Six original topical teaching ideas for April

Use one of these ideas to make your class blossom!

It’s that time of month again… time for another set of original topical teaching ideas. If you want to be the envy of the staffroom, the idol of your students and just generally the coolest teacher in the school then nick one of these ideas and run with it! (as you can see, this is my April Fool’s special so humour abounds)

1. Do some reading aloud! There are a few book-ish dates this month, including International Children’s Book Day (April 2) and Shakespeare’s birthday April 23 which is also Book Day in some countries (e.g. Spain). Organise a reading aloud session of pieces of writing your students like/choose. Students can read aloud individually around the room (the traditional way, gets a bit boring) or read different bits in groups, pairs alternating with an individual reading one bit alone. 

2. Join the Easter Egg Roll! Find out about an interesting American tradition of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Show photos of  previous events, or a video and ask students to guess what is going on. This could lead to a discussion/class on Easter traditions in different countries.

3.  Have a laugh! April 1st is April Fool’s Day in many English-speaking countries. Look for some funny news items around that day here and use these for a class. Or collect a series of Knock Knock Jokes, or Doctor Doctor jokes. Split them into halves and give each student half of a joke. They have to find their other half by saying what they have written on the paper.

4. Organise a Mutiny! April 28 is the anniversary of Mutiny on the Bounty, the most famous of all naval mutines in 1789.  You could tell the class the history of this event as a live listening, or  base a class around a scene from the film, or have the students plan a mutiny of their own, hypothetically!  If they took over the class, what would they do differently? (note, this last option perhaps not suitable for all classes!)

5. Ask, What’s up Doc? Bugs Bunny celebrates his debut this month, the first Bugs Bunny cartoon coming out on April 30 1938. Use this event to teach animal vocabulary (to lower levels) or as a springboard to discuss cartoons or cartoon characters that your students loved when they were children. You could also put together one of those great information gap biographies of Bugs (you know, where one student has half the bio information and the other has the other half and they ask questions…)

6. Get healthy! By this I don’t mean cutting down on the cigarettes or alcohol or sedative lifestyle (all good ideas though), but rather trot out your health classes! This April 7 is World Health Day and the focus is on making hospitals safe. Perfect opportunity to do/review health vocabulary, role play a visit to the doctor’s, discuss health care etc.

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 6:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Six computer games to use in an English language classroom


halo-2-front-page2Another guest list that I’ve picked up during conference season, this time from language teaching games expert Kyle Mawer. Kyle doesn’t make computer games for language learners (often these aren’t very good), he finds existing games and exploits them with his classes. The result is some serious fun and language learning combined. Here he shows six ways that this is not just child’s play…

1 Reading

You’ve heard of TPR (total physical response), well now comes the new improved TVR (total virtual response) and you can find no better place to see this in action than with the tutorial for the online game Runescape.  Learn how to fish, bake bread, mine for valuable metals, kill mutant rats and give your learners valuable reading skills practice.  Your TVR instructions are provided by written text from an in-world guide who talks you through the wheres, whats and hows of this massively multi-player online role playing game. 

2 Writing

“OK class, today we’re going to do a writing”, not only grammatically incorrect but something that won’t win you a popularity competition with your language learners.  Let’s try again.  “Ok class, we’re going to play a game – (in a quieter and quicker voice) and write about it”.  “Oooh. Yes, teacher. We love you!”  That’s better!  So, why not follow up a narrative tenses presentation and practice with a little production from a game called Grow Cube and be loved and admired by all?  And look, someone’s kindly written down a lesson plan for you here

3 Speaking

Try dictating naturally some of these chunked questions and get your students to discuss them:  What games/ have you got/ on your mobile?  How do you/ play them? How often do you/ play them?  Where do you/ play them?  Are they/ any good?  Do you ever play/ any online games?  What kind of/ games do you play?  How do you think/ you play this one?  What problems about the real world does this game raise?

4 Listening

A half hour language learning class in a computer room can be a walk over with a walkthrough and it’s one of the few tasks my adolescent language learners do where they shut up and listen to me.  They play a fiendishly difficult game and I dictate to them how to beat or solve it.  The classic ‘escape the room game’ called MOTAS is great for prepositions and vocabulary items which, in the game, are nicely annotated when you place your cursor over them.  Find the walkthrough easily via an online search engine typing in “mystery of time and space” + walkthrough.

5 Grammar

If you click on objects in an online computer game, you will see some strange things happen.  If you play the award winning, visually engrossing and engaging Samorost2 with a class, they’ll love it.  If you have a data projector/ IWB in your class, you can use these to show a class the game.  If they call out suggestions on how to play the game, you can all see if the suggestion works.  If the suggestion moves the game forward, they can write it down.  If they finish a few screens they can go to the computer room and they’ll play the game themselves.  If they have forgotten where to click in the game they can look at what they wrote down earlier.  If they race ahead in the game you can interrupt them and get them to help another group.  If you can identify the grammar point here, you’ll be able to get your language learners to produce it too!  If you want to see the game, go here.  If you click on the dog’s house (kennel), the game will start.

6 Vocabulary

Would you believe it but I actually encourage my learners to use foul words?  Damn!  This pun doesn’t work written down!  What does work is the game Fowl Words and for some strange reason any learner at upper intermediate level and above loves it.  I challenge them in pairs to be the highest scoring group and I go round, scan the board and define a word they may not have found.  Great warmer and, er, I think I’ll just go and have a game myself – for lesson planning purposes of course!

kyle-mawerKyle Mawer is a Young Learner Teacher and has been giving presentations and in-house teacher training on adapting online computer games for the TEFL classroom for several years now.  He has his own wikispace dedicated to this.  He also works on the British Council’s ‘Learn English Second Life for Teens’ project.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 12:36 am  Comments (5)  
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Six things to do with Interactive Whiteboards


Ahh… the interactive whiteboard. Judging by the coverage this is getting at conferences and so on, I’d say it really represents the next frontier in language teaching. I still have yet to work with one seriously (the only time I’ve used one was at a demonstration) but I can see the advantages if used correctly. Teachers have told me “yeah, IWBs, great…but we have nothing to use with them, no activities, no material”. This is where someone like Daniel Martin comes in. He has written a book called Activities for Interactive Whiteboards. I grabbed a hold of him at the last TESOL Spain conference and asked him for half a dozen ideas for a newbie like me. Here they are…

1. Work with text. Type text, then select the virtual pen application and set the color to the same background color on the screen (typically white). Run the pen over the text, thus hiding it and giving the visual impression that nothing is there. Then select the virtual eraser and drag it over the hiding text thus revealing it. This is a very useful trick for fill in the gap activities, for instance.

2. Work with videos. Find a short video from a website, play it and, as you play it, annotate –or have a student do it- key vocabulary to be found in that footage around the edges. Then your students, in pairs, may tell each other what they just saw using the help provided by the annotations.

3. Record students’ work. Present some grammar and have your students write sentences on the board to exemplify the grammar points covered. Then print some handouts with the personalized sentences or post the file to your blog or website.

4. Work with pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. Google any concrete noun being dealt with in class that your students may not know (dome, frame, thorn, eyelash, etc.). Then have your students explain their meaning to you in English.

5. Work on writing. Keep a classroom blog and then encourage your students to submit their writing samples. This is a good opportunity for showing good examples of work (make annotations on the board as you display those samples and perhaps print some copies later as well). Give real purpose to writing assignments. That way they can be accessed and read not just by everyone else in the class but in fact by the whole world.

6. Have fun. Find language games online and use them in the classroom. 



Daniel Martín is an English teacher, teacher trainer and author of the book Activities for Interactive Whiteboards, Helbling Languages.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 11:15 am  Comments (7)  
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Six things about teaching aviation English


In my business English teaching days, I used to think that it was pretty cool to be teaching in a motorcycle factory. Actually that was about as exciting as my ESP (English for Specific Purposes) lessons got. Nothing compared to Henry Emery, who teaches pilots and air-traffic controllers and is a co-author of the course Aviation English (Macmillan 2008). I caught up with him at the British Council Innovations Awards Ceremony this year…and asked him six things about it.

Since I began to specialise in language teaching for aviation personnel some years ago, I’ve found that it’s a very infectious area of ESP – once you’re in, it’s difficult to get out. I met Lindsay at the British Council ELTons awards ceremony earlier this month, and when he invited me to jot down six things about what I do, I asked myself ‘what do I enjoy so much about this field?’ The following is an attempt to explain. 

1. The students

Aviation personnel are a professional, bright and driven bunch. Take airline pilots. So many of the pilots I meet describe their work as their hobby – they would rather be at 36’000 feet than anywhere else. With the industry language proficiency requirements in place, pilots have just two years to reach an ‘operational’ level of English. Consequently, the motivation to maintain their license is extremely high. It is a pleasure to support such learners as they work towards these very concrete language learning goals.

2. Safety 

It is difficult to think of a domain of language use more safety critical than air -ground communication. When things go wrong on the flight deck, pilots and air traffic controllers have to get their messages to one another quickly and effectively – in these situations, there is no time to lose. As a teacher, you have to be constantly aware that every lesson you give may have a direct impact on flight safety. This is a good reality check as you trudge into the classroom for the last lesson of the week.

3. Radiotelephony

 The majority of air ground communication is conducted in standard radio-telephony phraseology, a specialised and very restricted code relating to routine aircraft movements and procedures. It’s pretty easy to learn – there are some very good CD ROMs available  (Try or click here) and you can listen to live radio communication on the net (see here, or this site or this site). However, teaching phraseology is not the job of language teachers – this is the domain of subject matter experts. Beyond getting familiar with the discourse, radiotelephony does present a unique set of parameters for the language teacher. It means taking extreme care with the way language is taught and practised in the classroom, and it means working closely with operational subject matter experts in delivering language lessons and courses.

 4. The subject matter

Aviation is not just air-ground communications – it is a huge field of ESP and there is simply so much to learn. Whether you are working with cabin crew, maintenance engineers, managers, ground staff or flight dispatchers, there’s always something new and you never get tired. Working with pilots and controllers, the subject matter can be very complex and technical, and this certainly requires quite a lot of effort on the part of the teacher. But learning more about the way the industry works improves your classroom performance and makes being an airline passenger so much more enjoyable too!

5. Teacher development

There are plenty of very exciting opportunities for teacher development in the aviation field. Consider, for example, watching a maintenance engineer disassemble a jet engine on a workbench in a hangar. Or watching a radar controller line up half a dozen heavy jets for landing. Or experiencing takeoff in the jump seat of a 737. Not your typical day at the office! Rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck into the aviation domain is the best way to whet your appetite for the classroom.

6. The challenge

English teaching for the aviation industry has been around for years, but the new language proficiency requirements for pilots and ATC have created a new climate for English language education and assessment. There is very little published teaching material available and very few quality language testing systems. Frankly speaking, the ELT and aviation industries do not know very much about ‘plain English’ for radio communications; there is not yet an established corpus, and there is much research to be done. For any teacher wishing to dive into an exciting and relatively unexplored area of language teaching, the aviation sector would be a very good place to start.

henry1About the author

Henry Emery is co-author of Macmillan Education’s Aviation English, an award-winning language course for pilots and ATC. He is also co-director of emery-roberts,  an aviation language training company working in partnership with Oxford Aviation Academy,  the world’s largest independent flight training organisation, providing specialist language teaching and testing programmes.

Click here  for information on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Language Proficiency Requirements



Published in: on March 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm  Comments (5)  
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Six English teacher deceptions

English teachers can be very crafty folk. As a teacher trianer I’ve seen many an artful dodger wriggle out of a tough grammar question or awkward situation. For those of you not wise to the ways of the tricky teacher, here are six common “deceptions”. Each is followed by what the teacher usually means, and some commentary.

1. That’s a good question. Does anyone have an answer to that question?

What it often means: I have no idea. 

A popular gambit to get out of a difficult grammar question and yet appear very learner centred and encouraging of learner independence. Follow up with: “Ok, everyone please find out for homework.”

2. T: What’s your name again?    S: Miguel.    T: No I know it’s Miguel, I meant your last name.

What it often means: I can’t remember your name, at all. 

Very clever bit of deception here, I picked this one up from the director of a school in France. Amazingly useful. If your student answers Rodriguez then just substitute last for first in the above exchange.

3. We are going to study this another day.

What it often means: I don’t know enough about this and yor questions are making me nervous.

A convenient smokescreen. Some teachers may say this and just hope the student doesn’t remember the question.

4. It’s American English.

What it often means: I don’t know if it is correct or not. It could be wrong, but I won’t take that chance especially if you heard it on television.

As a speaker of North American English, this “deception” is always annoying. Many Spanish teachers of English have confessed using this one to me. But I’ve heard a fair share of Brits use it too. Before I get too het up about it I have to admit hearing Americans using “It’s British English” in a similar way (to mean “it sounds too formal to be correct” and/or “you sound weird if you say it like that”).

5. Two more minutes. 

What it often means: I’m getting impatient. You’ve had long enough.

It’s hardly ever two minutes when a teacher says that. It’s more like 40 seconds. Unless of course the teacher is running late, or still needs time to organise something for the lesson. In that case, two minutes could mean five minutes. 

6. I would tell you, but it would just confuse you more. English is hard.

What it often means: I don’t know the answer or I didn’t even understand your question. Don’t bother me.

These fall into the category of what I’ve called “shock and awe” tactics. This is a not-so-subtle way of reminding the student of who’s boss. It can sound very condescending. This attitude becomes a bit self-defeating when the teacher gets frustrated with the class and shouts something like “For God’s sake, this isn’t rocket science!” You can’t have it both ways. Shock and awe tactics often include simliar comments about the impossiblity of learning English spelling, phrasal verbs or verbs that take ing/infinitive.


Of course I don’t believe we should go out and lie to our students, but before you think I’m being high and mighty with my list, I confess right now that I have used all of these at least once in my career.  Right though, over to everyone. Have you got any more typical deceptive tricks? Please, no offensive or rude comments!

Published in: on March 19, 2009 at 7:01 am  Comments (3)  
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