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One Picture – Six activities!

19 Jun

My latest blog post for the British Council Teaching English website is now live – click the link to find out more about “A house of mystery and secrets

It was a really fun challenge to try – all the bloggers were asked to choose one of four pictures from the #ELTpics Flickr stream and to base their post around the image.

The image I chose was this one by @adhockley:


Image supplied by ELTPics. (Some rights reserved)

And to try and exploit this image to it’s maximum potential, I’ve come up with six different activities – each one aimed at a different level of ability, though I think with a little bit of adaptation most of them could be done at other levels.

As I said at the start, this was the challenge for all the bloggers on the BC Teaching English site this month – there’s loads of great ideas from (at the time of writing): Larry Ferlazzo, Steve Muir, Rachel Boyce, Raquel Gonzaga and Katherine Bilsborough.

Check them – and all the other great posts – out here:

Is reading allowed, aloud?

9 Nov

Many years ago I had something of a disagreement with a colleague who, in a class I had watched, had the learners read aloud from a chapter of Roald Dahl’s autobiography “Going Solo”.  Paragraph by paragraph, they went round the room struggling with unknown vocabulary in that stumbling robotic intonation that is particular only to people reading a text that is completely unfamiliar to them.

As I say, we had a slight disagreement over the pedagogical value of such an exercise.  It is not something I would ever do with classes and frankly, it’s something I associate with the prescriptive, repetitive, grammar translation hell of my Latin classes at school.  And in that context I can understand it more, as the only other speakers of Latin I was ever likely to encounter were in that same room and communicative opportunities were somewhat infrequent (not that this was the point) – so if our teacher wanted to know whether we could pronounce our Latin correctly, this was the only avenue open to him.  Which does raise an interesting question – how does anyone know what the correct pronunciation of Latin is? Has it been handed down, speaker to speaker, throughout the millennia?

In any event, the question cropped up again recently and on this occasion I wondered whether I was alone in my distaste for Reading Aloud (or RA), or whether there were lots of good reasons to do RA that I just wasn’t aware of.  In short I asked Twitter what it thought.

The general consensus that there might be reasons to do RA, but that nobody had done RA with their classes – nor was likely to.

Reasons people came up with were:

  • If the teacher reads aloud, the learners can develop sound-spelling relationship awareness
  • To kill time / run out the clock in class
  • Classroom management – a settling and focusing activity for young learners or more active classes
  • As a focus on sentence stress or intonation work
  • Practicing giving speeches or other ‘real world’ reading aloud tasks (e.g. drama / poetry)


  • Teachers often use “it’s good for their pronunciation” as an excuse to justify the activity
  • Roleplay or drama isn’t quite the same thing as reading aloud anyway
  • There is a difference between written and spoken English anyway, so the value is questionable
  • It can be quite stressful for students to be put on the spot like that

For a much fuller rebuttal of RA – Ken Wilson offers his (strongly argued!) views on why “Reading Aloud in class is a complete waste of time“.  Essentially, Ken suggests (a) there’s no evidence students enjoy it, (b) it fails to enliven the reading experience (c) it doesn’t improve the reading skill, if anything it can only improve the “reading aloud skill” (d) it doesn’t necessarily improve pronunciation (e) most reading is a quiet, introspective activity – this is to be welcomed, not feared!

There are indeed several reasons why reading aloud can be disparaged, above and beyond those previously stated.  In the ELT Journal, Sally Gibson (2008) offers these common objections:

  • It is boring, stressful and has no real benefit for the learners, especially for those not actually doing the reading aloud.
  • The speaker uses most of their brainpower in the processes of reading aloud, leaving little for comprehension.
  • Development of reading aloud does not benefit development of other reading strategies and potentially can interfere with more efficient ones.
  • Focusing on each individual word slows reading speed
  • Reading slowly inhibits the ability to make sense groups and understand longer chunks of text.
  • Texts are often “unnatural”, or are written for effect.  As such they don’t reflect valid pronunciation targets for learners.
  • Unfamiliarity with English spelling conventions can cause problems with pronunciation of words learners may already know orally.
  • Reading aloud is a skill with highly limited applicability in the real world
  • Reading aloud is not easy for even polished native speakers, why should we expect this of language learners?

I can attest from my own experience that the ability to read aloud does not denote comprehension of a text – I once saw a Chinese learner read happily from a text (on tanks and explosions – nice useful content!) with absolutely no idea of what the text meant.  The text had come to him from his state school teacher and was probably set at about B2 / C1 level.  He, however, was in my A1 beginner class.

These problems and objections don’t necessarily mean that reading aloud shouldn’t be done.  As noted from the twitter chat, there are as many reasons for as against.

Jeremy Harmer (2009) gives four reasons why RA can be useful.  It does, he argues, help learners make connections between written and spoken forms of language.  It can tell the teacher what problems learners are having with pronunciation.  It can, with the proper preparation, be extremely motivating for learners.  Finally, it does mimic or practice a real life skill – here Harmer cites a colleague whose husband insists on reading snippets from the newspaper at the breakfast table.

In deriving his plus points, Harmer has drawn on Gibson’s article, as well as Gabrielatos (2002) and Mumford (2009), but does not encompass all the points in favour that they propose.  Gibson, for example, also argues that RA, in helping learners make connections between written and spoken forms, can speed word recognition.  It can help with intonation and can help learners develop “an internal voice”, which in turn might help them with their written work.  Gabrielatos proposes a framework for incorporating RA into your teaching and Mumford offers eleven activities that take RA and adapt and develop it away from “pure” RA and into something more “flexible”.

There are some issues that arise here:  problems that learners have with pronunciation during an RA exercise do not necessarily relate to a pronunciation problem per se, but are more likely to result from not having previously encountered the target word.  It seems odd to cite this as a point in RA’s favour, particularly, when Harmer’s article begins by citing a workshop he gave which highlights precisely this problem.  Clearly, if you don’t know a word, you can’t pronounce it properly and of course being able to pronounce it properly does not mean that any concept of meaning has been acquired, as my Chinese student ably demonstrated.  Equally, I’m not sure that RA does help with “intonation”.  It might help with “declamation” though, if delivering a speech in a suitably dramatic style is (a) your aim (b) what the students need.

And it might just be that it is what they need – two recent articles from Japan approach RA from very different viewpoints.  In the traditionalist corner, representing the ancients, is Porcaro’s (2012) article for ETP where he discusses the importance of a story telling culture in Japan, in particular the telling and re-telling of folktales and how he has used this with his classes.  In the modernist corner, representing the scientists are Takeuchi, Ikeda & Mizumoto (2012) whose recent research into cerebral activity during readin aloud exercises has thrown up some very interesting results.

In a nutshell (and with the full awareness that I’m summarising a quite complicated research paper in quite a limited space), what they found was that reading aloud in L2 requires a greater degree of cerebral activity than doing so in L1.  Not surprising perhaps, but they think this is probably because there is a greater degree of processing going on in terms of meaning as well as pronunciation.  This is because when you read aloud in L1, you don’t necessarily need to process the meaning of the words, because ultimately that’s not the point of reading aloud – parents who’ve drifted off in the middle of reading a story to their kids, but have kept reading will identify here!  The point of reading aloud is delivering the text, not understanding it.  Except in L2 where the reader apparently does both.  This theory is supported as when they asked people to read texts that were “too difficult”, the level of cerebral activity decreased – the readers stopped focusing on meaning and instead concentrated on delivery only.  Similarly, repetition of the task led to a decrease in activity as having processed the meaning initially, it wasn’t necessary to do so on subsequent attempts.

It seems then, that there may well be a value in Reading Aloud.  It also seems to me that those people who have recently argued in favour of RA have done so from a slightly odd position.  It is almost as if these writers have become aware that Reading Aloud has it’s adherents no matter what, and if that is going to be the case then it is far better that teachers incorporate RA into their classes from a position of principle – and have set out to describe what those principles might be.  In general recent articles on RA basically say that just doing RA isn’t really the done thing anymore and that if you are going to do RA, here are a number of ways that you can do RA without actually doing…. RA.  Or as Jeremy Harmer says “What we need to do then, is find ways to make reading aloud a positive and useful experience”  because more often than not, as Ken Wilson says, “the problem (is) that nothing is really happening in a classroom event where different students are struggling to read a dense text on the page in front of them.”

From a personal point of view, when I sent out the twitter cri-de-coeur it was because I thought I was watching an activity that had no benefit for the students and because I could see absolutely no point in what was taking place in the classroom.  I no longer view Reading aloud in those terms, after all, as Gibson says “It would be a pity if an activity that has some value in language learning … continues to be shunned … because of its careless use.”

Acknowledgments, further reading and references:

Thanks to @teflerinha, @MrChrisJWilson, @louisealix68, @hannahpinkham, @fielsted, @muranava and @kenwilsonlondon for getting into the debate on twitter!

Thanks in particular to: @teflerinha for remembering about Jeremy Harmer’s article, @MrChrisJWilson for remembering Ken Wilson’s and to @kenwilsonlondon for providing it, to @muranava for the Wolsey reference (as below) and to @fielsted for both the Gabrielatos and Gibson articles!

For more a more detailed look at the subject, there’s plenty to check out below:

Ferlazzo, L.  2011.  “The Best Posts On Students Reading Aloud Individually In ESL Class — But I Need Your Help Finding Research On The Topic” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from

Gabrielatos, C. 2002.  “Reading Loud and Clear: reading aloud in ELT“, ERIC, ED477572

Gibson, S.  2008.  “Reading aloud: a useful learning tool?“, ELT Journal 62/1.

Harmer, J.  2009.  “Is reading aloud allowed?“, English Teaching Professional 65/4.

Mumford, S. 2009.  “Rethinking Reading Aloud.”  Modern English Teacher 18/3 (Retrieved 9th November 2012 from

Paduraru, M. 2010. “Yes, we DO read aloud in class.” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from

Porcaro, J.W. 2012. “Reading Aloud“, English Teaching Professional 80/2.

Redpath, P. 2011.  “Reading Aloud Allowed?” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from

Takeuchi, O., Ikeda, M. and Mizumoto, A.  2012.  “Reading Aloud Activity in L2 and Cerebral Activation“, RELC Journal, 43/2

Wilson, K.  2010. “Reading aloud in class is a complete waste of time – discuss.” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from

Wolsey, T, 2010.  “Popcorn and Round-Robin Reading” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from


I’m aware that the title of this piece is uncomfortably similar to that of Jeremy Harmer’s and indeed to Peter Redpath’s!  In my defence, it was originally exactly the same as Jeremy Harmer’s as I had already started writing this post and thought I was being creative and original – ah well.  There are no new ideas in TEFL as they say….  And it is too good a title to go to waste…

CAE Online Resource Directory

4 Jun

For those involved with CAE exam classes – I’ve just put up a directory of online resources which you can access here:

CAE Online Resource Directory

There’s a mix of exam information, online practice exercises and teaching advice, so take a look and see what you think!

Predictably, a lot of what’s out there for “CAE” – or “Cambridge English: Advanced” as we should more properly call it – is just details for various courses run by schools and language training centres.  There isn’t as much out there as there is for FCE.

So – if you know of anything that I haven’t included – please do let me know – you can do this by leaving a comment here, or via the feedback form on the about page.

Opposition debates for CPE Summary tasks

12 Apr

This was something that popped into my head the other day as a way to change the dynamic of a CPE lesson based around summary tasks – and which will also be useful for the 2013 revised exam (writing part one).

Frame the summary question (the last question on the exam paper, usually question 44) in more contentious, combative terms and write it on the board.

Set the class up in two groups and give each group one of the texts from the CPE part 5 task – so group a gets text a and group b gets text b.  Give the learners some time to process the input and to prepare their arguments, discussing what they found in the texts, developing any elaborations and predicting and preparing ripostes to any counter-arguments.

Usually with an opposition debate, I like to seat the learners in two lines down the middle of the room, so that learners are (a) facing each other and (b) up close and personal.

Begin the debate!

At the end of the debate, and before focusing on any language feedback, do some content feedback.  In particular ask the learners what the main areas of discussion were and get these listed on the board.  Point out that these are the (probably – obviously you’ll need to check with the task key) content points they need to identify for the summary task.

Make sure learners have a copy of both texts (a and b) and then with their debate partner, they can formulate a written answer to the summary task.

Guest Post: Say what you see…

9 Apr

In his second guest post on this blog, Dave Cosby thinks about forcing changes on languages and considers the sound-spelling relationships apparent in English.  Above all, he admonishes, just

Say what you see…

Here in Portugal the language is undergoing a change. The new orthography is slowly being introduced and new spellings enforced by public bodies, taught in schools and universities and the older, more Latinate spellings are being phased out. The agreement between the Portuguese speaking nations was made with the best of intentions, mainly to keep the link between the spoken and written languages, and my Portuguese students tell me that it does, mostly have that effect. They have removed silent letters, such as the p from excepto, but I can’t help thinking that it’s sad to remove the link with the existing corpus of literature, and the link between Portuguese and other Latinate languages.

As an outsider though, this is not really a huge concern. What is perhaps worrying is that a  petition of more than a hundred thousand people in Portugal, complaining of the new rules, was ignored by the government of the day who pushed the law through. You might think that a hundred thousand isn’t that many, but remember that this country only has a population of ten millions or so, so we’re talking about proportionally a fair number of people.

Another couple of points strike me. As a native English speaker it feels odd that language could be imposed top down like this from a government. The English speaking world muddles along without any bodies such as the Académie française, the guardians of the French language, and seems to do alright with the informal musings of the Oxford English Dictionary and Websters.

It also seems a little bizarre that the changes were necessary at all. Portuguese, or perhaps Old Portuguese as it should now be called, is an incredibly phonetic language. Much more so than English and even French, though to be fair the main raison d’etre of the Académie these days seems to be to prevent Anglicisms creeping in such as those dangerous phrases, le weekend and le computer.

On the flip side, perhaps we in the English speaking world should take a leaf out of the Portuguese book (though using what organ I know not) and repair some of the tatty edges of our tongue. The Americans have done away with a superfluous ‘u’ here and there, as well as the simply awful ‘ough’ when a ‘w’ works much better. Even so, by ridding itself of odd spellings the Portuguese have instead landed themselves with a few more homographs.  I was reminded of this old chestnut:

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead –
For goodness sake don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up – and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart –
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five!


Just try reading that aloud quickly… or if you’re feeling malicious get a cocky FCE/CAE/CPE student to have a crack. It might bring them down a peg or two (until they respond with a totally incomprehensible local tongue twister).

Perhaps we should reform English after all. Here’s another tract that seems to have existed as long as the internet, but perhaps there’s one or two readers out there who haven’t come across it.

Euro English
 The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU rather than German which was the other possibility.
As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty’s Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five year phase-in plan that would be known as “Euro-English”.
In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard “c” will be dropped in favour of the “k”. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have 1 less letter.
There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome “ph” will be replaced with “f”. This will make words like “fotograf” 20% shorter.
In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be ekspekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent “e”s in the language is disgraseful, and they should go away.
By the fourth year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th” with “z” and “w” with “v”. During ze fifz year, ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords kontaining “ou” and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.
After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru! And zen world!

We often take the link between written and spoken language for granted. We should not. I came across this excellent article by David Moser on ‘Why Chinese is so Damn Hard!’, so here’s a link to remind you why its so important.

Like the great Mr Roy Walker used to say, ‘ Just say what you see’.

Dave Cosby is a teacher of more years experience than he cares to remember and has worked in a variety of countries around the world, in a variety of roles from teacher to Director of Studies to language school chain troubleshooter.  Currently he’s based in Coimbra, Portugal.
This is his second guest post on the blog – his first is here:  “If you look at the bottom of the screen“.

#ELTChat Summary: Teaching at a Discourse Level

15 Feb

How can we focus language teaching more at discourse level rather than sentence level?

The first #eltchat of 2012 attempted to answer this question!  I wasn’t actually there and didn’t take part in the chat and I’m still not quite sure how I’ve ended up writing the summary except that Marisa_C possesses remarkable powers of persuasion and as someone who teaches higher levels this is an area of interest!  Hopefully, this captures the key points, but I’m not a “discourse specialist”, so feel free to point out any errors or omissions.  I haven’t cited individual contributors, but the transcript is available if you’d like to know who said what.

“Teacher, what mean “discourse”?”

The initial question makes the assumption that discourse works at a higher level than merely the sentence thought the Wikipedia entry relating discourse analysis to “approaches to analyzing written, spoken . signed language use or any significant semiotic event” – which I interpret broadly as meaning “if something attempts to convey meaning, it can be analysed to see how it does so”.  A more accessible overview of discourse suggests that discourse analysts are concerned with “the construction of meaning throughout a text”.  (it should be pointed out here that the word “text” is used more to mean a linguistic event than a written document).

Thus discourse can apply to patterns of interaction, “text” structures, communication events, language within a text – usually occurring within a context of authentic language use.  There are no set “rules” of discourse per se, because discourse examines everything and the rules change depending on the context.

Stuck at the Sentence?  Problems with discourse:

Receptively, learners simply may not know enough vocabulary to access texts effectively – to fully understand a text learners need to be able to recognize 95% of the vocabulary used in the text (Laufer, 1989).  Additionally, the mechanics of textual cohesion devices like referencing, linking expressions and paragraphing need to be understood.

Receptive knowledge of these devices also form part of language tests, like FCE, CAE, CPE, IELTS (etc), and within fields like EAP.  Often these tests also require learners to demonstrate productive knowledge of these devices in structured, genre specific writing tasks.  While genre is an aspect of discourse, genre familiarity is a separate issue for learners to grapple with.

Where learners are preparing for a language test, classes tend to become very test focused, very accuracy focused and very form focused – developing a test dependency that can be difficult to move away from.  This may account for the amount of language teaching conducted at the sentence level within test preparation classes, though this is not ideal.

It isn’t helped by the general trend within published ELT materials for decontextualized, fragmented, sentence based language presentations.  Grammar teaching in particular tends to be conducted at the level of the sentence and examine items in isolation and without reference to a wider context.  The natural fluidity of language would seem to predicate against this.

Problem?  Solution! – what a bunch of Hoey!

(Bonus points to those who got the discourse analysis joke there….)

The simplest responses to the issue of isolated sentence based grammar teaching would appear to be just to teach grammar in a wider context and by making learners aware of functional aspects of language and their use – aspects of Speech Act study (which is only possible in context).  This could be facilitated by more use of authentic materials or by use of digital coursebooks (this latter point wasn’t fully expanded upon – I’m intrigued and would welcome comments!).

The other key suggestion is to move learners from receptive awareness of discourse patterns, for example making them aware of such patterns as they occur in listening and reading tasks, through to productive acts that feature and practice the target discourse structures.  This would seem to favour a product approach to writing – the exposure of learners to a model text before asking them to produce something based on that model.  There is often a reluctance amongst learners to “do writing” in class, but while instruction could take place in class, the actual practice of the writing skill need not.

(An authorial aside – just from reading through the tweets as they related to discourse and testing, in particular the learners desire just to “get through the test”, I think it’s worth pointing out to learners that often with testing, there is no “quick fix”.  Discourse features occur in many language tests precisely because they are skills to be developed and rather than something that can be sidestepped.  There are task strategies than can help fine tune learner performance, but if the underlying skills aren’t there, neither will exam performance be! )

In conclusion – Do Learners need Discourse Analysis?

A good question – do learners really need discourse analysis skills or is it just the teachers who do?  There was a general consensus that the main goal is to have learners working and using “real language”, which would seem to take us back to using authentic materials as part of the input process, both to serve for language development and provision of exponents, but also to raise awareness of discourse structures and patterns as they arise in the target texts.

Teachers therefore need training in discourse analysis so that they can effectively instruct the learners, and be able to evaluate published materials more critically.  Thus they can help the learners to not only look at language performance but also to reflect on the language they encounter, to think about aspects of discourse such as audience and purpose – to be aware of the patterns rather than actually conduct a discourse analysis.

Further Reading, References and links from the chat:

(Links given where possible)


An apology on behalf of #eltchat – Raquel_EFL appeared to make a large contribution to the chat with people responding with phrases like “brilliant” and “Good point!!!”  but unfortunately for some reason these contributions didn’t show up in the transcript and I fear have been lost to history….

#eltchat takes place on twitter every Wednesday at 12 noon and 9.00pm London time.  Simply sign in or sign up to twitter and search for the hashtag #eltchat.  For more information, check out the website.

All is not what it seems – The Little People Project

9 Jan

Back in December I posted on “nine pretty pictures” – ways of exploiting images with learners.

I recently came across “The Little People Project” – though unfortunately I can’t remember where – it might have been The Guardian, but I’m not sure.

I really like the images – the composition is quirky, the use of every day materials is inspired and the locations are very unexpected.  The initial images, the close ups (as above), will no doubt provoke lots of speculation amongst the learners – but in many cases other images, showing the works in their wider settings are also included.

A great collection of images that can be used for most of the purposes in the “nine pretty pictures” post – story prompts, caption competitions, role play prompts, mind-mapping & speculation tasks all spring to mind!

The zombie apocalypse and its role in the ELT classroom

6 Jan

From the always interesting yearinthelifeofanenglishteacher comes what is clearly the best blog post title of 2011:  “The zombie apocalypse and its role in the ELT classroom“.

I missed the original post in June, only picking up on it via Tyson Seburn’s 11 posts I wish I’d written  in December, but it is a truly inspired way of teaching speculative language – mainly focusing on conditional forms – through the medium of you tube “choose your own adventure” style videos.

The original post features the Zombie Apocalypse (courtesy of a New Zealand pizza company ad campaign);  the time travelling adventures of office-bound Chad, Matt and Rob; and a UK anti-knife crime campaign.  This last features incredibly authentic North London dialect – while making the choices will be accessible to all levels – the language from the participants will not!  Also worth watching it all the way through (as with all the videos) to check for suitability!

That last point is also worth making of all these type adventures, it’s not always necessary for learners to understand everything the characters in the videos say – unless you specifically want to work on listening skills – the choices, as you see from the picture above, are quite clear and these should prompt the discussion, which will in turn probably clarify any areas of confusion relating to the events on screen.

Finally – it’s also worth reading through the comments section below the post – some great ideas and further links from the commenters.



The World in 2012: Predict this!

3 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 Dec

And compliments of the season to you all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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