The same exam

edu system

Now, doesn’t it sound familiar?

One of the most difficult tasks for me as a teacher is designing tests (and then test correction, I really hate it) – and the picture above explains why: it is virtually impossible to create a test everyone could find something they are good at.

In my current workplace we – the teachers – are to make three ‘small’ tests per term and a ‘big’ one after the winter term and at the end of the year. The big tests are really capacious, they cover listening and reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary and a writing task. Some teachers divide it into sections and students write it in a couple of classes, I prefer to have it all in one go (and I make my students write a 90 minute test, but hey, I’m a villainous teacher, right?), like a ‘real’ exam.

I personally like those tests because as no others they tell me about my students’ real skills. Even if they happen to lack in grammar or lesson-covered vocabulary, I have encountered writing tasks done with vocabulary exceeding their actual level (which actually backs up my theory that if students don’t know that something is difficult they don’t have problems with getting the grasp of it). I also try to make a writing task adjusted to the group’s sense of humour so it’s more enjoyable for them.

However, the smaller tests are more difficult to design. After all, we need to cover some practical skills but also motivate students in their work (and somehow tests aren’t really motivating). After a couple of terms the solution I have found is as follows:

  • Starter to Intermediate levels:

I make short tests concerning not the lesson-covered material, but something new, yet at their level. If it is listening test – it may be a song (gap filling), short dialogue, or a video. If it is reading – a text not necessarily covering the topic they’ve had, but using most of the vocabulary they’ve met). In general: I try to make those tests as short and interesting as possible.

  • Intermediate+ levels:

With young learners, the greatest difficulty is vocabulary. They have acquired some grammar skills (enough to communicate, though I will write a post about making students use conditionals and reported speech when speaking; teaching grammar is easy compared to making students use grammar) but they don’t enjoy learning vocabulary (who does, eh?). My tests depend on a student book: if I find the vocabulary in the book useful, I make lesson-covered tests regarding mainly the vocabulary; if I find the vocabulary boring, I make my own tests basing on websites, books or TV. I remember my college students who were to watch Top Gear special episode and then write a short summary (much fun).

Regardless of the proficiency level, I am strongly in favour of percentage grading. It is usually fair and I’ve noticed that my students prefer that than any other way of grading. Of course, I happen to give some additional points for unexpected but funny/silly/amusing things on tests (like a particularly creative writing, a sketch of a machine gun with all components described in English or just a full bio of Margaret Thatcher) – but then: who doesn’t? And, as long as our students are appreciated for being creative on their tests they may feel just a little bit more motivated.

Homework for H1 students

I was looking for a nice video I promised you and I thought about Kuba and his coffee-drinking. Obviously, I had to go with this stuff ūüôā

Now, that’s your hw: I want you to watch the video,¬†understand¬†what the girl says (shouldn’t be THAT difficult, but hey, that’s how real people speak) and write a short summary. Check the additional questions, please and be careful while doing science ūüėõ

Caffeine!! – Bite Sci-zed

Have a nice Easter and see you on Wednesday ūüôā

Oh, feel free to use relative clauses in your summary ūüėČ

THE book a teacher should have

Do you like reading books? I love it!

Do you like reading books about teaching? Urgh…

Isn’t it as if people who write most of those methodology-of-teaching-English-as-a-foreign-language books have little in common with real-life teaching? Well, I think before you write a book, get it edited and published so much changes in teaching, that it really is difficult to be trendy. However, I remember some books I had to read when I was a student and most of them taught me nothing. Actually – none of them taught me anything.

To be completely honest, no theory I was supposed to learn during my studies prepared me to be a teacher. Sure, I’ve met some people who were the real teachers and they inspired us with their passion and attitude – but methodology books? Nevah!

It was a couple of years after I graduated when I took part in a contest by Macmillan and won a book. Any book from their offer, I remember it well. How wisely did I choose deciding on a book called 700 Classroom Activities by David Seymour and Maria Popova from Macmillan Books for Teachers series! It appeared to be the best book a teacher could get  Рat least, a teacher like me.

The book consists of tips, ideas, games, warm-ups and it’s kept short, simple and organised. No useless theory, just 150 pages of useful ideas. There are four main categories:

  • Conversation

Perfect warm-ups for introducing a topic or before a reading comprehension, I use it particularly often at the beginning of a course as there are lots of great ideas for language users at different levels (and yes, the levels are given next to tasks). ¬†You can choose different topics –¬†accommodation, culture, education etc. and find a bunch of nice conversation ideas. There are even some marked as ‘taboo’ as particularly sensitive or possibly controversial.

  • Functions

Perfect for short language-use practice. I use it when I finish all exercises and just want to practice some ‘real’ English. And I choose from buying/selling, complaining, describing, necessity etc. – again, with the proficiency levels suggested.

  • Grammar

That’s my favourite part of the book and the reason why I use it on my virtually every lesson: nice, short and creative little games and¬†conversations that make my students understand grammar better. I must confess that whenever I have a piece of grammar to teach I always use this book to check for some nice ideas – and even if they are not really adequate to my group’s profile, they can be easily adjusted to any group.

  • Vocabulary¬†

Now, I don’t believe I could ever lack some help when it comes to teaching and¬†practicing¬†vocabulary (for me that is the most difficult area of teaching, mainly because it’s the student who has to do most of the job… too bad hammering vocab in students’ heads doesn’t seem to work, eh?..) and those little tips are always helpful even if well-known.

So – that’s what the book is like.¬†Extremely¬†useful, well-written, short and simple: perfect for a teacher who sometimes happens to be a scatterbrain and needs some help to get things organized. If you wonder what to do now – well, go and buy it, really!

And have fun using it!

I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to my student PaweŇā, who has motivated me to write today:)


Stories and storytelling

I’ve written about one of my favourite games, Once Upon a Time…¬†and today I present a lesson plan to cover introduction to storytelling.

Group age: 11-12

Group level: pre-intermediate

Time: 90 minutes

a shortened lesson plan: stories and storytelling lessonplan

Introduction of the topic is absolutely up to a teacher as it depends on a group, so I will give some tips on vocabulary and making a story.

  • Vocabulary (genre)

It helps both me and students to set the story in nice frames. I usually use the following stories (I elicit words by saying film/ book titles): crime, western, disaster, historical, horror, thriller, love, war, detective, sci-fi, fantasy (I explain the difference between those two), adventure, comic, family saga and fairy tale

  • Vocabulary (describing people)

1. Matching adjectives with their opposites, e.g.:

tall/small, weak/strong, young/old, fat/thin, beautiful/ugly, big/small etc.

2. Matching the parts of the face with the list of adjectives used to described them, e.g.:

EARS (big, cauliflower, sticky-out)

NOSE (big, snub, pointed)

EYES (big, bright, blue)

LIPS (thin, full, wide)

3. Putting the adverbs in order from the weakest to the strongest, e.g.:

not very – quite – fairly – very – really – extremely – absolutely

I explain two archetypical characters in any story – a hero and a villain, and make students describe them using the words they have just revised. After that, we briefly revise Past Simple and Past Continues as tenses needed for the story (that is, if students haven’t learnt Perfect tenses yet) and then we make our first story – extremely¬†clich√©, but it’s made for getting the general idea of storytelling. I write a sentence:¬†Once upon a Time… and explain that we usually start storytelling with this opening. Then I write …there lived a beautiful princess – and students try to enrich this sentence describing the princess’ ¬†looks, living conditions and, naturally, giving her a name. When they finish, I write another sentence: The old witch changed her into a frog.¬†Students have a lot to explain – who was the witch and why didn’t she like the princess (in my case that was obvious as the group created such an evil and cruel princess that everyone hated her). Next goes: One day a brave knight kissed the frog… and the first and most important question is not about his name, appearance or frog-meeting circumstances but: who on Earth and why kisses frogs?! Whatever: … and the frog turned into a beautiful girl (mind, it doesn’t have to be the princess) – students describe the girl, what happened after the change and was the knight really happy about it (one does not necessarily expect a frog to turn into a girl, even a beautiful one).¬†Anyway: They got married and lived happily ever after – I say it’s the typical ending of the story, but…

…but now they are going to write their own stories and they may use any ending they like. I give them dictionaries, put them into groups, give them a couple of random Once Upon a Time… cards and help them¬†occasionally. They are going to write their first stories and later you may play the version when they swap papers with other groups – I like using it as a nice game after a particularly boring piece of grammar or when the students are sleepy and don’t feel like working: practising the passive voice by making stories does sound like fun, doesn’t it?

Once Upon a Time…

One of the best activities in the classroom for students of all ages is definitely playing games. And one of the best and most creative games is Once Upon a Time by Atlas Games. If you check their website you will find some teaching tips, but I use it in a different way, simply because it is hard to tell a story for pre-intermediate level students – writing is easier, especially when they have dictionaries and work in pairs to make it even funnier.

  • Pre-intermediate students

Before I let the students play the game, we cover some stories-oriented topics Рgenres, characters, the ideas of heroes and villains, how the plot is constructed and stuff like that (my lesson plan).

Then I divide class in pairs/groups and present them the cards Рeach of them has a picture and a word or phrase (e.g. king, someone disobeys, castle etc.). I explain that every group is to get 3 or 4 cards and make a beginning of the story using the words they have. Then they swap their stories with another group, get another random set of cards, read the previous story and continue using new words. And so on, until their original story comes back to them Рthen they finish it nicely and give the teacher to read.

Let me warn you: the more students are at ease with you, the crazier the stories get, you may want to read them at home to avoid embarrassing blushing!

  • Intermediate students

If they don’t feel like talking, I let them do the writing activity (that is probably the only activity of that kind they seem to enjoy and are never tired of it), but they have to create their stories not in pairs, but individually,¬†swapping¬†with other students. I let them use dictionaries (look for new words and you may use their mistakes for a nice error-correction task later) and I give them the ending cards, so their stories must finish in a particular way.

If they want to talk, I play the game by normal rules, but without using ‘interrupt’ cards.

  • Upper-intermediate and higher level students

With those advanced students I play game by normal rules, using all the cards and – well, have fun!

Of course, instead of buying the game you might think of making your own cards – but let me tell you that Once Upon a Time… is not only a nice teaching tool, but also a really good fun in out-classroom environment.

Learning teaching

During many years of my school education I’ve encountered too many teachers stiff as if they had a nice stick up their bums. I’ve also met quite a lot of those who wanted to be students’ ‘friends’ – the point was we didn’t really enjoy the idea. When I started teaching I soon realized that finding the right place between those two attitudes would be the key to identifying my own way of being a teacher.

In Poland, at¬†universities, they don’t really teach you how to teach – well, to tell you the truth I don’t think any university would do that, this is something you learn by yourself through your whole life. Very much like parenting, only more children and less time. It’s obvious that any beginnings would be lousy but we develop somehow. When I recall my teaching beginnings (private lessons when I was a student) I can’t help but feel deeply¬†embarrassed¬†(and promise not to let any student give such lessons to my possible child). Today when I see notes ‘an English Philology student will prepare your child to any exam’ I’m like ‘right, good luck with that’.

The most important question you have to ask yourself is ‘what do I want my students to do on my classes’ and teach according to your answer. One day I’ll write what I want my students to do, but for now let’s focus on the basics of teacher – student relationship. Long lost are the days when a teacher was the authority, the keeper of secret knowledge or whatever. Now there’s the Internet and authorities are gone (not that I mind, am hardly a role model). Let’s face it – we can fight an uneven battle or accept it and live on. The only thing we can do is to help them navigate through the tumbled masses of knowledge, urban legends, facts, myths and basically help them find diamonds in the heaps of dirt.

To do that, we must dive into these heaps. Check popular sites, watch popular stuff (arrrgh, the awful experience of watching Twilight! I was really praying for van Helsing!), listen – even briefly – to popular music (that includes Justin Bieber and One Direction, I’m afraid), read what the generation of our students writes. The Internet is the key to their needs, because they express themselves freely. What about Facebook? If you read your students’ walls there’s all you need to understand them, find their hobbies and adjust your teaching to that – making a sentence explaining a grammar construction based on our students’ social life works way better than a simple sentence from the book.

That was my first lesson. And it was good, I hope (my students shall express their opinions).

Now, what about your first experiences?

Present Perfect Simple with zombies and krakens

suddenly Kraken attacks!

Explaining Present Perfect can be tough. Teaching 9-15 years old students I usually use this presentation:

Present Perfect Presentation by Jose Salazar

It’s my absolutely favourite tense – probably because we don’t have it in Polish (only present, past and future, easy peasy, hrhrhr). It takes some time for poor students to get it, so I usually tell them the things they have to learn by heart:

  1. Present Perfect is a present tense (EFL books comparing it to Past Simple being great mystery of teaching?)
  2. This tense is a parasite

It appears that once you change the phrase Present Perfect is about past actions with present consequences into Present Perfect tells us about present consequences of past actions it gets easier to remember (importance of emphasis, I guess). To make this fishy tense easier to get I use the following ways:

  • The Pirates of the Carribean

Do you remember the Black Pearl ship? If so, imagine YOU are Black Pearl and suddenly a wild Kraken attacks! Its tentacles crash you in the deadly embrace and death is imminent. Now – are you more concerned with those tentacles or maybe you ponder on where did this kraken come from? The pressing issue of tentacles seems more important, right? And this is Present Perfect itself: you are not worried where did an action happened (ie. where did the kraken come from) but what are its consequences (or, in this case, tentacles).

  • Zombie attack! (or Monster Under the Bed version)

You’re home alone and suddenly you hear knocking on the door. Half asleep, convinced that it’s your family or friends, you open the door… but there’s a real live (or rather undead) zombie which doesn’t waste time but attacks you grabbing your limb and chewing it enthusiastically (scrumptious, don’t know why children love this part). I don’t think you worry about the beginning of zombie apocalypse, but rather focus on your limb (or lack of it if you think really slowly). And that is Present Perfect again, thinking about the consequences of your rather unwise action of opening the door without asking ‘who’s there’. Nice story + a good lesson for children to check before they open the door and be prepared for zombie apocalypse.

Sometimes I change zombie for a Monster Under the Bed, story is the same, it depends on students’ choice (which story do you want?).

I must admit that students’ general comprehension of this tense has improved since I started using those stories. The next important issue is that Present Perfect is a parasite, always relying on another tense, never to exist alone. When are the consequences of Present Perfect visible – at present: I’ve stupidly opened the door and now a zombie eats my limb/ Kraken has attacked me and now I’m crashed in its deadly embrace. Even if you don’t say the consequences explicitly, they are always there.

Now, these are my ideas of presenting this fantastic tense (I really love it and feel its lack in my native language). What are yours? Maybe you use some games or websites?