Spin the web of speaking

Here’s a useful article from Edutopia by Emelina Minero about adapting traditional techniques for student engagement and participation to the online medium, both synchronous and asynchronous. I’m particularly concerned with the former: for example, how do you plan a think-pair-share? Do you need to introduce rules for using the chat? And an absolute cherry on top: you can do a spider web discussion! If you haven’t used it before, do check the original article: it can be done both online and offline and looks incredible (as long as you have a few nice markers).
So, which strategy would you like to try or revisit first?


Getting-to-know-you activities

This link might be a little late in the week, but I simply have to put it into my ELT crate! Rachel Tsateri has a nice collection of icebreakers (and links to more icebreakers) for online and f2f teaching. What I like about this collection is how techie and at the same human-oriented many of the activities are: just what we need right now in our socially and/or virtually distanced classrooms.

My favourite activity is the Acrostics, and yours?

P.S. If you’re looking for more traditional and well-tried icebreakers, check out this post (Break the ice safely).

Business mazes for serious learning

If you’re looking for a serious game for your Business English or workplace skills learners, you might want to check this oldie but goldie: Business Mazes by Joni Farthing (published in 1982, but a few examples have been converted to html and read quite well). You don’t have to be a fan of ‘choose-your-adventure’ stories to enjoy them: the participants are easy to identify with, the dilemmas are more or less easy to resolve but require some discussion. They could even inspire some of the students to write a few mazes of their own!

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!

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.)

Worth a thousand words


Here’s a very useful page from New York Times: 42 curated pictures from their “What’s going on in the picture” section. The pictures have no captions or explanations, so are a perfect tool for building hypotheses and discussions. Then you can click on the link and find out more, to have the students check their ideas; there are sometimes comments by other students, as well as more discussion tasks. An excellent resource with built-in feedback!

P.S. And if you prefer Dixit-style picture prompts, NY Times has it all. This article has a great collection of prompts, lesson ideas and absolutely amazing moving pictures – all kid-friendly, mind you.

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 🙂

The real debate


There are a lot of useful resources on debates online – or so it seems at first glance. When I decided to go slightly deeper than a glorified discussion, it turned out that most debate tasks and collections of functional language only deal with ‘agreeing and disagreeing’, and there’s very little that would help ELT teachers to highlight the differences between a formal, structured debate and a two-side discussion. I remember that this old article by Daniel Krieger once dotted all the i’s for me, and it still seems very useful. It’s much more academic than most posts about debates, and has great ideas to develop strong arguments. What do you think, is there anything better you’d recommend? 🙂

Mini vocabulary workouts

mini workouts

I really like this  two-post series by Daniel Martin at Keep It Simple Activities: how to exploit those vocabulary videos by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley.  This post has examples of generic speaking questions and extension activities; and this one suggests how the videos can be used for micro-writing activities: use keywords to predict the contents, watch the video and compare the ideas. Very practical and efficient, with immediate feedback built into the activity and no preparation required. One more thing – it’s great to focus just on the language sometimes, without bringing in all kinds of non-linguistic and sometimes really unnecessary information.

I suppose something similar can be done with those little BBC Radio podcasts about contemporary vocabulary (The English we speak). They are a bit longer and require focused listening, but why not?

The lost world of TED lessons


Here is a  collection of lesson plans related to TED talks from MENSA for kids. Now who would have thought they are so good? There are more than 20 different talks to explore, and the extension activities are absolutely to die for. There are also simple but entertaining questions that can be adapted to different ages and levels. Most are aimed at developing more or less abstract thinking or even critical thinking (core skills – check).

Plus, the choice of topics is great. I can imagine my lower secondaries enjoying some of these! And, to be honest, ‘Shape-shifting dinosaurs’ or ‘How are books a secret door’ are something I would like to do in the classroom.

P.S. If you’d rather do another talk, don’t forget about the great timesaver of a TED worksheet by Svetlana Kandybovich – I wrote about it here.