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!

Libraries and bookshops around the world: a video project

For World Book Day on 23rd April, my students are working on very short videos showcasing unique libraries and bookshops around the world. Once they are edited, QR codes for each video will be displayed around the playground for students to watch them and look for specific information about each of them.

1. After explaining the goals of the project, I used wheelofnames.com to assign one library or bookshop to pairs of students. As simple as cutting and pasting the list below!

Tianjin Binhai Library (Tianjin, China)

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library (Chicago, USA)

Stuttgart City Library (Stuttgart, Germany)

Trinity College Long Room (Dublin, Ireland)

Boston Public Library (Boston, USA)

Epos (Norway)

The Library of Alexandria (Alexandria, Egypt)

Royal Library (El Escorial, Spain)

Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Bodleian Library (Oxford, UK)

Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico City, Mexico)

Beitou Public Library (Taipei, Taiwan)

Handelingenkamer Library (The Hague, Netherlands)

State Library Victoria (Melbourne, Australia)

Livraria Lello (Porto, Portugal)

Cărturești Carusel (Bucharest, Romania)

El Ateneo (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Boekhandel Dominicanen (Maastricht, Netherlands)

The Bookworm (Beijing, China)

Libreria Acqua Alta (Venice, Italy)

Shakespeare & Co. (Paris, France)

Cafebrería El Péndulo (Mexico City, Mexico)

Oodi Central Library (Helsinki, Finland)

Duchess Anna Amalia Library (Weimar, Germany)

2. Before starting their research, I told the students their videos should be around 30 seconds long. We revised the differences between synthesising and summarising information, and the need to identify key points in each source, differentiate main ideas from details, or distinguish facts and opinions.

3. To help them through the planning process, I suggested following this basic structure:

  • Name of the library or bookshop, city, country.
  • When was it built?
  • What makes it so special? Include at least three distinctive features.
  • Think of a powerful closing sentence for your video.

4. Students started researching and selecting information in class, they looked for sources of public domain pictures and/or videos they could use, and they planned how they wanted to create the video, including their roles and responsibilities. With so many months of distance/blended/hybrid learning under their belts, it should have come as no surprise when they found tons of different (and tech-savvy!) options in a few minutes!

5. The students are sending their videos through our LMS. I will be holding conferences with each pair to go over their work and check what may need improving. I know the videos will be fine content-wise, and the students know we will be focusing on accuracy and intelligibility (and that they might need to make slight – or major – changes after the conference!) The students have also been asked to write two questions they would ask about their library or bookshop.

6. I will be uploading the final videos to the media site of our LMS and will create a QR code for each of them (qrcode-monkey.com/). These will be printed out and displayed outdoors on the school premises so that students can use their mobile phones to watch each video and answer the questions in the worksheet(s) I will be writing (using a selection of questions they have submitted.) The activity can be easily adpated to any level, so other groups of students will be invited to take this virtual tour around these fascinating bookshops and libraries as they practise a variety of listening comprehension skills.

By the way, would you add any other library or bookshop to the list?

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

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!