“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.

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!

IMG_20200614_143752-1

 

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?