Archive | February, 2011

Word Vines & Collocation Trees

28 Feb

“Teacher, what’s a collocation?”

“Well, they’re sort of words that go together.”

“Teacher, I don’t understand.”

“Well, you know the expression ‘heavy traffic’?  Well, traffic’s not really heavy is it?  I mean, it can be, but… erm…. Collocations are just sort of words that go together a lot.”

You may well have had a conversation with learners that runs along similar lines….  and I’m afraid I’m not going to even try and answer the question “what is a collocation?”  Definitions I’ve seen include “Two or more words that often go together…. (that) just sound ‘right’ to native speakers” or there’s always Wikipedia’s defnition of words that occur together more frequently than would be expected by chance.

One colleague uses the metaphor of celebrity couples…  You see Brad Pitt out and about with lots of different people, but you see him out with Angelina Jolie more often than anyone else.  I don’t know whether Brad and Angelina are still an item, so this one might fall down a little at this point!

Anyway, I found this little game the other day, which seemed like a nice way to try and help learners see the connections between a limited set of words, which might help raise awareness of what we consider a collocation to be:

Word Vines

As mentioned, the vocabulary set that is used in the game is a little limited for consistent classroom use, but it could be a nice warmer, or it could lead into a longer activity doing similar things on paper?

My thought was you could extend it into “word trees” – sort of like a collocation dominoes tree building and diagramming task.  I haven’t worked this one up into a lesson plan yet – but might give it a go over the next week or so, so stay tuned!

(There are quite a few “collocation dominoes” activities out there on the web – as a quick google search will show.)

Any suggestions, let me know and as always, any feedback, comments, criticisms and queries are welcome!



Max My Dream

28 Feb

Just seen on facebook via Anna (thanks Anna!):  Max My Dream.

Follow the link and animate your dreams!

It works in much the same way as the now infamous “Hunter shoots a bear”: (which if you haven’t seen you should!).

Type whatever you dreamt about last night and watch the results unfold before you!


Listening – The many uses of the pig!

17 Feb

This is a lesson based on a TED Talk by Christien Meindertsma, a Dutch author and researcher who followed the afterlife of a single pig after it left the farm.  Obviously it then went on to the abbatoir, but the various places it went after that makes very interesting listening!

The original TED talk is available to view on the TED website here: and further down this post.

The lesson is a fairly standard listening based lesson – there’s an topic awareness raising stage, a content prediction task for the first listening, and a listening for detail task that mirrors the format of FCE, CAE and CPE part two (note-taking) listening tasks.  This is then followed by an extended speaking task where learners react to the content and come to a whole class conclusion as to how to rate the talk.

A full version of the lesson plan and materials is available to download in pdf format here :teflgeek – TED Talk The Many Uses of the Pig – the lesson is timed at about 75 minutes, but there’s a stage in there that can probably be dropped for shorter lesson lengths, and there’s an extension task for longer lesson lengths.

As always, any feedback, comments, criticisms and queries are welcome!

Thousands of bits of paper?

17 Feb

In many language schools it’s probably a hard fought race between the photocopier and the guillotine as to which gets used most in any given day.  Probably the photocopier, but the guillotine usually gets a fair work out.  And then there’s the futile search for the box of paper clips or the elastic bands, both of which are eventually found underneath someone’s register, which in turn lives underneath a large pile of resource books that only get referred to once a term, but which must, nonetheless live in a big heap on the desk of the one teacher in the teachers’ room who never signs anything out, but where everything is, sooner or later, found.

So here’s a quick tip to avoid needless copying and chopping – I call it a Dictation Word Swap and it’s a nice, mobile mingle activity, which works as an alternative to most matching tasks.

Say you have a list of collocations, and you want learners to match the two halves of the collocations together (e.g. learn by heart / get the gist / skip ahead).  Collocations are used here as an example, but this can work with other language tasks – for example matching different halves of conditional sentences.

Dictate the first half of the collocations so that learners have a numbered list (e.g.  1 – learn  /  2 – get the  /  3 – skip).

Then ask each learner to come up in turn and give one “second half” to each learner, either on a bit of paper, or just tell them.  So, learner A has “by heart”, learner B has “gist” and so on.

Learners then mingle, saying ONLY their “second half”, thus sharing the second halves with the whole class.  As they hear the second half from their classmates, learners write down what they hear next to what they think the matching first half is.

It’s probably been done before, but it might well save you half an hour of copying and chopping, as well as another 45 minutes looking for the paper clips!


One Word – Multiple Meanings

15 Feb

One of the things that often bothers learners is the idea that there is more than one meaning associated with a particular word…

A while back I was sent this link: which has great videos showing multiple meanings of quite simple words (Thanks Ronda!) – perfect for using with CAE or CPE classes that have to deal with this issue from an exam perspective (CAE Use of English Part 4  /  CPE Use of English Part 3).

Unfortunately, when I used it with my class, I used an uncensored You Tube Version of the video – which was fine until we got up to the word “blow”.  The moral of the story being – always watch the video BEFORE you show it to the class….  The version given above is suitable for classroom use…

I’ve just come across another handy website for this task:  The premise is simple – you go there and you click “Go” and you see a word at the top of the screen – you have sixty seconds to write about it.  Then when time is up, you finish your sentence and after a registration process, you get to see what you and everyone else have produced.  From a teaching context, it has some severe limitations – firstly there is the whole registration thing.  Unless you pre-register a bunch of identities, the learners have to do it themselves and for what is essentially a five minute task – it seems a little hasslesome.  The other problem is that you can’t access existing entries (or at least not that I found so far) – so limited learning potential there.  Finally – the quality of the other contributions is variable to say the least.

But the basic idea is a good one and easily adaptable to a more useful classroom situation.  The idea behind is not that people write definitions – in fact definitions are positively abhorred!  The idea is more that you write whatever the word “inspires”.  Which from a language teaching point of view equates quite neatly to “write about what the word makes you think about” – or multiple uses.

So my thought is that if you took the six “target” words from a CAE / CPE Use of english Multiple meaning task and gave your learners six bits of scrap paper, gave them a minute to write about what each word inspired in them, before collecting the entries onto different parts of the classroom wall for comparison & feedback purposes, you’d be able to help your learners access multiple levels of meaning of different words and show them how some of these words can be used.

I’ve worked this idea up into a 75 minute lesson plan (though timings can obviously be adapted and certain sections dropped) which is available to download as a pdf file here:  teflgeek – One Word Multiple Meanings

As always, any feedback, comments, criticisms and queries are welcome!

Calling all teachers –

11 Feb

This one comes straight from the Guardian Website – fancy seeing yourself in print?  Read on….

Calling all teachers | Education |

students answer questionsYour turn to answer the questions Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Class Report seeks to show the diversity and dynamism of the global English language teaching profession. If you are a full-time teacher, you are established in your current teaching role and you have an inspiring story to tell, we would like to hear from you. Perhaps you have overcome special challenges in your work or you teach in an unusual context. If so, we want you to share some of the insights you have gained – remember, your story will inform others and help them in their professional development.

The Class Report feature is presented as a short, “question-and-answer” style article, so we would ask you to answer, briefly, the following questions and to provide brief biographical information. Your name and location will be published with the article.

Please copy the questions and your answers into an email and send it to

We welcome all responses but the decision to publish responses as Class Report features rests with the editor. All information will be received in confidence and agreement to publish will be sought from the contributor before publication.

Class Report questions

Please keep your answers brief (no more than 75 words per questions). Answers should relate to your current teaching position only.

1 What keeps you motivated?

2 What has been your best teaching moment and why (in your current teaching situation)?

3 What has been your worst teaching moment and why (in your current teaching situation)?

4 What have you learned from your students?

5 What is the biggest challenge you face (in your current teaching situation)?

6 What’s next (career development, ambitions, hopes etc)?

7 Top tip for other teachers (your best single piece of advice)?

Biographical information
brief summary of education/teaching career to date:

brief description of current teaching position (location, type of education establishment etc):


10 Feb

The fantastic people at have just done a trawl of 22,000 horoscopes and come up with this visualisation of the most common words used for each star sign.  So do they really all just say the same thing?  Have a look at the chart….

There are obvious classroom uses here…..  though I’m not sure how the topic would play in every cultural setting!

But possibly a lesson where learners give their opinions on horoscopes, read some sample horoscopes (freely available from most newspaper websites, yahoo, msn and the like).  Decide which are the most “accurate”, whether they agree or not with their star sign predictions.

There are plenty of opportunities for language work – personality vocabulary associated with star signs – and of course language associated with predictions and the like.  Though interestingly when I took a look at some sample horoscopes from yahoo, they don’t actually make a lot of predictions, they tend to make statements like “Today is a good day to get closer to someone important to you.”   I guess this is because actual predictions are too easily proved inaccurate!

There’s a nice overview of star signs and personality traits at

Learners could even do a “five most common words search” through the horoscope texts before comparing their findings with the chart from IIB.

And of course we can do some astrological predictions writing!  If learners have looked at personalities associated with star signs, then they can “tailor” their predictions appropriately.  Higher levels can try to avoid the more predictive language and try to make their efforts as vague and fulfillable as possible…

After which, they could compare their predictions with the one given below – the “meta-prediction”:




The Domination Game

9 Feb

This was something that I originally cooked 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

As always, any feedback, comments, criticisms and queries are welcome!

Oxfam for teachers – global citizenship in the classroom

8 Feb


Oxfam Education. Oxfam for teachers. Brings global citizenship into the classroom.

This is a great site with lots of resources relating to issues that affect us all, both at the local and at the global level.  Most of the resources are aimed at UK based native speaker students, but this could be a good way of extending topics found in higher level coursebooks and the like.

I’m about to do the “Making Sense of World Conflicts – Lesson Plan 5:  Is it war?” set of worksheets with my Proficiency group – I’ll let you know how it goes!

FCE Use of English: Open Cloze

8 Feb

This is a lesson I’ve used a lot over the years – it’s designed for use with FCE classes, but can easily be adapted to a CAE group.

The main idea behind the lesson is to try and introduce a lot of energy and pace into an exam class.  Timings are therefore important – but fluid!  Older teens and adults will probably relish the change of pace…  For this reason, the students are in two teams throughout the whole class.  They can, of course, choose their own team names, I prefer “THE SHARKS” and “THE COUGARS”.

If there’s anything in there that needs a bit more explanation, let me know, as I kind of use my own terms / shorthand for things, which I guess could be confusing.

You can download a pdf version of the lesson plan and materials here: teflgeek – FCE Open Cloze

As always, any feedback, comments, criticisms and queries are welcome!