“Think about Things”: referencing and comprehension

The vast majority of my students speak Spanish as their first language. Verbs in Spanish carry enough information for subject pronouns to be most of the times unnecessary, but this is sometimes a problem with learners of English who fail to include them when references are clear enough. Although this activity will certainly help my students work on this particular feature, it was mainly designed as a reading and listening comprehension task that will get them analysing this song-based text using cohesive devices such as referencing:

  1. Have students read the text in the box and ask them what they think the text is about, who is speaking and who they think this person is speaking to.

2. Listen to the beginning of the song until “you are yet to learn how to speak”. You may want to write it down, too: Though I know I love you / I find it hard to see how you feel about me / ‘Cause I don’t understand you / Oh you are yet to learn how to speak. Discuss the students’ choices again (the song is about a father talking to his newly-born child.)

3. Now that the context is clear, tell the students they will have to put the sentences in the spirals in the right order by writing the number in the centre. To do this, they will also need to fill in the gaps with one of four pronouns: I, you, me or we. References across the text will need to be clear to do this task successfully, and certain words will need clarifying before deciding on the right subject or object pronoun.

Notice that while most gaps have one clear answer, a few might be open to interpretation. This could lead to fruitful discussions about the text itself and its context, which is always a great opportunity to put specific comprehension strategies and skills to the test, isn’t it?

No agreement? Have the students listen to the song and check!

Mad Libs and Songs

Here’s a song-based Mad Libs activity using Flippity, a site that lets you create lots of different games, quizzes and flashcards using Google spreadsheets:

1.Students first select one of the stories (click on the picture below to get access to the main menu):

selectastory

2. Then they fill in the boxes with one word belonging to each category:

categories

3. They click on “Show me the story”:

aperfectstory

4. Students read the result and discuss it in pairs, small groups and finally with the whole class. Although they should be able to identify the main topic, they will immediately see some sharp dissonances! This information gap will be solved by listening for detail so they can reconstruct the actual meaning. (If they click on “Go back”, they will be able to edit the song, type in the actual words and share the final results!)

fatherandson

The other two “stories” are based on these two songs:

I’ve worked on this set of songs so far, but I’d appreciate any other suggestions! Apart from appropriate language and a topic you can play with, the songs should have enough content words that could be replaced to create a specific (most of the times hilarious!) effect.

If you like the activity and have any ideas, could you please write them in the comments section below, or on my Facebook and Twitter pages?

Thanks for your help with this!

Conditional sentences: “Count On Me”

Students in this activity identify words and then sentences in the sequence of letters using grammatical, lexical and contextual clues. Notice that a few distractors have been included, such as homophones, different prepositions, articles or verb forms. The lyrics from “Count On Me” (Bruno Mars, 2010) should result from this, and listening to the song at the end of the activity is in fact the best way for students to check their answers.

Apart from introducing an engaging conversation starter or writing prompt around the theme of friendship, the text also provides a great context to present or revise first conditional structures!

CountOnMeCountOnMe.Worksheet.pdf

CountOnMeKeyCountOnMeKey.pdf

Roll & Explain!

Here’s a quick post with a tweak to two popular speaking/writing activities. The game can be played in small groups or as a whole class (B1 and above.)

RE1

Roll&Explain.pdf

One student rolls two dice four times: one to choose the person in the situation, another one for the action, a third one to decide on the place, and finally a fourth one to determine the time. Focus on grammar first by having the student come up with a grammatically correct sentence that describes the situation. The variety of time references, for example, will demand different tenses and aspects (and situations can change drastically due to this!) Different prepositions will be needed, too, for the different places.

Once the situation is clear, the student comes up with a (more or less) plausible explanation for it. You may want to allow him/her some thinking time and set a time limit for the explanation. The rest of the students can then ask a few questions and decide whether the explanation is good enough or not. Alternatively, the board can be used to generate writing prompts for (short) writing assignments. However you use it, make sure you revise, pre-teach or introduce language related to giving strong opinions and persuasion — your students will badly need it!


UPDATE 16/10/20

I’ve written the worksheet into this randomiser for easier use in online sessions or for whole-group work in the classroom!

School excuses: a creative writing lesson

When was the last time you got one of those hilarious excuses for being absent or failing to do some homework? This lesson (B1 and above) revolves around the theme of school excuses and gets students working on past tenses, reading and listening comprehension, and creative writing:

1. Have students match 10 sentences as they fill in the gaps with the verbs in the box in the right tense. Most of them are irregular past verbs.

School excuses 1

SchoolExcuses.pdf

1. Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it on Monday, we thought it was Sunday.
2. Jerry was at his grandmother’s yesterday, and she did not bring him to school because Jerry couldn’t remember where the school was.
3. Scott didn’t practise last night because he lost his tooth in the mouthpiece of his trumpet.
4. It was my fault Mike did not do his maths homework last night. His pencil broke and we do not have a pencil sharpener at home. Yes, he was home all night!
5. Ronnie could not finish his work last night. He said his brain was tired of spelling.
6. Diane was late on Wednesday. She fell asleep on the bus and was taken back to the bus yard.
7. Eric hurt his knee in a karate tournament over the weekend. He won his age group, but was in too much pain to do his maths assignment.
8. Marty wasn’t in school yesterday because he thought it was Saturday.
9. I left my homework in the back of a pickup truck. It went through a carwash.
10. Sorry teacher, I’m a little, little bit late today. What happened is that in the morning on the way to school I got kidnapped.

2. “What are these sentences about?”, “What do you think of them?”, “Which one is your favourite?”, “Have you ever heard or read any really funny excuse from a classmate?”

3. Focus on the last sentence: “Sorry teacher, I’m a little, little bit late today. What happened is that in the morning on the way to school I got kidnapped.” Play the beginning of this short film by Sijia Luo until 0:48:

4. Students work together and write the missing parts of the story using the words provided. Have one student from each team read their versions to the rest of the class.

School excuses 2

SchoolExcuses.pdf

5. Watch the short film and discuss the differences.

6. In their teams, students write a creative excuse for being late or absent, or failing to do their homework. Students share their excuses and vote on the most inventive!

 

This could be one of the most productive writing lessons you’ve taught in a while. Just saying!

Developing learner autonomy: a homework choice board

Apart from traditional homework tasks based on lessons delivered in the classroom, there is still a myriad of activities students can do by themselves to practise their English, learn to work independently, and take responsibility for their own learning. Learner autonomy is in fact one of the most important things we can promote if we really want to get our students ready for the ongoing, life-long language learning endeavour.

The following homework choice board, intended for students at B1 level and above, suggests 16 tasks to practise all four skills as well as grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation:

  • Students can choose the tasks based on their personal interests, or areas they feel they need more work on, which should result in extra motivation.
  • In the process of choosing an activity, students will be taking into account the skills and language items that are being practised in class, but also what is relevant to them, especially when they can connect the task with their own life.
  • The activities in the board are also flexible as far as proficiency level is concerned, which means that students can work at their own performance level.
  • A few tasks have been designed so that they can be used later in class, resulting in excellent materials based on students’ interests which can be introduced in different lessons later in the year.

HomeworkChoiceBoard

HomeworkChoiceBoard.pdf

Although the tasks here have been selected so they are easy to keep track of, holding students accountable for their work, this should ideally be another step in helping students develop their learner independence skills. How would you use this board in your own student tracking system? How would you assess each of these tasks?


This post won the British Council’s TeachingEnglish Blog of the Month Award for October 2018.

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Puzzling it out: “Everybody’s Changing”

Everybody’s Changing is a song about something I think a lot of people will experience, which is when people’s lives start going different ways and you’re sitting there, thinking my friends are doing this, what am I doing? What do I do with my life? I think things like that are quite common to people and are probably more important than a lot of things that people write songs about.” (2004)

Change and finiteness are two of the main themes in “Everybody’s Changing” (Keane, 2003), topics which students should be able to relate to in different ways and around which a good reflective speaking lesson can revolve. Conversation questions such as these or these are good examples, although they may need to be adapted to the age group you’re teaching.

But why not introduce the topic by doing some language work using this song first? Here the lyrics have been broken down into 5 different grids corresponding to different parts of the song. Students write down the lyrics by using the letters on top in the columns directly below. There are a series of guidelines for them to follow:

  • Black squares represent spaces between words.
  • Each letter can only be used once, so students should be crossing out the letters as they use them.
  • Students should start by looking for the shorter words first, which typically belong to function words such as prepositions, articles, conjunctions or pronouns. This will then allow them to identify word categories and help them to think of the type of word they should be coming up with.
  • Other clues such as isolated letters, apostrophes, the position in the sentence and other context clues will help students solve the puzzle as the number of available letters falls.

Everybody'sChanging1Everybody'sChanging2

Everybody’sChanging-Worksheet.pdf

The activity can be adjusted to different levels by pre-teaching a few words we may think the students will find difficult, or by adding or deleting letters in each one of the grids. As with any other similar activities, it is also important that we model the procedure before having the students work independently or in their teams. By working out the first lines together and explaining the type of thinking behind each decision to be taken, the students will soon understand the type of language skills they should be practising and will accomplish the task more efficiently. Play the song at the end so that they can check their answers!

 

 

 

 

Everybody’sChanging-KEY

 

Dominoes

Call it unimaginative or uncreative, but dominoes is one of those activities that always seem to work in the language classroom no matter the level or specific group of students. From simple vocabulary matching to more advanced grammatical collocations and sentence structure, dominoes is, in essence, a collaborative game in which students work together to solve a puzzle providing each other with valuable feedback along the way, and in which students are allowed to demonstrate uncertainty and check their knowledge of the particular language area being practised. Take, for instance, this set of dominoes to practise negative prefixes attached to adjectives that I’ve been using for years:

NegativePrefixes3NegativePrefixes2NegativePrefixes1

Negative prefixes.pdf

 

Apart from the activity itself and all the skills involved, what I really like about the game is that, once it’s over, it is often possible for students to identify patterns and write rules that may have gone previously unnoticed.

This other set of dominoes is more discovery-driven and based on rhyming words. Students pay attention to the last sound(s) and match them accordingly during the game: the final vocalic sound or, if the word ends in a consonant, the final vocalic sound + consonant. During the game, the students can ask each other in case of doubt or have the teacher model the pronunciation of individual words. And when they’ve finished, they will have hopefully noticed different spellings for the same sound and will now also be able to write down several pairs of common homophones, as in the following:

afford – reward – bored – board – ignored
sail – sale – inhale – female
delete – compete- wheat – receipt – meet – meat – indiscreet – seat
disguise – rise – prize – cries
appeal – steal – steel – wheel
flour – flower – hour – tower
mist – missed – insist
amaze – nowadays – raise
write – right – tonight – knight
lay – café – sleigh
pear – nowhere – square – hair – hare – nightmare
so – sow – sew – cargo
great – grateweight – wait
later – favour – sailor – laser
niece – police – peace – piece
why – goodbye – lie – simplify

RhymingWords1RhymingWords2RhyimingWords3RhymingWords4

RhymingWords.pdf

 

Do you use dominoes in your teaching?

 

Image: Ishan Manjrekar,  Creative Commons

 

Anagrams and meaning: “The Longest Time”

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.TheLongestTime

The Longest Time.pdf


SOLUTION:

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?