“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.

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.

Libraries and bookshops around the world: a video project

For World Book Day on 23rd April, my students are working on very short videos showcasing unique libraries and bookshops around the world. Once they are edited, QR codes for each video will be displayed around the playground for students to watch them and look for specific information about each of them.

1. After explaining the goals of the project, I used wheelofnames.com to assign one library or bookshop to pairs of students. As simple as cutting and pasting the list below!

Tianjin Binhai Library (Tianjin, China)

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library (Chicago, USA)

Stuttgart City Library (Stuttgart, Germany)

Trinity College Long Room (Dublin, Ireland)

Boston Public Library (Boston, USA)

Epos (Norway)

The Library of Alexandria (Alexandria, Egypt)

Royal Library (El Escorial, Spain)

Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Bodleian Library (Oxford, UK)

Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico City, Mexico)

Beitou Public Library (Taipei, Taiwan)

Handelingenkamer Library (The Hague, Netherlands)

State Library Victoria (Melbourne, Australia)

Livraria Lello (Porto, Portugal)

Cărturești Carusel (Bucharest, Romania)

El Ateneo (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Boekhandel Dominicanen (Maastricht, Netherlands)

The Bookworm (Beijing, China)

Libreria Acqua Alta (Venice, Italy)

Shakespeare & Co. (Paris, France)

Cafebrería El Péndulo (Mexico City, Mexico)

Oodi Central Library (Helsinki, Finland)

Duchess Anna Amalia Library (Weimar, Germany)

2. Before starting their research, I told the students their videos should be around 30 seconds long. We revised the differences between synthesising and summarising information, and the need to identify key points in each source, differentiate main ideas from details, or distinguish facts and opinions.

3. To help them through the planning process, I suggested following this basic structure:

  • Name of the library or bookshop, city, country.
  • When was it built?
  • What makes it so special? Include at least three distinctive features.
  • Think of a powerful closing sentence for your video.

4. Students started researching and selecting information in class, they looked for sources of public domain pictures and/or videos they could use, and they planned how they wanted to create the video, including their roles and responsibilities. With so many months of distance/blended/hybrid learning under their belts, it should have come as no surprise when they found tons of different (and tech-savvy!) options in a few minutes!

5. The students are sending their videos through our LMS. I will be holding conferences with each pair to go over their work and check what may need improving. I know the videos will be fine content-wise, and the students know we will be focusing on accuracy and intelligibility (and that they might need to make slight – or major – changes after the conference!) The students have also been asked to write two questions they would ask about their library or bookshop.

6. I will be uploading the final videos to the media site of our LMS and will create a QR code for each of them (qrcode-monkey.com/). These will be printed out and displayed outdoors on the school premises so that students can use their mobile phones to watch each video and answer the questions in the worksheet(s) I will be writing (using a selection of questions they have submitted.) The activity can be easily adpated to any level, so other groups of students will be invited to take this virtual tour around these fascinating bookshops and libraries as they practise a variety of listening comprehension skills.

By the way, would you add any other library or bookshop to the list?

Misunderstandings

Have you ever totally misunderstood a word or phrase in your first language? In this lesson, the students read and listen to two texts based on different types of linguistic misunderstandings. In the first one, the person describes how he/she spent years wondering how “France is bacon” could possibly fit in the “Knowledge is power” quote, while in the second one, the speaker confesses having been calling a person “Cofion Cynnes” for a month and how he realised that was actually Welsh for “warm regards”!

1.Explain to the students they are going to read one text and listen to another one, both of which revolve around misunderstandings. The students complete the chart by answering three questions for each text: 1. What was the misunderstanding?, 2. What was the reason for the misunderstanding? and 3. How did each of these people find out what was going on?

2. Have students read the first text and answer the questions. I added another purpose to read and had them complete the gaps with the verbs in the right tense for some quick revision practice, but you could also focus on other areas or simply have them read the text itself!

3. Allow some time for students to complete the chart for Text 1 independently, then check and discuss the answers with the whole group.

4. The students listen to the second text and complete the chart for Text 2. Click on the link below for the video! Depending on the level, the students may need to listen to it several times, or help them identify key words by pausing the video at certain points.

5. Compare and discuss both texts. Encourage your students to think of words or phrases they misunderstood as children or even as learners of English! Have them write down a short explanation first, following the questions in the chart they worked on as a guide.

The stories my students shared at the end of this lesson were the most hilarious! We all share a first language, so it was easy for us, but I’m sure this would be even more interesting in a multi-lingual context with all the extra detailed linguistic (and probably cultural) description that would be needed.

All I know now is I need to put together my very own list of misunderstandings into one (loong) blog post…

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!

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!

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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