Twenty Ideas to Make Your Lessons More Exciting

A teacher training session looked at 20 ways to make your lessons more exciting and engaging. Please find below a video of the training session, the PowerPoint slides as well as a Handout which was provided to each of the attendees.

Twenty Ideas to Make Your Lessons More Exciting (PowerPoint Slides)

Twenty Ideas to Make Your Lessons More Exciting (Handout)

If you want me to deliver a teacher training session or workshop, do get in touch.

Teaching Ideas for Word Stress

Pronunciation Practice Activities” by Martin Hewings

So the past few months, I have been focusing more and more on pronunciation for all levels of learners, no matter whether they are young learners or adult learners of English. Anyhow, I tried out a new lesson idea today which was partly inspired from the wonderful book, “Pronunciation Practice Activities“, written by Martin Hewings. I would recommend any teacher worth their salt to purchase this book, as it offers some great pronunciation lesson ideas which could be incorporated into class immediately.

Most teachers would identify word stress with the teaching of new vocabulary or as a technique to support pronunciation for problematic lexical items. This is all well and good but it reminds me of a teacher reacting to issues rather than proactively focusing on areas of language learning. Personally, if a teacher is able to develop a lesson based around pronunciation and developing learners’ awareness of pronunciation, so much the better. There is by no means anything wrong by reacting to pronunciation issues as they arise but I think it would be a nice change of focus when we remind learners that there are some basic principles that they can learn no matter how large or small the lexical item. Nevertheless, lets look at one lesson idea which is published in “Pronunciation Practice Activities“.

The key aim for the lesson it to identify words by their stress patterns and I first introduced this by writing the following on the whiteboard:

  • photograph (Ooo)
  • photography (oOoo)

I asked learners to tell me how many syllables there were in each word and I broke it down by underlining each syllable. Afterwards, I drew small circles above each to illustrate the syllable and then I elicited from students the stress location within the word, rubbed out the corresponding small circle and replaced it with a large circle – look at the stress patterns in brackets next to the words.

The next stage of the lesson was to draw a person, and I named this lady Sarah. I told the students that she travels a lot for business and that she has been several countries over the past few months on business. I wrote up a list of countries in random order on the whiteboard: Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Venezuela. I told students that they need to determine which countries she visited in order by matching it with the corresponding stress pattern. I then drew stress patterns numbered 1-8:

  1. Oo
  2. ooOo
  3. oOoo
  4. oO
  5. O
  6. ooO
  7. Ooo
  8. oOo

I put students into pairs and asked them to match the words to the stress patterns. I monitored the learners and afterwards elicited from the groups each country from 1-8. As I mentioned before, it was the first time that I tried this activity. It worked really well and the students enjoyed the change of pace.

What words related to ‘countries’ or ‘jobs’ could you write in the table?

As an extension, I decided to draw up a table on the whiteboard, asked learners to work again in pairs and write down some country names within the table (see the image of the table above). I elicited different country names and expected word stress patterns from the class and we all were drilling the pronunciation of country names. As a final activity, we looked at jobs and using the same word stress patterns. It was successful and the learners left the class with a smile on their face.

Finally, I had this idea which I will use in the very future: you could create a flashcard activity whereby students have to match vocabulary with the corresponding stress patterns such as with a flashcard game (pelmanism), calling out a word and having the stress patterns up on the whiteboard and students run up to the whiteboard and then try to grab it before the other team or just using different stress pattern cards and you call out a topic and go round the class, eliciting vocabulary related to the corresponding stress pattern. I could record a future lesson using some of these ideas, so you get a better idea on how you could use these ideas in a future lesson. Food for thought, hey?

Anyhow, over to you now! How do you incorporate word stress in the classroom? Do you have any favourite activities? How do you get learners more aware of word stress?

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!

Edit: One reader requested the handout which was used during the lesson. This can be viewed below.

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.


Here is the video from the workshop.

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


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


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


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


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

reading stuff

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?