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Reviewing the School Year: A Lesson

30 May

The last lesson of the school year is often a tricky one to manage.  Often, neither you or the students are in a particularly useful frame of mind – the energy and creativity is dwindling and it can be difficult to persuade students of the value of learning things for the sake of learning things: “But, teacher, we did the test already.”

This year I have made an End of year Review booklet for my young learner groups.  The idea is for the students to look back at what they have done and to think about what they did well, what they could have done better and to identify a few goals for moving forwards.  I have printed it as an A5 booklet and the hope is that they can take this home with them to share with their parents as a reflection on the progress they have made and the progress they could have made – along with some concrete goals for things to do in the summer months away from the pressures of the classroom!

Grammar Graph

The Grammar Graph is not really intended to measure knowledge or attainment in the language feature, what it really does is measure the confidence the learner has in their ability to use the target item.  The features listed are all those that have come up in the past year and I hope that it will reflect the extent the learners feel they can use the feature appropriately and accurately.  There may be students that have better control, but less confidence or there may be students that are very confident and fluent speakers but who have less control.  These conversations will hopefully help learners to see where some of their strengths really lie.

Word Championships

The Word Championships are partly a vocabulary review and partly there as a mingle activity to get students up, moving around and talking to each other.  The learners choose two or three words from the year that are their favourites – or possibly from their own knowledge.  They then mingle and find out what the other students think and record the answers.  After about five minutes (they don’t need to ask everyone for everything), the students work in small groups to share and compare the answers they got and to work out which words are the top three favourite words for the year.


Difficult mountainEasy mountain

The difficult and easy mountain is a simple enough reflection on course content – with any luck it should tie in to the grammar graph activity at the beginning – but with a bit more focus on where the focus needs to come in the future.  I opened this up as a kind of pyramid discussion to the class to try and decide what the most difficult thing and what the easiest thing we did in class this year was.  This not only gives some interesting feedback on the content the learners find difficult, but on which of my teaching techniques have proved more accessible.

Lesson Pie Chart

The lesson Pie Chart is intended as a reflection on behaviour in the classroom.  It is really up to the learners to decide what constitutes “being good” and extending this discussion out to the classroom can lead to some interesting revelations.  The intent is also not to demonise L1 (in this case Portuguese) use, but more to point out how much class time they spend using Portuguese as opposed to English.  If I was to do this differently next time (and I will!) I would separate these out into three or four smaller pie charts as while this gives an interesting insight into what happens in a lesson, it isn’t quite so useful for differentiating behaviours, which was partly the aim.

English Learning Goals

Most of my learners are in the 10-13 year old elementary range, and therefore encouraging them to do self-study work over the summer is an uphill task.  The purpose of this activity is to get the learners to arrive at ways in which they can keep their English up over the summer and not forget it all, and still have a degree of fun!  I am less interested here in getting them to do grammar practice or vocabulary learning, than I am in getting them to interact with the language in some way.  One of the goals might be to read a book in English (we have graded readers in the school for them to borrow) or to learn a favourite song in English – to watch a TV show or film in English and write a synopsis or review.  It will be up to them to decide.


Superlatives Yearbook 01 Superlatives Yearbook 02

The Superlatives Yearbook is a bit of fun really – it serves partly to review some of the language from the course – but it is really a bit of a break from the personal development review and a chance to engage in a heated discussion.  You may have come across similar “end of year award” lessons – this is a slightly shorter version.  In this version, the students are put into three large groups and have to decide who should be given each award.  No-one in the class can be given more than one award and everybody in the class has to be given an award.  An extension of this is to re-group the students into groups of three, one student from each of the larger groups, and to ask them to present their choices and agree on a final decision.  The learners can then report back to their original groups on what was decided.

The last page in the booklet is a list of useful links that the students can access over the summer:

These are what I came up with, but I would welcome any extension of this so please feel free to add any ideas in the comments!

I hope this proves useful, if you try any of this and want to give any feedback, I’d welcome it – or if you’ve tried similar ideas in different areas, I’d also like to find out what you did and how it went.


Using Visualisation for the Present Continuous

1 Feb

This is an idea I tried out with an elementary group of young learners the other day.  The focus in the coursebook was on teaching the present continuous for actions that are happening now and at the book had very helpfully provided a recorded phone conversation between two people meeting at a railway station that went something like this:

“Where are you?”

“I’m standing on platform nine and three quarters.  Where are you?”

“I’m waiting under the big clock.  What are you wearing?*”

“I’m wearing a red t-shirt.  What are you wearing?”

“I’m wearing a yellow t-shirt.  Ah!  I can see you!”

“Hello Frank.”

“Hello Matilda.”

* And are we really sure we want to be teaching our learners the phrase “What are you wearing?” in the context of telephone conversations?  

Having achieved “presentation” we then moved onto “practice”, which involved a nice un-jumbling word order task, because apparently putting words into the correct order helps the learners to process the meaning and use of the present continuous.  Or something.  I don’t know.  You may be able to tell that I don’t really like this particular book very much.

In any event, before the class died of boredom I thought it might be useful to get them to try and use the target language meaningfully.  The trouble is, that unless you’re prepared to have the learners go round the class and say what they’re doing, there isn’t a lot you can do with the present continuous for actions happening now:

 “I am sitting down.”  “He is learning English.”  “I am also sitting down.”  “She is losing the will to live.”

So I thought that using visualisation techniques might work better.

I asked the learners to get a pen and paper ready and have it in front of them on their desk.  I asked them to sit back in their chairs, close their eyes and relax.

I played them some “Visualisation music” I found on You Tube.  The purpose of the music from my perspective was three fold; I wanted to give them something to focus on, I wanted there to be something different going on that was “taking them away” from the normal environment, and I wanted to use the music to cover some of the mundane and distracting sounds from outside and from other classes that were going on.

 While they were sat there, I guided them through this visualisation process:

Look up at the sky.  What colour is it?  Can you see any clouds?  Look down and you start to see trees and buildings. What kind of trees can you see?  What kind of buildings? Are there a lot of buildings or a few?  Are they old or new? In front of one of the buildings, you see a person.  Do you recognise them?  They are doing something.  What are they doing?  You look left and see a tree.  In front of the tree you see an animal.  What kind of animal?  What is the animal doing?  You look right and you see someone near you.  It’s a friend of yours.  Who is it?  What’s their name?  They are doing something.  What are they doing?

And then I brought them back out of the visualisation and asked them to write down what they had seen in their notebooks.  While they did that I wrote up on the board:  “In my dream I am standing ………   In front of me I can see ……”  I asked the class to reformulate their ideas into a more fluid description, using the present continuous where possible.

It was a nice activity and the learners seemed to like it, though being a class of young learners there was a little bit of resistance and messing around with the idea of sitting back and having your eyes closed.  In general the output used the target language and there were some nice opportunities to provide relevant language.  I think this made it more memorable and personal for the class, so hopefully it will stick a bit more strongly.


Image Credit: Pixabay

First Lesson: Student generated ID card Swap

3 Oct

This was a lesson I did with a class of elementary level learners yesterday.  My class were quite young, hence some of the content below, but it is quite easily adaptable to other ages and levels.  It doesn’t need any preparation, though the students will need pens / pencils and paper.

I started by eliciting “an ID card” and then by eliciting the kind of information you typically find on an ID card. The class came up with: name, age, date of birth, Card expiry date, and address.

I then said we were going to make our own ID card – what other information could we put on it?  And elicited: likes & dislikes, abilities & skills.

We then worked together to come up with a model:

Bobo the nose monkey(And in case you were wondering (a) “nose monkey” is the Portuguese for a bogey or snot in your nose; (b) these are my reformulations of what they wanted to include on the card.)

Having done this, I got the learners to work individually for five minutes or so to create their own version – a weird and wacky ID card for whatever alien monster their imagination could come up with.  An alternative for adult learners might be to channel various celebrities – it doesn’t matter if they don’t know – they can at least imagine!

When the cards were ready, I elicited the questions they would need to ask for each but of information:  What is your name?  What do you like?  etc.  I then drilled the pronunciation of these.

Finally, the students did a mingle, introducing themselves to each other, asking and answering questions.  The twist is that after each Q&A session, they swap ID cards with their interlocutor.  So if John and Jane are talking, at the end, John walks away with Jane’s ID card and vice versa, and John therefore has to introduce himself as Jane to the next person he meets.



It worked really well as a lesson and was a nice way for me to gauge the ability of the learners in the class.  Everyone had fun and it was a nice light start to proceedings!

If anyone has any variations – let me know!


First Lesson Ideas / Warmers

10 Jul

For many teachers, though the school year might have just ended – the joy of summer school classes is about to start.  Or may have already, but I think lessons at my habitual summer haunt are due to begin on Monday morning – I’m not there this year, so not sure.

In any event this post contains a collection of getting to know you type activities / ice-breakers or first lesson warmers for you to choose from.  If you started teaching summer school last week – sorry about the delay – but you can probably use these or adapt these as warmer or lead in type activities – so it might still be useful!

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The disabled access friendly world blog challenge: Creature Discomforts

29 Jun

Following on from the recent blog challenge on raising awareness of disability access issues, I came across the Leonard Cheshire Disability campaign whilst watching Shaun the Sheep dvds with my daughter.

The campaign is called “Creature Discomforts” and has very similar aims to the blog challenge – namely to get people to think about the way they see disability.

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Zip Zap Boing (I think?)

24 May

I blame that Simon Thomas over at efl-resource.  It’s all his fault.  And I’m still not sure whether it’s “zip zap zop” or “zig zag zog” or something else entirely!

I’ve inherited a class, which Simon once taught back in the misty dawn of time, of 12-year-old pre-intermediate students.  When I walked in the classroom the other day, they were all so keen and motivated to begin the lesson that they roundly rejected my fun warmer and started going on about this bizarre pointing game.  With some careful misunderstandings on my part, it took them ten minutes to explain the rules to me, all of which they did in extremely fluent English (which only goes to show if the motivation is there, the language will follow).

As far as I can work out, everyone stands in a circle.  Someone starts things off and the game runs as follows:  if you point (in a sort of two handed gun gesture) to the person on your immediate left or right you say ZIP,  to anyone else in the circle you say ZAP.  To deflect someone’s pointing at you back at them, you hold both hands up (as if in surrender) and say “BOING”.

It’s meant to be a fast paced, rapid fire game and if you get it wrong you’re out (though I’m not sure how you then declare a winner?).

To give this a larger linguistic focus or to work with higher levels, you could do this with parts of speech:  Nouns to the left, verbs to the right and adjectives down the middle!  A colleague, Alexis, also does this with vocabulary categories:  learners have to precede their ZIP/ZAP/BOING with a vocabulary item linked to the target category.

A nice way to start the lesson – or a fun way to finish it!

State of the World’s Mothers 2011 Statistics and Facts – Save the Children

11 May

State of the World’s Mothers 2011 Statistics and Facts – Save the Children – thanks to Greg Fuller for posting this on facebook…..

There’s a lot of information here and obviously the most interesting thing for any class to do would be to pull out all the statistics that relate to their country and decide whether or not they agree with them, why, and what could be done to change the situation….

Who knows – we could start a social revolution right here?

But information transfer tasks are good ways of processing information and creating a meaningful context for language learning to occur in, so designing tasks around the huge pile of data that Save the Children provide would all give a good reasons for learners to develop their linguistic resource.  Poster tasks, presentations (with or without powerpoint), charts and graphs all spring to mind.  Of course for IELTS candidates, there are a lot of graphs and charts just waiting to be described in the data!

There’s also a documentary available on the website which could provide the basis for both listening tasks and discussion afterwards (though maybe not a good idea to watch if you’re expecting, or have just had, a recent addition to the family).

These are all just some initial ideas – if you have any plans, materials or ideas you’d like to share to develop this topic, please let me know!

Twenty-Six different ways to do Gapfills / Cloze tasks

22 Mar

UPDATED – from fifteen to twenty six!  Many thanks to all those who contributed their ideas!

Does what it says on the tin!  As part of a recent seminar –  I have collected, invented, developed and stolen these fifteen alternatives to just giving the learners a gapfill task and then asking / telling them the answers.  Some of them you’ll know, others you may have known and forgotten, and some may get you wondering why anyone would do that to a fellow human being…  but hopefully all of them will be useful!

This post is also available as a pdf download by clicking here:  teflgeek – twenty six different ways to do gapfills.


Acknowledgement:  The activities given here were first presented during a seminar I gave at the International House Portugal Training Day on February 5th 2011, and subsequently as a seminar at International House Coimbra on March 22nd 2011.

1. Round the room Gapfill

Divide the text into paragraphs / sentences and post round the room.  Learners write the gap numbers (e.g. 1 – 10) on a piece of paper and walk around the room, doing the task as an open cloze, writing down the words they think should go in the gap – either in English or their own language.  Partial feedback – dictate the answers out of order and learners write them down next to their original answers.  Learners go back to the round the room text and check their ideas.  Full feedback.

2. TPR Gapfill

Give each learner a copy of the gapped text.  Give each learner one of the target words.  Learners then arrange themselves physically in the correct order.  Partial Feedback – give number of incorrect answers.  Full feedback – refer SS to full text (written record).

3. Banana Dictation

Learners write the gap numbers (e.g. 1 – 10) on a piece of paper.  The teacher reads out the gapfill, saying the word “banana” instead of the gapped word.  Learners write down a possible alternative.  Partial feedback – Give learners the gapped text and allow them to compare their ideas in two groups and put their answers on the board.  Full feedback – teacher gives number of correct answers and corrects wrong answers.

4. Shouting Banana Dictation

Divide the target text into two halves, ideally on a sentence by sentence basis to ensure that learners take turns during the rest of the activity.  Divide the class into two groups.  Group A gets one half and group B gets the other.  Ask each group stand / sit on opposite sides of the room, so that each member of group A is facing a partner in group B.  Learners take turns to read one sentence from their half of the text, saying Banana where there is a gap, and their partner has to guess what the word should be.  Feedback.

5. Running Banana Dictation Gapfill

The teacher posts the gapped text outside the classroom (next to the DoS office is always a favourite).  Learners pair up and run, read, relate and write, but – instead of relaying the “banana”, they have to say what they think should go in the gap.  Feedback – Learners swap their written texts with each other and compare them with an original ungapped version, assigning marks for transcription accuracy and correct gapped words.

6. Mad Libs Style

Take a gapped text and work out which part of speech each gap represents (i.e. article, noun, etc).  Dictate the parts of speech in sequence (i.e.  Number 1 – noun.  Number 2 auxiliary verb) and learners write down an example of that part of speech (i.e. 1 – elephant,  2 – has).  You can give more guidance if you want, e.g. number 1 – an animal.

Then either give learners the gapped text to transfer their words into, or dictate the gapped text with learners adding in their words as they go.  Learners can then compare their texts, enjoy the ensuing hilarity, and then try to “correct” the texts.  This can be useful to focus on lexical chunks, and on grammatical structures.

7. Silent Mingle ( this one comes courtesy of Jamie Conway)

Give each learner a copy of the text and one (or two depending on class size) of the target words.  Learners do a “silent mingle”, moving around the room, but NOT telling each other the answers, ONLY showing each other the word(s) they have.  Learners then get all the words and put them in the right place.  Feedback

8. Who Wants to be a Millionaire? has a version, as do and, which has a blank template and various pre-made versions relating to the UK primary curriculum.

Effectively mimicking the style and format of the highly popular quiz show, learners are given different multiple choice options for each question, correct answers bringing them closer to the one million pound prize!

9. Wrong Words

Instead of giving learners a gapped text, give them a text in which the target words have been substituted for weird and wonderful alternatives.  Learners then have to pick out the words they think are wrong, and change them for the words they think are right!

10. Banana Dictation Word Grab.

Put the target words if from an open cloze, or all of the possible words if adapting a multiple choice version, round the room / school / hidden in the DoS office.  The teacher then reads out the gapped text as per a banana dictation.  When learners think they know the correct word for the gap, they grab the word as quickly as they can.  This can be done in teams or on an individual basis.  The teacher continues repeating the dictation until all the words have been grabbed.

11. Grammar Gaps

Not exactly a Cloze task, but getting Clozer all the time! (sorry).

Remove the concrete from the brick wall, just leaving the bricks! – So in other words, re-create the gapped text as one that only contains “content” words, i.e. nouns, main verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc.  leave all the “function” words out.  Learners then recreate the text as best they can.  As a way to provide more support, display a copy of the gapped text on the board.  learners can come to you and check if they have a correct word, if they do, they can board it in the correct place.  Thus by the end, they will have collaboratively arrived at a completed text.

12. Reverse Gapfill

This one needs a little bit of pre-preparation and would be easier to work with an Interactive Whiteboard / projector and subsequent powerpoint slides.

Basically, you start with a complete text, but then slowly remove words from the text (it can be random, but it works more effectively if you start removing words from the beginning, thus corresponding with the stage of copying that the learners are at).  By the end of the first stage, you should have a blank, or nearly blank board.  At which point, you can put the learners into two groups, divide the board in two and get each group to put the whole thing back again.

Full feedback – compare with the original.

13. Gaps?  What gaps?

Take a gapped text and retype with without the gaps, but with still with words missing.  Learners therefore first have to find the gaps, before deciding what to put in them.

14. DIY Gapfill – thanks to Simon Thomas ( for this one:

This one, I think originally comes from Mario Rinvolucri’s “Humanising your coursebook” – essentially, you give the SS a variety of texts and they create their own gapfills, either blacking out the target words with felt tip (make sure it can’t be read on the reverse) or on the computers…  This is a good way of raising awareness of what is typically gapped in exam tasks, but can also be used to focus on target vocabulary or language points (i.e. gap all the verbs).

15.  Multiple Choice Wordle

Take the multiple choice options from your gapfill and wordle ( them.  Learners then have to work out which words form the four multiple choice options for each possible gap.  Partial feedback – give learners the gapped text and a blank table to complete.  Or give them the multiple choice options.


The above were my original fifteen ways – since giving the seminar I have more to add – thanks to all the participants (Jo, Jenny, Dave T, Kate, Jessica, Vera, Alexis, Dave C, Anna, Neil, Stella, Judy, Patricia, Marta, Michael, Daniel) for their contributions, which are listed here below, but I’m not sure who said what!


16.  Memory Cloze

Do the text initially as a reading task, possibly with a gist task and then with a detailed reading task and then give it as a gapped text.  This can be a nice noticing task, where learners’ attention is drawn to lexical chunks / collocations and the like.

17.  Red Herrings

This can be run either as an activity in itself, or can be used as a partial feedback technique.  Learners are given the answers with an additional set of “distractors”, and must choose the correct answers from the expanded set.

18.  Flashcard / Picture Cloze

As learners are attempting to complete the gapped text, the teacher can display visual clues, either direct representations (i.e. a picture of an elephant if the gapped word is “elephant”) or a picture from which learners can infer the answer (i.e. a picture of people arguing if the gapped word is debate).  These could be posted round the room, or just displayed one at a time as partial feedback.

19.  Info-Gap

Here learners have two different versions of the text, where the gapped words in text A are different to the gapped words in text B.  Learners are then paired and exchange the information to complete the gaps.  This type of task can be adapted for use with many of the other ideas presented here.

20.  Anagram cloze

Here the answers are given as a set of anagrams, which learners must unjumble before placing correctly.  This could be used simply with the answer set, or with the answer set and distractors, or with a complete set of options from a multiple-choice cloze task.

21.  Coded Cloze

Here, either the text or the answer set or both, are presented in a “code” form, with a decryption key for learners to work with.  A simple way of creating these is to use one of the “Wingdings” font sets in Microsoft Word or Open Office documents.

22.  De-lettered cloze

Remove either the vowels or, more challengingly, the consonants from the answer sets.  Or possibly the original text, or both?

23.  Miming Cloze

This would possibly work best with an info-gap type cloze task, where learners “mime” the answers to their partner’s gapped text.

24.  One Letter at a time

Learners are put into teams and the teacher begins to read the answer(s) one letter at a time.  The first team to correctly guess the gapped word gets a point.  An alternative is to do this as a board race, so each team has to write their answer on the board with three points for a correct answer.  Points could then be taken away for an incorrect guess / incorrect spelling.

25.  Sticky Board Cloze

Similar to a word grab – the learners are in three teams and each team has a set of answer words stuck to the board (post it notes?).  So for three teams, with a ten word cloze, there would be thirty words stuck to the board.  Learners from each team take turns to come up, take a word from the board, return to their team and put the word in the correct place.  At this stage, learners could need to present a correct answer before proceeding to the next word, or learners could try to complete the whole text with points then awarded for speed and accuracy!

26  “STOP!”

Create a “wrong words” version of the gapped text where you replace the target words with incorrect alternatives.  Learners can be given the text for support, or not with more advanced classes.  The teacher then reads out the text with learners shouting “STOP!” every time they identify an incorrect word.  They can be given points for this and additional points for identifying the correct replacement.  If not all incorrect words are identified, the teacher re-reads the text until either, all the answers are boarded, or there is silence and no-one can guess any remaining answers.


If any of the procedures above need further clarification or – more importantly – if anyone has a task to add to this list, please let me know!


This post is also available as a pdf download by clicking here:  teflgeek – twenty six different ways to do gapfills.

Brilliant online grammar resource

14 Mar

This a re-post of a re-post….

Simon Thomas ( originally spotted this post

on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog (

A really nice range of flash based grammar games for every conceivable language point!

So thanks to Larry for finding it and thanks to Simon for pointing out that Larry found it!

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!