December 13

General Knowledge Christmas Trees

Here’s a fun alternative to a Mariah Carey gapfill for your last lessons of the term.

Decide how many teams you’ll have in the class and cut out a tree for each one.  Then for each team, cut coloured paper into a different decoration – this can be a little labour intensive, but it makes the trees pretty!  Ideas are: baubles, candy canes, bells, tinsel, stars, stockings…anything festive!

Give the team the coloured paper shapes and tell them to write a general knowledge question on each – it’s probably best to brainstorm some common general knowledge questions first: sports, films, science, history, music, cookery – there are lots of options.

When the questions are ready, it’s time to play: the first time chooses another team to ask them a question; if they get it right, they stick that decoration on their tree. If not, it can pass over to other teacms and, if nobody gets it, the team which asked the question gets to keep the decoration for their own tree.

November 5

I’m not so keen on first-day shenanigans

So the start of term has come and gone and I wanted to share a lesson plan which I used with both my B1 and B2 classes to start the year.  I often find those first-day classes difficult to plan for – you don’t always know how many people will turn up, what will their level be like compared to the supposed level of the class and, in my case this year as I was teaching in a new centre, what the classroom environment will be like.  I also find that with younger learners, you can easily while away the hour on getting to know you activities and revision games; however, I think as soon as possible we should be getting into “work” and certainly adults are more interested in seeing what a real class will be like than spending too long on icebreakers.

The following lesson plan is suitable for B1 and B2 and involves a task aimed at learners preparing for the Trinity ISE exams, though paraphrasing is also a skill in the Cambridge exams.

Stage 1

Before the class, write the following on the board (adapted to yourself):

  • I’m good at being organised and getting up early.
  • I can’t stand text-speak.
  • I worry about not arriving on time.
  • This year, I’m really looking forward to going to Florida at Christmas.
  • In the future, I’d love to have my own language school.

Explain to the learners that of these five sentences about you, four are true and one is false.  Put them into pairs and give them some time to think of questions they could ask you about the sentences to discover which is false.  Monitor and help with question structures.

In WGFB, nominate learners to ask you questions and then invite learners to guess which is the false sentence.

Stage 2

Underline the structures in each sentence and ask learners to identify what comes next: infinitive (with or without to), verb+ing or a noun?  Identify which have more than one option.  Write the following phrases on the board and tell learners to identify what follows.

  • I enjoy…
  • I find it difficult to…
  • I’m keen on…
  • I’m obsessed with…
  • I prefer…
  • I like…
  • I expect…
  • I hope…
  • I miss…

Monitor and support learners during this stage.  In WGFB, you can also look at substitution, such as “I find it easy/fascinating/hard to…” or “I’m terrible/great/really bad at…”

Stage 3

As paraphrasing is an important skill for the Reading into Writing task in the ISE exams, I try to find a moment to practise it in every lesson.  There is also an element of paraphrasing in the Cambridge exams, though this is much more structured.

Tell learners to re-write the sentences below using the phrases above (including your original five statements), without changing the meaning of the sentence.

  • I hate winter.
  • I would rather travel by car than by train.
  • I find documentaries about nature very interesting.
  • I’m excited because I’ve got fun plans for the weekend.
  • Finding my way around new places is easy for me.

Learners can compare their sentences and also discuss if these statements are true for them.

Stage 4

Learners can now personalise the original task by writing five statements about themselves, four of which are true.

The original lesson plan

October 18

RetroTEFL – Dictation

There’s been a change in how teachers’ professional development is covered at our school. In previous years, everyone got together every couple of weeks and we had a session on a particular topic – which mean that you could sometimes feel that content wasn’t immediately relevant to your teaching environment or, in some cases, that familiar content was being revisited again.

I’m really excited about the change for this year – today we had the first meeting and could choose one of three threads that we wanted to look at this term,  These fell into the categories of The Language (specifically phonology), The Classroom (with the funky term “tissues and issues”) and The Bigger Picture…which this term also had a funky title “RetroTEFL”.  (Aside: Aaaah, yet again phonology is the Cinderella of ELT.  However, despite lacking a funky title, it was the most subscribed to thread for this term!).

A really engaging first session today – we identified why we had chosen that threads and set ourselves SMART goals to work on during the next few weeks.  I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see from my handwritten notes, but I’m planning on turning the tasks I try into blogposts, as well as jotting down my thoughts in my journal.

October 12

Minimal Pairs Telephone

I tried at activity a couple of weeks ago which I’d often heard about, but never done before – a minimal pairs telephone.  The previous week, I’d set my groups a writing task and whilst I was marking them, I noticed recurring issues with this and these when used as demonstratives.  It’s a common problem for Spanish speakers because of the length of the two vowel phonemes – Spanish has a short /I/ sound, but not a longer /i:/.  This leads them to make mistakes when writing, especially if they don’t proofread their work before handing it in!

So, after looking at the written task and highlighting the errors with this/these, I projected the table below and told them I was going to tell them my telephone number.

I then quickly read my telephone number as words, then again more slowly in sets of three.  It was amusing, as they struggled to hear the difference as well.  After pair-checking and confirming the answer, I drilled the words and encouraged them to stretch their mouths for the longer /i:/ sound.  Then they read their telephone numbers to each other.