Mystery of the Abbey – solving a crime in English

I’ve always believed teaching English should be as much real-life-oriented experience as possible. That’s why I really enjoy playing board games and, whenever I can, I try to incorporate them (or their elements) into my lesson plans.

Sometimes, when I have a small group of pre-int+  students, I bring my own copy of one of my favourite games, The Mystery of the Abbey. I find it perfect as the beginning-of-the-course lesson, or maybe as a nice goodbye activity for the last lesson; it works great for any age group – the only drawback is, the game is designed for maximum 6 players.

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Scene of crime (doom, doom, dooooom)

Now, the idea behind the game is nice and easy to grasp, especially for those who have read (or watched an awesome film based on) a masterpiece by Umberto Eco, “The Name of the Rose”. The players are monks who arrive at the abbey just to learn that one of the pious inhabitants has been murdered. Since the murderer is clearly one of the local priests, the players are asked to find the evil one – you can check the rules here.

The only way to find the criminal is to investigate, interrogate, confess… Basically, to communicate 🙂 It may seem awkward at the beginning, especially with adults who somehow believe that a proper English lesson includes only grammar and vocabulary exercises. But after a while they’ll get surprisingly comfortable with speaking (or chanting, yes, yes…) in English.

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I guess, since the murderer ran away, those guys are innocent 😉

The reason why I love this game as the beginning of the course is that it helps students to start speaking the language from the first moment and, unlike usual introductory activities, it makes them see that they can actually communicate well enough to achieve something: in this case to solve the mystery.

The second reason of choosing Mystery of the Abbey for the first class is that, as every good game, it’s fun. And making the students see that they can actually have fun using English also makes them happier and greatly improves their attitude. Not to mention the socialising aspect: getting to know one another during the game is way better than all those “tell me something about yourself ” activities.

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Ready to play?

I hope I’ve encouraged you to give it a go 🙂

Enjoy!

A new online course – interested?

Hiya, fellow teachers & students of English, just a short note today – there’s a new course on Writing for University Study by University of Reading, it’s free and it’s online:

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/english-for-study

If you’re interested in studying at university or college in an English-speaking country, you’ll need to learn how to write using academic English. Academic writing can be very different from other types of English writing you may have done in the past. We have developed this course to help you learn the basics of academic writing and develop your English skills for study in the UK, US, Australia or other countries where English is used.

So, my IELTS students, consider this course a nice idea (yeah, I’ve also signed up, it’s never too late to learn something new!)

Enjoy 🙂

Blurred grammar with Weird Al

The last time I wrote about music, and somehow I completely forgot to mention one of the masters of English, the funny, intertextual, one and only Weird Al Yankovic!

Frankly, I’m a fan of this guy and I’d gladly share most of his songs with my students as they’re simply funny, witty and highly enjoyable – well, I can only encourage you to listen and have fun. Weird Al has been performing for quite a while, so you can find a good piece of music for everyone and make a nice listening exercise (I highly recommend sharing the video as well).

Today, however, I want to share the parody of Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke. You may be familiar with the controversies regarding the original lyrics,  but there’s nothing to be worried about when it comes to Weird Al’s video, you can share it publicly 🙂

I’d introduce this video as a fill-in-the-gap listening exercise (you can find the lyrics here) as a break during some tedious grammar review classes (tenses revision or articles exercises, don’t we love this stuff?) with an intermediate+ level.

To keep the good mood, I would follow the listening activity with some groupwork, where my students could write a short poem about – why not? – their struggles with English grammar or some grammar rules they may have problems with remembering.

If you have time for a small class project, you may encourage your students to write their own proper song about grammar, either inspired by some popular pieces of music, or a completely original one – even if they’re not really into singing, they can always rap (they’ll feel more confident performing in group). With an extremely eager group you may even think about filming a proper video clip – the possibilities are endless 🙂

The truth is, you can use Word Crimes to show the students – and remind yourself – that everything can be spiced up with a little bit of fun, even if ‘a song about grammar’ doesn’t sound like fun at first.

Enjoy 🙂

Getting to know each other? Let’s face the music!

September, the month in my life when I face a bunch of disillusioned teenagers who haven’t met me yet but they already don’t feel like learning English (or they already did meet me and decided to suffer yet another year with yours truly) – rings a bell? Do you remember being a student and doing one of the most terrifying things in the classroom: sharing stuff about oneself? And the feeling of panic? What am I going to say? Will other students laugh? Should I mention I want to be an Evil Empress? Red light, red light, panic – and all that jazz.

No wonder teenagers don’t want to talk about themselves… So I usually make them work in groups, and then share information about one another, which seems easier for my students.

With teenagers, one thing is usually universal: they like music. Even if it’s Justin Bieber. Or 1Direction. Or Avicii. Or Imagine Dragons (THAT’S what they’re calling rock nowadays, seriously?). What I do, I use their interest and make them bring their favourite English songs to share with the whole class.

To jazz things up a bit, though, I ask my students to prepare their own listening exercises – teenagers love gap filling in songs, and those pieces of music we find in our coursebooks, well… are just a wee bit outdated 😉

Naturally, I also bring something nice, last time it was Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden – and believe me, I was so proud when one of my students put his pencil aside and smiled calmly, saying he knew the song by heart (indeed he did).

From my experience, this activity makes students more comfortable in the classroom, it checks their listening proficiency, and – which is also quite important – allows me to introduce some cultural aspects. It also helps me to find what my students actually like and get to know them better.

Naturally, you’re bound to listen to some songs that will make you cringe – last season I had a group of teenage girls. Only girls. Slow romantic songs galore… and I wish you all the best when it comes to the lyrics. It takes some kind of super-willpower to stop oneself from commenting and I’m just an Evil Empress in the making, you know.

Besides, my sweet teenage girls find stuff like this romantic, only it makes me feel like high-fiving the author (in the face. with a chair). I wanna take you somewhere so you know I care but it’s so cold and I don’t know where, really? Do you really wish you had a boyfriend like that? Seriously, girls these days 😉

Well, so after a nice idea and a small example of what you may encounter (gods be with you, fellow teachers! you can do it!) let me share one of my favourite romantic songs. Enjoy 🙂

First classes dictation to boost motivation

New school year, new groups, new students – to put it simply: expectations.

Very soon I’m going to join my old friends and my new potential allies in an epic battle with English. We’re going to start our fight after a holiday break, so we’ll be refreshed and motivated, but with November looming ominously, we’re bound to feel broken, tired to the bone and full of hatred. It’s nothing unusual, it happens and I believe that would be unnatural, feeling constantly motivated. Really.

So, being an Evil Empress in the making, I want to prepare my students for that unavoidable pit in education. There are always the moments when you don’t feel like waking up, let alone learn a language (and then it turns out it’s a Reported Speech time in the classroom, oh joy!) – and it’s ok. It’s important to feel motivated, sure – but it’s completely natural to let it go once in a while.

I found this poem by Chanie Gorkin, and once I saw it, I thought I could use it on my very first classes, to make my students remember…. well, here’s the poem I make my students write down as a dictation, line by line (of course, I’ll have to adjust vocabulary to my students’ proficiency level, but what’s so difficult in replacing convince with tell etc.?):

Today was the absolute worst day ever

And don’t try to convince me that

There’s something good in every day

Because, when you take a closer look,

This world is a pretty evil place.

Even if

Some goodness does shine through once in a while

Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.

And it’s not true that

It’s all in the mind and heart

Because

True happiness can be obtained

Only if one’s surroundings are good

It’s not true that good exists

I’m sure you can agree that

Reality

Creates

My attitude

It’s all beyond my control

And you’ll never in a million years hear me say that

Today was a good day

Now, as a way of checking the dictation, I want my students to read the poem from bottom to top.

And I want all of us to remember that sometimes looking at our lives from a different angle can make us feel better. So, whenever things go wrong, let’s just stand upside down, and…

… something like this, you know 😉

New (school)year resolutions :)

With holidays over (holidays?! I had 2 weeks off, they do summer schools on holidays, after all!) I’ve decided that’s the time for some changes. I’ve noticed there aren’t many things that actually challenge me as a teacher and even if I’m not bored with my job, I feel an urge to try something new.

So, I’ve started to learn Spanish – and you may expect a note or two about how much fun it is to become a language learner again and how helpful it can be in understanding your own students.

I’ve also decided to give it a go with DELTA certificate this school year, so what awaits me is a good deal of self study. Well, being a teacher IS being a learner, right?

I spent some time in Manchester this summer (I really like this city, even though I don’t really support EITHER of its footy teams) and I’ve found out that lots of students are really into IELTS exams. Now, I’ve been doing IELTS prep classes for two years now, so I’ll try to share some ideas here (like: if you’re thinking of passing Academic IELTS, self study is not really the best option).

And the last thing is – online courses. The British Council has uploaded a bunch of nice courses on futurelearn.com and I’m currently attending the one focused on teaching: Professional Practices for English Language Teaching. It’s really good and useful, I love reading and sharing comments, you can learn a lot not only from the presenters, but also from other followers – a huge group of teachers doesn’t always mean chaos 🙂 You should give it a go, the course has just started!

And just to make myself remember, life’s not only about teaching and learning, my final resolution is to see more rock and metal gigs. After all, if one wants to be an epic teacher, one has to experience epicness, right?

RIGHT? 🙂

So, let’s enjoy this year together 🙂