Gestures, props and other attention-grabbers

I’ve just read Lisa Nielsen’s post about engaging learners with gesticulation, and now I’m curious: how many of us use gestures, objects and other things often enough? How much is enough? And how much is too much? I know that over the years I have developed a certain over-emotional, exaggerated classroom style – it’s a bit strange, but it helps 🙂 What about the online classroom, does it need more attention-grabbers or just as many?

Looks like I have more questions or answers for this one.


In with the new

Going through the pre-year training sessions, I find myself excited, but also a bit depressed: no mingling? No running dictations? No crafts? It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.

Then what’s so good about the post-Covid socially distanced classroom?

  1. The 1.5-2m bubble around every learner will create a natural information gap (learners won’t be able to look into each other’s books or whisper in L1 anymore) – I have to thank colleague R*** for this positive thought.
  2. Showing more stuff on IWB will make our f2f teaching more paperless than ever – yay for saving more trees.
  3. Electronic assignment submissions is here to stay – no-hassle student portfolios and a greater sense of progress.
  4. Personal miniboards and big-letter writing might become a thing again – great for motor memory and owning one’s learning.
  5. And all the backchannelling apps that will have to be used!

By the way, after one of our LAMSIG panels in June Sandy Millin wrote a great post about this – not to be missed.

Discussion management in breakout rooms


If you have been wondering how to make discussions in multiple breakout rooms more productive and controlled, here are great materials from one of my favourite bloggers, Mark Makino: Discussion Circles. Mark explains how the activity works (it’s based on roles distribution, really nifty: you get a discussion leader, a harmoniser, a reporter and a devil’s advocate), how it can be modified for different levels of familiarity with the task, and shares three versions of digital handouts to go with it.

Thirty minutes of your lesson covered, in the most effective and developmental way: the students listen to each other more carefully, quieter students get a chance to contribute equally, everyone can try themselves at unusual roles and stances. Perfect idea for those teens!

Not causes, but consequences


I was looking through my hoard of interesting posts, trying to decide what I’d like to share here today (it’s great to revive old threads and ideas!), but this one by David Geurin, which was published today, resonates with me the most: we shouldn’t ask students about reasons for their bad behaviour, because it will only teach them to justify it. It’s best to talk with them about the consequences of their actions and about taking responsibility. Simple, but so true!


Seats with words


Here is a great fresh post by Cristina Cabal about using collocations or definitions to assign seats to students. While the version with taping parts of collocations to chairs seems a bit too much work, it may be worth it at the start of the year, when you need everyone to meet everyone, or when you use this for extensive vocabulary practice. I heard about a simpler version from a colleague: every class starts with the same routine, when the kids get a word or a definition and have to find their new partner and sit together. Really helps when those girls refuse to work with the boys, or vice versa!

P.S. Do we really have to change the learners’ seating? Oh yes.

Pre-emptive classroom management


I haven’t linked to the Cult of Pedagogy in a while, but this site is actually the first I check when I want to find reasonable, practical and up-to-date advice about teaching. For example, this post about dealing with excessive talking in the classroom is an absolute must-read. And the key idea is just that: prevent misbehaviour rather than scold them afterwards. First you define expectations, then you model and practise – like a real lesson – and you hold them accountable. You can’t really expect them to behave unless you’ve specifically taught (not just told) them how to! Very obvious, but so very true.


Oh, those fast finishers: 2 of 2

Copy of Oh, those fast finishers_ 1 of 2

As promised in the previous post, here is my account about experiments with fast finishers.


In both groups, lower and upper secondaries, I used this infographic by Mia MacMeekin to give them ideas for discussion. They had to discuss the activities in mini-groups and choose top 3 that would be fun and also help them learn.


It was funny how they went from wackier ideas to more responsible choices! At first, sleep was the most popular activity 🙂 They shared their ideas (lower secondaries open class, upper secondaries in mini-groups), I boarded the whole list and then we had a vote (a show of hands) and chose top 3. We agreed to experiment with them for a month and then see if we find them useful. The older ones chose working on long-term projects and vocabulary revision. The younger ones – to play Lego with words, share extra time with other students (more on that below), or do homework. You can see who was feeling more overworked – or more honest!


I loved how they came up with their own improvements – for example, one group suggested that we try just one activity each week; the other added Quizlet to the list. And one student came up with a totally new thing – sharing time. If a stronger student finishes first, they can gift their time to a slower student so that they could do the task better. I love the collaborative side of it, but I’m not sure how we can make this work – yet.


We always talk about learner autonomy, empowering the learner and all that, but it’s really amazing to see how it can really change things. Those kids are generally quite nice, but yesterday they were more engaged than I’d ever seen them these 2 weeks. Well, I’ll let you know in a month how our little experiment goes.

Oh, those fast finishers: 1 of 2


Every lesson with my teens is a tale of two cities: one third of the learners start fidgeting before the others have done half the task. Yes, there was placement testing, but let’s face it: every group has mixed abilities anyway.

All morning, I’ve been digging through teachers’ favourite ways to work with fast finishers, and my impressions are very similar to what Mark from TESOLToolbox wrote: “they [fast-finisher activities] have only ever complicated things and certainly didn’t result in any extra learning”.

And the problems are – well, it reminds me of lessons in Marxist Dialectics because you have to balance so many opposites!

On the one hand, you want to keep the students busy, but on the other hand, you don’t want to give them busywork.

If you want to stretch them with a challenge, they might need more support, whereas you should be supporting the main group.

The extra task should look like a reward, not punishment for doing well, and yet it shouldn’t be so motivating that the learners are encouraged to do sloppy work on the main task.

If you ask fast finishers to help weaker students, it fosters collaboration, but will not challenge stronger students enough.

And – if you differentiate tasks by adding ‘levels’ to them, your preparation and marking time will increase exponentially.

So, what can I do?

I think I’ll delegate it 🙂  In other words, I’ll let the learners decide how they would like to be challenged and kept on task, and report to you tomorrow.

[to be continued]

Seat students as you will


Hi all, me and the blog are back from leave. It’s been only two weeks since the academic year has started, and I haven’t even met all my students yet.  Still, I have the groups, I have the coursebooks, and now the most exciting part begins: how do I tailor the syllabus to these particular learners?

That’s why  teacher’s books are my favourite reading now, and here’s what I want to share. In Eyes Open 3, you will find a very strong recommendation not to let lower secondary teens choose their own seats. My first reaction was: no way! We’ll be taking away the last bits of comfort in this new environment. I’ll just reshuffle them when we do pair or mini-group work. But then, once I saw them coming into their second lesson, already in their little cliques… The lesson starts, the seats change, and they are ready to learn. What a relief!

I’ve found an interesting article about it in the Teach magazine: it  explains why and how diffferent seat arrangements work. And here is an ELT blog post with practical tips on how to change the students’ seats in an engaging non-authoritative way.

It’s good to be back 🙂