Can we keep our students focused in the classroom?


I really dislike this season of the year when winter slowly changes into spring. I feel tired and lazy and somehow uncomfortable in my own skin – and when all I hear around is “wee, spring is coming” I feel like crawling into my bed and missing November (my favourite month of the year, seriously). It’s quite easy for me to understand my students being somewhat slow and sloppy, so here are some tricks I use to keep them focused in the classroom because hey, spring or no spring, the Passive must be reviewed.

First of all, change the pace. Shorter but more varied exercises seem to work almost always. When students finish grammar, make them sing a song, act a short scene, come up with a joke. After a short break get back to exercises, but once they finish a decent part of the drill give them a short topic to discuss, a quiz or a short film (Film English is a purrfect source of those). It’s not so much about being unpredictable as not letting them get bored.

Food is always a good idea to relieve the tension of grammar revision classes. I have already written about food here (click!) and I still find it one of the easiest ways to bring fun to the classroom. I usually teach by the book: two units – revision – test. The review before tests is usually the worst part of the routine for my students, so I try to brighten it up as much as I can – by bringing films, making projects etc. My students, especially teenagers, love baking cakes for those classes, as – a scientifically proven fact! – sugar intake boosts your mood and no amount of grammar exercises can destroy its beneficial effect. One of my groups made a recipe project – I brought 500 Cupcake Book and everyone picked one recipe to translate. Now, they’re supposed to bring the results of translation next week when we can judge the quality of translation while reviewing the aforementioned Passive for the test. I will definitely post some photos on my fb page unless I fall into sugar coma… (edit: so far I haven’t – click! to see what my talented students made)

Online quizzes – not only the ones about language! Everyone knows you can use quizizz, quizlet or kahoot but have you thought about something different? I’ve started collecting music quizzes as it seems to be a nice break for my students – and I can use it to share some cultural things English students should know (like watching at least one western, seriously, teenagers!). I’ve tested the ones on my padlet and now I can share them with you and ask for collaboration – if you find any interesting music quizzes share them with me!

Made with Padlet

Chilling out – as simple as it sounds, it may be not so easy to conduct. It’s quite important to keep the balance and allow only for sensible chillout that can be beneficial for the class and not leading to greater laziness. What can we do? We may take the group to the café and enjoy one lesson with a cup of tea or coffee. We may go for a short walk where students are supposed to record a short message, write down all the things they can name in English or do a short survey with unsuspecting passers-by. The idea is to introduce something unusual, simple and entertaining for our students to give them a chance to recharge their batteries.
Finally, introducing nonsensical sense of humour – which is my favourite thing to do regardless the weather or season of the year – but as humour can be quite a sensitive issue I’ll write about it in another post.

Hope you’ll get inspired by some of those ideas 🙂


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 🙂