make it more appealing and spend time I don’t have looking for a nice design that in terms of learning is not going to make any difference.

Guess which one do I normally choose?  Yes! That one.

I always do some retrieval practice before giving my students a topic-related oral activity. I think it is essential to bring to the front of their minds what they have, with luck, stored at the back. Otherwise, in their conversations, I might not hear the desired newly-learned vocabulary but the old boring one from the previous level. And we don’t want that, do we?

This retrieval activity can be done using regular sheets of paper or this beautiful template on Canva designed by Sara T, which I have shamelessly modified to suit my needs. Here’s mine, which you can easily modify as long as you have a Canva Account.

Now, let me explain this very simple activity.

  • Level: can be done at any level. In my case, B1.
  • Topic: Education. Again. It can be adapted to any level.
  • Time: about 10 minutes

BEFORE THE CLASS.

  • Choose three words for each student in the group to revise. You will need a different list for each student in the group, so if you form groups of 4 students, you will need 12 words.
  • It should look something like this

THE ACTIVITY

  • Put students, ideally, into groups of 4.
  • Give each student a list.
  • Before the activity starts, they need to make sure they know how to define and pronounce the words on their lists. Allow some time for this part.
  • Student A starts defining his/her words, one by one. Students B, C and D write Student A’s name in the space provided (_____’s list) and their guess at the words being defined by Student A. Then, it is Student B’s turn, then Student C and finally Student D.
  • Once all the students have finished describing the words on their lists, it is time to check how many they have guessed correctly.  You can do it as a whole class, with Student As re-explaining the definitions and any other student in the class volunteering their guess or, alternatively, you can let them do it at their pace, in their groups.
  • Each correct guess scores 1 point.
  • And well, you know, a round of applause or a sweet for the winners.

Now, they are ready to use this vocabulary in a speaking activity

Mind-Blowing Artificial Intelligence to Make your Day

Artificial intelligence (AI) has taken giant steps in the past month. The tool I bring you today is mind-blowing, even terrifying, and I am not exaggerating even a bit! I’ve been trying the website for a few days now, and I have already told all my friends about it, and now I am telling you. I cannot keep a secret this big! This is way more than a time-saver!

The website is

  • Free
  • Requires registration and some verification. Do it. It is worth it.
  • I have tried it in Spanish English, French, and German.
  •  Its URL is https://openai.com/blog/chatgpt/. Click on TRY to SIGN UP:
What can this tool do? The question is, what can’t it do?

Some things I have tried:

1. Write a formal letter to a client complaining about a product.(Personal note: my sis is constantly

2. Write an essay about unusual customs. Then I asked it to write the same thing in a more informal style, and then again using only 50 words. We can also ask it to write in a way that a 6-year-old would understand (for lower levels).

3. (personal) How to fix a wooden table bitten by a dog.

4. A list of the advantages and disadvantages of using a mobile phone in the classroom.

5. Vocabulary for C1 education (it was very basic).

6. Write 5 multiple-choice questions about education vocabulary with four options.

7. Correct this sentence: He took me  granted because doesn’t love me.

8. Explain the difference between curriculum and syllabus so that a child would understand it.

In short, the list of things it can do for you is endless.

Limitations: ChatGPT sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers.” So while the material might come out sounding original and authentic, there is a good chance it may also be wrong. Also, it does not have access to current events or up-to-date information about specific countries. Its knowledge is based on a snapshot of the internet from 2021, and it is not able to browse the web or access new information.

In a Wink: Create Taboo Cards Magically

It feels downright unfair that I figured out how to make the quickest taboo cards-easily, faster than you think, no-tech knowledge required, the kind you want to create again and again — and you’re only finding out about it today.

Are you ready for some magic? Here we go!!!

Creating the Cards

  • Go to https://vocab.today/worksheets/taboo/. It’s free, and you don’t even need to register.
  • Enter the word you want to target in the panel on the left. Let’s say, the word is “student”. Click enter and see how quickly the cards are generated with the taboo words, ie.the forbidden words.  Continue in the same fashion with all the words you want students to guess.
  • Save them, or print them, straight away; right click of your mouse and choose the option Print. Now you have two options:
  1. Print them straight away
  2. Save the cards as a PDF for future print.

IMOORTANT: If it doesn’t work with the browser you are using (Chrome), try using another one (Firefox).  You also need to bear in mind that it doesn’t work with compounds, ie, it will work with “arrogant” but not with “laid-back”.

How to play Taboo.

  • Divide the class into even groups of 4-6 students and ask them to choose a Team name.
  • Place a set of cards face down on the table.
  • A team member (the clue-giver) is chosen from the first group and brought to the front of the class.
  • The clue-giver takes the first card and describes it to their teammates (the guessers)  without using any of the taboo (forbidden)  words in it. If the guessers guess, they score a point for their team, Then, the card is set aside and the clue-giver picks another one to describe.
  • If the clue-giver says a forbidden word, the other team scores a point.
  • Buzzer the timer after 90 seconds, count the number of words correctly identified and list them beneath the team name on the board.
  • When time runs out, another team chooses a player to continue the game.

TRICK: If you’d rather use digital Flipcards, as I have many times in the past, you can still make good use of this tool by copy/pasting the suggested taboo words into the Flipcards. This will allow you to use the tool in a way that is convenient and efficient for you.

Error Awareness Chart in Written Production

Glaring, serious, minor, common, grammatical, spelling, typing errors. Who doesn’t make them?

I must admit that I don’t dedicate as much time in class to honing my students’  writing skills as I should. Even if it is only for 30 or 35 minutes, assigning my pupils a writing assignment in class tends to disrupt the lesson’s flow. So, my students probably don’t write enough, but this is about to change. Well, in fact, I have already taken steps to make it happen.

But more important than making them write is the instructions I should be giving them to help them get better at this skill, and that includes many things, from using the newly acquired vocabulary and structures in a sort of guided writing to making them reflect on their errors. And it is this last part, making students aware of their errors, that has prompted me to write this post.

The truth is that it is not the first time I have tried some strategies to make my students reflect on their written errors  (you can read all about it here) but after reading a brilliant post by Gianfranco Conti and inspired by his own error awareness chart, I have decided to try something similar and see how it works.

Below, you can see the chart I have designed. I am sharing with you two links.

  1. View Link
  2. Template link: where you will be able to edit my titles and fully modify them.

Error Awareness Chart by cristina.cabal

So, what’s the idea?

  • First, the usual stuff: you give your students a written assignment, they hand it in, you spend an awful lot of time correcting their mistakes, and then, hand it back to them. So far, so good.
  • Now, together with their marked written work, give them a copy of the chart below and explain how, hopefully, the chart is going to help them improve their writing skills.
  • The first time, you will need to go through the list of errors on the left. Make sure they understand what each error refers to.  Tell them the numbers 1-9 in this chart correspond to the different essays they will be handing in throughout the year.
  • So, say it is Essay 1. Students will have a look at their mistakes and put a tick in the boxes where they have made a mistake.

For example, they should tick the box Subject-Verb Agreement if one of their errors is                                                         People makes difficult decisions

And the box   if they write something like: He went at home

This same procedure is repeated every time you hand back a marked written assignment. This strategy does not guarantee immediate success. That would be wishful thinking. Success at writing is something students must work on. And hard.