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 activities new teachers should have up their sleeve

This week I’m joined by Emma Foers. Emma got in touch with me about doing a post for new teachers. I took a look through the past posts I had done and found that actually I had very little by way of “tried and true” activities for newcomers. So I was happy to accommodate her here.

There are many things that can go wrong in a TEFL class – too few students turn up, equipment doesn’t work, students aren’t in the mood, or some students finish activities before others and start to disrupt everyone else, to name just a few of the possible problems!  So it’s always good to have some back-up activities, especially if you’re just starting out. Here are a few I’ve used in my time…

1)     Vocabulary revision games If some students have finished an exercise before the others, you can challenge them to write down 10 items of vocabulary from a previous session (colours, days of the week, household objects).  If the class finishes early, you can ask a student to come and stand with their back to the board.  Write a previously taught word or phrase on the board and the class has to describe it to the student, who must guess the word/phrase!  There are many vocabulary revision games out there and many to make up!  One of my friends devised the ‘cup of knowledge’ – she made a cup and put vocabulary inside it from previous classes.  At the beginning/end of class she would ask students to pick a word from the cup and describe it to the rest of the class – the person to get the word first would win a point for their team!

2)      Picture Flashcards Great again to revise past vocabulary in games!  One of my favourite games (especially for kids) is Kapunk! You need different coloured card with numbers from 10 to 1,000,000 on them and some cards with Kapunk! written on them.  Put your students into teams and one student has to come to the board and compete against the others to win the chance to select a points card.  If all teams draw/complete the task they can select a card.  If they are unlucky enough to select a Kapunk! card they lose all of their points!  Tasks can range from anything from writing a correct sentence using the picture you have selected to spelling tasks using flashcards.  You may want to let two students come to the board at a time to make the game more communicative and to build confidence for weaker/shyer students.  Also you might want to develop rules such as teams not using English will be deducted 100 points. It’s also worth giving groups one chance to spot mistakes and help their team members (this keeps them interested in what their team members are doing!).

3)   Crossword Puzzles Always come in handy for when you finish early and students love them! You can either find ones online or make your own.

4)   Spot the mistakes Write up sentences on the board with things students have been taught but with common mistakes in them.  Put students into groups to find the mistakes.  Could be ‘Are you have photos?’, ‘I have much apples’ etc.

5)    Add a word The aim of this activity is for students to build a full, correct sentence one word at a time. With children you could do this asking them to sit in a line on the floor (with a pen and paper), or with adults you could do this orally.  The first student has to write/say a word, then the next student has to add a word and so on.

6)      Ball game Having a ball in the class entails endless games!  Students can ask/answer questions when they throw/catch the ball to each other.  The teacher can throw the ball and do a quick quiz.  You can give a topic and students throw to each other and say related vocabulary to the topic when they catch the ball.  Also, another game is when the word must start with a letter which is the same as the last letter of the previous word. For example, if the first word is “dog,” then the next word could be ‘golf’.

How about you guys? What’s your favourite back-up activity?

Emma Foers has actually written a whole book of activities for new teachers, called Kick-Start Your TEFL Career: 20 Classroom Activities for Elementary Learners. You can see sample pages and more activities here.

Published in: on June 13, 2010 at 9:37 am  Comments (5)  
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Six Olympic-style language games

The Irregular Verb Ski Jump and 5 other language games!

With the winter Olympics being 1) over half finished and 2) held in my homeland of Canada I thought it would be a good excuse to do an Olympic related six. Although I stopped my last class just before Christmas the following six activities are all fun sports-like games I’ve done with my students in the past, although perhaps not precisely on the winter Olympic theme. Anyway, see what you think. Many are suitable for adults and children!

1 Lexical Luge or Bobsled – For this activity you need a series of lexical categories (e.g. animals, food, clothing, crime) suitable for your students’ level. On the board draw an image of a steep hill and a luge track on it (it doesn’t have to be exact, a windy route down a big mountain side will do). Draw five different X’s at various points on the track. It should look a bit like this, but as a slide.

Start: _________X______X__________X___X_______________X – Finish

Now the game works like this. A student comes up. You give them the lexical category. He/she has to say 5 words (one for each X) in as quick as time as possible. Do this with a stopwatch. If they make a mistake, add 5 seconds to their final time. If they make three mistakes they have “flown off” the side of the track and are disqualified. Students could do this in teams of four, making it a bobsled race. The student/team with the fastest time gets the gold medal. Add more Xs to make it a more challenging track.

2 Irregular verbs Ski Jump – For this activity you need the ubiquitous list of irregular verbs. Draw an image of a ski jump on the board. A student comes up in front of the course. Give them three irregular verbs (e.g. make, go, eat). They have to say the past tense forms. If they make a mistake they sit down again. If they get them right they have made a successful jump. They then have 30 seconds to say as many pairs of infinitive and past forms of irregular verbs as they can, e.g fly-flew, teach-taught, buy-bought etc. Count how many correct they get in the 30 seconds (another student can time this). They score one point per correct pair. Their total points is the total distance jumped. At the end the student who has jumped the furthest gets gold medal.

3 The Olympic Rings Alphabet Game – Students play this in teams. They have to work together and make an alphabet of sports words. E.g. A Athletics, B basketball etc. Set a reasonable time limit (ten to fifteen minutes). At the end, check answers. For every five correct words in their alphabet each group gets an “Olympic ring”. Can any group get five rings?

4 Figure skating Recital – individual programme – This one takes a little more setting up, and you need students who are willing to “go for it”. Each student has to choose a short text, either from the coursebook or another source (a poem, an extract from a speech they find on the net, a paragraph from a novel). They need to memorise the text at home. The next class nominate a series of students as judges. Students get up and recite their memorised text aloud. The judges award points on choice of text, difficulty and pronunciation and award a final score out of ten points.

5 Figure skating Recital – pairs programme – Very similar to above, but this time students work in pairs and choose a dialogue to memorise. Other students act as judges and award points in the same way.

6 Spelling Halfpipe – The halfpipe, I learned this Olympics, is the acrobatic jumping you do on a snowboard. For this activity in class you need a long list of words that are difficult to spell (e.g. Wednesday, separate, writing…) It’s better if you have this list in different categories: hard, very hard and fiendishly hard. You can probably find lists of difficult to spell words on the net if you search around, or if you have Penny Ur’s Five Minute Activities there is a list in there. Run this like a typical spelling bee (spelling competition). Students choose the category and you give them a word to spell out loud. The more difficult the word, the more points it’s worth (you decide on points). Each student spells five words total. Calculate the points and decide how you want to award medals.

So there you have it. Now I know that some will say these are competitive, and maybe some of this activities will not work with a class of 175 (or insert your own “large number” here) students. But the ideas are surely flexible enough that with a bit of creativity you could make some of them work in some of your classes. What do you think? Do you have another favourite sports-related vocabulary or grammar game? Post a comment.

Published in: on February 20, 2010 at 4:41 pm  Comments (11)  
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Six ways for teachers to address the Haitian crisis

When a crisis the scale of what is happening in Haiti hits the headlines and gets “blanket coverage” from news outlets like CNN, it’s tempting to bring it up with students. But does this sort of thing have a place in the language classroom? One the one hand it feels negligent not to mention it at all, but on the other hand one wants to avoid descending into a sort of gruesome spectacle (using youtube clips or the like) which may not be that productive at all.  Here are six suggestions on ways you could address the Haitian crisis in a language classroom.

1 Use an existing lesson plan – e.g. Breaking News English

Sean Banville at Breaking News English has already made a general lesson plan about Haiti and the disaster.  You could use that on its own or in conjunction with any of these ideas.

2 Understand the Richter scale and earthquakes

I’m very fortunate not to live in an earthquake zone, so those of you who do may already be very aware of how the Richter scale works.But if you or your students aren’t, it makes for a useful and timely read. Or you could use as your text any of the many websites giving advice on what to do during an earthquake. Here’s one from FEMA in the US.

3 Analyse how the media is portraying the crisis

Ask students to pay attention to the news and make a list of the keywords being used. Ask them to bring these to class and translate them into English. Then, depending on the level of your students you could ask questions such as the following: What elements of the disaster are focused on most? What is attracting the attention of the news stations? Do different stations focus more on one kind of story? How are average Haitians being portrayed?

4 Use something Haitian other than the disaster

It might make for a welcome change from death and looting stories to raise awareness about other aspects of Haiti. One possibility would be to use a folktale or Haitian proverbs as a text. You can find examples of both here. Alternatively, and especially if you are working with younger learners, you could make a poster project about Haiti, its geography and culture.

5 Encourage a critical eye

One way to look at events in Haiti is also through the prism of “who benefits” from such disasters? With all the money flowing in from around the world there is ample incentive for many different players to get involved: from all kinds of aid organisations (some perhaps with political or religious agendas), to corrupt government officials to multinational building companies wanting to get rebuilding contracts. And then there are the fraudsters (see warning from the FBI here). These questions could be a starting point for a higher level class discussion on how, why and who to donate money to in the name of solidarity. Or ask students to do a webquest on this topic and bring in articles or viewpoints themselves.

6 Ask students what they think they can do to help

Of course, any of the above might lead to a feeling of urgency to “do something” for the victims of the earthquake.  This could form the basis of a class project: either to organise a fundraising event, create a poster project for the school to educate others about Haiti or generally raise awareness among students who can then choose themselves what they should/are able to do.

I currently don’t have a class (my last one finished just before Christmas and I won’t have a group until April) but I’d personally be tempted to do a combination of two or more of the above if I did. I know some teachers who believe this kind of stuff is best avoided in the classroom. So I’m curious, would any of my readers address this issue? And if so, how to do it sensitively? Post a comment if you have time.

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 10:10 am  Comments (5)  
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