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.

Reading Stevick 9 of 10: role plays


Stevick compares a conversation in an EFL lesson to building a fire in a stove. Not something we’re so familiar with anymore – but it’s clear that the fuel should be there, and a bit of kindling (the language and the structure of the activity), and of course enough air for the fire to burn (the initiative). Of the types of role plays he lists, some provide much less air but a lot more support, and the others are all about student initiative: which is the way it should be because we pick and choose depending on the situation. I’ve sorted them according to the level of support:

  1. You say and then she says: scripted dialogues where the learners only have to rephrase what the book says. Useful for scaffolding and just as good for conversation as freer prompts sometimes!
  2. Cross purposes: each participant has a set of instructions that contradict each other and one of them has to persuade the other to win. Who doesn’t like information gaps!
  3. What if! The learners borrow characters that they already know: from books or films, or among mutual acquaintances.  An interesting take on conversation, where the contents are scaffolded enough to provide some entertainment and focus on the language.
  4. Me Tarzan, you Jane: the participants only know the names or functions of their characters (shop assistant and buyer) and have to come up with a dialogue of their own. Could be useful when the group is very creative, otherwise may deteriorate into a very formulaic interaction.
  5. Simulations: role-plays with background materials which require preparation and follow-up and can take several hours.

So, at which side of the spectrum are you at the moment? Or do you move from one side to the other?

Reading Stevick 7 of 10: poetry


Stevick insists that oral communication should have the language and the reason to talk, otherwise it’s just an aeroplane without fuel (or with one wing). Discussing poems is not the first of the techniques he recommends, it’s one of the ‘other ways to oral activity’ – and yet it’s an intrinsically interesting and authentic way to encourage learners to speak. Students can discuss what happened in the poem, think about their own reaction, try to understand the writer in terms of language and ideas… It’s a nice reminder of how valuable those simple things are – and the benefit is that the students are really invested in the discussion.

My favourite teaching poem is, alas, not very romantic or mysterious. I use it to practise ‘th’ and ‘s’: I can think of six thin things… Well, you know how it goes 🙂 Anyone cares to share theirs?

Start with a bang


If you’re feeling a bit under the February weather, here’s a great collection of activities to start your lesson on a high. You can choose anything from a viral Instagram photo to a ‘write-around’ activity, depending on how serious you want to be and whether you want to create a ‘hook‘ for further learning. The only technique on Terry Heick’s list that I would be wary about using is meditation – I’m definitely not an expert, and I’m not sure it has a place in every classroom!