March 1

An alternative to a board rush

For a recent trainee’s lesson, the TP points originally said to do a board rush to activate schema around the topic of jobs.  Unfortunately, between writing the TP points and talking them through as a group, we decided to change rooms and the new room’s layout meant that a board rush would have been a little tricky.  So, when we talked through the lesson, we discussed alternatives and settled on the learners writing down jobs starting with each letter in pairs and then a bit of feedback on some interesting jobs which they came up with.

In the end, the teacher decided to do feedback on all the letters of the alphabet which in many ways was fabulous as it gave the learners a chance to share their previous knowledge and allowed them to introduce new lexis to classmates.  However, it did make for a slightly longer engage stage which meant the teacher was left with less time for later tasks – this wasn’t a problem in terms of aims achievement, but he had prepared a wonderful picture dictation which there unfortunately wasn’t time for.

In feedback on the lesson, which is done online as it’s a part-time CertTESOL course, I asked the trainees what they would have done differently in order to maximise time and materials.  They came up with some good ideas and one trainee mentioned an alternative way of doing a board rush which I’m going to steal for this blogpost (thanks, Val!).

She suggested having the alphabet stuck up around the room, either with alphabet flashcards or on pieces of paper.  Learners could then move around the room and add jobs to each letter, either by writing them directly on the paper or sticking post-its on.  I think this is a great way to do an alternative board rush as it means that everyone is involved, rather than the two or three people who can squeeze up at the board on a good day, and still involves the kinaesthetic element of getting up and about.  You could still have the competitive element too – either assign certain pen colours to individuals on a team as you probably would in a normal board rush, or use differnt coloured post-its (though be careful of cheats who may remove words!).  Another bonus is that the lexis can be kept much more easily – often board work is fleeting, rubbed off in preparation for the next task – unless of course you’re a die-hard #ELTwhiteboard fan and take a photo of it!

March 31

Vcb – th cnsnnts f lngg

This post is a bit of a mish-mash of recent thoughts and experiences, so apologies if it doesn’t quite seem to tie together.  Hopefully it will be like one of those films where it all comes together at the end…

When I became the phonology tutor on Active Language’s CertTESOL course, I observed my colleagues giving sessions and picked up ideas on how they introduced different points and I still use  Dan‘s first activity from the phonology session today.  In the first input on phonology, we look at consonant sounds and as a warmer, I write the following on the board and ask the trainees to decipher what it says:

                    Wlcm t Phnlgy n – th frst f sx sssns n th fscntng tpc f phnlgy!

They generally have little trouble figuring out what it says and I’ve tried similar sentences with my classes, most recently with a group of B1 adolescents, one of whom loves the clothing brand GRMY.

Jss tshrt md m wndr whthr y cld rd ths sntnc wtht ny vwls.

And they could!

In English, whole sentences can clearly be understood without vowels, though these will make the meaning more apparent more quickly if correct (is it on or in? of or if?).

On another note, before Easter my colleague Ceri presented a session on the work she had done with a group of beginners a couple of years ago.  At the end of the second term, she did a revision lesson with them, a photo from which you can see below.  Interestingly, the post-its were Ceri’s “interpretation” of what they had covered during the course, whereas the list on the left-hand side shows the learners’ “interpretation”.  Ceri’s boxes focus more on grammar, but if you look at the list which the learners produced, there is more emphasis on context than grammatical points.

To link these two thoughts together, I think we can see vocabulary as an equivalent to consonants – you can hash a sentence together with vocabulary and generally it will be understood; however, correct grammar (or vowels) make it clearer.  And to finish off, here are a couple of pics from my Diploma a few years ago…

Grammar is the glue that holds language together properly.

Grammar is the glue that holds language together properly.



March 6

Phrasal Verb Stories

Spanish learners often find phrasal verbs difficult and can have problems using the correct one in context, often resorting to more formal Latin-root verbs which they feel more familiar with.  So, if you’re looking for extra practice for your classes or for self-study, you can now download a great new ebook by Michelle Worgan.  The book is called Phrasal Verb Stories 1 and it’s available with English definitions or, in another version, with Spanish translations.  Each story has a short video, which you can watch on the Phrasal Verb Stories channel, and a text to complete.


February 17

The (vocab) Box

image from

image from

Don’t you just love it when things seem to come together?  I was observing a colleague’s class this morning and then came home to find a wonderfully hilarious thread on twitter of #makeamovieTESL, to which one of my contributions was The (vocab) Box.

Anyway, back to my original thoughts about vocab boxes.

They are a fabulously versatile way of reviewing and revisiting both target and emergent language from our lessons – for example, this morning the learners in my colleague’s class were drawing, miming and explaining the lexis from previous units.  It also works well as a filler for fast finishers – give them the box and they can review the lexis in pairs, again perhaps by miming or drawing.

However, whilst observing the lesson this morning, I realised that at the same time, the use of vocab boxes is a rather unnatural and arbitrary way of using language.  In the game today, the lexis which learners faced was: go on holiday, stepmother, arrest, argue, housewife and supermarket.  Whilst I won’t disagree that most of these constitute useful language, each one is taken out of context.

That’s not to say that I’m going to stop using them though – but it’s made me realise that it often requires more effort on the part of learners to identify the word as they must first reactivate schema for that context and then find the particular word being defined.

February 15

Games for adult learners – Word Ladders

Word Ladders are fun for any age and they’re easy to play with minimal preparation from the teacher.  On the board, draw two ‘ladders’ with an equal number of rungs on each.  Divide the class into two teams and set them playing.   If you have a large group and enough space on the board, you could draw more ladders.  I always say that learners can help their teammates and keep an eye on the game so you can rub words off if they’re spelt incorrectly or if the other team has already written it first.  Here are some ideas of variations on the game, which you can combine to make the game more challenging:

Going up

In one of the simplest versions of the game, learners start with a word with three letters at the bottom, then on the next rung write a word with four, then five, and so on until they reach the top of their ladder.

Going up with a topic

To add a bit of challenge, you could give the learners a specific topic for the ladder; for example, if the topic was adjectives, they might write fat – thin – happy – strong – serious – exciting – fantastic.  Or for animals, it could be cat – frog – snake – rabbit – leopard – elephant – crocodile.

Last letter, first

In this version, as learners move up the ladder, the word must start with the last letter of the word on the rung below – this gets trickier when combined with Going up.  So you may end up with cat – take – eaten – notice – easiest – terrible – everybody (lots of es in that round!).  And even more so if you add in a topic!