A fashionable Halloween

Using Gemma Correll’s Ghost Fashions poster as inspiration, within a few days we will be exploring different fashion styles and using them to define unique Halloween characters which will hopefully result in some interesting (and not necessarily spooky!) narrative texts.

1. Share the “Ghost Fashions” poster with the students. Clarify any unknown words or any questions the students may have. Have them choose their favourite fashions and discuss their choices as a whole group.

2. Explain to the students they are going to design a similar poster based on other Halloween characters. Create six teams and give one character to each of them: mummy, monster, witch, warlock, jack-o’-lantern and zombie.

3. The students go over vocabulary related to different fashion styles using this site and this site, together with some picture dictionaries. The idea is for them to revise vocabulary related to fashion and learn new words as they look for inspiration for their own poster. The students choose 16 different fashion styles that they think will help to make their character the most unique.

4. The students take turns drawing their character according to the 16 chosen styles. As they do this, have them discuss briefly what they think each of the characters might be like.

5. Tell the students each team will get one character from each grid and that they will be planning a story with these six characters. Display the posters, have the teams explain the different fashion styles, and use a die to select the characters for each team.

6. Ask the teams to plan a story with the six main characters in mind. Encourage them to use the forest worksheet to plan six scenes and write down or sketch their plan.

7. The students write the story individually or in groups. Simultaneous or roundtable writing could be a good option here, too!

8. Have the students share and compare their stories. If time allows, I may use some of them with my younger students and have them sketch the stories on the forest worksheet as they listen to demonstrate comprehension.

I was thinking of sharing this activity once we’d finished, but then I thought I’d share it now in case some of you want to try it. If you do, it’d be great if you could share some of the posters created by your students!

Endless stories

The following lesson idea is based on an ‘infinite’ story by Vaskange. The mesmerising way in which he recounts his holidays, through art and feelings, and how these build on one another, seemed too appealing not to use in a lesson.

1. Set the scene by playing the video till 0:02 and asking: “What is this person doing?” Then play it till 0:06: “What is he drawing?”


2. Give out the jumbled sentences in the set of cameras. Tell the students these sentences belong to the rest of the video. The students first complete each sentence with the words provided, changing the form of the words when needed.


3. The students watch the video and put the sentences from each camera in the right order by writing the number. (You may also ask them to guess the order before watching!)

4. Check the students’ immediate personal reactions by discussing the video briefly: “How does the artist feel?”, “What can you tell about this person?” Write down any key words related to feelings and personality that may come up.

5. As a follow-up activity, have the students create a plan for a story that starts “I drew a new story to tell you about my holidays…” This could be an actual holiday they enjoyed, but it could also be imaginary or one they are planning to enjoy in the future (even a walk around Mars will do!) In all cases, encourage the students to plan their filmstrip by thinking of a number of relevant scenes each of which must be closely related to, at least, one feeling. Use the vocabulary shared and/or introduced in 4 to help you brainstorm vocabulary related to feelings, especially those related to happiness and surprise.

6. The students write the different scenes.

7. Can the students create an infinite story similar to Vaskange’s in digital form? (probably not the same technique – a digital storyboard will do, for instance.) Perhaps on paper, and then create a display with the different filmstrips? A brief oral presentation or a gallery walk? QR codes of the digital products with general comprehension questions or a whole-group plenary discussion? How about…?

Chicago’s best ice cream

I lived in Oak Park, Illinois, for 5 years, so I know what shovelling loads of snow and rushing to Petersen on the following day for some ice cream in hot humid weather feels like. In the following activity, elementary students write down Petersen’s Turtle Pie recipe after being introduced to several words related to food and cooking.

Feels like summer’s here!

1. Write the following letters on the board:

  e      r       c       i       a      m       e        c    

In pairs, the students come up with as many words as they can (e.g. “car”, “am”, “ice”, “care”, “are”, “Marc”, “rice”, “mic”.) Set a time limit. Write down the words they have found. Have any of them used all the letters to write the word “ice cream”?

2. Explain to the students they are going to watch a short report about an ice-cream shop called Petersen. Watch until 0:56 and have the students answer the questions in 1 (a. Oak Park, in Chicago, USA; b. since 1919.)

3. Tell the students one of Petersen’s best-known desserts is called Turtle Pie. Have them read its ingredients in 2 and explain any unknown words. The students then match 5 words that will be used in the recipe with the corresponding pictures.

4. Watch the video until 2:18, where the different steps to make a Turtle Pie are explained.

5. Go over the cooking verbs in 3 and elicit their meaning. Ask the students to write down the recipe using the ingredients, the words in 2, and some of the cooking verbs in 3. Write the first step as a model and watch this part of the video again.

6. Watch the rest of the video and discuss: “What do you think of Petersen’s Turtle Pie?” “Would you like to try it?” “Why/Why not?”

7. Are the students now ready to write and share one of their favourite summer recipes?

A helmet has always been a good idea

1. Have the students work together and fill in the speech bubbles in the conversation below. When a word is provided (sail, ships, annoying, to ruin), ask them to use it:

2. The students share their stories with the rest of the class and discuss any differences. This is the perfect time to work on intonation!

3. Play the video and allow some time for personal reactions. Do the students think this is an effective campaign? Why/Why not?

4. The students write one of the following:

You have just watched a road safety campaign encouraging people to wear helmets. Write a report analysing the use of helmets where you live. Make sure you include a series of recommendations.

Would increasing bike lanes be a good idea where you live? Write a letter to a local newspaper explaining your point of view.

Should the minimum legal age for driving a car or a motorbike be increased? Discuss.

Write an essay analysing the different modes of transport where you live, such as walking, cycling, cars, motorbikes and public transportation. Make sure you include issues such as safety, pollution, noise or health.

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 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.

Music Borders: some lesson ideas

Music Borders maps number 1 songs in over 3,000 places around the world. The sheer experience of visiting different continents and countries and listening to whatever is popular at the moment has obvious cross-curricular and interdisciplinary implications per se probably not something we usually do, and I’m sure this largely depends on where in the world you live. So what if we used this quirky, enriching adventure as the basis for an English lesson and try to make learning the most memorable at the same time?

At its very simplest, the site can offer a great context to present or revise comparative and superlative structures. The group of students will first choose two different continents and countries and listen to the songs. As they listen, the students can complete this fact sheet about each song:

Song title:
Singer/Band:
Country:
Continent:
Language:
Description:

With the song titles on the board, you can now present or review comparative structures using a number of high-frequency adjectives such as the following (but also any other adjectives the students may have come up with in the description of the song!):

loud
catchy
interesting
good
original
strange
happy
sad
beautiful
slow
bad
unusual
unique
boring
repetitive

And if you have students choose one or two more songs, you are now ready to practise superlative structures!

I work in a secondary school with a strong CLIL programme, and analysing similarities and differences is a common type of text the students are expected to produce across different subjects in the earlier years. As a pre-writing activity, the students can choose between two or three songs, complete the fact sheets, and fill in the sentence frames below with a few ideas. The goal here is for students to simply brainstorm a number of similarities and differences using several types of sentences that may prove useful later on at the writing stage. The students will then share their ideas orally with the rest of the group, and finally select the similarities and differences they will be focusing on in their own four-paragraph piece of writing.

SIMILARITIES

Both __ and __ have __.

__ and __ are alike because __.

A similarity between __ and __ is __.

Their common characteristics include __.

They also __ as well as __.

Words and phrases that introduce additional points may be used: ‘Furthermore…’, ‘Also…’, ‘In addition…’, ‘Another similarity is…’ , “Likewise…”, “By the same token…”, etc.

DIFFERENCES

___ and ___ are different because ___

___, but ___

One major difference between and ___ is ___

On the other hand, one way they differ is ___

Words and phrases that introduce contrasting points may be used: ‘However…’, ‘On the other hand…’, ‘In contrast…’, “Nevertheless..:”, “Conversely…”, “Although…”, etc.

Combine with Describing windows around the world to supplement this fascinating journey!

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!

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…