Real English Lesson: Functional Language

I recorded this lesson at my work of a fellow teacher preparing learners with functional language for debates and expressing points of view. It was a great lesson and I was so grateful being able to observe and record such a valuable lesson. I now thought that I will share this lesson with you all to see how my colleague is able to engage, motivate and support learners during a lesson. Enjoy!

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Five Practical Ideas to Incorporate Pronunciation During Lessons

On 8 October 2016, I gave a workshop at the University of Brighton as part of the IATEFL PronSIG event. It was a great event and there were some wonderful talks. Unfortunately, I had to leave at 3pm. As has been requested, I have shared my slides for my talk. I hope that these are useful and I will be uploading a video of the workshop in the next few days. Many thanks for the kind words and don’t forget to ask any questions below.

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10 Websites for English Language Students

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about 10 Websites for English Language Teachers. At the time it seemed to be quite popular with readers but it suddenly dawned that I did not write about any websites which would be best suited for learners of English. So read on to find out the 10 websites which I recommend for learners of English.

1. ESOL Courses

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This wonderful self-study website, ESOL Courses, is great for students as all lessons are available online, there is no registration so lessons are free and they cover a range of areas as well as levels. I was first introduced to this website when I met Sue Lyon-Jones and she was referring to this website. I would definitely recommend students to look at this website and do some of the lessons in their spare time.

2. BBC Learning English

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I have been using the BBC Learning English website since I first started English language teaching in South Korea. I always used to refer my students to it so that they could develop their own listening and vocabulary skills in their own time. The website has obviously developed and improved over time and there are now videos and activities.

3. Five Minute English

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This website, Five Minute English, was one that I came across by accident and it contains quite a number of lessons which focus on listening, grammar, vocabulary as well as a range of other skills. It is fantastic and students can look at this website in their free time. The website is basic but content is good for students to study a little bit more after lessons and is invaluable for those students who have very little time for self-study.

4. ESL Podcast

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This website, ESL Podcast, has small listening lessons for students to learn vocabulary and idiomatic expressions related to a particular theme. When students look at the lesson, there is a script. There are not any activities but it is just an additional opportunity for learners to improve their listening skills in their own time.

5. English Page

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English Page is an engaging learner focused website which offers areas of study with grammar, vocabulary as well as weekly lessons. It is a useful website with exercises within the website so students do not have to download or print activities. This can reinforce what is being studied during lessons.

6. Flo-Joe

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Flo-Joe has been around for years and I was introduced to it when I was working in Korea as it was the go-to website as lessons were associated with Cambridge ESOL Examinations and it still is. It is still an invaluable website for those learners that are preparing for examinations such as the PET, KET, FCE or any other Cambridge ESOL focused examination. Students will develop a lot of exam skills and they will be able to use this in their free time.

7. English at Home

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English at Home is a great website for students as there is a focus on spoken English, vocabulary and grammar. There are lessons available but most of the activities are basic ‘choose the correct answer’. However, it is a useful website that students could use to refer to during their selfstudy.

8. DuoLingo

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You cannot write a blog post for learners of any language who wishes to study in their own time without mentioning the great DuoLingo website/application. I have this on my phone whenever I feel inspired to study French or German. However, there are courses for students whose first language is not English but wish to selfstudy English. For example, a South Korean student can access DuoLingo and learn English with the ease of using their L1. You should definitely recommend your learners to access this website on their smartphones or on their laptop.

9. Breaking News English

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This is a wonderful website for students who wish to learn more about what is happening around the world, with regular updates to Breaking News English by Sean Banville. Students have free access to all lessons and activities as well as the audio. Students may need some support and introduction to the website but you could always get learners to complete a listening activity as part of their homework and then share their experiences of learning through this website.

10. University of Victoria Study Zone

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The University of Victoria has free access to a Study Zone and learners may benefit from the numerous online lessons. It is primarily aimed for students from the University of Victoria. This website has a lot of resources available for students with a focus on grammar, vocabulary and reading. It does require a bit of learner training but once students have developed confidence with the website, it could supplement lessons quite nicely. Lessons are organised into levels and there is also a grammar index.


As an idea for getting students to become more aware of online content to complement their studies, I try to show the websites in class with a class set of laptops or Chromebooks, students then choose a lesson, from one of the websites, to complete during the lesson. After they have completed a lesson, they then chat to their partner about the website and for homework I organise students to write about their thoughts of the self-study content and a review with a Google Drive document, which can then be shared to all other learners when they return to class another day.

What are your favourite websites to get students to learn English outside of the classroom? Do you recommend any that have not been mentioned here? Do you have any activities that you incorporate in class to supplement learner autonomy and training?

*An update to this post and to all my readers. I was nominated and successfully won the delightful Teaching English Blog of the Month Award. A huge thanks to everyone at the British Council for their support and massive thanks to all my readers, colleagues and friends for their help. To receive recognition for the work that I do and the blog that I maintain is fantastic, so a big thank you to everyone.

5 Fantastic Ways to Pair Students

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You know what it’s like, the students are sitting down in their predictable places and you say “Right! We are going to move you around. Listen to your number!”. You give a number to each student and you pair them up with their corresponding number. In essence, you just move the students – which is meant to be their new – partner but the same person that they are with for the remainder of their course. Why not pair up students or groups of learners in a different way? Mix it up a bit and add some variety to the class layout where students are expected to sit! In this post, we look at five exciting and innovative ways to pair up students together.

1. Reaching New Heights

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A simple and useful way to match learners together in pairs or small groups is to get them lined up and then ask them to go in order of height (from smallest to tallest – a good way to review superlatives). You can then put them together with the student next to them or reorganise them into small groups. It is quick, simple and affective. In fact, this was something which I was introduced to when I first enlisted in the Royal Air Force and they had all new recruits standing in a line from shortest to tallest. We were then divided into three with our flight being placed either at the front (shortest), middle (mid-height) or  the rear (the tallest). It is nothing new when you do this in your classroom and want to make the pairing up of students unpredictable and spontaneous.

2. Binomial Pairs

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This is possibly my favourite activity for pairing up learners together. I am unsure where I learnt this from but I think it may be from the wonderful time when I worked with Peter Clements (ELT Planning). He has some great ideas and highly recommend his blog. It is quite an easy activity to prepare. All you do is write down one half of binomials on a slip of paper and the corresponding half of the other binomial on another slip of paper. If you have ten students, you will be using five binomials split in half, such as:

  • Safe and Sound
  • Sausage and Mash
  • Sick and Tired
  • Give and Take
  • Peace and Quiet

You could demonstrate the activity first by writing up examples of binomials with half of them at random on one side of the board and their corresponding halves randomly on the other side of the board. Ask students to match each halves before handing out the binomial slips of paper. You will then hand out ten words and ask students to find their partner with the corresponding word. For example, if a student has the words “Safe and” then they must find their partner “Sound“. It is a great activity to pair up students and you could change it slightly if you want to use collocations or other related words.

3. Vocabulary Pairing

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This is another take from the activity above. Instead of using binomial pairs to match students up with another student, you could change it slightly by preparing vocabulary written on one slip of paper and their definitions written on another piece of paper. Essentially, students holding key vocabulary in their hand have to find a partner who is holding a corresponding definition. To make it slightly more complicated, you could get students to keep their vocabulary or definitions secret and those with the key vocabulary must describe it in their own words or the person with the definition must guess the vocabulary and say it. Once students find their partner, then they can sit with them and continue with the lesson. It is a great matching exercise for learners and a wonderful way to review language which had emerged from previous lessons.

4. Sentence Halves

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As with the previous activity, what better way to review grammar structures than using this as a way to pair up students together. For example, if your previous lesson focused on conditionals, you could prepare a number of sentences split in half (i.e. on the second clause) and get students to guess what would start or finish the sentence that they are holding in their hand. Get students to move around and find their partner. You could use some of the conditionals below to help you get started:

  • I will take an umbrella if it rains later today.
  • I am not going to work tomorrow if I don’t feel well.
  • I’ll arrive on Sunday if I can get a flight.
  • You’ll be cold if you don’t wear a coat.
  • He’ll be hungry later if he doesn’t eat now.

If a student is holding a piece of paper with “I will take an umbrella …” then that person must find a student who has a corresponding sentence to match with it such as “… if it rains later today.“.

5. Random Names

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For the last experimental way to make random pairs or small groups of learners, you could use a very simple way which requires a lighter approach to preparation is by getting students to write their names on a piece of paper which you give them. You place all the names in a bag or box and mix them all up. Make sure you don’t look at the pieces of paper and you pull out each slip of paper with a name and then tell students to be matched with another name. It is a simple and quick activity to pair learners up together but it ensures that you have no way to engineer the pairing up of students. This will leave learners with the reassurance that whoever they are placed with, they will not blame the teacher as it is much to do with luck than anything.

If you have the name of the learners to hand on a register, you could type the names out and laminate them for future use as well. You could also use the laminated names placed at particular desks so students have to sit at this location.


These are five ideas that I have used from time-to-time to pair up learners together but have you got any favourite activities for pairing learners up together? Do you simply count across the classroom and then get corresponding numbers matched together? I hope you try out some of these ideas and experiment in the classroom a bit more – your students will love it!


Further reading:

5 Ways To Spice Up Reading

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Reading can be such a passive and monotonous activity in the classroom: you walk in the classroom, tell students that they are going to read about a particular topic, brainstorm vocabulary related to the topic to activate their schema and then go ahead with the reading. They complete some comprehension questions, get them to check in small groups before eliciting answers and correcting where necessary. If you follow this basic format for reading activities, students will find it quite disheartening and you will start losing the will to live. Are there any different ways to spice up the activity of reading in the classroom? Well do not worry, I offer 10 different ideas.

1. What’s the Question?

You could follow the initial format of generating interest in the reading by getting students to discuss some questions related to the topic and then introducing some vocabulary but why give students the questions to the reading? A lovely activity that I enjoy doing, particularly for examination classes or any other for that matter, is to get small groups of students to write the questions for another group. You will notice students reading the text in greater detail and then liaising with others in their group to come up with suitable yet challenging questions. I usually allow students around 20-30 minutes to read the text and allow them to develop their questions and then another period of time to answer another group’s questions. It develops learners’ awareness of what they are reading and prompts learners to continuously question what they are reading and provides prediction skills particularly for examination classes.

2. The Hot Seat

If you use coursebook or other related reading material, you will notice that the reading is on the same page of the questions. One thing that I like to do is crop the reading and just copy this for learners and then remove the questions from the page. So learners only have the reading at their disposal. What they don’t have are any questions. You tell students that they are going to have a quiz in a certain amount of time and during this time, they must memorise the reading as much as possible: all facts and information. You monitor and help learners with any vocabulary they have issues they may encounter. After the time is up, put students into two groups and nominate a learner from one group to come to the front of the classroom and to sit in a chair facing the other students. You need to create at least 10 questions to check comprehension of the reading but students will not have access to this reading at this point during the lesson. Once you have the student in the ‘hot seat’, you then ask all questions to him or her. The student is likely not to remember everything and then you choose another student from the other group, then repeat the questions. The student/group who can answer all questions is the winner.

3. Reading Relay

One slightly fun activity to get students up and walking around is to stick up the reading around the walls in the classroom or even better stick it up in the corridor outside the classroom. Students are placed into to pairs and they you give them a list of questions about the reading but they must not take any pens, smartphone or the questions to the reading. One person from the group memorises a question, walks to the reading and then scans for the answer, memorises the answer, returns to their partner and then dictates the answer. Their partner then memorises a question and repeats the activity. The first group to complete this task correctly is the winner. After students have finished you could then check questions as a whole-class activity and getting students to nominate themselves to answer questions when checking with the class.

4. Jigsaw Reading

 This activity requires some additional preparation but the learners will really enjoy it. If you have a text which you are preparing to use in a lesson, you could split it up between two groups – one group will have some key information missing while the other group has other key information missing. The whole process of this reading is to get each group to write questions to find out the missing information which the other group will have in their reading. For example, it could be about a famous person (musician, actor/actress or politician) and within the reading. I usually board the following to provide an example:

Student A: Michael Parkinson is an English ________ (1) who was born on 28 March 1935.

Student B: Michael Parkinson is an English broadcaster who was born on ________ (2).

I then ask students what the question could be for each missing piece of information and then elicit and write up the question up on the whiteboard. The good thing about this type of reading is that it prepares learners to critically question their reading and think of suitable question forms for any missing information. This type of reading best works best for famous people or places.

5. Shuffled Reading

Your students receive a block of text, read it and then have to answer questions about it. Seems a bit boring to be honest, so why not spice it up by breaking down that reading into nuggets of information which could be reorganised? All you need to do is type up your text but then after each sentence or so add in a couple of line breaks. In the end you will have your text spread over a couple of pages with space between each sentence or two which could then be cut-up and then shuffled up. What do students have to do? Well simple really! They have to reorganise the reading into order. You may ask what students will benefit from this. They will be looking for cohesive devices or linkers between the previous sentence and the next one. You could demonstrate this task by handing out the shuffled and cut-up text to each and asking them to look for the first sentence. Once you have elicited the correct first sentence, you could tell students – as I usually tell them – “I have had a really bad day and cut up all your reading today. Could you please help me and put it back in order?” Once students have agreed on the order, you could reorganise the groups so one person goes to another group and then compares their text to their own. A final activity could be the standard reading comprehension questions but by this time, the students will have focused heavily on the reading that the questions are pretty much redundant.

What are your favourite reading activities? Do you have any special ideas to spice up the reading and make it a bit more interesting for language learners?

Popular Posts of 2015

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ELT Experiences Annual 2015 Report

It has been an incredibly busy year at work and home. Unfortunately, the biggest problem this has created is the lack of opportunity to blog more consistently. The flip side is that what I have written – which I aimed to be more practical and supportive for English language practitioners – was practical with some ideas for readers to incorporate in their own class. I have decided to review five of the most popular posts from this year.


1. 10 Recommended Books for the CELTA

This was initially written to answer some of the questions which my Facebook Group is constantly faced with: “What books do I purchase for the CELTA?“. It seemed rather popular with over 7,000 visitors checking this post out and commenting on it as well. Many thanks for finding this a useful post.

2. Preparing for the CELTA in Nine Easy Steps

Another popular post was, again, CELTA-related dedicated for those wishing to undertake a CELTA (or equivalent initial teacher training) course. It followed the most popular format on my blog by offering small nuggets of information which the reader could digest and use.

3. Ten Ways to Introduce Target Language

This post was more practical and aimed for current teachers of English. When I wrote this, I was always looking for a different way to introduce target language and wanted to be as creative as possible. In the end, I thought it would be worthwhile to put some of my ideas down and share with my readers.

4. Ten Tips for Lesson Observations

At our school, we were going through a process of observing teachers and during this time, I thought about some of the lessons that I had observed with teachers with years of experience but was still left scratching my head with questions such as “Why did you do that?” or “What did the students get out of the lesson?”. I decided to get some things straight by sharing some things to consider when you, I or anyone else has a lesson observation. Read the post for more information.

5. 10 Ways to Use QR Codes in the Classroom

In our school, we had some in-house teacher training sessions and one was the idea of using QR Codes as part of lessons. After the training session, I decided to get back to the drawing board and by writing up some lesson ideas to accompany the session and share with my teachers in our school. It seemed so worthwhile and, as has experienced, some of the teachers needed a helping hand on how to create the QR Codes and what to do with them. Thus, after I created a handout to share, I decided it was worthy of a blog post and decided to share with my readers. I hope you found it worthy.


So these were the most popular posts for 2015. What was your most popular post on your blog? Nevertheless, apologies for my lack of writing this year. It is one of my aims for 2016 is to write more often and to engage more with you, the readers.

What would you like to see next year? Are there any areas of teaching you would like to me to cover? Thank you for deciding to visit my blog over the year and I do hope you found it useful.

May I wish you all the very best for 2016.

Ten Ways to Introduce Target Language

It has been a while since my last post, about two months actually. Apologies it has taken so long for this post but it has been a very busy period for us at LTC Eastbourne with a lot of young learners coming through for the summer school. Nevertheless, this blog post is all about the different ways us teachers could introduce or elicit target language during lessons. The benefit of getting students aware of target language is to activate schemata/schema which essentially means getting students tuned into the language and preparing them for the lesson. For example, if you say to students let’s talk about food, they can predict that the conversation will obviously focus on vocabulary related to food and nothing related to jobs. Anyhow, let’s get started!

1. Antonym Matching

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.31.02The usual way to introduce key language is to just write them up on the whiteboard and provide the definition. This, in itself, is rather mundane and predictable. So, to liven things up a little more is to write up the words on pieces of paper all cut up and then write the opposite meanings on different pieces of paper. Get students to match words with their opposite meaning. Not only does it give the learners a chance to think about the target language but it also gets them thinking about corresponding words which have an opposite meaning. An additional idea is to just type up all the target language on one side of paper and their corresponding antonyms on the other side – all mixed up – and then learners have to match it that way.

2. Definition Matching

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.47.41A similar activity to above is to write out the target language on one side of a worksheet and the corresponding definition on the other side and get students to match the word with the suitable definition. It is a good activity for learners and it is best to have some learner dictionaries to hand in case students want to check definitions if they are unsure. This activity is also a useful exercise at the end of the lesson for students to review the target language they have acquired during the lesson. An optional activity is to split up the class into two groups, give one half the class the target language to find and write out the definitions from a dictionary on a separate piece of paper and give the other half the class the remaining half of the target language to find in a dictionary. Once they have finished, collect the words and definitions from each group, redistribute the words and definitions and then the groups try to match words and definitions. It is a useful exercise and it would provide an opportunity for students to review language at the end of the class.

3. Unjumble the Words

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.32.04A simple and effective way for students to work out the target language is to jumble up all the letters from target language. It is such a popular activity for teachers and it takes little time to prepare for this activity. I just find it easier to write out the target language on a piece of paper and then write out the letters in any order just underneath it. When I go to class, I can refer to this when writing up the jumbled words on the whiteboard. Very simple and then you could then use one of the other ideas in this post to introduce the language to your learners.

4. Missing Vowels

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.33.16This is another quick and easy task for learners to focus on and is especially invaluable for Arabic learners of English, due to their weakness of reading and writing in English. It is very easy to do in MS Word and all you need to do is type out a few underscores where the vowels are. It is simple to do, type the word in MS Word and then highlight the vowel by pressing “Shift” and using the arrow keys. Then type the underscore where the vowel is located. Handout the worksheet to learners and give them a time limit to complete. Once learners have finished, you could nominate students to come up to the whiteboard and write out the words, without their worksheet, from memory. Again it places students to focus on the spelling when reviewing the language and you could then use some of the other activities in this post to exploit target language fully.

5. Flashcard Drills

This is one of my most popular activities for introducing target language and one that students also enjoy. You first show a picture or a word and then read it out in a clear voice and then get students to repeat. All students could repeat or you could nominate particular students to repeat. Another activity is to sit in a circle, select a flashcard, speak the word or phrase, pass the card to another and then that student repeats the word or phrase. The flashcard is then passed around the circle of students until it arrives back to you. This activity could be sped up by passing the flashcards to students on your left and on your right, with learners trying to keep up with saying the target language and all the flashcards being passed around.

6. Stress Patterns

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 14.32.08An alternative activity is to write out the target language that you would like to introduce and then determine where the stress is placed within the word. You then create a table with the different stress patterns and ask students to complete the table by placing the words under the corresponding stress pattern. It is a useful activity which could then lead on nicely to a pronunciation focus with target language.

7. Phonemic Words

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.39.37Another activity to focus on pronunciation is to write out the phonemic script for target language to get learners to become more aware how words are pronounced. It is also a great idea to get students thinking about how they would spell these words and they will start to see patterns with vowel sounds and the spelling of these. The teacher could first introduce the words one-by-one with the use of flashcards – and using idea 5 above – or the teacher could place all words on the whiteboard and nominate students to pronounce selected words. It is a quick and easy activity and it does not take a lot of preparation for this activity.

8. Lost in Translation

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.41.11I like this activity and used it a long time ago when I first started teaching elementary learners. I first translated target language into Korean and then asked students to try to find a suitable translation in English – this is called back translation and quite effective. Learners could use their mobile devices and electronic dictionaries to translate the target language. You may find that learners will discover synonyms of target language. A different activity which involves translation could include translating the target language in the learners’ first language and also having the language in English, on separate pieces of paper, and getting learners to match the translated words with the corresponding Korean words. Translation goes a long way and can be useful for students wondering what the language is in their first language or the other way round.

9. Disappearing Words

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.44.37A previous colleague of mine, Pete Clements, from LTC Eastbourne demonstrated this activity to me a few years ago and I was quick to use this in class afterwards. Essentially, what you do is write up all the words around the whiteboard, drill the language, explain the definition of the key language. You then tell students to close their books – if they were making any notes of the target language and their definitions – and tell them that they have one minute to remember as many words as possible. You then draw a circle around all words or phrases, point to it and students say the word. You slowly erase the words, keeping the circles that you drew around the word and then point to it. Students have to recall the word from memory and you then start to remove more and more words, so in the end all you have is a blank whiteboard with circles around missing words or phrases. It is up to the students to remember as many key words or phrases that they can remember and it is an engaging activity for all learners no matter their age.

10. Wordsearch

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 13.41.51This is a wonderful activity that I like to do either as a vocabulary review or an introduction, particularly for young learners. It is easy to create a wordsearch, all you have to do is search for the term ‘Wordsearch Maker’ in Google and you will be directed to various different websites dedicated to the creation of word search puzzles. However, I would recommend the Teachers Direct website as a tool to create puzzles for language learners. It is wonderfully simple to create and all you have to do is to type out the target language in the website. This activity lends itself well to non-romanic language learners such as those that are Arabic or Asian speakers as they must get used to the spelling of the English language.


There you have it, all 10 ideas for introducing target language in the classroom. What are your favourite ways to introduce language in the classroom? Do you have any additional ideas? Why not share your 10 ideas? Thanks for reading and I hope you get some of these ideas into the classroom in the future.