Tag Archives: Teenagers

Cambridge Advanced writing – learning to answer the question

28 May

Keeping writing relevant to the question is something that learners often have difficulty with.  Sometimes this is because they mis-identify the key content points, sometimes it’s because they write their answer for the wrong purpose.

This is the outline of a lesson I did with my CAE class the other day – I used tasks from the Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English 1 practice test book – but this would be adaptable to other levels and your own materials.

The aims are:

  • to familiarize learners with the language and style of exam writing questions
  • to provide learners with a strategy to access key question content


Lead in:

A quick discussion among the learners – which writing tasks they like, which ones they don’t and why.


Give the learners a sample Writing Part 2 question (either question 2, 3 or 4) and ask them to work in pairs to identify (a) what they have to write about; (b) why they are writing.

Feedback & input:  draw a line down the middle of the board and either nominate people to come up and write their ideas in the right side of the board, or ask them to tell you and write their ideas up yourself.

On the left side of the board, write the acronym:

  • T
  • I
  • P

Ask the learners what the acronym stands for:  tell them it represents:

  • Theme (or Topic)
  • Idea(s)
  • Purpose

The TIP is a tool to help them analyse the question and make sure they are including the relevant information in their answers.

Using the sample question you gave them earlier, lead them through an analysis.  As an example, see the question below, which is reproduced here without official permission from Cambridge ESOL and which comes from the 2008 version of the handbook:

CAE writing sample task

Here I would suggest that the Topic  is “a famous scientist”, the Ideas are “their achievements” and the Purpose is “to convince someone to make a TV programme about them”.

The TIP tool also functions as a way of determining the organisation of the text, in the above case, the introduction of the competition entry relates to the topic, while the main body would contain a description of the ideas and the conclusion would be the essential justification to include the chosen scientist, in other words, fulfilling purpose.


Ask the learners to form three groups (group A, group B, group C) and give them additional part two questions to work with.  Ask them to identify the TIP for each question.

Regroup the learners so that they are working in groups of three, with each group comprising one student from the former groups A, B & C.  The learners can then share and compare their analyses and you as the teacher can monitor and clarify any concerns.

Further Practice & Production:

In their groups of three from the previous stage, ask the learners to write their own “CAE Writing Part 2 question”.  Monitor this stage and if necessary feedback on whether the questions are too broad (e.g. write a proposal for world peace), too specific or requiring specialist knowledge (e.g. what are the advantages and disadvantages of Samsung as compared to Apple) or too personal (e.g. write a letter introducing your partner to your parents) – none of which candidates need to write about in a Cambridge exam!

When they’ve drafted suitable questions, they swap their questions with a different group, who must (a) identify the TIP for the question they’ve just been given; (b) draft a suitable plan for an answer and (c) write a strong introduction for their answer.  (this last one can be dropped if time is an issue).

These can then go back to the group that wrote the question for feedback, or the groups can come together to compare outcomes.

The End.

Except of course, for homework, you may want to ask them to complete a Part 2 writing task….

This lesson (post)  is also available as a downloadable pdf here: teflgeek – Accessing Exam Writing Questions



Special Needs and ELT

27 Jun

I wonder what experience many EFL teachers have of working with learners with special needs.

My own experience is fairly minimal – about seven years ago I did a placement test interview with a student who was partially deaf.  It sticks in my mind because I found it difficult to understand the student and I was obviously concerned not to confuse my lack of understanding with any weaker language areas the learner displayed.

Since then – nothing.  At least nothing that I’m aware of.  Until about four or five months ago when I began to notice that one of my learners was doing an awful lot of hiding in the classroom, her written work displayed some very odd errors – a lot of letter transposition and L1 phonetic spelling of L2 items – and her assessment scores were weak, particularly her reading.  I began to wonder if she might be dyslexic.

Now at this point it gets a bit tricky.  My own view is that if I was a parent and my child’s teacher suspected dyslexia, I would want to know about it.  But this isn’t always the case.  Personally I don’t understand why not – dyslexia doesn’t suggest any lack of mental faculties – just a different way of accessing the world around you.  Nevertheless, it is not always easy to predict the reaction of parents to the implication and as my DoS pointed out, I have no training in this area and am in no way qualified to state with any degree of certainty whether dyslexia is an issue or not.

On reflection I have to wonder why not?  I don’t mean why am I not qualified – the reason there is because I trained as a teacher, not as an educational psychologist.  What I mean is why aren’t learning difficulties covered in teacher training courses?  When I did my DELTA six years ago – we were asked whether any of our schools had a policy related to learning difficulties – only four people put their hands up and we all worked for the same school.  I suspect that most schools would argue that they are generally inclusive and therefore don’t need a policy.  Fair enough.

But I think that CELTA, DELTA and MA ELT courses should include components on teaching learners with learning difficulties as standard.

As an addendum to this story, my student’s mother came into school to see us the other day.  Having had something of a battle to get things arranged and appointments made and so forth, my learner was recently diagnosed with dyslexia.  Frankly, I see this as a brilliant step forwards – because now we can help her move forwards in her learning more effectively and she can stop hiding.

Further Reading & Resources:

Naomi Epstein runs the “Visualising Ideas” blog sharing her ideas and experiences teaching deaf and hard of hearing learners (amongst other things!)

Michael Strong “Language Learning and Deafness“, Cambridge University Press

E. William Clymer & Gerald P. Brent “English for International Deaf Students: Technologies for Teacher Training and Classroom Instruction”  a downloadable pdf from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Sue Swift “Helping Students with Learning Disabilities: Part One” from the ELT Notebook blog, and there’s the second part here: “Helping Students with Learning Disabilities: Part Two“.

Gemma Ormerod’s summary of the #ELTChat on “Teaching Dyslexic Students

Sharon Turner writes as a dyslexic English language teacher, describes what it can be like to be dyslexic and offers some very useful advice for teachers on how to help dyslexic learners in her post: I am Dyslexic and It’s now a blast!

Chris Wilson shares his resources and handouts from a seminar on Dyslexia he gave, as well as links to yet more useful resources.

Chris Wilson also created and links to the IH Young Learners group Dyslexic Learners Linoit – a sort of cork board of guidance and links for teachers of dyslexic learners.

#BBC Podcast – The Trouble with Moody Teens

16 May

There was an excellent podcast on the BBC – Podcasts – Documentary of the Week page recently.  Sadly, BBC policy is only to host these documentaries for a seven day period, which has no expired, so unless you know someone with a bootleg copy, you’re probably out of luck.

Which is a shame, because I think this is one of those programs that anyone who has a day to day professional or parental involvement with teenagers should be forced to listen to.  It looked at depression and mental health issues amongst teenagers, which is often dismissed by parents and other adults as just being a “moody teen”.

I don’t think the audience is just limited to parents, though parents will take a lot away from this, I think anyone who teaches teenagers should also definitely listen to this – it offers some startling insights and some first hand accounts as well as talking about measures and support networks that are in place in the UK to help.

One of the references in the program was to NICE (National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence), a UK body, and their guidelines for dealing with depression in children and young people.  You can find their web page here:  Depression in children and young people: Identification and management in primary, community and secondary care.

Another resource I came across is http://teenmentalhealth.org/.  This appears to be a Canadian based organisation, but it contains links and resources aimed more at families, the teens themselves and educators, and may be a source of more accessible assistance than the NICE guidelines.


Getting learners writing: FoldBooks!

19 Apr

It can be difficult to get learners writing, especially young learners who often see writing as an imposition on classroom fun and games – so fun ways to encourage learner writing are always welcome.

At the FoldPlay website, they’ve come up with FoldBooks.  As the name suggests, these are mini-booklets made out of A4 paper, which have been pre-printed with images and text.

If you go to the FoldBooks page you’ll find input boxes there to work with, once you’ve filled everything in, click the “make your book” button, then print and follow the folding and cutting instructions precisely.

There are eight boxes that need text adding to them, and consequently eight pictures that need to be included.  In order to maximise the amount of text that can be put on the page, it’s best to reduce the font size to about 12 and the text margin to about 18, which is roughly the same as the image margins.  Pictures though, can only be uploaded from the computer, so if learners want to use pictures from the internet, they’ll need to download those to the computer, before uploading them again, which is a bit of a hassle, but there you go.

I think with learners, particularly younger learners, I’d ask them to write a first draft in the classroom before adding the excitement of the computers.  All that’s needed is eight smallish – say two or three sentence – paragraphs.  It might fit nicely with some of the circle writing tasks along the lines of “describe a man  / describe a woman  /  the place they met  /  what did they say to each other / what were their dreams  /  what was the problem  /  what did they do  /  how did it end”  (for example).

Once learners have got a set of  accurate texts they’re happy with, they can think about pictures they want to illustrate their books.

That, I think, is the point to take them into the computer room and let them have a go at making their  FoldBooks.

#IHPortugal Training Day: Facebook in the Classroom

7 Feb

This is the second of a series of posts reflecting on seminars I attended at the recent IH Portugal Training Day.  Click the link to read the first post on “Class Management by Carol Crombie“.


Robert Dickson & Stephen Wardle

IH Lisbon

For some time now, I’ve been experimenting with a number of web tools, attempting to create an online environment for my learners – an extension of the classroom, an alternative channel of communication, a shared resource….  and the conclusion I came to fairly early on was that facebook was probably the best means of achieving this.  After all, why reinvent the wheel?  Everyone’s already on facebook – so it should be easy!

Robert & Stephen’s seminar looked at the “whys” and the “hows” of using facebook, but perhaps more importantly, it also looked at the “should we-s” – the things to think about before connecting with your learners outside the classroom.

Continue reading

#IHPortugal Training Day: Class Management

31 Jan

This is the first in a series of posts reflecting on seminars I attended at the recent IH Portugal Training Day.


Carol Crombie

IH Viseu

We all have classes that we think of in ….  less than glowing terms.  For whatever reason these are the groups where nothing ever seems to get done, or the whole experience is like herding cats – everyone wanders off in different directions and you’re lucky if you come out of it without scratches on your arms…

Carol’s session was an excellent reminder of how to approach class management and what to expect from it.  I should point out – this post doesn’t represent complete coverage of Carol’s seminar – just those aspects of it that feel most pertinent to my own teaching situation.

I think the most refreshing idea that came out of it was the point about matching expectations to reality – refreshing in the sense of making me think “oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that” – but also in the sense of me coming out of the session feeling ready to do something about some of those cat herding classes.

For example – do you expect your learners to put their hands up before speaking?  Do you expect them to switch their phones off before the class?  Do you expect them to enter and leave the room in good order?  Carol’s list of “ideal” classroom behaviours got me thinking about the difference between “desired” and “expected” behaviours – I think it would be lovely if all my classes did all of the things on Carol’s list (not chew gum, be respectful to each other, listen to the teacher etc) – but I don’t “expect” it, because, well – that’s the question – why don’t I expect it?  Have I just been worn down by them?  Do I have a jaundiced view of teenagers?

Possibly the reason why I have trouble with my classes is because, as Carol pointed out, the first rule of classroom management is to be clear in your own mind of what you expect from the class.  By setting clear boundaries, you’re signalling to the learners that it’s alright to work within those boundaries of what’s allowed and what’s not.  Teenagers are, as was once pointed out to me, professional students.  It’s what they do all day, all week and most of the year.  But they will push, just to see what they can get.  If, like me, you’re a theoretical disciplinarian (you know how it works in theory, but the practical applications are a step too far) – what happens is that the learners don’t so much push, but nudge.  A little here and a little there and pretty soon you find yourself running the class by their rules.  Set the boundaries and guard them vigorously!

Part of the difficulty is in what Carol referred to as “signalling your authority” – or “my room – my rules”!  How do your students enter the class?  All in a jumble, still nattering, texting, i-pods a-blazing,  scattering school books everywhere? (Yes, I have a class in mind as I write this!)  Entry and exit routines can help reinforce the idea that the classroom is not just an extension of their everyday surroundings, but that it is YOUR turf, they enter on sufferance and to remain they must abide by your rules.  So, asking them to wait outside until you arrive, and then asking them a revision question before they come through the door.  Or to add a word to the vocabulary category on the board (later students will find this more difficult, thereby possibly improving punctuality?).  Equally, exit routines, where there isn’t a mad rush for the door, but a tidy up, returning furniture to it’s proper place, collecting the homework task, another “exit” question – it all helps reinforce the idea that they’re leaving “your environment”.

It is important of course, to choose your battles wisely.  There must always be a line that is not crossed – but in some ways, choosing the battles that are minor and inconsequential are the most important.  Carol gave the example of students chewing gum in class.  This, she says, is her line in the sand and she will brook no disobedience.  I think I can see the point – for the students to give in on the minor things, which ultimately don’t matter to them one way or the other, generates the idea and the habit of submission to teacher authority, so that when a bigger issue arises, the habit is already there.  Also though, as Carol mentioned, when learners craftily sneak one past you (and quietly get away with chewing gum in the corner of the room) it satisfies the rebellious instinct.

So – back to my herd of recalcitrant cats…  We’re going to have a bit of a talk.  But I’m not going to tell them off.  We’ve probably done enough of that already and it hasn’t done much good except for set us against each other.  Instead I’m going to borrow Carol’s behavioural expectation checklist and edit it a bit and I’m going to ask them to use it to assess their own behaviour.  Do they think they’re doing everything they should?  (This was another of Carol’s great ideas by the way).  And I’m going to let them set the behaviour rules they think are appropriate for the class.  I’m going to pick four that are non-negotiable, and I’m going to let them choose another six from the remaining items.  And I’m going to see what kind of enforcement policies they think would work best.  There is a danger here, that they will think absolutely none of them are suitable….  and I’m anticipating them requiring a bribe of some kind….  but we’ll see.

I’ll try and come back to this in a couple of days with some feedback on how things went – but in the meantime I’m off to sit down and work out exactly what I expect from my classes.

Do learners know what they need?

27 Jan

There is a lot of talk about learner needs, needs analysis and learner centred lesson planning and course planning.  But do learners really know what they need?  Or do they just tell us what they want?

The difference between “wants” and “needs” is neatly illustrated by the image on the right – a want is something that is desirable but unnecessary.  A need is something you have to have no matter what!  And do we always know the difference?  I know that I often say I need to go and buy something, when the truth is, I can probably do without it!

In education the reliance on needs analysis worries me, as I fear it might be misplaced.  After all, we go to our doctors and describe our symptoms but we don’t tell the doctor what to do next – why should we as language teachers rely on the input our learners give us?  Surely as a professional I am capable of spotting the problems a learner is having, communicating those problems to the learner and working out a set of solutions.

But we don’t always notice and the doctor analogy is perhaps right – the learners come to us and say “I’m having problems” before we then think about what the causes and solutions might be.  So learner input is valid – but can it be trusted?

Continue reading

Using Haiku for Summary Tasks

12 Jan

Summary task woes
Unfound ideas from the texts
Lacking clarity
What is a Haiku?
Distillation of ideas
Concisely worded 
This could go quite wrong
Haiku for summary tasks?
Might be worth a try 

Learners at CPE (Proficiency) level frequently have issues with the comprehension and summary task on the Use of English paper (click here for Cambridge ESOL’s candidate guide).

Answering the comprehension questions can be difficult enough, but the summary task is enough to turn teachers and students into gibbering wrecks, sobbing in the corner of the classroom and wailing at their own percieved inadequacy.  The truth is that they aren’t inadequate in any way – they just need some training!  Using Haiku is an approach I’ve used to try and help learners access the core ideas of the texts in a simple and succinct way.

Continue reading

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Five Favourite Things

12 Dec

On the fifth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  FIVE FAVOURITE THINGS

Welcome to the teflgeek Christmas celebration!  Themed around the classic Christmas carol – but going backwards, mostly because it’s more like a countdown that way:

12 blogs worth clutching

11 tips for writing

10 tricks for reading

9 pretty pictures

8 talks worth watching

7 simple statements

6 games worth playing

and five of my favourite things.  No brown paper parcels tied up with string here – just five simple activities that I use all the time and can help break up the monotony of the lesson.  I don’t claim authorship of any of these – in fact most of these can be found in the one extent copy of ” diht aet álaeran englisc to aelfolc” – a primer that was in wide use after the 1066 invasion of England after which none of the Norman lords and masters could talk to their Anglo Saxon serfs and had to arrange hasty lessons.  “diht aet álaeran englisc to aelfolc” can be found on the shelves at the Bodleian Library, next to a copy of what appears to be the publisher proofs for the very first edition of Headway Elementary (or héafodaerneweg folcsóp).

(1)  Backs to the Board.  

I’ve mentioned previously, how this activity was demonstrated to me on the CELTA and how I use it with virtually every class (though sometimes I give it a rest to avoid overkill!).  The following description is from the teflgeek “Activity Reference

Essentially a vocabulary review game / activity.  Divide the class into two teams (they can choose a team name?).

Take two chairs and turn them round so that anyone sitting in them will have their backs to the board.  One person from each team comes up and sits in the chair.  The teacher writes a word on the board and the other members of the team try to explain the word, without actually saying the target word.  The first person (sitting in the chairs) to say the correct word wins one point for their team.  Change the person sitting in the chair after each word, so that all team members get a chance to be the guessers.  You can use this with single vocabulary items or with collocations, phrasal verbs, or even full sentences!

Rules:  People sitting in the chairs may not look at the board.  Explainers may not say the word OR ANY FORM of the word – for example if the target word is “teacher”, teams cannot say “teaching” / “teach” / “taught” and so forth.  The only language allowed is English (or your target language).  No mime or gesticulation is allowed.  No writing things down.  no saying the first letter of the word or spelling the words.  Points can be taken off for infractions!

Obviously, these rules can be relaxed for lower levels.  Fun for all ages and abilities!

(2)  Running Dictation

I have a suspicion this one might have come from Nick Kiley, almost ten years ago in China.  A running dictation is a great way to get your classes up and moving – especially if they’ve been sat there for a while.  It practices all four skills and because there’s a focus on accuracy (i.e. correct transfer of information) can be a nice way to introduce a language point.

What you do – take a target text, not too big, probably about 75-100 words (this will depend on class age and ability – I’ve done this with a list of ten words, or with ten short sentences, or with a short letter).  Stick a copy of the text somewhere nearby, ideally outside your classroom – the door to the DoS office is a favourite location – but out of immediate communication range.

The learners work in pairs – person A runs to the text, tries to remember as much of the text as they can, returns to their partner and tells them what they can remember.  Person B listens and writes it down.  When person B has finished writing, they run to the paper and read the next bit before returning to tell person A who writes it down and so on.  At the end of the activity, you can ask pairs of learners to compare their texts for accuracy, or if you’ve extracted the text from the coursebook, they can check it against the original.

Generally, I use these as a means of providing the target language, so I tend to follow the activity with some kind of language mining task – for example if the text had been an anecdote designed to highlight narrative tenses, the task might be to sequence the events in chronological order.

(3)  The Domination Game

It sounds worse than it is….   And it’s another one I’ve mentioned before, but seeing as that was two days after this blog first started I don’t think anyone noticed.  So I feel no guilt about reproducing it here!  This one is, I think a teflgeek original:  I originally cooked it up as a comparatively fun way of doing revision / practice of an entire FCE Use of English paper without melting the learners’ brains or causing everyone in the room to lose the will to live….

The term “comparatively fun” is used advisedly – this one can easily run past it’s “use by date” if you let it – if you feel that learners are beginning to shift uncomfortably around, then just cut the whole thing short and declare a winner!

As mentioned, it was originally designed for an FCE Use of English, but it can be used with absolutely any Grammar / Vocabulary revision task – basically all you need is 42 questions.  In the past I’ve used it with three separate “revision” pages of a course book – as long as the question references are clear, it’s all good!

Basically, the game is a combination of “blockbusters” and “reversi”.  Teams have to try and get the greatest number of connected squares they can.  Teams win a square by answering a question correctly.  The strategy element is introduced as teams can obviously block each other, cut each other off – and steal squares from each other by surrounding a square on two separate sides.

A full procedure, game grid and question reference sheet are attached and available to download as a pdf file here:

teflgeek – The Domination Game

(4) The Never-Ending Mingle

We’ve all done those “Find Someone Who” tasks, where learners walk around the classroom with a bit of paper, asking the same question to ten different people – and usually getting the same short and effective answer – “No!”  The never-ending mingle avoids some of this by imposing two simple rules on the activity  (1)  learners aren’t allowed to ask a question to the same person twice  (2)  Learners swap cards after each Q& A encounter.  This way, learners will ask as many questions are there are people in the classroom, quite possibly talking to each person as many times as there are people!

Variations: (1)  let the learners think up the questions.  (2)  learners think of more than one question (three seems like a nice number)  (3)  learners include a follow up question (to avoid short Yes / No type encounters)

Feedback:  “John, what was the most interesting thing somebody told you?”

(5)  Reason to believe

This is one of my ultimate cover lessons – particularly useful at short notice.  I do it at least once with every class I teach, in one form or another.  It’s one of those that works better at higher levels, but I think could work anywhere from Intermediate upwards, as it relies on learner ideas rather than language per se.  There are opportunities for language input built in, and these could be developed further if necessary.

Essentially it’s an opposition debate, where learners debate the things they believe in – or not as the case may be!

Downloadable pdf version of the plan is attached here:  teflgeek – Reason to believe.

On another note:  Reason to Believe was my very first post on this blog!

So these were a few of my favourite things – what’s your favourite five?

(NB  Apologies to all students and teachers of “Old English” for the very dodgy book titles at the top of the post….  You can blame my general ignorance of old English grammatical structure and inappropriate use of the Old English Translator for any and all mistakes contained within!)

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Six Games Worth Playing

9 Dec

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

Welcome to the teflgeek Christmas celebration!  Themed around the classic Christmas carol – but going backwards, mostly because it’s more like a countdown that way:

12 blogs worth clutching

11 tips for writing

10 tricks for reading

9 pretty pictures

8 talks worth watching

7 simple statements

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

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

(1)  The Curfew Game.

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

(2)  Stop Disasters!

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

(3)  Nation States.

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

(4)  Destination Impossible.

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

(5)  Lyrics Training.

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

(6)  CSI:  Web Adventures.

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

Have a look and I hope you enjoy!