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 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…

“Bookshelves”

Brian Bilston’s poem “Bookshelves” is used in this lesson to get the students to work on reading comprehension, creative writing, and vocabulary related to tidiness. I’ve always enjoyed his imaginative poems, and I immediately thought of this one when I started writing the objectives of this lesson for my B2 students. In fact, I was surprised by the speed with which he gave permission to use “Bookshelves” here and publish the lesson on this blog. Thank you, Brian!

Lead-in

1. Display the following pictures and ask the students to describe them. Write down any words they come up with.

wonderlane-6jA6eVsRJ6Q-unsplash

(Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash)

olena-sergienko-dIMJWLx1YbE-unsplash

(Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash)

Do the students find any of these pictures familiar? Which objects or places they use tend to get messy or untidy? Perhaps their bedroom or wardrobe? Do they often find archeological treasures of all sorts in their backpacks? Was that pencil case really meant to be that way? I loved that many of my students referred to “that” chair where virtually any object is destined to be piled up!

Pre-reading

2. Ask the students to match the words that rhyme. Some of them are pairs of words, but there can be groups of 3 or more words. Check the meaning of any unknown words as you correct the activity.

Wksheet-2a

Bookshelves_Worksheet_2.pdf

tidy – Friday – biology – knowledgy
created – curated
fiction – diction – mention – editions – condition
glaze – plays
histories – mysteries
travel – unravel apart – heart
bookcase – space
fixed – mixed
books – looks
jammed – crammed – rammed

3. Tell the students they are going to read a poem based on the words in 2. What do they think the poem might be about?

Reading

4. Give out the poem, discuss its shape, and allow some time for students to explore it. They should first work out how to read it and where to start! This rather different way of approaching a text for the first time will take some time, but it should also generate some meaningful discussion in the process.

bookshelves-gapped

Bookshelves_Worksheet_1.pdf

5. Get teams of students to fill in the blanks using the rhyming words in the first activity. The rhymes themselves should help them to demonstrate comprehension in most cases, but there might be some other more challenging blanks they may want to skip and check later. The fact that the poem lacks punctuation marks doesn’t help either! Correct the activity as a whole group.

bookshelves

Focus on vocabulary

6. Have the students write the words in the poem related to tidiness and untidiness under the correct column. Then ask them to classify the words on the worksheet. Explain the meaning of new words.

Versión 2

Bookshelves_Worksheet_2.pdf

Writing

7. Discuss the structure of the poem: “What does the writer decide to do with his bookshelves in the end?” Tell the students they are now going to write their own text following the same structure and using the model provided. They should first choose one of the objects or places they discussed in step 1 above. Encourage them to use as many new words as possible. I didn’t ask my students to make their pieces of writing rhyme, but there were some pretty good attempts!

Wksheet-2b

Bookshelves_Worksheet_2.pdf

8. The students edit their texts and publish them using the shape of the object or place they’re describing.

bookshelves-2-1bookshelves-4bookshelves-1bookshelves-14bookshelves-7bookshelves-3bookshelves-8bookshelves-5bookshelves-10bookshelves-13

One-pagers: “The House on Mango Street”

My first take on one-pagers as a way of getting students to demonstrate comprehension didn’t turn out that bad! We read and analysed a few excerpts from “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, belonging to the beginning, middle and end in class, and then I asked my students to create a one-page visual report as a snapshot with key information they found relevant. This time I asked them to include:

  • A brief summary.
  • 5 quotes they liked.
  • 10 key words.
  • A personal reaction or opinion.

The students were encouraged to use visuals that somehow illustrated symbols or themes, in a way reflecting their own response to what they had read. With such an explicit symbol (and a whole unit revolving around housing!), it seemed clear that most of them would use the house to organise the information, but I recommend reading this article for those that might find the more “artistic” side rather off-putting or to deal with other types of text.

After reading the one-pagers, however, I do think we could have done away with the summary and focused on other areas instead, such as looking for some interesting figurative language or writing a couple of questions they still had after reading the excerpts. This could have helped to sort of guide the virtual gallery walk we’ll be holding soon. The one-pagers are all first drafts so, apart from content and meaning, we will be definitely working on the language produced by students, too, including some peer correction!

One thing is clear: I no longer feel like the only teacher of English on Earth who’s never worked with this book! If only this activity had been a good hook for a few students to read the rest of it one day.