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)  
Tags: , , ,

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 🙂 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)  
Tags: , , ,

Six activities to do with film titles

The other day I was browsing through the Oscar nominees (as usual in Spain I’ve hardly heard of half of the films as they are usually just coming out) and I remembered all of a sudden some activities I had done with film titles in the past. Thought I would share here…

1 Title jumble. Write the words of several film titles all jumbled up on the board. Students must try and put them back into titles. For example, can you find the film titles in the words below? Good for work on lexical chunks actually.

hurt the locker air up in the education an this it is

2 Pattern analysis. In Scott Thornbury’s excellent book Natural Grammar he shows how keywords of English help build understanding of the language. On of his exercises focuses on the keyword “of” in noun phrases for film titles. Think about it, there are an awful lot of phrases like that (two in the last two sentences in fact). Gather a group of them, split them in half, and get students to put the halves together using “of the”.

List A: Lord / Planet / Return / The Silence etc.

List B: the Apes / the Jedi / the Lambs / the Rings

3 Translations. Compare how they are translated into other languages. Ask students to research films that have  a different title in their language to the English title (this could be English films translated into their language, or vice versa). They should bring these to class and compare the titles. For some reason my students (and I) have always found it really interesting to know how titles get changed. Did you know the Hurt Locker in Spanish is “En Tierra Hostil” (In Enemy Territory) and in French is “Mineurs”

4 Work with synopses. Get a bunch of film titles and short synopses (from for instance). Ask students to match the film title to its synopsis. Students then write alternate titles for the films and compare.

5 Have a laugh with them. Find a film title generator and you or your students create funny film titles. My favourite currently is this one (It’s an Action Film Title Generator. The last three I got were: Extreme Overkill, Fist of Retaliation and Triple Justice. I’d love to get students to write the synopsis for one of these! There is also, for the higher levels perhaps, the following Movie Title Puns Competition which is good for a groan.

6 Work on idioms. Many film titles use an idiom or fixed expression. Ask your students to find (in their coursebook or dictionary) examples of expressions that they have recently learnt. They must then imagine one of these is a title of the next Oscar-winning film. They must write a thirty word synopsis for the film. It’s best if they have already seen some examples of film synopses to give them examples of the genre.

Have any of you done activities with film titles? Feel free to share…

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , ,

Six topical teaching ideas for December

Last month I neglected to do a list of topical teaching ideas, instead focusing on activities with camcorders. But I can’t really let December and the last week of classes before the holidays go by without some kind of practical post. So, here goes!

1. Play the Christmas Stocking game

I’m currently not teaching (my classes finished last month), but if I were I would use this favourite standby. I bring in a Christmas stocking (if you don’t have one, use a big woollen sock) and a bunch of small items (e.g. toy car, pencil, eraser, keys etc). I explain the tradition of Christmas stockings and then discreetly put an item into the stocking. Students pass it around and have to make a guess as to what it is. I did it once with kitchen utensils (e.g. carrot peeler, garlic press) with a group of adults and it was hilarious. Good practice of modals of speculation too.

2. Talk about something other than Christmas

Here are some other interesting national holidays from December that have nothing to do with Santa Claus: United Arab Emirates Independence Day (Dec 2), Thailand King’s Birthday and National Day (December 5),  Turkmenistan Neutrality Day (Dec 12), South Africa Reconciliation Day (Dec 16) and the anniversary of Panama assuming control of the Canal (Dec 31).  Now, I’m sure if I put my mind to it I could create an activity to do with one of these but I’ll leave it as a germ of an idea for you to develop.

3. Make  a Christmas or end of year Crossword puzzle

Pretty standard idea, yes I know. But December 21 marks the 96th anniversary of the first published Crossword Puzzle so hey that can act as the hook for the lesson! Make your own crossword puzzles here.

4. Read some Sherlock Holmes

One of the big films coming out around this season is Sherlock Holmes. I’m really not sure about the Hollywood version, but it’s as good as oppotunity as any to read a bit of Sherlock Holmes with the class.  Full texts available here.You don’t need to do a whole story, just choose an extract as a starting text and go from there.

5. Rate the top gifts of 2009

A link on Yahoo took me to the top gifts of 2009. I’m always a sucker for this kind of thing. Anyway, these top products each come with a little text, making them ideal for a matching activity, followed by some vocabulary work and then perhaps a ranking activity?

6. Make some New Year’s Resolutions

The following website from the American government shows some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions for American citizens with links. It’s an interesting list, quite predictable to me as a North American but it could be interesting to ask students to guess what these are before sharing the list. This could form the basis of small group discussions on the benefits of making resolutions and what, if any, resolutions your students want to make. Or ask students to write simple resolutions on pieces of paper (using going to!) and put them in a hat. Students them pull out a resolution and say how likely it is they will do it.

There you have it! Hopefully ONE of these ideas can help you get through to the end of the year!

Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 4:03 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,

Ken Wilson’s Six ways to create the ‘Wow!’ factor

It’s that time again at Six Things, time for another guest piece. This time we’re joined by none other than Ken Wilson, author of one of my all-time favourite resource books Drama and Improvisation. I’ll quickly pass over to him here as he has quite a bit to share. It’s all worth it, a real ‘wow’ of a post.

There are moments in all our lives when we go ‘Wow!’ Some of us say it out loud. Some of us say ‘Wow!’ quietly to ourselves. Some of us just raise our eyebrows. Emotionally, it amounts to the same thing.

Imagine you bump into a friend called Eric, who started going out with a girl called Susie three months ago. The conversation might go like this:

“Hi, Eric! How are things between you and Susie?”

“Good. We’re getting married next week.”

How would you react to this news? Select your answer from the following choices, or write your own.

a)     Say out loud: “Congratulations!”

Think: “Wow! You’ve only know her for three months!”

b)     Say: “Wow! You’ve only know her for three months!”

Think: “Is she pregnant?”

c)     Say: “Is she pregnant?”

Think: “Have I got time for a coffee before I start work?”

If the answer is (c) and you’re a teacher, you may want to consider finding another job – maybe as a police interrogator.

Eric’s announcement of his impending nuptials was enough to elicit a spoken or thought ‘Wow!” in examples (a) and (b). In other words, the statement had “The Wow Factor”.

Now try to imagine the following scene: an English class full of state-school teenagers who HAVE to be there. They aren’t PLS students who have paid to be there, nor are they students in a multinational class in Cambridge, England or Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The adjective often used to describe such teenagers is ‘bored’, but that isn’t fair. They’re going through a lot of emotional and physical changes in their lives and at this point, they probably haven’t realised the ‘importance’ of any of the subjects they are being taught. So telling them that English is important because half the world speaks it is not a motivation to learn.

They’re probably underwhelmed by the material in front of them. Particularly the reading material. Apart from a lack of engagement, there will also be a sizeable percentage of the group for whom the act of reading a dense text is an ordeal.

For these students, at least for a few moments in your lesson, you have to try to create “The Wow Factor”. Make them feel the same emotion as you felt when Eric told you he was marrying Susie.

By the way, I think I’m the first one to talk about The Wow Factor in ELT, so I’m going to trademark it as my own. From now on, I will refer to it as The Wow Factor .

OK, here goes.

Generally speaking, it’s really difficult for course books to provide anything remotely resembling The Wow Factor . It’s therefore something you the teacher have to provide. Or you have to get the student to provide it. The good thing is that if you are the one who provides Wow Factor material, the students will think you’re really cool.

The simplest way to provide Wow Factor reading material is to use ‘Amazing Facts’. So before I suggest six ways to use them, here are some examples of ‘Amazing Facts’ which may be useful in one or more of the following activities.

  1. A cockroach can live several weeks with its head cut off.
  2. Your heart beats over 100,000 times a day.
  3. Coca-Cola would be green if they didn’t add colouring to it.
  4. Worldwide, more people are killed each year by bees than by snakes.
  5. The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds.
  6. You’re born with 300 bones in your body. By the time you reach adulthood, you only have 206.
  7. A quarter of the bones in your body are in your feet.
  8. More people are killed by donkeys annually than are killed in plane crashes.
  9. A chicken with red earlobes will produce brown eggs, and a chicken with white earlobes will produce white eggs.
  10. In the course of an average lifetime you will eat about a hundred insects in your sleep, including ten spiders.

Now! Six ways to create The Wow Factor in your classroom.

1      Put Wow! facts on the wall around the room.

Before class one day, put some ‘facts’ on the wall. If you want them to  be noticed by the students when they come in, put them in big letters on coloured card.

But it works just as well if they DON’T read them when they first come in. At a certain (quiet) point in the lesson, ask the students to walk round the room and read the facts on the wall. The students do this, and when they sit down, you say: “Can you now write down the facts, please?” They will look daggers at you for asking them to do this, because you didn’t tell them that part of the task when they first walked round the room.

When they’ve written what they can remember, you can ask: “Would you like another chance to look at the facts?”

Their faces will light up with smiles and they will nod their heads. This time, they will read the facts more carefully, and will be able to write down the things they forgot when they sit down. You can give them a third chance, if you like.

There is also the chance you might see a raised eyebrow or two while they’re walking around and reading – the nearest you’re going to get to a ‘Wow!’ from most teenagers.

2      Wow! facts before you start using a new course book.

With a new class and a new course book, I like to do this: take 10 topics from the Contents page of the new book and write them on the board. It might look like this:

What do you know about …

  • great white sharks?
  • American prisons?
  • meeting people online?
  • Julius Caesar?
  • Heath Ledger?
  • megacities?
  • Ian Fleming?
  • the Amazon rainforests?
  • Australia?
  • healthy eating?

Now ask the class if they know anything about any of the topics. They will say ‘No’ of course, because they think they will have to stand up and say something. Tell them that they don’t have to say anything, they just have to write something down. Ask them to write a fact about one of the topics on a piece of paper.

Now ask the students to mingle and read other people’s facts. Finally, ask them if any of the other facts made them go ‘Wow!’

3      Wow! facts warmer

Go online to find some Wow! facts about the topic of the next unit in the book. It is almost certain that there are facts about the topic that you can find online that will impress your students. All you have to do is google the topic + amazing facts. I just did it with the first topic on my list above, great white sharks, and I found this:

The great white is the largest shark. But a relative of the great white that lived 65 million years ago, Procarcharodon megaladon, was 13 metres long! It was big enough to hunt and kill whales.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s probably more interesting than the material in the book. If you can get a modest ‘Wow!’ from the students, they may find the reading text a little more interesting.

4      Students bring their own Wow! facts. (Google homework)

This is basically the same as (3) but the students do the work. Simply give them the topic of the next unit in the book and tell them to bring a ‘Wow!’ fact to the next class. They can of course look up the facts on websites in their own language, but they must write them down in English.

5      Wow! Gap exercise

Find some Wow! facts and ask the student to try to fill in the missing words.

Here are some examples.

1     A Boeing 747’s wingspan is longer than ________________
(a historic event in the history of aviation)

2     Walt Disney was afraid of _______

3     More than 50% of the people in the world have never ____________

4     It is physically impossible for pigs to ______________

5     In Saratoga, Florida it is illegal to sing while wearing _____.

Do you know the answers? I will send them to Lindsay in a week or so!!

6      Wow! True or False

Finally, do one of the above activities, but add one or two untrue ‘Wow!’ facts. Student have to work out which one/s they thing is/are false.

So how and WHERE do we find Wow Factor material? Very simple, just google Amazing Facts, and you have more Wow! material than you could wish for. And if you want material about a specific topic, do as I did and google Amazing facts + the topic.

Happy Wowing!

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 3:17 pm  Comments (25)  
Tags: , , , ,