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.

October 10

Don Quijote – a short play

One of the new challenges I have this year is teaching 4th Primary Social and Natural Science as part of the school’s bilingual programme.  I see four groups once a week – which is fantastic in terms of planning as I can pretty much repeat the same lesson four times (tweaking it as I go and reflecting on what worked well from the first lesson of the week!).

A couple of weeks ago, the whole year group was involved in a project about Don Quijote – all their lessons in different subjects were themed around the story and so I also offered to prepare on the topic for my class.  Having never read the book, I wasn’t really sure which direction to take, so I read up about it (and watched some children’s cartoon versions of the story) to get some ideas.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to cram the whole story into an hour-long class, so picked out one of the more famous scenes of Don Quijote attacking a windmill, which he believes to be a giant.

Lesson Stages:

  1. Elicit from learners what they know about Don Quijote – where does he live? what does he do? what’s his friend’s name? does he have any animals?  During this stage, it’s helpful to elicit some of the lexis which learners might be unfamiliar with from the story (e.g. helmet, fight, windmill, etc).
  2. Divide the class into small teams (in our classes, they are grouped around tables of four or five).  Hand out the prepared story, cut up into sections.  I had eight envelopes, each with six pieces of paper in.  Tell the group to order the sentence.
    1. My name is Don Quijote and I’m a very brave
    knight. This is my faithful servant, Sancho Panza.

    Couple of quick hints:
    Think beforehand about where you separate the sentences as we don’t want learners to get bogged down with unknown lexis at this point.  For example, the sentences above can be ordered without needing to know the word faithful.  Secondly, try to prepare enough envelopes so that there are a couple more than the number of groups in the class.  That way, when a group finishes ordering the sentence and you check it, you can give them another envelope without needing to wait for another group to finish.  Also, you can write on the table with chalk so you remember which sentences the group have completed.

  3. When groups have completed a number of sentences, do whole group feedback by asking groups to read out the sentences in order.  If you have a projector, it also helps to project the story and (another quick tip) if you prepare the text as a Word document, you can make the text white, then highlight and change the colour when they read out the sentence – this allows you to effectively have the whole text on the board, but means learners can only see the sections you want them to.
  4. As you reveal each sentence, drill it and check lexis and pronunciation.
  5. Divide the class into groups of three – Don Quijote, Sancho Panza and the narrator.  You might like to do some further drilling of the story once everyone has their roles assigned.  Give them a few minutes to practise the story in their groups, then invite them to the front to act it out.  If there are any pronunciation problems during a group’s performance, do a quick review of it before the next group performs.

Things I enjoyed about this activity:

The sentence ordering activity was quite kineasthetic which I think is important for primary-aged learners.

Drilling the sentences as a group meant that we could work a little on rhythm and intonation, as well as the pronunciation of tricky vocabulary.  Also, because of the content, you could get quite theatrical with the drilling.

In all the classes, learners were keen to act out their story.  I found this quite motivating as I know within the group there are varying levels of confidence with English and so the fact that they all wanted to participate was great.

Some disadvantages:

You do a fair amount of running between tables during the sentence ordering activity.

Also, it’s sometimes hard to ensure that everyone is equally involved in the ordering task.  Perhaps a way to overcome this would be to nominate a learner from each group to be in charge of a sentence – so the others can help, but only that individual can touch the cards and must also read out the sentence to you when it’s complete.

With a group of 25, learners can get a little restless watching other groups perform – in the past I’ve given teams points for their pronunciation and theatrical performance and also for listening to others.

If you fancy trying the lesson yourself, here are the story cards and the boardwork.

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

April 10

Thoughts on self-observation

In the third term at Active Language, our teachers can choose which type of observation they would like to have: a traditional observation with an academic co-ordinator sitting in; a Diploma-style observation, which is similar to the traditional observation though gives the observee a taste of the workload for the Teaching Practice element of the Diploma; or a self-observation.

One of the wonderful things about self-observation is that it can be a less stressful experience for the observee and provide a more realisitic view of the lesson itself.  As Wragg says, “the very presence of an additional adult who is not normally present may itself influence what happens” (1999:15) and I’ve often found during traditional observations that aspects of the lesson I had been asked to focus on were less apparent because of my presence in the room.  Most recently, I observed a colleague who was working with a challenging group of adolescents who frequently used L1 during lessons.  Throughout my observation, their use of L1 was minimal and, in fact, I was amazed at the amount of English they were producing, both in response to tasks set by the teacher and in their interactions.  In our post-observation feedback, we joked about how that was an incredibly atypical lesson, though I suggested that the teacher comment on it to the learners, to show them that they are capable of minimal L1 use.  She did, and their response was, “We were only doing it for your benefit because we knew she’d come to watch you teach.”

Another benefit of self-observation is that it doesn’t need to be timetabled in beforehand, as a traditional observation often is.  For example, you may be thinking of focussing on a particular learner within a group and, inevitably, when a traditional observation is scheduled, that learner doesn’t come to class that day.  And, speaking of focus, a self-observation gives you the opportunity to concentrate on a particular stage in the lesson – as though it’s useful to view the lesson as a whole, you may be more interested in looking at how effective your instructions were for a specific activity, how the learners interacted during a communicative task or how clear your boardwork was after presenting a grammar point.

The Developing Teacher, p.19

The Developing Teacher, p.19

In The Developing Teacher, Foord shows us the five circles of development and states that a good reason for focussing on ‘you’ may be that you work alone, in which case self-observation is perhaps the only option available to you.  However, whatever your working environment, he recommends using self-observation as a development tool as part of your routine and provides a wonderful starting point with “Mirror, mirror” (2009:32).

Richard Whiteside, a former colleague, wrote a post on self-observation prior to our school’s implementation of them a number of years ago and he makes a good point that self-observation can be done at any point during the year.  We all generally reflect on our classes at the end of the day, but by ‘formalising the process’ we add further weight to it and teachers will gain benefit from it in a different way.  Talking through a lesson with a ‘critical friend’ either before or after the event will allow you space to reflect on stages, activities, interactions and many other features of the lesson and will perhaps bring up questions which you would not have thought of if reflecting alone.


Foord, D. (2009) The Developing Teacher Delta Publishing

Whiteside, R. (2012) Teacher Observation: Could you benefit from self-observation? St George International

Wragg, E.C. (1999) An Introduction to Classroom Observation (second edition) Routledge