I didn’t do my homework… – project idea (not only for young learners!)

 

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Some time ago I spent a Black Friday weekend in Manchester – yes, I guess I must have gone mad – I do like the city very much (surprisingly, because I support none of the local football teams), but going there in the heat of the international shopping spree wasn’t exactly the best idea ever.

A highlight of my visit was definitely the John Rylands Library – a magnificent building with impressive interiors and amazing atmosphere (generally Manchester’s libraries are awesome, I fell in love with Manchester Central Library, best place ever!). And it was its small bookshop where I noticed a book which immediately caught my eye: I Didn’t Do My Homework Because by Davide Cali and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud.

The book is basically a list of perfectly illustrated, funny, weird, amazingly impossible excuses a student could use… but they usually don’t.

Unless I, as a teacher, make them to 🙂

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When I was browsing through this book I immediately thought about a project for younger learners. Perfect for a period right after a winter break, when they don’t feel like, well, doing anything. The list of excuses the book offers is great, but my students can surely do better.

Last week I got quite tired with my group full of teenagers who clearly hadn’t felt like doing their homework for a while. So I set up a common account on Storybird, chose a pattern, showed them some ideas and asked them to write their own book. Here is the result being a nice homework, a fun activity and an adorable souvenir for yours truly (my absolutely favourite thing is the alien insects clearly inspired by the X-files).

CLICK: I didn’t to my homework because… by LeniweBuly 🙂

Be sure, though, once you go with this project your students will never again say they forgot to do their homework… be prepared for alien abductions, chupacabras, evil bunnies and alternative worlds galore.

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However, even older students may enjoy this book and the ideas – who doesn’t have any problems with homework? I personally believe, English classes give the opportunity for adult students to feel childlike once again – after all, the process of learning is (quite unfairly in my opinion) identified with children. I don’t believe those serious mothers and fathers won’t enjoy making up stories on why they didn’t do their homework. Naturally, I wouldn’t suggest drawing pictures, but making a list of the most creative excuses (a contest with a prize maybe?) seems to be a nice activity to help your students relax, perhaps before a test or not so enjoyable grammar part? Or maybe as a way to practise some phrasal verbs?

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I believe a project like this may be a great fun in winter or early spring when we all feel rather discouraged and wouldn’t mind having a little funny activity to catch a distance and remind ourselves English lessons are fun.

Because that’s one of our tasks as teachers: not only teaching, but also showing our students they can use their linguistic knowledge and abilities to actually have fun 🙂

Enjoy:)

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Don’t like saying goodbye? Create a board game!

And so, we’re here at the end of the school year, our courses are ending, we’re moving on, time to say goodbye and so on and so forth. We’re handing out the certificates and then we have to do something to kill the time.

Some teachers go with the road so far activities, but I’m not really a fan of those. Who are we trying to fool, both me and my students are thinking about holidays and chilling out – I’m not really the most sentimental teacher ever, yeah, I know 😉 I mean, I don’t mind most of my students, I even like some of them, but you won’t see me cry while saying goodbye. So, to avoid embarrassing moments and awkward silence, I go with a game.

Now, during the course all of my students had more than one opportunity to play a board game, so they’re more or less familiar with the topic, they know what they like (or dislike), so I spend a lesson (90 minutes is optional for a simple game) sometime before the end of the course on making their own board games (a nice group activity by the way) and after handing out the certificate I let them test one another’s ideas.

Naturally, I can’t just give the students pens&papers and tell them “now, make me a game”. There always have to be some rules and some issues covered:

  1. Brainstorm – a crucial stage, coming up with the ideas, plot, zombies, rainbows, puppies, tanks and whatever springs to the students’ minds
  2. Goals – some basic questions need to be answered, like – how many players can participate, how long does the game last, is it based on luck (rolling dice) or skill (answering questions etc.) or a mix of both and the most important thing: how do we win?
  3. Basic rules – it’s important to write them down and read them aloud to make sure they’re really simple, we don’t have time for overly complicated sets
  4. Sketch of a board – obviously, not many board games require no board 🙂

Now, it may take some time, sometimes 90 minutes is not enough, so make sure you’ll have some spare time to finish the projects, I usually do the design part 2-3 lessons before the final classes, just to make sure everything’s ready. I want to share the simple Snakes and Ladders pattern a group of my pre-int+ girls played today. They had fun, so did I – and it was good to say goodbye after an hour of good fun.

Enjoy!

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The Colors of Evil – shortie but goodie :)

A friend shared this magnificent short animation on facebook and I immediately knew I had to, simply had to use it in the classroom – what’s better than pink, fluffy and cuddly evil?

Well, yeah, TWO pink fluffy cuddly evils, but I don’t have a budget for this. Yet.

I find this shortie a perfect storytelling material for all ages and all levels higher than pre-intermediate. You can use it as a group-work or pair-work activity, and even use it as a base for nice homework.

I think the best idea is to watch this film in a classroom stopping the video and asking various what do you think happens next questions. For example:

0’40”: we see two protagonists, who are they, what are their names and their relationship?

1’00”: what is the EmoGothGirl planning to do?

1’40”: what went wrong? who’s Belphagor (spelling mistake, should be Belphegor) and what’s going to happen with a fluffy demon?

2’15”: do you think the EmoGothGirl will ever get her revenge? Maybe she’ll give up and she and the AnnoyingMissCuteness will end up as BFF?

2’54”: doom, doom, doom, is it time for revenge?

3’20”: what may happen when a Hell’s spawn hypnotises the AnnoyingMissCuteness?

3’48”: love this stomp here ❤

After watching the video it’s time to discuss the story, if the students liked it, what they think might have happened to make the EmoGothGirl and the AnnoyingMissCuteness enemies for life etc.

If we’re working with younger learners we may ask them whether they are familiar with school bullying and have a proper lesson on the issue, focusing on more down-to-earth ways of stopping bullying. If our students are adults, we may focus on telling stories from their own school days (and practice past tenses, or, ideally, used to construction). But we may simply enjoy this film as a simple and short activity to brighten February lessons.

If you want to give homework, I think making an entry from the EmoGothGirl’s diary on “two months later” would be a perfect idea.

Enjoy!

Oh, and after watching the whole film it’s good to come up with the moral of the whole story. I’m sure my students have their own ideas, but mine is definitely this:

If you want to summon a proper demon, pay attention to your spelling!

 

 

 

 

New Year, New Year

Do you believe in magic of New Year’s resolutions? I used to be hopeless with them, but then I just decided to rephrase the resolutions so that they seem more sensible (like: start going to the gym, instead of: get fit. Semiotics, what’s not to love?). Even if I don’t really believe any of my students makes an honest resolution to get better in English, well, discussing resolutions is one of the nicer ways to review some grammar constructions we definitely need to remind after – in case of my students – two weeks off.

Past tenses and constructions

All those questions focusing on holidays, New Year celebrations and everything that happened during the break are an excuse to revise past tenses: Did you spend the holidays with your friends? But you had planned to spend time with them… Oh, you used to do this before you got married.

Conditionals

You can revise all the conditionals using New Year’s holidays as a bait:

If my plans come true, I’ll be the richest person in the group. Or-

If the weather were better, I would be skiing now… Or-

Had I known how difficult it is to lose weight, I wouldn’t have eaten so much.

Future tenses and constructions

Naturally, the most obvious idea is to do a proper revision of forms of expressing the future – with the cynical explanation of using “will” for promises, rather than “going to” or Present Continuous (since my native language isn’t as flexible when it comes to expressing the future, I really appreciate diversity of English here).

It would be easy to ask the students to say something about their resolutions, but I’d rather turn it into a short game or a funny activity, for example:

  • Ask students to make a few drawings about their resolutions, then ask them to work in pairs and guess partner’s ideas;
  • Classic miming game: divide students in groups and ask them to show most common New Year resolutions, who guesses first, gets a point;
  • Taboo: a student has to describe a popular resolution, but cannot use keywords (like: with the I’ll get fit phrase, they cannot use: gym, sports, exercises etc.);
  • Ask your students to make a classic resolution list, but make them funny and/or unrealistic. They’ll have lots of fun!

I hope you’ll enjoy these ideas in your classroom. All the best in 2016 and may all your resolutions come true!

 

10 lifesaving websites for ESL teachers

Lisa has asked me for some recommendations regarding useful sites for EFL teachers and I’m happy to make a little compilation of the places I visit most often to find ideas, inspirations, betimes lesson plans if I feel exceptionally lazy (The Liberation of the Garden Gnomes by Peter Vahle is just shiny!) and share them with you.

So, here we go – my ten favourite websites:

  1. onestopenglish.com: lesson plans, ideas, inspirations and useful tools – you can spend a whole day browsing this site even without registering;
  2. teachingenglish.org.uk: British Council and loads of CPD resources – you can spend days browsing the site (they also have awesome research papers and publications here);
  3. Teaching English/ British Council on YouTube is a variety of channels and playlists you can use either in the classroom or for your own CPD;
  4. Teaching English/ British Council on Facebook is something I’ve been subscribing for a while and must admit is the continuous source of inspiration (I don’t even have to look for anything all the good stuff is on my wall, yay!);
  5. Breaking News English: it’s not the best designed site ever, and the lesson plans have the same structure, but I find it a never ending source of real English, interesting news and ideas for discussions;
  6. Teach-nology: a great site with various games, printable materials and my absolutely favourite – word search maker (a perfect tool for vocabulary revision + warm-up);
  7. Puzzle-Maker: you can make your own word search, crossword etc. – perfect for a personalised vocabulary revision, test or as a great warm-up;
  8. ESL Partyland: a really nicely organised site with all the help a teacher might need for different classes plus my favourite – trivia, useful expressions etc.;
  9. Webquests: a repository of various webquests on different topics and levels which you can use either in the classroom or as a homework (or as a way of introducing your students to BlendedLearning model) – I personally love the Orient Express;
  10. Online Newspapers: a site full of newspapers (some of them in English) which may be a perfect tool for many projects in the classroom as well as self-study materials;

Hope you’ll like my choice and give these sites a go. I must admit, my life as a teacher is WAY easier thanks to those wonderful people contributing there, but I also appreciate their influence when I see my own teaching style spiced up with different inspirations and ideas – I feel motivated to change, experiment, develop, to make my classes as interesting as I can.

Enjoy the recommendations I’ve shared and if you know some interesting sites, please, share them with me as well.

Enjoy!

Lateral puzzles, literal fun :)

I believe learning a language just for an educational purpose is quite difficult, so it’s always useful to show our students that their endeavours are actually useful. While it’s easier for the adults (they either go abroad or stay in touch with a foreigner – and communicate on their own), it may be more difficult with younger learners simply because they have stuff to learn at school anyway, don’t really know WHY they may need English and lose motivation easily.

Hence the idea of introducing games in the classroom – it’s easier to convince kids that English is just a casual language to speak when you bring games in English and they learn they can actually have fun in a foreign language.

However, you can combine English, games and yet another way of development by introducing games forcing students to change their ways of thinking by introducing lateral puzzles.

In lateral thinking puzzles you describe rather uncommon situations in which you are given a little information and then have to find the explanation. They don’t have enough information to solve, so the only way to get the important details is a dialogue between the person who knows the story and the players. The questions can bring only one of three possible answers – yes, no or irrelevant.

That’s the classic version, however I prefer a bit different option: giving some key words. It helps students focus and follow a particular pattern – it also makes the game easier and shorter, and that’s quite important if you use lateral puzzles as a warm-up.

How to introduce the puzzles in the classroom?

It’s best when you start with simple puzzles (like the ones here) as a warm-up, slowly making your students familiar with the way of thinking in a way they probably haven’t tried before.

I also recommend very entertaining resources at onestopenglish.com, especially the one by Jelena Spasojevic. It’s brilliant and students really enjoy this activity!

Once the students get the grasp of the rules, the possibilities, as usual, are endless. You can find a lot of classic or modified puzzles on the internet and introduce them in the classroom (here are some nice versions).

You may use the puzzles as warm-ups, or simply make a whole lesson dedicated to them. When I used them for the first time my students immediately loved the idea, so as a homework I asked them to come up with their own mystery stories we’d have to solve, which was also a great success and a lot of fun.

If you like the idea but don’t feel like browsing the internet, you may get yourself a copy of Black Stories, a card game perfect for exercising lateral thinking either in the classroom, with your students – or at the party, because who said only students can have fun? 🙂

Enjoy 🙂

Fill in the gaps with a bit of fun

I’m absolutely thrilled, because Sandra asked me to write something about gap filling exercises and tasks – I really like this kind of activity as there are so many things you can do with gap filing: revise vocabulary, sure, but also add elements of fun and creativity.

Crazy story:

That’s one of the most favourite activities ever – works with any level, any age, believe me. First, the students write nouns, verbs, adjectives without looking at the story (I usually give them separate pieces of paper, it’s a nice way to revise parts of speech, by the way) and then they write the words down to make a proper story. Like here:

My students love this activity, it’s a great warm-up and you can design your own story with the vocabulary you want to revise. Like here 🙂

Pictures, pictures!

In this activity I use pictures (like the ones in Scaredy Cat story) – only I cut them out and hand them out to the students working in groups. I ask them to put the pictures in the appropriate order and then tell the story. It’s not important whether their story is the same as the original one, what counts is their creativity and vocabulary.

Music

Whoever thinks that the only way of incorporating song in the classroom is a typical fill in the blank option, couldn’t be more wrong. One of the activities I’ve prepared (and it’s one of the evilest ever) is based on And Then There Was Silence by Blind Guardian. I give my students chunks of lyrics and ask them to put them in a correct order while listening to the song. It looks like this:

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And the song is 15 minutes long. Without epic guitar solo:

Told you that’s evil 😉

Miming

You can use miming as part of a fill in the gaps exercise – simply give one student text, and the other student things to show. That may be great fun while working with directions – I give a list of directions to Student A and a text with blanks to Student B. Now, student B reads the texts, stops at the gaps and then Student A mimes the correct direction.

I hope you’ll like the ideas and have fun using them – and if you want me to write about something specific, just let me know!

Enjoy 🙂