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.