“How To Teach English To Young Learners”

How to Teach English to Young LearnersMy latest publication, “How To Teach English To Young Learners“, is now available to download completely free of charge.  This publication focuses on the teaching of English for Young Learners and I hope you enjoy this book.  You can download this eBook on your iPad or other Apple device.  I will be creating a PDF version of this eBook for those that are unable to or have no compatible device to download this eBook.

Thank you for your support, and I hope you enjoy this book.

10 Websites for English Language Teachers

All teachers enjoy reading and gaining access to more resources for lesson ideas or developing material for classes and I thought I would share the ten websites that I like to refer to when I am seeking for lesson ideas or material to use in possible lessons.  These ten websites below are my favourite websites that I like to refer to when preparing lessons, reading up on methodology or creating material.  So without any further delay, these are my ten must visit ELT-related websites.

1. British Council Teaching English

British Council Teaching English

For me the British Council Teaching English website is such a wonderful resource with many videos and blog posts that you can find a lot of information about teaching in particular contexts.  I do enjoy the regular updates that this website offer for those in English Language Teaching (ELT) from lesson plans and materials to interesting blog postings about language learning.  I use this website a lot with their videos for in-house Teaching Training sessions, particularly related to young learners.  This website is now also offering webinars which you could register and watch either live or at a later date. To add to the already abundant resources which you could gain, there are also the annual seminars which you could attend at the British Council or watch streamed via the internet.


2. ISL Collective

ISL Collective

There are not many free websites around for lesson material but ISL Collective really is a gem and would highly recommend teachers to consider using this website to seek for lesson ideas or materials.  You can search for material based upon grammar focus, skill, level of student or age.  Naturally, you have to consider the appropriacy of materials and edit them where necessary but the best thing about this website is that you can download the material in Word format and edit them where you see fit. If you visit other EFL-related websites, much of their material is in PDF format and non-editable. And unless you enjoy the unhappy task of recreating the worksheets, you will not be able to edit the texts.


3. ELTChat


One of the first websites that I was introduced via Twitter was actually ELTChat.  The aim of the website is to create a “freely available social network for ELT professionals” in order to assist CPD.  ELTChat host weekly chats on Twitter on a range of topics ranging from blended learning to dealing with mixed ability classes.  Their chats on Twitter are usually every Wednesday in the afternoon at 12pm or evening 9pm (GMT) and the chat is followed through the use of a hashtag (actually #ELTChat). Despite the chats remaining on Twitter, the transcript is then downloaded, analysed by us bloggers and then written about. It is a wonderful resource and you can find various blog posts about the discussions on all the various topics that ELTChat has incorporated in their weekly chats.  Summaries of discussions can be seen here.


4. Designer Lessons

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If you are quite keen to incorporate Dogme into your lessons but don’t know where to start, worry not as there is a wonderful website which offers teachers a wonderful selection of Dogme-esque teaching ideas which you could incorporate into your lessons.  Designer Lessons is a wonderful resource full of teaching ideas for those teachers which are keen to experiment with Dogme ELT and I would highly recommend teachers to consider using this resource to develop their repertoire of lessons and ideas for developing lessons for a range of levels.  As well as Dogme style lessons, there is also a range of lessons catered for exam preparation lessons as well as more traditional lessons organised into levels.


5. Wordle

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If you have seen other teachers create words clouds (essentially text generated in an easy to read and quite artistic manner) but do not know how to create such works of vocabulary art, then I would recommend Wordle.  I usually use Wordle on a weekly basis to create word clouds and I usually create key vocabulary or a review of vocabulary from the previous day this style of word cloud.  It is incredibly easy to create and it generates student interest straight away, as it is usually different to the standard “Do you know this word?” or “Let me explain this word that I have just written up on the board!”.  You can create an interesting and engaging introduction to key vocabulary by printing out the word cloud and doing the following:

  • Students look up words in a dictionary and then write out the definition in their notebook.
  • Students try to create groups of lexis – usually quite useful if you have a range of vocabulary with different groups (i.e. jobs, verbs, etc).
  • Look for the words in the text (if it is a reading).
  • Guess the topic or story.


6. One Stop English

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You are searching on the internet for a lesson related to Thanks Giving but most lessons which you have found seem rather boring as well as a bit teacher centred. Worry not, as One Stop English is offering a variety of engaging and motivating activities to suit a range of levels as well as ages.  If you want to develop the students’ awareness of American culture, then there are a range of engaging activities to achieve this ranging from webquests to listening.  Yes you have to pay for becoming a member of this website but the range of lessons offered really will benefit teachers and there are numerous activities and blog posts which support newly certified teachers.  I do pay for membership of this website and would continue to do so in the future as the activities involved with listening lessons are wonderful and it is such a relief to steer away from the coursebook from time to time.  Finally, this website is a great resource for those young learner teachers who are keen to develop their CLIL-related material as there are lessons and activities for teachers to incorporate in class.


7. BBC Learning English

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This was one of the first websites which I started using and referring to back in 2005 in my first year of teaching in order to gain an understanding with teaching.  I remember being asked why I used this website in my CELTA interview and how I use it.  I essentially mentioned that the BBC Learning English was a wonderful website and I prepared lessons using some of the ideas posted on the website, which was mainly geared for self study language learners.  However, I do enjoy browsing the activities and lessons for students as well as incorporating some of these ideas in the classroom.  There is a wonderful podcast which is updated on a regular basis which offers a grammar focus for students.  I usually enjoy preparing lessons involving the listening from the podcast to supplement a grammar point and some of the practice activities are great.  I really enjoy browsing this website and looking at some of the lesson ideas which are recommended.  Although this website is aimed for self-study, it is a free resource and with a little bit of work, the lessons developed could be adapted for a range of classes.


8. Cambridge English Online

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If you are looking for a website to develop flashcards related to the phonological chart or phonemes, then Cambridge English Online is an invaluable website.  You can create your own flashcards using their stock of images or uploading your own images, inserting phonetics for words.  It is a great website and I have used the applications on their website with my young learner and adult lessons.  There are other applications which focus on idiomatic language or the phonemic chart and you could use these within a classroom should you have an IWB or projector and computer in your classroom.  You could get students to create their own flashcards and print these out and then laminate them for possible flashcard games.  For more ideas for games involving flashcards, read my previous post here.


9. Lesson Stream

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A few years ago I was looking for lesson ideas related to images and fortunately I came across a wonderful website which contained loads of suggested lessons. I remember that I prepared a lesson related to the Mr Men series with the help from Lesson Stream.  Jamie Keddie has a lot of suggested lessons graded by level which teachers could incorporate in their lessons.  There are teacher notes and material all available on Jamie’s website and much of the material could be incorporated into adolescent classrooms with the correct amount of adjustment.  It is a wonderful resource and would supplement any coursebook.  Furthermore, this great website is free of charge for any teacher and all material can be downloaded for use with potential classes.  Personally, I used lesson ideas with both adolescent and adult learners and is a refreshing change to the coursebook.


10. An A-Z of ELT

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The final website which I would recommend any professional English language teacher to view is Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT blog.  It is a wonderful website stocked full of rich and engaging content in relation to the theory of language learning, acquisition and teaching.  It supplements the ELT dictionary, published in 2006, which is also called “An A-Z of ELT” and is a must read itself.  Nevertheless, there is a lot of content which is not included in the original edition of the book published on this blog.  Unfortunately, it is now no longer a live website but Scott has kindly allowed access for readers to view – “Thanks Scott!” – and if you are curious about the methodology of language teaching, learning and acquisition then this blog will assist you delve dipper into the profession and become more knowledgeable.  It has always been a useful ‘go to’ website, especially when studying a post-graduate or diploma in ELT as it has been invaluable for teachers looking at developing professionally.

So these are my ten favourite and must visit websites which I would recommend other teachers to visit.  I hope this helps you develop as a teacher and also support you when creating engaging and motivating lessons for your students.  Anyhow, what are your favourite ELT related websites?  What websites would you recommend that I visit?

First Lessons: Ten GTKY Ideas

You are probably wondering what on earth “GTKY” means.  Well, put simply, it means “Get To Know You”.  You usually teach your first lessons with similar activities so that you can get to know your students.  Nevertheless, every teacher, whether they are young learner teachers or adult teachers, have to deal with the fact that they are going to be meeting some new students on a regular occasion.  I don’t know about you, but for me I feel slightly nervous when meeting a new class of students and I usually have several thoughts running through my head during this time: “Will these students like my lessons?”, “I wonder what the students are going to be like.”, “What lessons will my students respond to?”, etc.  This post looks at ten lesson ideas to instantly develop rapport, learn more about your students as well as help you relax in first lessons.

1. True or False?

This is one of my favourite activities that I like to start with my first lessons.  I write up three sentences up on the whiteboard about myself and usually in this order:

  • I have lived in 6 different countries. (true: France, Germany, Cyprus, Korea, Romania and the UK)
  • I can read and write Korean. (true: usually quite badly though)
  • I am 34 years old. (false: a bit of a surprise to some I imagine but I am actually 35 years old)

I get students to discuss in pairs/small groups which sentences they think are true and which is false.  I mention that there is only one false sentence whilst there are two true sentences about myself.  I almost always write the false sentence about my age as I like to hear how young, but mostly, how old the students believe I am.  It is always nice to hear that students believe that I am 30 years old but I try to forget those thoughts that some students think that I am much older.

This is a wonderful little activity you can do first to the students and generates great rapport with all in the classroom.  After demonstrating the activity, you could get students to create their own true or false sentences about themselves.  Students love for you to learn a bit more about them as well.

2. Student Posters (Young Learners)

If you are teaching young learners, then you could get students to create a poster about themselves.  I usually demonstrate about myself with the learners and bring in a prepared poster with my name on the top on the A4 piece of paper and then other pieces of information.  I show this to all the students and ask students to create their own posters about themselves.  This art activity is really not suitable for adult learners so I would recommend that you don’t do this with them.  Additional information you may wish for students to add could be written on the board so that students have a good what they would like write.  For example, you could include the following:

  • Family
  • Sports & Hobbies
  • Likes & Dislikes
  • School
  • Pets

Students could also include images with their posters but you could also get students to create a digital version of their poster.  If your school has a class set of iPads or a dedicated Computer Room, then you could get students to create their own posters with access to their Facebook, etc.  Tablets and laptops will help with the creation of a digitised version of the student posters.

3. Five Fingers

On the whiteboard, draw round your hand.  For each finger write down information about interests or alike.  For example, you could include the following information for each finger:

  • A number which is important to you.
  • An important or personal place that you have visited.
  • A name of a person who is important to you.
  • The name of a sport or hobby that you enjoy.
  • The name of a song that you enjoy listening to.

Once you have demonstrated the activity on the whiteboard, get students to do the same activity on a spare piece of paper.  Get students to trace round their hand and then include information about themselves.  Get students to share information about themselves and get them to ask and answer questions.  When you are monitoring, you will be able to assess ability, possible language problems to remedy in a future lesson as well as provide some error correction at the end of the lesson.

4. Adjective Names

For this first lesson icebreaker, you will need a small sponge football and obviously some students.  It is a wonderful lesson to remember names.  Get students to stand in a circle and then pass the ball to a student and say their name but precede it with an adjective that starts with the same letter of the name.  For example, with my name “Martin”, you could think of “Magical Martin”.  If it is “Julio”, then it could be “Jealous Julio”.  It is probably best to explain this via the whiteboard initially.  If students have a problem thinking of a suitable adjective, then they have to sit down.  The person that remains standing at the end of the activity is the winner.  This GTKY activity is a wonderful chance for you to remember names, get the students to think of suitable adjectives as well as have a bit of fun for the first lesson.  It is possibly best suited for a strong Pre-Intermediate group of learners.

5. Creative Name Cards

One of the most important things to consider when you are teaching a new class for the week, month or term is learning the names of students.  One way is to get students to make their own name cards which could be displayed from their desks and then brought to future classes.  If you are anyway as bad as I am with names and faces, it always does help if you have student name cards to hand which you could glance to when you have a sudden moment of uncertainty.  To make them a bit more creative, you could ask students to draw things which are important to them (ideas could include numbers of importance, hobbies, family, etc).  It is all a good conversational starter and it will prompt learners to share experiences with each other (hopefully in English).

6. Find Somebody Who …

This is possibly the most common get to know you (GTKY) activity which has been used by language teachers the world over.  It was used in my university when I started my undergraduate degree.  It is simple really and you can create your own worksheet for this.  You get students to find out about each other and is best used when learners don’t really know about the other students in the classroom.  You can get students to find someone in the class who:

  • has met a famous person; or
  • has more than one pet at home; or
  • can play a musical instrument; etc

It is very simple and you can collect the worksheets after the activity that could be analysed afterwards so that you can then learn a bit more about your students.  A template of this simple activity is attached to this blog post so feel free to download it and incorporate it into future lessons.

7. Who Am I?

This is an interesting activity does require a little preparation but nothing too time consuming.  Cut up strips of paper and say to students that they need to write an interesting sentence about themselves: “I have a younger brother and an older sister” and students should not write their name on their strip of paper.  It is probably best to tell students to write at least no more than four sentences (with each sentence on a strip of paper).  You mix up all the student contributions and then pick one up and read it to the class and students have to guess who wrote the sentence.  It is an interesting activity and at the end of it, you could get students to recall anything that they can remember about their peers.

8. The Questions

Have a think about some common questions you usually ask when you meet a person for the first time (What’s your name?, Where are you from?, etc), but before you write anything on the whiteboard try to think of personal information about yourself and write this on the board.  This could include the following as an example:

  • 35 (How old are you?)
  • Maidstone (Where were you born?)
  • Germany, Cyprus, Romania, France and South Korea (Which countries have you lived in?)

Students then have to guess the questions (correct questions above in brackets) for the answers above and go through the first answer as a demonstration with the whole class together so students are aware what they have to do.  Get students to work together in small groups and so that they can check their answers, then work as a whole class and get some suggested questions for the answers and board these up.  You could then get students to find out about their partners/small groups with the boarded questions which could prompt them.

9. Classroom Rules

It is always a good opportunity to set the scene for students with rules, particularly for younger learners who are aged between 12 to 16 years of age.  This activity is suitable however could be used with any students no matter the age.  First you ask students to think of what they “Can” and “Cannot (Can’t)” do in the classroom and split up the board in half.  Learners walk up to the board and then write up their own ideas for each section.  Common ideas suggested include; “Only speak English”, “No mobile phones”, etc.  Once you have a lot of ideas boarded up, you could give the whole class a piece of A3 paper and ask students to create a Classroom Rule Poster which could be stuck up in the classroom and referred to in the future.  For example, if students are chatting in their L1, I remind them that they suggested that they should only speak in English and point to the poster.  It is a reminder and less authoritarian in its application as all ideas come from the students in the first lesson.

10. Guess Who We Were?

The final GTKY lesson idea is probably one of the best if you are able to organise it effectively. This first lesson idea has been done in our school before with our young learner classes.  It does require a little preparation and you do need some access to photos which could be scanned but with most teachers being on Facebook, you have access to half the material required (hopefully).  First ask all teachers/staff to bring in a really old photo of themselves as a baby or young child and a recent photo.  Scan these photos and create a worksheet where students have to match the corresponding photo of the baby/child to the more recent photograph.  Students work in groups and coordinate together.  It is a fun activity which is aimed at relaxing students in the classroom and you could extend it by getting students to create a similar worksheet or presentation and getting the teacher to guess which photo is connected to the student in the classroom.

What are your favourite get to know you activities?  Do you have a different first lesson warmer/icebreaker?  Have you tried any of the lesson ideas suggested and how was it?

10 Ideas for Games in the Classroom

The teaching of English can be a demanding profession for many, but if you are able to motivate or encourage participation from your learners during the lesson, you will have no classroom management issues. The key for encouraging interest and maintaining motivation during the lesson is to incorporate games or competitive activities during the lesson.  Most teachers tend to start or finish lessons with a ‘game’ to engage and interest their learners, but some of the ideas that I put forward could be included at anytime during the lesson.

1. Rolling Questions

Dice pictureIf you want to get students chatting, particularly adolescent learners, it can sometimes be quite difficult to motivate them to converse naturally in English.  One idea that I have used before in the past is to get a set of six-sided dice for small groups of students, prepare six questions prior to the lesson and write them up on the whiteboard.  Learners then roll a dice and the corresponding question is then asked.  You could change this activity slightly by getting students to un-jumble questions or to speak about a topic for as long as possible.  It is a great activity to promote speaking and enhance fluency and it requires very little preparation.

2. Role Play with a Twist

Every teacher has, at one time or another, used a role play to develop functional language.  However, you could spice it up a little bit.  Get students to think of two people, a place and a topic that these people are talking about.  For example, you may get Justin Bieber and Madonna talking at a bus stop about their weekend.  Before you get into class you do need to cut up some paper and a funny sentence on it such as, “You eyes are beautiful!”, “I can’t stop thinking about coffee!”, etc.  Place the pieces of paper (folded) on a table in the middle of the role play scene and mix them all up.  Get students to start their role play and get into their character and when you clap or blow a whistle the two students then have to pick up one piece of paper and then insert the phrase or sentence naturally into the role play.  It is incredibly funny and students find it very amusing.  I have used this with adult learners as well as young learners.

3. Chinese Whispers

Almost every teacher I have met have used this game at one point in their teaching career with young learners or adult students.  It is an activity which usually can be used as a filler for the last 10 minutes of class.  Most teachers know the game but if you are one of the very few who doesn’t know the game, here is what you do.  You get students either into a line or two lines.  I usually organise two teams to make it a bit more competitive.  Place students in a line or get them to sit down facing the board.  Give the student(s) at the front of the line a board marker and then you reveal a word, sentence or grammar point to the student at the back of the classroom.  The students whisper the word, sentence or grammar point to the person in front and this continues until the person at the front of the row has heard it and then they write the word on the board.  I usually give two points to a team which correctly completed the activity first, one point for those that finished second and correctly wrote the word, sentence or grammar point and minus one point to a team that wrote it incorrectly.  It is a very energetic game when you put students into pairs so expect a lot of enthusiasm in class.

4. Silent Chinese Whispers

A different take on Chinese Whispers is Silent Chinese Whispers!  What is “Silent Chinese Whispers?” I hear you ask.  Well the difference is that students are unable to whisper and have to remain silent during the game.  When students at the back of a row are shown a word, they must write the word on the back of the student in front of them.  It is best to start with small words which are quite easy to write (see, go, red, etc) and build the vocabulary up to something a bit more complicated.  Learners will find this different and they will have to focus a lot during the game.  You can sometimes see the tension rise when one student flounders a bit.  However, it is a wonderful take on the classic game of Chinese Whispers and demands a lot of focus from students.

5. Snowball Writing

You walk into classroom and each time that you try to get students to write they get bored very quickly.  Does this sound familiar?  Well not a problem!  You can do a fun and easy activity which encourages writing with all students.  It is called “Snowball Writing”.  You give each group of students lined paper and you tell them that they must write for a sentence.  When they have finished their sentence, they must scrunch up their paper to a ball – so that it resembles a snowball – and then when you blow your whistle or clap that students must start throwing their pieces of paper around the classroom.  If they see a piece of paper they must pick it up and continue to throw it.  When you clap your hands or blow your whistle again, students must pick up a piece of paper near them and then must continue writing another sentence.  Just repeat the activity as many times as possible.  You will find a lot of written input from students which you could then use for correcting at a later time.  It is a great and energetic activity which I would encourage any teacher (whether teaching young learners or adults) to include in their lessons.

6. Hangman

Hangman is another activity which many teachers have used over the years.  I remember using this with my young learners when I first started teaching and it was a great lesson warmer.  If you have not seen this game in action, don’t worry!  I shall let you know what to do.  You choose some words that you would like to introduce at the start of class, otherwise you could choose a number of words to review at the end of the lesson.  Write them on a piece of paper and make a note of the number of letters in a word.  For example, “helicopter” has 10 letters in it.  Keep a note to the number of letters in each word that you would like to use in the hangman game as this is important.  I always find it easy to have a list of words ready to hand and make a note of the number of letters next to each word.  It makes it easier to prepare the game.  To understand the game more fully, there is a wonderful video on YouTube by ESLClassroomGames describing the game.  I’d recommend that you watch the following video.  There are also some online hangman games available to play which has been created by the British Council.  These are great activities to use in class should you have a projector and internet access.

7. Sentence Hangman

So you have tried hangman many times in the classroom before but have you tried “Sentence Hangman”?  It is a twist of the original hangman but using sentences instead of individual words.  Have a think of a sentence or grammar form you would like to cover in class and write them out on a piece of paper.  Make a note of the number of words in the sentence and number these.  When you come to write out the words on the board, replace them with an underline – so if you have 8 words in your sentence, draw eight long lines to represent each word.  Split the class into two to four groups and each group decides on a word and they score one point if the word exists in the sentence, two points if they can guess correctly where it goes and minus one point if they choose a word which is incorrect.

For example, if you have a sentence such as “I(1) have(2) been(3) studying(4) English(5) for(6) eight(7) years(8)”, you must draw 8 lines on the board which are also numbered: ________(1) ________(2) ________(3) ________(4) ________(5) ________(6) ________(7) ________(8).  The first team shouts out a word such as “for” but they say it is in line 4.  They get one point and you write “for” in line 6.  The second team shout out “I” and say it goes in line 1 and they get two points – 1 for a correct word and one for placing the word in the correct line.  The third team shout out “was” but they score minus one point for an incorrect word.

It is a great game for all ages and it will really get students engaged in the lesson.  It is a wonderful idea to get students interested in sentence construction and getting them more aware of the grammar in an exciting and competitive way.  If students are having difficulty choosing the correct words, you could draw a picture which corresponds with the sentence.

8. Board Games

Talk AboutBoard games are wonderful to use in the classroom with many being created in MS Word or available on the internet but why do you have use the board games that have been created by someone else?  You could create your own board game for use in the classroom.  Or better yet, get the students to make their own board game.  You don’t necessarily need any dice, you could use a coin – heads move two spaces, tails move one space.  If you make your own board game, it is best to use A3 paper and use some felt tip pens.  Create a start and a finish position, add some bonus squares (move two spaces forward, next person misses a turn, etc), add some trapped squares (move back one space, miss a turn, etc) and then either write prompts for questions or discussion topics.  Board games can be used in class to prompt learners into talking English in the classroom and they are suitable for any ages.  You can even get young learners to create their own colourful board games for future lessons.  They are a wonderful resource and teachers should use them more in class.

9. Vocabulary Grab

You have taught some new vocabulary to your students but you want to check whether they can remember it.  What is the best way to check their knowledge?  Well you could test them, but you would have to be really mean to do this.  I would recommend a game which I call “Vocabulary Grab”.  If you have taught some new nouns, get some pictures of these, laminate them so that they don’t get destroyed, and stick them up around the whiteboard with BluTack.  Put students into two separate groups – it becomes a lot more competitive at this point – and when you call out a word, the students have to grab the corresponding picture and the team with the most amount of pictures are the winners.  It is a simple but effective game for all ages and if you use this game as a vocabulary review at the end of the lesson, learners will be leaving the classroom with a smile on their faces.

10. Twenty Questions

The final game in this blog post is another well known classic game called “Twenty Questions” which I assume many teachers have used in the past.  For those that have not come across this game, it is incredibly basic.  A student will be sitting at the front of the classroom and the teacher will give this student a word on a piece of card or show a picture.  This student is the only learner in the classroom who is aware of the word/picture and the other students have to guess the word by asking him/her closed questions.  The student at the front of the class can only say “Yes” and “No” so the students asking the questions have to aware of closed questions and they have twenty questions to ask to find out what the word/picture is.

For example, you show the student at the front of the class a picture of a watermelon and the rest of the class start asking: S1: “Are you a person?”, S2: “No”, S3: “Are you an object?”, etc.  After a bit of practice, the learners will start to understand the concept.  I usually demonstrate by telling students that I am holding a picture of something and they must ask me closed questions – questions where I can only answer “Yes” or “No” – and that they must find out what the object is.  Once the students have had a bit of a demonstration, I then nominate a student to come to the front of the class and then the students ask them closed questions.  During the demonstration process, I encourage learners to raise their hands if they wish to ask a question – it is a lot more controlled and rather less chaotic.

There you have it, my ten favourite games that I usually use in class for both adults or young learners.  What are your favourite games?  Why don’t you share them by either commenting or blogging about them!

ETp Live Conference 2014: Brighton

I was fortunate to attend the English Teaching Professional Live Conference this year, which was held in Brighton – so just a short train journey to the event. I arrived, collected my badge and was given a wonderful goody bag filled with various books and other things. There were 11 speakers at the event which included Chia Suan Chong, Antonia Clare, Jeremy Harmer, Mike Hogan, Philip Kerr and Ken Wilson, so I was spoilt for choice on which talk I would attend. It was quickly decided that I would attend talks based on personal importance and those that were possibly necessary for my school.

Thus, I decided to attend Jeremy Harmer’s opening talk “Sacred gift or faithful servant? Focus and creativity in the classroom”, followed by Dennis Davy’s talk “London calling – practical ideas on how to use London (or any city) as the theme of a series of lessons”, then Philip Kerr with “The brave new world of adaptive learning”, next with Anna Musielak’s talk with “How to incorporate drama, games, literature and popular culture into the classroom”, then Chia Suan Chong’s talk on “Creating the right impression – the politeness and pragmatics of EFL” and finally with Ken Wilson on “Ten ways to get your students to DO something”.

“Sacred gift or faithful servant? Focus and creativity in the classroom”: Jeremy Harmer

Opening plenary ETp Live 2014The opening of English Teaching professional Live 2014, in Brighton, was started by Jeremy Harmer.  As usual, he was incredibly energetic during the talk and started the conference by giving a quote by Sheryl Crow on what she has sacrificed for her music, which was her love life, but she also said, during a Guardian interview “I think whatever you give your attention to is what thrives”.  Jeremy attempted to link ‘more heart and more creativity’ in the classroom by focusing on what you love doing: teaching.  However, before answering this question, Jeremy wanted to remind attendees of the conference of important issues in teaching such as prompting creativity and attention in the classroom as well as demanding more from your learners.

Jeremy also, having been to various of his talks, linked musical practice to repetition in language learning which would then prompt automaticity.  There was a nice spin with the improvisation of jazz music with lexical chunks, with jazz musicians knowing over a hundred licks which could then be included during improvisation.  The obvious metaphor was that learners should have a bank of lexical chunks which they could pepper their speaking with to sound more fluent.  There was also another link with musical practice and English language teaching, which I had not thought about before, where Jeremy attempted to link ‘deliberate practice’ and ‘mindless practice’ with an emphasis that deliberate language practice is more cognitively important, where mindless language practice is unsuitable for any teacher and learner.  He finally suggested areas to improve focus and creativity in the classroom, such as demanding learner focus, seizing the teaching moment, providing CLIL-based tasks, etc.

It was wonderful start to the conference and it is always a pleasure to see Jeremy give such an enthusiastic and thought provoking talk.

Additional Reading: What Sheryl Crow gave her attention to

“London calling – practical ideas on how to use London (or any city) as the theme of a series of lessons”: Dennis Davy

Dennis DavyThe second talk that I attended was by Dennis Davy on using cities, with him offering London as an example, to develop cultural awareness and interest in language teaching.  There were various ideas offered by Dennis and it was nice to see that a teacher based in France was keen to incorporate cities into their repertoire of lessons.

The talk started with Dennis getting attendees to think of famous poets, musicians, painters, etc that were related to London.  There were numerous ideas of this shared in the room and then we moved on to the teaching of cities.  Dennis mentioned that the course that he developed in France was 30 hours in length and was loosely CLIL related.  The content of the course was negotiated by the learners and his learners were academics with the main aim to develop cultural awareness and cultural competence.

Dennis suggested different practical ideas which could be incorporated to practice the various skills of English:

  1. Speaking: presentations, discussions, spoken commentaries on paintings, etc
  2. Listening: TimeOut London, podcasts, films, music, etc
  3. Reading: poems, newspapers, short stories, etc
  4. Writing: essays, summaries of presentations, etc

The talk was invaluable for those teachers that had not considered teaching with the focus on cities, but there were a few questions from attendees enquiring whether students would be ‘sold’ on this idea of teaching, how student progress could be measured during the course and what the assessment criteria would involve.  Nearer the end, I felt that Dennis was giving a commentary of his slides as he was showing slide after slide of painters and paintings, and unfortunately I started to switch off.  I did come to this talk to see what could be included in the classroom not to see numerous slides of paintings, architecture, etc.  However, it was a good chance to reflect on what our school could develop or deliver by developing learner interest in cities or places of interest within the classroom, prior to our learners visiting these places.

“The brave new world of adaptive learning”: Philip Kerr

Philip KerrPhilip Kerr’s talk was about adaptive learning and it was the first time that I had come across the term ‘adaptive learning’.  Adaptive learning is online computer education which amends the delivery of teaching material based upon the answer provided by the learner.  Kerr painted a picture of the industry of English language teaching which was slowly becoming more and more reliant on technology with publishing houses focusing solely on adaptive learning applications to supplement and complement coursebooks.  He gave a first-hand account on how a large publishing house had spent their budget on the technology rather than focus on the content in the coursebook and the project had to be shelved in the end.

The second part of the talk looked at the replacement of teachers with technology and interestingly I read an article a number of days previously about teachers being replaced by technology and it is a worrying proposition by educational institutions.  Despite the debate of technology versus teachers, the big global institutions are able to drive their market to affect language teachers and schools.  The final focus of the talk by Kerr, focused on the development of learning management systems which were being developed and used for English teaching institutions such as Macmillan Campus and Pearson MyLab and Philip proposed that ‘technology in the classroom is offering a solution for no problem’.  Although the talk was of any practical nature, Philip maintained interest in the industry of English teaching that it was as useful as any other talk during the day.

Additional reading: Adaptive Learning in ELT

“How to incorporate drama, games, literature and popular culture into the classroom”: Anna Musielak

10503750_10154274374345573_1336425711_oAnna’s highly practical and invaluable talk was wonderful and it was so nice to go to such a talk and take away so many ideas which could be incorporated into the classroom.  She started the talk by asking attendees what we could do with drama, pop culture and/or literature with many ideas include:

  1. Drama: role-play, body language, etc
  2. Pop Culture: entertainment, instagram, etc
  3. Literature: Shakespeare

Anna provided examples of the different valuable games and activities which teachers could use in class.  Some of the best ideas which were proposed included:

  • Grab a slip: a pair of students are acting in a scene, the example at the talk was about the weather, and then when the teacher blows a whistle or claps, the students then have to grab a piece of paper and try to use the phrase as naturally as possible for the context.  Obviously, Anna created some funny phrases for the conversation and topic and both people demonstrating the activity were in hysterics.  I would like to use this activity in the near future with my young learners and you can change it from phrases to words or people, etc.
  • Snowball fights: everyone at the session wrote a question on the piece of paper, rolled it into a ball and then we threw them around the conference hall.  When Anna blew her whistle, we all picked up a paper ball and then wrote an answer to the question.  I would love to do this activity for get to know you activities and will use this in the future.
  • Talk gibberish: a pair of student work together and then one student is talking gibberish or some old literature like Shakespeare and then the other student is now translating in more modern and up to date English.
  • Cheering corrections: Anna told attendees of an engaging and interesting idea of correcting learners through the use of cheering or booing.  If an answer is incorrect, students should boo, and if it is correct, students should cheer.  It was a nice and engaging way of maintaining learner interest in the highly useful area of learner feedback.

Anna’s talk was really useful and I would recommend any teacher to attend her talk in the future.  She has some wonderful ideas which young learner, or adult, teachers could incorporate straight away into the classroom.

Additional Reading: Anna’s Twitter

“Creating the right impression – the politeness and pragmatics of EFL”: Chia Suan Chong

Chia’s talk on politeness in English was a very educational and helpful talk.  Chia initially shared her experiences of being considered ‘rude’ and ‘impolite’, when she asked her housemates, “Can you take the rubbish out please!”, in a very direct and loud way – which is often considered rude and impolite.  She introduced the concept of English as a Lingua Franca, known as ELF, and Kachru’s 3 circles of world Englishes.  This reminded me of my MA studies when I was looking at ELF and a Lingua Franca Core (LFC) by Jennifer Jenkins.  The great thing about this talk was that research had been conducted, with Chia sharing the results of this.  What she had done was record a day on the front desk at IH London and then go through the recording and transcribe this, then finally interview what was considered polite and impolite.

It was a very useful talk, with Chia demonstrating important areas of ELF: pronunciation, politeness, etc.  We finally looked at the ‘impressions of (im)politeness’ through the use of a video and being asked what was impolite about the situation in the video and then comparing it with a similar situational video.

Additional Reading: Chia’s blog

Ten Seven ways to get your students to DO something”: Ken Wilson

The closing talk was by Ken Wilson and it was the first time that I was going to see a talk by him.  He proposed seven, not ten, due to time restriction, ways to get students involved in the classroom and getting them to do things.  It was a very useful and practical end for the last session of the conference.  His seven strategies included:

  1. Make your students curious: what do you think this person is?
  2. Challenge them: a 7 second reading challenge – what can you remember?
  3. Teach unplugged (Dogme): abandon your plan and see what happens.
  4. Let them use their imagination: personalise the lesson and content.
  5. Do something just for fun: an active role-play – “What time is it?”
  6. Turn your class into a spider web: throw out answers back to the students and see if they agree or disagree.
  7. Be enthusiastic: if you walk into a class looking pretty miserable, your students will be bored and not want to be there.

It was a quick and paced talk with attendees having to do various activities during the session and before we knew it, that was the end of the talk.  It was so useful.

The talks were so useful and I really felt that I had acquired new practical ideas which I could incorporate into the classroom.  I was so happy to have met so many other teachers who were incredibly motivated and enthusiastic about teaching and I would highly recommend teachers to attend the next ETp Live event.