January 30


I have a wonderful C1 group this year who aren’t currently interested in the CAE exam or GESE but simply want to keep up their level of English.  The classes are largely communicative, with discussions on various themes and slightly Dogme-esque*, but they’re also looking to revise grammatical points, increase their vocabulary and focus on aspects of pronunciation.

It was with this last point in mind that I was searching on the Internet last week and I came across a gem from lescouleurs on BusyTeacher.org – a story incorporating the various pronunciations of “ough”.  Inspired, I set about writing my own story.  Here’s a lesson outline and the material used:


1. Give learners a copy of the story and ask them to underline all the incidences of “ough” without worrying about understanding the story or vocabulary.

2. Read the text to the learners, then show them the different pronunications of “ough”.  They then work in pairs to categorise the words according to the pronunciation – it often helps to read the story a couple more times whilst they’re doing this.

3. Feedback and drill the pronunciation.  Then check any vocabulary queries.

4. Give learners time to practise reading the text alone, then to a partner and as a whole group.

5. Follow on with some creative writing: learners write the next sentence of the story, then swap papers.  Do this perhaps four or five times until the last person writes the ending to the story.

6. Quickly underline any mistakes in their texts and give the stories back to pairs to error-correct – this also works well if done a number of times; so one pair checks a story and puts it back in the middle of the table, w second pair reads through their corrections, etc.

7. As a final stage, I asked learners to read out the stories and then discuss which they thought was the most realistic, the most romantic, which had the best ending, etc.

*I say Dogme-esque because the thought of going into a class with nothing scares me witless, so I always have a starting point in mind (and generally a handout!)

January 19

Repeating and reviewing the past simple

I’ve recently been teaching the past simple (both regular and irregular verbs in positive statements) to my class of nine-year-olds.  There’s been lots of gesturing behind me to show that we’re thinking about something which happened in the past and I’ve been trying to think of different ways to review, repeat and recycle the material.  This week we did quite a fun activity which allowed them to focus on both the meaning of the verbs and also the different pronunciation in the present and past – especially useful with a lot of the regular verbs and some irregulars, such as read (/red/).

To start with, I asked them to give me some of the verbs we’d been studying in their present and past forms.  Then, when we had about fifteen on the board, I asked them to give me a sentence for each, using the past form.

We did some drilling of the sentences to check pronunciation and then I put them into groups.  One student had to say a sentence and the others had to say whether it was in the past or present.  I monitored and corrected, especially the problem -ed endings!

November 27

Phonetic WipeOut!

Going phonetically crazy at the most with a couple of my classes and here’s an idea for students to practise their pronunciation and vocabulary at the same time.

Tomorrow my B1 students are going to be looking at vocabulary to describe people.  I’m going to give them a lot of new vocabulary written on slips of paper and after dividing the language into lexical sets (appearance, positive and negative adjectives for personality), I’m going to put them into three groups and give each a lexical set to play for.  Then they’ll have to look at the Phonetic WipeOut board and correctly identify and pronounce a word for their group in order to win the square.  The first team to get their five words, wins.  There’s also a “red herring” square, child.

I’ve chosen phonemes which I know my students have problems with, as the activity is not only to familiarise them with the phonetic alphabet, but also to encourage them to use it in order to pronounce words correctly.

July 26

I like watching the washing machine

No, not a random facebook status but yet another post on pronunciation!  Every English student has problems with some aspects of English pronunciation and perhaps the best way to highlight the differences between some of the minimal pairs is to include both in a fun sentence, like the one above.

Here are some other ideas:

There’s a bird on the board.

I walk to work.

There was a fat bat sitting in a vat of blood.

She used her fan to push the van.



July 25

Pronunciation through trial and correction

OK, still thinking about the Silent Way and how you could effectively teach lower level learners using this technique, I was starting to think about how individual words which students may not be familiar with at first would be introduced into the lesson.

Something I’ve noticed whilst teaching in Spain is that students often become confused by the pronunciation of words when they see them written down.  I was also told that it was better to familiarise (especially younger) students with the pronunciation of the word over a period of time before showing them the written form; so we would spend a couple of lessons working with the flashcards and perfecting their pronunciation of the word (which tended to be more focusing on whether they remembered the word) before they saw it written down.  And what happened?

Lesson 1: /təʊst/

Lesson 2: /təʊst/

Lesson 3 (introducing the word card): /tɒ-æst/


So, why not just show students the word from the start so that they become familiar with the word toast being pronounced /təʊst/?

If I were to use the Silent Way to teach on a regular basis, I would have to teach students new vocabulary and so perhaps it would be better for them to have a guess at how the word is pronounced first.  If they are correct, they will feel quite proud of themselves, I would imagine.  And if they are wrong, it will be time for me to open my mouth and correct.  I think that as long as you keep a note of any words which cropped up which they had difficulty with, you could take a minute or two to revise them at the end of the lesson – as you would with any problem words or new vocabulary which crop up during a lesson.