There are places I remember

Adding and deleting words from texts allow students to use their grammatical knowledge to manipulate sentences, play with the language, and analyse the impact each of these changes have on meaning. In this activity, students add and delete words from two texts following certain rules. This close reading will also help students understand the texts better and compare them, contrast them, and finally be able to express personal opinions about them.

placesPlaces.pdf

After discussing the first line written on the board (“There are places I remember all my life”) and coming up with special places that they can remember and the reasons behind this, the students read the lyrics of “In My Life” by The Beatles and decide which words can be deleted as long as they don’t cross out two or more words together. Students justify their answers orally first and then listen to the song and check the lyrics. How does the singer feel about those places he remembers? Are they good memories? How do they compare to the present? Is it any better?

For the second text, students add the words provided in the box wherever they think it’s possible and/or appropriate. Unlike the first one, however, a few more options are available here and so more discussion will be needed before listening to the original lyrics of “Half the World Away” since the addition of words will have to conform to both grammatical and semantic rules. How does the singer feel about the place he is in? Why do you think so? What do you think he needs to do? What would YOU do?

Finally, the students compare both songs, analyse how these places are used in each one, and choose the one they can most relate to, perhaps writing their choice and their reasons on post-it notes that can both hold the students accountable and provide a visual component once they are stuck on either side of the board.

 

Bringing closure to a lesson

Bringing closure to a lesson connects what has just been learnt with both previous and future learning experiences, encourages student reflection on their work and progress, and provides invaluable information for formative assessment. The amount of time spent on lesson lead-ins and the variety of activities and strategies used to this end has often little to do with the time devoted to wrapping up a lesson, missing a meaningful learning opportunity altogether – and one that is notably crucial.

At its very simplest, asking the students a variety of questions on different aspects of the lesson or project, having them predict what the following lesson might be about, or just eliciting one-word responses from them, are all quick effective ways of closing a lesson. When time allows, cooperative strategies such as Think-Pair-Share or Numbered Heads Together will result in far richer responses by having students compare and analyse their thoughts while keeping each of them accountable for their contributions. Stand and Share, for instance, is one strategy I’m particularly fond of for lesson closures:

1. On a slip of paper students write down something they have learnt, or a short personal response to some reading or speaking activity. Focusing on different aspects of a lesson each time you use the strategy will make it the most meaningful.
2. Students stand up and take turns reading their reflections. If a student has something similar, he/she may sit down.
3. Continue until all the students are sitting down.
4. Collect the slips of paper at the end to keep the students accountable during the whole process.

There are times, however, when an activity will take much longer than we had expected, extra support might be needed at some point in the lesson, or you may feel that some impromptu interest raised by the students should be dealt with at that moment. (Your lesson may even be interrupted by institutional announcements, unplanned assemblies, and for a myriad of other reasons – but that rant belongs somewhere else!) Providing a choice of short closure activities that students can complete on their own, even at home, can be a good way to guarantee that some type of closure is done when we run out of time, but it’s also a good resource that allows the students to reflect on different aspects of each lesson using a wider variety of different tasks.

The students choose one of the tasks in the worksheet below that they think best suits one particular lesson and keep a record of the dates. The teacher can then collect these every now and then to check their responses and use that information for future planning, or as the case may be. In addition, the taboo cards and the multiple choice questions written by the students can be collected and be the basis for a great revision session, while the thank-you notes can be distributed perhaps every other week, hopefully contributing to enhancing rapport among classroom members and, ultimately, meaningful learning.ClosureClosure.pdf

Daily routines: writing a report

Inspired by this infographic on the daily routines of famous artists, the students in this lesson develop team-building skills as they create a graph about specific habits and routines of their classmates. After brainstorming possible categories as a whole group, each team chooses six habits and routines they want to know more about. The students in each team take turns interviewing other classmates on their categories, collecting data, and reporting back to the team for the data to be graphed. Inside-Outside Circles are a good structured way to have the students interview each other and collect information.

Daily routinesDaily routines.pdf

The students then use their team’s graph to write a report that will include its purpose as an introduction, an explanation of the kind of data that was collected and how this was accomplished, an objective analysis using figures and percentages (“5% per cent of the students…”; “17 out of 27 students in the class…”; “only 4 students…”; “half of the class…”; “the vast majority of…”; and so on), and a final conclusion in which each student will offer recommendations and suggestions concerning areas that may need improving or changing, and corroborate those which are deemed appropriate. The graphs and the reports can be shared at the end with the rest of the teams and the final conclusions discussed orally as a whole group.

Creating a good classroom atmosphere by having students get to know each other a little bit better, training the students to take on different roles in their teams and to be accountable for their contributions, engaging in student-generated short informal interviews which revolve around their very own lives, and writing an expository text with both objective and subjective information, are just some of the goals that will have been reached by the end of this lesson.

“All Summer in a Day”

The story of Margot – of (in)difference, (in)justice, hope – was not unfamiliar to me but was brought to my attention during a workshop a few years ago and have since used it in my classes. Perhaps one of the reasons why Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day” (1954) works so well with teenage students is because they can easily relate to it from different perspectives. Despite the richness of vocabulary, it is also a text that is easy to read at language levels as low as B1, with the students being able to reconstruct the key elements of the story and a good amount of details without having to understand every single word. Most interestingly, the short story leaves so much unsaid that it provides a perfect flexible framework that encourages the sharing of different ideas and interpretations, resulting in all language skills flowing naturally as the students attempt to explain their rather complex ideas and feelings related to a conflict about which they have so much to say.

The ending is in fact a rather open one, and it is at this point of Bradbury’s story that I decided to start reading the last time I used it. Reading this story backwards and challenging chronological order provides just the right type of scaffolding to help with the reading itself and creates higher interest and motivation to keep on reading: both the added problem-solving element and the process of reconstruction that will help to identify the reasons and details leading to such a mysterious ending will certainly get the students involved in the text, help them to understand it better, and make further connections based on this as they put all four skills into practice.

To walk the students through the text, the four-page short story was here divided into four parts and a circular graphic organiser was designed with a variety of activities that mainly focus on comprehension but also on vocabulary building. This circular structure will encourage students to go back and forth in the text while revising previous questions as they read, completing the missing information, and confirming or rejecting previous predictions.

  • Part 1: from “A boom of thunder startled them…” to “… and let Margot out”
  • Part 2: from “’Ready, children?’ She glanced at her watch…” to “… their smiles vanishing away”
  • Part 3: from “’Get away!’ The boy gave her another push …” to “… just as the teacher arrived”
  • Part 4: from “’Ready?’…” to “… her waiting silence, her thinness, and her possible future”All Summer in a Day

1. Write “Summer” on the board and have the students come up with words related to it. Tell them they are going to read a story called “All Summer in a Day”. Elicit what it might be about.
Reading

2. Read the first part, which belongs to the end of the story. Give out the graphic organiser and discuss numbers 1, 2 and 3 together: what do we know about the setting, the characters and the problem? Any predictions?

3. Ask the students to read the second part. As they read, ask them to choose five words from the text that describe the scene and write them down in 4. In addition, students write a short sentence that describes the way they feel about it. Discuss any new information related to the setting, the characters and the problem.

4. After reading part 3, the students fill out number 5 and try to work out what the conflict might be about using both the information they have and their own predictions.

5. As the students read the last part belonging to the beginning of the story, the students underline any words or expressions related to the rain and circle any words related to the sun. They then write any words that are new to them in 6. Discuss 7 as a whole group.

6. Allow some time for students to put all the pieces together and write a short personal reaction to the text in 8: “I think…”, “I feel…”, “I wonder…” Have them share their thoughts with the rest of the students.
Writing

7. The students write a short text explaining what happened immediately after Margot was let out of the room: What was her reaction? What did she do? Did she say anything? How did her classmates feel? What did they do? Did they apologise? Did their relationship change? How? What do you think of William? Did he do or say anything?
Listening

8. Ask students to look for five similarities and five differences as they watch the short film based on Bradbury’s story. The students fill out a Venn diagram with their findings, which are later shared with the rest of the class.

All Summer in a Day 2
Speaking

9. What could have prevented Margot from being bullied? What could each of the characters involved have done differently?

The discussion will, in fact, largely depend on the group of students and has always taken on a different focus each time I’ve done it. In all cases, however, it became a time when error correction was not a priority, complex grammatical structures were uttered in a natural way, and a careful choice of vocabulary allowed the students to communicate their ideas, thoughts and feelings efficiently and to the best of their ability. It is in tasks like this that language seems to flow naturally, hypotheses restructured, words become the most relevant, and meaning – personal meaning, the student voice – becomes the ultimate driving force that pulls together that chaos we call “language”.

All Summer in a Day Worksheets.pdf

All Summer in a Day

World Refugee Day 

As part of an interdisciplinary school project on the Syrian refugee crisis a few weeks ago, teams of students in this B1 class read a number of personal stories taken from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees website (www.unhcr.org), summarised their background, rewrote the current situation in their own words, and analysed each story to create a realistic alternative for each of them. In this way, the readers of these posters on display were invited to choose one of the options and check the answer, encouraging powerful critical thinking that should hopefully contribute to solve this and other similar crises — those very same ones we unfortunately seem unable to cope with at present — in the very, very near future. 

Reported speech and creative writing: 50 ways 

After reading the reported conversation and discussing what it is about, the students practise simple reported speech structures by rewriting each line into direct speech while changing tenses, pronouns, possessive adjectives and time references when necessary. With the aid of a few extra words provided, the result will be the actual lyrics from “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon. The students listen to the song and check their answers at the end.

FiftyWays1

The class can then work together and write a few more “ways to leave your lover”, following the model in the chorus. The students first choose one of the one-syllable proper names in the circle and match it with any words that rhyme in the box on the right. They then write their own lines, such as “Go to the gym, Tim”, “Don’t pull my leg, Meg”, “Get on that van, Dan”, or “Let’s make a deal, Neil”. The types of sentences will vary depending on the level of the students, so the possibilities are endless! Can the group of students come up with the remaining forty-five pieces of advice to make the song title a reality?

FiftyWays2

FiftyWays.pdf

Three content-based teaching strategies

Whether you’re teaching content in a CLIL setting, carrying out an inquiry or problem-based project or simply want to check understanding of an expository text such as an article or a news report, these are three of my favourite content-based teaching strategies both due to their simplicity and the effectiveness with which they help structure the learning process. The three strategies share a number of inbuilt characteristics that make them ideal for our purposes:

  • They all tap into the students’ prior knowledge.
  • They set a purpose for learning: by comparing what students know and what they don’t, interest will arise and challenges responded to.
  • A final self-assessment of the task is included, contributing to an effective closure at the end of the lesson or project.
  • They provide students and teachers with a clear framework: everyone knows where they have started and where they are heading at any stage in the lesson or project.
  • They are easy to implement!

 

Anticipation guide

Writing ten statements about the content to be read and/or discussed and having students guess whether the information is true or false will not only introduce the topic to the students but also check their prior knowledge and create the need to fill an information gap. For it to work well, a few sentences should be about things we know our students will already know.

In its simplest form, anticipation guides can be used with short texts as in the following example:

AnticipationGuide

Anticipation Guide.doc

Anticipation guides, however, work even better with longer units of study, adding both a starting point and a series of guidelines that should reflect key content that we want our students to focus on. In addition, because the statements offer a meaningful context where a need for clarification is created, anticipation guides are also a great tool to pre-teach key vocabulary that the students will need along the project.

 

Here’s the Answer. What’s the Question?

A more guided version of the above, in this strategy students choose the right answers about the text(s) they are going to work on. Students are first introduced to the topic by having them think of possible questions for each of the answers and use their own knowledge – and their own guesses – to get them involved in the task in a meaningful way. As with anticipation guides, both questions and answers are checked at the end of the reading or listening task for self-assessment purposes.

In the example below, students were introduced to a few extracts from “The Great Gatsby” using this activity:

Here'stheAnswer.What'stheQuestion.

Here’s the Answer. What’s the Question?.pdf

 

K-W-L

A K-W-L is a simple three-column graphic organiser: students complete the first one with what they already KNOW about the topic, the second with what they WANT to know about it, and at the end of the task, the third column should reflect what the students have actually LEARNT about it.

KWL

KWL.pdf

The K-W-L chart is, therefore, a much more flexible alternative that will adapt to all kinds of tasks and will promote student-centred instruction. Indeed, even though teachers may guide the W step to focus on specific information, the K-W-L chart works best when it is used as a tool to answer the students’ specific needs related to the content being covered. Yes, it will require some extra planning as the project evolves (sometimes even on the spot!) but, after all, responding to the students’ real needs, interests and motivations is what true teaching is all about, isn’t it?

From “pakkeleg” to “ordleg” (or how a Danish tradition became an effective English language game)

The last time I was in Denmark as part of a school exchange programme we were introduced to “pakkeleg”, a fun gift exchange game that is usually played at Christmas. In the game, each player brings a small gift which is placed on the table. Players then roll a die and whenever they roll a 6 they can get one of the gifts available until there are no more gifts. Players open their gifts, show them, and start a second round following the same procedure for a set time limit — but this time you are allowed to steal other players’ gifts!

STEP 1

In the language version of the game I’ve been using, students are given a set of cards (nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs) which are placed face down after groups of students have been formed and two teams in each group set up. Students are first given 6 minutes to roll the dice; if they roll a 6, they can get a card from the pile and read it without showing it to the other team.

STEP 2

When the time is up, the players think of different combinations to make the longest grammatically correct sentence possible – and one that makes sense! Students are allowed to include:
– pronouns
– possessive adjectives
– articles
– prepositions
– conjunctions
Providing a few of these function words that the students can use, or at least limiting the number, will make the game more challenging and avoid awkward sentences. For example, students may be allowed to use only the following:

she, a/an, a/an, the, the, in, at, between, and, they, he, but, it, from, of

In addition, students can modify the verbs to choose the right tense and make countable nouns plural if needed.FullSizeRender

Move around the class checking the students’ sentences.

STEP 3

Ask students to show their cards to the rest of the group and start a second round. For the next 6 minutes, any player rolling a 6 will be able to get a card from the pile or, what is even more interesting, steal a card from their opponent team. At this time, students should focus on ways to improve their sentences with the cards available, but the “stealing process” will make them think of possible alternatives as they play and reassess their initial plan. In a way, it simulates a slow-motion version of the pressure speakers are often under when trying to get their message across in real time and the large amount of choices they need to make.
STEP 4

Finally, teams write their sentence and share it with the rest of the class. The winner in each group is the team with the longest sentence, but there will also be a class winner after all the sentences have been shared. Of course, sentences will have to make sense and be grammatically correct, so a lot of grammar and vocabulary will be analysed at this point.

 

SALE

 

The game is so flexible that it can be adapted to any level depending on the type of words on the cards and the number of function words they are allowed to use. It works best if the words include vocabulary that students need revising, making it an excellent vocabulary revision activity. I used the set of cards below to test this game with pre-intermediate students, but I’ve been adding new cards with new words for each group of students to be used along the year. What I still don’t have is a name for this game that we can use for easier reference. Any suggestions?

Sample cards.doc

Reconstructing a story from questions: “Tom’s Diner”

Suzanne Vega’s classic “Tom’s Diner” (1981) is used in this activity to practise comprehension skills by looking for specific information, reading between the lines, making predictions, and establishing connections both within the text and with the world outside — including the students themselves!

Students first read the questions and try to answer as many as they can. Some of the answers will be in the following questions, others will be close guesses using the information available and their own predictions, and yet a few questions will allow for multiple interpretations. When students are asked to listen to the song, they should already have a fairly clear idea of what this personal narrative is about or, at least, enough details to make the listening comprehension activity both purposeful and meaningful. Students listen, confirm their guesses, make any necessary changes, and evaluate their own predictions by comparing the information they had at the beginning of the activity and the new details after listening to the story.

TomsDinerImage

TomsDinerWorksheet.pdf

Tom’s Diner Lyrics

Have groups of students discuss the last two questions and share their ideas. How are they connected to the rest of the story? As an extension activity, you may want to try and have students write a stanza about the typical daily routines that take place in your classroom to the tune of the song, record them, and then join the different files together into one final song. Would you give it a try?

Diner by #96, on Flickr
Diner” (CC BY 2.0) by  #96 

Greg is grateful for those great green Greek grapes.

Tongue twisters are a great way to practise pronunciation, getting students familiar with the production of individual sounds (especially those that are different from their L1) and allowing them to analyse the stress pattern characteristic of the English language. And students like them! Prepositions used after adjectives, in contrast, are all too often problematic as learners lack clear guidelines or generalisations that can be drawn, and interferences with their mother tongue usually cause problems in the process of grasping these combinations. In the following activity, both tongue twisters and prepositions used after adjectives have been combined with the hope of helping students find those combinations meaningful through memorable tongue twisters created by the students themselves. Students are expected to have worked with adjectives followed by prepositions before.

The activity works best with alliterative tongue twisters, such as the following:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

Betty Botter had some butter,“but,” she said, “this butter’s bitter.”

I thought I thought of thinking of thanking you.

After eliciting that these tongue twisters share the characteristic of starting with the same sound for most of the words, students are divided into teams and given a number of cards for them to write their own tongue twisters. The only words provided are, in fact, adjectives that start with the same sound, and it is with this sound that they will be writing the rest of the tongue twister to the extent possible.

Cards.pdf

Teams first try to write their tongue twisters including nouns, a verb, one of the adjectives followed by the appropriate preposition, and any other words focusing mainly on nouns at this stage. Teams then swap cards and try to make the tongue twisters even more elaborate by inserting adjectives starting with the same sound. You may even want to have a third team look at the cards for more ideas. The cards are then given back to the original team so that they can revise them and edit them.

Theodore Thatcher was thankful for throwing things through the thick thatched roof.

Greg is grateful for those great green Greek grapes.

Frederick Freud was frightened of flying with friendly friends and fast food fries.

Jackie and Jeremy were just jealous of Jamie for jumping like Johnny and Jenny on Jonas’ jacket.

Sue’s son seemed suspicious of suddenly stealing several silver scissors from Samuel’s surgeon.

Raul was responsible for rescuing Roberta from a really risky river.

The end result of this collaborative writing process is finally shared with the rest of the class, either orally, or writing the tongue twisters up on the board, or typing them to be projected. Notice that the preposition followed by the adjective will stand out in most cases as they do not usually start with the same sound. A perfect time to draw their attention to these combinations and practise their own tongue twisters outloud, modelling individual sounds and stress patterns as needed. I have found many students refer back to this activity when adjectives with prepositions are used in a lesson, so they should be on the right track!