Come rain or shine

1. Write the word “rain” on the board and ask students to come up with words related to it. Write them down. Are they positive or negative? Can they sometimes be both? Why?

2. Introduce a few idioms with the word “rain” in them. The students read the definitions and write the corresponding idiom next to each of them. Then they decide whether the idiom is positive, negative, or whether the meaning can depend on the context.

KEY: 1. come rain or shine; 2. save up for a rainy day; 3. be rained in; 4. when it rains it pours; 5. right as rain; 6. rain down on (someone or something); 7. come in out of the rain

3. The students read a few lines from “Singin’ in the Rain” and complete the lyrics with them. Encourage the students to use the rhyme and the context to look for possible combinations, and tell them there might be more than one option. Have the students listen and check their answers:

Elicit what the song is about. The students circle any weather words in the lyrics and decide if they are used in a positive or negative way. Can they use any of the idioms in activity 1 to describe the song?

4. Read the information about “Singin’ in the Rain” with the students, and how it became popular with time. What if Rihanna’s “Umbrella” had appeared in the 1952 musical? The students read the lyrics of the song first and then make any necessary changes: all the words in each stanza are correct, but some of them are in the wrong order; the students look for pairs of words in each cloud and change their order so that the lines make sense.

KEY: Cloud 1: star – heart, dark – car, always – never; Cloud 2: shine-shines; together – forever; my – your; stand – stick; now – more; still – that; Cloud 3: world – fancy; together – between; cards – part; mend – hand; Cloud 4: rain – arms; be – don’t; distance – love; I’ll – all

5. Ask the students what the song is about and tell them to compare both “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Umbrella”, paying special attention to how rain is used in each of them. Introduce a few more weather idioms and have the students use these and the ones in activity 1 to write down a few comparisons.

KEY: 1g, 2i, 3c, 4e, 5h, 6f, 7b, 8a, 9j, 10d

The rotating house

A couple of seasons of George Clarke’s “Amazing Spaces” were broadcast this summer on national public TV here in Spain. I had seen clips on the internet and knew about the show, but I didn’t know it’d be so addictive! Anyway, the main project in one of the seasons was the building of a space-saving, four-room house in which every floor is also a wall and it rotates on command! I thought I might well need a pencil and some paper to watch the last programme, and the following listening comprehension lesson for B1-B2 students was designed based on this.

1. Students watch the video till 1:07. Using the information in the video, ask the students to make a quick sketch of the project with whatever they think it might look like at this point. What potential problems can they see?

2. Now watch the video till 2:14. Pause the video and have the students compare the actual project with what they sketched in step 1. Discuss the differences.

3. Tell the students they are now going to watch the rest of the video and get to see how the rotating house works and what each room looks like. To check comprehension, the students use the worksheet below with four cubes for each room: 1. hallway; 2. kitchen, 3. bedroom and 4. living room. First, have the students read the box in the middle with a series of household objects and parts of the house. Then, tell them they will be drawing the ones they can see in the video in the right place within each cube. There are four words they won’t need!

4. Pause the video every now and then to allow time for students to draw inside the cubes and label the rooms, pieces of furniture or any other items. After each room, have a few students describe what the room looks like using prepositions of place. Which words in the box are not needed?

5. Ask the students to match the words to make compound nouns and adjectives used in the video. In pairs, the students decide how and why these compound nouns and adjectives were used in the video and write a short explanation: e.g. “vac-packed” was used in the bedroom to describe the wardrobe.

6. Discuss the following:

  • Would you live in this house? Why/Why not?
  • What do you like about the whole project?
  • Is there something in the rotating house you wouldn’t mind having at home?
  • Even if it doesn’t become a reality soon, do you think it could be used in the future in some way?

“To Space and Back”

Sally Ride was about to become the first American woman in space when she boarded the space shuttle “Challenger” on 18th June 1983. In “To Space and Back”, Sally describes what it’s like to launch into space.

Lead-in

1. Discuss the following questions:

  • Would you like to be an astronaut? Why/Why not?
  • What characteristics make a good astronaut?
  • Do you think travelling in space would be an exciting or a boring experience?
  • What would you be afraid of?
  • Is space exploration important?
  • How about space tourism?

Reading

2. Tell the students they are going to read an extract from a book written by Sally Ride, the first American woman that travelled into space back in 1983. Explain that the first extract will help to set the scene and revise and/or learn a few words related to space shuttles. As they read, the students label the picture of the space shuttle with as many words from the text as they can. (Examples: elevator, launch tower, nose, space shuttle, pad, access arm, movable walkway, hatch, tail, windows.)

3. Ask the students to look for the words “strap”, “awkward” and “safety” and to explain why they are used in the text.

4. The second extract is a fascinating account of the launch itself, marked by the use of action verbs. The students first have a look at the verbs in the box and decide which words they know the meaning of, which ones they are not sure about, and the words they definitely don’t know. This time the students will be filling in the gaps in the text with one of the verbs that matches the definitions provided and using the right form. (KEY: 1. whirring, 2. quivers, 3. light, 4. shakes, 5. strains, 6. launch, 7. leaps, 8. are rattling, 9. zoom, 10. burn out, 11. fall away, 12. streaks on.)

5. The students read the text again and look for a series of synonyms. (KEY: a. pulls away, b. check, c. decide, d. rough, e. instant, f. barely, g. smooth/quiet, h. faint.)

Follow-up

6. The students write a short personal response based on their thoughts and impressions about the text. Would they like to be right there with Sally Ride and the rest of the crew? You may also want to revise some of the questions discussed at the beginning of the lesson and check if anyone would change any answers after the reading the texts!

Cover image: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/119192

Hitting the headlines

I’ve used this “Let’s write an intriguing science headline!” cartoon by Tom Gauld to design a speaking activity in which students will be providing short explanations for each headline and adapting them to suit different audiences.

1. Have a student throw a die three times: the first number will be used to choose one of the options in the second column, the second number will determine one of the three verbs in the blue column, and the third one will decide which one of the options in the green column will be used to complete the headline.

2. Read the headline aloud. Notice that these topics have been selected for teenagers here, but you can easily choose any others to target different age groups.

3. Provide some think time for the student or team to come up with an explanation for that headline (and yes, it’s OK to come up with crazy speeches!)

4. Once the students are ready, say they will now be choosing the audience that they will be speaking to. Throw the die to choose one.

5. Have the student(s) start the explanation adapted to that type of audience. You may want to throw the die after some time to change the audience, and therefore the register. Or even do it several times!

Depending on the level, the students will use different types of linguistic resources to accommodate their speech. More advanced students should be able to include some formal, informal or colloquial language based on the audience, but it’s always interesting to see which strategies the rest of students adopt (volume of voice, body language, use of a few colloquialisms they may be familiar with, etc.) With all students, however, this is the perfect time to listen, take notes, and teach a mini-lesson on register based on student production.

The blog anniversary

LEAD-IN

1. Write the word “blog”. Elicit any words associated with it. Add the word “teach” or “teaching”. Have them come up with any connections they can think of.

2. Explain that a fellow blogger has celebrated her fourth anniversary by answering questions her readers had posed on Twitter, and that the result was fascinating.

3. Tell them that you have volunteered to follow the same Q&A format now that the teaching blog you write has turned 5 years old.

LISTENING

(Kamila: How did you start blogging?)

4. Have them listen to a short explanation about the origins of the blog. Before listening, read the sentences below and explain any unknown words. Listen and check the answers.

Decide whether the following statements are TRUE or FALSE. If FALSE, please provide the right information:

a. The writer first started a blog and then created a Facebook page.

b. He is not interested in content curation.

c. He started his own blog at the end of December.

5. Explain that you have been working as a teacher for over 20 years, work at a secondary school and don’t look to promote yourself or look for new career opportunities. In a way, you could say it’s part of your job, but it’s also somehow encouraged you to explore different ideas. How cool is it to share a few ideas with colleagues around the world? (And they sometimes like them!)

6. Allow time to answer any questions about this. You may want to consider giving extra credit to anyone coming up with words such as “comfort zone”, “risk-taking”, “confidence” or “excuses”. See this post for help with higher-order types of questions.

READING

(Vedrana: Which post would you recommend a potential subscriber read to give them a good idea (the best idea?) of what your blog is about?)

7. Say that it’s difficult to choose a post you would recommend since there are many different types of lessons on this blog, with different styles and serving different purposes. State that the most popular posts on your blog are not necessarily your favourite ones.

8. Have them read the following blog post, one of the first activities published on the blog and which remains the most visited as of today: Making the right choices: “Lean On Me”. Encourage them to answer the following questions:

a. Describe the activity in your own words. Use connectors to describe the different steps: “First..”, “Then…”, “After that…”, “Finally…”, etc.

b. What are the learning goals of the activity?

c. Would you use this in your classroom? Why (not)?

d. Why do you think this is an activity the writer is especially fond of (although probably not his favourite one)?

9. Have them choose two other blog posts at random and fill in a 3-ring Venn-diagram analysing at least 3 similarities and 3 differences. Think-Pair-Share: Are the posts as impersonal as intended? What’s the effect on the reader? Are they sometimes confusing or lacking basic information? How do you think the writer could improve these blog entries? Does the writer have a particular audience in mind?

SPEAKING

(Kamila: What activities/teaching trends are your favourite at the moment?)

10. Draw a web on the board:

Elicit different options and write up the ones that are true for you, such as “eclectic”, “communicative”, “task-based”, “cooperative”, “CLIL-y (because of teaching context)”, “whatever meets the students’ needs, interests and motivations”, and so on.


11. You may want to try and explain how you feel about the role of technology in education, definitely pivotal in the last few months, but still trying to come to terms with it when looking into the future. Refrain from revealing you have never used Genial.ly or created a Wordwall activity.


12. Check comprehension: elicit that you teach large groups of teenage students, which may help to understand some of the choices. Make sure you emphasise your interest (obsession?) in interactional patterns in the classroom due to classroom size and heterogeneity.


13. Discussion: encourage them to compare with their own preferences at the moment. To what extent are these determined by the teaching context? Why does the blogger often struggle with teachers who seem comfortable in one-to-one or virtual settings?

FOCUS ON GRAMMAR

(Martin: What keeps you going? How do you keep coming up with new ideas?)

14. Rewrite the following sentences using the word in capital letters so that they mean the same:

a. If I hadn’t started blogging, I wouldn’t have experimented with other types of activities or explored new ideas in the classroom”. NOT
Had I …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

b. Blogging does take some extra time, so I only blog when I have the time. DUE TO
I only ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
(I’m sure I’ve forgotten I had a blog at some point!)

c. Most new ideas come from actual classroom needs to reach specific objectives. RESULT
Actual classroom ………………………………………………………………………………………………………

d. Occasionally, I find some material I know my students will find appealing and design a lesson around it. HAPPEN
If I ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

e. Blogging has allowed me to connect with many other teachers worldwide. It is an extremely enriching experience. WHICH
Blogging …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

f. “Reading other blogs has helped me understand other types of contexts, teaching styles or teacher motivations. These are often the source of new ideas and plenty of inspiration,” he said. HAD
He said ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

PRE-WRITING

(Svetlana: What are your top three blog posts you haven’t written yet?)

15. Ask them to read the following options for future blog posts and to choose the one they would like to read. In pairs, have the students brainstorm ideas about different ways to hook the reader’s attention for the post they’ve chosen.

A. “I would like to write a blog post I could go back to and find no typos (or weird English), either in the activities or in the description!”.

B. “After a tough year, I may well be a bit fed up with anything to do with technology in the field of education. I firmly believe that pedagogy comes first, and although it looks as if it’s been understandably shadowed by the frenzy to use all the fancy apps out there, I panic every time I read things like ‘technology/remote learning is here to stay’. Don’t get me wrong, of course it’s a great aid and developing digital skills is essential. I also think I feel fairly comfortable using it (not an age thing… yet!). A blog post I’d write would analyse how we have finally learnt to incorporate technology into our post-pandemic face-to-face teaching in truly meaningful ways that do help our students develop that digital competence. It would also include a list of open-source, user-friendly learning management systems and apps in which students could finally work in safe virtual environments, without personal data (and teaching trends!) in the hands of a couple of tech firms.”

C. “I wouldn’t mind writing a short summary of an informal meeting with some bloggers I’ve been following for years in which we’d share our teaching practice, but also our motivations, goals, strengths and fears.”

(Wait, this was supposed to be related to materials writing, wasn’t it? I don’t know – perhaps a whole teaching unit rather than random lessons and activities? Definitely something that would really really help my students – and my readers’ students – with their learning.)

WRITING

16. Write a blog celebrating its fifth anniversary. Make sure you thank your readers as enthusiastically and honestly as you can.

20 song-based lesson plans and activities

Here’s an update on this post with six other song-based lesson plans and activities. It’s also a desperate attempt at organising the chaos on this blog! In any case, I do hope you find something useful here.

Listening for specific information

1. The students write 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.

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.

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.

Working on specific reading comprehension skills

4. 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.

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”.

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

7. A Mad Libs song-based activity in which students will work to reconstruct the actual meaning of the text:

8. This reading and listening comprehension task will get the students analysing this song-based text using cohesive devices such as referencing:

Focusing on pronunciation

9. 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.

Practising specific structures and vocabulary

10. 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.

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

12. Paul Simon’s song is used here to practise reported speech structures and reporting verbs in a different way:

13. This song will provide a great context to present or revise first conditional structures, but it will also have students identify words and then sentences in the sequence of letters using grammatical, lexical and contextual clues:

14. Music Borders, which maps number 1 songs in over 3,000 places around the world, can help you to present or revise comparative and superlative structures in a meaningful way.

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 6 lessons and activities:

15. “Your Song”

16. “Don’t Get Me Wrong”

17. “Everybody’s Changing”

18. “The Longest Time”

19.“Lean On Me”

20.“Somewhere Only We Know”

“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!