Exploiting video in the language classroom: IATEFL Harrogate


I’ve just got back from my first IATEFL Conference, in Harrogate, still feeling elated from the buzz that such big conferences always produce. It’s been great to meet up with so many people I’ve only seen online before, and make new friends. It’s also been great to attend so many fantastic talks and workshops.

I’d like to thank everyone who came along to my session on exploiting video in the classroom. As promised, here is the link to the powerpoint of my presentation. The video clips used are in the same folder, just in case the links in the presentation don’t work. I hope you find it useful.

Write-ups for some of the activities included in the session can be found in the following posts:

Pigeon Impossible

Dubbing exercise (Armstrong and Miller RAF Pilots)

Video listening comprehension

Real Beauty – Film English

How to … use video in the classroom


Mystery photos – modal verbs for speculation and deduction


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.

mystery photo

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).

4 Approaches to learning vocabulary

I’ve just read Gareth Davies’s entry on the OUP Blog ‘Getting the words off the page‘ and it set me thinking about how I approach vocabulary learning in my classes. So here are four suggestions I use with my students to help them get the vocabulary off the page:

1. Keep a vocabulary notebook

This is something I learnt from my Latin teacher, Mr. Ford (I learnt a great deal from this teacher, not just Latin). He would come into the class each day with a very old book of Latin vocabulary and would bombard us with words which we would have to translate into English. This doesn’t sound particularly pedagogical these days, but I still remember some of the words he ‘taught’ us in that way. The vocabulary was arranged in semantic fields, and he repeated the same vocabulary over and over, until we knew it well. He also remembered which words you had failed on the previous day, so he asked you again.

I have transferred this technique to my classes in two ways. First, I use the same method when teaching irregular verbs, spending the first five minutes of class asking for the past simple or past participle of different verbs, a little like grammar tennis. More importantly I encourage my students to create their own vocabulary notebooks, small enough to carry around, with the words and phrases organised in semantic fields. Once they have their notebook, they should carry it with them as much as possible, and simply reading it as regularly as possible. In this way they replicate the experience of being in Mr Ford’s class, and they learn the vocabulary in a far more painless way than in the case with which Gareth begins his post.

2. Flashcards

When I first started teaching, I worked with a class of five-year-olds who were just beginning to read in Spanish. So instead of writing the vocabulary on the board, I started to draw pictures for them, filling the board with ilustrations of the vocabulary we were learning. I gave them photocopies of some of the pictures to colour and keep, and we used these to decorate other parts of the classroom. We also made simple card games for Pelmanism, one set each month.


Obviously this is a lot of work to build into an ever busier schedule, but luckily the publishers are now far more aware of the need for visual support material and provide generous packs of flashcards with any new method, including flashcards in digital format for those of us who have access to an IWB. Flashcards are great for playing vocabulary games with young learners, but they can also be used with older students in different ways. For example, keep a set of flashcards for classroom requests and instructions in an envelope on a table at the back of the class, and if a student wants to ask for something but doesn’t remember the word or phrase s/he can go and get the flashcard to scaffold the request. The same can be done if we display these flashcards across the front of the class (above the board if it is a traditional class). This way the teacher can also point to the phrase as a way of provising visual scaffolding. And if the learner has a smartphone, there are several apps which provide flashcards for the phone, both in Android and iOS. These can be used in a similar way to the vocabulary notebook mentioned above.

3. Raps, chants and rhymes

This is something I have used less in class, at least formally, but I have to say they are effective. As an alternative to the raps and chants in the book, particularly with teenage students it can be fun to have them create the raps and share them with the class. And it doesn’t have to be a rap. I have attended workshops run by Spencer Kagan’s team where in one activity we had to fit the instructions to a process into a well-known tune of our choice! This would be fantastic for a CLIL lesson.

4. Getting physical

For many learners, adding a physical action to the learning process can be a great help when it comes to memorising vocabulary, and indeed other things. In his plenary talk at the TESOL Spain Convention in Seville last March (and at the TESOL France Colloquium in November) entitled ‘The learning body‘, Scott Thornbury emphasised the importance of the physical descarga (1) element of language learning, and this can be applied particularly well to learning vocabulary. By adding a physical action to the item of vocabulary when it is presented and repeating it when it is used or revised, learning becomes a whole body experience. This can be enhanced where possible by including mime games to revise vocabulary, and even TPR. When I was teaching young learners (in my case five-year-olds) I found that they learnt songs far better when they had a series of actions to perform at the same time – indeed the actions structured the memorising of the song, so that they often ran through the actions of a part where they didn’t remember the words before going back and singing it. Actions of this kind also allow the teacher to scaffold in a relatively unobtrusive way, since if the student becomes stuck, it is often enough for the teacher to perform the associated action in order to jog the student’s memory. The potential drawback here is that students often scaffold themselves using the gestures when they are writing their vocabulary test!

CAE Formal Letter of Complaint

It’s always great to find material out there for CAE, and even more so if it’s material for writing.

Tim's Free English Lesson Plans

complaint box

Just a quick note…

Before you use these materials… We’ve created a new podcast aimed at B2+ level English students and teachers alike. You can listen for free at our SoundCloud page below. We have released 5 episodes so far and you can download teacher’s notes to accompany them from our Facebook page or from this blog. All comments and feedback welcome! Give us a like and a share 😉



This is a lesson plan designed to prepare students to tackle formal letter of complaint tasks that can come up in both parts of the CAE writing paper.

Here is the link to the first handout which contains an example of a formal letter of complaint on page 2. Page 3 has the task the students will complete, which is referred to in the prezi.

Here is the link to the prezi, and here is the handout that…

View original post 13 more words

TESOL France, 2013

TESOL-France conference_13

I’m writing this post from my hotel room, a few hundred metres from the site of the 32nd Annual International TESOL France Colloquium. Over the weekend the delegates have the opportunity to listen to internationally renowned speakers such as Scott Thornbury, Sue Palmer and Rosa Aronson, as well as many others from around France and beyond. Thanks to Debbie West and her team for getting this conference together.

I will be presenting my talk ‘Getting them Speaking’ tomorrow at one o’clock, and I would like to take this opportunity to publish the link to the slideshow of the talk, as well as links to posts on this blog which have covered some of the activities which I am using in my talk. I hope you find it useful.

Getting them speaking (article)

Mission Impossible!

Numbers Biography

Picture Dictations

Speed Dating

A war of words – Part II

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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...

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

– 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?

Related articles

‘How I learnt English’: Part II

How I learnt English - graphicIn 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. Class dojoMany 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. DPiE-InClass-400x258They 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 logogames 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…

Michael J Fox

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.

Cooperative learning

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:

4 Things to Promise my Students at the Start of This School Year

A classroom in a Japanese high school

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another school year has got under way, laden with high hopes and good intentions. But as September gives way to October and we settle in for the long haul, it is all too easy to let those good intentions slide and fall back on the routines we feel comfortable with. So this school year I have decided to go public – in this post I will set out four things I hope to make an integral part of my teaching this year, and over the coming months I will revisit these themes to let you know how I am getting on.

1. Make homework more interesting

Homework is always a thorny issue for any teacher. What should you set? How much? How should it be checked or evaluated? And what do you do with those students who refuse to do it? Most of the time the students perceive homeworksleep-on-books-1.10.12 as dull, and often even a waste of time, however carefully you programme it into your learning objectives. So this year I hope to follow Adam Simpson’s sound advice in his post ‘6 great techniques for getting students to write down their homework‘.

In particular, Adam’s suggestion to ‘Tech it up’ appeals to me. Our students are so-called ‘digital natives’, so a clear way of making homework more appealing to them is to incorporate digital elements where possible. This opens up the possibility of including listening comprehension tasks or watching videos and doing comprehension tasks as homework. Or perhaps an editing or peer response activity using Google Drive? Or even a class blog? Watch this space!

2. Give them space to learn


Photo credit: http://www.ed.ac.uk

This promise really brings together a couple of different ideas which I have been meaning to work on more diligently for some time now. I have the impression that my students see the teacher (in any subject) as being there predominantly to solve their problems, so that they do not have to make any effort. When they are writing, for example, they will ask for help with relatively simple vocabulary rather than stop and think for a moment to see if they can remember it for themselves, and sometimes they will ask for the same item of vocabulary again a few moments later. For some years I have solved this by taking a set of dictionaries into writing classes. This year, my intention is to take this further, taking a step back as teacher and requiring them to put in a little more effort themselves.

One way in which I can do this is to set up collaborative learning groups within the classroom. In this way, students have a team which supports them in the learning process, and peers they can consult before turning to the teacher. I already make frequent use of peer response when working on writing activities. This year I hope to extend this to other areas of the curriculum, encouraging the students to coach each other before we share the answers and correct in class. I have seen a sign on the teacher’s table in one classroom which says ‘C3B4ME’ – ‘See three (team mates) before you see me (come to ask the teacher)’. c3b4meThis approach should foster peer support within the classroom, and so help the students to become more responsible for their own and each others’ learning.

The second idea which I want to include in this promise is the intention to create a space where students can learn for themselves, providing them with activities through which they can discover for themselves what they need to progress. The rationale behind this is the old saying ‘Give me a fish and I eat for a day – teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime’. It is all too easy to step in and spoon-feed our students rather than providing them with challenges which stimulate their curiosity and then scaffolding so that they can face those challenges successfully.

In the packed curriculum we are faced with in the school, both of these ideas represent serious challenges, but I feel strongly that they are also important to help our students really learn what we are trying to teach them.

3. Give them the thinking time they need


As teachers, one of the things we do most often is ask questions. and while it can be satisfying to see a sea of hands raised in an instant, as in the photograph, this is rarely the case. Even if we do have a number of students who raise their hands immediately, they are usually the same students over and over, and some quieter students get shifted to the margins of the class quite quickly. Faced with hands straining in the air, it is very difficult to avoid selecting a student to answer immediately, especially as we also suffer from the pressure of a packed curriculum – surely it is more effective to get the answer over with as quickly as possible.

However, it is important to slow down a little in these situations. Many students who do not raise their hands immediately may know the answer, but simply need time to gather their thoughts and formulate their answer. So it pays to wait before selecting who should answer, and make a conscious effort to select different students each time, so that everyone gets the chance to participate. One way to achieve this is to incorporate ‘think time’ into the classroom questioning process, so that everyone has time to think before answers are requested. This can be extended to become a ‘think-pair-share’ structure, further scaffolding the weaker students.

Obviously some students take advantage of the pressure on the teacher to take a quick answer, and even if they are selected they fail to respond, in the hope that the teacher will move on to take a more willing response after a brief pause. An extended pause may feel uncomfortable in such situations, but sends the message that an answer is required before we move on.

4. Continue to learn myself

Students may learn from what we tell them in class, but they learn a lot more from who we are. One of the most important aspects of our work as teachers is to provide a positive role model for our students, and this extends to modelling an interest in further learning. Students should see a teacher who can admit that s/he doesn’t know the answer to some of their questions, but will find out the answer for tomorrow’s class, or a teacher who can try out new ways of doing things in the class. This doesn’t mean that we should sign on to every new fad that comes along, but it does mean that this year’s classes should include new elements which were not present in last year’s. In this way we avoid the predictability which can so easily kill off interest in the classroom.

Over to you

So these are my plans for the new school year. But what about you? How do you want to modify your teaching practice this year? Or do you have any suggestions how I can better achieve my aims? I look forward to reading your comments.