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!

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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 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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My six favourite Mario Rinvolucri Activities

Part of my bookshelf of teacher's resource books, there are four more shelves full!

Note: This blogpost originally appeared as part of a series of articles I was invited to contribute to in honour of Mario Rinvolucri’s 70th birthday. The post below and other articles about Mario’s influence in the world of ELT appeared in the last issue of Humanizing Language Teaching, one of the first online magazines for ELT that I know of that is still going. See the issue here.

The first resource book for teachers I ever owned was Mario Rinvolucri’s Grammar Games. After fifteen years of teaching and having several books of my own published I still enjoy opening the battered green cover and leafing through it (you can see it on my shelf, above). Much of the book still feels as fresh today in 2010 as it felt when I first opened it. It’s the sign of truly good and practical classroom activities, something that I know Mario has always striven for in his work.

Since my early teaching days I have slowly collected resource books for teachers. They occupy around eight shelves in my office now. Many of them are Mario’s and I’m happy to say that with every new book there is still always some good stuff in there.

I know that some teachers and writers like to make fun of the more “experimental” activities that Mario has suggested over the years, certainly many of these to do with Multiple Intelligence theory or NLP. But that overlooks the great amount of practical, doable and sensible activities and ideas that Mario has contributed to our profession. I thought I’d share half a dozen “Mario activities” that any language teacher, new or experienced, should have up their sleeve.

Note: I call these Mario activities because I discovered them in his books. Mario is very honest about where his activities come from, citing the source wherever possible. I know he would not want me to attribute a whole idea or activity to him if it weren’t his, so the proviso here is that all of these activities have been shared by Mario even if not created by him.

1 Causes and Consequences

This collection of ideas and activities are all stimulating, even though the photos in it now look extremely old-fashioned. My favourite activities here were ones that did not depend on photos. Causes and consequences was a simple activity where students were given a statement and had to brainstorm all the causes and consequences of that statement. Brilliant, and worked as a critical thinking activity for me many a time.

taken from: Challenge to Think, written with Christine Frank, published by OUP (1982)

2 Present Perfect Poem

One of my all time favourites as a teacher. The students are given a series of words which they have to make into as many different sentences as possible. They put these together to make a poem, which will be very close to an actual poem by Robin Truscott. Sample sentence: We have seen the face of the enemy and it works.

Probably one of the most meaningful exercises I’ve done with learners.

taken from: Grammar Games, published by CUP (1984)

3 The Marienbad game

I still use this activity with almost every group from Elementary level upwards. You write a poem on the board and the students have to take words away one or two at a time until a group cannot take any more words away. So simple and elegant as an activity. And very grammatical.

taken from: Grammar Games, published by CUP (1984)

4 The Coke Machine Round the Corner

My first ever activity I did with movement and mime, the Coke Machine dictation involves students miming a series of actions to get a soft drink from a machine and drink it. The “burp!” at the end often yielded hilarious results.

taken from: Dictation, written with Paul Davis, published by CUP (1988)

5  The Optimist and the Pessimist

I love the way Mario is able to generate a mass of communication and meaning from a simple sentence. In this activity students are given a sentence and each have to write a reaction to it beginning either with “Fortunately…” (for the optimists) or “Unfortunately…” (for the pessimists).

taken from: Humanising your Coursebook, published by Delta Publishing 2002

6 Time is of the essence

Given my long relationship with Mario’s writing as a teacher and a teacher trainer, it was an amazing opportunity for me to be able to actually work as an editor on his latest work, Culture in our Classrooms (written with Gilly Johnson). Mario’s passion for culture really shone through here, and even though we hotly debated some of the material and how it should appear I think his eye for practical activities that appeal to the students’ affective needs is as good as ever. One of my favourites in this book is Time is of the Essence, where students read a sentence relating to time and have to determine what time they would put. For example: She got to work early that morning. (students say what time that would be in their culture). Even more of a honour was that Mario asked me to supply the Canadian times as an example for the activity!

taken from: Culture in our Classrooms, written with Gill Johnson, published by Delta (2010)

There you have them. Only six, from an overall collection of probably more than six hundred. Apologies if I have missed your favourites, but you are welcome as ever to leave a comment. And if you don’t know any of these, then I recommend you get to a library or bookshop pretty quickly! Your teaching repertoire will be much improved for it!


Published in: on July 1, 2010 at 7:47 am  Comments (9)  
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