ELT Experiences

Experiences of an English Language Teacher


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10 Recommended Books for the CELTA Course

It has been a number years since I took the CELTA Course, at least seven years since I actually completed the course at the British Council Seoul. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet other Native English Speaker Teachers (NESTS) and Non-Native English Speaker Teachers (NNESTS) resident in Korea wishing to develop professionally as teachers. We all shared our commitment to the profession and wanted to improve our skills as teachers. I enjoyed the course so much that I created a CELTA Group on Facebook to keep in touch with the other trainees. Anyhow, I have been thinking about books that were recommended before starting the course, as well as books that I have come across after the CELTA course, and I thought a blog post suggesting potential books to aid the CELTA trainee would suffice.

1. “Learning Teaching” by Jim Scrivener

Learning TeachingThe first book, Learning Teaching, that was recommended for trainees as part of pre-reading and preparation before as well as during the CELTA course. It is an incredible book which looks at teaching various skills (reading, writing, speaking, etc.) and proposed approaches for the classroom, which when learning to teach English to language learners, is invaluable. Also, there are sections within the book which assist teachers, both experienced and less experienced, which cover classroom management, various styles of teaching, methods and approaches to language teaching as well as professional development opportunities to consider. I remember the CELTA trainers advising that this book should be our bible during the course and we should attempt to read the various sections when required. Not only is it a useful book for before and during the CELTA course, but it has always been a book that I have constantly returned to, when getting ideas on developing a curriculum or planning courses and lessons.

2. “Advanced English Grammar in Use” by Raymond Murphy

AGIUAnother book which I had discovered invaluable as part of lesson planning, language awareness and teaching practice was Advanced English Grammar in Use. It was incredibly helpful when I wanted to look at particular grammar points in context and in more detail. For example, Raymond Murphy offers additional focus the use of the Present Simple in context with daily routines or habits. You could look at some of these suggestions and personalise it for your teaching practice. As well as the demonstrating of isolated grammar points, Advanced English Grammar in Use offers some thoughts on written grammar practice and this again could either be recreated and personalised in your teaching practice. If you are new to the teaching of grammar, you could purchase the lower levels of English Grammar in Use to better understand the premise behind certain grammar structures.

3. “Practical English Usage” by Michael Swan

PEUThis was another book which was on my recommended reading list for the CELTA course and I ordered it specially from the UK and it was delivered a week later in Korea. It is incredibly informative and will help trainees with preparing lessons focused solely on key vocabulary and grammar. This book is very well organised alphabetically from ‘abbreviated styles‘ to ‘yes and no‘. I have used this book to prepare lessons on vocabulary for higher learners such as newspaper headlines as well as focus on grammar. When you combine this book with other recommended books in this post, it is really really useful and I would urge any potential CELTA trainee or experienced teacher to go and buy this book. It is most likely in most English teacher’s staffroom but it is one of those books that you will return to and those teachers that have completed the CELTA, who had not bought this book, should really purchase Practical English Usage.

4. “Teaching English Grammar” by Jim Scrivener

TEGThis is the second book by Scrivener that I am recommending but this is not to suggest that I swayed by his books. Although Teaching English Grammar had not been published when I took the CELTA course in 2008, I was introduced to it when it was first published. Had this been available in my course, it would have helped immensely during the lesson planning stage. Scrivener aids the reader through various things to consider when teaching areas of grammar with suggested context building activities, language practice ideas, suggested concept checking questions  (CCQs) as well as possible learner errors occurring for each grammar item. It is incredibly useful and despite not having this book during my CELTA days, it has been great to get some ideas for teaching.

5. “Grammar for English Language Teachers” by Martin Parrott

GFELTThis is a wonderfully organised book which breaks down grammar into easy-to-understand chapters. As with some of the previous books which I have recommended, Grammar for English Language Teachers was recommended for the CELTA course as it could be referred to during the written assignments. As with previous reference books, this grammar book offers the reader the chance to consider some key aspects, provides the key forms of the referred grammar, typical difficulties for language learners, as well as some consolidation exercises to practice what has been learnt and improve your skills as a language teacher. When I speak to other teachers, they always tell me this is a good place to start when preparing lessons for teaching grammar.

6. “The Book of Pronunciation” by Jonathan Marks and Tim Bowen

TBOPThere are a few books that focus solely on pronunciation and after my CELTA course, I purchased Sound Foundations, by Adrian Underhill. I just found this book a little too theoretical yet with a bit more reading and focus, there were some suggested practical ideas and they were great. I do in fact recommend Sound Foundations for those that are interested in pronunciation as an area. However, with The Book of Pronunciation, the authors have created some fantastic ideas for isolated lessons on a range of pronunciation areas such as homophones, stress, intonation, as well as many other areas. This book offers some interesting areas which CELTA trainees could incorporate as part of their lesson and had I acquired this book before my training, I would have been able to experiment during teaching practice.

7. “An A-Z of ELT” by Scott Thornbury

AAZOEWhen you start your CELTA course, there is a lot of acronyms you need to get your head around; TTT, STT, CCQs, ICQs, PPP, etc. It can all be a bit overwhelming to be honest and you have a lot of other things to think about such as your lesson planning, assignments and input sessions that you need to attend. Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT offers a quick reference for all those hard-to-learn acronyms and abbreviations, and as everything is in alphabetical order you can find terms quite quickly.  As well as this, the book provides the trainee some background reading into some of the theories and ideas behind language acquisition and learning. Once you have finished the CELTA, Thornbury’s book can be referred to as you develop as a teacher and is also recommended for the DELTA, should you decide a few years later to do this.

8. “Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener

CMTApologies but this is going to be the third and final book that I recommend which is written by Scrivener, but to be honest his books are great for those individuals undertaking or wishing to undertake the CELTA. Nevertheless, one key element which is focused on the CELTA course is the area of classroom management which is heavily focused upon during the observed teaching practice. I remember the trainers telling me to improve my instructions and reducing teacher talking time (TTT). Of course it is useful to receive such feedback about classroom management but there was minimal reading with relation to this. However, with Scrivener’s latest publication, Classroom Management Techniques, he hopes to fill this void. The book is easy to read with some great illustrations, and it great for any teacher training sessions which I focus on with experienced teachers. There are many areas that Scrivener focuses on which include; the classroom, the teacher, the learner, lessons, etc. As with previous recommendations, this book is invaluable for the day-to-day running of a course and it offers some wonderful ideas to think about should you have trouble with a class or selected learners. At the end of each chapter, there are some questions for reflection on particular areas of classroom management. Unfortunately, this book had not been published when I took the CELTA course but it was one of those books that I purchased immediately as soon as it was available.

9. “ABC of Common Grammatical Errors” by Nigel Turton

ABOCGEThis book, by Nigel Turton, seems to be in short supply but if you can get your hands on ABC of Common Grammatical Errors, it would be highly recommended. The book is organised alphabetically with particular words and grammar forms. Nigel illustrates some common errors – these could unsuitable words, word order or grammatical errors – as well as their corrections in a systematic and organised way. This book can be easily referred to during the CELTA course to assist in anticipated errors for students and this could be written into lesson plans.  It would also assist in the developing awareness while teaching English and the potential pitfalls that language learners may encounter. With this book, you will be armed to to write your lesson plans in the best way possible. Get this book and you will not regret it. However, what this book lacks in possible errors that particular nationalities may encounter is recommended by the final book in this post.

10. “Learner English” by Michael Swan

LEThis is the final book for this list and also the second recommended in this post which is written by Michael Swan. Learner English, much like ABC of Common Grammatical Errors, is a highly informative book which prepares trainees in teaching and possible errors and first language interference possible language learners may encounter while acquiring English. Swan’s book focuses on potential phonological and grammatical errors based upon particular language speakers and this is invaluable for trainee teachers or those teachers new to particular speakers of a language. Each focus on language speaker, such as Arabic, has a general breakdown of phonological areas which are common in their first language and those phonological sounds which are not transferred to English. As well as this, the book also covers grammar and sentence construction with a literal and more reader-friendly translation to aid readers in judging how particular nationalities create sentences in their own language and better anticipate potential first language interference. As with other books, this book will help teachers develop their awareness of teaching various learners as well as monolingual groups of students. It is really useful and I would always recommend this book to trainee and experienced teachers.


So this is my top ten list of recommended books for the CELTA but what books would you recommend? Do you have any favourite books that you like to refer to on a daily or weekly basis? What books do you always read? As always, leave your comments below.


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“Translation and Own-language Activities”: Book Review

Last year, I wrote a book review for Philip Kerr’s book on “Translation and Own-language Activities” for IATEFL Voices. Today, I was participating in an ELT Chat discussion about own-language use in the classroom and I was looking for this book review for a while.  I suddenly realised that I hadn’t included it on my blog.  Apologies for the delay but please find the book review for “Translation and Own-language Activities” below.


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Harry Potter: Intermediate Lesson Plan

Harry Potter LessonHello all. I hope you had a wonderful Easter and you haven’t eaten too much chocolate.  I have been very good and resisted as much chocolate as possible, but I have been very naughty and decided to eat it after my resistance faded.  Anyhow, I have another lesson plan – this time focused on the Harry Potter books – which you could use in class.  It is hope that students would react positively to this lesson plan and then decide to read the Harry Potter novels in their free time.

The lesson focuses on the different books, the names of the books, more specialist Harry Potter language as well as a jigsaw reading activity about Harry Potter.  For a nice activity at the end of the lesson, students have a quiz.  You can access the lesson plan and all material below but I have been kind enough to attach the lesson to this blog as a PDF file.

Please enjoy and let me know how you get on in class!

Harry Potter Lesson Plan (PDF Format)


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N is for Nine years on

8b4d9-teachingunplugged

Reading “Teaching Unplugged”

After reading Scott Thornbury’s blog post about his forty years in the ELT profession, I thought, rather than post a large reply to his post, I would write a personal blog post about my journey in the ELT profession.  It was incredibly interesting to learn more about Scott Thornbury’s decision to teach as a way to travel as well as being taught the International House method of teaching the grammar of English in ‘contrived’ ways.  Nevertheless, I thought it would be a wonderful chance to share my own journey of becoming an English language teacher as well as the changes that I have noticed in the English teaching industry.

When I first started teaching, it was back in December 2005, after completing a degree in International Business.  I travelled to South Korea with my family fresh off the plane with a rejuvenated sense of teaching Korean young learners.  All that was required when I arrived to become a professional English teacher was to have the following:

  • A university degree
  • Be a native English teacher

Fortunately, I met these requirements and at the time I didn’t even need a certificate, such as the CELTA, to teach English.  I was so happy and keen to jump into the classroom.

I suppose this was the first thing that I noticed in the English language teaching profession was this ownership of the teaching of English, and the backwash was that institutes would only be allowed to recruit teachers from countries which were from either America, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa – which is the inner circle of language native speakers of English.  This had the unfortunate drawback that non-native speakers did not have the opportunity to teach in South Korea – but this is another blog post.  These days, from my personal observation with the South Korean English education system, they are more adaptable with regards to non-native speakers of English – especially for those teachers who are Korean themselves.  However, there still remains some issues of recruitment with non-native speakers of English from those countries which were not mentioned above.

Where do i goAfter a year, I joined a four week intensive CELTA course at the British Council in Seoul.  I had to go to their centre and go for an interview before being accepted on to the course but it was highly competitive and I was the only Brit on the course.  It was a joint interview with a fellow non-native English teacher and it was so nice to see the British Council accommodate non-native speakers of English on the course.  It didn’t seem such an exclusive course for just native speakers of English and we were able to share ideas of teaching English to adult language learners.  We were introduced to the British Council/CELTA method of teaching English – much like Scott Thornbury’s IH method – where we taught small elements of language items and grammar through a context.  I was very keen to put this into practice with my learners at our small school in a rural town of Korea but quickly realised that this was not so transferable towards young learners and I wanted to teach at an adult institute and I moved on to Wall Street English in Seoul.

I was so enthusiastic and keen to teach English via this newly discovered communicative method that I was quite popular among the learners.  My basic stages in all my lessons were:

  • Introduce the topic and elicit possible vocabulary
  • Introduce vocabulary for main activity
  • Undertake the main activity (reading, listening, etc)
  • Provide feedback and end lesson

I perfected this method so well and gave space for Korean language learners to communicate, that my lessons were rather popular.  I noticed an improvement in their fluency and keenness to speak with each other in English – a marked improvement from Korean young learners but a different kettle of fish.  After a few years, I returned to the UK.

My initial impressions of English language teaching in the UK was different to my views from South Korea.  I felt like I had just started out again as a teacher.  I was used to monolingual classes with students who were intrinsically motivated rather than groups of students where I had to try to encourage less motivated learners in class.  I was a bit wet behind the ears and jumped in with both feet.  It was the first time that I had taught alongside non-native English teachers.  This was one development that I saw in English language teaching from two different perspectives.

Soon after completing a few years experience in the UK, I decided to take a post-graduate course at the University of Sussex in English Language Teaching.  I decided to do the one year full-time course with a dissertation at the end of the academic year.  The first academic term was incredibly challenging but I pushed my knowledge and understanding of second language acquisition for language learners.  It was here that I was introduced to the concept of World Englishes and the ownership of English – which is still a hotly contentious issue.  At the end of the academic year, after completing a Diploma level course as part of my MA course, I decided to research teacher and learner uptake of Dogme ELT.  It was under-researched at that point in time and I found a new passion in language teaching.  I had only discovered the book “Teaching Unplugged” after receiving a copy to review on my blog just a month or so before I had to start my research.  I met with many teachers, posted a lot on Twitter and was keen to practice much of the lessons in the book as much as possible.  I completed my dissertation with a mark of 80% and was so happy.  I also volunteered at the IATEFL in Brighton that year and met up with the likes of Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings.  It was so nice to feel part of a group of language teaching professionals who were keen to strip back to basics with English teaching and it was then that I noticed a change in the air where teachers were becoming more experimental in their teaching practice.

After completing the MA course, I gave a talk at IATEFL Glasgow a year later on Dogme ELT to highlight the results of my research and, still at this time, it was a popular discussion in the ELT world.  However, since then, the discussion of Dogme ELT has quietened down a little bit more but there are the occasional posts from other bloggers but it has focused now more on culture in the classroom and translation has had some kind of resurgence – with a recent book by Philip Kerr “Translation and Own-language Activities“.

Finally, last year, the assessment of English, particularly those that are involved in certain professions, has stoked some interest by some academics and I was asked to attend a round-table discussion on the testing of English and the replacement of the Common European Framework (CEF).  In the classroom though, the CEF is rather popular and many coursebooks now align towards the CEF with “can do” statements.  It is an interesting development for teachers and something which kind of constricts learner freedom in language education where students are expected to acquire certain nuggets of knowledge and not beforehand.  However, there is the understanding that language learning is an unexpected and emergent phenomena which is completely unpredictable.

A talk about Dogme ELT at IATEFL Glasgow

A talk about Dogme ELT at IATEFL Glasgow

So, where have I seen language teaching develop?  Well, we had a resurgence in the communicative method when I started out – but this could have been going on for years before I started teaching.  There was also some interest and enthusiasm for more experimental and eclectic forms of teaching – Dogme ELT – but translation and own language use in the classroom is becoming more accepted in the classroom.  As a side note, I once asked in the CELTA where we stand in relation to translation and all I got was a lot of stares from the other trainees and trainers on the course.  I never felt that comfortable with translation in the classroom again.  There is finally some focus on standardising English teaching through the CEF and it is becoming less flexible.  However, there is some interest in teaching cultural aspects of language rather than grammatical items and I hope that in the future language teaching develops on to more cultural specific areas and the sharing of cultures through a common language.

I hope this answers your question Scott: “What’s changed since you started teaching?”


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University of Oxford Video Tour: Lesson Plan and Material

Lesson plan

It seems fitting that I continue past blogging performance with another lesson based post, but rather than post another authentic listening lesson, I would prefer to focus on authentic video.  The authentic video is related to a tour – which is rather educational itself – of the University of Oxford.  There are various gist and more detailed activities which revolve around the video itself with a final memorisation game.  A lovely supplementary lesson idea, as mentioned by a wonderful colleague, Peter Clements (ELT Planning) – who I might add is rather new to blogging but has some wonderful lesson ideas and I would highly recommend you reading his blog – suggested a tour of our school, whereby students prepare their own video tours of the school – which could be replicated by any other institution and their very own school.

Anyhow, I do hope you enjoy this lesson idea and you are able to incorporate it into your very own teaching.  All materials are available as part of a PDF download and the video of the tour of the University is embedded below.  As ever, it would be wonderful to hear how you got on with this lesson.

University of Oxford Lesson Plan and Material (Downloadable PDF)


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“I Have Never Seen Star Wars”: Radio 4 Listening

In my last post, I decided to create a lesson plan on an authentic news clip from Radio 2.  It has worked remarkably well and in light of this, I have now decided to create another listening lesson but based on the Radio 4 show “I Have Never Seen Star Wars”.  The main focus of the radio show is to get participants to do things that they have never done before such as wallpapering, cooking a meal or doing the ironing.  It is a really engaging and comical show which is available on their website and I would recommend anyone to have a listen.  The presenter is Marcus Brigstocke and he really does get listeners engaged in the show.  Anyhow, back to the lesson plan.


Aim: By the end of the lesson, students will listen to someone talk about a life experience that they have never done.  They will also listen to an authentic radio program.

Level: Upper Intermediate +

Grammar Focus: Present Perfect

Time: 60 – 90 minutes

Speakers: Marcus Brigstocke, Reece Shearsmith and a Driving Instructor

1. Draw up a picture of a car on the whiteboard and ask students whether they can name any parts of a car.  Label any parts that they can name and include the following:

Mirrors Brake Seat belt Engine
Clutch Accelerator Indicator Gear lever
Seat belt Hand brake Neutral

2. Ask students if they know any verbs or phrasal verbs related to driving a car.  Write down any language that they mention but also pre-teach the following vocabulary as well:

To pull away To pull in Brake
To signal/indicate Mounting the curb To give it some gas

Other vocabulary that would be good to pre-teach would include:

Curb (n) Pavement (n) Blind spot (n)
Death traps (n) My heart was pounding (expr.) Nice and steady (expr.)
No harm done (expr.)

3. Speak to students and tell them an experience that you have never done: rode a motorbike, done bungee jumping, etc.  Ask the students to see if they have not done anything during their life up to now.  As language emerges, make a note of this on the board and provide feedback at the end of the conversation.  Ask any students if they have or will take driving lessons in the future: Have you taken a driving lesson before?  Will you take a driving lesson in the future?  What was it like? What do you think it will be like?

4. Tell students that they are going to listen to a story about someone but show the pictures up on the board and elicit from them what they think the story is about.  Board up elicited stories on the whiteboard and help out with some vocabulary.  Pictures include the following:

Car crash Robin Reliant Driving Lesson Dukes of Hazard

Radio 4 listening

The story is that a person never took a driving lesson as his grandfather was involved in an accident with his Robin Reliant, which he also experienced.  He describes the accident like a scene out of “Dukes of Hazzard”.

5. Tell students that they are going to listen to someone talk about their experiences of their grandfather driving his Reliant Robin and have a driving lesson. Whilst they listen, ask students to choose whether the following sentences from the listening are true or false.

  • You have to be 18 when you learn to drive. (False – you have to be 17)
  • His granddad crashed his Robin Reliant by hitting the side of the road. (True)
  • The person had his driving lesson on an airfield. (False – he thought it would be on an airfield, it was actually in London)
  • He doesn’t know where his blindspot is located. (True)
  • During his driving lesson he got into second gear. (True)
  • His instructor’s name is called Jason. (False – he is called John)
  • He marked himself 8 out of 10 for his first ever driving lesson. (False – he marked himself 9 out of ten)

Get students to compare in small groups before eliciting the answers from the students.

6. The next part of the listening is to get students to put the following excerpts into order that they are mentioned. Play the recording a couple of times and get the learners to work individually before checking their answers in pairs or small groups.  Here are the following excerpts in order:

  • “You told me, and I was surprised actually, you told me you’d never driven a car or had a driving lesson”
  • “We hit the side of the road, in the Robin Reliant, and it literally – Dukes of Hazzard – went upside down rolling”
  • “I now feel really bad sending you on a driving lesson.”
  • “You thought you’d be taken off to a special track?”
  • “Umm … is it accelerator, brake and that’s for this, the clutch”
  • “When you go to pull away, where is your blindspot?”
  • “Now check your mirrors and gently, nice and gently, away we go.”
  • “Have a go at pulling away, getting in to second gear, pulling in.”
  • “Nice and steady now. Wait until we get round a bend before we hit second gear.”
  • “On your first lesson, you got up to second gear.”
  • “Not all of it on a London street, some of it on a London pavement!”
  • “I thought I would be more panicked than I was.”
  • “Do you think you’ll do it again?”
  • “Excellent! Sounds like you are both back safely.”

As an extra to getting students to re-order the text, you could get students to listen to the audio again and decide who said what.  For example, “You told me, and I was …” was mentioned by the Presenter, Marcus Brigstocke, so students could put (P) next to the quote, (DI) for the Driving Instructor, and (I) for Interviewee, Reece Shearsmith.

As a final activity, and practice, get students to speak to each other using the Present Perfect and Past Simple form.  Use the board game, available in the download, to prompt students to talk to each other.  Monitor the speaking practice and provide feedback and scaffold language, where necessary, at the end of the lesson.


Well that is all from the lesson plan but all necessary material is available as a download and the audio is accessible from SoundCloud below.  Again, I hope this lesson is useful in getting more authentic listening inside the classroom and getting your learners used to a natural speed of spoken English.  Have you adapted any authentic listening for the classroom?  Do you think it empowers students to listen to more natural English or do you think that any adaptation of authentic listening reduces its authenticity?

I have never – Upper Intermediate: PDF material and lesson plan download


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Authentic Listening in the Classroom: Lesson Idea

The majority of the listening that we play in the classroom is as inauthentic as possible, despite the fact that many coursebooks these days are using various authentic material such as radio interviews, podcasts or music.  However, what is incorporated to develop materials conducive to a classroom and learning environment is rather inauthentic in its application.  Nonetheless, I thought I would steer clear from coursebook listening for once and create my very own authentic listening activity to develop my learners’ ability to listen to various radio stations in their own time.  I just hope that the activities provide the confidence to my learners to listen to the radio in their free time and is not so inauthentic in its application during the lesson.

Lesson Plan

The lesson is aimed for Upper Intermediate students or above and should last between 1 hour and 1 hour 30 minutes.  By the end of the lesson, students will be able to listen to a 4 minute radio clip featuring 5 news items and prepare them for authentic listening outside the classroom.

  1. Ask students to discuss the initial questions to each other. Give students a few minutes to discuss in pairs or small groups and then feedback as a whole class, nominating students questions and board up any emergent vocabulary.
  2. After preparing students for the topic of the lesson, handout the three gist questions for the radio listening and play the recording once or twice.  Get the students to compare their answers with each other before eliciting the answers from students.  Here are the answers to the questions:
    1. What is the name of the news presenter on the radio? Jason Kay
    2. What is the radio station? BBC Radio 2
    3. How many news items were mentioned in the radio clip? 5 news items plus 1 weather item
  3. The next stage is to get students to first use the images as prompts to help them discuss the news items.  Once they have discussed the news items, get students to put the images in order that they are mentioned.  The order of the news items are:
    1. Foreign Office summons the Russian Ambassador due to 2 bombers flying near the UK
    2. Discs containing investigations have been lost in the post
    3. Jordan wants proof that their pilot being held hostage by extremists is still alive
    4. The number of Secondary schools underperforming has doubled
    5. OFGEM say that energy companies will increase tariffs to customers despite a large fall in the price of oil
  4. Once students have discussed the news items and put the pictures in order, handout page 2 and set students to find out the definitions for those words on the worksheet either in their dictionary or online.  Allow around 15 to 20 minutes and play some background music.  Just monitor and assist where necessary.
  5. Once students have finished looking for the vocabulary, elicit possible meanings and definitions with nominated students.
  6. The next activity is for students to put the vocabulary in the corresponding gap in the transcript from the radio clip.  You can either get students to put the vocabulary in the gap from memory or get them to listen and do this while the clip is being played.  Play the radio clip a few times.
  7. Once students have finished this activity, get students to write the correct vocabulary on the whiteboard and play a final time to check the answers as a class.

I hope that this lesson plan is useful.  Have you used authentic listening before?  Have you played clips from the radio before?  How did it go?  If you have any feedback on this lesson, that would be great.

Radio News Authentic Listening (Downloadable PDF document)

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