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

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!

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.

“Think about Things”: referencing and comprehension

The vast majority of my students speak Spanish as their first language. Verbs in Spanish carry enough information for subject pronouns to be most of the times unnecessary, but this is sometimes a problem with learners of English who fail to include them when references are clear enough. Although this activity will certainly help my students work on this particular feature, it was mainly designed as a reading and listening comprehension task that will get them analysing this song-based text using cohesive devices such as referencing:

  1. Have students read the text in the box and ask them what they think the text is about, who is speaking and who they think this person is speaking to.

2. Listen to the beginning of the song until “you are yet to learn how to speak”. You may want to write it down, too: Though I know I love you / I find it hard to see how you feel about me / ‘Cause I don’t understand you / Oh you are yet to learn how to speak. Discuss the students’ choices again (the song is about a father talking to his newly-born child.)

3. Now that the context is clear, tell the students they will have to put the sentences in the spirals in the right order by writing the number in the centre. To do this, they will also need to fill in the gaps with one of four pronouns: I, you, me or we. References across the text will need to be clear to do this task successfully, and certain words will need clarifying before deciding on the right subject or object pronoun.

Notice that while most gaps have one clear answer, a few might be open to interpretation. This could lead to fruitful discussions about the text itself and its context, which is always a great opportunity to put specific comprehension strategies and skills to the test, isn’t it?

No agreement? Have the students listen to the song and check!

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!

IMG_20200614_143752-1

 

Mad Libs and Songs

Here’s a song-based Mad Libs activity using Flippity, a site that lets you create lots of different games, quizzes and flashcards using Google spreadsheets:

1.Students first select one of the stories (click on the picture below to get access to the main menu):

selectastory

2. Then they fill in the boxes with one word belonging to each category:

categories

3. They click on “Show me the story”:

aperfectstory

4. Students read the result and discuss it in pairs, small groups and finally with the whole class. Although they should be able to identify the main topic, they will immediately see some sharp dissonances! This information gap will be solved by listening for detail so they can reconstruct the actual meaning. (If they click on “Go back”, they will be able to edit the song, type in the actual words and share the final results!)

fatherandson

The other two “stories” are based on these two songs:

I’ve worked on this set of songs so far, but I’d appreciate any other suggestions! Apart from appropriate language and a topic you can play with, the songs should have enough content words that could be replaced to create a specific (most of the times hilarious!) effect.

If you like the activity and have any ideas, could you please write them in the comments section below, or on my Facebook and Twitter pages?

Thanks for your help with this!

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?