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!

May 18

Visualise This!

Thanks to everyone who came along to my session on Saturday at InnovateELT. Below are the slides and links to the activities we did. If there are any doubts, just leave a comment, send me an email or message me on Twitter. Happy visualising!

Visualise this! from verybouncyperson

The Rock


An explanation of SPRE in more detail

Spot the difference

Guided visualisation leading on to an agreement-reaching discussion (similar to FCE and PET speaking exams)


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May 16


Thanks again to Jane Arnold – I first heard her read this story years ago at a TESOL-SPAIN event and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Part 1

Nora was a little old lady who lived in a remote part of Scotland. She had lived alone for many years since her husband died and to pass the time on lonely nights, she would do jigsaw puzzles.

Part 2

One stormy night, Nora was doing a puzzle when suddenly, she heard a knock at the door. She was more than a little surprised.

“Who can be calling at this late hour?” she thought to herself as she walked down the hallway and opened the door.

February 27

Spot the difference

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the FECEI conference in Madrid and held a workshop called Engaging Exam Exercises.  The first activity we practised was a picture description with a twist.  I started doing this activity in my class for two reasons:

  1. to give learners a reason to listen to their partner’s description, which is a great opportunity for them to pick up new lexis and structures from peers
  2. to provide a model in the early stages so that learners were able to describe a picture well for a minute, without becoming repetitive

Tell learners to close their eyes and describe a picture to them, but make some changes.  If you check out the slides in this post, see if you can spot the differences with the first picture.

I can see a girl who looks about 50. She’s wearing a black, long sleeved T-shirt and she’s got short, brown hair. She looks really happy and she’s holding a piece of paper that says, “4 intense weeks”. She’s in a building and I can see a plant behind her. There are also some pictures on the wall next to the plant and to the right there’s a big window. It’s daytime and it’s a really sunny day – you can see the sun coming in through the windows. I imagine she’s in a house and that she’s having a good time.

After you’ve modelled the task, put learners into pairs, A and B. A closes their eyes whilst B describes a picture; then A looks at the picture and tells B about the differences. In the next slide, you can see a model of the task with the sentence stems to help learners and on the third slide, instead of stems, there are the questions they should think about when describing the picture – giving them more autonomy and removing some of the scaffolding.

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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.