Six favourite things I wrote for Onestopenglish

As many of you know, I got started really on my writing career with Onestopenglish – Macmillan’s resource site for teachers. As I went rummaging through my old folders the other day to prepare for this post I found lesson plans that went back as far as 2002! While recently I haven’t written very much for Onestop it was sobering to think that for the better part of a decade I was producing something almost every month for that site. I started way back in the very early days of Onestopenglish, before web 2.0 had really arrived in the world of English language teaching, and long before I had even heard of blogs or wikis or stuff like that. It feels like ages ago, but 8 years isn’t really that long. Anyway, when I heard that Onestopenglish was launching its (much needed) redesign (read about the details here) I thought I’d celebrate in my own special way.

The new Onestopenglish some web 2.0 elements to it, I’ve noticed, but really it’s always been about supplying the materials. It’s probably the biggest out there. When I suggested this post to the Onestop editor she said “Won’t it be hard to narrow it down to six?!” and she was right.  However, my own site dictates that six is the magic number so here goes: half a dozen of my favourite lessons that I wrote for Onestopenglish. Now, even though many of these are in the Staff Room section of Onestop (aka the paying section), I got permission to share them all with you here for nothing!

1 A Metaphor lesson

After reading Metaphors we live by and checking out the metaphor section of the Macmillan dictionary I got really interested in this area of vocabulary teaching. Winning is like hitting is one of a series of lessons that explore metaphor in the English language.

Download the lessonWinning is like hitting

2 A Live from London lesson

Back in early 2007 I sent a proposal for the Live from London – a series of podcasts of real people on the streets of London from around the world. They were all to answer the same question and then I wrote the material to go with it. This proved to be a big hit, and spawned several other Live from Series. Buoyed by the success of this, I convinced Macmillan to include a similar thread in my new coursebook Global, called Global Voices. But this is where it started.

Download the lesson – LivefromLondonXmas and click here to get the audio

3 American Vocabulary Lessons

For around two years I wrote an American English vocabulary lesson every single month on a theme. When I went back to look at some of these I’m still amazed I could do it, and get away with some edgier stuff. This lesson is W for War, it addresses common war and peace collocations, prepositions connected to war and includes a text I loved doing with students: Six American Wars. These lessons were a bit different in that the teaching notes were quite detailed as well, so be sure to download them too.

Download the lesson AmericanWars and the teaching notes War teachingnotes

4 Hot Topics Tips (with Scott Thornbury)

Emboldened by some of the stuff that Onestop was letting me do with published material (albeit on the web), I proposed a section of topical lessons called Hot Topics. About this time Scott Thornbury was finishing a book called How to Teach Speaking, and had written some stuff for Onestopenglish already. I suggested a teaming up to produce these topical lessons on much “hotter” topics than usual – drug use, disaster tourism, the West Bank Barrier were some of the things we addressed. My favourite thing though was a series of tips that we wrote on dealing with controversy and taboo topics in class. Unfortunately I could not get a pdf of this, but the link is here, and this piece was picked up and republished in the EL Gazette.

5 The Road Less Travelled (with Jo Budden)

The latest series that I wrote was commissioned a few years ago when the editor of Onestopenglish called me up and said “Fancy writing a soap opera podcast?” I thought, why not? But I couldn’t do it by myself and so enlisted the help of Joanna Budden, a great teacher and fellow author. Together we came up with the idea of the Road Less Travelled, which actually turned out quite well. Best of all was when we created a Facebook page for Katie London, the main character in the show. This was almost three years ago remember, before Facebook had really taken off. Funny anecdote: Katie’s love interest was originally called Ricardo and was from Costa Rica or Mexico. They couldn’t find a Latin American actor and at the last minute they got someone to come in but he was from Ghana! So Ricardo became Michael Mensa and after some hurried last minute rewrites we went ahead with it.

Click here for the Road Less travelled section.

6 Teen talk Column (with Guardian Weekly)

As a university student, I had often longed to get an article or a letter published in the Guardian Weekly, a newspaper I devoured whenever I got my hands on it. So I was almost bowled over when in 2008 I was invited to have my own column in the Learning English section… for a whole year! I had just finished some courses with particularly difficult Spanish teenagers, and Teen Talk was born. The attached pdf is the one I wrote on end-of-year activities, called How to be so last year (from 2008). Events have of course changed, but the activity types and tips still work!

Download the tips here – How to be so last year

There you have it. This, combined with my earlier post on activities I wrote for iTs magazines brings to a close the materials fire sale here at Six Things. Hope you enjoy it! We’re coming very shortly to the end of this blog… so watch this space!

Published in: on December 15, 2010 at 7:30 am  Comments (7)  
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My six favourite activities from iT’s magazine

Page design for the Language Academy activity, by the amazing Derek Zinger of iT's. We played this game during a whole summer intensive course!

One of my first writing jobs, if not THE first writing job I had, was with iT’s for Teachers magazine. It was back in 2001 and I’ve told the story many times of how I got published with them (you can read it again here, or hear it here) and I’ve always been proud of the way they’ve edited and presenting any stuff I’ve written for them since. For a few years I was editing biTs, the beginner level version of the magazine.

iT’s for Teachers has now gone completely online, but they still produce amazing lesson ideas and material. Although of late I haven’t written as much as I wanted for them I wanted to share with you all six things I wrote over the past ten years with iT’s that I’m really happy with. I managed to twist their arms to give up the material for free, so please do yourself a favour and check out their site! A subscription is worth every penny!

Here, then, are my half dozen best from this part of my writing career. Click on the title of each one to download a free pdf of the activity. Teaching notes for all the activities are available at the end of the post.

1. Planet of the Apps From issue 115 of the magazine, 2010

In Planet of the Apps students find out about typical and rather strange apps for mobile phones, and design their own!

2. Googlegangers! From issue 106 of the magazine, 2007.

In googlegangers students find out what a doppleganger is, then go online to discover some facts about their own googleganger.

3. Mind Reader From issue 99 of the magazine 2006.

I loved making games for the magazine, and Mind reader was one that I played over and over again with a class of teens. It’s a word association and picture game, with lovely photos to cut out.

4. Lost also from issue 99 of the magazine 2006.

Lost was an ambitious role play activity, in which students each had a role card with a job, an objective and a key line. All based on the series Lost (remember how good it was back in 2006?), this was lots of fun. So for example you have “The Doctor. You want people to help you look for medicine. Your line: I’m a doctor, are you okay?” but I also threw in things like “The Priest. You want everyone to stay together. Your line: God will help us if we all pray.”

5. Language Academy Issue 84 of the magazine 2002

How I begged and pleaded to make this activity! Just listen to the pitch: Bored with Big Brother? Fed up with Survivors? Disgusted by Fantasy Island? Tired of the same old songs from the X factor? Are you looking for something newand original? Then welcome to… LANGUAGE ACADEMY!. Language Academy is the newest concept for a reality TV show. In Language Academy you are a contestant on an intensive English course at a very special school… The activity itself is a board game of the language academy school, with cafeteria, classroom, a confessional booth (yes! yes!), multimedia room etc. In each room there is a different “task” students have to do. We used it over a whole summer once. Oh, I’m too excited to go on, just download it for yourselves and see.

6. A Work_in_Progress from issue 81 of the magazine, 2001

Ten years ago! This is the lesson that started it all. It was the international year of the refugee and I wanted to do something connected to it. The result was a collection of now and then stories of refugees who had fled their countries and become well known in their field. I’m still proud of this lesson.

There you are. Six photocopiable lesson activity ideas on a variety of themes. Some of these may feel a bit outdated, but with some small tweaks I think you could make them relevant. One thing I love about iT’s for teachers magazine is how they can be consistently relevant with smart-looking and very workable materials. Nine pages of detailed teacher’s notes for all these activities, by the way, can be found here: Deluxe Teaching notes

Enjoy everyone! And if you already know of the magazine iT’s for teachers and have a favourite activity, post a comment below!

Oh, and by the way, if you’ve never heard of this magazine, you can find out all about it here. Don’t delay…

Published in: on November 24, 2010 at 11:49 am  Comments (6)  
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Six ways to subvert tests

Some teachers are lucky enough to be able to dispense with grades and tests all together. I’m currently teaching a course where this is the case. But for the majority of teachers and learners around the world the test is an unfortunate fact of life. I was involved in a lively discussion on whether or not marks can ever be motivating to learners on Kalinago English (I argued they could be… but that’s another discussion!). However, I do feel that tests – many tests at least – are torture. And when I think about all the things we do in class: encouraging pairwork, comparing answers, using dictionaries etc it all can come apart when test time comes. What can the teacher do to counter this?

You may have to wait a bit until the education revolution arrives and sweeps away all tests in its wake but in the meantime here are six ideas I’ve tried on how to make tests a bit more bearable for students – by subverting the traditional test itself.

1. Open book/web test

Assign your test, but allow students to have access to books or internet for part or all of it. This could mean tweaking the test slightly to make it more challenging but it’s good real-life practice. This is not the most original idea, but it makes the test less stressful.

2. Institutionalize cheating (1)

Set the test and tell students what units/material will be covered. Tell them the day of the test they can bring one sheet of paper to the test. On that paper they can have as much written as they want (you know, like cheat notes). Have the test the normal way. I did this with a group of 11 year olds. At the end I asked them how much they referred to their notes. Not a lot, they said. That’s right, because making the cheat notes was a good way of studying. I know this from times when I made cheat notes and never had to look at them because I could remember what I had written down!

3. Collaborative marking

Give a writing test in a normal way. Then give the students the marking criteria for the writing. They mark their own writing using the criteria. Then you mark the same piece of work with the same criteria. Take an average of the two marks. That is the student’s mark.

4. Institutionalize cheating (2)

Before the test, give each student a ticket (a coloured slip of paper will do). Tell them this is good for one free answer from you on the test. If they don’t use it, they can accumulate it with another one for the next test. When a student asks you a question in the test (this happens all the time to me) tell them you can give them the right answer but it will cost them the ticket. Giving away ONE answer doesn’t affect the overall mark that much, but it does make students feel better. Interestingly enough when I did this with a group of kids they became more interested in collecting as many tickets as possible!

5 Repeat the test

Give a test in the normal way, and then correct it all together in class. When you’ve finished tell students that the test was in fact revision for the real test, which will be exactly the same and will occur the following week. Then give the same test the next week.

6. Test buddies

In a mixed ability class situation, set up groups of three or four students of different abilities. Tell them the general areas of the test and ask them to review these areas together. Explain that all the students in the group will get the same mark on the test. This mark will be the average of the group’s individual members’ marks (if I’m making this clear). This means the group has to work together to make sure they all do as well as possible. During the test the group will have ONE chance to consult with each other for a period of one or two minutes (to help clear up any doubts). This hopefully means that stronger students will be motivated to help weaker students both in the revision and test situation.

There are some other ways of course (e.g. I didn’t mention take-home tests and variants) and I should mention here that a whole bunch of these and other ideas are included in a book I wrote some years ago with a champion subversive teacher Luke Prodromou (you can see the book here).

Are you stuck with tests? Do you have control over how they are run? Obviously the above ideas won’t work for huge state-run school leaving tests but how do you help stressed out students cope? Post a comment here!

Published in: on September 25, 2010 at 6:51 pm  Comments (14)  
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Six favourite five minute activities (that aren’t really five minutes)

Disclaimer: this post was not sponsored or solicited by anyone! I’m blogging about one of the classic teacher resource books which happened to be one of the first ones I owned and used until the pages almost fell out.

Even though I’m doing a fair bit of travelling, I’ve managed to land some teaching hours this fall and I’m currently preparing my classes. After choosing the main texts and activities we were going to do I pulled down off the shelf my battered old copy of Five Minute Activities, the classic resource book from Cambridge University Press written by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright (the newer cover you can see on the image above).

Looking through it, I remembered when this (and Grammar Games by Mario Rinvolucri) were my only two resource books. I’ve used so many of the activities in here that they feel like old friends. There are two things about the activities in this book that I’d like to mention: 1) they are very sensible and doable in almost all teaching contexts and 2) they often last longer than five minutes. Both these are compliments, I hastily add! I love elastic activities that could be five or twenty five minutes depending on the level and interest of the students. I thought I’d share half a dozen of my favourites:

1 Adjectives and nouns

Students suggest adjective and noun combinations such as a black cat, an expert doctor. You write these up on the board and add some yourself. The students then have to use these words to suggest different combinations (e.g. a black doctor). If someone makes an usual suggestion then they have to justify it.

2 Delphic dictionary

Students suggest some typical problems, which you write on the board. A student chooses one of these problems, and then is asked to open an English-English dictionary at random and put their finger on the page. The word they indicate has to form part of the solution. I let students choose a word on the page, in case they really fall on a really hard word.

3 Match the adjectives

Another adjective activity! This time you write three words on the board e.g. important, heavy, dangerous. Students have to suggest a word that goes with all three (e.g. an army, a car, a plane…). There is a really good list of groups of adjectives to go with this. What, for example, could be small loud and fat (no nasty comments here about directors of studies please!)

4 Odd one out

Write a list of six words on the board from a lexical set. Students have to decide which one is the odd one out. They must explain this. Once they have, then challenge them to nominate another one which could be the odd one out for different reasons. Great for lateral thinking. The variation is great too, where every time they argue one is the odd word out you cross it out and they repeat the activity with the words left until there are only two words. Far, far longer than five minutes for my classes. Sample lists are provided in the book.

5 Spelling bee

This is hardly a new activity, a spelling competition. And it usually takes longer than five minutes in my experience. But my classes have had lots of fun with this, and they often consider it useful. The best part is the authors have listed a whole bunch of words that are commonly spelled wrongly at various different levels. Priceless little resource to have at hand.

6 Wrangling

I love this activity. Write a two line dialogue on the board. My favourite of the ones suggested is

A: Still, I think you’d better tell them.

B: Oh, no, they’ll kill me.

Students have to say the lines together, as an argument. They can repeat the lines as many times as they like but they cannot add anything else. They must vary stress, intonation and gesture to convince each other. After a few exchanges I’ve seen students really get heated up and in fact their delivery of the lines becomes much better. Leads on to a good discussion of what the context and who the speakers might be (again, longer now than five minutes).

There are many many more in the book that are just as good, it was hard to choose only six! A little footnote to this post: last year at the IATEFL conference Penny Ur explained a reading activity during a talk, and she used me as the subject of the activity. Wow. Call me an ELT nerd if you like (do it quietly please), but it was a bit like having your favourite singer suddenly belt out a song with your name in it during a concert. Thanks Penny!

Does anyone else have a favourite five minute activity (from this book or your own)? Go ahead and share! And if Penny Ur or Andrew Wright are reading this, I wonder what their favourite activity is?

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 8:34 pm  Comments (22)  
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Six discussion classes for back to school

It’s back to school time, well for many teachers it is anyway. I’m going to be taking a group for the next two months before my travel commitments pick up again and I’m preparing my first classes. One idea I often use is something I picked up from a colleague of mine in Barcelona, Mark McKinnon. It’s called a “lucky dip” and consists of a series of questions on a theme. Each question is written on a different long thin strip of paper. The papers are then all clutched together and the student picks one (the lucky dip) and answers it. I’ve used it with many one-to-one classes, and with groupwork in larger classes. Here a six different categories of questions that I’ve used for “first classes”. Maybe they’ll be helpful for a first class for you?

1 Summer holiday

Describe your summer holiday in five words or less. What did you do this summer holiday that was different to other summers? What was “typical” of this summer for you? What would you have done if you’d had an extra week of holidays? Describe in detail one thing that you bought or paid for this summer. How have summer holidays changed for you since you were a child?

2 Summer news

Can you remember three international news stories from this summer (what were they)? Did you follow the football World Cup or another sports event (what was your favourite part)? What was the strangest news item you heard about this summer? Look at these three headlines from this summer’s news (you need to supply the headlines for this): what do you know about each news story?

3 The English language

What are your favourite words in English? What is the most difficult thing for you about learning English? Who was your first English teacher and what was he/she like? Look through your English coursebook (if you are using one), find three topics you think are interesting and compare with a partner. How important is English in your country? Imagine everybody in the world spoke English; what would be some of the possible disadvantages of this situation?

4 Establishing good habits

When do you study best: morning, afternoon or night? Where do you like to study? Can you think of one good way to remember new words? How much do you aim on studying English outside class every week? Set yourself a goal. Do you know any good websites to practise your English? Share with a partner.

5 Names

Are you named after someone in your family (who)? Do you have a nickname (what is it, and who calls you this)? If you had a child (or another child) now, what would you call him/her? Do you think a person’s name determines, in a way, the kind of life they will have? If you could have any other name, what would it be? What names do you think are particularly ugly?

6 Music and film

Do you listen to different kinds of music for different moods you are in (e.g. your “happy music”, your “sad music”)? What was the latest CD/song you bought? Would you like to study a song in English class (which one)? What was the last film you saw? If they made a film of your life, who would you like to play you? Think of three great films and three absolutely awful films, then compare lists with a parnter.

As usual, I’ve tried here to steer away from the typical questions. Feel free to add more to these lists. One can never have too many questions up one’s sleeve to ask students and get them talking!

Published in: on September 6, 2010 at 9:33 am  Comments (2)  
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