Anagrams are words formed by rearranging the letters of a different word, as in “elbow”-“below”, “act”-“cat”, “save”-“vase”, or “stressed-dessert”. In this activity (B1/B1+) based on Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” (1983), the students read the lyrics and try to find the forty-five anagrams that have been included. The students write their answers on the right-hand column, which also indicates the number of anagrams they are expected to find in each line.
1 said 2 me 3 tonight 4 still 5 left 6 write 7 what 8 could 9 time 10 once 11 was 12 now 13 goes 14 where 15 arms 16 there 17 miracle 18 how 19 need 20 how 21 me 22 maybe 23 last 24 feel 25 right 26 could 27 wrong 28 maybe 29 this 30 for 31 much 32 when 33 take 34 start 35 said 36 on 37 heart 38 now 39 are 40 wonderful 41 and 42 care 43 things 44 bad 45 intend
The students will be using their knowledge about grammar and vocabulary to rearrange the letters of the words whenever communication is interrupted as they read. Word categories and collocations will prove useful in some cases, spelling will be decisive in a few others, yet a good number of anagrams will be solved by focusing on meaning and thinking of words with similar letters (and which belong to the right category and with the right spelling) that might be the most appropriate for that context.
The activity is checked by having the students listen to the song at the end. Did they solve most of the anagrams? How did they solve them? Which anagram did they find the easiest? And the most difficult? Why? After checking the meaning of some of the anagrams in the song, can they now write a sentence using some of them?
When working in teams, holding students accountable for their contributions and their own learning is especially crucial. In fact, lack of student accountability is most of the times the reason why some group activities just don’t work, sometimes with some students ending up doing most of the work or talking, others having very few opportunities to say anything or simply have the time to think, and occasionally a few students that may decide to coast on the efforts of others.
Making sure every team member participates equally, no matter their proficiency level or, say, prior knowledge on a given topic, is the first step to make students responsible for their own learning. Cooperative structures such as Think-Pair-Share or Numbered Heads Together are step-by-step interactional strategies that effectively introduce think time with an element of randomness: no one knows who is going to be called on, so everyone working in pairs or in a team needs to make sure they all know what is going on (which may involve giving a specific answer to a question or a series of exercises, explaining what their views are regarding a topic, or sharing ideas based on the background knowledge each student in a team has about a topic.) By providing think time, all the students are given an opportunity to contribute at their own pace and in an equal manner, but it is this positive peer pressure that is established, where students learn to respect, wait, negotiate, listen and share, that will help us hold each and every one of our students accountable and encourage on-task collaborative behaviours.
The first activity in Unit 2 from “Gateway C1” (MacMillan) asks the students to guess the meaning of a series of highlighted words related to trends and fashion, and then decide what their opinion about each statement is. If I’d asked the class, I know there would have been a small group of students doing most of the talking in an orderly fashion, others still following the discussion but not really willing to participate for various reasons, and perhaps a few others completely off-task — a scenario we don’t like to think about. This is how the students worked on that activity instead:
Each team was given a sentence to be discussed.
Each team member wrote their personal opinion independently on a post-it note.
An appointed secretary in each team collected the post-its, read them, and then led a short team discussion.
The team wrote a short summary of the opinions to be shared later with the rest of the class.
Teams handed in their papers at the end of the activity.
When the time was up, everyone in the room had thought about their sentence, had shared and listened to their classmates’ opinions, and were ready to explain them to the rest of the students in the room after working on a summary.
Structuring tasks in this way can be time-consuming at the beginning, but as the year goes by, and as the students understand what is expected from them, the steps can be simplified. And it really pays off. With larger projects, each team member can be assigned a role (time keeper, materials manager, leader, and so on) or students can be asked to complete a log or a reflection form at the end of the project that shows how the group and each team member worked by analysing the quality of their contributions. All of these can also help to keep our students accountable for what they do. Even more interestingly, this positive peer pressure built within team work will very soon affect not only the rest of the group but the overall classroom management and an atmosphere that is conducive to learning.
Randomness is an element that we’ve been using in learning tasks for a long time, especially those that involve productive skills. Rolling dice or shuffling cards are classic examples of activities in which students make choices based on unpredictable results. There is, of course, a sense of limit and control once the students know the goals and specific objectives of the task, but introducing surprise and letting fate decide for us often results in students trying their best at moving on with whatever they have at hand (which, incidentally, simulates real-life situations or even test-taking skills) and improves their motivation by making them get out of the comfort zone that teacher-led and teacher-controlled practice provides.
There’s a good number of online generators that offer interesting options for students to practise speaking and writing, and which revolve around the idea of randomness. They are web-based and very easy to set up to work with the whole group or in smaller teams. They are also flexible enough to be used together with specific strategies or a particular classroom structure — or better yet, to allow for student creativity.
Random Plot Generators
These two sites can help students get a random story line they can start working on, including the setting, the main characters, and a few details about the conflict. Other features such as “Random First Line”, “Random Dialogue”, “Story Title”, or “What if? Scenario” also provide intriguing starting points for writing or speaking tasks.
plot-generator.org.uk goes one step further and allows you to discuss specific nouns, locations, adjectives related to feelings, or action verbs we want to see in our stories, poems, or even song lyrics. The generators take all these options into account to provide a final version or a first draft that the students need to work on.
Both websites offer a wide variety of topics to start any discussion or debate:
The Story Shack and Writer Igniter
A suggested word count, the genre, the main character and a sentence uttered by him/her, or specific information to be included in the story, are some of the ideas provided by these generators every time to hit the “Generate” or “Shuffle” buttons!
The Game Gal
This word generator gives you words to play games like pictionary, catchphrase, or charades. Just choose which game you’re playing and a category, and then tap for a new word.
Click on “Create Spark” and then choose the age of your students, the type of writing and the amount of time. The site will provide a prompt for students and a planning stage, including timed whole-class discussion with key words, before the students start writing.
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.
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.
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!):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.