September 24

A materials-free PET lesson

Eeeep, I’ll admit it – I’ve still not got my routine sorted in terms of when lessons get planned and so on Thursday, I had focussed far more on my YLs and twenty minutes before an afternoon of classes suddenly thought, “Aaah – what am I doing with my PET group?!” Unfortunately, teaching two groups of little people and another YLs class during the afternoon, I didn’t have much time to plan whilst lessons were going on and five minutes before the class was due to start, still didn’t have it quite clear in my head. So, here’s a materials-light (possibly even -free) lesson for learners preparing for the Cambridge PET exam.

Start with StarWord – an easy game which activates schemata.
Draw a star on the board. Explain that you’re thinking of a word related to the topic of (At the beach). Give them a minute to brainstorm in pairs.
Nominate a learner to say a word (then, as was the case on Thursday, have a moment of panic when they get your word – towel – in the first guess and you realise you can’t think of anything else at the beach. Congratulate them on being so clever, writing their word below the star to show they got it correct, then recover with ‘bikini’ in mind and start again!).
The star on the board represents where your word lies alphabetically, so as learners guess, add their words to the board in the correct position (before/after, closer/further away).

**If I was doing this class with a group of teenage learners I was more familiar with, I’d do this stage next. As it was only our second lesson, I decided to do this guided visualisation after the speaking exam practice stage.**

Tell the group to close their eyes and do a guided visualisation of being on the beach. Here are some questions to put to them…
Are you on a beach you’ve been to before, or are you imagining a new beach?
Are you alone? Are you with friends or family?
What can you see around you? Are there children playing? Is the beach busy or empty?
What can you hear? Think about the sound of the sea – are the waves crashing on the shore or is it calm?
Can you smell anything?
Think about where you are – are you standing on the beach with the sand between your toes? Are you in the sea – is the water warm or refreshing? What’s the weather like – can you feel the sun on your skin?

In pairs, learners tell their partner about their beach – remind them to think about what they could see, hear, smell and feel. Then, as whole group feedback, ask each learner to tell you three things about their beach. This is a good moment for error collection/correction – a typical issue here in Spain being, “I was in the beach.”

Next, elicit three or four beaches which your learners may go to and ask them to work in pairs to think of an advantage and disadvantage of each. It can help to say that they can’t repeat the same information more than once and, if you wanted to add an extra level of challenge, you could say that they can’t use opposites to talk about different beaches, e.g. “An advantage of beach A is that it’s clean. A disadvantage of beach B is that it’s really dirty.”

Nominate learners and board their ideas – don’t limit yourself in feedback to just one advantage/disadvantage for each as it’s likely that pairs will have come up with different points for different beaches.

Then, as a bit of an aside, check their knowledge of the PET speaking exam and elicit timing, interactions and the different phases of the exam.

For the next stage, it may help to have some typical language for part 2 (the interactive phase) prepared on cards – phrases for making suggestions and agreeing/disagreeing, such as, “Why don’t we…?” or “I don’t think that’s a good idea, because…” If you have them prepared, hand out a set to each pair and ask them to divide them out; if you don’t have the cards ready, you can elicit this language from the group and board it.

Set the scene for part 2 of the speaking exam:
“You’ve decided to go to the beach this weekend. Talk together about the different beaches you could visit and decide which would be best. I’ll say that again…”
In pairs, learners discuss the topic, using the cards in their hand. This is another good opportunity to monitor and collect/correct errors.

**I now did the guided visualisation.**

Finally, set up a homework task to write a letter to a friend who is coming to visit your city/region and has sent a letter to ask your advice on which beach to visit.  Elicit the layout for writing a letter and word count.

Here are some other topics which could work with this plan:

*Being in the countryside. They could think of activities to do such as horse-riding or rock-climbing for the interactive and letter tasks

city*Going shopping. They could think about different shopping areas in the town (for example locally for us there is a small shopping centre, an enormous shopping centre out of town, a department store or the high street).  For the letter task, they could respond to a friend about their shopping habits

*Learning languages.  For the interactive tasks they could think of advantages and disadvantages of the different ways people can learn languages (online, going to class, reading, audio classes, etc) and then for the letter task, give a friend advice on learning a new language

*The future. For the guided visualisation, you could talk them through their future job; then for the interactive task they could talk about possible summer jobs and in the letter task, either write a letter imagining a job they had in the previous summer or talk about their plans for their future career

September 6

Ten years later #1

Well, it turns out that it was ten years ago this month that I did the IH Young Learners course in Sevilla.  It was a fabulous experience – full of useful theory, practical ideas and oh-so-enjoyable teaching practice and I met some wonderful teachers on the course, including Micaela who is still a good friend and fellow teacher/blogger.

Unfortunately, whilst I’ve retained a lot of the course information in my head, I hadn’t actually re-opened the folder I developed during the course in the past ten years and, as I’m having a bit of a clear-out, I’ve decided to take out bits which I had forgotten about and store them on here.

Ten years later #1 is based on a wonderful text about how YLs differ from adult learners, some of which I’ll summarise below:

Accuracy vs. Fluency – When we learn our first language, the emphasis is on communication rather than fluency and we should work on finding a balance between fluency and accuracy in our lessons, with both groups benefitting from activities which focus more on one than the other

Cognitive Ability – YLs are less able to deal with abstract concepts which has implications in terms of how we approach language learning – adults will be more able to deal with form and function as they have more awareness of how their L1 works

Direct and Indirect Learning – Adults have more skills at their fingertips to appreciate the ins and outs of the language and are often keener to develop an understanding of how the language works.  On the other hand, YLs learn more indirectly

Energy Levels and Moods – Allow for flexibility when planning lessons to cater for changes in energy levels during the lesson.  Although this is a factor we associate more with YLs, we should also be sensitive to the energy levels and moods of our adult learners who may be coming to class after a long day at work or be dealing with personal issues which affect them

Memory – YLs are sponges and able to learn very quickly.  However, they lack the more developed memory skills of adults, who also have better learning strategies at their disposal

Motor Skills Development – This is an area we should be looking to develop with our YLs and be aware of their restraints during planning

Pronunciation – Adult learners can generally learn to make new sounds, though this will take a considerable amount of practice and may still not come naturally to them (sometimes I can roll my r, other days I can’t!).  YLs enjoy mimicry and we often make use of drilling exercises in the YL classroom, but we shouldn’t be afraid of getting adults repeating ad infinitum if there is value to the activity

Social Skills – Generally speaking, adults have this pretty sorted, though they are still skills we should work on in our classes.  YLs will require more support in this area with tasks which encourage co-operation, competition and interaction with peers

March 6

Phrasal Verb Stories

Spanish learners often find phrasal verbs difficult and can have problems using the correct one in context, often resorting to more formal Latin-root verbs which they feel more familiar with.  So, if you’re looking for extra practice for your classes or for self-study, you can now download a great new ebook by Michelle Worgan.  The book is called Phrasal Verb Stories 1 and it’s available with English definitions or, in another version, with Spanish translations.  Each story has a short video, which you can watch on the Phrasal Verb Stories channel, and a text to complete.


February 16

Ask the Experts

This is a fabulous game which I picked up at a conference years ago, but rarely play as I always worried that it would only be good for higher-level learners.  However, if you limit the questions, it could be a really useful game to play with younger learners and lower-level adults as well as it really enourages them to focus on sentence structure.  Here’s how I set the game up with my B2.2 group the other day:

I gave each learner a piece of paper and asked them to write a topic on it – I said the topic could be very general or very specific.  After collecting in the papers and shuffling them, I gave each person a topic and asked them to imagine one question they would ask if they met an expert in that topic.

Next, I explained how the activity works – we are the panel of experts and are going to answer these questions; however, each person can only say one word at a time.  We did a quick concept-check with the question, “What’s your favourite colour?” to check they had understood how to play.

The first question was on the topic of films and we had to recommend a good soundtrack composer and the second one was about the dangers of mobile phones.  It was a fun activity as we moved away from the original topic – on the subject of mobile phones we somehow ended up talking about people who cook chicken in microwaves with no protection.  I admitted to the class that I wasn’t sure how the game is originally played – whether you just keep speaking until you get to the end of a logical sentence or if there is a time- or word-limit.  Thinking about it now, it could be good to work in two teams and for the other team to judge the experts on the content of their answer; they could also transcribe the sentence to check it was grammatically sound as I error-corrected on-the-spot during our game.

February 15

Games for adult learners – Word Ladders

Word Ladders are fun for any age and they’re easy to play with minimal preparation from the teacher.  On the board, draw two ‘ladders’ with an equal number of rungs on each.  Divide the class into two teams and set them playing.   If you have a large group and enough space on the board, you could draw more ladders.  I always say that learners can help their teammates and keep an eye on the game so you can rub words off if they’re spelt incorrectly or if the other team has already written it first.  Here are some ideas of variations on the game, which you can combine to make the game more challenging:

Going up

In one of the simplest versions of the game, learners start with a word with three letters at the bottom, then on the next rung write a word with four, then five, and so on until they reach the top of their ladder.

Going up with a topic

To add a bit of challenge, you could give the learners a specific topic for the ladder; for example, if the topic was adjectives, they might write fat – thin – happy – strong – serious – exciting – fantastic.  Or for animals, it could be cat – frog – snake – rabbit – leopard – elephant – crocodile.

Last letter, first

In this version, as learners move up the ladder, the word must start with the last letter of the word on the rung below – this gets trickier when combined with Going up.  So you may end up with cat – take – eaten – notice – easiest – terrible – everybody (lots of es in that round!).  And even more so if you add in a topic!