Halloween: Lesson Ideas and Activities

Jack-o’-Lanterns at WSI Korea © 2007

At the end of October, people around the world celebrate halloween in one way or another.  It is a strange cultural annual celebration which people dress up in various spooky attire and go trick or treating.  I remember last year when I was teaching a group of Russian young learners (around Halloween time) and learners completed various activities related to this spooky celebration.  Nevertheless, I am writing up some tried and tested lesson ideas, school activities and ideas to decorate the school which you could incorporate inside and outside the classroom (from personal experience) that would work quite well with various age ranges (young learners or adults).

Decorating the School

One of the main events about halloween (as with other festivals during the year) is decorating the immediate environment such as the school and the classroom.  You could get the learners to help you decorate the classroom and school to set the scene.  Have a think about iconic images that are connected to halloween which could be used as props for classes: skeletons, witches, black cats, etc.  You could get learners to create these iconic images of which could then be stuck up on walls or the ceiling.  When I was working at WSI Korea, all the staff and teachers prepared the Centre for halloween (see the picture on the right) with images of skeletons, orange balloons and a black background with stars and moons.  When the adult learners entered the Centre, they were greeted with skeletons and other paraphernalia related to halloween.  The decoration of the school prompted student interest in the various activities organised and were keen to participate with these activities.
Reception at WSI Korea during halloween

Activities and Materials 

Once you have got your learners to decorate their classroom, or the rest of the school for that matter, you need additional lesson ideas to develop learner interest, authentic conversation and motivation.  Some of the activities or material can be sourced from other places such as the British Council LearnEnglish website whereby there are various activities which could be developed for adult classes.  Some example lesson materials are below (please note that the material embedded below is copyrighted by LearnEnglish).
The first lesson activity below, aimed for young learners, introduces learners to halloween and the material prompt learners to complete a true or false activity and then compare answers.  A sort of guided discovery activity.  I can see the potential in the class for the teacher to either dictate the true or false sentences as well as rewriting the material for adult learners.  Again, all reference are with LearnEnglish © 2012 and some of the resources available on their website are great.
If you are teaching Young Learners you could get some songs playing in the background related to halloween and a great song is Thriller by Michael Jackson.  You could either get learners to practice dancing to Thriller or get them to listen to it in the background whilst students are completing various lesson activities.
Another video song that you could incorporate in the classroom for Young Learners is from Genki English and it is quite catchy.  I came across Genki English when I was working at the British Council Bucharest.
One activity to review and compare cultural differences between the celebration of halloween could involve learners writing about this before comparing their writing with their peers.  You could also stick up their contribution on a wall which other learners to read and you could then create a reading relay using the student writing (the embodiment of a learner-centred classroom).  Hopefully, the reading/writing activity will prompt authentic conversation and discussion between learners with the potential to review emergent language.
Apple bobbing competition
There are also some other materials that could be imported such as the use of flashcards.  Halloween flashcards are available from LearnEnglish, Bogglesworld as well as a range of other sources.  Please check out these websites for lesson ideas and materials.  For example, LearnEnglish offer a range of lessons aimed for young learners for various festivals in the form of songs, stories, etc.  Nonetheless, the flashcards aimed at Young Learners could be used for various games: pelmanism, memorisation games, etc.  There is the potential for schools to organise a fancy dress event for halloween.  This was incredibly popular with the adult students at WSI Korea and can also be suitable for young learners.  Give students time to prepare for the event and offer a prize for the best dressed ghoul, monster, zombie, etc.  The prize doesn’t have to contain any monetary value but could also be a good marketing event for the school such as publicity on the school’s website, free classes for the winner, etc.

Fancy dress competition during halloween at WSI Korea
Finally, teachers could organise a range of events such as “apple bobbing” or creating a “Jack-o’-Lantern’ (as seen in the picture at the start of the blog post).  You do need to monitor children if you are getting them involved with any form of cutting or creative activity as there is a danger with children using a knife, so perhaps this is something that is best aimed for adult learners.  The activities suggested, such as “apple bobbing”, is incredibly motivational as long as you get students into two teams and set a time limit to get as many apples out as possible.  Also be careful with the water and make sure you get a towel ready so students can mop their faces as they are bound to get wet.

Do you have any favourite lesson activities when you cover subjects such as halloween in the classroom?  Have you tried some of these activities in class before?  Please comment any answers or other suggestions you may have for lesson activities.

There is a wonderful blog post by Carissa about the use of stories for halloween for young learners (as mentioned in the comments below).  I definitely recommend reading this to get more ideas, thank you Carissa: http://eslcarissa.blogspot.mx/2012/09/halloween-readings.html

If you would like to add your contribution please comment below and perhaps we can create a wonderful resource for all you teachers around the world.

Using Smartphones During Classes: Lesson Ideas

ELT Pics – Technology © 2011

I don’t know about you but a lot of my learners have a smartphone with a camera attached to it.  More often than not, they have their heads down in their laps looking at their phones or updating their Facebook status instead of focusing during the lesson and completing various tasks.  This got me thinking about how us teachers could incorporate smartphones into lessons and I prepared some lesson ideas.  Anyhow, I suppose we are constantly fighting to engage learners in the lesson and getting them to complete tasks.  One tenet of Dogme ELT is to include the resources that learners bring into the lesson and if learners (both young or adult) have a smartphone on their possession, how can we exploit this piece of technology.  Here are some of the ideas that I have used in class before:

  1. Picture Hunt – get learners to complete various tasks by using the camera (if one is attached to the smartphone) to take photos of different things.  I have included some material below for those that are interested in this activity.  Basically, students have to take a photo of something circular, something that is red, etc.  It develops the learner’s attention to detail and improves focusing during activities.
  2. Role Scene Pictures – another activity for learners to exploit the use of the camera.  Learners take photos of particular scenes (once they have completed a story brainstorming session in class) and then have to produce the story using a set number of images.  Students could then email you the pictures for you to print out and then they can produce a storyboard which can then be presented in class.  A variation of this activity is to get learners to create the same storyboard by using a listening/reading activity from a coursebook as the basis of the story.  It provides some structure if learners have difficulty to creatively produce a story.
  3. Mini WebQuest – the most popular form of researching is through the use of an internet quest.  Learners traditionally use computers or laptops to find answers to particular questions or support their writing.  Obviously, learners that have a connection to a wifi (if one is available in your school) could use the internet to find answers to particular quizzes (such as the cultural quizzes that I posted last week – British Culture & About the Queen).  A variation of this activity is whereby learners take photos of the QR Codes spread around the classroom to find out the answers of particular questions.
  4. Creating and Writing a Blog – smartphone technology these days offer people to write blogposts on the go.  If you school has a blog, you could get learners to write up a blog post.  It could supplement some form of speaking, listening or reading (What do you do in your free time?, Describe your family, etc).  Learners then work in pairs to type up their blog post and then you could (if you have an IWB or projector) show each of the blog posts to elicit feedback or error correction.  A variation of this activity could include using Google Docs as this is now available for iPads or iPhones.  You could create a Google Docs account for learners to logon, complete their writing so that it is then available for printing and error correction the following lesson.
  5. My Music – you could get learners to describe what music they listen to on their smartphone to partners and compare different styles of music.  It should generate a lot of discussion and a lot of language for scaffolding.  Learners are keen to play music on their smartphones to the class.  You could exploit this by creating a music quiz (learners have to write down the name of the artist, the song and the year it was released (bonus points for this one)).
  6. My Pictures – as with the above activity, you could get learners to share their pictures either on their mobile phone or from a social networking site such as Facebook.  If learners are willing, they could show pictures of family, their hometown, friends, etc should these be available on their phone or their social networking site.
  7. Classroom Text Messages – this activity could introduce learners to text message language in English. I know in Korean that there are a lot of characters used to express emotion.  In English we use acronyms so this could be introduced at the beginning of the lesson.  The next activity learners complete is for students to share their mobile phone numbers with each other and send each other a text message.  Put the students’ phone numbers on the board and they can create a message to share with each other.  Give the learners space and this will develop naturally.  It will provide learners the opportunity to practice writing short messages in English and responding to them.
There is a template lesson activity for the Picture Hunt activity below.  I hope it is useful.
What do you think about the use of smartphones in the classroom?  How have you used smartphones in lessons before?  Do you have another activity that has worked well in the past which you would like to share?

As ever, please share your ideas, experiences or opinions below in the comments.

Some links as suggested in the comments:

Google QR Reader

Puns and Riddles in the Classroom: Lesson Ideas

Yesterday, I blogged about using some quizzes in the classroom to raise learner awareness about British Culture.  In fact, quizzes and questionnaires could be used for a variety of different roles.  Today I would like to focus on the use of humour and riddles in the classroom to improve learner perspective whilst learning a foreign language.  Humour can play an important role in the classroom, particularly when interacting with learners.  It maintains and improves rapport, develops motivation as well as lowers the learner’s affective filter.

The first activity today includes getting learners to guess the answers to the following questions in the embedded document.  These questions were inspired by the Internet TESL Journal and their emphasis on jokes and riddles.  Anyhow, the learners are handed the following handout and they then have to think of suitable answers to the questions.  Get learners into pairs and working together.  Once learners have finished, you could get them to compare their answers to the rest of the class and then they have to work together to complete a comprehensive answer list.

English Riddles

The next part of the lesson involves handing out the answers in the form of a Wordle (look at the wordle image above), and getting the learners to link questions with answers, as well as check their own answers.  When I tried this lesson out with my learners, they were very receptive and they worked together and came up with pretty good answers (some correct and some worthy).

One final activity that you could include in the classroom could include dictating the following puns, students write out each joke and get raise learner awareness of double meanings.  The following jokes are some suggestions, with some more available in “Memory Activities in Language Learning” by Bilbrough (p.175):

  1. Two aerials got married.  The wedding was pretty bad, but the reception was great.
  2. One thousand pairs of underpants have been stolen.  The police are making a brief enquiry.
  3. Did you hear about the man who lost the whole left side of his body?  He’s all right now.
  4. What is the prisoner’s favourite punctuation mark?  The full stop – it marks the end of his sentence.
  5. The police have caught two men drinking battery acid.  They will soon be charged.
  6. Why did the man give up tap dancing?  Because he kept falling in the sink.
  7. Did you hear about the fire on the campsite?  The heat was in tents.
  8. Why is it a problem if you get sick at the airport?  It could be a terminal illness.
With my experience of teaching South Koreans, jokes seem to be rather a selective subject and some of the puns or jokes might not work with each class.  Nevertheless, how do you use jokes in the classroom?  Do you try to get learners to create their own jokes?  Are jokes an important part of English culture?  Can jokes be told across cultures?

Culture in the Classroom: Lesson Ideas

This is another blog post which is essentially an extension from the “A In The Life Of The Queen Lesson Plan“, which I posted up on ELT Experiences a number of days ago.  Personally, it is quite challenging to develop cultural awareness in the language classroom and anyway to improve learners’ knowledge of the UK it always a positive.  Some activities could include using a range of authentic British Newspapers (it is always better to have a selection of newspapers, rather than just one so learners are exposed to a range of lexis for the same story), incorporating music, videos or quizzes.  Personally, I enjoy the use of quizzes in the classroom and it is a wonderful activity if used as a web quest.

During the last week with my Young Adults at the British Council Bucharest, I decided to get learners more aware of British Culture through the use of a quiz, whereby they could search for answers on the iPads (lucky if your institution has them for use in class).  The quiz that I used included the following:

British Culture – Quiz

Students were keen to complete this activity and were happy to look on their iPhones or the iPads to find out the answers.  It really exposed the learners to British Culture.  The next part of the lesson focused on the learners trying to find out about their own culture and whilst working in pairs, would have to write up their own questions (practices question forms) and make a note of the answers on a separate piece of paper.  So I used the following template:

British Culture Student Questions

The final activity, once learners created their own questions, was that learners handed their own worksheet to another group and would then have to search for the answers.  This type of lesson developed learner autonomy and was incredibly engaging.  I hope you have a chance to develop this idea in your classroom and please let me know how it went.

For further ideas about developing culture in the classroom, I would recommend the following book:

How do you incorporate culture in the classroom?  What is the most difficult aspect of teaching culture?  What books do you recommend for teaching culture in the classroom?  What sort of activities do you encourage for learners to share about their culture?

The Value of Money: Post Lesson Review

The material used in the classroom.

I was teaching a group of Upper Intermediate adult learners on Tuesday and for some reason we looked at the value of numbers briefly (million, billion, etc).  The learners mentioned that they wanted to review the value of billion as it was different between the UK and the USA.  Here is what Oxford Dictionary mentioned about the value of a billion:

In British English, a billion used to be equivalent to a million million (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000), while in American English it has always equated to a thousand million (i.e. 1,000,000,000). British English has now adopted the American figure, though, so that a billion equals a thousand million in both varieties of English.

The same sort of change has taken place with the meaning of trillion. In British English, a trillion used to mean a million million million (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000). Nowadays, it’s generally held to be equivalent to a million million (1,000,000,000,000), as it is in American English.

US Debt Visualized website

I was left on Wednesday wondering how to introduce this topic of a million, billion and trillion.  I remember looking at an Infographic about the size of a ten thousand dollars to around 114 trillion dollars.  The Daily Infographic is a wonderful website that reviews statistics, finance and consumption using images and it has some wonderful prospects for Upper Intermediate or Advanced learners.  I looked online for the dollar Infographic and found it eventually on the US debt visualized website.  There was a lot of information so I decided that I would print out the raw images and cut these up.  The accompanying text would also be copied and pasted into Word and will also be cut up.  What I ended up doing was handing out the images in groups of three to four students first and getting groups to guess the value of the ever increasing size of money.  Next, I decided to handout the accompanying text and learners had to match the text with the images (a sort of jigsaw activity).  Before checking answers, I got each group to compare their answers with another group and then elicited the correct answers.  It was a wonderful activity and it really brought on a new opportunity to review large numbers and it was also more visual.

When reviewing the lesson, quite a boring subject (introducing numbers) was brought alive by the use of an Infographic image and the accompanying text.  After the main activity, there was a discussion about US Public Debt and whether the USA will face a total credit meltdown, as those are experiencing in Greece currently.  Nevertheless, I have found that some of the Infographic websites have some wonderful illustrations and hope to use these in the future with various other classes.

Nevertheless, have you used Infographics in your class?  How did you use them?  Would you consider using them in IELTS preparation classes?

Using Newspapers in Class

My materials that were prepared a few days earlier.

Yesterday, I had my second observed teaching class and I decided for the lesson that I was going to use newspapers.  I had developed some great rapport with the students.  I have never used newspapers in class and I feel that I should develop my teaching skills to incorporate some authentic material for the classroom.  Having never used newspapers in class before, it was a personal aim to include the use of newspapers as a basis for a lesson.  I read various books to get some great ideas including “Newspapers” (Grundy, 1993), “Using Newspapers in the Classroom” (Sanderson, 1999), “Teaching Unplugged” (Meddings & Thornbury, 2009) as well as “Practical English Usage” (Swan, 2005).  All these books had some great ideas for implementing newspapers in the classroom with the later focusing on the more conventional vocabulary and grammar.  I do have to personally thank Sue Annan for emailing me and providing me with some great resources which I will definately put to good use once I have completed my Advanced Practical Teaching course.  Nonethless, the linguistic aim for the lesson was to ensure that by the end of the lesson learners will be able to read and summarise various newspaper articles.  The sub aims focused on more of the practical skills such as reading for gist, skimming, etc as well as the forms and conventions of newspaper articles.  The main task (which I will go into more detail below) focused on a using visual clues to activate schema and encourage prediction.  So, what did students do for the lesson?

I started the lesson by asking students what they have heard on the news recently.  I felt this would be a simple and effective starter for the lesson.  This discussion (which included Egypt) naturally moved towards newspapers and at this point I asked students what British Newspapers they have read.  Students brainstormed for a few minutes and I transcribed their ideas/answers on to the whiteboard.  I then referred to a list of British Newspapers that I had found and showed some titles on PowerPoint.

The next part of the lesson was to introduce some Headlines and encourage learners to create sentences from the headlines.  I demonstrated this with the “Furniture Factory Pay Cut Row” and the sentence was provided included “A ROW (disagreement) about a CUT (reduction) in PAY at a FACTORY that makes FURNITURE.”  I gave the students 3 headlines to work through and assisted with any vocabulary queries they had which included “Red Tape”, “Slug” and “PM”.  I inserted one ambiguous headline (Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge) to see if they could spot the ambiguity but it was not possible.  It wasn’t the aim of the lesson so I let this possibility fade away as the lesson progressed.

This provided some progress on to the next part of the lesson, which introduced the idea of how small changes to the verb within a headline could change the meaning.  The example that I selected from Swan’s book was the classic “Boy Found Safe” vs “Boy Finds Safe”.  I provided learners a short time to figure out the differences in meaning.  Learners were able to determine that the lexical item “safe” has two meanings; one as a noun and the other as an adjective.  From this they were able to provide some example of the difference.

With the conventions and forms of headlines were introduced, it was time for students to put what they had learnt into practice.  I decided that a jigsaw activity was useful.  I bought several newspapers one day and then sat down and just cut out all the news articles that I found interesting (hoping that students would find them also interesting).  Each article must have a picture, a headline (almost all do) and an introductory paragraph for the news article (most do).  Once I had selected five stories, the pictures and headlines were glued on my old cereal boxes with cellotape used to laminate and protect them.  The introductory paragraphs were transcribed on to my PC, printed out and cut up.  I put students into three groups; one group had pictures, the other headlines and the other group had introductory paragraphs.  Each group had to keep their material secret and describe the headline (in a full sentence), describe what was in the picture and the other group explaining the main story (summarising the information).  The learners had to match the pictures/headlines/introduction all together.  The students were really active and I just let them get on.  They were really keen to talk about the material they had with each other and discuss amongst themselves.  They worked really well and were autonomous to a greater degree.  Once the material were all grouped together correctly, I got students to select stories that they found interesting.  Again this generated more discussion and the students were really taking charge of the lesson.

My teaching portfolio is increasing each time I add to it.

With a little bit of time left (about 10 minutes), and not really wondering if I should continue with the last activity (but did nonetheless), I introduced a humorous news article about “Crime-fighting milkman to collect MBE”.  I provided some keywords (drug deals, MBE, cow, queen, etc) and asked students to write their own expectation of the story using the keywords within their text.  They worked in groups and this really helped with creative writing.  Groups then wrote their story on the board and this gave rise to some cold error correction.  At the end, I showed the photo of the milkman collecting his MBE in a cow suit and provided the full article to the students to read at their pleasure.

Like I mentioned earlier, this was the first time that I had used newspapers in class.  I felt that I had used the newspapers well but there is so much more that teachers can do to include newspapers in class.  My DoS has mentioned that the use of “The i” by the Independent is written in such an easy to read way which could help students read extensively.  Furthermore, it is only 20p in the UK and available free on the iPad.  Anyhow, I hope to use newspapers more in class and will be referring more to the books mentioned earlier.

I have provided some resources that I used in class below for those that are interested.  Anyhow, I leave you with some questions for your own ideas.  What has been your experience of using newspapers?  What areas do you focus if you use newspapers in class?  Do you think newspapers is suitable for all levels?

Newspapers Presentation
Newspapers Presentation

Newspaper Paragraphs Ready to Cut
Newspaper Paragraphs

Crime-fighting Milkman
The Daily Telegraph – Milkman Awarded MBE

World Cup 2010: Lesson Ideas

The World Cup is a great opportunity for many teachers to introduce songs, facts and information for the classroom but another possibility for teachers is to use pictures. However, why would a teacher wish to use pictures in the classroom?

Pictures can support creative thinking, encourage free-thought and allow students the opportunity to discuss ideas amongst themselves. For example, how could teachers use the picture below in the classroom?

Ideas for the picture above could include:
  • Make a headline
  • What is the player in the background thinking?
  • Do you know player number 10?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • What is number 13/15 thinking?
  • Describe the picture to a partner and get them to draw it without them seeing the original.

I hope this sparks some ideas and if you have more, please feel free to comment.