English for _very_ special purposes

Last year I got hooked on Stranger Things – a great TV series, especially for geeky 80’s kids (like yours truly, I guess, can’t wait for s02). I guess zombies, aliens, demogorgons and all supernatural things have been quite a thing for a while, and thanks to Netflix we can binge on tv series (btw, thanks netflix for ruining my social life) and it would be a real waste if we couldn’t incorporate it into our classes.

I love creating lessons around tv series (I’m not a whovian, but “Blink” is a great episode to use in the classroom and “Yellow Fever” from Supernatural is simply hilarious – just to name but two) as it shows quite natural language and speech flow, brings some cultural references and is a nice way of learning by fun (which is my favourite way of acquiring knowledge).

Apart from creating lessons around fantasy and sci-fi tv series I’m really glad when I see proper books directed at low-level students, allowing them to be part of the supernatural hype:

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English for the Alien Invasion is written by the same team who committed English for the Zombie Apocalypse (a really good book for pre-intermediate students, I wrote about it here). This time the threat is from the outer space, cunning and intelligent. Beware, it’s not for the light-hearted 🙂 The story focuses on the boy called Dani, Captain Black, Doctor Green and a bunch of aliens, of course. Unsuspecting Dani meets an alien and befriends him only to be lured to the spaceship – will he be able to run away? Will Captain Black manage to inform the President about the danger? Will Doctor Green be able to help? Will humanity survive?

The book is divided into 10 units (from Making Contact to Saving the World) and two sets of flashcards. Each unit makes a 45min PPP-type lesson with similar stages: warm-up, listening exercise followed by reading comprehension, working on important phrases and production phase – creating own conversation or role-play. There are also various ideas how flashcards can be used in the classroom (learning vocabulary, short tests, memory game and story game). I find organisation of the book way better than the previous one and apart from being well thought of, there is still some space to put teacher’s own ideas (fragments of Close Encounters of the Third Kind maybe?) which is always a good thing.

EAI is perfect for elementary students for more than one reason. First and foremost, it’s a lot of fun. Who hasn’t seen at least one episode of The X-files? We can put a lot of fun into English classes and it’s as important for beginners as for any other level. Secondly, for people who have just started learning a foreign language, each attempt of communication in English is like talking to (and listening to!) aliens. We can add some humour into our classes by pretending “aliens” are native speakers of English – not only will it relieve some stress, but it may also be a great pretext to talk about cultural differences and cross-cultural communication.

I hope you’ll get inspired by the idea – it’s always good to be prepared for the worst! And if you are interested in the book, you can get it here.

Enjoy!

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

 

i didnt do my hw 1

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 🙂

i didnt do my hw 2

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.

i didnt do my hw 3

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?

i didnt do my hw 4

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:)

i didnt do my hw 5

Back to basics – dictionaries in the classroom

How often do you use ordinary dictionaries in your classroom? Maybe, like yours truly, you are so much into technology you happen to ignore those old-fashioned tomes? Or maybe the memories of “building up your vocabulary” for Use of English exam during uni times are so traumatic you don’t even want to introduce this torture to your students?

Well, in this case you have definitely missed workshops by my colleague Beata who proved that even dictionary classes can be engaging and entertaining. Seeing my obvious disbelief, she was kind enough to lend me the book that actually made me bring my dust-covered old friends back to the classroom.

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Dusting my collection, looks like I used those books ages ago.

 

This unusual book is simply called “Dictionaries” and was written by John Wright (it’s a part of Resource Books for Teachers by OUP). It’s divided into four parts dealing with various topics in which a teacher can use a dictionary to help develop particular areas of linguistic proficiency. We start with lessons on how to actually use a dictionary (not surprising for those teachers who have already encountered students who are not really able to look for words in alphabetical order). The second part is focused on headwords – my favourite part, here you can find some interesting exercises on pronunciation and generally the phonetic system. Working with meaning deserves a separate part and it’s mainly about vocabulary development, idioms and collocations. The next part combines using dictionaries and original texts (e.g. newspaper articles) to introduce in the classroom topics like memory strategies, register, homonyms, etc. The final chapter focuses basically on vocabulary issues like differences between British and American English, connotations and vocabulary organisation.

I had been quite sceptical about this whole idea of dusting my dictionaries and bringing them to my classes (especially when we can use things like my beloved thefreedictionary), but I decided to leave my comfort zone and start this new year with some oldies but goodies. The exercises that caught my eye were as follow:

Phonemic bingo (elementary+) – develops awareness of phonemic symbols. Students make a bingo grid with e.g. 2 long vowels, 2 diphtongs, 2 short vowels and 3 consonants, then teacher dictates words and students fill in their squares.

Sight and sound (upper-intermediate+) raises awareness of onomatopoeic effects and sight/sound groups. Students look up in the dictionaries words connected with a given sound/sight and then for example, write the diary of a person with a splitting headache.

“It’s a sort of…” (elementary/intermediate) provides practice with the structure “it’s a sort of…”, superordinates and skimming. Students get a text with blanks and work on them basing on context to realize they don’t really need to know the exact meaning of each new word, but it’s enough to now what the general meaning is. I find it a really valuable exercise for my adult students who try to remember every word.

Quick quiz (elementary+) provides practice with wh- questions and helps with contextualizing new vocabulary . Students get the teacher-made quiz referring to unknown words with wh- questions (e.g. “who wears a nappy?”), and work in pairs with dictionary to solve test. It’s a really nice warm-up, or even an exercise to introduce vocabulary before a reading exercise.

Collapsing a page (preintermediate+) encourages learning vocabulary by association. Students work with a random dictionary page (10-15 headwords) and pair up as many words as they can using any justification apart from “beginning with the same letter” (e.g. two irregular plurals etc.). Then they pass their page on to the next group /pair who must guess the pairing rule.

Words and feelings (intermediate+) works with dictionary codes (e.g. derog.) and practise positive/negative connotations. Students in pairs find positive/negative connotations for simple words (fat/thin).

Find a proverb/idiom (intermediate) gives practice in finding idiomatic expressions in dictionary entries. Students get the key words that occur in proverbs/idioms and find English sayings in the dictionary.

“Would-be” vocabulary (intermediate+) focuses on the usefulness of the new vocabulary. Students work with text, find the words they don’t understand and put them in three groups: words useful for me now, words useful for me when…, words useful for me if…

Weather words and global warming (intermediate+) focuses on vocabulary development, especially weather words. Students work in groups trying to come up with cities starting with every letter of the alphabet in various continents, Then they write a weather word to go with each place, they don’t have to make sense (e.g. Fez may be “freezing”), because then they prepare a weather report for one area in the world explaining how global warming is responsible for the changes.

I hope you’ll like the ideas I found – if you want to get more, get yourself the book 🙂

Enjoy!

“Language Learning with Digital Video” by Goldstein and Driver

With the autumn rains come project ideas for children and teenagers – I want to share some ideas I gathered this summer (oh, it seems such a long time ago!).

I wrote about an absolutely smashing book I read from Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers, but it’s not the only one. “Language Learning with Digital Video” by Ben Goldstein and Paul Driver, surprisingly, doesn’t focus on funny youtube videos with cats and ideas how a teacher can use them in the classroom, but it includes two parts – video exploitation (still, no cats) and video creation.

Video exploitation

The chapters included in this part cover video and text, narrative, persuasion, music and topic. Some of the activities are very useful especially for fresh teachers who still struggle with time management and for those teachers who don’t feel comfortable around digital stuff and want to try it out step by step.

I really like Be the commentator activity because commenting sports events is something that we usually do in our native tongue and doing it in English may be real fun (also, it’s my soft spot as I’d like to be a footy commentator, but there are no women pundits in Poland, shame!). The variation is Penalty shoot-out and I believe it may be hilarious to watch some famous matches again just to give a good comment (just not the Champions League 2008 final, thank you very much).

There are also some interesting activities focused on advertising guidelines, where students are looking for the commercials using particular categories (humour, emotional pull, call to action etc.), which may lead to a lesson about ethics of advertisements.

Naturally, there are far more activities connected karaoke, videoke, film trailers, mash-ups etc., so everyone can find something suitable.

Video creation

The title sounds promising and the chapter is indeed full of useful techie stuff (how to make/where to buy a green screen), however, when it comes to software I’m afraid authors focused only on Windows (and Windows Movie Maker isn’t the best thing since sliced bread, that’s for sure) and Apple (seriously, guys).

The activities are divided into four chapters – straightforward, medium, challenging and elaborate. Again, some of them are quite easy, others are more complex, some are relatively short, others are way too long for my 120hrs course (2-3 hours in class + work outside the classroom).

The activity I’m definitely going to try is staging and recording political speech, young adults are quite into politics and that would be a nice idea to have a project lesson on preparing candidates, speeches, proper recording environment etc. Similarly with recording the news and/or weather forecast.

The activity I liked best, though, is The Invader, where students play the roles of alien infiltrating the local population in order to collect data useful for preparing an imminent full-scale invasion (exterminate! exterminate!). They are supposed to walk around the school grounds (I’m lucky to have my school literally at the town square) filming some objects and trying to identify them and their role to impact their plans for invasion.

I hope you’ll have a look at the book as I’m sure you’ll find something for yourself. Enjoy!

Oh, and just to make things clear, I am not sponsored by Cambridge University Press – unfortunately 😉

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Make your own cookbook – project

cupcakes

Everybody likes food, even if not everyone is keen on cooking. Every EFL book contains a chapter about food and it’s one of the most popular topics – favourite food, dishes we hate, weird meals people enjoy around the world etc.

Food is also quite a nice topic for class projects, because there are so many ideas you can use: design a restaurant + its menu; plan a family meal for 12 people; make role plays focused on buying food/eating out etc.

You can prepare a “mini Master Chef” project, where students prepare simple things (like sandwiches) and then describe them using nice and elaborate vocabulary (lots of fun, even with adults!).

The idea of a common cookbook sprung to my mind when I was reading “Language Learning with Technology” by Graham Stanley and I saw one of the ideas. Then I thought about my lower secondary school students and a wild idea they came up with. It was a small group of friends and we’re all quite fond of one another, so let’s say I wasn’t overly surprised when they proposed a challenge – one cake per fortnight, homemade and delicious.

The first cake was made by Gustaw (a spinach cake and believe me, it was scrumptious) and then each of us brought something to share. It was a really nice idea, it was fun, delicious, and enjoyable – we had a normal lesson, but somehow it was different because, well, everyone’s happier after a slice of cake (and raspberries, mmm…).

cake

Gustaw, a cake and a knife

Anyhoo, after reading Mr Stanley’s book and his idea of creating a proper, albeit virtual cookbook, I’ve thought I might actually give it a go with the aforementioned group – adding some educational aspects to making delicious food. Simply – make a common website where everyone can publish their recipes, in English, naturally!

You can create a website for free on Wix or Weebly  and I’m planning to do it in October. I believe this project may be valuable not only educationally, but it may be a perfect portfolio my students may use even after they finish their course.

I hope you like my idea and enjoy implementing it in your course.

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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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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!