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 in their first language 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!

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!

Transforming everyday objects: two lesson examples

I’ve always found artistic pictures using everyday objects amusing, but I had never thought of using them in my lessons. A few weeks ago, however, after coming across several pictures of this kind on social media, I decided to give them a go and incorporate them in the speaking and writing lessons I was planning for the groups I was teaching online. It seemed like a simple, quick activity that all the students could do, with limitless possibilities and results. The students’ creations would also bring an element of imagination and unexpectedness that should add extra motivation to meet the specific objectives we were working on.

Using items they could find in their houses, students were asked to create a simple picture that showed that item in a different context and serving a different purpose. With my younger students, I wanted to do some collaborative writing and focus on linking words, so I simply showed them a few pictures, explained the idea to them, and told them what we would be using the pictures for. These were some of the pictures they sent:

I pasted all the pictures on our platform’s cloud editor (similar to Google Docs) with the instructions, revised narrative connectors they were familiar with, and then introduced a few new ones. The students took turns writing a part of the story by dragging or copying/pasting one of the pictures and using it for their short piece of writing. Each student wrote their name at the end of their paragraph, and they were asked to use at least one linking expression.

The activity was done asynchronously for a couple of days as I felt giving them plenty of time would allow them to think about the narrative more carefully and take the time to explore all the options they had. We finally proofread it together in a live session and made linguistic, stylistic and a few plot changes until we were all happy with the final result!

The pictures effectively invited students to think more carefully about what was already written and what they were going to write, they raised interest in checking what their partners would do with the rest of the pictures – and they also provided a good excuse for some awkward narrative moments!

E1

My older students were working on advanced speaking phrases, so I asked them to create one of these pictures but this time illustrating some topic of discussion. The students submitted their pictures with a brief explanation about the topic they were trying to illustrate. Some of them were simply amazing:

B1

“This drawing is not only about The Beatles on Abbey Road. It’s more than that. I’m talking about music. You could be sad, you could feel lonely, but music always helps. It’s… like a battery!”

B2

“This is a quote by Isabel Allende. When we write, we hold the weight of our past to transform it into words, so that we can make stories about everything. That is why we have a pen and then one of those pens that are like feathers, behind it.”

B3

“This picture shows two people talking to each other while sitting at a table. For me, dinner and lunch time are very important. They’re the only times when all my family sits down and talks, sharing our thoughts. I added some staples as the table because they are used to attach pieces of paper; well, in this case, it’s used as a metaphor since it’s uniting people instead.”

B4

“The current situation has taught us that we must work together in order to reach a common goal.”

B5

“This sweeper represents many of the workers who are risking their lives for us these days due to the coronavirus crisis. I think they deserve recognition since, thanks to them and to many others such as supermarket workers and doctors, we have our streets clean, food to feed ourselves and health.”

B6

“In this moment of our lives we have to start making up our minds about our future career. Howarts’s sorting hat would be soooo convenient!”


We discussed a few of them in small groups using the vocabulary we were working on, and then I shared the pictures with the whole class for students to get familiar with them and think about which topic they might be reflecting. On the following week, we used all of them in a graded exercise in which groups of three needed to keep a conversation going based on one of the pictures, using appropriate turn-taking expressions and specific vocabulary for agreeing/disagreeing, likes/dislikes, opinion, comparing/contrasting, and so on.

The activity revolved around topics the students had put forward based on their interests and concerns at that moment, and although some of them were repeated, we could always find a different focus. In addition, some pictures were easier to interpret than others but, as is usually the case, I found that the more difficult and mysterious the picture, the more interesting and dynamic the conversations were.

B8

Have you used this type of pictures before? How else would you use them?

Conditional sentences: “Count On Me”

Students in this activity identify words and then sentences in the sequence of letters using grammatical, lexical and contextual clues. Notice that a few distractors have been included, such as homophones, different prepositions, articles or verb forms. The lyrics from “Count On Me” (Bruno Mars, 2010) should result from this, and listening to the song at the end of the activity is in fact the best way for students to check their answers.

Apart from introducing an engaging conversation starter or writing prompt around the theme of friendship, the text also provides a great context to present or revise first conditional structures!

CountOnMeCountOnMe.Worksheet.pdf

CountOnMeKeyCountOnMeKey.pdf

On the bright side of quarantine

Lithuanian photographer Adas Vasiliauskas has been using a drone to capture pictures of people in their homes since the country went under quarantine on 16th March, 2020. Each portrait is an imaginative exercise in creativity by the dwellers, too. “I started this project to give people a chance to brighten their day in this negative corona information environment,” says Adas. “I believe that these funny photos remind everyone that sitting quarantined at home can be fun too. And, of course, to remind everybody that you need to keep your social distance during these times.”

I contacted Adas about the possibility of using some of his photographs for a lesson and he readily agreed to it. His work provides such an inspiring and vibrant context that it will be difficult for students not to come up with unique, memorable personal responses to it — and we all know how important this is for a good language learning task to become relevant and meaningful. Let’s just add some flexibility so that the students can work at their own performance level.

1. Have students brainstorm any words related to “quarantine” and share their connections with each other. Introduce Adas’ project.

2. The students examine the photographs with a series of questions in mind. This is the more objective part of the description, where they identify the main elements in each picture:

    • Who is in the picture?
    • Where are they? What can you see?
    • What are they doing?
    • If there’s more than one person in the photograph, what do you think their relationship is?

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CLICK HERE TO SEE THE SLIDESHOW

3. The students choose six pictures and illustrate their first reactions by writing a caption for each of them. Encourage them to use informal language and the appropriate tone, which should match that of the picture.

4. Have students choose their favourite photograph and ask them to analyse it:

    • What can you tell about the people in the picture?
    • What would you ask these people? Write one question.
    • How do you imagine the person or people in the photo in two hours’ time? What do you think happened right before taking the picture?
    • How does the picture make you feel?

OnTheBrightSideofQuarantine

You can download the worksheet in two formats: PDF and WORD .

5. Steps 1-4 are the planning stage for a writing task in which students write a description of their favourite picture that includes both objective and subjective elements. You may want to revise adjectives of physical appearance and character first, but you can also ask students to use this site and have them come up with adjectives for any noun they’re trying to describe, making their learning experience even more individual and enriching.DescribingWords

At this moment, I’m also going to give the students the option to record their description, and even interview a few members of their family and friends with their own reactions:

    • How do these snapshots connect with your own experience?
    • Share these pictures with your family and friends. What do they think about them? Do they agree with your choice? Which photographs do they like most? Why do you think so?

Of course, this will be a great writing and speaking task to do with the students in class in the near future! I am now just wondering how the students will react to this lesson in a few years’ time…


Special thanks to Adas Vasiliauskas for giving permission to use his inspiring portraits in this lesson and to publish them here. Please check his website at http://tasfotografas.lt/

Roll & Explain!

Here’s a quick post with a tweak to two popular speaking/writing activities. The game can be played in small groups or as a whole class (B1 and above.)

RE1

Roll&Explain.pdf

One student rolls two dice four times: one to choose the person in the situation, another one for the action, a third one to decide on the place, and finally a fourth one to determine the time. Focus on grammar first by having the student come up with a grammatically correct sentence that describes the situation. The variety of time references, for example, will demand different tenses and aspects (and situations can change drastically due to this!) Different prepositions will be needed, too, for the different places.

Once the situation is clear, the student comes up with a (more or less) plausible explanation for it. You may want to allow him/her some thinking time and set a time limit for the explanation. The rest of the students can then ask a few questions and decide whether the explanation is good enough or not. Alternatively, the board can be used to generate writing prompts for (short) writing assignments. However you use it, make sure you revise, pre-teach or introduce language related to giving strong opinions and persuasion — your students will badly need it!


UPDATE 16/10/20

I’ve written the worksheet into this randomiser for easier use in online sessions or for whole-group work in the classroom!