summer series: three speaking activities

It’s time for another summer series. This time I will be focusing on speaking and here is a selection of three blog posts that have drawn a little bit of attention over the last couple of years. Click on the links for the full posts.

In speaking: from specific to general I argue how much more productive it is to think of very specific questions to encourage maximum student participation. In many instances these very specific questions will be associated with the students’ environment and to things that are relevant to their world. One can -and inevitably will- always fare from the specific to the general. A few examples are presented for reflection.

In the YARN approach I detail my own approach to speaking activities when using visuals as prompts for conversation. I came up with this acronym which stands for “You first!”, “Accuracy”, “Repetition”, “Not Interfering”. A practical example is presented where you can see how this plan unfolds.

In birthday party the students have… a birthday party. Instructions and key lexical items are gradually displayed on the board. If you have an interactive whiteboard or a screen and a projector, this idea will work a lot better. A few slides with ideas and vocabulary are provided but of course you can always adapt this to your teaching needs and language level.


summer series: three listening activities

This week I am showcasing three listening activities from this site which have gathered a lot of interest. In fact, the listening realm together with vocabulary activities seem to raise the most interest on this site. Click on the links for the full posts.

In one minute videos I take a look at Hugh Dellar’s collection of one minute videos on the Lexical Lab channel on Youtube and share a generic way in which those videos can be exploited in the language classroom.

In the ultimate listening game: ask Google assistant I devise ways in which we can use this feature with low language levels and create meaningful listening experiences in the shape of a game to support certain grammar and vocabulary areas.

In whispering lyrics dictation I flip Chinese whispers on its head and use songs as sources for this type of listening activity. Very well tested and tons of fun.

I am leaving out a lot of listening activities, as my target is three but feel free to explore more by clicking on “listening” on the skills menu. Next week I will be bringing a selection of speaking activities. See you then!

summer series: three grammar activities

Hope you are all having a nice relaxing summer. I am indeed. So here’s the second post on the summer series: three grammar activities. Click on the links for the full posts.

In skeleton questions the teacher thinks of conversation questions for the class for some speaking practice on a given topic. However, instead of writing down the actual questions, she only provides key content words for the students to come up with the grammar needed to formulate those questions. So in practical terms these could be some skeleton questions on the topic of “money”:

  • ever/find/money/if so, what/do
  • most expensive/ever/buy
  • next/”big”/thing/buy

This is much much interesting and productive than supplying the full questions.

  • Have you ever found money. If so, what did you do?
  • What’s the most expensive thing that you have ever bought?
  • What’s the next “big” thing you are going to buy?

In mannequin challenge students pose for photographs and then they have to describe the actions being performed. Ideal for A1-A2 levels if you want them to practice the present (or past) continuous.

A lovely activity: articles in English. Find a song, remove all articles from the lyrics and then have the students fill in the gaps. Then simply play the song for correction. Minimal preparation, short, sweet and to the point.

Back in a couple of weeks with the third summer series post, this time with three highlighted listening activities.



summer series: three writing activities

We have reached the end of the school year in many countries, including mine, and I shall be taking a break from blogging and sharing brand new content until September. That doesn’t mean that I won´t be writing. Far from that, in the next couple of months I will be busy enough developing ideas that have been sitting on the back burner for a while and I will have them on queue ready to share in due time. I use summers to mostly rest, travel and bask in the sun but I still like to keep myself busy to do research and write in the mornings.

In the meantime, I will be updating the site every other week with a collection of “old activities” in the shape of series. The first summer series focuses on writing. And here are three writing activities from this blog:

Random word generator takes a look at the site by the same name. Based on the random words prompted on the screen I suggest three activities: using some of those words to write Confucious proverbs and six word stories. Also, and my favourite, students grab four random words. The first word has to be in the title. The second one will define the plot. The third one is something about the main character. The fourth one  is something to do with a twist in the plot.

Vertical and Horizontal Development. By developping a sentence horizontally students add something that the writer or speaker  might say next. By developping a sentence vertically students add something that someone else might say next. Great micro writing activity in combination with listening comprehension transcripts.

In Delexical Verbs 2 the target is on a delexical verb, such as “take”. Students look at examples provided by dictionaries with different usages of this verb. For instance:

  • Take it from me, I’m telling the truth.
  • I couldn’t take it in the military.
  • What do you take me for, a fool?
  • They took to each other at once.
  • Do you take sugar in your coffee?
  • Can’t you take a joke?
  • Can you take the kids to school?
  • She took her own life.

They translate these sentences into their L1 on cards. The teacher collects those cards and randomly distributes them to other students for them to retrieve the original sentences by translating the L1 sentences back into English.

Have a fabulous summer and see you in a couple of weeks with three grammar activities.

jungle speech and sentence stealer game

For today’s activity I would like to acknowledge the work of Gianfranco Conti on devising ways of providing drilling and repetition in various ways through games, dictations and translation exercises and, most notably, Richard Cauldwell’s groundbreaking work on phonology and on trying to make the incomprehensible comprehensible. Richard Cauldwell has done outstanding work on sound decoding and he is particularly well known in ELT for his visually appealing analogy of jungle speech to refer to fast and messy speech. Richard Cauldwell envisions three realms in pronunciation: greenhouse, garden and jungle.

The Greenhouse from is the citation of a word, where we give an isolated pronunciation preceded and followed by a pause. Words are like isolated plants in pots in a greenhouse, separated from other plants.

The Garden is the domain of rules of connected speech: still predictable and rule-governed. Words here come into gentle contact with each other, and are grouped together into phrases and sentences.

The Jungle, however, is the domain of normal speech: words are crushed together into unfamiliar shapes, or may be crushed entirely out of existence. The Jungle is messy and unruly.

Here’s Richard Cauldwell’s site: a must if you are interested in becoming a better English listening teacher:

Helping learners to understand by dissecting -to put it in Cauldwell’s words- “the sound substance”, as if we were looking at an insect under a microscope is an essential part of the job of an English language teacher: training; not just testing. Adrian Underhill refers to this neglected area as the Cinderella of language teaching.

Now going back to Conti’s innovative ideas on drilling, I particularly liked his idea of “sentence stealer card game”. Basically the teacher writes examples of grammar patterns in sentences on the board for the students to drill. They are given four cards each and they choose any four sentences and copy them on the cards. The students walk around and try to guess what’s written on other students’ cards in order to steal them if they are righ. Find the idea here.

I thought this idea would work wonders for drilling pronunciation. Here are the greenhouse, garden and jungle versions of “I should have known better. I shouldn’t have bought it. Too expensive”.

So we could write or display ten to fifteen examples of “should have/could have/would have/shouldn’t have/etc…” on the board. We could drill and elicit pronunciation of some of the items in plenary mode. Then ask the students to choose any four and write them on their cards and have a go with the three versions by drilling them in pairs with the stealing card game devised by Conti. Circulate, eavesdrop and help the students out with their “messy speech” versions.

song: correct the lyrics

Songs are a double-edged weapon: on the one hand they are abundant and they are motivating language products so they are very inviting as classroom material. On the other hand, I personally feel most times they are used as fillers and they take up precious time that could be more wisely and productively spent on something else.

A major issue is length. The average duration of a song is about three and a half minutes. Playing a song a couple of times isn’t probably enough input for the majority of the students. Playing a song three times would seem to make more sense but at the expense of taking up 12 minutes, which, at any rate, does not equal 12 minutes of singing (or listening for words) time, as any song contains instrumental parts.

Here’s an easy solution: focus on a minute or two so that you can easily replay that extract at least three times, if not more. There are many things that can be done with just an chunk of a song. Here is one: correct the lyrics.

These three songs work really well for a B1 level of English.

Daniel. Elton John (one minute and thirty seconds).

Read this out for the students to copy on a piece of paper.

  • Daniel is travelling by train.
  • He is travelling tomorrow.
  • He is travelling to Spain.
  • I have been to Spain.
  • Daniel loves Spain.
  • He has been to Spain many times.
  • I don’t miss Daniel much.
  • I am older than Daniel.

Tell the students they are going to listen to a song. According to the song they will hear some of the sentences they have copied are not correct. Their job is to correct them. Then play the song from the beginning until you reach the line ” Oh oh, Daniel my brother you are older than me”.

Another good song is She is Leaving Home by The Beatles (one minute extract).

Read this out for the students to copy:

  • It’s Thursday morning.
  • It’s six o’clock
  • She’s opening her bedroom door.
  • She is reading a note.
  • She goes downstairs to the living room.
  • She has a handkerchief in her hand.
  • She is leaving home.

Again, students listen to the extract three times and decide which statements are true or not and make any necessary corrections.

Thank You. Dido (50 seconds)

Here is the video, if you want to try it out.

And here are the statements:

  • My tea is cold.
  • I am in bed.
  • The sky is sunny.
  • I drank too much last night.
  • I missed the train to work.
  • I’m late for work.

This activity goes beyond the word level, it is challenging at the target language level but achievable and gives students enough exposure. It also focuses on relevant information and not just random gapped words. Enjoy!!