ELT Experiences

Experiences of an English Language Teacher


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Exam Rituals from Asia: Lesson Plan

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Prompted to write a lesson plan from a news article

Today, I read an a very interesting article on the BBC News website about rituals students and their parents undertake before a very important examination. Being inspired by such a reading, and something that would generate conversation in an English language classroom, I thought I would create a lesson about this news article.

  • Aims: By the end of the lesson, students will learn more about exam rituals from South East Asia and extend their cultural awareness.
  • Level: Intermediate or above
  • Timing: 60 minutes or more
  • Focus: Conversation and Scaffolding Emergent Language
  • Materials: Images, Headings and Text (sourced from BBC News)

Step 1: Warmer

At the beginning of the lesson, write up the following questions on the whiteboard for students to discuss in pairs or small groups:

  1. Have you taken an exam recently? What?
  2. What did you do to prepare before taking the exam?
  3. How did you do in your last test?
  4. What would you do differently for your next test?
  5. Would you take any lucky objects with you to the exam? If so, what and why?
  6. Would you eat a special meal the night before the exam? If so, what?

You could give a dice to the students and then get them to ask the question corresponding to the number on the dice that they roll. Monitor learners during the conversation and provide feedback or scaffold language where required.

Step 2: Introduce Images

Hand out the following pictures for learners and ask them to guess why they are lucky and which country these could be from and why there might be particular superstitions related to them.

If learners are having a bit of difficulty, you could get them to look at the images and ask them what they are or what they represent.

Step 3: Matching Exercise

Tell students that they will receive headings related to the images above and that they have to match the headings to the images. Demonstrate with one heading as an example and write it up on the whiteboard. For example, you could write up “Avoid washing your hair” and ask students which picture it is related to. Students should be able to match it up pretty quickly and then ask them why people would avoid washing their hair. Tell them that they need to match up the remaining headings to the pictures.

  1. How KitKat got lucky
  2. An apple a day
  3. Avoid washing your hair
  4. Going nuts over exams
  5. A slice of luck
  6. Praying for success
  7. Lucky watch versus slippery soup
  8. Chicken power
  9. Wear red underwear
  10. Pray for mercy from the “Bell Curve God”

Give students a bit of time to work together and allow them to discuss and link up the pictures. Then once students have finished, you could check as a whole class which images match the headings.

Step 4: Text Matching

The next part of the lesson is for students to match the remaining text to the headings and images. Give the students the text cut up in to ten corresponding parts. Read the first sentence and ask students what image/heading it corresponds to. All text is available on the website but is also available below.

How KitKat got lucky

Traditionally, Japanese students would eat Katsudon before or on the day of an exam, comprising a warm bowl of rice topped with egg and a deep-fried pork cutlet. The dish name’s likeness to the word “katsu”, meaning “winning” is thought to bring students luck. But KitKat in Japan has also been marketing itself as a bringer of good luck. Pronounced as “kitto katto”, the chocolate’s name is similar to the phrase “kitto katsu”, meaning “surely winning”, making it a good candidate for a good luck charm.

An apple a day

Canteens across Hong Kong University campuses serve apples, and a variety of apple dishes, in the run-up to the exam period. “The pronunciation of apple in Chinese is “ping guo”, which also means “safety”. So it’s considered that you will safely pass the exam,” says Chong Wang, from Nanjing in China.

Avoid washing your hair

In your vicious cycle of all-night revision, microwave food and highlighter pens, you may have forgotten to have a shower. But not to worry – in South Korea, it’s thought that washing your hair could wash all the knowledge out. “There was one boy in our class who didn’t wash hair before exams. The rest of the time he was very clean, but once you came to know his exam ritual, you didn’t want to go near him,” said one student about a classmate.

Going nuts over the exams

Around a month before exams start in Hong Kong, students in clubs, societies and residential halls, will gather for “superpass”, or going guo. “Superpass” is a series of activities aimed at helping you pass your exams with a top score. The first part is the superpass dinner, which is usually held at a Chinese restaurant. It’s important that students eat pork cubes with cashews, one of the signature superpass dishes. The Chinese word for “cashews” sounds like the word for “wish to pass”, and “pork cubes” sounds like “desire for a distinction”. Homophones, or homonyms, play a big part in ritual and superstition in many East Asian languages.

A slice of luck

Returning to the hall, it’s time for everyone to have a turn at slicing through a giant roast pig, considered to be an important sacred offering in China. Each participant is given one try at cutting the pig into two halves. Those who succeed are thought to go on to pass all their exams the first time round, and those who fail, will have to re-sit some. This is followed by eating kiwis, as the Chinese word for the fruit sounds like “easy to pass exams.”

Praying for success

Many students in East Asia have the attentive support of their parents, whether they want it or not. “Some parents wait for their children outside the exam hall praying for them to pass,” says South Korean teacher Ji-Youn Jung, “My mum did, but my test results turned out to be awful.” Ultra-keen parents will go as far as praying at Buddhist temples every day for the 100 days leading up to the exam.

Lucky watch versus a slippery soup

In South Korea, the slipperiness of the widely-eaten seaweed soup is thought to mean you will lose all the knowledge from the notes you’ve been revising like mad. “I try not to have seaweed soup before important plans like exams or interviews. But if I happen to eat it without consciousness, I don’t worry too much,” Ji-Youn says. But Chong Wang from China says: “My personal tradition is to have noodles for breakfast on exam day, as noodles mean “everything goes smooth” in Chinese. But I also take my lucky watch.”

Chicken power

A bit of sugar might give you an energy boost, but South Koreans also believe that this sugary snack could have exam-passing powers. Yeot, a traditional sticky food, is eaten before important exams, especially university entrance exams. Ji-Youn explains: “Yeot is a sticky sweet, and the Korean words for “sticky” and “pass entrance exam” sound the same.” Or else drink some chicken juice, which is thought to give your brain a boost. Students in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and China tend to drink this while revising for exams, and on the morning of the exam itself. “It’s nothing superstitious,” says Dylan Lee Soon Yoong, a Singaporean student at University College London. “I drink chicken essence on the morning of the exam… you down it like a shot after heating it up. It’s supposed to help your concentration and is marketed pretty heavily to students in Singapore.”

Wear red underwear

Red is widely believed to be a lucky colour in China. So many believe that it’s a good idea to wear some red clothing, or more specifically red underwear, during an exam. When a person is particularly successful, there is a Chinese saying, “Are you wearing red underwear?” But Chong Wang warns: “Some people may avoid wearing red during exams because in China, fail scores are written in red on score sheets.”

Pray for mercy from the “Bell Curve God”

The Bell Curve God is an embodiment of university students’ fears of the bell curve grading system used in Asia’s top universities, such as the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University. Bell curve grading means not just measuring how well you did in an exam, but rather how you did in relation to everyone else in your class. In an already high-achieving country, that pushes competitiveness to the max. Shrines to the Bell Curve God have been set up at both universities, where food and candles are left as offerings to the “God”.The National University of Singapore has gone as far as setting up a website, Facebook and Twitter account for the Bell Curve God, so that students can pray electronically. “As students, we are subject to the omnipotent, inscrutable force that is the Bell Curve God. He is the arbitrary being that decides our grades,” Dylan Lee Soon Yoong explains.

Step 5: Text Analysis

As a final activity, you could get students to read the text in more detail and do various activities such as underlying or highlighting particular words or vocabulary which learners are unsure of, getting students to write up questions for the text or for you to scan the reading and then come up with your own questions.

Step 6: Describing Examination Preparation Habits

As a final activity, the students could then share their own personal examination preparation habits with their peers. It is a useful exercise and you could exploit it further by getting students to write about their preparation habits or experiences of examinations.


Let me know how this lesson goes and if you have any feedback and I hope your learners enjoy this lesson. It can really prompt learners to share their own experiences of exam preparation in relation to their own country or culture.

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Harry Potter: Intermediate Lesson Plan

Harry Potter LessonHello all. I hope you had a wonderful Easter and you haven’t eaten too much chocolate.  I have been very good and resisted as much chocolate as possible, but I have been very naughty and decided to eat it after my resistance faded.  Anyhow, I have another lesson plan – this time focused on the Harry Potter books – which you could use in class.  It is hope that students would react positively to this lesson plan and then decide to read the Harry Potter novels in their free time.

The lesson focuses on the different books, the names of the books, more specialist Harry Potter language as well as a jigsaw reading activity about Harry Potter.  For a nice activity at the end of the lesson, students have a quiz.  You can access the lesson plan and all material below but I have been kind enough to attach the lesson to this blog as a PDF file.

Please enjoy and let me know how you get on in class!

Harry Potter Lesson Plan (PDF Format)


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University of Oxford Video Tour: Lesson Plan and Material

Lesson plan

It seems fitting that I continue past blogging performance with another lesson based post, but rather than post another authentic listening lesson, I would prefer to focus on authentic video.  The authentic video is related to a tour – which is rather educational itself – of the University of Oxford.  There are various gist and more detailed activities which revolve around the video itself with a final memorisation game.  A lovely supplementary lesson idea, as mentioned by a wonderful colleague, Peter Clements (ELT Planning) – who I might add is rather new to blogging but has some wonderful lesson ideas and I would highly recommend you reading his blog – suggested a tour of our school, whereby students prepare their own video tours of the school – which could be replicated by any other institution and their very own school.

Anyhow, I do hope you enjoy this lesson idea and you are able to incorporate it into your very own teaching.  All materials are available as part of a PDF download and the video of the tour of the University is embedded below.  As ever, it would be wonderful to hear how you got on with this lesson.

University of Oxford Lesson Plan and Material (Downloadable PDF)


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“I Have Never Seen Star Wars”: Radio 4 Listening

In my last post, I decided to create a lesson plan on an authentic news clip from Radio 2.  It has worked remarkably well and in light of this, I have now decided to create another listening lesson but based on the Radio 4 show “I Have Never Seen Star Wars”.  The main focus of the radio show is to get participants to do things that they have never done before such as wallpapering, cooking a meal or doing the ironing.  It is a really engaging and comical show which is available on their website and I would recommend anyone to have a listen.  The presenter is Marcus Brigstocke and he really does get listeners engaged in the show.  Anyhow, back to the lesson plan.


Aim: By the end of the lesson, students will listen to someone talk about a life experience that they have never done.  They will also listen to an authentic radio program.

Level: Upper Intermediate +

Grammar Focus: Present Perfect

Time: 60 – 90 minutes

Speakers: Marcus Brigstocke, Reece Shearsmith and a Driving Instructor

1. Draw up a picture of a car on the whiteboard and ask students whether they can name any parts of a car.  Label any parts that they can name and include the following:

Mirrors Brake Seat belt Engine
Clutch Accelerator Indicator Gear lever
Seat belt Hand brake Neutral

2. Ask students if they know any verbs or phrasal verbs related to driving a car.  Write down any language that they mention but also pre-teach the following vocabulary as well:

To pull away To pull in Brake
To signal/indicate Mounting the curb To give it some gas

Other vocabulary that would be good to pre-teach would include:

Curb (n) Pavement (n) Blind spot (n)
Death traps (n) My heart was pounding (expr.) Nice and steady (expr.)
No harm done (expr.)

3. Speak to students and tell them an experience that you have never done: rode a motorbike, done bungee jumping, etc.  Ask the students to see if they have not done anything during their life up to now.  As language emerges, make a note of this on the board and provide feedback at the end of the conversation.  Ask any students if they have or will take driving lessons in the future: Have you taken a driving lesson before?  Will you take a driving lesson in the future?  What was it like? What do you think it will be like?

4. Tell students that they are going to listen to a story about someone but show the pictures up on the board and elicit from them what they think the story is about.  Board up elicited stories on the whiteboard and help out with some vocabulary.  Pictures include the following:

Car crash Robin Reliant Driving Lesson Dukes of Hazard

Radio 4 listening

The story is that a person never took a driving lesson as his grandfather was involved in an accident with his Robin Reliant, which he also experienced.  He describes the accident like a scene out of “Dukes of Hazzard”.

5. Tell students that they are going to listen to someone talk about their experiences of their grandfather driving his Reliant Robin and have a driving lesson. Whilst they listen, ask students to choose whether the following sentences from the listening are true or false.

  • You have to be 18 when you learn to drive. (False – you have to be 17)
  • His granddad crashed his Robin Reliant by hitting the side of the road. (True)
  • The person had his driving lesson on an airfield. (False – he thought it would be on an airfield, it was actually in London)
  • He doesn’t know where his blindspot is located. (True)
  • During his driving lesson he got into second gear. (True)
  • His instructor’s name is called Jason. (False – he is called John)
  • He marked himself 8 out of 10 for his first ever driving lesson. (False – he marked himself 9 out of ten)

Get students to compare in small groups before eliciting the answers from the students.

6. The next part of the listening is to get students to put the following excerpts into order that they are mentioned. Play the recording a couple of times and get the learners to work individually before checking their answers in pairs or small groups.  Here are the following excerpts in order:

  • “You told me, and I was surprised actually, you told me you’d never driven a car or had a driving lesson”
  • “We hit the side of the road, in the Robin Reliant, and it literally – Dukes of Hazzard – went upside down rolling”
  • “I now feel really bad sending you on a driving lesson.”
  • “You thought you’d be taken off to a special track?”
  • “Umm … is it accelerator, brake and that’s for this, the clutch”
  • “When you go to pull away, where is your blindspot?”
  • “Now check your mirrors and gently, nice and gently, away we go.”
  • “Have a go at pulling away, getting in to second gear, pulling in.”
  • “Nice and steady now. Wait until we get round a bend before we hit second gear.”
  • “On your first lesson, you got up to second gear.”
  • “Not all of it on a London street, some of it on a London pavement!”
  • “I thought I would be more panicked than I was.”
  • “Do you think you’ll do it again?”
  • “Excellent! Sounds like you are both back safely.”

As an extra to getting students to re-order the text, you could get students to listen to the audio again and decide who said what.  For example, “You told me, and I was …” was mentioned by the Presenter, Marcus Brigstocke, so students could put (P) next to the quote, (DI) for the Driving Instructor, and (I) for Interviewee, Reece Shearsmith.

As a final activity, and practice, get students to speak to each other using the Present Perfect and Past Simple form.  Use the board game, available in the download, to prompt students to talk to each other.  Monitor the speaking practice and provide feedback and scaffold language, where necessary, at the end of the lesson.


Well that is all from the lesson plan but all necessary material is available as a download and the audio is accessible from SoundCloud below.  Again, I hope this lesson is useful in getting more authentic listening inside the classroom and getting your learners used to a natural speed of spoken English.  Have you adapted any authentic listening for the classroom?  Do you think it empowers students to listen to more natural English or do you think that any adaptation of authentic listening reduces its authenticity?

I have never – Upper Intermediate: PDF material and lesson plan download


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Authentic Listening in the Classroom: Lesson Idea

The majority of the listening that we play in the classroom is as inauthentic as possible, despite the fact that many coursebooks these days are using various authentic material such as radio interviews, podcasts or music.  However, what is incorporated to develop materials conducive to a classroom and learning environment is rather inauthentic in its application.  Nonetheless, I thought I would steer clear from coursebook listening for once and create my very own authentic listening activity to develop my learners’ ability to listen to various radio stations in their own time.  I just hope that the activities provide the confidence to my learners to listen to the radio in their free time and is not so inauthentic in its application during the lesson.

Lesson Plan

The lesson is aimed for Upper Intermediate students or above and should last between 1 hour and 1 hour 30 minutes.  By the end of the lesson, students will be able to listen to a 4 minute radio clip featuring 5 news items and prepare them for authentic listening outside the classroom.

  1. Ask students to discuss the initial questions to each other. Give students a few minutes to discuss in pairs or small groups and then feedback as a whole class, nominating students questions and board up any emergent vocabulary.
  2. After preparing students for the topic of the lesson, handout the three gist questions for the radio listening and play the recording once or twice.  Get the students to compare their answers with each other before eliciting the answers from students.  Here are the answers to the questions:
    1. What is the name of the news presenter on the radio? Jason Kay
    2. What is the radio station? BBC Radio 2
    3. How many news items were mentioned in the radio clip? 5 news items plus 1 weather item
  3. The next stage is to get students to first use the images as prompts to help them discuss the news items.  Once they have discussed the news items, get students to put the images in order that they are mentioned.  The order of the news items are:
    1. Foreign Office summons the Russian Ambassador due to 2 bombers flying near the UK
    2. Discs containing investigations have been lost in the post
    3. Jordan wants proof that their pilot being held hostage by extremists is still alive
    4. The number of Secondary schools underperforming has doubled
    5. OFGEM say that energy companies will increase tariffs to customers despite a large fall in the price of oil
  4. Once students have discussed the news items and put the pictures in order, handout page 2 and set students to find out the definitions for those words on the worksheet either in their dictionary or online.  Allow around 15 to 20 minutes and play some background music.  Just monitor and assist where necessary.
  5. Once students have finished looking for the vocabulary, elicit possible meanings and definitions with nominated students.
  6. The next activity is for students to put the vocabulary in the corresponding gap in the transcript from the radio clip.  You can either get students to put the vocabulary in the gap from memory or get them to listen and do this while the clip is being played.  Play the radio clip a few times.
  7. Once students have finished this activity, get students to write the correct vocabulary on the whiteboard and play a final time to check the answers as a class.

I hope that this lesson plan is useful.  Have you used authentic listening before?  Have you played clips from the radio before?  How did it go?  If you have any feedback on this lesson, that would be great.

Radio News Authentic Listening (Downloadable PDF document)


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Japanese Inventions: Lesson Plan

It has been a while since I have written a lesson plan for ELT Experiences and I thought I would share a wonderful picture dictation activity that is very popular for young learners.  I have used this lesson numerous times with different nationalities and they all seem to enjoy the picture dictation and the extension.  It gets students to practice describing objects but in a fun and humorous way.  This lesson could be geared towards adult students.
Aim: By the end of the lesson, students will have practiced listening to and providing descriptions of pictures.
Level: Pre-Intermediate or above
Topic: Inventions
Focus: Dictating and drawing pictures from descriptions
Timing: 60 minutes or more
Context Builder:
  • Ask students what inventions they consider important and board these up on the whiteboard.  Try to elicit and write up at least 10 important inventions.
  • When you have elicited these different inventions, ask students to put them in order of importance (1 = very important and 10 = not important).  Students should do this by themselves.
  • Once students have finished the order of importance of inventions, get students to compare in pairs or small groups and prompt discussion.
  • After discussion, elicit a class order of importance and put this up on the board for all students to see.
Main Activity:
  • Tell students that you are going to describe an important invention (as a demonstration) and students should try and draw the invention from the description,  You could choose a suitable invention (lightbulb, airplane, etc) rather than the Japanese inventions and try to find a corresponding picture for this demonstration activity.
  • Show the invention to the class (airplane, lightbulb, etc) and compare this to what they have drawn.
  • Next tell students that one learner will describe a picture and the other students have to draw the invention in their notebook or on a piece of scrap paper.  Students could work in pairs to help each other.  Nominate one student from a small group or pair of students and that student has to describe the picture to the rest of the class in English.
  • You could get students to self-nominate after the first learner has been chosen by yourself and you could bring the nominated learners to the front of the class and handing them a Japanese invention flashcard (please refer to below for recommended pictures – it is sure to bring some laughter to your class).
  • Ensure that the student describing the picture is not showing this to the rest of the class and keeps them secret.
  • Students could number the pictures that they are drawing and try to keep the inventions in order so you know which is described.
  • The next activity could be getting students to choose a name of the invention (please refer below for suggested names for these Japanese inventions), so “The Baby Mop” could also be named “Baby Cleaner”, etc.  Again students could be working in small groups for this activity.
Final Activity:
  • To finish off with, you could review descriptive language or prepositions of place.  You could also scaffold any language which emerged during the dictation activity.
Extension:
  • A possible extension could be getting students to create an advertisement, poster or write a review for a Japanese Invention.  Students could work in small groups to complete a selected task.
Shoe Umbrellas

Shoe Umbrellas

Butter Stick

Butter Stick

Solar Powered Lighter

Solar Powered Lighter

Toilet Roll Head

Toilet Roll Head

Umbrella Water Collector

Umbrella Water Collector

Eye Drop Glasses

Eye Drop Glasses

Daddy Feeder

Daddy Feeder

Noodle Cooler

Noodle Cooler

Body Umbrella

Body Umbrella

Baby Mop 2

Baby Mop 1

Baby Mop 1

Baby Mop 2


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Lesson Plan: Reality TV Shows (Reading Relay)

Smart TV

Watching smart is easier now with the Internet

If you are anything like me, I love to get my fix of reality TV shows in the UK – “Strictly Come Dine With Me”, “I’m A Celebrity” or, I hasten to add, “X Factor”.  This got me thinking about a lesson plan to prepare for my Pre-Intermediate learners and I decided to share my lesson with my readers.  The lesson is aimed for a good Pre-Intermediate group of older teenager or adult learners and it fits nicely with a lesson related to television viewing habits or alike.  Coincidentally, we were focusing on television and there is a good reading activity in Straightforward Pre-Intermediate on Chapter 9.  Anyhow, more about the lesson.

The first thing to do is ask learners what their favourite television programmes are and why.  Board this and any suitable adjectives – it is a good idea to review passive and active adjectives (-ed / -ing) and scaffold appropriate language.  Next, ask learners what they know about “Reality TV” and elicit possible TV shows or formats from the learner’s context.  Tell learners about a few popular reality TV shows in the UK and ask them whether they have seen any.  This, I found, makes for good natural communication and you can write down a few other TV shows.

Tell the students that they are going to be learning a bit more about UK reality TV shows and that you there are 5 TV shows – write the name of these shows on the whiteboard.  These are:

  • “Come Dine With Me”
  • “I’m A Celebrity”
  • “Strictly Come Dancing”
  • “World’s Strictest Parents”
  • “Don’t Tell The Bride”

Tell the students that they are going to listen to the opening song of each of three TV shows in random order but they have to match the song to the possible five TV shows.  Tell them to listen to the following songs – try to blank the whiteboard or play without the images showing to the students.

Once you have played each of the three opening credits to the possible five shows, get learners to share their opinions with each other and then elicit from them what they think is correct.  At the end show the video with the sound to the class to show if their guess was correct.  The next stage is getting learners ready for the reading relay.  Ensure you have stuck up the reading around the classroom and handout the questions to each learner (both are available as attachments at the bottom of this blog post).  You could get one nominated learner to run out of the classroom or around the class to look for an answer and dictate to the rest of their group or you could get students to mingle and walk around the class to find the answers.  If you are conducting a traditional reading relay, confiscate mobile phones as learners are likely to take photographs of the text and return and copy down answers.  This would defeat the object of the activity.

After learners have completed the activity, you could nominate learners to answer the questions, assist with any queries with vocabulary or review pronunciation.  To supplement the reading you could get learners to write up conversation questions related to reality TV shows for groups or pairs of learners to discuss with each other.  Conversation questions could include:

  1. What do you like or dislike about reality TV shows?  Why?
  2. What was the last reality TV show you watched?  Why?
  3. What English TV do you usually like to watch in your free time?  Why?
  4. Who do you normally watch TV with?  Why?
  5. When do you normally like to watch TV?  Why?
  6. What are the advantages and disadvantages of watching TV?

You could extend the activity by getting groups of learners to create their own format of a reality TV show and create a poster or advert/opening title.  This itself would take a lot of time but it is very motivational for the class and highly recommended.

Reality TV Show – Questions

Reality TV Show – Reading