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A Video Lesson Template

6 Jun

This is a lesson template that works with any age, level or video clip – as long as the clip doesn’t have any dialogue.  Short animated videos or clips are best, and there are plenty out there.  My personal favourites, especially for young learners, are Shaun the Sheep or Tom & Jerry as these not only have a musical soundtrack that reflects the action going on, but also a large range of sound effects to give clues to the action.


(1) Learners listen to the audio of the clip (or if it is a long clip, maybe the first minute or two) without seeing the visuals.  In pairs, they then predict what they think is happening.  Nominate some of the learners to describe their predictions.

(2) Learners watch the clip.  Do feedback on their predictions.

(3) Divide the class into two groups.  Group A has to write down all of the characters and objects they can remember.  Group B has to write down all of the actions they can remember.  Monitor and provide input and assistance as necessary.

(4) Watch the clip again so the groups can check their lists for accuracy and add any additional items they need to.

(5) Pair the learners with one from group A and one from group B and ask them to write a synopsis of the clip.  At this stage, I also highlight a number of tenses I expect the learners to use (for example narrative tenses).  Or if I am doing this as part of a revision & review lesson, some of the recent language points that we have worked on, and I ask the learners to make sure that at least one example of each is included in their summary.  Monitor and provide input and assistance as necessary.

(6) Feedback and error correction.

(7) An optional extension is for the learners to write some dialogue for part or all of the clip and to perform it with the clip running in the background.  Though this can get a bit unwieldy if you have a large class!


Kieran Donaghy, the man behind Film English, has just posted “The Seven Best Short Films for ELT Students“.  I’ve seen two of them that I think would work with this template – The Present and Soar – I haven’t seen all the others, so I couldn’t say.  But if you’d like to use something a bit more meaningful and thoughtful than Tom & Jerry, then these will almost certainly be worth a look.



Processes and Passives

18 Jan

This is a lesson I did with my advanced class the other day as part of a review of passive structures.  I’ve typed it all up into a full plan and procedure which you can download in pdf through this link:  teflgeek – A lesson on processes and passives

It is based around a short advert that I found on Larry Ferlazzo’s site from the company Target:

In the lesson, the learners listen to the video without watching it, and predict what they think is happening.

They then watch it and extract as much language out of it as they can, before using the vocabulary they collected to write up a description of the process.  As it is a process, there is a nice mixture of active and passive structures that can be used and the lesson also contains some input on using the passive.

They can then use these skills to describe other contraptions and processes for homework, such as the image below.

I used this mostly as a vehicle for working with the passive, but it should also work quite well as a lesson for teaching IELTS part one writing.



The case for and against RP

19 Oct

“Since being in hospital, the only people I have heard speaking in the UK prestige model of “received pronunciation” are some of the consultants and surgeons.  Everyone else in the hospital is from everywhere else.”

In a recent post, about the need for native speakers to be trained in how to speak to non-native speakers, I made the point that very few of the non-native speakers will have encountered anything like the variety of dialect and accent that exists in the UK, let alone all of the variations of standard English that exist around the world.

The 2015 Ethnologue entry for English gives population figures of 335,000,000 L1 speakers of English worldwide, and 515,000,000 L2 speakers.  Yet estimates of received pronunciation speakers in the UK suggest only about 2% of the population, or just over 1.25 million people, actually use this form.  In other words, 0.15% of the global English speaking community uses RP.  Which begs the question of why we bother teaching it?

Proportion of RP Speakers

It is a staggeringly small proportion and the prominence of RP as a model owes a lot to historical views in the UK relating to class and status, as well as the historical nature of the education system and the dominance of the public schools (the term used in the UK to refer to private, fee paying establishments).

Unlike every other variety or dialect of English, RP does not relate to where you were born or where you grew up.  RP is a class and status marker and became desirable partly because of that, and partly because of its adoption by the BBC as a broadcasting standard.  There is an excellent and accessible piece by the British Library on RP, which goes into the history and evolution of RP in more detail.

It is the reasons why RP was chosen by the first general manager, Lord Reith, as the standard for the BBC that gives us our clue as to why it is so widespread in ELT:  “Reith believed Standard English, spoken with an RP accent, would be the most widely understood variety of English, both here in the UK and overseas. He was also conscious that choosing a regional accent might run the risk of alienating some listeners.” (British Library).  In other words, Reith wanted the BBC to be understandable and accessible to the broadest possible audience and was concerned that using dialect would make programmes accessible only to certain speech communities.  RP, with it’s relatively unmarked patterns, fit the bill.

Ultimately, shouldn’t this also be what our students should want?  To be understood by the broadest possible audience?  I have encountered negative attitudes to non-RP accents and speech in the classroom, including one student who flatly refused to do a listening activity with an African English accent on the grounds that he was never going to go to Africa and it wasn’t a useful model for him.  Fair enough, but this does miss the point slightly.

In Sound Foundations, Adrian Underhill distinguishes between Rapid Colloquial Speech (RCS) and Careful Colloquial Speech (CCS), where an example of RCS would be two native speakers talking informally to each other (for an example, see the transcript and audio via the link) and where CCS is a slowed down, clearer and, well, careful version of the language.  “An internationally available example of careful colloquial RP,” he says, “is that of newscasters and announcers on the BBC World Service.”  Just to be clear, Underhill does not say that CCS is the same thing as RP.  Features of CCS are that the speaker slows down, enunciates clearly, and makes sure that word boundaries are discernible; these are not features of accent.

CCS then, is a productive target.  As with the BBC, we want to be understood by as many people as possible, and so we should adopt a form of speech that carries the greatest degree of intelligibility, or what might also be the lowest common denominator.  As an example of that, RP is a useful productive model.

For RCS though, Underhill suggests “that this style of pronunciation is useful as a target for learners to aim at in their listening skill.”  Which begs the question, why isn’t it used for such?


Without the benefit of asking coursebook authors, editors and publishers; I suspect the answer is probably pragmatic.  Firstly,  the listening tasks don’t only function to develop listening skills, they also function as pronunciation models so that students can consistently link the way they hear a word to the way they say a word.  Secondly, if you do decide to feature alternative dialects and accents, which do you choose?  How would you determine which are most useful to the learners?  Thirdly, what additional input is needed?

The Dialect Blog, which looks at the way English is spoken everywhere, has some great input on Jamaican English and was the source for the You Tube video below, which is the story of “The Night before Christmas” read in the Jamaican patois.  Watch it and then think about what you would need to teach for that to be comprehensible to a group of learners.  Or alternatively, if you have a group of over confident higher level students, play it for them and ask them to transcribe it…..

It is probably going to have to be up to the teachers, responding to the needs of their learners, who decide when and how to incorporate non-RP speech into their classrooms.  The British Library, which has been previously referred to, hosts a collection of 71 sound recordings from around the UK with notes on the dialect.  Some great examples include:

These are all interviews, some have dialect notes, some have transcripts, some have neither.  The sound quality can vary, particularly with the older recordings.  Most are about five minutes long.

As an instant, no preparation procedure, I would suggest a three listening strategy:

  • First listening:  tell the students who they will hear and what they will be talking about.  Ask them to find one interesting “fact”.  Feedback on any content the students manage to uncover, but then move the conversation to process feedback – how difficult was it to listen to?  What did you understand and where did you have problems?  How much was accent and how much was vocabulary?  If the recording has dialect notes, you may be able to provide some vocabulary items at this stage.
  • Second listening:  Ask the students to take notes.  After the second listening, ask the students to work in small groups to try and reconstruct a version of what the speaker said.  This obviously doesn’t have to be a verbatim transcript, but should broadly reflect the content and attitude of the speaker.
  • Third listening:  Students check their reconstruction.  If you have a transcript for the recording, students could listen and follow the transcript at the same time.

I would then recommend some form of content follow up.  For example, Nicola from Plymouth (as above) talks about life as a teenager.  How is her life different to teenagers in your country?

A further possibility might be for learners to record their own interviews, using their mobile phones.


Another way to find authentic speakers talking about pretty much any topic is to search for videos including the phrase VOX POP and your topic.  e.g. Environment vox pop, christmas shopping vox pop.  A vox pop is an on the street interview between a reporter and member of the public.  They are usually quite short and may feature two or three people giving their opinions on the same topic.  The search term “street interview” also brings up similar results.  You could develop these into listening exercises as above, but as they are quite short, you could just use them as a lead in to your topic, asking students if they agree with the opinions.  While this is a primarily content led way of using the videos, it does also serve to expose and familiarise students to non-RP voices.

Finally, here’s the Night before Christmas.




Five Fantastic Film sites for ELT

9 Mar

Using video in the classroom is a great way to engage learners in the material, either from a topic perspective or with a particular language point.  Young learners in particular seem to love the moving image and it can be a great way of providing a change of focus or as a visually supported alternative to a standard listening activity.

These sites all do a great job of making film the focus.  Here they are in no particular order:

Film English

Kieran Donaghy’s award winning site takes short, authentic films and develops lesson plans around them.  Full lesson plans and any additional materials are provided.  Searchable by theme or by level, you can usually find something to work into your lesson.  The videos tend to be quirky and thought provoking and are usually good for discussion in a wider context.  My favourite:  The Adventures of a Cardboard box – because the sheer imagination of the kid in the video is fantastic and it’s great for any age of class.




Not all of the lessons on Jamie Keddie’s site involve videos, but most do!  All the lessons on the site have plans and materials attached to them and are available for download.  Lessons are tagged by level and language point and there’s a great range of topics to work with.  These are also interesting and thought provoking videos that can stimulate some good classroom discussion.  Worth investigating.  My Favourite:  Business Cards – because of the kinetic typography video!  Which I love as a great way of using words as visuals!



EFL Classroom 2.0

This is a lot more than just a video site.  A community based site with lots of resources to share in pretty much every area, the video section is a great place to dip into for short videos (most are under the ten minute mark) related to specific language points (e.g. question tags) or topics (e.g. Kenyan marathon runners).   This site does require registration, but it is free to do so.  There’s also videos for your own development – short snippets of Chomsky and the like, or people trying to explain Chomsky and the like!

My favourite:  too many to choose from!  There is a free pdf download of “Using Video in the classroom” which has some nice recipes that you can use with any video.

13/03/15 – Update:  I’ve been told that EFL Classroom 2.0 is now behind a paywall and that attempts to access it for free via facebook logins etc were unsuccessful.  I must have joined a very long time ago, because I didn’t know that it now charged for access.  My review was based on the idea that it was a free to access but registration required site and I’m not comfortable with recommending people pay for a service without making a much more detailed examination of what you might get for the money.  It may be that my informant just had a couple of issues with login details or wait times etc – so try it and see if it works for free for you!  

using video


Simple English Videos

Vicki Hollett’s site does exactly what it says – it provides a range of short videos that focus in on simple aspects of English, like “lend or borrow” or “have something done”.  These are instructional in that as well as providing a context for the language and demonstrating use of the language, there is also explanation and clarification.  There are interactive transcripts, but you do need to find a way to incorporate them into your lesson, they aren’t a lesson in themselves.  That said, they are a really nice alternative to a traditional language presentation from a coursebook.  My favourite:  Cook, Cooker or Chef? – because it’s something my students always get wrong and now I just give them the URL for homework!

Simple English Videos


All at C

This blog has fantastic range of videos aimed at intermediate levels and above.  Teachers of Cambridge English: First and Cambridge English: Advanced classes will find a lot to work with, including some videos that are aimed directly at these exams.  The procedures are clear and straightforward to work with and any materials you need to give out are available as pdf downloads.  My favourite:  Look up – because I love using poetry with students (and do so far too infrequently) and because it neatly encapsulates my relationship with social media!  The video link on the blog has gone awry, but a quick search of You Tube for “Look Up – Gary Turk” finds alternatives you can use.

Look up




Motivating students – teacher talk video

4 Jul

So this is the first in a series of videos being put together by the Teaching English (British Council | BBC) website where some of the blogging team on the site talk about a particular topic or issue.

Myself,  Adam Simpson, Lizzie Pinard, Chia Suan Chong, Anthony Gaughan, David Dodgson and Rachael Roberts all offer our insights into aspects of classroom motivation like goal-setting, the purpose of activities, variety and choice.

The video won’t currently embed, so the image below is a screenshot – if you click on it (or the link at the top of the post), it should take you through to where you can watch the thing.  It’s only three and a half minutes long, so perfect for your coffee break!

Video Snip


Video Lesson Framework – short animations

12 Jun

It’s getting close to the end of the year, when it starts getting difficult for our students to maintain their motivation for English and when teachers are busier with testing and reports and the like.  My students have been clamouring for a video lesson for weeks now, but I always feel as though I would be short changing them with a feature length film – so my concession to their desperate desire is the cartoon.

I have in the past used this lesson framework with Tom & Jerry  cartoons – they tend to be around the ten minute mark and as there’s no dialogue they work well for lower level classes and especially well with young learner classes.  That said, some of the content is quite dated and is what you might call “a product of it’s time” – in short you might want to review them to make sure they fit your context before using them in class.

shaun-charactersMore recently I prefer using Shaun the Sheep episodes – it helps that I have a wide range of these DVDs at home!  But you can also find them on You Tube (as below).

The framework is quite simple and doesn’t involve much in the way of language input, the focus here is more on giving learners a springboard for language production instead – and engagement and fun!

(1) Show learners pictures of the principal characters and ask if they recognise them.  Give learners a copy of the images (or given them one character image per pair).  Learners write a brief biography of each character – either based on knowledge or imagination.  This could include where they live, what they like eating, what they like to do etc.  (@10 minutes)

(2) Play the first two (or three) minutes of the episode, but with SOUND ONLY.  Learners then write down what they think happened.  You can feed in additional language as required, and reformulate their ideas into a mind map / spidergram on the board. (@5 minutes)

(3)  Play the first two (or three) minutes again, this time with video and audio.  Ask for content feedback on what they saw, whose ideas (from stage 2) was it closest to?  Have they seen the episode before?  What do they think happens next?

Now clean the board and divide it into three sections – divide the class into three groups and allocate each group a section.  This can be done as two groups if you have a small class or four groups if you have a large one!  Each group has to come up with a list of actions they think will occur in the second half of the video.  With stronger groups, you can make the list longer (e.g. 10 items), with weaker groups it can be shorter.  (@10 minutes)

(4)  Watch the remainder of the video as a board race – whenever a group sees something they wrote on the board, they shout “STOP” and run up to the board to tick it off, sit down again and shout “PLAY!”  This does make this section very stop-start, so I’d recommend watching it again afterwards without interruption, which can also let the groups check for anything they missed.

Feedback on the ideas. (@15 minutes)

(5) Scripting.  Split the class into group A and group B.  Allocate group A to the first half of the episode and group B to the second half.  Tell the groups they’re going to write dialogue for the characters and they’ll act it out (i.e. do a voiceover).  Let them watch the episode again to take notes (these can be in their own language for lower levels).

The groups then script some dialogue for their half of the video.  Supply necessary language as appropriate.  (@20 minutes)

Play the animation again, but with the sound off – the groups perform their dialogues.  Feedback on performances.  (@10 minutes)

The timings are approximate, but I think this is probably between 60 and 75 minutes, depending on the level and size of the class.

Have fun!

Six themes from #IATEFL 2014

13 May

Last week I did a ten minute spot at the 6th International House Teachers’ Online Conference  (#IHTOC6) on themes I’d picked up on from the IATEFL conference.

My talk, which predictably over-ran and was therefore a bit rushed towards the end as I tried to cram far too much into far too little time, looked at six main themes that I took away from the conference, but which I think are also prevalent in ELT at the moment:

  • Technology is terrific
  • Technology is terrifying
  • Evidence is essential
  • Experience is evidence?
  • Stereotypical Schoolrooms
  • Desirable development

The slides from the talk are below – most of the images are hyperlinked, so to find out more about the relevant issues or background, just click and they should take you straight through.

Here, however is the You Tube video for your entertainment and enjoyment:



All the talks and all of the slides have been uploaded to the conference blog, which you can find here:

Guest Post: If you look at the bottom of the screen

20 Mar

In this guest post, Dave Cosby looks at why some nationalities might be better at learning languages than others and considers the role that the pervasive influence of the international media might have to play…

If you look at the bottom of the screen…

Why are some nations better at learning languages than others? Is there something about their own national language that gives those speakers some indefinable attribute that allows them to pick up a language like you or I might pick up a newspaper?

The Dutch are amazing at this. I was once in a queue in an Amsterdam police station after being pickpocketed and was agog as I listened to the desk sergeant deal with Spanish, Italian, German, French and then me, English without batting an eyelid.

The Anglosphere  is notoriously monogolotal, even more so than the French, who I am sure secretly understand despite continual shrugging and exclamations of “Je ne comprends pas!”

But for me it’s all about attitude. If a country is open to other languages, and sees that they do indeed have a useful purpose (ie. there’s actually a point to learning them, after all, who wants to learn Dutch?), then people do actually learn them, and you don’t end up with the snails again, instead of the croque monsiuer you ordered, despite ordering it clearly and slowly with appropriate gestures.

Perhaps it’s all down to history. If the country in question is, or has been a big cheese, un grand fromage, they might consider it beneath them to bother with the double Dutch that the rest of the world is gabbling. Why bother? It’s all Greek to them. C’est comme parler chinois.

If you are, however, a policy maker, in one of these places, and you hope to encourage the learning of foreign languages in general, and of English in particular, what do you do?

The answer? Subtitle.

Get your national broadcaster to sack all the people dubbing the programmes and put up your first language (L1) in little white letters at the bottom of the page.

The American journalist and writer, Malcolm Gladwell, considers that the amount of time you need to spend to become truly expert in something is ten thousand hours. In his book, ‘Outliers’, Gladwell gives example after example of how those who really excel, those who define excellence in their particular field have practiced, and practiced. Then practiced some more. To him, practice really does make perfect and you know what? I think he’s on to something.

I would like to compare the average ability of students from two countries I have worked in and know well: Spain and Portugal. I could just as well be talking about Greece and Italy, two countries I know almost as well, but let’s stick to Iberia. In Spain students listen to Spanish music on the radio, watch Hollywood films dubbed into Spanish, surf the internet in Spanish… oh you get the idea. Then they go to three hours of English a week and expect their English level to rise from pre-intermediate to CAE/ IELTS 7.5/ C1 level in a school year and they are surprised and angry when it doesn’t.

A Spanish school year is short. Let’s start with the three month summer break. Then let’s subtract the two weeks at Easter and Christmas. We’ll add a week for Carnival (rounding up for the ‘puente’ holidays). That only leaves us 35 weeks or so. Which gives us just over a hundred hours a year in English. Not much is it?

Yet we have the same annual timetable in Portugal, or as near as makes no difference, and the chances are good that the boy or girl working at the supermarket checkout will speak English quite well, even in a non-tourist town miles from the coast. This is far less common in Spain. How?

Gladwell would look at numbers. So let us suppose that…

Perhaps our average student watches ten hours of TV. Maybe half of that is from Hollywood, shows like CSI or House. Yes, they are subtitled, but the audio booms along with the mid-Atlantic of Hugh Laurie and our student hears the cadence, the rhythm. If the language is not too far removed from English the friendly words that are close to L1 are caught easily, and reinforced with their dependent prepositions, their collocates. That’s a hundred hours of good osmotic English in a stroke. They watch because they want to watch, so they are motivated to understand, and not because they want to match the title to the paragraph but because they want to find out who the killer is, or what combination of unlikely sounding diseases are confusing the doctors this week. And it’s self-reinforcing.

Because students are used to listening to English on TV they watch films at the cinema in English too. Not because it’s art and that’s the way the artist intended, but because it’s easier. They will have passed the Tipping Point (to mention another of Gladwell’s phrases).

Their L1 no longer dominates their literate world so other media can get in on the act.

The average student may spend ten hours a week on the internet. I reckon that my average students spend far more than that, but let’s low-ball these numbers to make our point. Perhaps a third will be in English, maybe football websites or music write-ups, as well as Wikipedia for homework (my students’ favourite trick to avoid getting caught plagiarising from the internet in their L1 is to copy it from Wikipedia’s English website… and then translate it into L1. It doesn’t come up in a Google search by teacher then, or even Turnitin).

That still gives us more than a hundred hours with English right there. And students don’t stop surfing the web because they are on holiday; indeed the opposite is probably true.

The radio blasts out songs and they can sing along… all in English.

The immersion into English snowballs, as students self-select via the internet. I have Advanced and Proficiency students buying their university text books in English because they are a third the price of the translated derivatives.

In total our Portuguese learner of English is getting three times the access to English without breaking a sweat. We still don’t get close to Gladwell’s ten thousand hours, but we do get an accelerated learning… and I can get directions to the frozen food section in the language of Shakespeare, two thousand miles from home.

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.

TED-Ed – ten minute lessons from TED

12 Mar

A new initiative from the TED talks team, TED-Ed works with teachers to distill a great lesson into 10 minutes, animate it and put it up on youtube.

Watch the introductory video here:

And check out the TED-Ed youtube channel, with links to all the lessons already posted,  here:



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.