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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Jason Renshaw’s Six signs that you are on the right track as a language teacher

Jason Renshaw’s Six signs that you may be on the right track as a language teacher

This week I’m extrememly happy to be joined by none other than the English Raven himself, Jason Renshaw. For those of you who don’t know him, Jason is a writer and prolific blogger based in Australia. He’s known for his coursebook series Boost, but also for creative and provocative posts on different aspects of teaching and methodology. I’ve been bugging him a long time to do a guest post, and he’s delivered the goods! Here are six signs that you may be on the right track as a language teacher. Enjoy!

1. Your classes almost never begin or end with coursebook material

This to me is a sign that a teacher is connecting with students as people, and sees their interests and daily lives as the first and final priorities. It is also a positive answer to a question I put to a lot of newer teachers: Who is actually running this class – you and your students, or a book?

2. The students in your classes talk more than you do, and speak to each other more than they speak to you

This is a skill and an important priority. It means you have started to see your role as being more along the lines of facilitator rather than leader or controller. In language learning, the students are the ones who really need the opportunities and time to talk – not you. Language learning is possibly more enhanced by talking to a range of people – not a single expert. Also, to really help students you need to be able to listen to them. If you’re doing all the talking, you’re probably doing very little listening.

3. Motivation has become the students’ responsibility

Teachers who try to overtly motivate their students either fail dismally, or become the entire source of classroom motivation (which is also a form of failure, but harder to spot and more drawn out). At some point, this responsibility for motivation and commitment to the learning process has to become an intrinsic part of the students. The earlier this begins, the better. Teachers who can let go of this perceived responsibility and find the right ways to help it blossom in students are worth their weight in gold.

4. You feel a constant need to create and apply your own material and activities

Some coursebooks are better than others, and some suit your learners better than others do. But none of them (on their own) can be perfectly ideal for your students. It is a very positive sign in a developing teacher when thoughts like the following become more frequent:

– I’ll skip this part, because it’s not all that relevant or useful to my students

– This part could be better. Here’s how…

– I can do this part better, and I will

These feelings often lead to teachers making more and more of their own material and activities, often to either supplement or replace sections of coursebooks, and more often than not they lead to more effective and relevant learning in class. They are also a positive sign of teacher self-belief and confidence.

5. There are more questions than answers

I would apply this on two fronts.

One is related to the point above about interaction in class. When students are answering a lot but not asking many questions, their passive and receptive skills are being emphasized at the expense of productive skills and creative thinking. We may also be creating situations where what students know takes priority over what they don’t know or would like to know.

On the second front, this is a good sign in teachers as well. As you become better at what you do as a teacher, you will find that answers lead to more questions, and more questions lead to more answers. It’s sort of like watching a tree grow. Teachers I’ve met who figured they had more answers than questions tended to be the sort who had started to plateau, or even backslide. They didn’t realise it (or didn’t want to realise it!), and had started to misinterpret the whole idea and role of experience.

6. There are regular surprises

Being able to predict what will happen in classes is a sign of good teaching in many respects, but in other ways it can be a sign of rot. A highly predictable lesson with predominantly predetermined use of language is rather like taking a single well-used track through a very large forest. Good teachers facilitate, expect, and embrace the unexpected. They thrive on it. Surprises in language classes not only represent what language experience is like in the real world, they also create the most effective bases for teachers to explore what the students (feel they) really need to learn about and experience more.

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 8:42 am  Comments (25)  
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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…

ASH CLOUD ELT

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 8:24 am  Comments (14)  
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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 imdb.com 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)  
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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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