Agony Aunt materials


While prepping for another lesson yesterday, I stumbled upon this great resource: Tim Warre shares his lesson plan based on the Agony Aunt idea (and a lot of other lesson materials). Why is it good? First and foremost, there is a lot of attention to functional language. In the virtual classroom, you can simply direct the learners to this page and have them pick the phrases they would like to use – a great timesaver for all. Also, Tim included a  short lesson description, and, last but not least, two printable handouts: with the functional phrases and with ‘agony aunt’ situations (just make sure you adapt them before using in the teen classroom). It’s rare when somebody else’s lesson plan is so clear and usable.

Tim’s posts stop in February,  so I hope he’ll come back soon!

Projects for real (3 of 15): the language of project management


To continue the topic of project management in the ELT classroom, there is a good lesson on Onestopenglish by Barney Barratt which focuses learners on the language of projects (juicy little words like deployment or kick-off date) and how they map on the timeline. A very useful and engaging activity, especially if you notice that your teens’ eyes are glazing over with all those WBS and PMOs! The discussion questions in the materials can be good for Business English classes, though a bit too general and too work-related for my context. Still, the resource is an excellent combination of ‘fun’ and language work – definitely recommended.

Dixit for IELTS essays


Don’t you just love showing off your students’ work? I sure do, and today I have an offering from my new IELTS prep group. To help learners understand the exam format, I sometimes have them pretend they are exam writers. This time, it was the IELTS problem-solution essay, and the task was pretty self-explanatory: pick a random Dixit card, brainstorm problems it can symbolise, write a rubric using exam paper samples. Voilà! Four wonderfully creative essay tasks to be assigned for unique homework 🙂

Here is one rubric I’ve found the most useful. Can you guess which picture it goes with?  (Warning: it’s student work with a few errors and inaccuracies left intact!)

You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.

Write about the following topic:

Since time immemorial, adults have been taking care of the young generation. However, it is now widely believed that parents take too much care of their children, which causes lack of independence. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Give reasons for your answer and include any examples from your own knowledge or experience. Write at least 250 words.

You can have a look at a few more examples here.

Read more about the uses of board games in ELT, including Dixit, at the links in this post.

A time to gather calendars


Here is a wonderfully useful post by Naomi Epstein about collecting old paper calendars and using them in the classroom. Calendars are typically quite nice-looking, and you can use their pages for classroom exhibits, folders, decorations and flashcards. And the best activity the author writes about is ‘Destroy and Enjoy!’: the learners are asked to find, cut and paste different parts of calendars, like pictures, words or simply colours, depending on the level of difficulty.

Frankly, I have used only old magazines in my work, and now I wish I had read this earlier!

The watercooler factor

watercoolerIf you’ve ever wondered how materials writers get their ideas, don’t ask them, check this great post by Rachael Roberts. She writes about the myriad decisions one has to make when writing: e.g. how to consider ‘the watercooler factor‘, i.e. the intrinsic interest of materials that would make the learners discuss them later with their colleagues or family.  Then again, interesting input doesn’t always mean interesting output! There’s a lot more there about learning objectives, tasks and getting feedback, so do go back to the source.

P.S. I couldn’t help but notice that Rachael quotes Neil Gaiman, and, on a personal note, I have the fondest memories of him from my translator days – from 10 years ago! Feel free to check my old post in Livejournal if you’re interested, there’s a rough translation into English if you scroll down.

Printable Business English delights


The Oxford Teachers’ Club is a real friend in need – for example, have you seen these ‘print-and-go’ lessons? They are not exactly lessons, of course, but original standalone activities that can take up to 30 minutes of class time and provide useful revision, consoludation or simply an unusual take on the good old Business English grammar or vocabulary. Some of the handouts focus on soft skills, which is even better. For example, ‘Stressed!’ is a great activity about time management – I’d love to do it myself, and I should probably do it every day! (You do need to register to be able to download the file and the teacher’s notes, but believe me, it’s totally worth it.)

Business what ifs


This list of conditional conversation prompts is a really simple thing to share, but I spent quite a lot of time looking for it! Usually, questions with conditionals online are all of the same type: “If you were God (fruit, an animal) for one day, what would you do?” , or “What would you buy if you won a million dollars?” Nice, but awfully repetitive and more often than not are too wacky and can’t be related to the lesson topic. Now, this list of business-related questions is a perfect timesaver: each of these questions can become a conversation prompt, or they can be used in a quick discussion game, but the best thing about them is that they are based on workplace situations: what would you do if you woke up with a cold, what would you do if you had fewer meetings, if your employer took away some of your perks, if you were offered a job abroad…. Just what a busy teacher needs 🙂

Visuals for learning


I knew it, I knew all along – visuals are important for language learning! 🙂 I don’t know who decided that drab blocks of text are serious and thus effective, but I know that Halloween pumpkin paper was there for a reason. Seriously, do check out this guest post at Learning Scientists (the website that is slowly but surely becoming my favourite reading material). Anyway, Chris Drew writes about educational research related to images in learning and why the debate is actually happening. There are a lot of interesting quotes and even an infographic, in the true spirit of useful visuals, and the conclusion is: if you create materials, “go for nuanced, subtle design aesthetics that don’t drown out the focus of the lesson”. 

By the way, warm tones are also good – don’t you love this blog’s colour scheme? 😉

Halloween lesson planning


It’s this time of year 🙂 So why not go with the flow and use the Halloween vibe for a bit of extra learning? I’ve been scouring the Internet all day in search of something practical. My main criteria were, in no order of importance: 1) minimal resources; 2) minimal teacher participation; 3) appropriate level of challenge; 4) course fit. I’m sharing the results here because I hope it can save you some time – and I’d love to hear from you what resources you’ve picked this year!

  1. Vocabulary prep: this is something I will need for all the lessons as background resource for all the activities. I’ll print one set for a wall exhibit for younger groups, and give the Quizlet link to the others. I like this set because it has only the topical words, and there are visuals to support the definitions. Quick and effective.
  2. Writing paper: not exactly paperless, I know – but I think these sheets will encourage the learners to write neatly and create a festive atmosphere, so totally worth the investment. I’m going to use them for all writing activities regardless of the age (well, maybe coloured paper for the younger ones…).
  3. Creative writing: we have the paper, now we need a plot generator or a set of prompts. Homework time!
  4. TED-Ed lesson on suspense in writing: this could also be useful for my upper secondaries who are just completing a unit on storytelling. The lesson has a listening comprehension quiz and discussion questions. We may have done the topic to the death though (ha, sorry, couldn’t resist!), so another option would be a webquest
  5. Jigsaw watching. Here’s a selection of other TED-Ed videos with interesting topical facts: Where do superstitions come from; The fascinating history of cemeteries; The Egyptian book of the dead; Why is being scared so fun; Are ghost ships real; How did Dracula become the most famous vampire; Facts about pumpkins. All the videos are short and can be watched from the students’ mobiles. The simplest task would be for the students to share the facts with the others as a presentation, or perhaps make a quiz. An alternative would be to arrange stations, or have a Padlet with questions – I haven’t decided yet!
  6. Grammar practice. I found this idea here: Scary Situations. Students come up with scary situations (‘I’ve got a ghost under my bed!’) and then give each other Agony-Aunt-type advice. It should work really well with my lower secondary group because we’ve just started doing should and must.
  7.  TED for adults. This talk will be interesting for my Proficiency group: a writer is talking about fear and how it can help us cope with life challenges.
  8. Spooky idioms. This is a great idiom set from Macmillan for higher-level learners. It can add just a bit of seasonal charm to the lesson, but the idioms can be used in all kinds of situations. Definitely a keeper for all adult groups this week! (I’ll probably have them make short dialogues illustrating the meaning.)

This should be enough for one week, I think! What are your top picks?

Vocabulary menu handout

vocabulary menu

Do you like vocabulary cards as much as I do? I routinely use Quizlet online and in printouts, good old paper cards, vocabulary organisers – but sometimes I want to do something new (preferably low-prep, paperless, engaging, student-centered and of course effective – well, never settle for anything less :)). Here’s what worked in one of my lessons yesterday: a simple menu of activities that students can do in small groups. It can be as fast or as slow as you like, and it leaves you free to monitor and make notes of which words need more practice. It worked so well that I couldn’t resist and had to put it into a handout/poster that you can download and use here.

It’s set up the usual way, when students pick a card one by one from one stack or their  own sets. And now the most important thing: it’s not the student who has the card who does the activity. If you take the word, you ‘own’ it, and you are the one to choose an option from the menu and ‘test’ another student. It adds just the right element of control and tension! (Alternatively, you can use 12-digit dice for this, but student agency is also nice, isn’t it?)

Do let me know if any of you have found it useful. Now I’m suffering from writer’s remorse because I’ve spent so much time making the poster!