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

November 30

Fortnightly Focus #7 – Kahoot and Quizlet

There’s been a lot of discussion in the British educational press recently about the benefits of gamification – I particularly enjoyed this blogpost from The Behaviour Guru, Tom Bennett.  That said, in my last fortnightly focus, I decided I wanted to create more interactive resources for my teen and adult learners.

My adolescent B1 group really enjoy both Kahoot and Quizlet – with Kahoot, they use their own devices, generally in pairs and like the competitive nature of the game.  I’ve created a couple of Kahoots with them – one focussed on question formation, whilst the other mimicked a PET writing part 1 task in which candidates have to paraphrase a sentence.  They were engaged, focussed and everyone participated – though in all fairness, they’re a wonderful group and a pleasure to teach and generally appear outwardly content whatever the task!

They also enjoy playing the Match game on Quizlet in teams – we divide the class into two teams and write up the score of the first team to see if the second group can beat it.  This is an effective activity if you have sets with quite a lot of language in them – too few words/phrases and the same words crop up in both games, putting the second team at an advantage.

So far, with the teen groups, we’ve only used the sites during class time and one of the problems which I have with many edutainment/eduresource sites is that they require learners to create an account.  Even if this is free, I dislike asking people to create accounts because I know that even if your information isn’t sold to a third party, you’re still likely to receive the odd annoying message from the site itself.  So, for my adult B2 groups, I’ve created a dummy account for Quizlet, meaning that they can go in and use the sets I’ve prepared, without needing to worry about receiving spam messages or remembering yet another log-in/password combination.  My adults seem quite taken with Quizlet – I explained that I felt it would be more engaging than me simply giving them a list of topic vocabulary and we looked in class together at how they can use the sets.

However, I’m as yet unconvinced of the educational value of Kahoot for my adults – though this could be because I’ve only used it once, it took a while for everyone to log in (which felt like wasted class time) and, again, with a very motivated and engaged group it felt a little unnecessary – yes, it was a fun activity, but it took as long (possibly even longer) than it would have done had it been done on paper and, at the end of the task, they didn’t immediately have any tangible result of it.  Though we then went through the language which had been included (collocations relating to money), I noticed that they seemed less able to recall the correct answers – probably because they had played the game at speed and so hadn’t had the time to assimilate the collocations.

I’ll give it another shot though – I think the last time I was probably a little more focussed on the edutainment factor and had created the Kahoot without really thinking about how and when I would use it in class – staging is essential when we consider any material and I lost sight of that in my eagerness to use something shiny and new.

OK, my next fortnightly focus is on phonology – I need to be more proactive in my teaching of it as I’m very able to work reactively – correcting mispronunciations and writing up the correct transcription on the board, working on intonation with my VYLs – but I know I need to become more aware of it in the planning stage.  Also, have you seen the recent lesson plan posts by Sandy Millin and Elly Setterfield?  Sandy’s image of her plan for a single lesson has shamed me into rethinking my own planning style…there might be a blogpost in there somewhere in the future!

October 5

Fortnightly Focus #3 – Routines for older learners and higher levels

Before I get into the previous fortnight’s focus, here’s my focus for the next two weeks.  I’m struggling a little with a loud group of six-year-olds so I’m going to look into ways that I can control their energy levels a little better without simply resorting to more heads-down activities.

So, routines for higher levels and older learners.  Well, to be honest, I haven’t had many classes with my adult learners as yet as with one group we did start-of-the-year evaluations (this blogpost is partly a moment of procrastination as I don’t want to get back to marking their written tasks yet!) and another group only started on Tuesday so we’ve only had a couple of lessons.  However, I have put some routines in place with my PET group which I’ll adapt for the older learners too.

Weekly video – this is an activity which I successfuly used last year with my B2 adults and it’s working well so far with my B1 teens this year.  Each Thursday, one of the learners brings a YouTube video for the class to watch and prepares three comprehension questions about it.  The thing I like about this activity is that it allows the learners to share videos which interest them and can spark a lot of conversation as well

Quizlet – my colleague, Amy, introduced me to Quizlet last year and so this year I’ve started using it with the teens group.  I like the Scatter game, in which two teams compete to see who can match the vocab to the definitions more quickly

New vocab wall – I only introduced this to the B1 group yesterday, but with the promise of chocolate for participating, they seemed quite keen!  I stuck up a big piece of card to the board and made it look like a brickwall.  Learners can add new words or phrases to the wall (kind of graffiti-ing it)

Also, as I have two Cambridge preparation groups (B1 and B2), I want to work on the speaking exam more frequently, particularly the picture description and interactive tasks as I feel these are the two tasks which candidates struggle most with, but which they can easily do well in with a little training

And, speaking of exam preparation, I also have an ISE II group and with them I’d like to focus on using the different grammatical structures confidently when asking and answering questions, as one of the key points which has been raised in previous exam feedback is that candidates were often more than capable of showing understanding of different structures, but struggled more to produce them (either through a lack of accuracy or through offering more natural responses to the examiner’s questions)

April 8

FCE Practice with EDpuzzle

We’re starting to look into blended learning at Active Language and whilst chatting about it the other day, I remembered a colleague, John, mentioning EDpuzzle.  This site allows you to add questions and comments to YouTube videos (and perhaps does other things though I haven’t explored it fully yet!).  Here’s my first attempt at using it – unfortunately you do need to sign up to use it, although you can log in with your Google account.  In fact, part of the reason for embedding it here was to see if it could be accessed by the class without needing to create an account – I don’t like obliging people to sign up to things.