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The World in 2012: Predict this!

3 Jan

It’s that time of year when the media maelstrom coalesces around a single topic – the future!  What’s going to happen in the next twelve months?  What can we all expect from the next year?  Will we face triumph or disaster?  And when we look back on it all in December, what will we have achieved?  And just how many “future forms” can you cram into a short paragraph anyway?

Rather than just asking your learners to “predict” the future, which let’s face it is difficult enough at the best of times, let alone in another language…  it’s probably best just to discuss the future for two reasons:  (1)  you immediately broaden out the number of possible “future forms” that you can focus on  (2)  you open things up to discussing the implications of events – so not only “what will happen?”  but also “and what does it all mean for us?”

Over at Slideshare, they’ve collated “12 presentations with predictions” which could form the basis of useful discussions (or comparisons with learner predictions?).  Their 12 presentations are aimed more at the business / tech crowd.  Probably not so good with younger learners

Here’s their top pick – Ross Dawson’s “What to expect in 2012″:

The Economist publishes an annual magazine “The World in … ” which is divided up by topic area and by geographic location.  This year’s copy has a lot of online content here: – though some of it may be premium paid for content – check before using!

The biggest / oldest prediction concerning 2012 is of course the Mayan calendar:  for more info check out this wikipedia article.  Two further websites that focus specifically on the forthcoming end of the world that might be of interest (though I don’t vouch for their accuracy) are :  and

The BBC has a nice review of the best of the British Press predictions for 2012 here:, while they include the thoughts of their top correspondents on the likely big stories of 2012 here:

Santa’s Xmas Present Swap – an activity for all ages!

21 Dec

And compliments of the season to you all!

This is my xmas present to anyone still teaching out there – but equally, this could make a really good first lesson back in the new year activity.  Santa’s Xmas Present Swap!

(Before the class, you’ll need to chop up some scrap paper, so that each learner in the class will have SIX bits of paper each.)

(1)  Ask the learners what they want / are hoping to get for Christmas – in terms of presents from other people, though if anyone comes up with “world peace” you could extend the discussion to see how likely they think that is…  This could be in pairs, or open class.

(2)  Ask the learners if that always get what they want.  If not, what do they get instead?  Socks?  Soap?  Have they ever had a present they were truly horrified to receive?  This could be broadened out into a discussion on what constitutes a good present or a bad present.

(3)  Give the learners the slips of paper, so that each learner has six slips.  Tell the learners they’ll write one thing on each bit of paper, so on one bit of paper they’ll write ” Justin Bieber CD” and on another they’ll write “a yellow woollen scarf” and so on.  Three of the bits of paper should be things they would like to get this christmas.  The other three things should be things they don’t want, necessarily, but which they think they might get.

(4)  When they’re done, the learners scrunch up all the bits of paper into little balls and give them to the teacher, who puts them in a container of some kind (a santa hat if you have one handy!).

(5)  The teacher then elicits / inputs the negotiation langauge for the swapping activity – examples might include:

  • Would you like a __________?
  • Do you want to swap a __________ for a _______?
  • If you give me _________ I’ll give you ___________.
  • Ask the learners for other ideas….

(6)  The teacher then throws all the balls of paper up in the air, so that they are scattered across the classroom.  A brief mad undignified scramble then ensues as the learners grab as many items as they can – make sure they know they should only take six.  If someone has more, select one from them at random and redistribute it to whoever’s missing an item.

(7)  The learners then mingle and swap their gifts until such time as they’re happy with everything they have in their hands.

(8)  Content feedback:  Who got what?  Who’s happy and who’s unhappy?  Language feedback – reformulation and extension of learner utterances during the mingle task.

And on a personal note – that’s probably my last post for this year.  It is, after all, the holiday season and I’m quite looking forward to putting the laptop away for a bit and relaxing in front of the fire!  It’s been a great year and I’d like to thank everyone who reads this for their support and for the comments and feedback I’ve been getting.
See you all again in 2012!

The First day of Geekmas: A short talk on using Poetry…

20 Dec

On the first day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  a short talk on using poetry…..

It’s the last / first day of the teflgeek Christmas countdown and it’s been a fun, somewhat introspective, quite stressful on occasion but ultimately I hope, useful, Christmas countdown.  I’m not sure I’ll be repeating the experience again next year – at least not in this form!  So a reminder of what we’ve had so far:

I thought that, in a twist and given how I’ve massacred the poetic form in creating spurious rhymes in attempting the twelve days of geekmas, I’d end with a short talk on poetry.  I’ve put this together as a you tube video – it’s the first video cast I’ve attempted, so any feedback on technique etc gratefully appreciated!

Any and all links referred to in the presentation, plus a load more besides, are given below.  Enjoy!

References and further ideas:

 poetryclass – “taking the fear out of poetry” –

A wealth of teaching resources, articles and ideas on how and why to use poetry with classes.  Designed more for students within the UK education system, but resources are graded by year group, so you’ll be able to find some suitable resources for most ages and levels.

The Poetry Express – poetry writing for 7-11year olds –

Again, aimed more at the UK education system.  Poetry Express has a lot of stuff that’s aimed directly at the kids developing their abilities to write poetry as well as teaching resources that approach poetry from a cross-curricular viewpoint.

This is a just a simple list of poetry workshop ideas – more ideas to stimulate poetry creation than developing ability per se.

This is a useful and interesting, but more theoretical, article on how and why to use poetry in the classroom.

The Poetry Zone:

Another kids based site – with competitions, poetry theme ideas, a place for kids to upload their poems to and usefully, a teacher zone with further links and ideas to help you use poetry in the classroom.  Look at classroom resources and “Poetry Kit” by Jan Dean for some great ideas! ( I really liked the “mismatch” idea!)

Forms of Poetry:

This is an excellent resource for different types of poetry and poetry ideas – from limericks to haiku, language based  (e.g. used to), shape poems, parts of speech poems – the list goes on and one.  Just scroll down to see what there is to see.  Strongly recommended!

Teaching Grammar Creatively.  Gerngross, Puchta & Thornbury, 2006 Helbling Languages.

A great grammar teaching ideas source, many of the outcomes are based around the idea of poems or poetry creation.  Repetition of a grammatical form, so it seems, can lead to some great poetry!

Poem into Poem, Maley & Moulding, 1985, Cambridge University Press.

Possibly a little dated in terms of content, but the ideas included are still very definitely worth taking a look at.  “We ignore the poetic function of language at our peril.  It is the cutting edge of linguistic creativity and innovation, and the key to a feel for the soul of a language.”  Page 134.

Lindsay Clandfield has an excellent in-depth article on using texts in the classroom, looking at TAVI / TALO / TASP in more detail.

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Five Favourite Things

12 Dec

On the fifth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  FIVE FAVOURITE THINGS

Welcome to the teflgeek Christmas celebration!  Themed around the classic Christmas carol – but going backwards, mostly because it’s more like a countdown that way:

12 blogs worth clutching

11 tips for writing

10 tricks for reading

9 pretty pictures

8 talks worth watching

7 simple statements

6 games worth playing

and five of my favourite things.  No brown paper parcels tied up with string here – just five simple activities that I use all the time and can help break up the monotony of the lesson.  I don’t claim authorship of any of these – in fact most of these can be found in the one extent copy of ” diht aet álaeran englisc to aelfolc” – a primer that was in wide use after the 1066 invasion of England after which none of the Norman lords and masters could talk to their Anglo Saxon serfs and had to arrange hasty lessons.  “diht aet álaeran englisc to aelfolc” can be found on the shelves at the Bodleian Library, next to a copy of what appears to be the publisher proofs for the very first edition of Headway Elementary (or héafodaerneweg folcsóp).

(1)  Backs to the Board.  

I’ve mentioned previously, how this activity was demonstrated to me on the CELTA and how I use it with virtually every class (though sometimes I give it a rest to avoid overkill!).  The following description is from the teflgeek “Activity Reference

Essentially a vocabulary review game / activity.  Divide the class into two teams (they can choose a team name?).

Take two chairs and turn them round so that anyone sitting in them will have their backs to the board.  One person from each team comes up and sits in the chair.  The teacher writes a word on the board and the other members of the team try to explain the word, without actually saying the target word.  The first person (sitting in the chairs) to say the correct word wins one point for their team.  Change the person sitting in the chair after each word, so that all team members get a chance to be the guessers.  You can use this with single vocabulary items or with collocations, phrasal verbs, or even full sentences!

Rules:  People sitting in the chairs may not look at the board.  Explainers may not say the word OR ANY FORM of the word – for example if the target word is “teacher”, teams cannot say “teaching” / “teach” / “taught” and so forth.  The only language allowed is English (or your target language).  No mime or gesticulation is allowed.  No writing things down.  no saying the first letter of the word or spelling the words.  Points can be taken off for infractions!

Obviously, these rules can be relaxed for lower levels.  Fun for all ages and abilities!

(2)  Running Dictation

I have a suspicion this one might have come from Nick Kiley, almost ten years ago in China.  A running dictation is a great way to get your classes up and moving – especially if they’ve been sat there for a while.  It practices all four skills and because there’s a focus on accuracy (i.e. correct transfer of information) can be a nice way to introduce a language point.

What you do – take a target text, not too big, probably about 75-100 words (this will depend on class age and ability – I’ve done this with a list of ten words, or with ten short sentences, or with a short letter).  Stick a copy of the text somewhere nearby, ideally outside your classroom – the door to the DoS office is a favourite location – but out of immediate communication range.

The learners work in pairs – person A runs to the text, tries to remember as much of the text as they can, returns to their partner and tells them what they can remember.  Person B listens and writes it down.  When person B has finished writing, they run to the paper and read the next bit before returning to tell person A who writes it down and so on.  At the end of the activity, you can ask pairs of learners to compare their texts for accuracy, or if you’ve extracted the text from the coursebook, they can check it against the original.

Generally, I use these as a means of providing the target language, so I tend to follow the activity with some kind of language mining task – for example if the text had been an anecdote designed to highlight narrative tenses, the task might be to sequence the events in chronological order.

(3)  The Domination Game

It sounds worse than it is….   And it’s another one I’ve mentioned before, but seeing as that was two days after this blog first started I don’t think anyone noticed.  So I feel no guilt about reproducing it here!  This one is, I think a teflgeek original:  I originally cooked it up as a comparatively fun way of doing revision / practice of an entire FCE Use of English paper without melting the learners’ brains or causing everyone in the room to lose the will to live….

The term “comparatively fun” is used advisedly – this one can easily run past it’s “use by date” if you let it – if you feel that learners are beginning to shift uncomfortably around, then just cut the whole thing short and declare a winner!

As mentioned, it was originally designed for an FCE Use of English, but it can be used with absolutely any Grammar / Vocabulary revision task – basically all you need is 42 questions.  In the past I’ve used it with three separate “revision” pages of a course book – as long as the question references are clear, it’s all good!

Basically, the game is a combination of “blockbusters” and “reversi”.  Teams have to try and get the greatest number of connected squares they can.  Teams win a square by answering a question correctly.  The strategy element is introduced as teams can obviously block each other, cut each other off – and steal squares from each other by surrounding a square on two separate sides.

A full procedure, game grid and question reference sheet are attached and available to download as a pdf file here:

teflgeek – The Domination Game

(4) The Never-Ending Mingle

We’ve all done those “Find Someone Who” tasks, where learners walk around the classroom with a bit of paper, asking the same question to ten different people – and usually getting the same short and effective answer – “No!”  The never-ending mingle avoids some of this by imposing two simple rules on the activity  (1)  learners aren’t allowed to ask a question to the same person twice  (2)  Learners swap cards after each Q& A encounter.  This way, learners will ask as many questions are there are people in the classroom, quite possibly talking to each person as many times as there are people!

Variations: (1)  let the learners think up the questions.  (2)  learners think of more than one question (three seems like a nice number)  (3)  learners include a follow up question (to avoid short Yes / No type encounters)

Feedback:  “John, what was the most interesting thing somebody told you?”

(5)  Reason to believe

This is one of my ultimate cover lessons – particularly useful at short notice.  I do it at least once with every class I teach, in one form or another.  It’s one of those that works better at higher levels, but I think could work anywhere from Intermediate upwards, as it relies on learner ideas rather than language per se.  There are opportunities for language input built in, and these could be developed further if necessary.

Essentially it’s an opposition debate, where learners debate the things they believe in – or not as the case may be!

Downloadable pdf version of the plan is attached here:  teflgeek – Reason to believe.

On another note:  Reason to Believe was my very first post on this blog!

So these were a few of my favourite things – what’s your favourite five?

(NB  Apologies to all students and teachers of “Old English” for the very dodgy book titles at the top of the post….  You can blame my general ignorance of old English grammatical structure and inappropriate use of the Old English Translator for any and all mistakes contained within!)

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Nine pretty pictures (#eltpics)

6 Dec

On the ninth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  nine pretty pictures

Welcome to the teflgeek Christmas celebration!  Themed around the classic Christmas carol – but going backwards, mostly because it’s more like a countdown that way:

12 blogs worth clutching

11 tips for writing

10 tricks for reading

And nine pretty pictures – or rather some ideas to use with images and some images to use with them!

All of the pictures used below in this post have come from the excellent #eltpics Flickr photostream and are reproduced here under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) licence.

potential by @hartle

(1)  Make me a story – using either a single image or with a series of images (which can give a greater degree of support), learners come up with a story based on the image(s).  By using superlame to add speech bubbles and captions, and by being creative with the windows snipping tool, it is possible to create comic book sequences.  But pen and paper can also work!

Decorated bicycles at Children's Perahara, Tangalle, Sri Lanka, July 2010 by @CliveSir

(2)  Caption Competition – take in a series of images, ideally one per learner in the class, but fewer if you have a large class, and stick them up around the room.  Chop some scrap A4 into sentence sized strips so that each learner has one strip per picture.  So, if you have 12 learners and 12 pictures up, you’ll need 144 strips of paper…  Or you could just give each learner 4 strips of paper, which would be quicker and more manageable.  Learners move around the room independently and when they feel inspired by a picture, they write a caption for it on one of their strips of paper.  Captions don’t need to be humorous (though they can be!).  After a set amount of time, collect all the strips back in and redistribute them, making sure learners don’t have any of their original strips.  Learners then try to stick the captions up next to the picture they think it refers to.  This can then be followed up with learners checking to see whether their captions got put in the right place or not and explaining why they wrote what they wrote.  Plus any language feedback.

Knitting and crocheting-Huayhuash, Peru by @VictoriaB52

(3)  Role play Prompts  I saw this done in a session a couple of years ago – I sadly can’t remember who gave the session or what it was on…  – but I remember the activity.  Using a picture of Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Marriage”, we put ourselves in the positions of the people in the painting and then came up with questions to ask each other, which then lead into a sort of role play as we acted out being the people in the pictures.  It was great fun and a really nice way of helping learners to access imagery, particularly for learners about to do exam speaking tasks involving pictures.

Street market, Copacabana, Bolivia by @sandymillin

(4)  Labeltastic  Something that occurred to me as an incredibly simple and effective way of using pictures, which I confess I’ve not used yet – the create-your-own picture dictionary.  Most vocabulary lessons are based around a topic, so why not simply find a picture of that topic and give copies to the learners to stick into their notebooks so that they can add lots of little arrows and labels, thus creating their own lexically organised picture dictionaries?

(5) Mind Mapping  In a similar vein, the idea of using mind mapping techniques with images can extend the labelling idea.  With the mind map, you could not only access the key vocabulary items, but also access learners’ emotional reactions to the images and learners’ speculation on the content and individuals in those pictures.  Thanks to @acliltoclimb for the inspiration from his post  “Every Picture tells a Story“.

Easter in Seville. The park to themselves. by @europeaantje

(6) Dictadraw A very simple premise, but a nice way to revise vocabulary and practice / develop picture description skills.  Essentially, you give different pictures to different learners in a pair.  They take turns to describe their pictures to each other and as one partner describes, the other one draws.  At the end of the activity, they compare their ideas.  Obviously the object isn’t to create a perfect replica – particularly if you do use a photograph! I use this activity more with appearance vocabulary (he has red hair and a big nose) than with anything else, but it can also work with photos – as long as they aren’t too complex!

ET, come home! by @AClilToClimb

(7) Speculation  Using bizarre, odd or unclear imagery can be fun ways of introducing and practicing modals of speculation and deduction.  If you can’t find any pictures that you think are sufficiently bizarre (or likely to lead to enough speculation) then a simple remedy is to take a picture of a mundane everyday item and zoom in really really close on one particular aspect of it, and ask the learners to guess what it is.  For example, the milled edge of a coin or the underneath of a pepper grinder could prove fruitful!

Browsing by @sueannan

(8)  Expert Witness  another old favourite – a memory game where learners look at an image for one minute, the image is then removed (removing the image also removes the temptation to peek!), and learners then have to recall the scene.  With low levels / ages, this can be a Q&A session based on “Is there a ___?  /  Are there any ___? ” to revise a particular vocab set.  For higher levels, it could be situated in a police interview scenario, the learner witnessed an incident (for example in the photo on the right “Browsing”, they could have witnessed a theft) and has to describe the scene.  Or it could be run as a straight listing activity – learners look at the image for a minute and then have a further minute to list all the items they remember seeing in the picture.

(9)  Selection In  This is another fairly obvious one – it might require raiding the school flashcard / image files as it works best with a large amount of pictures.  For a more structured task though, it might be best to generate a handout with a limited selection of images.  In simple terms learners select the “best” image or images for a particular purpose, e.g. to include in a tourist brochure of the area  /  to put on the front page of an nature magazine  (etc).  This is a fairly simple task and one that mimics exam speaking tasks at FCE, CAE & CPE (sort of) – so would be good practice for prospective candidates.  A twist on this is to ask the learners to select three or four similar pictures and to generate their own selection task for another group of learners to perform – they could then give feedback on performance.

Hot Air Balloon by @mrsdkrebs

street painting by Jane Arnold

Say that again? avoiding repetition & developing paraphrase

25 Nov

Trying to come up with new and interesting ways of saying the same old thing is a skill that taxes most of us on a daily basis:  “I like your hair.”  “Your hair looks nice.”  “Wow!  Have you had your hair done?”  “That new style really suits you!”

For language learners, it’s obviously even more difficult.  For learners preparing for exam classes, where displaying a wide ranging linguistic resource helps garner improved scores – it’s an essential skill.  It’s useful for all those writing tasks (avoid using words or phrases from the questions) and particularly useful for CPE comprehension and summary tasks where the questions state “in your own words”.  But it’s also a handy skill to have for those speaking tasks, where demonstrating “range” is almost as important as actually having range.  After all, there’s no point learning all those different words and structures if you don’t actually use them?  Right?

So here’s an activity which needs no (only a very small amount) of preparation, but which helps extend and develop the paraphrase skill.  I call it “Say that again?”

Materials:  As much scrap A4 paper as you can find chopped down into either A6 or A7 sized slips – ideally it’d be about six bits of paper per student.

Students write a single (short) sentence on each bit of paper – ideally something they might say in everyday life.  You can model this with “I like your hair.”  or “Local football team played well/badly at the weekend.”  Students can work together in pairs during the sentence creation phase.

Collect all the slips of paper up and ask the learners to form small groups (three or four people per group).  re-distribute the slips of paper with the sentences on evenly between the groups, placed face down (i.e. sentences not visible) in a pile in the middle.

One learner takes a slip and turns it face up and reads the sentence.  They then have to produce a paraphrase of the sentence, as does the next person and the next etc, until someone can’t come up with something that hasn’t already been said.  So if we go back to our example:  Learner A turns over the slip of paper and reads out “I like your hair.”  Learner A paraphrases thusly:  “Your hair looks nice.”   Learner B comes up with “Wow!  Have you had your hair done?”  and Learner C with “That new style really suits you!”.  Learner D however can’t think of anything new, so gets to keep the slip of paper.

The winner is the person in each group with the fewest slips of paper at the end of the activity.

Feedback can be given on any errors that were overheard during the game, but also content feedback on any sentences they found particularly difficult to paraphrase.

As an extension, for those classes preparing for an exam, the teacher could take the input from one of the writing paper questions and divide it up into sentences on separate bits of paper and ask learners to come up with alternative phrasings.

“The candidate demonstrated an impressive range.”

(Bonus points for anyone who can identify the “impressive range” featured!  Post your answers below!)

Halloween Teaching Resources

28 Oct

I’m not a great fan of “festivals” teaching in general, but this year my timetable has more young learner classes than usual and halloween is almost upon us, so here’s what I managed to find to help you cook up some devilish lessons for your learners…

Continue reading

Teaching Resources: Steve Jobs

7 Oct

It’s not until someone goes that you realise the impact they had on your life – Steve Jobs was one of those public figures who inspired belief and achievement in others.

One of my classes was asking if we could talk about Steve Jobs and his life, and clearly he meant a lot to a lot of people – so here are some resources that you can use with your learners.

The Guardian has a reader tribute interactive here: “Dear Steve, your products changed my life.”  They also have a photo slideshow featuring reactions from around the world.

Also from the Guardian, this page “Steve Jobs: the 10 best tributes“.

The Lexical Press Blog from the American TESOL institute has a comemorative lesson plan available here:

Cecilia Lemos at Box of Chocolates has an obituary style lesson plan available here:

@MrTESOL tweeted this link to an interactive online Steve Jobs quiz:

Eva Büyüksimkeşyan at A Journey in TEFL has a lesson idea here:, she also mentions Sean Banville’s News English lesson:

Via A school at the end of the world – I just came across The New York Times’ Learning Network post: “Imaging Apple Without Steve Jobs”


Finally, you’ve probably seen it elsewhere on the web recently – but here’s Steve Jobs’ famous speech at Stanford university:


September 11th Teaching Resources

11 Sep

Inspired by a recent feature on The Guardian website, which invites readers to share their memories of where they were and what they were doing (click here for more detail), I was thinking about collating teaching resources on the topic and presenting them here.

Turns out Larry Ferlazzo‘s beaten me to it…

His latest post:  “Even more 9/11 resources” has materials from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times – as well as from the US Department of Education.

But honestly, his post “The Best Sites to Help Teach About 9/11”  has links to just about every 9/11 related teaching resource that’s out there.  If you’re planning to use this topic area with your classes – make it your starting point.

There’s also a really interesting piece on the OUP blog by Mary Dudziak on the impact September 11th has made on the classroom – read more at “How 9/11 made history“.  Thanks for @OUPAcademic for tweeting the link.


First Lesson or First Week Ideas

9 Sep

Back in July I posted a selections of 20 ideas and activities that might be worth trying out as you get to know your new classes this school year – and since then there’ve been a couple of additional ideas to throw into the mix:

Recently, the 24th Edition of EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival : A Journey in TEFL got posted on Eva Buyuksimkesyan’s “A Journey in TEFL” blog.  I strongly recommend taking a look here if you’re in need of inspiration – Eva’s collated over 40 (I lost count) posts from different contributors.
The Lesson Plans Page also has a wide range of back to school resources and materials, though these are aimed more at native speaker young learner classes than a language learner class – and I’ve not tried any of them, so can’t vouch for them personally!

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