I have to admit to being a great fan of ‘The Big Bang Theory’, watching the endless reruns on Spanish cable TV and still laughing at the gags. So I linked this love with a post I read recently by TEFLgeek about practising reported speech and hit upon this variant for practising reported speech.
The exercise hinges on the fact that one of the characters in ‘The Big Bang Theory’, Raj, is completely incapable of speaking with women. Whenever he wants to speak to a woman, he whispers what he wants to say into his friend, Howard’s ear. Interesting, Howard rarely reports what Raj actually says, often answering Raj or commenting on what he has said instead. At other times, he says nothing, or makes a strange whining noise.
The exercise has two parts. In the first part, students are shown clips of Raj attempting to communicate with women. In pairs, they then decide what Raj actually wanted to say, and report it to the class, using the reported speech structures they know. Here is an example clip that you can use.
After they have practised with a few clips, move on to the second phase of the exercise. Here, students prepare a statement or question which they want to express, and in pairs either mime what they want to say or have one whisper to his / her partner and the partner react as Howard reacts. Other teams then have to guess what the pair want to say and reproduce it in reported speech.
I hope you have a lot of fun with this activity in class.
Once more, St. Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, which means it’s time to break out the hearts and flowers as our thoughts – and lesson plans – turn to love. Here are a few ideas for class activities which bring St. Valentine’s Day into the classroom.
Information gap: The origins of St. Valentine
This is a simple activity which can be adapted to any theme quite easily. Take a reading text of an appropriate level for your students and select perhaps ten pieces of information which can be changed. Create two versions of the text with five changes in each one, labelling one Text A and the other Text B (click here for a ready prepared set on The Origins of St. Valentine). Give out Text A to half the class, and Text B to the other half.
First, the students need to think what information may have been changed, and to prepare questions to ask a partner with the other text using appropriate interrogative pronouns. Then get the class to stand up and mingle, pairing up with someone who has the other text. Once everyone has a partner, they should sit together and take turns to ask their questions, continuing until they have identified the ten differences between the texts. Once they have done that, they should decide which is the correct version for each of the differences, and prepare a justification for their answers.
You can round off the activity by correcting the text as a class, or you can have them join up in groups of four to compare their answers before correcting, depending on how much disagreement you notice as you are monitoring.
A nice way to finish off the lesson is to show them this video from You Tube of a flash mob marriage proposal:
One of the most popular themes in poetry is love, in all its many different forms, so why not have a look at the topic of love poetry for St. Valentine’s Day. This activity would be suitable for a C1 class.
Before the class, have half the class watch the video ‘Carpe Diem’ from Dead Poets’ Society and read the poem, while the other half watch ‘Stop all the clocks’ from Four Weddings and a Funeral and read the poem. (You can give the students the link directly, or you can simply give them a copy of the poem.) Ask them to think what aspects of love are expressed in their poem. Once in class, group the students who watched the same video in pairs or in fours and have them compare their ideas. As they work, check if they had any comprehension problems.
Once the students have shared their ideas, put two students who watched the Carpe Diem video with two students who watched ‘Stop all the clocks’. Ask them to explain what aspects of love are shown in each video, and then to decide which poem better expresses true love. They should be prepared to defend their definition of ‘true love’ in the class discussion afterwards.
After they have debated, have each group report their conclusions to the class. Allow them to compare their definitions of true love.
To round up, show the two videos, so that all the students have seen both.
Carpe diem (‘Come gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ – Dead Poets’ Society)
Stop all the clocks… (‘Funeral Blues’- Four Weddings and a Funeral)
I’ve just got back from Rome where I attended the 38th National TESOL Italy Conference. This was my first time in this conference, and I am very grateful to the organisers for allowing me to take part.
I didn’t mention this in the presentation, but with younger students I use ‘The Curse of the Were-rabbit’ rather than the clip we saw from ‘Love Actually’. Students are asked to identify references to rabbits or to vegetables.
A big thank you to everyone who attended this talk (including to my youngest ever participant – thanks for your impeccable behaviour!). I hope you found the ideas useful.
In my previous post, I focused on how poetry formed part of the propaganda offensive designed to encourage young men to join up to fight on the Western Front, using as an example Jessie Pope’s poem ‘Who’s for the game?’, and also how poetry was employed to bring the reality of the horrors of the front line to the people back home, as in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’. In this post I present the third of the three two-hour sessions, in which we widen our focus to other areas of conflict within the First World War, namely the Dardanelles Campaign and Gallipoli, where Australian forces suffered horrific casualties. We will also examine how the dead are remembered, focusing on the ceremony at the Cenotaph which takes place every year on the Remembrance Sunday.
Lest we forget
The numbers of casualties in the First World War were staggering. Over the four years which the war lasted millions of people were killed or wounded. In just one day, 1st July 1916 – the first day of the battle of the Somme – the British army alone suffered around 60000 casualties. By the end of the battle, on 18th November, there had been over a million casualties.
British trench near the Albert–Bapaume road at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To begin this session, write the following numbers on the board:
5 (number of months the battle lasted – 1 July to 18 November
6 (number of miles advanced – about 9,7 km)
57470 (number of British casualties on 1 July
1000000 (approximate number of casualties during the battle on all sides)
Ask the students to try to guess what these figures represent in relation to the First World War. After a few minutes, give them the answers, then show them the table of Casualty figures for the First World War as a whole.
– the grave in communal cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In this section, we will examine Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘The Soldier‘. This poem has become one of the most popular readings for remembrance services, reflecting the sacrifice that so many young men made for their country. If you have more time, the sentiment of this poem can be contrasted with Owen’s poem, ‘Futility‘, which focuses more on the senselessness of so many deaths, but this plan of work is designed for you to work on ‘The Soldier’ on its own.
The students should read the poem, then, working in pairs, they should write down the emotions which are expressed or suggested in the poem. Once they have done this, in their pairs they should take a moment to compare and contrast the emotions found in this poem with those found in ‘Dulce et decorum est…’, guided by the following questions:
How does the outlook of the two poems differ?
Can you think of any reasons for this?
Are the sentiments of ‘The Soldier’ closer in tone to ‘Dulce et decorum est’ or ‘Who’s for the game?’?
Why do you think this is?
… and the band played ‘Waltzing Matilda’
The last part of this session is based around the song, ‘The band played “Waltzing Matilda”‘, as performed in the following video. The photographs which accompany the song are useful to help the students get an idea of the situations which are being described by the lyrics.
Before showing the video and doing the lyrics exercise, ask the class which national anthems they know. You could perhaps play them clips from a series of anthems and have them identify the country in teams. Then ask them if they know any songs which are strongly associated with a country without being an official national anthem. Again, perhaps a collection of short clips may help make this point. Then play an instrumental version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ask which country might be associated with it. If they do not come up with Australia, don’t worry, simply explain the association.
As a way into the song, use this lyrics worksheet. This should be quite a simple exercise, and the main objective is simply to get the students familiar with the words of the song. As it is quite a long song, I suggest breaking it down into three sections – first verse, with the chorus, which deals with life before the war, then the description of the battle, and finally the time in the hospital and the aftermath, up to the end of the song. The worksheet is divided into these sections.
The song uses a series of contrasts between before and after the battle to draw attention to how war changes a person. Ask the students to identify parts from the beginning of the song with parts from the immediate aftermmath of the battle. They should express what changes have happened and describe the emotions associated with these changes.
Another motif used to link the different moments in the song is the ‘soundtrack’ of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ – a song which is played at every important moment in the story. In groups, students could prepare a short paragraph about how the narrator might feel at one of the points in the story when he hears ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Different groups should address different moments in the story, and these paragraphs can be displayed on the wall so they can compare the feelings at each moment.
The last part of ‘The Band Played “Waltzing Matilda”‘ describes the parades which take place each year to commemorate ANZAC Day, and focuses on the lack of understanding of the younger generations. Previous to this, the narrator describes the reaction of the people when the troops returned from Gallipoli. Write on the board the lines
‘… and nobody cheered, they just stood and stared / then turned their faces away.’
Ask the students for their reactions to these lines. Then show them this video of Remembrance Sunday. Also, read this article from the Telegraph about how until recently people from a small town in Britain honoured the service personnel who had died in the conflict in Afghanistan.
Ask the students to reflect on one of the following questions in writing:
Is this the proper way to receive people who have fought for their country?
Should we commemorate people who have died in wars?
Should commemoration be a state affair, or private?
95 years ago, the guns fell silent across the Western Front, as the Armistice took effect, leaving behind four years of destruction on a previously unimaginable scale. This conflict marked the lives of a generation of poets, who are studied in English literature classes in the United Kingdom. Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday, and in honour of this day, here is a lesson plan designed around one of my favourite poems from the First World War, ‘Dulce et decorum est’ by Wilfred Owen.
This lesson plan is designed to last for three two- hour sessions, and is suitable for advanced students, from B2+ to C2.
Session 1 – Who’s for the game?
This session focuses on the early propaganda aimed at convincing the young men of Britain to join up to fight for their country as the war began. The poem we will examine is ‘Who’s for the game?‘ by Jessie Pope.
As a way of introducing the theme, use the following video, which presents some of the propaganda posters used to encourage men to volunteer for the armed forces.
Once you have watched the video, have the students choose one of the posters which they have seen and prepare a presentation on the persuasive elements which they find in it – not just in the use of language, but also in the images. Ask them to decide if the persuasion relies on rational arguments or on emotional reactions. You can find a wide range of propaganda posters from the First World War here.
Then draw attention to the role played by women in the posters – some posters address women directly, urging them to convince their husbands and boyfriends to join up. This will provide the link to the poem for today, written by a woman but addressed to young men.
Give the students a copy of the poem and allow them to read it, helping with vocabulary if necessary. Once they have finished, in pairs get them to complete a T-chart with sports terms on one side and references to the war on the other. In reality, there are few direct references to the war. Most of the images are related to something which the young men of the time would be very familiar with – the sports’ field. At this point, it is a good idea to focus on any students who are particularly sporty in the class, and ask them for their reactions to what Pope is saying. Would you really want to be left on the sidelines? Have you ever suffered an injury as a result of your sport? What was your reaction?
Finally, examine the language itself, focusing on the elements which can be considered persuasive. Here it is important to focus on the direct address used throughout the poem by Pope, which echoes the language and images of many of the posters seen earlier – notably the image of Kitchener pointing out of the poster at ‘YOU’ reproduced above. The informal register of the poem is also important, addressing the ‘lads’ as peers, creating the illusion of peer pressure. To work on these elements of language, you can use this worksheet.
To finish the session, watch the first part of the video which will be used to start Session two, up to the point where the soldiers are on parade (0:16).
Session 2 – The reality of war
This second session focuses on the reality of the war which the recruits found when they arrived at the front line. We will read a brief biography of Wilfred Owen and we will focus on his poem, ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori‘.
To begin the session, we return to the video which closed session 1, but this time the students should watch to the end. Ask students to give their impressions of the differences between the ideal which Pope was selling to the young men and the reality they faced on the Western Front.
After a brief discussion, it is time to give the students more details about life in the trenches. The following video by Dan Snow examines the conditions that the soldiers faced in the trenches.
The presentation of the biography of Wilfred Owen can be done in various ways. The students can be asked to research his life as homework after the first session, or they can be asked to research in class if they have access to internet or reference material. Alternatively, you can use this worksheet and have them read it in class, or adapt it as a jigsaw reading activity / running dictation. They should receive the following key information:
Portrait of Wilfred Owen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
• D.O.B – 18th of March 1893 • Became a teacher of English in 1913 • Enlisted in Artists’ Rifles on 21/10/15;14 months training in England • Total war experience was short: four months, only 5 weeks on front line • After experiencing war first hand, Owen became strongly anti-war. People at home had no idea of what war was like & wanted to persuade them against it. • Owen was killed in war on 4th Nov 1918 • War ended 11th November 1918 at 11 o’clock. Owen’s family received the telegram informing them of his death as the church bells of the village rang to celebrate the end of the war.
Give the students the first part of the poem – up to ‘Of gas shells dropping softly behind’:
‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.’
Work on any vocabulary the students need. In pairs, have the students work on a mindmap around the concept ‘Emotions’. How do the soldiers feel at this point in the poem? Once the students have worked on their mindmaps, have them change pairs and compare their ideas. Then give them the rest of the poem and have them add to their mindmaps:
‘Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.— Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams before my helpless sight He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin, If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs Bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, — My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.’
Share the ideas from the pairs in class.
Focus on the change of address in the last stanza. Here, just as in the poem by Pope, the poet addresses a reader directly. But who? Who is ‘My friend’? Allow the students to express their ideas. If they need help, remind them of Owen’s biography – he volunteered in 1915, inspired by the propaganda of the time. The original dedication of this poem was ‘To a certain poetess’ – this is Owen’s answer to Pope and her ‘Who’s for the game?’
As a final exercise, have the students compare the emotions expressed in ‘Who’s for the game?’ with those expressed by Owen in ‘Dulce et decorum est…’ Also have them look back at the propaganda posters they worked on in the first session, and include the emotions expressed there.How does the reality measure up to the propaganda?
In the next post, I will present the final session in this scheme of work – ‘Lest we forget’, and possible ideas for extension.
Although in recent years Guy Fawkes Night has been somewhat eclipsed by Hallowe’en, it is still an important date on the calendar for many British people. Here are some activities for this festival, courtesy of the British Council.
In my previous post, I focused on the use of songs and videos in order to make the learning experience in the classroom more similar to the reality of our students outside the classroom. In this post, I will examine how other aspects, such as video games, can be brought into the classroom, and look beyond the graphic to see how to incorporate other learning experiences into our repertoire.
The comments which accompanied the original graphic (above) focused almost exclusively on video games as a way of learning English, although the focus seemed to be more a reminiscence of games which the people had enjoyed than a coherent explanation of how the games had in fact helped the person to learn English. However, there is a movement to introduce ideas taken from the gaming world into the classroom, an approach referred to as ‘gamification’.
One of the main areas in which gamification is being applied to education, as we have seen in the video, is assessment. It is argued that the shift from marking negatively to a system where marks are accumulated like experience points is highly motivational. An example of how to organise activities in this way can be found in Rose Bard’s ELT Blog. But there are other aspects of classroom life where gamification can be applied, such as classroom management. Many years ago, I worked with a teacher who had her class divided into teams and during her lesson she awarded points to the different teams according to how they achieved the objectives she proposed. She used to record the points on the blackboard, but today’s teachers have alternatives available which are more appealing to their video-game-playing pupils – for example, Class Dojo. With this programme, students can choose and personalise their own avatars, and the teacher can assign points for different actions. Each student can access his / her profile and keep track of their progress, and what is more, parents can also access the profile and see how their children are doing at school, all in real time. More importantly, this programme is used to modify the behaviour of the students in a way which motivates them, rather than imposing norms.
However, perhaps the most important aspect of gamification is in the approach to the class itself on the part of teachers and students alike. The essence of the video game experience is that the player explores and investigates, learning and honing skills as they go. If they fail at a level, they can repeat it, using the knowledge they gained on previous failed attempts to improve their performance. They also have the opportunity to cooperate with friends, either by discussing the games or increasingly by playing together in a multi-player format. Our objective as teachers, then, would be to recreate these conditions in the classroom, proposing challenges or problems which our students have to solve, then providing the scaffolding they need as they work through them. Clearly this is very different to the traditional format of class which we are accustomed to, and it can be difficult to adapt to it, but it can pay dividends. I think it is particularly important for students to try again if they do not succeed first time. Too often when we correct an exercise we give the correct answers, then ask who got them right. An approach I have developed is to ask them what answer(s) they have, and if they do not all agree on the right answer, I ask them to think again, talking it over with their peers, rather than give them the answer directly. This allows them to explain the reasons for their answers and hear counter-arguments, analyse more closely the question and practise reaching a consensus.
The most radical form of gamification for the classroom is the creation of actual games which put your students into situations, either individually or in groups, where they have to communicate in English in order to progress. There are various games of this kind already on the market, in which the student takes on the role of a character and has to use his/ her language skills to negotiate their way through a game world in order to achieve an objective. A good example of this genre is Pulitzer, a game in which the student takes on the character of a journalist who is set various assignments.
Other games and activities are available on the internet, so we don’t have to have lots of free time in order to develop a game ourselves. For a list of resources available for language learners of all levels, click here. It’s a good idea to contact the publishing companies too, as they are increasingly producing more game-based online elements to complement the text books they provide.
A step further…
Both this post and the previous one have focused on introducing new elements into the classroom in an attempt to increase the motivation of our students. However, some experts advocate going further and introducing a completely new way of approaching the class as a response to what they see as the failings of the traditional classroom.
One of the results of advances in neurological science is that we have a clearer idea of how we learn, and this is washing back into how we teach. Cooperative learning claims to provide ‘brain friendly learning’ for our students, and incorporates various recent methodological ideas. In the cooperative classroom, students are grouped in mixed-ability teams, typically of four, and the lessons are designed in such a way that students are given opportunities to interact within their teams in a structured way. The key difference between this approach and group work is that students in a cooperative team each have a defined role within the structured interaction, and so are obliged to participate in order to complete the task.
The main principles behind cooperative learning are these:
The members of the team must work together, and are interdependent.
Each individual member of the team should have personal responsibility for his / her part of the work and should be accountable to the team and to the class for their work,
All members of the team must have equal opportunities to participate.
Work can be realised simultaneously in different teams, allowing more students to be actively engaged on a task at any one time.
The flipped classroom
One of the most radical advances in methodology has been made possible by advances in technology and by its widespread availability. The concept of the flipped classroom rose from ventures such as The Khan Academy, where the actual teaching, or instruction, is delivered via recordings online which students study at their own pace for homework, freeing up class time for guided practice exercises and problem solving. The advantages are that the teacher is primarily available in the classroom for individual support, able to work with students one-on-one or in small groups while the others are engaged in the activities, and students can repeat parts of the instructuion until they understand it, even revisiting the ‘class’ later on to refresh their memories. Here is a video which explores the concept of the flipped classroom:
I came across this graphic on Facebook recently and, as an English teacher, it depressed me a great deal, especially when I went to the original page and read the comments, as person after person spoke of the video games which helped them to learn. While it is great that they have been able to learn, and that they have taken responsibility for their own learning, as a teacher I feel bad that this is the image that at least some students have of our work. So for the past few days I have been thinking of ways to redress the balance. Luckily, there are many ways in which we can incorporate elements of what the students identified as helping them to learn English into their mainstream classes.
Perhaps the step that we have all taken to bring our classes into line with the interests of our students is the introduction of popular songs into the classroom. Indeed, modern textbooks designed for teenagers often include exercises built around pop songs as a way of engaging students. However, the very nature of popular music means that it is practically impossible to include a song in a printed medium which stands the test of time until the next reprinting. In addition to this, it can be hard to choose the most appropriate song for a classroom of teenagers – inevitably, if some of the students love the song, others will hate it. And the generation gap between teacher and student can lead to choosing a song which fails to have the desired motivating effect. Often, the end result is that the teacher chooses a more classic song which they feel more comfortable with.
One answer to this problem is available online. The site www.lyricstraining.com provides simple gap-fill listening exercises based on a large range of modern songs. If you have access to a computer lab at some stage, this can be a nice exercise to end the session, as each student can choose the song they want to work on and complete the lyrics exercise on their own using headphones. If you are lucky enough to have access to computers in the classroom, this can be used for fast finishers.
However, there must be more to introducing music into the classroom than simply providing more practice in gap-fill exercises, or the novelty will soon wear off. Something I try to do is to have parts of songs appear in unlikely places in the class. One exercise I use is the jigsaw dictation, in which a text is dictated with the sentences jumbled. The students must first take the information down as a dictation, and then work together to reorganise the sentences to reconstruct the original text, using their knowledge of grammar and cohesion. So why not use the lyrics of a song as the jumbled text? Better still, why not mix the lyrics of two songs, to add an extra layer of text organisation to the exercise? If you don’t tell the students at the start of the exercise what the source(s) of the text dictated is, it adds an element of surprise to the exercise which can perhaps be motivating than simply announcing that you’re going to listen to a song. A possible way of checking whether they have the correct order for the texts is to play the song(s) at the end of the exercise.
Another way in which I use songs in class is in the exercise ‘Desert Island Discs‘, which I presented as part of my workshop ‘Getting them speaking‘. In this activity, students get to talk about why they have chosen a particular piece of music and how they feel about it, as well as sharing their choice of music with the rest of the class.
everyday learning. Videos are a great way of presenting ideas or topics to the class, but they should be used as an integrated part of the lesson. To this end, short clips of video are far more useful than longer parts of films, and a series of activities can be planned around different showings of the same video. For excellent ready-made examples of what can be achieved with this sort of material, I suggest you try Kieran Donaghy’s great website, www.film-english.com, which I examined in my post ‘Five websites to spice up the end of term‘.
I have a colleague who regularly uses film trailers from You Tube in her classes, with listening comprehension activities very similar to those which can be done with songs. In a C2 (Proficiency) class, I used a series of short clips from the series ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet‘ to illustrate different regional British accents, although fully accepting that even a Proficiency group would have difficulties follwing Jimmy Nail in full flow! Matt Halsdorff, in a comment on the post mentioned above, mentioned that he used video for close listening exercises, focusing on very specific items of usage, such as ‘gonna’, ‘wanna’, or the excessive use of ‘like’ in popular speech.
However, while bringing video into the classroom in this way is motivating and comes closer to matching the students’ real world experience, it remains a relatively passive experience. It is a simple step to allow the students to make their own videos, either in the classroom itself or for presentation in the classroom. This can range from recording videos of presentations done by the students so that they can analyse themselves as part of any debriefing to full-blown video projects which they script and organise themselves. I have had students produce videos of weather forecasts, adverts, daytime TV programmes and cookery programmes, while a colleague in Primary sets a video project every year in which his Year 4 students represent different aspects of Roman life as part of his CLIL social science class. Using relatively simple software, students can create photo stories, or video podcasts explaining a point of grammar or an item of vocabulary, along the lines of ‘iswearenglish.com‘ (see example below).
An important thing to say in any examination of possible new teaching techniques is that what we have been doing up to now should not be rejected. While in this post we have focused on bringing elements of our students’ outside realities into the classroom, what we have been doing in the classroom up to now plays an important part in the education of our students and we must continue to do it. However, things outside the classroom have changed radically in the last few years, and as educators we must be aware of ways in which we can engage and motivate our students, including incorporating what they feel comfortable with into our everyday approach.
In this post, Tyson Seburn explains how to make students more aware of the limitations of Google Translate, while at the same time giving us an idea of how to use the theme songs of popular TV series in class. Great fun for the new term.
I find that listening skills are the most difficult to teach. I usually end up just giving lots of practice, so my students develop strategies that work for them. In this article from www.busyteacher.com we are presented with five ways we can help our students develop effective listening strategies. While it is aimed specifically at hotel workers, I think the advice is useful for more general classes too.
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