Archive | December, 2011

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: Two Tefl Loves

19 Dec

On the second day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  two tefl loves

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:

two tefl loves – and because I’m getting all “bah humbug” about Christmas already and in the interests of providing a balanced viewpoint – two tefl hates will also be included!
LOVE:  Moments of Communicative Brilliance
You don’t get these happening all the time – that’s partly the joy of it!  After all whatever happens all the time becomes commonplace and gets taken for granted.  I mean there are those moments in teaching where the sheer desire to communicate the message overwhelms the learner and they almost burst with the effort of getting the words out – and they aren’t always the right words but the message DOES get across.  Or a piece of learner writing that is so well thought out and well argued or heartfelt and passionate about the topic that it makes you step outside of your role as teacher and connect on a much more human level (which you probably do anyway – but you know what I mean?).  Or sometimes, you just get moments like this:  playing backs to the board as an introductory review activity for some idioms associated with expressing anger  (e.g. go off the deep end, do your nut, give someone an earful, rub someone up the wrong way).  One of the learners, convinced he had the correct expression, leaps out of his chair and shouts “Rub my nuts!”  To much hilarity all round….
HATE:  Marking Writing
I love teaching writing.  I think it’s possibly the easiest thing to teach because it’s less ephemeral, more considered and I think the guidelines are easier to communicate.  But I hate marking writing.  I have a system based on the Cambridge exams assessment criteria (CARROT – Content Accuracy Range Register Organisation Target reader) which makes it easier…. but I still hate actually doing the marking.  I think it’s because it’s an area that learners find so difficult, I feel obliged to give them a greater degree of feedback than just scrawling a mark across the bottom of the page.  I need to actually analyse it, point out the strengths and weaknesses and suggest improvements for next time.  And I’m not convinced all the learners read the comments anyway – you can but hope – but that’s not going to stop me from working in this fashion.  And so it takes time.  Lots of time.  So I put it off for as long as possible and then it mounts up and then the only solution is to open a bottle of wine, sit down at the kitchen table and stay up until 2am when it’s all finally done!
HATE:  Pointless Tests

I’m reminded of the Scott Adam’s Dilbert cartoon on the right as I write this – I’m not anti-test, I’m anti-pointless-test.  Generally, I’m firmly in the pro-testing camp.  I don’t agree with the argument that standardised testing is evil – ultimately for the society that we live in now they are a necessity.  If I run a business and I want to employ someone who speaks “good English” and I have 100 applicants for the job?  I’m going to look at those applicants who have a clear, recognised certificate of English language ability.  That might not be my only consideration, but it will be one of the priorities!
What gets me riled, and I suspect from what I hear and posts on other blogs that I’m not alone, is testing for the sake of testing and just simply bad tests!  It’s a very difficult process to actually create tests that are reliable and valid – especially at all the levels of reliability and validity that are considered within the professional language testing community and in all honesty, I don’t think that most language teachers have the skills they need to write tests that actually do what they set out to do – and I include myself in that.  The wrong tests get used for the wrong purposes and because the world we live in is so competitive our learners lives get caught up in this cycle of testing and recrimination (usually an internal psychological process).  There is a clear need to move away from a testing and grade based system – and I think this a viewpoint many teachers are moving towards, not just in ELT.  But I’m not sure that the rest of the world is willing to move that far – yet.
LOVE: Cycles of Creativity
Here I’m thinking of the creativity that gets exhibited in my classes by my learners, but also the creativity I get to expend as part of the daily routine.  I think the freedom to constantly challenge myself and my learners in new and interesting ways is one of the main reasons why I’m still doing this job.  I love being able to take things and twist them, or find a simple effective solution to something (at least in my head it is!).  I appreciate that this isn’t always true for all teachers in all contexts and that many are stuck or constrained by the systems that they work within and the materials and methodologies that are imposed upon them.  People in this situation, I feel for you, I truly do.  But I guess I’m lucky enough to have a goal set for the end of the year, and generally I get given a book at the start, but what happens between those two points is more or less down to me and my classes.  Now I’ve just asked one of my classes for some feedback / done a mid-course needs analysis, and one person asked for fewer “pointless activities” – so I guess maybe sometimes I get too creative, though given that almost everything I do has a purpose of some kind, maybe this just means I should communicate my aims more clearly!  I love that I get to play with ideas and that I get to try and generate fun with learning – not that I always succeed, but I love that I have the opportunity to try!
So what do you love and hate?

Answers on a postcard (or in the comments section) !

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Three Board Pens

15 Dec

On the third day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  three board pens

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:

and three board pens.  Those of us lucky enough to have avoided the perils of working with chalk and chalkboards (Handy Hint number #01 – don’t wear black), but whose schools haven’t quite made it to the 21st century, will be familiar with the four primary colours of teaching:  the Black, Blue, Green and Red board pen selection.

The colour choice does slightly give the lie to the post title “three board pens”, but the focus of this post is more about board work than colour choices and personally I avoid using the blue board pens as much as possible because they (a) tend to stick to the board more than the other colours and be harder to clean (b) dry out more rapidly thus becoming more useless more rapidly.

I have heard of teachers using colour coding for parts of speech (blue for nouns, green for adjectives etc) , or to indicate correct (black) or incorrect (red) sentences.  This seems like a lot of work to me – though never having tried it I can’t really comment either way.  I do use colour coding when presenting a language form, for example:

+             HAVE +PAST PARTICIPLE  ( I have eaten the chocolate.)
–              HAVEN’T + PAST PARTICIPLE  (I haven’t eaten the chocolate.)
?             HAVE + PRONOUN + PAST PARTICIPLE (Have you eaten the chocolate?)

But that for me, is as far as it goes!

What I find more difficult personally, is board work organisation.  I understand the value of doing it – keeping things in the same places, so that learners always know where to look for the information they need – but I struggle to achieve this on a lesson by lesson basis.

I also wonder whether my lack of an organized approach to board work has a negative impact on the learners – in as much as they don’t know what to write down or when to write it down unless given explicit instructions.

So I’m going to try an experiment which will (a) force me into a greater degree of organization (b) hopefully encourage the learners to write stuff down more!  I’m going to try giving my learners an A4 handout which mimics the layout of the board that I intend to use.

It might look something like this (only with gridlines to delineate the sections):

Lesson Menu:
(New) Language:

Topic and Date are fairly self-explanatory, as is the homework section, which could serve two purposes – the homework task for that lesson and the names of any students who failed to hand in the last lessons’ task!

(New) Language:  I’m using the term “language” rather than vocabulary because it covers a wider multitude of sins – and also to try and move learners away from the idea of single item vocabulary and more towards “chunks” of language.

Lesson Menu:  probably familiar to many people and something I drift in and out of using – essentially a running order of activities for the lesson.  I don’t usually have more than six stages written up, regardless of how many stages are in the plan and I try to talk learners through the lesson menu at the start of the class, so they can see how the tasks connect to each other.

Other Handy Board work Tips?

I had a look around to see what other people had to say on this – it’s quite a sparsely discussed area!

Two great sites emerged however:

Sue Clark has a great article on “Using the Board” on the British Council Teaching English site.  It does focus on “using” the board rather than just board work, though Sue does discuss that as part of the piece.

David Deubelbeiss has a handy slideshow video with tips and advice on maximizing your use of the board on the eflclassroom site.

Definitely worth reading what both these posts have to say!

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Fo(u)r Recalling Words…

13 Dec

On the fourth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  fo(u)r recalling words

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:

and fo(u)r recalling words – or at least four areas to consider for helping students to recall words.  The term vocabulary is not used in this post to denote only single word items, but also includes multi-word items, chunks, short phrases….  it’s all good.  As you’ll see from the mind map below, I think there are four stages to maximising vocabulary learning:  Encounters / Recording  /  Revisiting  and Producing – and within these stages there are things to be thinking about and ways we can help learners through these stages.

Encountering Vocabulary

The importance of the item to the learner promotes intake.  If you don’t need to know it, why bother remembering it?  My daughter has, for example, perfect mastery of the chunk “Shaun The Sheep”, but can’t tell me what she wants for breakfast.  Everyone’s priorities are different – is it any wonder our classes wallow turgidly through the lexical mire, when half of what we teach them is irrelevant to their needs?

“Lumbago”.  A great word, once used in a seminar as an example of a low-frequency word.  If you’ve not already met it, you might be struggling with an idea of its meaning.  How about “My lumbago’s acting up.”?  Now it could be a part of the body?  An Italian sports car?  So how about “My lumbago’s acting up.  The Doctor’s told me to go see a chiropractor.”  Assuming we have knowledge of the other items, we can now deduce it’s a problem relating to the spinal column.  Thus the context clarifies all!  Exposure to an item in a variety of contexts helps this.

Our relationships to items is also worth considering.  This may sound slightly odd as most people think of our relationship to words as typified in the “master-slave” dynamic, yet because we encounter words in different contexts, words hold different values for us and these values skew our perceptions of the meanings.  For instance:  define “happy”.  OK, so that’s a loaded example, but think for a moment of the word “house” – what did you visualise?  The connections are there to be made and developed – forging these connections can help learner retention.

Recording Vocabulary

The written record is surely the cornerstone of any classroom?  At the end of the day if it doesn’t get written down, does it get remembered?  But this does put a certain onus on us teachers to make sure that the language on the board is relevant, meaningful and useful – not just random collections that arose out of whatever else happened to be going on that day.  Not that there isn’t a place for that, but keeping things in touch with the topic can help.  Partly, because if you do ask learners to make a written record, then if they write down everything that goes up on the board, they might end up doing little else – which would be a shame!  But the written record – the simple question “Can you write that down please?” is another step along the path to retention.

Having written the day’s selection of useful items down in their class books – it would be interesting to find out from learners what they do with the language next.  Do they review it regularly or does it just sit there?  The problem with only recording vocabulary in a class / lesson  based notebook or folder is that the language is essentially grouped chronologically – and this makes it hard to associate items to each other.  Walters & Bozkurt (2009) have demonstrated that keeping vocabulary notebooks, as distinct from class notebooks, has a significant effect on learner retention of items and on learner use (production) of the target items.  A good study habit for learners to adopt therefore, and something we as teachers should encourage, is for learners to create their own vocabulary notebooks and to transfer items from class book to vocabulary book on a regular basis.

This brings up the question of systemic organisation of notebooks.  If you have access to the teacher’s books for the Cutting Edge series, then somewhere at the back in the photocopiable resources section are some learner training worksheets designed to help learners choose a suitable system. They’re definitely in the back of the “classic” Cutting Edge Intermediate teacher’s book – not sure about the others.  There are any number of systems available.  There are mind mapping techniques (see above graphic),  bubble diagrams,  picture labelling, diagram labelling, alphabetical lists, translation lists, timelines (not sure about this one myself), parts of speech organisation…  and it goes on!  The trick is for the learners to find a system that works intuitively for them, and not to have a system imposed upon them.  An alternative to the vocabulary notebook per se, is the learner vocabulary diary – Simon Thomas provides a template, discusses how to use them and provides a series of activities in this excellent post here:  Vocabulary Diaries for Language Learners.  For more ideas on organisational structures – here’s a link to the “Periodic Table of Visualisation Techniques” which may provide some inspiration!  Thanks to @Marisa_C via facebook for that one.

Revisiting Vocabulary

There is the old adage that a learner needs to “meet” a vocabulary item seven times before it moves into their active lexicon, I don’t know where this comes from, whether it’s based in fact or just one of those taken for granted tefl truths – in any event simply seeing a word once and writing it down is only the start.

As teachers, the easiest way to recycle vocabulary is simply to use it again – and the simplest way to do that is to incorporate it into future teaching materials.  Thus every lesson / every day becomes part of a building process in which the learners encounter some old familiar friends, draw some new acquaintances closer and meet some items for the first time.  In fairness, most coursebooks do work like this and grade their input from the early modules to the later modules.  But not all – some coursebooks are produced “at level” and are intended as a target for learners to aim at.  And in either situation it’s not uncommon to find coursebooks using language, especially in the rubrics, that learners wouldn’t even begin to understand!  Know your coursebook!  It’s relatively easy to find out this kind of information from the publisher websites, most of will be given on the back of your book (or will turn up fairly rapidly in a quick internet search.

There are also specific class activities that you can use as warmers or fillers which recycle vocabulary items.  Backs to the board is a great warmer, but also handy for reinforcing incidental vocabulary at the end of the lesson (if you have time).  Also on this site is “Pointless“.  Maria Zabala Peña has 5 quick games for vocabulary revision on her blog.  Taboo, where learners have to describe an item without using the target item or five associated keywords (e.g. try describing Santa without using the words snow, reindeer, sleigh, north pole or elves) is another alternative.  Learner lesson bingo – where learners create a bingo card for the whole lesson based on items they think will arise from the lesson topic and tick them off as the lesson progresses….  I’m sure you have your own favourites – feel free to add them below (via comments)!

There are also self-study activities – a friend used to write down his vocabulary items on blank business cards.  He’d put the target language on one side, his own language on the other and used to flick through them on the bus on the way to university in the morning.  Every day he’d add new cards to the pile, but he’d go through the pile and select “known” items to go into the archive.  Once a month he’d go through the archive and any items he’d forgotten would come back into the working pile.  That was almost 20 years ago and I think it’s now possible to purchase apps for your smart phones that do more or less the same thing!  If learners do have a vocabulary notebook, simply reviewing the pages every now and again will help.  Simon Thomas’ vocab diaries (mentioned earlier) includes a revision timetable that aims to optimise the intake of new items.

Producing Vocabulary

It is a constant source of amazement to me the number of times you get a truly excellent vocabulary presentation section in a coursebook, followed by the standard practice phase – and then nothing further.  It is one of those unwritten rules of teaching that learners will consistently fail to use the target items in any activity that has been designed for their production – but still, give them a chance!  If nothing else it helps create a meaningful context!

It might be helpful here to differentiate between “Spontaneous” and “Considered” production.  Both types can be either written or spoken – I would characterise the difference as the amount of planning or forethought that went into developing the utterance / text.  So for example, the difference between answering the question “How was your holiday?” at the office water cooler and sitting down to write your mother a postcard as you sip cool drinks by the pool!

The difference is worth highlighting for two reasons – firstly to help characterise errors and secondly to help think about activity types and providing opportunities for spontaneous and considered production in the classroom.  As regards errors – my theory (and I should stress I have no evidence for this!) is that “mistakes” occur more frequently in considered production and “slips” more frequently in spontaneous production.  I posted back in October on error types – so take a look here for more background.  But the point is that if a learner has taken the time to think about what they want to say and how best to say it, and they still make an error – it’s more likely to be evidence of a systemic lack rather than a performance error, and consequently in more need of correction.

The other point to make is to remember to include opportunities for both types of production in lessons.  Again, it seems obvious but it’s easy enough to follow coursebook programs and processes which don’t always include production opportunities.  Dogme types will no doubt be nodding along to the request for spontaneous production opportunities – and the informal general chat is a good way, possibly the only authentic way, of providing such an opportunity.  It can be a nice way to welcome learners to the class as you wait for everyone to arrive – and by building social chat opportunities into the lesson, you can (sometimes!) reduce the amount of L1 social chat that occurs during other parts of the lesson (especially with teenagers!).

Considered production tasks might be more structured and offer the learners more support.  These might be tasks where the learners know they are meant to produce a language type, or not.  Either way, these are usually outcome based, have a clear objective or goal, and would be followed by some type of feedback (both language and content).  They could range from a pyramid discussion to a formal essay.

Almost done…

The main point here is not that anyone should dogmatically follow each and everyone of these recommendations – I don’t.  The idea is more that effective vocabulary learning happens when an integrated approach is taken by the teacher and when the learners are made aware of how they can best help themselves.  As such, I hope this post provides a few ideas to take forwards, try out, discard, adapt and with any luck adopt – as a useful way forwards with this process.

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: Six Games Worth Playing

9 Dec

On the sixth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  six games worth playing

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

and six games worth playing – with your class or at least directing learners to for some self study – or even, when the marking’s magically disappeared and you’re all planned up for the next week, worth playing yourself!

I’ve used almost all of these with learners with great success – further details on that as below!

(1)  The Curfew Game.

I’ve mentioned this game before (see original post for more detail) – it’s a truly excellent piece of free game play that ties into themes related to civil liberties and authoritarianism.  Authentic (scripted) dialogues could make this challenging for lower levels, but this could be a fun lesson for upper intermediate and above!

(2)  Stop Disasters!

This is a natural disaster prevention game created by the United Nations ISDR to raise awareness of the lack of disaster preparedness in many places around the world.  Similar in set up to “god games” like Civilisation, the player chooses between the Hurricane, Tsunami, Wild Fire, Flood or Earthquake scenarios, and then tries to put measures in place to reduce loss of life when the big one hits.  You get advice and a time limit within which to work!

(3)  Nation States.

This is a game I played with my summer school classes some years ago, arising out of a project class where learners created a micro-nation.  With Nation States, learners answer an initial set of questions to determine what sort of country they’ll create (i.e. liberal / authoritarian) and then as time goes by they are asked further questions which determine the development of their nation state.  Interaction with other users playing the game is also possible and learners can forge alliances as they need to.  This is a long term game and not suitable for a single lesson – better perhaps as a warmer / the last ten minutes of a regularly scheduled once or twice a week class meeting over an entire academic year.

(4)  Destination Impossible.

Spotted this the other day on Larry Ferlazzo’s site and have investigated!  The game destination impossible is one of about 53 excellent flash based games for language learner development – aimed at adult literacy tutoring in the UK.  Activities suitable for most levels (possibly not the very low or the very high) – my favourite of which is the following directions based game “Destination Impossible” – a must play for anyone doing this topic with their classes!

(5)  Lyrics Training.

Lyrics Training is the ultimate fast finisher task for computer room based lessons.  Learners would, if they could, spend entire lessons attempting to type the lyrics to their favourite songs in time to the singer.  With graded levels of difficulty (watch that your learners don’t “underestimate” their own abilities!) – and a wide range of songs, there’s something for all ages and abilities.  Warning:  make sure you know the lyrics for the songs they’ve chosen, or an irate DoS may soon be banning the class from the computer room forever!  A great website to have up your sleeve when one group finishes the writing task in ten minutes and the rest of the class are still struggling.

(6)  CSI:  Web Adventures.

A nice one for the more scientifically minded – or for the legions of CSI obsessives who all want to be forensic pathologists when they grow up!  The rookie stages involve learners processing a certain amount of written information and then answering some content based questions – it’s a little slow to start!  But highly motivating and enjoyable.  Again, could be a great fast finisher task?

Have a look and I hope you enjoy!

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Seven simple statements

8 Dec

On the seventh day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  seven simple statements

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

And seven simple statements with which to teach by:  Be Consistent – Be Persistent – Be Buoyant – Be Diligent – Be Knowledgeable – Be Adaptable – Be Human.

Be consistent –  we all like to know where and what the boundaries are, particularly when we’re young and we’re still having trouble figuring things like this out, but also when we’re older, because boundaries help set comfort levels.  We feel safe when we know what to expect.  So as a teacher, the lesson is simple.  Either decide or negotiate the way you want the class to be – and stick to it.

Be persistent – by all means try out new behavioural routines, but give them time to work.  The classes I’ve had most trouble with can usually be traced back to me thinking “Well that didn’t work, now what?” and trying something new every lesson.  Don’t give up.  Kids and teenagers in particular (but adults too) appreciate the perseverance.  This isn’t true just for behavioural routines but applies to the learning process as well.

Be buoyant – you set the mood as a teacher and it’s important to remember that no matter how crap a day you’ve had, it’s not their fault!  I’m not saying you should force yourself into a prozacian state of perpetual smiling – and if you’ve had a horrendous day you might find it useful to share that with the class, not necessarily in any great detail, but telling them that you’ve got a heavy cold or that you’re just having one of those days might help them lower their expectations and meet you half way.  Generally though, I think that if you walk in with a smile and an attitude of being pleased to be there – then the learners will also meet you half way there too!

Be Diligent – and I say this as someone who yesterday found a piece of student homework (marked!) that had been sitting in the homework folder for almost five months.  What I really mean here is make sure you live up to all the promises you make in class – from “I don’t know, I’ll look it up and let you know” to “Trust me – if you do this in the exam you’ll pass.”

Be Knowledgeable – we’re all fallible and there will always be things that we don’t know.  It often comes as a shock to learners, the younger ones anyway, to find that you don’t know everything.  After all – you’re a teacher!  And as I mentioned earlier, there’s nothing wrong in admitting your ignorance.  But if you plan to teach something, you should know about it beforehand.  A salutory lesson well learnt from the CELTA was attempting to teach “must” and “have to” to an upper-intermediate group who clearly knew more about it than I did.  “Is it the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation?” asked one helpful student.  “Erm, must is must and have to is have to” said the confused trainee teacher (but I got better at it!).  Know your stuff, or at least look it up beforehand!

Be Adaptable – it’s very easy to get stuck in an educational rut – particularly if you end up teaching the same sorts of classes all the time!  If you do teach the same types of classes, you’ll probably have a fairly good idea of what works and what doesn’t and sometimes there can be a danger of constantly trying new things, so that no new thing ever has a chance to become an old thing.  Stave off the boredom and experiment with something new – see what happens!

Be Human – when I was thinking about this post – this was the first one I thought of.  Be Human.  It sounds so simple and makes you think “How could I be anything else?”  but as teachers we get cast into the roles that other people expect of us.  Students can expect us to be the fount of all wisdom, the authority figure, the confidante.  Other people (school management, colleagues, academic management, parents, curriculum writers, local and national governments) all have additional expectations and roles that they thrust upon us.  Somewhere in all that, there is also the person that is you!  Don’t forget to let them out!

That – for what it’s worth – is what I think!  I don’t think it’s an exhaustive list, just seven simple statements to think about!  I’d be very interested to hear what you think – and what your seven simple statements to teach by are!  (NB – this isn’t a blog challenge, more of an invitational event…!)


The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Eight talks worth watching

7 Dec

On the eighth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  eight talks worth watching

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

and eight talks worth watching – these have all been selected from the great selection at, who’ve just announced the 2012 TED Prize winner:  The City 2.0.

Obviously, other inspiring talk providers are available.

I’ve chosen these, because these are the talks that have tied into things I’ve been thinking about, inspired me in some way or have taken my thinking in new directions.  They’re listed here in no particular order.  So enjoy!

Richard Baraniuk talks about open-source learning (18.34) – an idea I think needs a bit more structure.  See also Jason Renshaw’s posts on Open (Source) English.

Seth Priebatsch describes his dream of “building a game layer on top of the world” (12.23).  Gamification is undoubtedly the next big thing and the gamification of education is already underway (see Sarah Smith-Robbins EDUCAUSE article).  Seth lets us know how and why this could be done.

Erin Mckean  (15.51) on lexicography and diving into the deep blue ocean of English.  When she’s done, you’ll want to run off and hug your dictionary.

John Hunter on his “World Peace Game” (20.28).  He initially talks about his background in teaching, his description of the game itself gets going from about 7 minutes in – it’s a remarkable and fantastic achievement!.  For more info and for the video John refers to in his talk, check out “World Peace and other 4th grade achievements”

Jay Walker on “The World’s English Mania”  (5.02).  I remember the Li Yang thing from my time in China and met a couple of people who’d been at his rallies.  His theory, as I recall, was essentially audiolingualism on a political rally type scale.  The results, in my experience, were limited…  Jay’s talk will be a shot in the arm for ELF supporters – and will no doubt help shoot down other theories.

Diana Laufenberg on How to learn? From mistakes (10.06). An elegant reminder that, ultimately, processing where we went wrong leads us on to bigger and better things.

Sir Ken Robinson, and this talk in particular, shouldn’t need any introduction (11.41).  You’ve probably seen it already.  If so, it’s worth watching again!  If you haven’t….?  Now would be a good time!

Taylor Mali’s word perfect summation of the teaching profession (3.03).

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