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.
Here’s a quick exercise to introduce the topic of using modal verbs to express speculation and deduction. The key objective is to activate previous knowledge, which may or may not have been formally taught.
At the beginning of the session, show the students the picture above, and give them a couple of minutes to think of sentences about it in pairs. Then have the students share their sentences with the rest of the class. You should write their sentences on the board, reformulating if necessary.
Organise their answers so that factual statements are on the left-hand side of the board, and any speculative sentences are on the right, but at this stage don’t explain this division. If your students run out of ideas for this picture, show them others, such as the one on the right. You can find other pictures here.
Once you have a good selection of sentences on the board, ask the class why you have organised their answers on the board as you have. Depending on the previou knowledge of the class, you may have some sentences which use modal verbs correctly, and you can use these as a base for reviewing the necessary structures. In any case, you have sentences which have been created by the students to serve as model sentences, which makes the lesson more personal and so more significant for them.
As a follow-up exercise, I ask students to find and bring to class photos of interesting-looking people . I mount these on cards on the wall, then students write speculative sentences on post-its or on slips of paper and stick them around each photo. For this activity, it’s best to avoid photos of famous people. Adverts in magazines can be a good source of pictures. Here’s one which would work well (although it’s not a photo).
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)
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat … and we teachers have to pull one more festive activity out of our hat! So here are a few resources which might help make these last few days of term easier.
Another webquest, from Luke Vyner on www.onestopenglish.com, delves into the origins of Santa Claus and early Christmas traditions. Students work in pairs to complete the worksheets, answering questions about Pre-Christian mid-winter festivals, the Roman festival of Saturnalia, the outlawing of Christmas under Cromwell and the Puritans, and the story of St. Nicholas. They then work on Christmas around the world. You can find the lesson plan and download the worksheets here.
Here is a simple paper craft for Primary students, which gives them a spelling game to play in class. Students are challenged to spell items of Christmas vocabulary and awarded points.
And here is a lesson plan from the British Council’s Teaching English website, for 7 to 8 year olds, which includes a craft activity as well as a Christmas song and story. You will need to register on the page to download the material, but registration is free.
Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t make a Christmas card, so here’s another lesson plan from Teaching English for 3 to 6 year olds which has flashcards for learning Christmas vocabulary and includes making a Christmas card. Again, you need to be registered to access the flashcards, but it is well worth registering for this site.
I hope you find these activities useful. I will be trying out the webquests next week in Secondary. Merry Christmas!
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?
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.
It’s interesting how a pre-Christian festival from the north of Europe seems to have taken hold worldwide. However, there’s no denying the popularity of Hallowe’en, so here are a few resources which we can use in class this week, promoting skills and vocabulary development while following the Hallowe’en theme. I’ve tried to grade them by age, but different teaching circumstances mean that different activities will be useful for different students. If you’re unsure of any details about the history of Hallowe’en, this infographic will provide you with plenty of information about how the festival has evolved over the centuries.
Pre-Primary / Early Primary
The objective of this festival for very young learners is to avoid scaring them while giving them the opportunity to learn a new song or to make something in arts and crafts which will link them to the idea of Hallowe’en. One of the things we do with our youngest students is pumpkin carving. The teacher wields the knife, but the students get a chance to help empty the seeds and design the scary face to cut out. The Jack o’ Lantern created is then used to decorate the class on the 31st October. In parallel with this, the children can prepare Jack o’ Lantern masks to wear on the day. You can find other ideas for Hallowe’en masks here.
Another fun activity for younger learners is to go Trick or treating around the school. This takes a bit of organising, but the kids love it. Have each class group prepare a Hallowe’en song before the day of the festival, then organise a rota so that each class can visit another class of the same age. The visiting class sings their song to the others, and then each student receives a gift (traditionally sweets, but check your school’s policy on this type of treat beforehand). This is particularly good fun if the students can come to school dressed up for the day! If they can’t come in dressed up, it would be nice for them to have masks prepared in class. If the teacher has prepared a Jack o’ Lantern for the class, they can carry that with them when they visit the other classes.
For older primary students, articulated Hallowe’en decorations can be great fun. You can find a number of diferent copiable designs here. This can be combined with the CLIL science class if you choose to make articulated skeletons. These can be combined with Jack o’ Lanterns, and spiders webs made from teased cotton wool to create a really spooky atmosphere for the classroom.
On the British Council Learning English website, there are several games for Hallowe’en. For example, here is a version of ‘I Spy‘ for Hallowe’en, useful for practising vocabulary. There is also a spelling game, ‘Spelloween‘ which promises to be a lot of fun.
Another idea would be to try out traditional children’s party games, such as Apple bobbing, where you try to get an apple out of a bowl of water using your mouth. If this is considered too risky, you can make the activity safer but even messier by placing the apples in a tray of flour! Other traditional games can be adapted to a Hallowe’en theme – for example, ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’ can easily become ‘Pin the tail on the witch’s cat’.
In secondary, we seem to pay less attention to festivals in general, but there are still some useful activities which we can do with our students. One possibility, if they have an intermediate level or above, is to challenge your students to write a ghost story. You can give them the first line, perhaps ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ and have them complete the story, either individually or in pairs. it would be a good idea to brainstorm typical vocabulary from ghost stories first, and possibly talk about the usual structure of this type of story. Alternatively, you could take the first paragraph of a ghost story and turn it into a jigsaw dictation (there are many ghost stories available as graded readers, so this should not be too hard to organise). Once they have reconstructed the opening paragraph, you can have the students write how they think the story continues. Mission Impossible! also lends itself very well to creating Hallowe’en stories, and the Zombie round is particularly apt!
An alternative to writing exercises can be found on You Tube, courtesy of Mr Skype lessons. This is a listening exercise based on a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:
The art work which accompanies the listening text is fantastic.
Finally, here’s a full lesson plan from the British Council’s Learning English website, based on the story ‘The King of Pumpkins‘. I hope you enjoy these resources, and feel free to add more which you have used and enjoyed.
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:
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