September 21

Make no Mistake

I watched an OUP webinar by Robin Walker a while ago on errors and as I’ve been sorting through last year’s bits and bobs I came across my notes.

He divided the talk into three sections – Cause, Class and Classroom.


He identified six main causes of error: carelessness, L1 interference, teaching materials or method, overgeneralization, general order of difficulty and risk-taking and creativity.  Interestingly, during this section he also suggested that items which are similar and easily confused (such as past simple and present perfect) should be taught separately with a significant space between them and then compared at a later date.


One of the key points I picked up from this section was classifying the errors as local or global: a local error is confined to an individual word or is an error which doesn’t impede understanding, whereas a global error makes the meaning unclear.  There’s quite a good flowchart on prioritising errors on the presentation which accompanied the talk.


In the final section, Robin suggested some easy activities which we can use in class to work on errors – a couple of my favourites are the 4-colour dictation and flavour of the month.

In the 4-colour dictation, they do the dictation first in one colour, then are allowed to check their work (using dictionaries or other resources) in a second colour.  Then their partner checks their work in a third colour and finally the teacher corects in a fourth colour.

In Flavour of the Month, you choose a specific error which you want everyone to pay special attention to that month.

February 20

What’s the topic, Mr Wolf?

This is a shameless five-minute filler for your YL classes – a good one to do in the playground or any other open space.  It’s vaguely adapted from the child’s game “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?” in which the wolf says the time and children step towards him.  At any point the wolf can answer, “Dinnertime!” and try to catch a helpless child.

In the EFL version, the wolf chooses a lexical set, such as jobs.  Each time the wolf shouts out a job, the students take a step towards him – a big step if they’re feeling brave!  But, if the wolf shouts out a word which isn’t part of that lexical set, it’s time to run and avoid getting caught.

It perhaps doesn’t encourage the kind of big language we’d love our learners to be using all the time, but as I said, it’s just a shamelessly fun filler.

February 12

Vocabulary Battleships

What do we do with emergent language?

At the end of every lesson, my teenagers write new vocab on slips of paper and put them into an envelope…but then I wanted to find ways of encouraging them to use and review the vocabulary.  So, yesterday I played “Vocabulary Battleships” with my students.  It’s easy to prepare, provides lots of communicative practice and is an engaging way to review vocabulary.

In preparation, you’ll need to provide two boards – A and B – with the vocabulary you want to focus on.  You can use some of the same vocabulary on both boards or make them completely different.  Then divide the class into As and Bs and instruct everyone to draw 6 ships on their board, keeping it a secret from their partner.

To play, A describes a word on B’s board, hoping there’s a battleship in that square; and vice versa.   I’m going to try it with my adult C1 group in the future as well as they enjoy review activities and we have an abundance of new language coming out of each lesson.Battleships

December 11

Good idea…but no

I’ve come to realise that this is a useful column to have on the board when eliciting vocab from students…especially when you want them to use the vocab in a follow-up activity.

In a recent lesson, which was going to be focussing on comparatives, I first asked students to tell me some different adjectives.  The majority came up with the usual (tall, fat, beautiful) and then a couple of the boys were coming out with some great words (with a little bit of correction/tweaking from me), such as dead, zombified.

However, as they were going to be making comparative sentences in the next stage, I didn’t think “deader” and “more zombified” were particularly correct (as a concept, not grammatically speaking) and so I didn’t want to include them on the vocabulary lists.  But it seemed a shame not to encourage students to bring new ideas into the classroom and so I started a “Good idea…but no” column on the board and titled it as such.

I was able to explain why we couldn’t use the words for the next activity, but students could still see their ideas on the board and so felt encouraged and motivated.

April 17

One, two, three

Hmmm….how important is it that our students know how to write numbers in letters?  With my seven-year-olds today we did a class test and I had combined the test from the book with some extra activities.  The “real” test practised sports (receptively through listening and reading and productively through writing) and numbers (receptively through listening).  The extras that I added on asked students to produce the numbers in atypical “write the number: 22 _________________” style.

The students all scored very well on the book test – thankfully, that means they’ve taken on board what we’ve been doing!  The stronger students did their best with the numbers – a couple got excellent marks, most were fairly middling and there were a few shockers in there too.


As I was sitting in the staffroom marking the exams, it suddenly crossed my mind that I rarely write numbers above ten in words in Spanish (or in L1 for that matter) and so I asked my colleagues what they thought.  They agreed – it’s rare to write numbers as words – I think that unless you’re writing a cheque, the number itself will suffice and when was the last time you wrote a cheque?