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!

Flashcards in the Classroom: Ten Lesson Ideas

The other day, I was preparing a lesson with an intermediate group of young learners and getting my flashcards printed and laminated.  However, when chatting to some other teachers in the staffroom, with myself behind the laminating machine, there was a brief comment that flashcards are more suited for beginner or elementary learners and more appropriate for young learners.

Flashcards are really good but more suited for young learners or really low levels of students.

Unfortunately, I really have to disagree with this sentiment as I have used flashcards with many different levels as well as ages of learners.  With this post, I really would like to push the boundaries of what is considered suitable for learners and offer teachers practical ideas on how they are able to incorporate flashcards into lessons with more than just young learners or beginner/elementary classes.  With this post, you will find 10 practical ideas for including flashcards in the classroom.

1. Circle Drilling

The most common use of flashcards in the classroom is for drilling and checking pronunciation with the class.  You can either nominate individual students or get whole class drilling organised with the use of flashcards.  However, when doing the Young Learner extension course at the British Council in Bucharest, I was introduced in how you could add a bit of a competitive element to drilling and pronunciation.  Get students to sit in a circle – get learners to place their desks to the sides of the classroom – and then they all sit down.  Introduce the vocabulary to the learners and drill pronunciation.  The next step to circle drilling is to hand one flashcard to a student to your left or right and then get them to pass the flashcard to the next student.  You can speed up the drilling by handing more and more cards to the students next to you and then watch the chaos ensue.  The students will find it incredibly enjoyable and highly competitive.

Drilling and Repetition in the ELT Classroom
Everyone enjoying circle drilling.

2. Pelmanism Flashcards

Another popular activity with flashcards, particularly if you have a picture and corresponding text, is to play a game where you match the picture with the correct text.  It is recommended that you demonstrate this activity to the learners so that they are able to pick up the rules of the activity.  Basically, you get place all picture and corresponding text flashcards face down and shuffle them up.  One student picks up two cards and if they pick up a picture as well as a corresponding word, then the learner will get one point.  It is best to get students to keep their pair of flashcards so that they are able to count up how many points they have achieved.  Young learners and adults alike enjoy this game in the classroom and is a wonderful memorisation activity.  If you have a large class of students, it is best to ensure you have at least four sets of picture/word flashcards for this activity, and share one set of flashcards among a small group of two to four students.  Therefore, if you have nine students, group them into three groups of three students and give each group a set of flashcards for the pelmanism game.

Pelmanism Flashcards
Grouped flashcards at the ready for possible lessons.

3. Bingo Flashcards

If you don’t have two sets of corresponding flashcards (either a set of pictures or a set of words), you can still use the one set of cards for a similar pelmanism game.  I developed this bingo flashcard game with a small group of elementary learners and we were looking at hobbies and interests.  I created my own set of flashcards, laminated these and then used them in the classroom to review the language from the previous lesson.  We reviewed the language by drilling and checking pronunciation (similar to the first flashcard idea) and then I shuffled them all and then placed them face down nicely on the table.  Then I called out one vocabulary, and one by one a student turned one card up.  If the card was the one vocabulary that I called out, that student would gain a point.  If it was not the vocabulary which I called out, then the student would turn the card back down and then the next student would turn up a flashcard.  The turn goes round student by student.  The student with the most flashcards at the end of the game wins.  You could get students to play this with one set of flashcards or you could group students into small groups each with their own set of cards, you call out the corresponding word or picture and then each group try to guess the correct card.  It is very similar to bingo but with flashcards.

Flashcards available for a bingo-style game.
Student made flashcards available for a bingo-style game.

4. Flashcard Whispers

The other day, I wanted to review vocabulary with a group of Chinese students and rather than naming the game “Chinese Whispers”, I decided to call it “Flashcard Whispers”.  I would use the flashcards to prompt the word/picture and students whispered the word/picture to the front of the group and the first group to write up the word or draw the picture would gain a point for their team.  It is a lively activity for students and gets them up and out of their seats during the lesson.  It is best used at the end of the lesson as a review and they leave the classroom with a smile on their faces.  Try it out and be creative with the points – the teams will be very competitive.

5. Student Created Flashcards

Why spend your own time making flashcards when students can be quite creative and make suitable flashcards for the classroom?  One way I do this is with idiomatic language.  For example, money related idioms are very visual and students could be quite creative by drawing suitable pictures for idioms.  You could use these pictures to supplement or review idioms at the end of the lesson/week.  If students make their own flashcards, which are then laminated, they could be used again and again.  Students also have a sense to own the language that they are learning and it becomes more memorable.  You could then use the student created flashcards for various games suggested above.

Student Idiom Pictures:
Student Idiom Pictures: “To make ends meet” and “To cost an arm and a leg”.

6. Flashcard Sentences/Questions

A really quick and easy way to get students up and about is to create sentences on each piece of card (laminating is an option) and cutting up pieces of paper.  Write up a word on each piece of cut up paper, and then students have to rearrange themselves in order, so that they are able to create a sentence or question.  I was introduced to this activity in the wonderful “Five-Minute Activities” which I would recommend any teacher to purchase as there are also a wonderful range of ideas for lessons.  I have used this activity successfully with both adults and young learners alike.  When you check, you could get students to say the sentence/question one word at a time to check understanding or whether they are correct.  Students then start to recognise patterns in English and, as like the previous activity, it is more memorable for learners.

“Five-Minute Activities” (p.96 Ur & Wright, 1992).

7. Pronunciation Checking Drills

A few weeks ago, I decided to create my own pronunciation flashcards for a lesson to review vowel sounds.  I printed these out and then laminated the pronunciation cards.  I visited Cambridge English Online Flashcard Maker and then created, printed and laminated the flashcards for use in class.  In fact, this free Flashcard Maker is very useful and I would recommend this website for all your flashcard making.  There are numerous pictures which you can embed in the cards, or you could draw your very own images for your flashcards.  You can create flashcards at any size (A4, A5, etc) and then print out when they are ready.  In fact I made these flashcards by inputting the text into the flashcard template.  So give the website a try.  Anyhow, once I created the phonemic vowel flashcards, I used them to elicit the corresponding sound from students as well as drill sounds – the students loved this activity.  After this activity, I got students to make their very own words using the corresponding vowel sound.  So a vowel sound with /e/, students could suggest: reset, bet, test, etc.  It was a great activity and got them to think outside the constraints of spelling particular topics of words.  We looked at the words the students created using the vowel sounds to help and it really made the students aware of their own pronunciation and how it also impacts on particular words.

Vowel phonemic flashcards ready for class.
Vowel phonemic flashcards ready for class.

8. Flashcard Hitting

When I was observing a fellow young learner teacher a few weeks back, he decided to use flashcards for his group of very young learners.  I was really impressed at how much he was able to incorporate them in his lesson.  One game which I particularly enjoyed was where he got two teams of students lined up and rows, with the learners facing the board.  He gave each pair of students at the front of the row a folded piece of paper – much like a ruler – and then called out a word.  The students then had to hit the corresponding picture.  The first student to hit the correct picture, their team was awarded a point and at the end of the activity, the team with the most points won.  The students rotated after each turn so all students had a chance to play the game.  He obviously spent a little time sticking up the flashcards upon the whiteboard in preparation for the game but the students loved it and I could see it being adapted for teenage or adult classes.

9. The Missing Flashcard

Another memorisation game which I used in class is whereby I bring in a set of objects and students close their eyes and I remove one.  One by one, the students have to remember the objects removed from the table.  However, these are with physical objects and young learners really enjoy this activity.  Nevertheless, you can use this with flashcards.  If you stick up a set of 10-12 flashcards up on the whiteboard and draw a small border round each, you can do a similar activity.  You drill all vocabulary from the flashcards with the learners and then you ask students to put their heads down on the desk.  Quickly remove one flashcard and then get students to put their heads up again.  Ask students which card is missing.  You point to each flashcard and elicit the vocabulary and then point to the missing flashcard and hopefully students remember the missing flashcard.  As more and more flashcards are removed, when you point to the blank borders on the whiteboard, the students should be able to remember the missing flashcard.  When you have a blank whiteboard and you point to the non-existent flashcards, the students will then feel a sense of achievement if they are able to remember the missing flashcards.  Try this activity out and is a really good 10-15 minute filler at the end of the lesson.

10. Flashcard Chunks

If you have two themes of flashcards and you would like to combine them, then this final idea might help.  For example, if you have a set of pictures of sports organised for flashcard use as well as set phrases to practice the Present Perfect Continuous, then you could elicit/drill lexical chunks with all ages.  Put the pictures on one side of the table and the corresponding set of time reference markers (using “since” or “for”) face down and pick up randomly a picture as well as a corresponding time marker and elicit from a student a suitable sentence.  So for example, if you pick up a picture of someone ice-skating and a chunk “2006” students could create a sentence such as: “I have been ice-skating since 2006”.  Check suitability with the other learners in the classroom and then drill the chunk of language with all other students.  It is a useful activity to focus on a particular grammar structure and does require a little more preparation than the other flashcard lesson ideas.  However, it does require a little more from the students and they will be able to find their way around the language with the required flashcard prompts.  This is possibly my favourite idea and have left this for last.

Using references of time for drilling.
Using references of time for drilling.

These are a range of ideas you could incorporate in class and you can see that flashcards are suitable for a range of levels as well as ages.  So please stop with the idea that flashcards are best suited for elementary and/or younger classes.  I hope that I have inspired readers to use flashcards more creatively in their lessons and that learners enjoy the use of the flashcards.  Just a few quick tips for managing flashcards:

  • Make flashcards large enough so students at the back of the class can see what they are.
  • Laminate the flashcards so that they can be reused in future lessons.  It will save you time in the long run.
  • If you don’t have a laminator, you can Sellotape the pictures/words onto card or use a plastic envelope to protect them.
  • Make your own library of flashcards and keep them in either a folder or within envelopes so that they are easily accessible.
  • Create a magazine drop-off box in the staffroom so that teachers have ready access to a range of magazines for pictures, text, etc for flashcard making.

Finally, I leave this post with a few questions for you to consider:

  • How do you use flashcards in lessons?
  • Do you use flashcards at all with your learners?
  • What is your favourite activity?
  • Do you have an activity to share with our readers that is not mentioned here?

Halloween is Coming: Arts and Craft

My best attempt at drawing a scary skeleton
My best attempt at drawing a scary skeleton

It was wonderful reading Sean and Sarah’s blog post on “Halloween is Coming“.  They posted some wonderful pictures of their young learners getting into the spirit of Halloween – definitely worth visiting their blog to see how they are settling into Korea and their regular posts of their classroom activities.  The activities that I really enjoyed seeing is getting the learners to create their own Halloween Pumpkins as well as their own personalised scary masks.

I believe arts and craft is a very under-respected activity in the classroom, possibly because the students are not necessarily taught any language points.  This in itself is a very prescriptive view of language teaching, whereby teachers are expected to deliver language points.  However, it is a nice refreshing change to focus on the soft skills in the classroom – getting learners to improve their cutting, sticking or colouring skills.  Whenever I have incorporated any form of arts, craft or project work in the classroom, learners revert to their L1.  This is another contention among language teachers, as students should be speaking English at least 100% of the time.  However, when you listen to what the learners are saying, they are negotiating the task set, exploring ideas or developing opinion.  It is not necessarily off-task and they are coordinating the activity to work better as a team.  However, there are better ways to develop project work in the classroom to ensure some vocabulary or language is acquired during the lesson.

One activity that I enjoy including during the task is to play background music related to the theme.  For example, the theme of Halloween is quite prominent at the moment so I like to include a Halloween song which I will be drilling or have drilled with students during the day.  The LearnEnglish for Kids website has some wonderful songs such as the Scary Skeleton Song (refer to the link).  When I was teaching a group of Colombian young learners last week, we drilled the song altogether and taught them vocabulary of the body.  I drew a skeleton on the whiteboard and got learners to name parts of the body.  The next lesson, I played the Skeleton Song as background music and put it on repeat.  The students were quietly singing to the song – they looked very relaxed – as they focused on writing a Halloween Party Invitation.

Another activity which could be developed after the arts and craft is a presentation.  For example, Sean and Sarah got their learners to create their own pumpkins.  You could extend the activity by getting learners to write a diary entry of their pumpkin, name their pumpkin, present their pumpkin person to class or create an acrostic poem.  An acrostic poem is where you get the letters of a word and then write extra words so “Pumpkin” could turn into:

  • P: piles of candy
  • U: under the bed
  • M: make for a delicious snack
  • P: people
  • K: know
  • I:   it’s been Halloween because
  • N: no one is without candy

Further information about acrostic poems are available from  Nevertheless, for any success with arts and craft, it is very important to prepare for the activities.  Get stocked up on glue, make sure you have enough scissors, get the coloured card or paper and get the coloured pencils or crayons ready.  As with anything, preparation is key and it is important that the young learners feel that they have the resources available to successfully complete their project.  It will motivate them and ensure that they are enthusiastic.

So, how do you supplement arts, craft and project work with a language focus?  How often do you do any form of art, craft or project work with young learners?  Does your school keep a stock of handy pencils, scissors, etc in the young learner classroom or do you have to buy this?  What are you doing for Halloween?

Using Video in the Classroom

An assortment of technology: Photo taken from by @grahamstanley, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Video in the ELT Classroom

The use of video in the classroom has seemed to evolve since Cooper, Lavery and Rinvolucri’s publication on the subject in 1991 by Oxford University Press.  Around that time, the internet was still underdeveloped, YouTube didn’t exist and the best one could use in the classroom was a VHS.  DVDs were not commercially available until around 1994, with the consumer market starting to use DVDs nearer the later 1990s.  It seems such a long time ago.  These days, there are more and more digital videos being recorded using various equipment including digital video recorders, smartphones and even tablets.  These videos can be accessed using the IWB, student or teacher smartphones or tablets.  Furthermore, teachers, as well as students, are now able to record or take pictures and develop a video to document a particular subject – be it their learning, their experiences of living abroad or their holiday snaps.  Therefore, teachers now have more creative opportunities to incorporate videos inside the language classroom and have therefore compiled my list of top ten classroom activities revolving around the use of videos.  One important point to consider is for teachers to receive consent from learners as well as more senior members of staff.

10. My Music Video Jukebox

If you are teaching a group of adolescent learners, they are probably called ‘digital natives‘ (people who were born during or after the general introduction of technology and the internet), while more … umm, how shall I put it?  Those teachers who have more life experience are possibly considered ‘digital immigrants‘ (people who were born before the introduction of technology and the internet).  Digital immigrants are considered to have a greater knowledge and understanding of technology, while their opposite numbers are considered to have a lesser knowledge and understanding of technology.  Of course this very crude and rudimentary stereotyping is probably nothing more than this – there are digital immigrants who have a greater understanding of technology than digital natives.  Nevertheless, if you are teaching adolescent learners, it is possible that they watch music videos on YouTube.  An activity that I like to get my adolescent learners to undertake is to choose between three to five music videos that are important to them.  Both students have to agree and it doesn’t have to be English music videos.

  • Tell students that they are going to work with another student(s) or the whole class and they have to choose between three to five music videos which are important for them.
  • If you have access to school tablets such as iPads or equivalents, tell students to head over to YouTube and search for music videos which are important in their life.  Provide a demonstration which is personal to your life.  For example, I always grew up with Tina Turner being played when I was young and if our family were driving to somewhere, it was always “The Best”.
  • Give students a time limit of between ten to fifteen minutes to collate three to five music videos and search for them on YouTube.  They need to give a reason why that song is important for them and let the other students have a watch of the music video.
  • By the end of the activity, students then have to put music videos in order of preference.  Students then have to share their preferences together and explain why they like or dislike particular music videos.
  • Obviously monitor learners and provide the necessary language for describing preferences.

9. Clipped Students

Your typical adolescent, young adult or adult will more likely have a smartphone or tablet which they enjoy using, particularly during the lesson to refer to a dictionary or get a more immediate translation on a particular word or phrase.  However, one activity you could do would allow learners a chance to use their smartphones or tablets.

  • Ask learners to record 2 second clips with their phones or tablets related to their day – it could be a recording of the street, a weekend trip or an object.
  • During the academic term or few weeks you may have them, they will start to collate a lot of 2 second clips.  Make sure you have access to a laptop or computer so that you can start to save their video files for editing later.
  • Hopefully with all the submission of video files during the day, you will be able to create a video composition.  Use basic video editing software such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker and add some generic background music.
  • You could use the video as a presentation for the school with new students or show it as part of an end of year/term party.  The students will find this incredibly motivating and fascinating to watch.
  • You could always share this video via YouTube.

8. Movie Advertisements

I love watching movie advertisements!  It really does get me motivated for the cinema and it is likely to enthuse your learners into watching a particular movie.  We all know the “play the several movie advertisements and get learners to decide which movie to watch or discuss” activity, but I always enjoy getting learners to be a bit more creative than this.

  • Tell learners that they are going to watch a movie trailer.  Choose a well-known movie trailer that they all will know, such as “The Hobbit” or “Man of Steel“.
  • Tell learners that they will be watching the movie trailer twice with the audio on and that they must listen to or watch the movie trailer and write down some important information (plot, characters, actors, etc).  They should make a note of this information as quickly as possible, due to having only two opportunities to do this.
  • Play the movie trailers and give the learners space to compare information with each other.  Group learners up in pairs or small groups and tell them that they will be giving a voice-over for the movie trailer.  They need to do this after preparing a script.
  • Monitor learners and provide help if required.  The learners will be collaborating and this will help learners notice and correct errors than writing alone.
  • When learners are ready, get learners to give their voice-over live in the form of a presentation to the rest of the class and hopefully this activity will give learners the opportunity to practice speaking spontaneously over a short period of time.
  • Get learners to mark each other and provide feedback and a chance for correction at the end of the lesson.

7. The Special Student Interview

The sharing of experiences is the epitome of learning about each other and what better way to experience this in the form of a TV interview.  For this activity, you need a device suitable for recording such as a smartphone, tablet or handheld video recorder and then you need to get learners to prepare the classroom suitable for a classroom interview.

  • Tell learners that they are going to meet a special somebody – it could be a fellow teacher, a guest or a family member – and that they are going to interview this person.  In order to do this, they need to prepare questions for this person.
  • Give them a bit of time to prepare the questions using the “Wh-“/”H-” question forms (What, When, Where, Who, Why and How) on a piece of paper or create a template form using Word or Pages.
  • Monitor the learners to ensure that they are developing questions well and assist if requested.  If required, offer students the chance to correct their own questions from various error correction techniques.
  • When students have created their questions, nominate learners ask the questions.  You could always get nominated learners to record the interview and control the camera, etc.
  • Once the interview is complete, you then can share the interview on YouTube for additional activities – sharing with other classes or as a review.

6. What’s That Sound?

One popular activity, probably done in countless English classrooms, is to play a video without the visual element and the only input is the sound.  It is a wonderful activity to incorporate during a context creating activity, particularly with young learners and are likely to engage and motivate learners with the topic.

  • Try to pick a video which contains a lot of sound effects.  However, the use of voice could encourage learners to think about location, characters or situation.
  • Ask learners to try and listen to video and write up or handout some questions for them to answer (How many people? Is it indoors or outdoors?  What sounds do you hear?).
  • Play the video a couple of times and then get learners share their answers in small groups or pairs.
  • After a short period, elicit some possible answers from nominated learners and board up some vocabulary or scaffold and correct learner input.
  • Finally, play the video to the class so that they can see what they have heard and monitor response.

This activity is really useful as a lead-in to a topic and can result in some really useful conversation in the classroom.  I have included some videos below which I enjoy incorporating as a context builder.

5. What Are They Saying?

Choose a short scene with two people speaking.  A video with a little emotion is preferable.  This activity can really get learners to try to read other aspects of communication, such as body language, pronunciation or other non-verbal cues.

  • Tell learners that they are going to watch a short video clip and that they will receive a script from that scene. Handout the script to each pair or small group of learners.
  • Play the short video to the class a number of times.  Once learners have worked on this activity and the video clip has been repeated various times, get pairs to group up with other pair of students like a pyramid activity.
  • Get small groups of learners to collaborate and help each other complete the script.
  • Finally, play the video with the sound on and get learners to compare their version of the script to the original video.  It will encourage learners to listen for particular detail.
  • An extension to this activity could include learners acting out the scene with another partner whilst another member of the class films the scene, which could then be shared via YouTube or with another class as a demonstration tool for a similar activity.

I have included a video clip below which I have used with this activity in the past.  It was a highly motivating activity for learners and does develop listening and speaking skills for learners.

4. Translating Subtitles

When I was in Korea and headed to the cinema to watch a Hollywood blockbuster, there was inevitably subtitles.  If the audience was lucky enough, there was a voiceover – this being more expected with animation movies.  Nevertheless, one activity that I enjoy doing is getting learners to translate subtitles into English with an English movie.

  • Choose an English movie and a short scene to play for students.  Select the same language subtitles as your learners’ L1.  For example, if your learners’ L1 is Spanish, choose the Spanish subtitles.
  • Play the short scene once without the audio and just the subtitles and image for learners.
  • Next tell learners that they are going to be translating the subtitles into English and you could either handout the subtitles on a worksheet (pre-made) or get learners to watch the movie clip and try to translate in small groups or pairs.
  • Once learners have translated the subtitles to the best of their ability, offer students the chance to compare their translations.
  • As a class, the learners have to create a final translation – so build it up like a pyramid writing activity.  Check their writing and offer self-correction if necessary.
  • The final part of this activity is to get learners to compare their translated English subtitles to the original English subtitles for the movie clip and notice the differences in language.  You could compare language or lexical phrases and it will engage the learners.

Please note that this activity is best for a monolingual group of language learners and it introduces students to the act of translating literally or by meaning.

3. Adding Subtitles

Another spin-off with the previous lesson idea is to get learners to add subtitles to various film clips.  There is a really useful and interesting web-based activity for learners to undertake with the various websites below:

  • Bombay TV – a subtitling activity for students to complete and create their own interaction.
  • Bombay TV2 – an additional subtitling website for students to visit.

The websites above can really get learners to create some imaginative subtitles and then share via a student blog or on Facebook. It is quite easy and the young learners will pick it up very quickly.  However, if you would like to look at a topic – giving advice or directions – you could make this activity more focused.

2. Roving Reporters

Do you teach adolescent learners?  Are you finding it quite difficult to get them talking in English?  One way around this is to get learners to either tell a story or the news for the day at your school.  It will engage, motivate and relax learners into speaking English with their peers.

  • Tell students that they will be reporting the school news for the day and show some news report clips from YouTube to get them interested.
  • Put learners into small groups and get them to think of school reports which they could include for the news recording.  Write up some examples: “Tony got married last weekend”, “It is Phillip’s birthday tomorrow!”, etc.  It could also be about the learner’s lives.
  • Make sure that the learners write up a script for the news report and then when they are ready, they have to choose a reporter, director and cameraman/woman.  Get them to do the news report until they are happy and then return back to class.
  • Once all groups of learners have completed their news report, you could get them hand you the recording for you to edit on a computer.  Make sure it is ready to upload and share via YouTube or with a special viewing one day.  You could always create a listening exercise from the students’ report.

Another variation of this is to interview famous people and the students could wear masks or just pretend to be famous people.  Students write up their own questions and then the interviewee has to answer the questions on an ad hoc or improvisational basis.

1. Filming Your Lessons

You are teaching full-time and you have very little time for peer observation or reflecting on your own lessons.  Do you want to become more aware of how and what you are teaching in the classroom?  You could always setup a camera at the corner of the room and then film your lesson for reviewing at a later date.

  • Check that the students and senior staff are happy for them to be filmed prior to recording – official consent is recommended.
  • Charge up the video camera before walking in and make sure that everything is connected.  You maybe able to connect the camera up to a power socket during the day.
  • Prepare your lessons, film the class and then watch.
  • You could always edit the recording and then upload to YouTube.  I have included an example below for a lesson that I recorded a number of years ago.

Christmas in the Classroom: Lesson and Classroom Ideas

Christmas Tree, Seoul © 2006

It is that festive period again when the artificial Christmas tree is brought out of the small cupboard at your school and dusted down.  And what better way to start this month off on my website with a few Christmas lesson and classroom ideas for my readers.  Obviously, you have to be sensitive where you are teaching and whether Christmas is celebrated in the host country.  Nevertheless, I would like to thank my followers on Twitter and other teachers for their contribution for this blog post as well.  So, let’s start with the first lesson idea.

Preparing the Classroom

What is the first thing that students see when they attend a lesson?  That’s right, the classroom.  The classroom will reflect the mood of the day so you will have to prepare a few things to get learners into the Christmas spirit.  You don’t need to spend a fortune and if you are teaching young learners, you could get the students to decorate the classroom.  Get some coloured pieces of paper, some glue, some scissors, coloured pencils/crayons and some glitter.  Hand these out to the young learners and tell them they have an hour to decorate the classroom and just let them be as creative as possible.  You will be amazed at what young learners can achieve if you let them have a little control over what they want to do.  For more older young learners, you could get them to colour in some artwork or draw things related to Christmas.  Once they have finished their artwork, you could pin them up around the room.

Christmas Cards

One thing that some nationalities do (if not most) is hand out Christmas cards to each other.  You could combine one relatively international tradition with language learning.  Ask learners what they write in Christmas cards in their own language and get them to translate.  Board some of these ideas up on the whiteboard or IWB and scaffold language where appropriate.  Once you have learner language boarded and scaffolded, you could get learners into pairs to write a Christmas card to their parents or guardians.  This activity would be great for young learners or teenagers alike.  With regards to their Christmas cards, you could either supply Christmas cards, pictures about Christmas (which could be cut and glued on supplied card) or hand out blank pieces of card (A4 size) which could folded in half then used as a template for Christmas cards.

Christmas Songs

There are some wonderful Christmas songs which could be played and used in the classroom to generate interest or motivate learners for the festive period.  If you have experienced a dip in motivation during this period of the year, it is a good time to get the jukebox out and get some songs blasting (especially when learners are doing some sort of art and craft activity).  I remember a few years ago, I bought a compilation album of Christmas songs on iTunes and use these songs in the classroom.  All learners respond well to the songs and they are familiar to them as they are played in their home country also.  Typical Christmas music activities could include gap-fills, reordering music lyrics or students learning the lyrics of a song and having a type of karaoke competition in class.  In my first year of teaching in South Korea, the non-native teachers prepared young learners to sing a Christmas Carol in front of their parents and their parents were really proud.  This is something which could also be incorporated in the classroom.

Christmas Quiz

A good activity which adult students could learn more about the culture of Christmas could be with the use of a quiz.  I have created a quiz and it is available to download below.  It could either be used as a web-quest or as a team quiz.
You could either use the quiz as a dictation exercise or you could do a “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” style of quiz.

Christmas Wordsearch

Wordsearches were the very first vocabulary activity that I used in the classroom with young learners.  I thought they enjoyed them and it was something that they could add to their learning portfolio.  Nevertheless, there is a place for wordsearch activities and I have embedded a Christmas wordsearch below which could be used in the classroom.
If you have an IWB and are keen to get learners up and out of their seats, you could use the electronic wordsearch as well. The link for the IWB version is available here.
Again, the Teachers Direct website is a wonderful source of information and you could create your very own wordsearch puzzle.  Just a quick note: the IWB version for wordsearch puzzles can only be created with a 15 by 15 wordsearch dimension.  So what are you waiting for?  Go to this website to create your own puzzles.

Christmas Nativity

For many children, the nativity play is a wonderful opportunity for them to work towards.  There is a lot of effort by many teachers across the country to organise the plays and it is a great chance for children to shine.  So why not have your very own nativity play in your language school?  You could get learners to dress up, make their own costumes or act in front of peers or parents.  It is incredibly motivating being recognised when acting in a foreign language and parents are very proud with their little kids when they are able to act a play in their L2.  Naturally, the teacher will have to be aware of the local culture in order not to upset local culture or religion.

Christmas Videos

A few months ago, I shared a video lesson plan with some ideas of using “Love Actually” in the classroom.  Feel free to use this with your adult language learners.  You should note that there is strong language in the video and make sure that learners are happy to watch the video.  Some extracts from a previous blog post is available below:

Love Actually – Intro Scenes

The second task that I set for learners was for them to complete a character matching exercise: match the character and their job/occupation.  Before watching the movie, we studied up on various occupations (housekeeper, housemaid, etc) and then I handed out a matching worksheet after the initial activity for learners to complete (which is below).  As there were a number of different characters/names, it was difficult work for students to learn about them and their occupations.  The learners were listening intensively to the dialogue and for any clues.  To check that they were listening with the first activity, I elicited the name of the Rock & Roll Legend (Billy Mack) and then told learners that they had to complete the rest of the matching activity whilst they watched the rest of the movie.

Love Actually – Characters

At one scene in the movie, where Mark and Juliet meet to discuss about a video from a wedding (about the first two minutes of the scene with the YouTube video below), I paused the movie and elicited their names.  I then went on to say that they are going to watch the next scene with Mark and Juliet with no sound and they have to predict/guess what they are saying.  I handed out a blank script and the learners will have to complete the script to the best of their ability.  It was mentioned that it made no difference whether they attempted to complete it and was wrong as it was all good practice.  I played the video and I was acting as a human remote control and learners were telling me: “pause”, “rewind”, “fast forward”, etc.  The scene was played a number of times until learners were happy to complete the activity and then act the scene out.  There was a lot of laughing and the students really got into the scene.

Love Actually – Script Juliet and Mark

Next, I played the scene with the sound off and then just the subtitles so that they could see what things were similar or different to their script.  We then played the video with the sound on and the subtitles off.  It was a wonderful activity and were quite responsive.  In the second lesson of the week, we continued with the movie and watched the ending.  I handed out a worksheet for learners to complete and it was a character summarisation.  Learners had to choose one character from the movie and write about him/her.  Luckily, all learners chose someone different and they had a look on Wikipedia or other websites to learn a bit more about their chosen character.  Fortunately, they decided not to plagiarise from Wikipedia and their writing was commendable.

Love Actually – About a Character

Christmas Links

There are some wonderful resources available on the internet and I hope that you really make some use of these and share your own experiences.

ESOL Courses: Christmas English Exercises
ESL Flow: Christmas Lesson Plans
Michelle Henry: Christmas Activities
Anglomaniacy: Christmas Worksheets

Don’t be a grinch and share your ideas of Christmas from the classroom.

Job Interviews: A Student’s Guide (Part 2)

Earlier this week, I was teaching about work and interviews, which was posted previously.  For lesson material and ideas, please view “Job Interviews: A Student’s Guide (Part 1)“.  The previous lesson, looked at interviews and provided a good sample of a job interview.  We also looked possible questions and developed answers for this.  I also uploaded (with the learners’ permission) a spontaneous role-play dialogue between learners with the use of SoundCloud yesterday.  It was a good opportunity for learners to access their speaking and re-listen to this again.

Anyhow, today we looked CVs and the art of writing a good CV.  We started the lesson by reviewing which sections were included in a CV.  Some sections included: Personal Details, Qualifications, Experience as well as Interests and Hobbies.  These were elicited and boarded up, with language scaffolded such as reference letter, a referee, supporting an application, etc.  We also explored briefly language associated with describing qualifications: MA, undergraduate degree, college (or high school), etc.  The learners were making notes and writing down all the language, which was about to be put to good use.

The next part of the lesson, learners were handed out the CV Template (see below) and they were advised that they were going to ask each other questions associated with the CV and then write their partner’s answer.  Thereby learners in essence were writing their partners CV.  Overall, I found the learners were able to develop invaluable skills in the classroom as well as practice question and answer forms.  I always find it useful to highlight language appropriate for reiterating and checking spelling: “How do you spell …?” and wrote this on the whiteboard.

ELT Experiences – Curriculum Vitae Template

I never got round to showing a video related to job interviews but I was thinking about how not to do a job interview and the great Monty Python sketch was something that I was really considering but perhaps this would be developed for future business related classes.

As always, please leave a comment below and share your ideas or experiences of teaching CV related lessons.