Oral presentations

I’ve written the following planning sheets to help my students think of ways in which they can start and close their oral presentations in class, and how to keep their audience engaged while delivering them.

I’ve also put the ideas for the different stages together into one file for easier reference:

I hope you find it useful!

(The Good), the Bad, and the Funky: a trip down memory lane

I’ve been spending the past few weeks browsing through textbooks, as we’re planning to replace some of them for the upcoming school year in my department. However, every time I open a new one, I’m immediately transported back to my own experience as an EFL student during my childhood and teenage years. And this has been making my job rather miserable…

“First Things First” is indeed a sound, straightforward and rather assertive title for the first textbook in your life as a student of English as a foreign language. That was probably in the late 70s or early 80s. Unfortunately, the language school I was attending decided to change it after a couple of months, so I basically remember nothing about my first experience with a textbook. First times are not always special.

“Look, Listen and Learn 1” looked like a cut above “First Things First”, but despite the promising verbs and all the action in the title, you were in fact considered a rather passive agent all throughout. “Look!” “LISTEN!” To be fair, there was a little bit of action and the book kept us busy by having us count how many chocolates, sweets, lollipops and biscuits Sandy and Sue had, or how much jam, milk or butter there was in their fridge (or how little there was left.) I always felt a bit sorry for these kids’ diet, but I do remember ending the lessons feeling hungry and rushing home to explore our fridge! The oral production was limited to learning dialogues between Sue and Sandy by heart, and performing them in front of the class. Why did those chocolates in the jar disappear so quickly day after day, Sue? And what were you doing with all the flour, Sandy? Why were “flour” and “flower” pronounced the same way, anyway?

At the same time, in primary school we started working with one of the funkiest textbooks ever: “Step In”. I’m pretty sure we did several levels, and I think it was only targeted to a Spanish audience. I only remember one of the books, all of which revolved around dialogues between four main characters: Hank Solo, Paul McCartney, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. “Are you Olivia Newton-John?” “No, I’m not. My name’s Paul McCartney”.

Perhaps they were trying to convey post-postmodernist messages we were not getting at that time. Production here was again mainly oral and at least there was some role playing – as long as you were fine with being one of those four characters (and didn’t think much about the world outside the book, ha!) Amusing and certainly very 80s.

High-tech “Follow Me 1” came with VHS tapes, which was the coolest thing the method had to offer. Watching the teacher insert the tape into the video player and press the play button every day was an act of technological innovation with truly mesmerising consequences. I only recall that, plus people wearing suits and dresses (Francis Matthews being the head of the clan), and the same group of people wearing all kinds of cheesy costumes and singing bizarre songs about virtually anything you can think of. (Yes, you can make a song with the lyrics “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10” or “I have got one flower. I have got two flowers”.)

Who does not remember Arthur and Mary from “Starting Out” and “Getting On”? The most clichéd story ever (remember I’d already been introduced to advanced deconstruction with McCartney and the gang, so I guess I already knew better!), it also featured Bruce (the guy Mary loved) and Sheila (Mary’s bestie, in love with Arthur, and a little bit overweight, of course.) But it was heavy-smoker landlady Mrs Harrison that was the true spirit of the series. Apart from smoking cigarettes while doing the washing-up or buying at the supermarket, she was a role model to follow amid the mediocre characters around her. I always thought she was a woman Francis Matthews would have liked to meet, and she’d have definitely kept Sue and Sandy under control. She would have even been the perfect female partner for Olivia Newton-John among all those guys! I also learnt that feeding the metre was one of the worst things you could do if you lived in the UK, and I found inserting coins inside your home to get central heating the most exotic thing ever (and yes, I reread that page several times.) I’ve always looked at my coins in a different way after that.

After “Getting On” and “Follow Me 2” (which was a step back – I mean, if you’re getting on, why do you need to go back to following anyone?), “Headway Upper-Intermediate” at least promised to keep us walking towards some fascinating, much sought-after arcadia (there was no CEFR, so goals were rather vague, and no obsession with getting certified). However, I was probably in my mid-teens, and the articles were more adult-oriented, so I really missed Olivia, John, Mrs. Harrison, and all the jam and lemonade that Sandy and Sue gulped down on a daily basis. Even if I never got to play the role of Hank Solo making popcorn at a school party.

Dancing Teens

1. Ask the students to think of any films from the 1980s featuring teenagers dancing. Elicit a few titles.

2. Tell them that they are going to watch a video which explains why dancing in films was popular in the 1980s. The video is available on the BBC website and on BBC’s Facebook page (it’s a public post, so you don’t have to log in.) You can also find it on Twitter here.

3. Explain that for each time period (early 80s, mid 80s and late 80s) they will first have to answer one or two questions, they will look for a series of synonyms, and finally they will be writing the film titles mentioned in the video.

4. Play till 2:39, corresponding to the early 80s. Allow some time to answer the different sections. Play again.

5. Repeat the same procedure for the mid 80s (from 2:40 to 3:54) and late 80s (from 3:55 to 5:08).

6. Check the answers with the whole group.
VOCABULARY: Early 80s: 1. polished, 2. supported, 3. fad, 4. tanked, 5. mirrored, 6. blend or mash-up; Mid 80s: 1. ruled, 2. archetypal, 3. grown-up, 4. taking over, 5. defiance, 6. deemed; Late 80s: 1. diluted, 2. standstill, 3. heralding.

7. Have the students complete a summary using words from the vocabulary section (the synonyms they had found in the video) in the correct form.

KEY: 1. archetypal, 2. defiance, 3. backed, 4. ruled, 5. heralded, 6. blended, 7. fad, 8. had tanked, 9. were diluted, 10. standstill

8. Go over the film title sections and discuss any movies the students may have watched. Assign each film to pairs of students, and ask them to do some research about them. Provide the following as a guide:

– Film title:

– Genre:

– Release year:

– Director:

– Lead actors/actresses:

– Dance styles featured:

– Soundtrack:

– Plot summary:

– Notable Quotes (if any):

– Fun facts:

– Sample clips:

– Sources Used:

9. Have the students share their findings!

Roller coasters: a follow-up project

As a follow-up task to this listening activity on how roller coasters are designed, this time I asked the students to:
– design a roller coaster within the school premises
– provide both a front view and a site sketch plan
– think of its use(s) and analyse its impact
– be ready to defend the project and share it in a formal presentation!

The main reason for choosing a highly improbable type of project was to throw in some creativity that would spark discussion among students and allow them to experiment in different ways.

My students are studying some basic physics, so before starting their work in teams of four, I encouraged them to take their knowledge into account, together with the information in the video we had worked on. The most scientifically inclined students did bring in plenty of information and discussion related to actual physics. There was even some interesting emergent language such as “centripetal force”, “kinetic energy”, “potential energy”, “acceleration” or “inertia”, used all over during the project. (They, of course, sometimes had to rely on conveniently placed pulley systems and state-of-the-art braking systems to be able to explain how it worked.)

Some teams went as far as to include details, such as the type of cars on the roller coaster or how it would look from the inside.

Once they had finished their sketch designs, I asked one of the language assistants I work with, who has a major in marketing, to introduce the students to the world of marketing. He went over the 5 Cs (company, customers, competitors, collaborators and climate) and the 4 Ps (product, price, promotion and place), and even explained the mechanics of elevator pitches. This helped them to plan their presentations, taking some new concepts and ideas into account.

In the end, each team prepared short presentations to sell their project. One student introduced the project, while two others explained the design and how the roller coaster worked, including the physics behind it. Finally, one student closed the presentation by trying to persuade us that their project should be carried out in our school.

Overall, the project allowed the students to experiment with critical thinking, problem-solving, cooperative work and presentation skills, all while exploring their creativity.

Can you guess the most common use that teams gave their roller coasters? 😉

“-ed” endings

I needed an activity I’ve always loved to work on the pronunciation of “-ed” endings in regular past verbs but, (1) I couldn’t find it and, (2) I never really knew the source of the activity! So, I decided to write my own version.

The students are given a set of paper strips that belong to three stories:
Ted’s, whose regular past forms are all pronounced /d/, after voiced sounds (make sure you ask the students to touch their throats to check if there’s any air turbulence going on in their vocal folds as they pronounce the last sound of the verb; if you, like me, work with 30 students in a classroom, I can guarantee it will provide some memorable moments, too!)
Robert’s, whose story only has regular verbs ending in /t/ (after voiceless sounds, so no air turbulence whatsoever this time, sorry!).
– And finally David’s story, with verbs ending in /ɪd/ (after /d/ or /t/).

First, the students place the three names and sort out the strips of paper by looking at the regular verbs in each of them, deciding on their pronunciation, and placing the strips under the correct name. Then, they put the strips in the right order to make a story. If they classify any of them incorrectly, they will have problems as they order the cut-out texts and will need to go back and rethink their previous choices (probably using the context, too, once they start arranging the sentences.)

I’ve also created a digital version with Flippity Manipulatives. Simply click on any of the pictures below and copy the address if you want to email it or use it in your LMS!

If I hadn’t…

Here’s a mini-lesson I’ve planned to revise third conditional clauses with my students. The unit revolves around different types of music.

1. Display the lyrics of Adele’s “Someone Like You” and play the beginning of the song. The fact that some students will be familiar with the song lyrics is in fact an advantage, since we want them to focus first on meaning and then on form to rephrase the lyrics.

2. Ask the students to complete the conditional sentences provided at the end of the first lines. Elicit the structure, or use these sentences to model the activity. Discuss the uses of this type of conditional sentences (to express the past consequence of an unrealistic action or situation in the past, or to express regret about something we wish we could have changed but we couldn’t.)

3. Have the students work on the next few lines and complete the three sentences provided.

4. You may also want to have the students listen to the rest of the song and write a conditional sentence as a summary using their own words!

5. The students read a number of choices that Adele has made in her career and then work in pairs to complete the sentences. Do the first one with the whole group to model the procedure.

1-2. If Adele hadn’t been inspired by the music of Ella James and Ella Fitzgerald, she might not have pursued a career in music.
2-3. If she hadn’t pursued a career in music, she wouldn’t have been discovered by a talent scout.
3-4. If she hadn’t been discovered by a talent scout, she wouldn’t have signed a record deal.
4-5. If she hadn’t signed a record deal, she wouldn’t have released her breakthrough album “19”.
5-6. If she hadn’t released her breakthrough album, she wouldn’t have won her first Grammy.
6-7. If she hadn’t won her first Grammy, she wouldn’t have gained worldwide fame and success.
1-8. But, on the other hand, if she hadn’t been inspired by the music of Ella James and Ella Fitzgerald, she might have had success in a different field or had a different passion.
8-9. If she had been successful in a different field, she might not have been able to share her talent with the world.

6. Ask the students to complete the circles with information about them, starting with a family member, a friend, a classmate, or a hobby/sport, for instance, and then thinking of consequences for having met them or started that hobby or sport. In 8 and 9, they should think of consequences for not having met or lived with those people or started those hobbies/sports.

7. The students write 8 sentences using conditional sentences, following the model in activity 1.

8. The students finally share their texts with the rest of the group!

The seed vault

1. Ask the students to draw the scene you’re about to describe. Play this sound effect of a snow blizzard from BBC Sound Effects to help set the scene. Read the following:

I’ve been lost in the middle of this blizzard for almost half an hour. It’s difficult to see where I am, but I’ve just noticed a strange light square in the distance and I’m walking towards it. Could it be a house? Perhaps one of the houses in the town where I’m staying? I shouldn’t be too far away, after all.

As I get closer, I can see something similar to a tower made of concrete with a steel door and a tiny bridge in front of it. It seems to be carved into the side of the mountain! And then there’s the strange blueish light on a big square above the door.

I can’t help but feel a sense of mystery and intrigue. I’m now certain this is not a fancy hotel or someone’s house. I approach the door. It’s clear that it leads to something special. I take a deep breath, reach for the handle and turn it. The door creaks open, and I step inside.

2. Have the students share their pictures.

3. Display a picture of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and discuss any similarities and differences.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(Source: TIME)

4. Tell the students that they are going to watch a short video about this facility. As they watch it, the students first explain why the numbers in activity 1 are mentioned in the video.


1300 – the number of kilometres from Svalbard to the North Pole
200 – the number of years the seed vault has been planned to last
3 – the number of vault rooms
120 – the number of metres from the front door to the vault room that is in use
3,000,000 – the number of seeds that will be stored in the three vault rooms
500 – the number of seeds per sample there will be in the future
1700 – the number of gene banks around the world
9,000,000 – the amount of dollars it cost to build the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

5. The students work together to complete a short gapped text about the Global Seed Vault with one suitable word for each blank.

SUGGESTED ANSWERS: 1. seeds; 2. preserve; 3. tunnel; 4. bags; 5. boxes; 6. shelves

In their own words, the students explain why the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is important, and how it can help us in the future, using the information from the video. Share and discuss the students’ answers. You may even want to explore any possible problems or disadvantages this type of facility may have.

6. Ask the students to read the beginning of a story that takes place at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. As they read, have them identify the setting, the characters and the plot of the story.

7. Finally, ask the students to finish the story! Why not invite them to visit BBC Sound Effects, look for the sound effects that best suit their story endings (you can even mix different effects by clicking “Mixer Mode”) and create the perfect atmosphere for an intriguing story sharing session?

Wonders of Street View: some activity ideas

Wonders of Street View is a website from Neal Agarwal that collects weird and wonderful things on Google Street View:

By clicking “Random” on the upper-right corner, you will be taken on a trip to unique places around the world, including some really strange situations about which our students will certainly have a lot to say!

You can read where each Street View is located (upper-right corner), and you can get the address of a specific view by clicking “Share” (bottom-right corner) and copying the address provided, or opening the link on Google Street View itself.

The website is perfect for a whole-group speaking lesson in which the students use all kinds of descriptive language, together with functional language such as agreeing and disagreeing, or asking for / giving opinion.

I’m also attaching a choice board with task ideas that the students can do using this fun resource, first independently or in pairs/groups, but which can then be used in the classroom to practise other skills. Notice that these are general ideas and they will need to be specified to meet your students’ needs. I’ve tried organising them according to the level of difficulty, with the easier tasks at the top and the more challenging ones at the bottom. And if you’re following a structural syllabus, it might give you some ideas for actitivies you can do depending on the language focus you’re working on!

I will be happy to edit the choice board with any other ideas you may have, so feel free to share them!

“Romeo and Juliet”: a post-reading mini-project

To check comprehension of a B1 graded reader based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, I asked my younger students to choose four key scenes or snapshots from the play and plan a short oral presentation explaining their choices, including:
– a description of each “snapshot”, including the setting, the characters and the action;
– which part of the plot they belong to;
– why they think they are important, providing at least three reasons.

Working in pairs, the students created a paper diorama for each scene which helped them both with the planning process and as a visual aid in the presentation. To make these dioramas, we simply used regular DIN-A4 white paper:

1. Fold the paper to make a square.

2. Fold the paper again so that it is folded on both diagonals.

3. Cut on one of the folds to the centre.

And there you go!

We even tried some stage curtains on each diorama!

This type of diorama makes it easy for students to take home before assembling and gluing them together, and for pairs to distribute the amount of work to be done.

The pairs of students finally took turns explaining their choices, followed by several questions from the audience. (And they did really well!)

For other similar post-reading ideas, you may want to check the following:

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: an alphabet book.

One-pagers: “The House on Mango Street”

15 post-reading activities.

Life in the year 2100

In 1966, BBC’s “Tomorrow’s World” featured a number of students from the UK sharing their own predictions about what they thought life would be like for them in the year 2000. The selection in the video around which this lesson revolves is certainly not the most optimistic, but I thought it would still be a good exercise for the students, and it might even help them refine their own predictions about our future.


1. Ask the students what they think life will be like in the year 2100. Have them compete the table on the worksheet with their own predictions for each of the categories provided: population, advances in technology, quality of life, housing, climate, and health and medicine. If necessary, elicit and/or model the structures they may want to use to talk about future predictions.

2. Have the students share their predictions and discuss any major differences.


3. The categories in the table are the main areas that are discussed in the BBC video broadcast on 28th December 1966. The students listen to the video with the English pupils’ predictions for the year 2000 and take notes for each category as they complete the table.

Here are some of the main ideas in the video:
– Population – The world will be overpopulated.
– Advances in technology – There won’t be enough jobs because of computers and robots.
– Quality of life – Life will be dull and boring. / People will be regarded more as statistics than as actual people. / Possessions will be rationed due to overpopulation.
– Housing – People will live in very small houses. / People will live under the sea or in the desert due to lack of space.
– Climate – The world might be too hot because of nuclear explosions. / The sea level will rise. / There may be another Ice Age.
– Health and medicine – There will be more cures and not so many sick people.

4. Encourage the students to discuss some of the predictions, and what they think of them in general. Are any of their predictions for 2100 similar to any of the predictions in the video?


5. Have the students write a few more predictions for the year 2100 related to other categories: school, transportation, food, clothing, relationships, and happiness. Are they now ready for a whole group discussion about each category?