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!

Voices Magazine: “Ways to use song lyrics to improve comprehension”

I’ve just come across this short post I wrote for British Council’s Voices Magazine a few years ago, and I’ve no idea why I hadn’t shared it on this blog before! Nothing new or particularly innovative, I’m afraid, but if you’re interested in using songs to improve comprehension, you may find a few ideas.

Thanks for reading this blog!

(Click on the picture below to read the article.)

Graphic organisers

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll probably know I’m a huge fan of graphic organisers. These visual displays of ideas, facts or concepts help to organise, clarify or even simplify complex information, ideally improving comprehension and allowing for deeper understanding. They are a great way to encourage active learning, too!

But as a secondary school EFL teacher working in a CLIL programme for several years, I’d say the way in which graphic organisers make content accessible to language learners is their most powerful characteristic. Actually, if I had to choose the one thing every CLIL school needs to focus on for it to work well, that would be the effective use of graphic organisers across all content areas. It is certainly one of the best ways in which we can guarantee that the students learn the concepts being taught despite their proficiency limitations, without the content being watered down. And if the use of graphic organisers is initiated and widely used in the English classroom, then the rest of the areas will automatically benefit from it.

With such a scaffold that is not difficult to use, and which allows students to interact actively with both oral and written texts to demonstrate comprehension, or to make connections, even to plan a presentation or a piece of writing, I’ve always missed it in the course books I’ve used. It’s funny to see the same evaluation activities all over again to check comprehension of the selected texts, and then attempts at incorporating critical thinking skills, communication or creativity on the following page, usually in rather artificial ways.

Graphic organisers can be designed for specific texts and tasks without much preparation, but there are also a series of great resources with ready-to-use organisers that can be used with any type of text. Here are some of my favourite ones:

An excellent collection of editable graphic organisers and templates:

What are the best graphic organizers for promoting critical thinking?

Google Drawings graphics organizers:

Graphic organisers for text structure:

End product ideas for language projects or tasks

With the gradual implementation of a new education law here in Spain about to start, which includes a competency-based and project-based approach to learning, teaching will revolve around “learning situations” which will typically result in an end product. Nothing we hadn’t been doing in EFL for years, I suppose even more so those of us working in CLIL schools, but it’s now an approach that will be used across the content areas and no matter the type of school you work in.

Whenever I plan a project, I usually start by thinking of the topic first (sometimes following the curriculum itself, sometimes “imposed” by the textbook *sigh*) and an end product that could go with it. It is also true that the final choice is often marked by the interests a particular group of students may have and their specific learning needs. Of course, it is the objectives, and especially the process, that count here, but I think it helps to start with these ideas and build the lesson, task or project around them.

In the document below, I’ve collected a few end product ideas and arranged them in alphabetical order to have a handy reference we can use for inspirational purposes when planning. These are all intended for secondary school students learning English as a foreign language. Some end products are digital in nature, and I believe the rest can all be easily carried out using different types of technology, so I haven’t specified the type of format.

This is a first draft, however, and I’m sure I’m missing loads of ideas. Could you please share any other ideas for end products you’ve tried in the past or you’ve read about? I’ll add them to the document and update it so we can all use it! Please leave a comment below or email me at onthesamepageelt@gmail.com.

Thanks for your help with this!


UPDATE 3/9/22

Please check the updated document here.

15 post-reading activities

The following board contains a series of activities that the students can choose to do after reading a novel or a short story. Students take on a number of roles, such as detective, journalist, designer or disc jockey, to work on a particular area. When used as a whole group, with the teacher assigning all the roles to different students in the group, the result will be a creative, in-depth study that analyses the narrative text from multiple perspectives.


Post-Reading Activities.pdf

The task board presents the main idea for each role, and details will be needed depending on the teaching context and the level of the students, including the amount of scaffolding that may be needed. The board does allow for differentiation, taking different interests and levels of difficulty into account. While some tasks can be carried out independently, others may require structured cooperative work in pairs or larger teams. In more homogeneous settings, roles could also be assigned numbers or colours according to their level of difficulty so that students can choose to focus on one task or engage in two or three to get the same points.

Combine these activities with this book report to check comprehension right after reading!


A book report


Developing learner autonomy: a homework choice board


Narrative beginnings


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.




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.


Holding students accountable

When working in teams, holding students accountable for their contributions and their own learning is especially crucial. In fact, lack of student accountability is most of the times the reason why some group activities just don’t work, sometimes with some students ending up doing most of the work or talking, others having very few opportunities to say anything or simply have the time to think, and occasionally a few students that may decide to coast on the efforts of others.

Making sure every team member participates equally, no matter their proficiency level or, say, prior knowledge on a given topic, is the first step to make students responsible for their own learning. Cooperative structures such as Think-Pair-Share or Numbered Heads Together are step-by-step interactional strategies that effectively introduce think time with an element of randomness: no one knows who is going to be called on, so everyone working in pairs or in a team needs to make sure they all know what is going on (which may involve giving a specific answer to a question or a series of exercises, explaining what their views are regarding a topic, or sharing ideas based on the background knowledge each student in a team has about a topic.) By providing think time, all the students are given an opportunity to contribute at their own pace and in an equal manner, but it is this positive peer pressure that is established, where students learn to respect, wait, negotiate, listen and share, that will help us hold each and every one of our students accountable and encourage on-task collaborative behaviours.

The first activity in Unit 2 from “Gateway C1” (MacMillan) asks the students to guess the meaning of a series of highlighted words related to trends and fashion, and then decide what their opinion about each statement is. If I’d asked the class, I know there would have been a small group of students doing most of the talking in an orderly fashion, others still following the discussion but not really willing to participate for various reasons, and perhaps a few others completely off-task — a scenario we don’t like to think about. This is how the students worked on that activity instead:

  • Each team was given a sentence to be discussed.
  • Each team member wrote their personal opinion independently on a post-it note.
  • An appointed secretary in each team collected the post-its, read them, and then led a short team discussion.
  • The team wrote a short summary of the opinions to be shared later with the rest of the class.
  • Teams handed in their papers at the end of the activity.


When the time was up, everyone in the room had thought about their sentence, had shared and listened to their classmates’ opinions, and were ready to explain them to the rest of the students in the room after working on a summary.

Structuring tasks in this way can be time-consuming at the beginning, but as the year goes by, and as the students understand what is expected from them, the steps can be simplified. And it really pays off. With larger projects, each team member can be assigned a role (time keeper, materials manager, leader, and so on) or students can be asked to complete a log or a reflection form at the end of the project that shows how the group and each team member worked by analysing the quality of their contributions. All of these can also help to keep our students accountable for what they do. Even more interestingly, this positive peer pressure built within team work will very soon affect not only the rest of the group but the overall classroom management and an atmosphere that is conducive to learning.



Cooperative Learning and the Language Classroom


Avoid Randomness: Three Other Ways of Grouping Students


Three Content-Based Teaching Strategies

Content-based strategies



Question charts

Question charts are excellent tools to help both teachers and students to generate a wide range of questions. You first choose one of the question words on the left column, then a word from the top row, and finally finish the question with a phrase related to the passage you’re reading or the discussion being held.

Question chart 1

Most interestingly, the types of questions will be more and more complex the farther down and to the right you move. The blue colour in the chart below, for instance, would belong to questions that ask students to remember factual information from a text; questions in the yellow boxes demand that students analyse the information, draw their own conclusions, or use their prior knowledge; the green boxes invite students to apply the information from the text to new situations and make predictions; and the brown ones, the most demanding, get them to compare and contrast, classify, express an opinion or create something new based on the information provided.

Question chart 2

For teachers, a question chart like this can help us to make sure we are asking all types of questions, but starting at B1/B1+ levels students can also use it to generate their own questions when working on reading and listening comprehension, or to plan an oral discussion in class by writing a variety of questions related to the topic beforehand or as the speaking task progresses. We would, of course, be selecting just a few combinations out of the ones available. Once it has been modelled by the teacher and the differences between the questions have been pointed out and practised, students can simply be asked to write at least one question for each area in the grid.

One way to make students aware of the differences between the questions in terms of difficulty is to use a point system and gamify the activity at the same time. The students writing the questions , and even the students answering them, would get those points if they get them right (although we really want them to write all sorts of questions and so certain rules need to be established if we don’t want them to be writing the same types of questions just to get the most points!):

Question chart 3

What I really like about charts like this, however, is that it is the students themselves that get to generate the questions, demonstrating comprehension of the written or oral text as they write them, interacting with the text at different levels, or planning a speaking task with all sorts of questions to make it the most engaging. Not only does this improve their comprehension skills and proficiency in English but it develops learner autonomy and it helps to boost their critical thinking skills.

Question Chart.pdf

UPDATE 30/05/21

Svetlana Kandybovich from ELT-CATION has turned this question chart into a really useful digital tool in which students play to earn the most points by writing a wide variety of higher-order questions.

Click the picture below to read the full description!