Six ways to exploit the ash cloud in class

I had some other things planned for the blog this week, but this ash cloud business is just NOT going away from the news. So I figured why not look on the bright side and see how something like this could be exploited in class? Here are six ideas.

1 Learn about volcanoes, ash and airplanes! Create a lesson all about volcanoes and the ash cloud. One of the best sources of information I found was of course at the BBC website special page about the ash cloud. I’d happily use any of these as a reading text or live listening (i.e. you the teacher use the text as a basis for a lecture that you give).

2 Discuss what you would do! Tell the students to imagine they are stranded at an airport for an indefinite amount of time. They brainstorm what they would do to pass the time. To make this activity more local, tell them they are at their closest airport and they need to get to London. How could they do this?

3 Do a roleplay! Roleplay a “giving information/complaining” situation: Student A is at the airport and wants to know why his/her flight has been cancelled. Student B works at the information desk. To make it more interesting or give more support provide the students with more details (e.g. student B you are getting married tomorrow!)

4 Learn about Iceland! Prepare a reading or listening text about Iceland. Might be nice to learn something about this country which isn’t only ash clouds and bankrupcy… Another possibility is to make a quiz (or have students make one). Don’t just rely on Wikipedia for your information for this, why not go to the Icelandic government site? You can find the basic facts about the country here.

5 Use the Ash Cloud’s tweets! As a warm up, use some the Ash Cloud’s tweets, which you can find here (I have no idea if this is an official site or not, but it’s funny). Write some of the funnier ones on the board and explain what twitter is. Then ask the students who, or what, made these tweets. My favourites for this activity would be: “It looks like I’ll be spending my summer holidays over Europe!I was hoping for a relaxing time at home..” and “Wonderful thank you, how are you? Oh you know the usual…drifting, sorting out my particles, that sort of thing” and “I’m being pesky again-its that fresh pulse of meltwater thats caused it-awfully sorry!”

6 Fill up those last ten minutes of class…with a game of hangman using the volcano’s name Eyjafjallajokull. This will probably take some time πŸ™‚ but you could argue it’s good practice of English letters. Once students have finally got it, ask them to find out three facts about the volcano in English using the net and bring these to the next class.

Finally, as an extra bonus for this post here is my latest venture into film subtitling (those of you who follow me on Twitter will have soon other similar films I’ve made like this). Now I’m trying my hand at horror. The link below will take you to a film called Ash Cloud ELT. It works best if you don’t understand Russian! Enjoy…


Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 8:24 am  Comments (14)  
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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Ah, I love it when I land on a blog and it tells me what to teach for the day. Thanks so much for this tip, am pretty sure my boys will enjoy 2+3. Don’t think I can use 6 I’d have to print it out on a card and keep checking to see if I’m right.

    πŸ™‚ Loved the film by the way!

  2. Nice ideas, Lindsay!

    If you teach pre-teen learners, you might also like my Nostradamus-like unit on Iceland, ash-clouds and disruptions to air traffic from Boost! (written four years prior to the actual event):

    Also a good lesson unit for showcasing cause-effect chains.



    • Damn! You’re right, I had meant to put that. That was frighteningly Nostradamus-like of you Jason. I loved the comment about “take that, Breaking news english!” πŸ™‚ Readers of this blog, check out Jason’s link above immediately!

      • Yes, only glitch was that I chose the wrong volcano (Grimsvotn) – but I was close, very close!


  3. Hi Lindsay

    Some great ideas here for exploiting the ash problem.

    When my flight got cancelled due to the ash, the quickest solution was to hop on a motorbike from Italy all the way to England in order to fulfill my teaching duties. I won’t be able to do this every time though πŸ™‚


  4. Hi Lindsay

    I was lucky enough to have an Icelandic student in my class this term and we spent a good chunk of one class trying to learn how to pronounce the thing! πŸ™‚
    We also had a look at these amazing photos:


  5. Hello Lindsay, I’m Sonia Turmo, the administrator of Batxillerat Collaborative Class Blog. You’ve been mentioned on my blog as one of the blogs which is worth visiting. Thank you for everything you share in your blog.

  6. This is great advice – I especially like number two – perfect for practising the conditional!

  7. To put things into a historical context and to discuss the past, or perhaps to do some comparisons πŸ™‚
    Some great volcano vocabulary in captions too (and a great deal easier to pronounce the name of the volcano)!

  8. Hi Lindsay,
    I teach business and technical English to adults and had several students miss class because of the ash. When they came to class they had their own stories about their “getting back home” experiences. I have been able to use the volcano for several lessons.

    Thanks to your post I can now spell Eyjafjallajokull. Thanks for the hangman idea. I will have to add forearms, fingers and toes to give them any chance at all!

    • “Getting back home” stories would work really well actually I think. And I love the ever-growing hangman idea.

  9. Hi Lindsay

    Loved the subtitles πŸ™‚

  10. ps.
    soon leading a seminar on Getting Business Learners to speak…..any 6 things you can direct me to?

  11. Thanks for that video at the end, Lindsay – it made my morning (and made me snort cornflakes – not a pretty sight!)

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