Question charts

Question charts are excellent tools to help both teachers and students to generate a wide range of questions. You first choose one of the question words on the left column, then a word from the top row, and finally finish the question with a phrase related to the passage you’re reading or the discussion being held.

Question chart 1

Most interestingly, the types of questions will be more and more complex the farther down and to the right you move. The blue colour in the chart below, for instance, would belong to questions that ask students to remember factual information from a text; questions in the yellow boxes demand that students analyse the information, draw their own conclusions, or use their prior knowledge; the green boxes invite students to apply the information from the text to new situations and make predictions; and the brown ones, the most demanding, get them to compare and contrast, classify, express an opinion or create something new based on the information provided.

Question chart 2

For teachers, a question chart like this can help us to make sure we are asking all types of questions, but starting at B1/B1+ levels students can also use it to generate their own questions when working on reading and listening comprehension, or to plan an oral discussion in class by writing a variety of questions related to the topic beforehand or as the speaking task progresses. We would, of course, be selecting just a few combinations out of the ones available. Once it has been modelled by the teacher and the differences between the questions have been pointed out and practised, students can simply be asked to write at least one question for each area in the grid.

One way to make students aware of the differences between the questions in terms of difficulty is to use a point system and gamify the activity at the same time. The students writing the questions , and even the students answering them, would get those points if they get them right (although we really want them to write all sorts of questions and so certain rules need to be established if we don’t want them to be writing the same types of questions just to get the most points!):

Question chart 3

What I really like about charts like this, however, is that it is the students themselves that get to generate the questions, demonstrating comprehension of the written or oral text as they write them, interacting with the text at different levels, or planning a speaking task with all sorts of questions to make it the most engaging. Not only does this improve their comprehension skills and proficiency in English but it develops learner autonomy and it helps to boost their critical thinking skills.

Question Chart.pdf

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Where I’m From

Based on “Where I’m From” (1993) by George Ella Lyon, this activity takes students through a journey of self-reflection by identifying memories and traditions that have marked their lives as they work on comprehension skills and vocabulary. The students first read the poem and match the underlined words with the pictures. Apart from clarifying or providing the meaning of new words, this first approach will allow them to get a general idea of what the poem is about. An mp3 audio file with the author reading the poem is available here.

Where I'm From 1WhereI’mFrom.pdf

The students then delve into the text by completing the table with one example from the poem for each of the categories: a family name, the place of birth, something learnt as a child, and so on. Under the second column, the students write examples about themselves for each category with a two-fold purpose: demonstrate comprehension of the text by making connections with their own world, and brainstorm ideas for the writing task to follow.

Where I'm From 2

Following the prompts provided, most of which they should be familiar with by now, the students fill in the blanks to write their own versions of the poem.

Where I'm From 3

WhereI’mFrom-Worksheet.pdf

This task can be a fantastic ice-breaker or team-building activity at the beginning of the year once the students edit their poems and are ready to share them. Creating short videos or recording the poems (and use them later for work on pronunciation) are two other ways in which students can share their poems:

14 Song-Based Lesson Plans and Activities

Although I know I like using music in my teaching, I never thought there would be so much of it on this blog when I started it over a year ago. Songs are fun, authentic sources with multiple possibilities in the classroom, but the main reason for having published 14 lesson plans and activities based on songs here is to a large extent due to copyright issues: while lyrics and songs are easily available for everyone online, access to other types of authentic texts is more limited because of copyright constraints. I also think the key to a successful song-based lesson is to deal with the text as you would with any other type of short text, whether written or oral, to practise a variety of comprehension skills, work on specific grammar and vocabulary, or introduce a topic for discussion.

Choosing a song that meets the students’ needs is not always easy, though. Apart from lyrics in standard English that are not too difficult to follow, the students shouldn’t be too familiar with them if you’re planning to do some language work with them. I think songs that focus on universal themes such as love, friendship or personal feelings, or songs that tell a story, are bound to work better no matter the music style. Most importantly, they are also more likely to adapt to our specific learning objectives.

The school year will be over for me in a few weeks, and I thought a post compiling these song-based lessons would be a good idea for future reference — but also to end the blogging season on a musical note!

Listening for specific information

1. The students listen for specific information by writing an explanation for each of the words, names or pictures in this timeline based on “Kilkelly, Ireland”, a song in which family news, including births and deaths, are shared for a period of thirty-two years.

Kilkelly

Listening for detail: “Kilkelly, Ireland”

2. “The Marvelous Toy” is used here to get the students to extract the main idea and listen for specific information and details that will be later used to write a paragraph.

Toy3

Writing a paragraph: “The Marvelous Toy”

Listening for the main idea

3.  Before working on an extract from Coleridge’s poem, the students become familiar with the plot of the story by listening to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as they put several pictures in the right order.

Mariners Ahoy! – “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Working on specific reading comprehension skills

4. In Parties, Story Maps and All That Jazz, the students work on comprehension skills, identifying and analysing story elements, making predictions and discussing the events in the story.

Story Line

Parties, Stories, and All That Jazz

5. By making predictions, reading between the lines or establishing connections both within the text and with the world outside, the students practise a wide variety of reading comprehension skills in this lesson based on “Tom’s Diner”.

Tom's Diner

Reconstructing a story from questions: “Tom’s Diner”

6. Students use context clues to fill in extracts from ten songs!

Using Context Clues: Ten Halloween Songs

Focusing on pronunciation

7. Using the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, students recognise and practise the various features of connected speech which make the stress pattern and rhythm of English so distinctive.

5358851629_c3f4b2cd55_b

Working on Connected Speech: The Fresh Prince

Practising specific structures and vocabulary

8. Adding and deleting words from texts allow students to use their grammatical knowledge to manipulate sentences, play with the language, and analyse the impact each of these changes have on meaning. In this activity, students add and delete words from two songs following certain rules.

places

There Are Places I Remember

9. In “Big Yellow Taxi”, the students find two words in each sentence which should change places with each other in order to make sense.

big-yellow-taxi

Talking about the environment: “Big Yellow Taxi”

10. Paul Simon’s song is used here to provide practice on reported speech structures and reporting verbs.

Reported speech and creative writing: Fifty Ways

Revising language structures and vocabulary

Spelling, word order, context clues, inferences or sentence structure, including agreement, number or different tenses, are just some of the language skills the students will be practising in the last four lessons and activities:

11. “Your Song”

This Is Your Song: Fine-Tuning Comprehension And Language Skills

12. “Don’t Get Me Wrong”

Don'tGetMeWrong

Don’t Get Me Wrong!

13.“Lean On Me”

Making the right choices: “Lean On Me”

14.“Somewhere Only We Know”

somewhere-only-we-know

Pathways to Accuracy: “Somewhere Only We Know”

Thanks so much for reading!

Two-Sentence Stories

Ten popular two-sentence horror stories have been divided into three columns for students to match the beginning, middle and end. The goal here is for students to use contextual and cohesive clues that will allow them to rewrite these stories, starting with the beginning of each story under column A, then choosing the next part under column B, and finally thinking of a suitable ending under C. In addition, the students are asked to decide where the missing full stop between the first and the second sentence in each story should be.

Two-Sentence Stories

Two-Sentence Stories.pdf


ANSWERS:
1. I never go to sleep. I keep waking up.
2. The grinning face stared at me from the darkness beyond my bedroom window. I live on the 14th floor.
3. Lying in bed that night she asked why I was breathing so heavily. I wasn’t.
4. I woke up to hear knocking on glass. At first, I thought it was the window until I heard it come from the mirror again.
5. There was a picture in my phone of me sleeping. I live alone.
6. Working the night shift alone tonight. There is a face in the cellar staring at the security camera.
7. They delivered the mannequins in bubble wrap. From the main room I begin to hear popping.
8. You get home, tired after a long day’s work and ready for a relaxing night alone. You reach for the light switch, but another hand is already there.
9. A girl heard her mom yell her name from downstairs, and started to head down. As she got to the stairs, her mom pulled her into her room and said “I heard that too.”
10. I walked into the bathroom one night and looked at myself in the mirror. Only one of us walked out.


The students choose the three stories they find the creepiest, write a brief explanation for each of them, and share their thoughts with the rest of the class.

Now display the following:

FullSizeRender

FullSizeRender

What is scary about this? Why? Think about the tiny little things and everyday struggles of life in the 21st century. What “scares” you the most?

After brainstorming a few ideas as a whole group, ask the students to come up with a two-sentence story featuring one of those everyday life “struggles”, edit it, publish it, and then share it. My students are teenagers in Spain, so most stories were about technological issues, social media, school (especially exams and deadlines) or getting around the city.

Your alarm goes off and you hit the snooze button for 5 more minutes. When you wake up, you realise your final exam was an hour ago.

You have been stalking a friend on Instagram. Suddenly, you accidentally like an old picture.

That was a long queue to get on the bus. My travel card had expired and I had no money on me.

9:00 a.m.. 7% battery life and no charger.

The final discussion based on these stories allowed the students to share experiences and make personal connections with each other in an active, student-centred learning environment that also encouraged critical thinking as the students analysed and assessed these attitudes and behaviours.

Writing a paragraph: “The Marvelous Toy”

Here is a lesson I’ve been using to teach the younger learners how to write a simple paragraph. Extracting the main idea and relevant information from a text, making inferences, using basic connectors to link ideas, or creating a picture with information from the text and personal experience, are also some of the main skills that will have been worked on by the end of the lesson.

1. Have students listen to the song “The Marvelous Toy” by Tom Paxton. Elicit the main idea.

2. In groups, students read the lyrics of the song and underline the different characteristics of the toy. For example:

– many bright colours
– “zip” when it moves, “bop” when it stops, “whirr”when still
– two big green buttons on the bottom
– lid
– no name
– unique
– everyone loves it
– nobody knows what it is!

TheMarvelousToy-Lyrics.pdf

3. Teams report back to the rest of the class. Write a web with all the ideas and ask questions such as “Does it have wheels?”, “How do you start it?”, “Is it remote controlled?”, “What do you think the lid is for?”, etc. in order for students to infer other features not explicitly shown in the text.

Toy 1

4. Tell the students they are going to write a paragraph about the toy with the information they have. Explain what makes a good formal paragraph:

topic sentence 

supporting details (revise basic connectors used to link ideas, e.g. “first”, “then”, “next”, “in addition”, etc.)
conclusion

5. Write with the students the topic sentence and one or two more sentences, asking them for ideas and discussing them. Model through the process, reminding them of the different features.

Toy2

6. Have the students finish the paragraphs by themselves. Discuss the type of information the final sentence should include.

7. The students share their paragraphs with the rest of the class and discuss any differences.

8. Finally, the students draw a picture of the toy according to the song. You may want to discuss what other features are left open for them to be creative (shape, pattern, size, material). But remind them we can’t have a name for it in any of the languages we speak! (“I never knew just what it was, and I guess I never will”.) Students then write a second paragraph independently including some of the new features and their personal opinion about the toy.

9. Hold a gallery walk!

MT

A school community building project

The last few weeks have been busy at school. It’s the fourth year we organise a musical in which students across the years, from 12- to 18-year-olds, participate by acting, singing, holding a cardboard tree on stage or playing an instrument. Admittedly, this may not be directly linked to language learning as is usually the case here, but let me make an exception this time and share this school-wide project with immediate practical implications for our daily life at our state secondary school, but also for learning in general.

It was some sort of need to do some school community building that got us started, in an attempt to get the students involved in school affairs beyond the project itself with a non-academic activity that would focus more on social skills. My department is very much into music, and a musical seemed like the perfect format that the students across ages could find somewhat attractive, a musical about our school that would involve students, parents and teachers. Using the excuse of a ghost that was trapped in our school even before it was built, the first musical dealt with the history of the school itself, with references to subjects, teachers, caretakers, canteen and cleaning staff, headteachers, secretaries — you name it! Of course, there had to be a love conflict, which was solved in the second musical on the following year. The third one was a version of “Dracula”, and this year Alice travelled to a wonder school in which our current educational system was revisited in a critical yet constructive manner.

A project like this would find it difficult to succeed without the efforts of exceptional teachers like my colleague Eduardo, also a teacher of English, who has volunteered his time from the very start to write the scripts, hold rehearsals with the performers and the band twice a week, and coordinate with dancers, the school choir, or the staff at the local auditorium where the musical is performed first on a Wednesday night for the families and the general public, and then on a Thursday morning for the students. Even to get this teacher to sing in front of an audience! It’s easy to see how the over 100 people on stage each year have benefited from his leadership skills, enthusiasm and hard work, but no matter how simple or complex the project may seem, the impact on our school community has been far-reaching. I don’t even know how much we are aware of this.

Not only does school community building link students, parents and teachers and promote inclusiveness and responsibility, but it also has major implications for learning and development, ultimately affecting academic motivation. Indeed, in this project students from different age groups, backgrounds, and learning and social abilities get to gather and share experiences on a weekly basis from the beginning of the school year as they make meaning together and unleash their feelings. A collective drive that has proved to be highly infectious for the past four years and which has marked and influenced our school in many different ways; sometimes in ways that are difficult to measure — or even to write about.

Thank you, Eduardo.


After watching some of the characters interact with Alice, the Chesire Caretaker who works at the wonder school finally yells to the audience: “Lunatics! They are all lunatics!”

This Is Your Song: Fine-Tuning Comprehension And Language Skills

The students first fill in the fifty gaps in the text by looking for a word in each hexagon with the same number:

  • The words are no more than six letters long (they can also be two, three, four or five letters long!)
  • The words read in a clockwise or anti-clockwise fashion starting at any point in the hexagon. For example, the first word is “little” (a six-letter word with no extra letters in the hexagon); the second one is “funny” (the students circle the extra “e” in the hexagon, which they will need in the next step.)
  • It’s important that the students cross out the letters that they use, or circle the letters they have not used and which they will need later. Model the procedure with the first few words.

Your Song

YourSong.pdf

Your Song Worksheet

YourSong-Worksheet.pdf

Apart from working on spelling, the students will sometimes need to choose between different possible combinations (e.g. 7 – “have” or “go”?; 9 – “ten”, “net” or “buy”?) by looking at the text and focusing on meaning and context clues. In other cases, they will be facing problems related to agreement, number or tenses as they put their comprehension skills to the test.

Once the students have completed the fifty gaps (or most of them), have them write the nine words that can be read across each row A to I formed by the letters that have not been used and which are in the right order. The students read the text again and decide which box each word belongs to.

A forgotten – B feeling – C sweetest – D travelling – E potions – F forgetting – G everybody  – H sculptor – I wonderful

This exercise in reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary and spelling is finally checked by listening to “Your Song” by Elton John (1970). The students correct any mistakes as they listen and identify any problems they’ve had.

 


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