January 22

Verb patterns four-in-a-row

Verb patterns are tricky for English users because many languages do not have a similar construction, often using just the infinitive. The activity below provides students with controlled practice of the verb patterns and can then be used in a subsequent lesson to review the language and provide a basis for freer speaking.

A number of the questions are specific to my current environment (a naval base) but could easily be adapted to suit your learners.

Playing four-in-a-row

Divide the class into three teams. In order to win a square, the team must correctly complete the question. If they do so, stick a coloured Post-it note over the square (one colour per team). The objective of the game is to get four squares in a row (horizontally, vertically or diagonally). This version is suitable for B2 and above.

September 20

None of us have…

It’s been one of those weeks, settling into a familiar environment, but with a number of kinks along the way. The school I work at has smartboards in every classroom – but as these hadn’t been used since February, there were some coming-out-of-hibernation issues this week. So, I was looking for paper-light activities as I had a two-hour class with no photocopying facilities and, at the point of planning the lesson, no projector.

Onestopenglish came to the rescue and I found a great activity from Scott Thornbury. Here’s how I adapted his One of us activity:

Before the class, I prepped a sheet for each group of 4/5 students, so that there would be four groups working in the classroom. I divided the page into four and wrote:

  • None of us have…
  • Only one of us has…
  • Most of us have…
  • Everybody has…

Then, on the right-hand side of the page, I cut each section into four strips.

As a warmer, we did a bit of hangman with the questions:

Have you ever…?

  • broken a bone?
  • met someone famous?
  • done something dangerous?
  • lived abroad?

After they had worked out the questions, they had a couple of minutes to discuss the questions in pairs and then feedback to the class – at which point I found out one of them had broken one of his vertebra during a parachute jump and spent two months in bed!

Setting up the activity, I divided the class into four groups and gave each one a piece of paper. I told them they had ten minutes to complete the sentences, using the present perfect. Whilst they were completing their sentences, I monitored and helped with vocabulary, and corrected participles and other errors.

When groups had finished their sentences, I told them to tear off the sentence ends, so each group had 16 slips of paper.

In the next stage, groups swapped slips and tried to put the other group’s sentences in the correct section. This was quite a fun part as they started using their detective skills; for example one phrase was ‘got married’ and as there was one older learner in that group, they thought he might be married and put it in the Only one of us has… section.

Whilst they were doing this, I wrote some phrases on the board to support them in the final stage:

  • We think none of you have…
  • We think only one of you has…
  • etc.

Finally, when students had placed the sentences in each section, they shared their ideas with the other groups. This was also fun, as one group had written quite a random phrase, ‘made cheese’, and the group which had their slips thought it was Only one of us has… because it was such an abscure thing to write. This was a great opportunity to teach the phrase a red herring!

In all, the warmer and the activity took about 55 minutes and was also a great opportunity for new vocabulary to come out as well as a chance to review participles. Also, it was a wonderful way to learn more about the students, which is always a bonus!

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

February 24

More questions

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about questions recently and in my adolescent B1 group yesterday the grammar point was indirect questions.  The book we’re using this year, Gold Experience, is strong on controlled practice activities (which unfortunately aren’t particularly challenging for my group) but I find that the language the book covers, both grammatical and lexical, needs much more dynamic and personalised activities to make it enjoyable and memorable.

After presenting the grammar and doing a quick controlled practice, I gave the learners small pieces of paper like this:

They had to draw themselves on the top left and a classmate on the bottom right (there was also a space to put names in case the drawings weren’t clear!).  They had to think of a question to ask each person in the class – nothing too personal or rude, but something interesting that they would like to know.  There’s a wonderful vibe in this group so I wasn’t worried about them asking anything impolite or distasteful – but it’s worth laying out the ground rules just in case.

We then put all the papers in a pile on the table and then did a mingle: each person took a card and had to approach the person drawn on the bottom right and ask the question indirectly, then write their answer in the speech bubble.

Jaime, Nacho would like to know why you only come to class once a year.

Belén, Inma wants to know what your boyfriend’s name is.

They were really enjoying the mingle and the end of the lesson crept up on us, but the next logical stage will be to do a quick review of reported speech and feedback.


January 20

Interviewing Trump

OK, I couldn’t resist a lesson about Donald Trump – he does have a way of making reported speech great again 😉

With my FCE group, we were doing a review of reported speech, reporting questions and reporting verbs.  Having elicited in the previous lesson the changes which take place when using indirect speech, the first activity of the lesson looked at reporting verbs – namely categorising them into their patterns, such as RV+object+infinitive, and so on.  As I said, this was a review session and learners had already seen reporting verbs previously and done more controlled practice exercises with them.  After feedback on the reporting verbs, I told the learners that we’d come back to them later and put a wordle on the board:

To be honest, they didn’t really even need time to confer with a partner as the lexis was familiar and it was fairly obvious who the words related to!  I then set up a listening task using Sean Banville’s famouspeoplelessons.com and gave the learners the following numbers to listen out for: 1946, 45th, 324th, 70/7/6.  After listening they had a couple of minutes to share with a partner what they had understood the numbers related to – again, not too tricky, though it did throw out the word ‘wealthiest’ which they were unfamiliar with, but understood in the context.

I could have done more with the listening – and indeed, Sean prepares a wide variety of tasks to do for each of the biographies he presents – but I got the sense that nobody was particularly interested in learning more about the 45th President of the United States…there were some stony faces around the classroom just at the mention of his name!

So, we moved onto the next stage and I asked the learners to write three questions they would like to ask Donald Trump, any three questions.  They were quite creative and I was surprised that some of them were using more emphatic language in their questions, like:

“Does your wife actually love you?”

“Do you really think the USA can survive without immigrants?”

Whilst they were writing their questions, I’d written up a quick review on reporting questions on the board, with a couple of examples which we went through together.  I then put them in different pairs and set up the freer practice activity.  I explained that they were journalists who had interviewed Trump and were going to report back on how the interview had gone.  They had to work together to re-phrase their questions into indirect speech and then write Trump’s answers, including at least three of the reporting verbs we’d seen at the start of the class.  Although this is an activity they could have done individually, I found that they were able to support each other more working together – correcting each other as necessary when writing indirect questions and chatting about what his answers would be.

All in all, that took about 60 minutes and a similar activity could be done for any famous person – I found that using someone who the learners were less keen on meant that they wrote more creative questions, but the plan could work equally well with another celebrity.  You could also adapt the plan for lower levels by just focussing on reporting questions and indirect speech (He said…) rather than using reporting verbs.