ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

By - Martin Sketchley

Zeitgeist 2012: A Lesson Plan

Last year, I wrote a lesson plan in relation to Zeitgeist 2011.  As 2012 is drawing to a close, I thought it suitable to reflect, as I had done with the #12from12 challenge, and to review the year in a greater context to world events.  Many events occurred during this year which are highlighted very well in the Google Zeitgeist video below.

As with last year’s lesson plan, you could review learner’s of the year, reflect on their achievements and aims for the future, perhaps with the use or the making of a poster.  Get learners to bring in their most important photos of 2012 and get them to share them with the class.

Context & Introduction to Topic

When starting the class ask students:

  • what they have achieved during 2012
  • what is their most memorable event during the year
  • what was the most surprising element of 2012
  • learner and/or teacher resolutions for 2013

Monitor language for correct tense usage, monitor language as well as boarding and scaffolding emergent language.

Zeitgeist 2012 YouTube Video

  1. Tell learners that they are going to be watching a video but put learners in pairs or small groups.
  2. Describe to each pair or group of learners that before they watch the video, they need to work together and think of five important events that happened in 2012.
  3. Elicit possible important events during 2012 from the learners and write their suggestions on the whiteboard.
  4. Tell learners that they are going to watch a video that is related to 2012.  The learners need to watch the video and check to see if any of their suggestions are in the video.
  5. Play the video.
  6. Once the video has been played, ask learners to mention what events that were suggested (and transcribed on the whiteboard) are in the video.
  7. Elicit any other important events from 2012 the learners and add these to the whiteboard (if the learners can remember some of the other important events in the video).
  8. Play the video for a second time.

Discussion Time

  1. Once several events from 2012 have been written on the board, tell students that they are going to be working in groups and have to re-order the events in importance (one being the most important and the last one being least important).  All learners within the group must accept the order of importance.
  2. Monitor learners for suitable or potential language that could be used to scaffold (I think … is the most important, Why do you think …?, What do you think?, etc).
  3. After learners have completed the re-ordering activity, get several groups together and to compare results with the potential to debate.
  4. Allow sometime once the debate/discussion has finished for feedback and error correction.
If you would like to review 2011 with the class, then feel free to develop the lesson with the Google Zeitgeist 2011 video (available below).  This will broaden potential discussion and greater reflection for language learners.
As ever, any comments or feedback on the lesson idea above would be greatly appreciated.  I would like to wish all my fellow readers a wonderful Christmas and all the best for the New Year.
By - Martin Sketchley

Using Prezi in Talks and Workshops

I have been invited for a talk on Wednesday 12 December for the postgraduate students on the MA ELT course about Dogme ELT.  It is an honour to be asked up to give a talk on this subject.  Furthermore, it is the first time that I am going to be trying to Prezi in the classroom instead of carrying around my MacBook Air and all the paraphernalia to give a talk.  Fortunately, the computers at the University of Sussex are all connected to the internet and I will be able to use Prezi (fingers crossed).  The Prezi for this talk can be viewed below.

On the off chance that the Prezi talk fails, I have a backup on my external hard-drive with a copy with PowerPoint.

The handout for this talk (available for attendees) is embedded below.  Feel free to contact me should you wish for a copy to be emailed.

Incorporating Dogme ELT in the Classroom Handout

Anyhow, has anyone else used Prezi for a presentation before?  What do you think are the benefits or disadvantages of using cloud presentation software?  Have you tried the iPad or iPhone Prezi app before to present before?

So many questions and please leave your thoughts or reflections below in the comments section.  🙂

By - Martin Sketchley

Reflection of 2012 – The #12from12 Challenge

It has been an incredibly interesting year, although it has passed by so quick.  Last year as part of Adam Simpson’s blog challenge (funnily he is continuing the blog challenge of 12 from ’12), I thought I would repost this challenge with my 12 favourite or most thought provoking posts of 2012.  I would like continue this tradition with my most important blog posts.  So here we go.

1. Old Wife’s Tales

The first blog post of 2012, I decided to share a lesson plan related to cultural traditions and ideas suitable for the classroom.  It developed from ‘fan death’ in South Korea with a wonderful video …

2. The New Job

After graduating from the University of Sussex, I decided to take a job with the British Council in Bucharest.  I was so pleased to be offered employment and arrived with a spring in my step …

3. Dogme Lesson: Sea Creatures to Question Tags

I was preparing for my talk at the IATEFL Conference in Glasgow earlier this year, photocopying handouts and preparing presentation slides.  When I was covering a YL class, it contained an element of Dogme …

4. What’s The Best Approach?

After a few months of teaching in Bucharest, I received my first complaint from a student.  It was very puzzling with requests for more grammar, speaking and listening.  I am still stumped to this day and wonder whether the student actually knew what he wanted …

5. The Final TYLEC Observation

This year, I decided to focus on a Young Learner extension course during my short time at the British Council in Bucharest.  It was a wonderful course and it was such a relief to finish off the TYLEC.  In this blog post I reflect on my final lesson observation with some wonderful feedback from the trainer …

6. Olympics Lesson Plan

This summer saw the Olympics in London.  I decided to develop a lesson plan associated with one of the greatest sporting events for my summer class.  There are various presentation files available to download and some ideas to consider …

7. A Day in the Life of the Queen Lesson Plan

As a continuation of the Olympics lesson plan (above), I decided to develop a lesson plan associated with the Queen for my British Culture class in the UK.  There are some sources of video, presentation, and lesson ideas to incorporate in the classroom …

8. Drilling and Repetition Workshop

During my last few weeks in Bucharest with the British Council, I decided to attend the annual ELT Conference at a hotel with some colleagues.  The first talk which I attended was one by Jeremy Harmer.  His interactional talk during the session highlighted some interesting ideas to develop for future lessons …

9. Using Dictionaries During Classes: Lesson Ideas

The ninth favourite blog post is about the use of dictionaries within the classroom.  I decided to develop some ideas after never really exploiting the biggest book in the teachers’ room.  Have a read to get ten ideas for using dictionaries during the lesson and with your classroom …

10. Using Smartphones During Classes: Lesson Ideas

The tenth blog post in this list is related to the one above.  I wrote up a blog post in reaction to many of my learners (not just young learners) using their smartphones during the lesson.  I thought how to use this and developed some practical lesson ideas …

11. BELTE 2012 Summary

The eleventh blog post that I thought would be worthy of a mention was one about a conference that I attend on a regular basis.  As usual, I attended the BELTE Conference in Brighton, took some pictures and blogged about the event.  It was great (as always) and attended some wonderful talks …

12. Teaching in ESOL: Encouraging Talk

The final blog post in this list which I feel is worthy of a mention is associated with ESOL and the encouragement of talk/conversation.  I liked Carol Goodey’s blog post about talk and prompting this during lessons.  I felt some sense of agreement and understanding with Carol’s post, as I work within ESOL and I also enjoyed the similarity with Dogme ELT …
So these are my 12 blogs of the year.  It has been quite tough trying to decide which postings were worthy but I feel that the blogs above are related to personal experiences, ideas and musings I had in relation to particular lessons as well as the conferences that I managed to attend during the year.  I shall now leave it up to my readers now to share their 12 personal favourite blog posts of 2012.  So what are you waiting for?  Are you up for the challenge?
Please leave a link so I can read up on contribution to the challenge and Merry Christmas everyone.
By - Martin Sketchley

December Teacher Interview: Frances Eales

Frances Eales pictured in Bulgaria

This month’s teacher interview is with Frances Eales.  I met Frances at the last BELTE conference in Brighton.  So a big thank you to Frances for agreeing to be interviewed for this Christmas Teacher Interview.  Frances Eales is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer who has worked in many countries including the UK, Hungary, Germany, Egypt, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Thailand.

She is a co-author of the Cutting Edge series and author of three levels of Speakout, winner of the English-Speaking Union, Duke of Edinburgh 2011 English Language Book Award. She also co-wrote and was a co-ordinator of the British Council/International House Distance DELTA course for experienced teachers and regularly works on the design and assessment of teaching and training exams for Cambridge ESOL.

She is interested in all aspects of language, in task-based learning, the use of authentic video in class, giving and getting feedback, Dogme and e-learning.  She lives near Brighton, UK and loves singing, qi gong, walking, sailing, and in fact anything outdoors.  

So let’s crack on with the interview.

Tell me how you got into teaching.

I’d just finished university and was having a gap year before going on to do a further degree at Cambridge and a friend of mine invited me to his EFL class in Piccadilly Circus. After one hour I was hooked… what was not to like? Communicating with interesting people, being creative, working with language… and traveling too! I immediately jettisoned study plans, enrolled in a four week course and I have never looked back. (My main trainer was Ken Wilson, by the way. I was going to say ‘taught me everything I know’ but that’s not quite true.  Anyway, thanks, Ken!)

What has been your favourite country that you have taught in and why?

That is a really difficult one to answer. I think on a professional and personal level, probably Hungary. I was at IH in Budapest at an interesting time a few years after the fall of communism and the teaching was truly challenging. I remember 7.30 a.m. classes with people from the Ministry of the Environment, mayhem in my first teenagers’ class, struggling with teaching 6 year-olds in the kiddies’ class. Then there were difficult but rewarding language and methodology classes with teachers of Russian who were being forced to retrain as English teachers, evening courses with business people and once a week, trainees on our part-time CELTA courses. Talk about steep learning curves. 

All this was punctuated by Friday afternoons in the Turkish baths, learning my colours in Hungarian on long treks in the forests (the paths are colour-coded), skiing in Slovakia at the weekends, camping in Romania, putting on the first pantomime ever seen in Budapest (much to the bemusement of the students), coffee and cakes in the spectacular coffee shops and swimming outside amongst the chess players and surrounded by the snow in the hot pools at Széchenyi park. These and of course, the life-long friends I met, all made a deep and lasting impression.

You have teacher training experience, could you tell our readers how you got into teacher training?

I worked for many years at IH London and even as a newish teacher became very used to trainee observers in my classes. There was (and is) a fantastic culture in the school of encouraging professional development and I started by giving TD sessions, then became a teaching practice tutor and so on.  If anyone were to ask me how to get into teacher training, I’d advise joining a school that already does some training, and offering to do sessions at staff meetings and/or local conferences and/or developing an online presence, all showing that you are keen to progress into the field. 

You don’t have a blog at the moment but are you planning on blogging in the future?

Not in the foreseeable future. At the moment I don’t feel I can do proper justice to a blog and at the same time maintain a work/life balance.  I’m already in front of a screen too many hours! 

You are quite new to Twitter, aren’t you?  What are the possible benefits and any disadvantages for teachers when using Twitter?

My colleague and friend Antonia Clare had been singing the praises of Twitter for all of a year before I finally joined. I think the benefits for teachers are the exchange of ideas that’s possible, particularly in a chat room such as #ELTChat, which I’ve really enjoyed. Then there’s the chance to share interesting articles or links to blog entries about other teachers’ experiences in different contexts.  And also to meet like-minded colleagues who may then become friends and who one day you may meet up with at a conference or when travelling. 

The disadvantage is pretty evident after even a few hours. It’s the sheer number of tweets; I felt like I was drowning and then found myself becoming anxious because I couldn’t catch them all. So thank you @antoniaclare for pointing me in the direction of tweetdeck to organize the tweets; to @AnthonyGaughan for his advice to bookmark or favourite anything that catches your attention so you can read it at your leisure and to @sandymillin, whose blog entry was so helpful.

You were one of the writers on Cutting Edge and Speakout.  How would you suggest readers to get into materials and coursebook writing?

I think things are changing significantly as publishers adapt to a rapidly digitalised world.  To answer this one, I can’t do better than refer you to a fantastic resource by Lindsay Clandfield where he has put together a number of links and articles on how to get started in writing.

What is the most memorable or unexpected thing that occurred in the classroom?

That’s another impossible question so I’ll give just one memory that has stayed with me because it was a wake-up call and very significant for a naïve and brash young teacher who prided herself on her rapport.
It was in a multi-cultural class in the UK and there was a mature Arabic speaking man in an elementary class – I think he was from the UAE. 

We were talking about families and he said he had two wives and fifteen children.  Cue exaggerated interest and a kind of humorous amazement from me the teacher, ‘What, fifteen children!’  Then pulling the rest of the class into the ‘wow how amazing/strange is that?’ kind of feeling. Even now I cringe when I think of it.  Cultural sensitivity zilch!  

At the end of the lesson this extremely nice man stayed behind and explained to me slowly and seriously in his elementary English that his brother had been killed and so it was his duty to take responsibility and care for his brother’s family, which included marrying the widow and looking after her children.  I felt really ashamed of myself.  It taught me a valuable lesson about respecting other cultures and the disrespect of making assumptions about any other person.  

What are your future plans for the next twelve months?

It looks as if there’s more writing connected with Speakout on the cards. If so, it will be heads down 24/7 for several months and not so much teaching or training. However, I’m also spending time with teachers who’ve been using the books to see if I can help with any issues that have arisen and to listen to how people are finding them in class. This may mean a trip to Argentina and Peru in the spring.  I’m continuing DELTA-related work with Cambridge ESOL. 

At the same time, there’s my family, singing, sailing, qi gong, and a plan to walk the coast-to-coast trail (309 km) across England in late summer. And, of course, Twitter!  Also, I was inspired by Claire Hunter at IATEFL to listen to this.

I thought it was a great idea and in the last few months I’ve joined Facebook, taken up sailing again, joined Twitter, and this month I am currently exploring the whole area of ‘mindfulness’. The next twelve months will be another twelve fresh experiences. Watch this space!

Finally, what advice would you give another teacher that has just completed their CELTA?

Go for whatever experience you can as soon after the course as possible so that you can get some teaching under your belt.  I think each person has to find their own way through that first year of teaching; as in any job, everything’s new and it can be a real roller-coaster. It takes time to begin to feel more confident about language issues, for example.  So ask for help and ideas. ELT staffrooms are usually great places, with teachers who are generous in sharing their experiences and ideas and if you have a Director of Studies, then go to them for help and to check out any problems.

If you’re in a new country, find out about the language, the culture, the students.  You’re bound to make mistakes (I remember my first class sending a deputation to the Director of Studies at the end of my first week complaining that they didn’t understand what was going on!) but you’ll survive and learn from them.

Remember that the people in front of you are people not just students, prepare your content in a professional way but be alert and responsive to what comes up in class. Often that’s when the best learning happens.    And it’s up to you, if you’re that kind of person and feel able, go the extra mile and get involved in the social programme or the clubs or even a pantomime, but look after your own health and well-being too. And enjoy yourself! It’s an amazing job!


Thank you ever so much for the interview (with all the wonderful links) Frances and we wish you a very happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year.  I am sure some of the readers will have some questions which they can leave below.

By - Martin Sketchley

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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVAda1ZF-3s?wmode=opaque

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.