pelmanism (with a twist)

Pelmanism: a card game in which matching pairs must be selected from memory from cards laid face down.

Here is my tweaked version of it. Give your students some scrap paper and ask them to cut out cards. On each card they must write down a word or an expression that they have seen in class that is both challenging and interesting to know and remember. Every student should be making about 6 to 8 cards. This will force your students to have a look at vocabulary from their textbooks and notebooks prior to the game.

Now get your students into groups of 3-5. The students, in groups, can sit around a desk where they will be placing the cut out cards face down. The first student turns over a card with a word or expression on it. She must prove knowledge of that word or expression by providing an explanation, definition or a translation. If successfully done, the card stays on the desk face up. Next, she will have to turn over another card and repeat the process. The same thing goes a third time. Only if this student has proved she knows the meaning of those three words or expressions can she keep those cards. Failure to know what’s on a card at any given point will result in that card (and the previous one/s) being turned over again and left on the desk for other players to choose.

I like this personal variation of the game for two main reasons. For starters, it provides plenty of repetition, which, as we all know, is essential to consolidation. Secondly, it gives plenty of help and chances to students who may need this. A highly competent student may know or remember the meaning of a given card but may fail to come up with a valid explanation or translation on the second or third round. This gives the rest of students plenty of chances as long as they remember the position of the cards.

And let’s not forget, the students are creating their own teaching and learning materials and they are doing serious work while it’s zero prep for the teacher. Having said so, you should be circulating and helping out when students need clarification or confirmation in their explanations, definitions or translations.

It’s up to you how long you want the students to be engaged in it. You may set a time limit and whoever has collected the highest number of cards will be the winner. You may let them play another game by switching sets of cards with other groups. Five to eight minutes for the first stage when students are generating the cards and another fifteen minutes of playing time seems adequate to me.

the ultimate listening game: ask Google assistant

Here is a listening game that you will fall in love with and, most importantly, your A1- A2 students will too. You may also try this with higher levels with the suggested items below or with more specific searches.

You need Google assistant on your computer or a phone and a set of speakers. Arrange your students in groups of three or four and decide on lexical items you would like to review. Let’s say your students have been learning words for jobs. Then go on Google and click on the microphone icon and say (or have a student say) “names of jobs beginning with t”. Google assistant will list five or six jobs on your screen and a computerised voice will be reading those words out. If you have a setup of a computer, projector and a screen in the classroom, hide it from view or tell the students not to look at it while they listen to the answers and write them down. There will always be answers they should be able to understand and identify at the suggested language level, as you can see on the video I recorded below (it’s also worth noticing that the quality of the computerised voice is quite impressive). And as for the answers that the students won’t know, it is up to you to decide to teach something on the side or not.

the ultimate listening game: ask Google assistant

A trick: if you have another tab open on your browser, you can quickly move tabs when Google starts to read out answers, in order for the students not to see those answers on the screen. Then, once you have checked answers with the class, you can switch back to the Google search screen for them to see. Or you can simply connect a phone to the speakers and run the activity just the same, but a computer and a screen allow for checking answers after each round. Give your teams one point for each of the words they identified.

You may decide to have a different array of questions or narrow this down to one lexical area, and play different rounds with different letters of the alphabet (as in “jobs beginning with t”, “jobs beginning with w”, etc.).

So how can this be used for low levels? Here are some items that work really well.

  • jobs beginning with …
  • names of men/women beginning with …
  • names of countries beginning with …
  • names of foods beginning with …
  • names of sports beginning with …
  • names of birthday presents beginning with …
  • best movies of the eighties/best movies of 2018
  • common hobbies beginning with …
  • fun things to do at the weekend
  • dates (when was “x” born?/when did “x”die?
  • numbers (what’s the population of Japan?)
  • the weather (what’s the weather like in Dallas today?)

Can you think of more? Lovely and principled use of technology and tons of fun and learning. And last but not least: zero preparation!!

phrasal verbs 4

I typically kick off my lessons with a vocabulary review activity followed by a communicative goal to put the revised language into practice. As a big fan of dictations, I decided to try this activity out with my class of Upper-Intermediate students.

A couple of days before they had completed an activity from the textbook (expressions with take). There was a list of 6 expressions with the verb take (take care of, take advantage of, take part in, take place, take (your) time, take into account) and three phrasal verbs with take (take after, take off , take up). The first task required the students to match the expressions with the meanings. For the second task the students had to complete some conversation questions with a phrasal verb or expression and then ask and answer with a partner.

So here’s the review. I identified some categories or “meaning areas”: “family and friends”, “travelling”, “hobbies” and “work” and I asked the students to get a piece of paper and draw four columns and head each column with a different category. Then I announced that I was going to read out the expressions and phrasal verbs with take that we had seen the previous day and it was their job to write them under the corresponding column on their own judgement.

This is a great review activity because it allows for creative and critical thinking. The answers will vary from student to student and all of them are as equally valid as long as the students can substantiate them. For one student take care of might go under “family and friends”, as one may look after a younger sibling or his/her child but why not under “travelling” as in take care of yourself being said by someone seeing us off at the airport. How about under “hobbies”, as one needs to take care of an expensive musical instrument that they play for fun or even under “work”, as one needs to take care of customers or equipment they need to handle. In truth, all reviewed expressions can most likely fit any of the categories if you rack your brains a bit.

Have the students compare their dictations and justify their decisions and then invite them to come and write answers on the board and have them explain to the class. Better still, invite a student to come up to the board to write about five or six items and then have the class discuss why they think those items are listed where they are and finally let the student explain.

You may recycle this activity and bring other phrasal verbs or expressions into the picture with different categories from the ones used previously.

For more teaching ideas and activities with phrasal verbs, check out these blog posts: phrasal verbs 1, phrasal verbs 2 and phrasal verbs 3.

find someone who (with a twist)

We are all familiar with “Find someone who…” speaking activity. Traditionally the teacher provides a series of tasks -written/displayed on the board or on printed handouts- for the students to mill around and ask each other in order to exchange personal information. The aim might be to practice a given grammatical structure, such as the modal verb “can”, as in “find someone who can play a musical instrument”, “find someone who can count to ten in more than two languages”, “find someone who can sing a song in English”, and so on. The present perfect is another common grammar target in this speaking activity. In addition to drilling questions and practicing the grammar, the students get to talk about certain topics.

findYour average “Find someone who…” sheet. Source: islcollective

How about if the students create their own find someone who? Here is how.

Ask your students to get a piece of paper and dictate items you want them to write answers for. You can use this example or you can think of your own items depending on whether you want them to drill specific grammar patterns or have discussions around a given topic. This will make a good dictation activity to start off with.

They must write down what is being said to them. They will be given some time to write answers later.

  • My perfect holiday destination
  • A videogame that I like
  • Do I prefer cats to dogs or dogs to cats?
  • Do I recycle a lot?
  • Am I a morning shower person or a night shower person?
  • Am I a Facebook person or an Instagram person or none?
  • What is my favourite possession?
  • A description of my town in one word
  • an English word that I have learned in the last 10 days
  • What is my pet peeve? (you might need to explain what a pet peeveĀ  is later). Here is a definition from Wordreference)

Once you have read out this list, let the students help each other to make sure they have the complete list. Then elicit the items from the students and write down (or explain) any words they might not have understood. At A2 level and with the exception of none andĀ pet peeve, they should have done a good job of it.

Next, give them some time to write answers for the items. Tell them it’s not essential they provide answers for all the items. They have four or five minutes to provide as many answers as they can (limited to one answer per item).

While they are writing their answers, write on the board:


  • loves … as a holiday destination
  • likes … (name of videogame)
  • prefers cats to dogs
  • recycles a lot
  • is a night shower person
  • doesn’t like Facebook or Instagram
  • has a … (favourite possession)
  • thinks that our town is (adjective describing town)
  • knows the meaning of … (English word or expression)
  • hates … (pet peeve)

Now collect their papers and write random answers from the students in the gaps. For example, you may write Bali in the first gap from a student paper, The Legend of Zelda for the second gap from a different paper and so on.

Finally, it’s time for them to mingle and have conversations around the items. Ask them to think of follow-up questions. For instance, if the answer to – Do you like The Legend of Zelda? is yes, the student may ask for things like what do you like about it? what is the goal of the game? Are you good at it? Do you play it online? etc.

Make sure you eavesdrop on your students’ conversations in order to check they are on task and to provide help or corrections when needed, to suggest vocabulary, etc.

whispering lyrics dictation

Are you familiar with whispering dictations, also known as Chinese whispers? In this type of dictations, students are arranged in a line one behind another or they are sitting in rows. Then the teacher shows a sentence to the student in front. This person has to whisper it to the student sitting or standing next to him/her, who, in turn, will have to whisper it to the next person, and so on. This will finally result in a final -and usually hilarious- message slightly or completely different from the original one.

Here’s a video from BBC Learning English about whispering dictactions.

I decided to get a bit more creative and use song lyrics as source for the sentences to be whispered and add a few more elements into the picture for a more holistic experience.

Here is an example for A-2 level. Depending on your class size, set up groups of 8-12 students and ask them to stand in lines. Show this to each student in the front:

“If we took a holiday, took some time to celebrate, just one day out of life, it would be so nice”.

So when the message reaches the last person in each group, ask those students to write it down on a piece of paper and then choose a paper from a group and ask that student to go to the front and copy his/her message on the board.

Reverse the order and now whisper the next message to each person at the back of each line.

“Everybody! Spread the word! We are going to have a celebration all across the world in every nation”. Follow the same procedure. This time choose a student from another group standing at the front of a line to write the message on the board below the first one.

Follow the same procedure with:

“It’s time for the good times. Forget about the bad times”.

“And bring back all of those happy days. Put your trouble down. It’s time to celebrate”.

“Let love shine and we will find a way to come together and make things better”.

And now it’s time to listen to “Holiday” by Madonna

Have the students listen to the song and come to the board and make all necessary corrections to fix the lyrics. You may want to play the entire song once and then play and pause right after they hear each corresponding original message.

Fun, productive, maximum participation and very minimal preparation.

museum of failure

What do you think the featured image above is? What do you think this gadget was used for? Do you like the design? How old might it be? Do you think it was a failure or a flop back then?

Display the image on a screen or else print a handful of copies with the image for the students to share and see and let them discuss these questions in pairs or small groups and then elicit answers.

Then let the students know that this device was called Nokia N-Gage and it combined features of a telephone and a handheld game system. It was released in 2003 and was discontinued just a couple of years later. If your students are allowed to use Internet connected devices, give them a couple of minutes to quickly read the entry on N-Gage on Wikipedia and scan for the reasons why this gadget didn’t do well commercially. Otherwise, you can let them know this (quoting from the Wikipedia article):

“Around 2000, gamers increasingly carried both mobile phones and handheld game consoles. Nokia spotted an opportunity to combine these devices into one unit. Nokia announced in November 2002 that they would develop the N-Gage, a device that integrated these two devices. ” “N-Gage attempted to lure gamers away from the Game Boy Advance by including telephone functionality. This was unsuccessful, partly because the buttons, designed for a telephone, were not well-suited for gaming, and the original N-Gage was described as resembling a taco, which led to its mocking nickname “Taco phone”.”

Next, tell your students that there is a Museum of Failure in Helsingborg, Sweden, that showcases a Nokia N-Gage, among other failed products. They are going to watch a short video with the curator of the Museum showing some of these products. What is he showing and why did the products failed? Play the video twice and then have them pool answers. Finally elicit answers and play the relevant bits from the video where this information is found. It is a good idea to rewind and play a few times and ask the students if they can report verbatim what they hear (thus focusing on decoding sounds and connected speech).

Allow the students to explore the site for a few minutes, if they can use the Internet, ( and/or get them into groups to discuss this question: What would you showcase in your Museum of Failure?

Sony Bloggie. Careful owner. Hardly ever used.

Personally, one gadget that I would showcase would be this camera that I hardly ever used, as the smartphone that I bought soon after performed the same functions and many more.