Roller coasters

Lead-in

1. “Have you ever ridden a roller coaster?” “What was it like?” “What do you think makes a roller coaster exciting?” Write down a few ideas.

Listening

2. Explain that you are going to watch a video about how roller coasters are designed. The students first watch the video till 2:04 and decide whether the sentences in 1 (bottom right corner, the start of the roller coaster on the worksheet) are true or false. Ask the students to provide the right information if the sentence is false. Listen to that part of the video again if needed.

KEY: a. FALSE (He wasn’t the first one, but he popularised them.); b. TRUE; c. FALSE (It was 18 miles long.); d. FALSE (It opened in 1884.)

3. Listen to the four main components engineers take into account when designing roller coasters by watching the video till 2:46.

4. Ask the students to follow the track of the roller coaster on their worksheet to complete a number of activities:
Component 1: Train cars. In their own words, the students explain how train cars are kept attached to the tracks.


Component 2: Track design. Here four key words are provided. The students listen and write down why they are mentioned in the video.
KEY: a. steel (Most roller coasters are made of steel nowadays.); b. 4 minutes (“Steel Dragon 2000” takes 4 minutes to complete.); c. sick (The way people might feel if the roller coaster is too fast.); d. boring (People will find roller coasters boring if the ride is too slow.)


Component 3: System to raise the cars. The students complete the sentences with six words as they listen.
KEY: a. gravity; b. pulley; c. crest / is released; d. beneath / conveyor


Component 4: Braking system. The students join several sentence halves in the best way possible.
KEY: 1. b; 2. d; 3. a; 4. c

Follow-up

5. How about having the students try and design their own roller coaster? At its very simplest, you may want to stick to the more creative part of it and have teams design a roller coaster they would enjoy using some of the information in the video (and at least make it as safe as possible!):


1. What do you want to achieve with your design? What kind of audience will it target?
2. Where will you build your roller coaster?
3. What kind of theme will it have?
4. Try to use as much information from the video as you can when designing your roller coaster!

The teams then present their designs and the group discusses whether they would work or not, taking physics and safety but also fun into account!

If you want to provide some further reading, the students may benefit from this user-friendly website that allows them to build their own roller coaster. They first decide on the height of the first hill, the shape of the first hill, the exit path, the height of the second hill, and the loop. The website will then check whether the ride is possible or not!

Enjoy the ride!


Down” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Several seconds

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas”

Remember that weird thing you once badly wanted for Christmas? Something you were completely sure would change your life and bring eternal happiness?

The following lesson, based on the song “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” (John Rox, 1953), tries to recapture some of those childhood memories and associated feelings. These provide an interesting context: they are distant enough to be looked at quite comfortably, you can laugh at them with some degree of confidence, and even if they become the object of conversation in a random English lesson, we all know that memories are fallible and are often reconstructed and manipulated, don’t we?

1. Ask students to think about something they once wanted for Christmas, why they thought they really needed it, and whether they finally got it or not! You may want to have pairs talk about this for 2 or 3 minutes, and then have students talk about their classmates’ past Christmas gift wishes.

2. Tell the students they are going to reconstruct a text in which the narrator explains what he/she wants for Christmas, including the reasons for this. For the first part of the song lyrics, the students use the fireplace bricks: starting at the bottom of the fireplace above number 1, the students choose the following line by selecting one of the bricks in the row immediately above until they reach the last row at the top. Continue with 2, 3 and 4.

KEY:

1. I want a __ for Christmas / Only a will do / I don’t want a doll, no dinky Tinkertoy / I want a __ to play with and enjoy

2. I want a __ for Christmas / I don’t think Santa Claus will mind, do you? / He won’t have to use our dirty chimney flue / Just bring __ through the front door /
That’s the easy thing to do

3. I can see me now on Christmas morning / Creeping down the stairs / Oh, what joy and what surprise / When I open up my eyes / And see my __ standing there

4. I want a __ for Christmas / Only a __ will do / No __ , no __ / I only like __ / And __ like me too

3. Do your students know what this person wants for Christmas yet? Elicit a few ideas.

4. The students focus on the second part of the text. Display or give out copies of the stockings for students to put in the right order:

KEY : 1. Mom says a __ would eat me up but then / 2. teacher says a __ is a vegetarian / 3. There’s lots of room for __ in our two-car garage / 4. I’d feed __ there and wash __ there / 5. And give __ __ massage

Using the new information, allow a few minutes for students to write down what this person badly wants, providing reasons for their choice. Share a few of them with the whole group.

5. Tell the students they are now going to listen to the song and find out the answer. Ask them to fill in the blanks with the right words as they listen. “Hippopotamus”, “hippopotamuses”, “rhinoceros”, “rhinoceroses” or “crocodile” may well require some spelling work at some point, too!

6. Read this article with the students:

Discuss the following:
– In your opinion, which is the weirdest Christmas gift request in the list? And the funniest?
– Are any of these gift requests similar to the ones you and your classmates shared at the beginning of the lesson?
– What is the weirdest Christmas present you’ve ever wanted or received?
– Can any of these gift requests tell us something about a child’s personality? In what ways?

Inside a painting

Jumping straight into a painting and immersing ourselves into the beauty of Van Gogh’s art is what Mathy147’s astonishing work allows us to do. Hosted on Kuula, which features all kinds of virtual tours, this imaginative 360º painting is actually a mixture of several paintings by the artist: “Café Terrace at Night”, “The Church at Auvers”, “Sunflowers”, “The Night Café” and “Starry Night”.

With an interactive painting like this, the starting point of any task we design needs to be inside the painting itself. The students first choose where in the painting they want to be by thinking of the following:
– Look at the painting. What can you see? How does it make you feel?
– You are going step inside the painting and become part of it. Where in the painting are you? What are you doing? Why are you there? How do you feel? What were you doing an hour ago? What are you going to do in an hour?

Once they have defined their viewpoints, the students should be ready to perform one of the following descriptive tasks:
1. Write a description of the painting from your point of view.
2. Hold a conversation with a partner describing the scene.
3. In groups of 3 or 4, write text messages describing what each of you can see from where you are standing.
4. Record some voice messages describing what you can see.

You may want to have the students use the following words to help them with their descriptions or to have them look for details they could have otherwise overlooked. The students cross out the words as they use them:

No matter the task they choose, the students should avoid saying where in the painting they are so that the rest of the class can guess when sharing their work, and therefore have another purpose to read or listen!

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?

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 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.

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!