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.

August 10

Telling stories

I REALLY love character builds as a way to introduce a topic.  Yesterday there was a text on Speed Dating and so to introduce the topic I drew my friend, a stickgirl, on the board.  I elicited from the students that her name was Mary, she was an English girl with long, curly hair and she was a teacher.  I then drew an unhappy face and asked them why she wasn’t happy.

“She hasn’t got any money.”

“The crisis, the crisis!”

“She can’t go on holiday.”

So I drew a stickman next to her and explained that it was her ex-boyfriend.  I then asked the students to tell me about him and it turns out his name is John, he’s Chinese and he’s very rich because he’s an economist.  Anyway, we quickly got rid of him as he had made my friend, Mary, miserable.


So we went back to Mary being unhapy and I explained that she wanted to find love and asked where people go in Cádiz to meet and find romance.  They gave me some ideas and, unsurprisingly, Speed Dating wasn’t one of them.  So I then invented a reason as to why she couldn’t go to the places they had suggested to find love:

The beach – Mary, being British, has very pale skin and she burns very easily so doesn’t like going to the beach.

A bar – she’s uncomfortable being in bars as she’s not a big drinker and feels silly sitting there with a glass of water.

The cinema – she doesn’t speak good Spanish and as all the films here are dubbed, she can’t watch them in the cinema.

The park – she hasn’t got a dog and feels a bit silly walking round the park aimlessly.

In the street – she’s a little suspicious of meeting men on the street.


Poor Mary!  So then I told them that I had suggested Speed Dating.  Nobody had heard of it, which led on perfectly to the first activity, which was a short text about what Speed Dating is and how it works.  The character build was a fun way to introduce a topic which was new to the students, and it involved them from the start.

March 15

A 2 Day in 5

This is a great activity I picked up from Catherine Morley‘s workshop on Dictation at the TESOL-SPAIN conference.  It’s similar to the Wacky Web Tales site, but uses a simpler story which students will find easy to understand.  You can find a downloadable version of the activity in the Games section on my Activities for your Classsroom page.

First, ask your students to write the following items in there notebook with the number next to it.

1. Favourite colour

2. Adjective to describe the weather

3. Favourite male (actor / singer / celebrity)

4. Boy’s name

5. Month

6. Type of transport

7. Animal

8. Food

9. Place (city / country)

10. Item of clothing

11. Place in a town (shop / building)

12. Activity (in the -ing form)

13. Object

14. Drink

15. Adjective to describe emotion

Then, tell them you are going to dictate a story to them and that when you say a number, they should complete the gap with the corresponding word.

It was a (2) day in (5).  I was in (9) and I was drinking some (14).  Suddenly, the phone rang.  It was (3) and his friends.  They were (15) because I was late.  So I put on my (1) (10) and picked up my (13).  I made sure that (4) the (7) had some (8) and left.  I quickly went by (6) to (11).  When I arrived I was surprised to see my friends were (12) there.

Students can then compare their stories.  For homework, they can decide what happens next.

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June 24

Storyboards on the floor

I read a great post yesterday on the ELT Playground and the first activity inspired me to do a similar game with older students.

As with Anita’s activity, lay a piece of paper on the floor for each student, but divide each piece into boxes first.  Then play some music and when you stop the music, give students a cue as to what to draw in the box (similar to Narrative Consequences):

Box 1:  A location

Box 2:  One main character

Box 3: The second main character

Box 4: How they meet

Box 5:  An ‘event’

Box 6: How the story ends

When they have drawn something in each of the boxes, play one more round of music, at the end of which each student must pick up the storyboard closest to them. Then give them some time to decipher the drawings and interpret them as they wish to create a short story which they can tell the class.

For homework they can write the story out and their texts can be displayed in the classroom alongside the drawings.

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May 31

Expand and extend and write it all down!

I often wonder whether students get enough writing practice in their academia classes, with all the focus on oral communication and STT.  They do very little creative writing until it’s too late and they are suddenly expected to write a 120-180 word coherent story in 45mins starting with the sentence, “Mary was surprised by what she saw when she opened the door.”

However, writing doesn’t have to be an arduous, boring and uninspiring activity – perhaps we should just get students writing for the sake of it, without focusing too much on what they’re writing but rather how.

In our development session on Friday, we looked at a whole range of activities to review vocabulary (many of which will be popping up on here in the future!) and for practically each one my colleagues Simon and Beth said, “And then they could use those words to write a story!”

It became a bit of a joke, but the idea behind it is perfect – asking students to write something, anything, using a set of random words such as ball, eggs, ruin, pair, hour.  It gives students the chance to be creative, gives the teacher an opportunity to read something different from each student and more importantly lets the teacher focus on the how rather than the what.

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