Roller coasters

Lead-in

1. “Have you ever ridden a roller coaster?” “What was it like?” “What do you think makes a roller coaster exciting?” Write down a few ideas.

Listening

2. Explain that you are going to watch a video about how roller coasters are designed. The students first watch the video till 2:04 and decide whether the sentences in 1 (bottom right corner, the start of the roller coaster on the worksheet) are true or false. Ask the students to provide the right information if the sentence is false. Listen to that part of the video again if needed.

KEY: a. FALSE (He wasn’t the first one, but he popularised them.); b. TRUE; c. FALSE (It was 18 miles long.); d. FALSE (It opened in 1884.)

3. Listen to the four main components engineers take into account when designing roller coasters by watching the video till 2:46.

4. Ask the students to follow the track of the roller coaster on their worksheet to complete a number of activities:
Component 1: Train cars. In their own words, the students explain how train cars are kept attached to the tracks.


Component 2: Track design. Here four key words are provided. The students listen and write down why they are mentioned in the video.
KEY: a. steel (Most roller coasters are made of steel nowadays.); b. 4 minutes (“Steel Dragon 2000” takes 4 minutes to complete.); c. sick (The way people might feel if the roller coaster is too fast.); d. boring (People will find roller coasters boring if the ride is too slow.)


Component 3: System to raise the cars. The students complete the sentences with six words as they listen.
KEY: a. gravity; b. pulley; c. crest / is released; d. beneath / conveyor


Component 4: Braking system. The students join several sentence halves in the best way possible.
KEY: 1. b; 2. d; 3. a; 4. c

Follow-up

5. How about having the students try and design their own roller coaster? At its very simplest, you may want to stick to the more creative part of it and have teams design a roller coaster they would enjoy using some of the information in the video (and at least make it as safe as possible!):


1. What do you want to achieve with your design? What kind of audience will it target?
2. Where will you build your roller coaster?
3. What kind of theme will it have?
4. Try to use as much information from the video as you can when designing your roller coaster!

The teams then present their designs and the group discusses whether they would work or not, taking physics and safety but also fun into account!

If you want to provide some further reading, the students may benefit from this user-friendly website that allows them to build their own roller coaster. They first decide on the height of the first hill, the shape of the first hill, the exit path, the height of the second hill, and the loop. The website will then check whether the ride is possible or not!

Enjoy the ride!


Down” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Several seconds

“Dream A Little Dream Of Me”

1. Write the word “dreams” and have the students answer the following questions:
– Do you like having dreams?
– Do you remember your dreams?
– Do you think dreams have special meanings?
– Have you ever had the same dreams?
– Have you ever had a dream which seemed to come true? What happened?
– Do you ever daydream?
– What is the best type of dream?

2. Give out the worksheet with the gapped lyrics.

3. In order to find the words for the 24 gaps, the students first solve a puzzle in which they need to match the cut-out squares to make a 4×4 grid by joining word halves. The words are arranged both vertically and horizontally.

4. Depending on the level of the students, you can use different versions of the puzzle:
– The first one is the most challenging by far, including a few distractors around it.


– The second version has shaded squares in a chessboard manner, which should help in the matching process.


– Finally, a third version has both shaded squares and no distractors around it.

5. Once they solve the puzzle, have the students read the lyrics and fill in the blanks with the 24 words. You may want to provide extra scaffolding by having them classify the words into verbs, nouns and adjectives first. There are a few other word categories, but most of them belong to one of these.

6. Do the first two or three lines with the students, showing the kind of reasoning behind each choice, such as the word category that may be needed in each gap or context clues.

7. The students listen to the song and check their answers.

The history of Bluetooth

1. Display this icon:

Elicit any words related to it and its use. Write them down. Have the students complete the following sentence:

“Bluetooth is the technology that…”

The students share their sentences.

2. Ask the students to read about the origin of the name Bluetooth. Check comprehension orally.

3. For each sentence, the students look for extra information in the Bluetooth icon. Tell the students to pay attention to what or who the extra information is about so that they can match the sentences correctly and in the right place. Remind the students that, since this is additional information, they will be using non-defining relative clauses to rewrite the sentences (including the use of commas and not using “that” in this type of clause.)

KEY:

1. Not many people have given much thought to the inspiration behind the iconic Bluetooth name and logo, which has become very popular.

2. Bluetooth is actually named after an ancient Viking king. King Harald, who reigned as the king of Denmark and Norway in the late 10th century, was known for uniting the tribes of Denmark and converting the Danes to Christianity.

3. Scholars say Harald was nicknamed “Blåtand”, which means blue tooth, because he had a dead tooth that looked blue and dark.

4. In December 1996, Intel’s Jim Kardach, who had read a book on Viking history, suggested the name Bluetooth as a codename until the marketing group could come up with a formal technology name.

5. “When I was asked about the name Bluetooth, I explained that Bluetooth was borrowed from the 10th century, second King of Denmark, King Harald, who was famous for uniting Scandinavia, just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link,” Kardach said.

6. He added that he created a PowerPoint foil with a version of a runic stone, where Harald held a cellphone in one hand and a notebook in the other hand.

7. The codename Bluetooth was first used for a while. When other names, which had been considered for some time, did not work out, Bluetooth remained.

4. The students watch a short video with more information about the origin of Bluetooth. Have them read the selected words provided first and ask them to take notes about each of them as they listen, explaining why they are mentioned in the video.

POSSIBLE ANSWERS:

Jelling – a town in Denmark where the rune stones are.
The Jelling stones – rune stones which were placed by some of the first kings of Denmark.
bright colours – the rune stones were once painted with bright colours.
climate-controlled glass box – where the stones are, to keep them safe from the weather and vandals.
Thyra – King Gorm’s wife; smaller rune stone.
Intel – the company Jim Karachi worked for.
Biz-RF, MC-Link and Low Power RF – the names that were first suggested for the new technology.
Swedish – a coworker that told Karachi the story of Bluetooth.

5. Using their notes, the students complete eight sentences using both defining and non-defining relative clauses.

6. Ask the students to look for the origin of the following names (or use this website to work as a whole group):
– wifi
– meme
– spam
– robot

The students write a short description for each of them.

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas”

Remember that weird thing you once badly wanted for Christmas? Something you were completely sure would change your life and bring eternal happiness?

The following lesson, based on the song “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” (John Rox, 1953), tries to recapture some of those childhood memories and associated feelings. These provide an interesting context: they are distant enough to be looked at quite comfortably, you can laugh at them with some degree of confidence, and even if they become the object of conversation in a random English lesson, we all know that memories are fallible and are often reconstructed and manipulated, don’t we?

1. Ask students to think about something they once wanted for Christmas, why they thought they really needed it, and whether they finally got it or not! You may want to have pairs talk about this for 2 or 3 minutes, and then have students talk about their classmates’ past Christmas gift wishes.

2. Tell the students they are going to reconstruct a text in which the narrator explains what he/she wants for Christmas, including the reasons for this. For the first part of the song lyrics, the students use the fireplace bricks: starting at the bottom of the fireplace above number 1, the students choose the following line by selecting one of the bricks in the row immediately above until they reach the last row at the top. Continue with 2, 3 and 4.

KEY:

1. I want a __ for Christmas / Only a will do / I don’t want a doll, no dinky Tinkertoy / I want a __ to play with and enjoy

2. I want a __ for Christmas / I don’t think Santa Claus will mind, do you? / He won’t have to use our dirty chimney flue / Just bring __ through the front door /
That’s the easy thing to do

3. I can see me now on Christmas morning / Creeping down the stairs / Oh, what joy and what surprise / When I open up my eyes / And see my __ standing there

4. I want a __ for Christmas / Only a __ will do / No __ , no __ / I only like __ / And __ like me too

3. Do your students know what this person wants for Christmas yet? Elicit a few ideas.

4. The students focus on the second part of the text. Display or give out copies of the stockings for students to put in the right order:

KEY : 1. Mom says a __ would eat me up but then / 2. teacher says a __ is a vegetarian / 3. There’s lots of room for __ in our two-car garage / 4. I’d feed __ there and wash __ there / 5. And give __ __ massage

Using the new information, allow a few minutes for students to write down what this person badly wants, providing reasons for their choice. Share a few of them with the whole group.

5. Tell the students they are now going to listen to the song and find out the answer. Ask them to fill in the blanks with the right words as they listen. “Hippopotamus”, “hippopotamuses”, “rhinoceros”, “rhinoceroses” or “crocodile” may well require some spelling work at some point, too!

6. Read this article with the students:

Discuss the following:
– In your opinion, which is the weirdest Christmas gift request in the list? And the funniest?
– Are any of these gift requests similar to the ones you and your classmates shared at the beginning of the lesson?
– What is the weirdest Christmas present you’ve ever wanted or received?
– Can any of these gift requests tell us something about a child’s personality? In what ways?

“The Great Gatsby”

1. Play the following: 

Have students write down 10 words they can think of while listening to this piece of music. Ask them to share a few words with their partner or team. 

Explain that jazz became very popular in the 1920s, influencing dances, fashion and culture.

2. Tell the students they are going to watch a party scene set in the 1920s where this type of music would be played. Play the clip with no sound so that the students can focus on the atmosphere. As they watch, the students tick any words from their previous list that they can see in the clip and add any other words that may help to describe the atmosphere. The students share their ideas. 

3. Explain to the students they are going to read a few extracts from a book set in the 1920s in the USA. Think-Pair-Share: the students write a question for the answers provided, first individually, then checking with their partner, and finally with the whole group. Notice that there are several answers provided for most questions, but the students should only focus on writing a question that can answer any of the options at this time.

4. Ask the students to look at the front and back covers of the book and to read the information. Which questions can they definitely answer? Which ones can they guess? Now they should be able to choose the correct answer to the questions with more than one option. Encourage the students to share any additional questions they may have about the story.

5. The students read the first extract and decide whether the sentences are true or false. If false, have them provide the right information using evidence from the text.

6. The students focus on 6 words and expressions from the text. They first match the words and expressions with their meanings. Then they read the text again and explain why each of these words or expressions are used in the story.

7. Play the following: 

Before watching the clip, read the following questions with the students: 

  • What’s the name of the man at the beginning of the clip?
  • Where does he live? 
  • What or who is he looking for? 
  • What is this man’s role in the story? 

Discuss the answers.

8. Have the students read the second extract belonging to the end of the novel and ask them to answer the questions. Allow enough time for students to answer the questions individually first, since most of them will ask them to provide their own personal reaction to the text. The students share their answers with the rest of the group. Is the information gap we have created distinctive enough to get the students to read the novel or watch the film?

9. Writing: Does money bring happiness? The students write a for and against essay on this topic. To help them with the planning stage, ask them to discuss a few statements with their partners first.

Music Borders: some lesson ideas

Music Borders maps number 1 songs in over 3,000 places around the world. The sheer experience of visiting different continents and countries and listening to whatever is popular at the moment has obvious cross-curricular and interdisciplinary implications per se probably not something we usually do, and I’m sure this largely depends on where in the world you live. So what if we used this quirky, enriching adventure as the basis for an English lesson and try to make learning the most memorable at the same time?

At its very simplest, the site can offer a great context to present or revise comparative and superlative structures. The group of students will first choose two different continents and countries and listen to the songs. As they listen, the students can complete this fact sheet about each song:

Song title:
Singer/Band:
Country:
Continent:
Language:
Description:

With the song titles on the board, you can now present or review comparative structures using a number of high-frequency adjectives such as the following (but also any other adjectives the students may have come up with in the description of the song!):

loud
catchy
interesting
good
original
strange
happy
sad
beautiful
slow
bad
unusual
unique
boring
repetitive

And if you have students choose one or two more songs, you are now ready to practise superlative structures!

I work in a secondary school with a strong CLIL programme, and analysing similarities and differences is a common type of text the students are expected to produce across different subjects in the earlier years. As a pre-writing activity, the students can choose between two or three songs, complete the fact sheets, and fill in the sentence frames below with a few ideas. The goal here is for students to simply brainstorm a number of similarities and differences using several types of sentences that may prove useful later on at the writing stage. The students will then share their ideas orally with the rest of the group, and finally select the similarities and differences they will be focusing on in their own four-paragraph piece of writing.

SIMILARITIES

Both __ and __ have __.

__ and __ are alike because __.

A similarity between __ and __ is __.

Their common characteristics include __.

They also __ as well as __.

Words and phrases that introduce additional points may be used: ‘Furthermore…’, ‘Also…’, ‘In addition…’, ‘Another similarity is…’ , “Likewise…”, “By the same token…”, etc.

DIFFERENCES

___ and ___ are different because ___

___, but ___

One major difference between and ___ is ___

On the other hand, one way they differ is ___

Words and phrases that introduce contrasting points may be used: ‘However…’, ‘On the other hand…’, ‘In contrast…’, “Nevertheless..:”, “Conversely…”, “Although…”, etc.

Combine with Describing windows around the world to supplement this fascinating journey!

The football pitch

Henningsvær, in the north of Norway, is a small fishing village located on several small islands off the southern coast of the large island of Austvågøya, in Lofoten archipelago. 

And on one of these tiny islands, there lies a football pitch.

Lead-in

1. Display the pictures of Henningsvær Idrettslag Stadion. Ask the students to describe their first impressions. Write down a few adjectives they come up with on the board.

2. Have the students think of any problems that players may have on this football pitch, taking its special location into account. Allow some time for students to write down their answers individually, then discuss as a whole group: the snow, the ice or the freezing temperatures in winter, keeping the grass, footballs ending up in the sea, etc. What do they think the locals do to solve some of these?

Listening

3. Tell the students they’re going to watch a video about the football pitch. Before watching, the students read the 10 sentences and decide whether they think each of them are true or false. Explain that this is only a prediction and that they will be checking their answers later after watching the video. Do allow them to share and discuss some of their predictions with their partners! This activity should get them ready for what they’re about to watch and encourage them to pay special attention to specific information.

4. Watch the video and have the students answer the post-anticipation guide. In addition, ask them to correct the false statements using information from the video. Apart from checking the answers, go over the problems that were brought up at the beginning of the lesson and check if they now have an answer to each of them. Play the video (or parts of it) again if needed!

Focus on grammar and vocabulary

5. Direct students’ attention to the adjectives they came up with at the beginning of the lesson to talk about their first impressions about the football pitch. Explain or elicit the difference between gradable and non-gradable adjectives and the different types of intensifiers that typically go with each category. In pairs or groups, students think of the gradable equivalents to each non-gradable adjective in the table. Check with the whole group.

As they fill in the table, the students choose 5 gradable adjectives and 5 non-gradable ones that they think best describe the pitch. Have them write 5 short sentences using appropriate intensifiers and share them with their team or the whole group. 

Follow-up

6. Henningsvær Idrettslag Stadion is a fantastic example of community building. The students design a project of a unique facility in their area, explaining its uses and the benefits it would bring to their community.

Story cubes: ideas and resources

Do you use story cubes? Here are a few ideas on how to use them — even create your own! Please click the pictures to visit each site.

10 teaching ideas:

Circle writing with narrative tenses:

A useful worksheet with variations to work on different types of texts:

Playing visual thinking skills with story cubes:

No story cubes? Working online? You may then want to check these websites with online story dice:

1. Story Dice has two versions: one with 9 dice and another one with 5.

2. In this random story generator, you can click “New Story” and individual images to re-roll that image. You can also change the amount of pictures by clicking the plus/minus buttons or by typing in a number:

3. “Once upon a time…” Open 9 boxes and create a story including the items!

And how about creating your own story cubes with Google Drawings?

Enjoy!

Once Upon A Picture

Once Upon A Picture has been one of my go-to websites for the past few months. Although originally designed to work on L1 literacy with children, there’s a good amount of material that will work with both teenagers and adults in EFL contexts, too. Apart from the large collection of pictures on the homepage, “The Collections” tab includes a classification based on specific skills or areas: fiction, non-fiction, inference, thinking, prediction, or character.

But what I really love about this site is that, no matter the picture you choose, you will always find a set of carefully selected questions, with a mix ranging from the most literal and factual, to others that involve inference, deduction, comparison, opinion, critical thinking or creativity! Definitely a perfect model of question writing in itself.

If you, like me, work with large groups of students with slightly different levels of proficiency, you know that it’s not always easy to design tasks to have each of them perform at their own level. This site does allow you to do this. Apart from working on comprehension, the pictures can be used to spark a conversation, as a prompt for creative writing, to work on specific grammar points or vocabulary, and as a complement to various stages within a larger lesson.

The result: an intriguing walk in which students get to analyse each image through relevant questioning and personal reactions of all sorts, often giving way to meaningful and unique follow-up tasks.

Thanks to Sam for his brilliant job with this fascinating resource!

Are you a robot?

Apart from exploring the multiple fascinating ways in which computers often ask us to prove our humanity, the students in this activity designed for B1 level will be completing a dialogue using grammatical, lexical and contextual clues, and interacting with the conversation by predicting other ways to confirm our identity. Because a robot would never lie, right?

  1. Display the following picture:

Ask the students when and where they can find this type of picture, its purpose, common problems, or how they feel about it!

Display this other popular way to make you prove you’re not a robot and discuss any other common challenges related to this:

You may want to explain this programme is called CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.

2. Tell the students they are going to watch and listen to a conversation between a computer user who needs to send a file and a bot that asks her to confirm she’s not a robot. The students read the first part of the conversation and complete the blanks with one suitable word. In some cases, only one answer is possible; for other gaps, more than one answer will be correct. When finished, go over the dialogue with the students and discuss the different options, especially how each of them may affect the meaning of the sentence.

3. The students watch the video until 0:58 first, then watch it again and check their answers. Discuss any differences, but also the students’ reactions!

4. “We’ll send you another code”. What do you think will happen next? Explain that the following words are connected with the last verification attempt: “window” and “Thames”. Get groups or pairs of students to write or discuss what they think this last attempt might be about based on those two words. Share answers with the rest of the class. Watch the rest of the video.

Your students may also enjoy watching these two videos by Stevie Martin: “When you’re trying to track a parcel” and “When you forget your password”. Rings a bell?

Good luck with your CAPTCHAS!