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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.


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!

More objects for the teacher’s bag


My posts are becoming (perhaps alarmingly) very practical: at the moment, nothing is more exciting to me than my own bag with cool markers, counting sticks, gaming dice, story cubes… Someone needs to stop me ๐Ÿ™‚ Here’s another addition to the topic: this little article from As the name of the site suggests, it’s quite YL-oriented, but some things will definitely be useful for adults. Apart from the ubiquitous bomb timers, rope and blue tack, there is a blindfold (such a great idea to take one of those you get for free from airline companies!), small bean bags of several colours and even… plastic food. Have you ever brought plastic food to your lessons? I actually might do.

P.S. I recently linked to Lisa Jayne Wood’s post about her teacher’s bag, it’s worth checking out too.

Story cubes, anyone?

story cubes

I’ve finally got my own set! And of course I’ve started scouring the Internet for interesting uses. Martin Sketchley has a lot of ideas that can be used as a starting point (make a story from one cube or nine, review grammar forms, play bingo…). Some of these activities are not what I would normally choose to do in the classroom: first, they can be very time-consuming; second, they are not always directly related to the lesson content (but awfully fun, of course :)).

My favourite suggestion can be found inย this post by John Meehan: use the cubes to encourage reflection and deep learning. “Have them explain what theyโ€™ve learned from the current unit by creating a series of metaphors in which they successfully incorporate each of the images that theyโ€™ve rolled”? This is gold.

Oh, and, by the way, here is an interesting explanation of how the cubes work: our brain feels uncomfortable with unfinished patterns and seeks to complete them. I can’t wait to try them in my own classroom!

Feedback through name plates


I don’t know about you, but for me name plates are a staple in every lesson with a new group. They are easier to see than a name tag, they help you avoid many awkward situations when you forget or mispronounce a name, they get other students to remember each other’s names and are in themselves a small origami activity ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve linked to interesting reading material about how name tags can be used creatively, and here is another great idea: why not have students ask questions to the teacher through the name plate (or name tent, as the author calls them)? Click through to the original blog post to find out more.

Into the teacher’s bag


If you haven’t seen this lovely post by Lisa Jayne Wood, do check it out: she has great ideas about what to put into the teacher’s bag (including a ball of wool I linked to before). There are things that can be used with fast finishers (yay), when tech suddenly stops working or if the activities you’ve planned run out too soon. I’m sure we all have our favourite objects, but I haven’t finished replenishing the stock in my own ‘magic box’ yet ๐Ÿ™‚

From meh to great with one sticky note


As the students go in, they are invited to stick a post-it to one of the sections of the whiteboard: I’m fine, I’m meh, I’m struggling and so on. My first thought would be that it’s a sense of progress activity, but in fact it’s a way to check on the students’ mental state and help them get through the day.ย  On the one hand, I’m a bit wary of these touchy-feely activities; on the other hand, what an amazing and human way to engage with the students from the very first minute of the lesson! And the academic manager in me revels in the efficiency of a simple sticky note and the challenging descriptors ๐Ÿ™‚ Definitely a routine to try.

P.S. It’s interesting to compare this idea with ‘Sticky notes to balance the challenge’ when the students also use post-its to give non-verbal feedback to the teacher and acknowledge their emotions regarding error correction. Andย my most popular blog postย links to where Terry Heick from TeachThought writes about similar activities to bring a positive mood into your classrom from the very start. Some of them are not challenging linguistically, but sometimes it’s ok just to focus on motivation, isn’t it?

P.P.S. These connections are exactly how my Zettelkasten works!

Reading Stevick 5 of 10


Celcom CC BY 3.0 Wikipedia Commons

From drills, Stevick moves to memorisation: love those traces of the audiolingual approach! To memorise dialogues, he suggests using an interesting technique called ‘Memorising in 3D”. It’s done with a set of small objects, e.g. Cuisenaire rods, and there is a whole range of activities to choose from (I’ve reduced it and picked my favourites: you can go to the book for more):

  1. Build a copy of the dialogue with the rods together with the students, choosing different lengths and colours depending on the word.
  2. Build a copy of the dialogue or sentence from the end backward.
  3. Point at a word at a time and call out a student.
  4. Have students put words into phrases or ‘single breath-groups’.
  5. Remove one word/rod at a time and write it on the board, until the whole dialogue is on the board.
  6. Remove one rod at a time and have the students reconstruct the whole dialogue.

And the benefits are: better concentration, teacher’s silence, visual impact, better memorisation… Nice, isn’t it? It’s good to go back to older sources sometimes.

Never too old for Play-Doh


After my epic journey into the land of online teaching, I really want to do something tangible ๐Ÿ™‚ How about Play-Doh from Martha Ramirez? She has excellent advice about using it with teens and adults: for metaphors about self-development, for introductions, for practising language (in flip stations, of course!). Who ever said that young learner teaching techniques can’t be adapted to the adult classroom?



How creative is your creative writing?


Here is a wonderful account of a series of lessons on creative writing and literacy: could be useful for those projects with lower secondaries ๐Ÿ™‚ The author was inspired by a picture book called ‘Flotsam’ and brought in all kinds of exciting prompts for the children: ‘flotsam trays’ with objects that could characterise their imaginary owners; graphic organisers (‘investigation grids’) for the learners to practise writing and thinking skills; a real old camera; musical instruments and eBay advert templates. What a treat!