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!

“Bookshelves”

Brian Bilston’s poem “Bookshelves” is used in this lesson to get the students to work on reading comprehension, creative writing, and vocabulary related to tidiness. I’ve always enjoyed his imaginative poems, and I immediately thought of this one when I started writing the objectives of this lesson for my B2 students. In fact, I was surprised by the speed with which he gave permission to use “Bookshelves” here and publish the lesson on this blog. Thank you, Brian!

Lead-in

1. Display the following pictures and ask the students to describe them. Write down any words they come up with.

wonderlane-6jA6eVsRJ6Q-unsplash

(Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash)

olena-sergienko-dIMJWLx1YbE-unsplash

(Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash)

Do the students find any of these pictures familiar? Which objects or places they use tend to get messy or untidy? Perhaps their bedroom or wardrobe? Do they often find archeological treasures of all sorts in their backpacks? Was that pencil case really meant to be that way? I loved that many of my students referred to “that” chair where virtually any object is destined to be piled up!

Pre-reading

2. Ask the students to match the words that rhyme. Some of them are pairs of words, but there can be groups of 3 or more words. Check the meaning of any unknown words as you correct the activity.

Wksheet-2a

Bookshelves_Worksheet_2.pdf

tidy – Friday – biology – knowledgy
created – curated
fiction – diction – mention – editions – condition
glaze – plays
histories – mysteries
travel – unravel apart – heart
bookcase – space
fixed – mixed
books – looks
jammed – crammed – rammed

3. Tell the students they are going to read a poem based on the words in 2. What do they think the poem might be about?

Reading

4. Give out the poem, discuss its shape, and allow some time for students to explore it. They should first work out how to read it and where to start! This rather different way of approaching a text for the first time will take some time, but it should also generate some meaningful discussion in the process.

bookshelves-gapped

Bookshelves_Worksheet_1.pdf

5. Get teams of students to fill in the blanks using the rhyming words in the first activity. The rhymes themselves should help them to demonstrate comprehension in most cases, but there might be some other more challenging blanks they may want to skip and check later. The fact that the poem lacks punctuation marks doesn’t help either! Correct the activity as a whole group.

bookshelves

Focus on vocabulary

6. Have the students write the words in the poem related to tidiness and untidiness under the correct column. Then ask them to classify the words on the worksheet. Explain the meaning of new words.

Versión 2

Bookshelves_Worksheet_2.pdf

Writing

7. Discuss the structure of the poem: “What does the writer decide to do with his bookshelves in the end?” Tell the students they are now going to write their own text following the same structure and using the model provided. They should first choose one of the objects or places they discussed in step 1 above. Encourage them to use as many new words as possible. I didn’t ask my students to make their pieces of writing rhyme, but there were some pretty good attempts!

Wksheet-2b

Bookshelves_Worksheet_2.pdf

8. The students edit their texts and publish them using the shape of the object or place they’re describing.

bookshelves-2-1bookshelves-4bookshelves-1bookshelves-14bookshelves-7bookshelves-3bookshelves-8bookshelves-5bookshelves-10bookshelves-13

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!

“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!

For the joy of home: a vocabulary-building activity

Using John Lewis’ ad “For the Joy of Home”, students work on vocabulary related to the house and simple grammatical constructions such as “there is/are” or the present continuous.

Play the first 41 seconds of the ad several times for students to complete the following tasks:
1. Identify the rooms in which they can find a variety of objects.
2. Look for the number of specific items.
3. Correct 8 false sentences about the scene.

Students will therefore start working with more general vocabulary at the beginning of the activity and gradually move towards more specific words, some of which might be new to them. The visual context provided by the ad itself or the pictures on the worksheet can help them work out the meaning of words when they don’t know it or are simply unsure. Notice, too, that vocabulary is presented so that students need to know the meaning of the words before attempting the next task.

At the end of this vocabulary-building activity, have students discuss what might be going on, and ask them what they think could happen next, before watching the rest of the ad. And please do allow some time for reactions at the end! I must confess this video brought a broad smile to my face the first time I saw it – and it still does.

Enjoy!

Describing windows around the world

Window Swap is a website where people from all around the world submit views from their windows in short 10-minute long videos, most of them including background sounds. What’s not to like about a site that helps you travel without moving? And how about all the language learning opportunities it has to offer?

windowswap

As of today, the window swap is completely random, and you cannot choose the place or window, pause, rewind or fast-forward. Ten minutes, however, should be enough for students to come up with a rather accurate oral description, a short written account, or jot down the main ideas they want to include in a more elaborate type of written description. As a comprehension activity, the students could read or listen to their partners’ descriptions and look for those windows on the website.

windowswap1

You will find the name of the submitter in the upper left corner and their location in the upper right (could this be a good time to revise countries and nationalities, too?) Once these are identified, students can follow the four steps in this worksheet to come up with their own descriptions:

  1. What type of house do you think the window belongs to?
  2. What’s the weather like? How about the overall atmosphere?
  3. What can you see through the window?
  4. How does this window view make you feel? What type of person can you imagine living here?

windowswap

WindowSwapWorksheet.pdf

Descriptions will, therefore, move from the more general to the more specific, and end up with the student’s personal reaction and evaluation. For each question, students are provided with a series of adjectives they can use in their descriptions. Depending on the level, you may need to revise some of these first, and with higher levels, students may use the adjectives on the worksheet to come up with their own associations or use adjectives they’ve been working on recently.

“We welcome all kinds of windows, whatever the shape, whatever the view. Because what we usually take for granted is gold for someone else.”

Sonali Ranjit
Vaishnav Balasubramaniam
Window Swap creators

Enjoy the trip!

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!

Finish the picture

How would you finish these pictures? What if they were part of a story?

finishthepictureFinish the picture.pdf

This was one of those activities that surprise you every now and then: not only could the students working in pairs complete them in a short period of time, but the process involved questions and conversations about a wide variety of lexis as their creativity – and especially all the constraints – demanded more specific vocabulary. The students were also allowed to decide on the order of the pictures, which added some flexibility.

If nothing else, the task does help students to create and plan their stories in a meticulous way. Rather than a scaffold, the creative process here becomes a challenge, and basic narrative elements such as the setting, the characters, the plot or the ending need to be carefully thought out to complete the task successfully. A thorough planning stage which then paid off once the students got down to writing.

I also tried this activity with a higher group of students. This time, I gave them different writing tasks and asked them to draw their pictures based on them:

You’re writing the instructions on how to make something work.
You’re writing a recipe.
You’re writing a travel guide.
You’re writing a brochure advertising a hotel or resort.
You’re writing a story.
You’re writing an advertisement.
You’re writing a movie trailer.
You’re writing the description of a place.

Once the texts were written, I posted the pictures around the classroom for the students to examine and later on remember so that they could match them to the texts.

This is a flexible task which allows students to create meaning in so many inventive ways. Interestingly, it didn’t turn out to be as intimidating as I had thought it could be for some students. I think it also provides students with extra motivation to read or listen to their classmates’ texts: the starting point is the same for everyone, yet the results can often be really amusing.

Do you think the quality of writing could also be affected by all this?