Six fun little mnemonics

What's the mnemonic to help us spell "field" correctly?

A mnemonic is a sentence or short poem to help you remember something. I’ve always been on the lookout for good mnemonics to help in my teaching, and awhile ago I came across a really neat little book called i before e – old school ways to remember stuff. I thought I’d share six fun little mnemonics that you can use in your teaching (well, maybe not the last one…).

1 Spelling rule: i before e, except after c. This is the most famous one, used to remind us how to spell words like friend, or field. Actually, to make up for the exceptions like weight (which goes against the rule) there is a longer version I found which goes

i before e, except after c

or when sounded like a, as in neighbour and weigh.

2 Spelling Wednesday – remember how to spell this with the following. The book I mentioned above has a whole chapter of these!

WE Do Not Eat Soup Day

3 The months of the year. Most readers will probably be familiar with this one, Thirty days has (originally hath) September, April June and November; All the rest have thirty-one… But how does it end? I always ended with the lame “except February, which has twenty-eight”. I’ve found two other versions though, which I put below.

Excepting February alone, And that has twenty-eight days clear, with twenty-nine in each leap year.

Excepting February alone, which has but twenty-eight, in fine, till leap year gives it twenty-nine.

4 Parts of speech. The American readers of this blog might have been familiar with a song: Conjunction junction what’s your functio (if you are one of those poor deprived souls who did not grow up with Schoolhouse Rock, you can see a video here) Anyway, here are a couple of others:

The preposition shows relation, as in the street, or at the station.

Conjunctions join in many ways, sentences, words or phrase and phrase.

5 Commas. I think this one is cute:

A cat has claws at the end of its paws

A comma’s a pause at the end of a clause.

6 Finally… I wanted to include one very useful mnemonic for English teachers for the upcoming end-of-year party (and also to get this in before the TEFL Tradesman said it 🙂

Beer before liquor, never sicker… Liquor before beer, never fear.

Published in: on November 26, 2009 at 5:47 pm  Comments (18)  
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Six despised bits of grammar


Teachers and students just love to hate grammar. Over the years that I’ve taught and observed others teaching I think that there are certain grammar points that are more hated than others. Here are six of the most generally despised and despicable grammar points, in my humble opinion.

1 Have got This isn’t hard to explain in terms of what it means, or even really how it’s formed. No, the problem is when you have to teach it. I always hated spending time on have got with beginner students after they had done to be and then come to present simple and have to re-explain yet another way of making negatives and questions. And THEN when the verb have came up in present simple as in have a shower, have a nap it just got more and more complicated! Fortunately, the order of grammar points is changing in many books (including my own) and have got can come later. Beginners can get by perfectly well with a simple have to talk about possession.

2 Present simple Third person s. Again, not hard to explain and not hard to understand (although I did once witness a teacher get in a terrible muddle trying to say why 3rd person singular took an ‘s’ in the present simple; the teacher said it was “because it feels kind of plural but isn’t really plural” – leaving me and the students completely flabbergasted). So why is this hated? Obviously because students keep forgetting it, and you begin to think you could spend half your teaching life simply correcting this point. In fact, this grammar point is so hated that some have suggested we could do away with altogether in an English as a Lingua Franca approach. You know, take it out and stage a public execution. Another explanation given for the constant recurring error is that it’s simply acquired later. But it’s still an important one, that I think we all love to hate.

3 Present perfect. God I sometimes hate the present perfect. It’s pretty rare to find an equivalent in other languages so it makes teaching the meaning and use of this tense often a bit of a problem. And it can be difficult to write material for too if you want to include real people. How many materials writers have done something using a real person to illustrate present perfect and then hope and pray that the person doesn’t go and die or do something horrible?

4 Present perfect continuous. This is the tense that actually prompted this blogpost. Of all the grammar points that are criticized or used to trash grammar, this is the most often quoted. I have no proof, but I also suspect that “bloody” is a pretty strong collocate with present perfect continuous. This is a despised tense because it can be hard to find lots of authentic and natural examples, it’s got all the problems of present perfect plus an –ing form thrown in and finally it’s not even that frequent. Actually I almost feel a bit sorry for the present perfect continuous. Can we all be a little less horrible about it for a while perhaps?

5 Question tags If getting the auxiliary and the negative/affirmative thing right wasn’t hard enough we also have the whole business of the pronunciation of this grammar point and the whole “are you really asking or are you just checking” thing which can easily get spun into a long-winded explanation. I think that this is another one that some have suggested be eliminated from English teaching, replacing it with an all-purpose tag like innit which kind of horrifies me. I don’t think I’ve ever said innit. Ever.

6 Any grammar point the teacher doesn’t understand. Worse than all of these are the grammar points that teachers themselves are unsure of. I saw a teacher literally have a breakdown in our staffroom because she didn’t know anything about what clauses (e.g. I think what you need is a nice cold drink) and it was in the unit of her CAE coursebook that she had to teach that day. For many native English-speaker teachers especially the lack of knowledge of their own grammar is cause for great anxiety and fear. And, as we all know, fear can lead to hatred.

Well, that’s quite enough from me. What do you think? Are there other grammar points you feel are, rightly or wrongly, generally despised, looked down on or kicked about a bit? Post a comment.

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 10:57 am  Comments (30)  
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Six activities with camcorders

Recently I acquired a new video camcorder. It’s a Flip Mino, a new generation of video recorders. It’s simple to use and cheap (less than $150 USD). Now just last month I was lucky enough to have a class of students where basically all manner of technology was available to me. We had projectors, laptop computers, internet connection, the lot. I decided to experiment a bit with the camcorder in class. Here are six ideas for video projects, including some actual examples that I did.

1 Film a local attraction, and annotate it

You or your students film a local attraction such as a fair, or street theatre or exhibition. Using a video editing programme like Movie Maker (which is on most computers), add music and annotations to the video. We did the following on Youtube itself (if you have an account it’s quite easy to annotate and overlay music – free to set up). It’s the video of the local Medieval Festival. You need to make it full screen to read the annotations. This was a very short example!

2 Make a video message with cards and music

I got this idea from a video I saw in a workshop by Melania Paduraru. The video was of kids showing cards with messages on them (can’t find it again now!) I decided to do something similar with my students. Here’s a video showing how we did it.

And here’s one my students (who are all schoolteachers) made with their own messages. Again, we made this quite short, but you could go longer.

3 Do a Word Association activity.

This was my first foray into little videos. I made this one at the IATEFL Hungary conference. The theme of the conference was Global Skills for Local Needs. I made this little video just by asking people to say words that go with Global or Local. In the final session I asked people to brainstorm as many collocations as they could using the words global or local. I then showed the video. You could easily do something similar with students and other words.

4 Get friends to record a message for your students

The name of the course I was teaching was Mejora tu inglés (Improve your English). Just before the course ended I had to go to the TESOL France conference. I decided to ask speakers and participants there to tell my students how to improve their English. I put these all together and then shared them with the class on my return. You could do something similar, or get friends to each tell a short anecdote, or something about where they live … lots of possibilities. It’s like making your own listening activity.

5 Record students doing a task or a sketch

Of course an obvious thing to record would be students doing a task in English. We did lots of little drama sketches in my class, but I did not film them as my students didn’t fancy having too much of themselves splashed on Youtube and this blog (understandably). But providing you do it just for yourself and the students then I don’t see why not. Again, adding background music or sound effects (you can find thousands of very funny sound effects to add to videos here) make it all the more professional and/or fun.

6 Do a lip synch, or a lip dub

Another thing doing the rounds of the internet now is lip dub. A lip dub is like a lip synch video, but often involves lots of people. You can read a lot more about it here but by far the best example, one I love, is below. This was done by students at a university in Quebec Canada. Unlike the other video projects this is NOT simple, but wouldn’t it be fun to do one?

So there you go. I realise I probably have not been that adventurous with my camcorder yet, but it’s a start! Have any of you filmed things to do with students? How did it go? Would you do any of these activities? Post a comment if you get a moment.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 10:15 am  Comments (15)  
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Six favourite items of stationery

Apart from my work slaving over materials and on this blog I am a regular online tutor for teacher education courses, inlcuding courses with The Consultants-E, and  a Trinity Diploma course offered by Oxford TEFL. At the beginning of the course we get people to share lists of things (surprise surprise!), a bit like here. Well, this month one teacher started a list that was so popular that I just have to do it here. It seems so perfect for teachers, even though it’s a bit sad in a way…

These are my six favourite items of stationery.

6.Multi-coloured paper clips. Perfect not only for holding things together, but also can be used as counters.

5. Magazine holders. I particularly like the really sturdy card or plastic ones. Seeing my magazines neatly lined up in a bunch of those on a shelf… beautiful!

4. Highlighter pen. Always have one to hand as I am editing or correcting things. I usually stick to standard yellow or pink.

3. Leather moleskin notepad. I used to carry one around with me all the time and jot down ideas. I’m beginning to do this more on my ipod touch now, but I still have the notepad. Gorgeous little thing.

2. Leather wastepaper basket. I picked one very similar to this up in a market in Florence, it’s great. Does it count as stationery? I think so!

1. A really good ballpoint pen. I would never buy a Montblanc or anything expensive like that (even if I could afford one, which is far from being the case) but there really is no substitute for a good heavy ballpoint pen.

Many thanks to Paul Walsh, the teacher in question who came up with this idea AND let me use it on my blog.

What kinds of stationery do you like? Am I the only one who likes getting interesting stationery gifts? Do you have an item of stationery that you protect like mad and would never leave just hanging around the teacher’s room? Post a comment.

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 2:13 pm  Comments (25)  
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Six times you know you’re an English teacher when…


A(nother) moment of light relief here at Six Things. You know you’re an English teacher when…

1 You spend an inordinate amount of time cutting up bits of paper (yes, even in this technological day and age I’m convinced most English teachers still spend lots of time cutting things up… I still do and I’m pretty into tech)

2 You feel like exploding when you hear someone say ‘It must be great to have those long holidays’* (especially if you are in the private sector and probably don’t get paid holidays!)

3 You find yourself wishing sometimes you taught something else.

4 You can’t think of a name for your own child because they all remind you of someone you’ve taught.*

5 You have accumulated vast amounts of trivial knowledge from your coursebooks.

6 You start to think that sentences like “What means X, teacher?” actually sound almost correct .

* Credit where credit is due, I adapted numbers 2 and 4 from a great book called 100 essential lists for teachers by Duncan Grey.

Now, I’m sure you can come up with wittier and more clever ways of finishing the sentence: “You know you’re an English teacher when…”; why not add one in the comment box below? Go on, you know you want to!

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 9:17 am  Comments (64)  
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