Search This Blog

Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Birthday To You; Squashed Tomatoes and Stew!

Today I had a last minute change of plan because when I arrived at work I discovered that I had to take my class together with another class. I had to think of something quick to do, as we couldn't do our normal course book based lesson that I had planned. I thought, having taken in a soft football, that I would do something on the World Cup, teaching them the names of some of the countries involved. However, after getting them all seated (fifteen children in a class that normally holds maximum twelve) one of my students told us all that today was a special day and we had to guess why. We quickly discovered it was his 9th birthday.

Great! It was easy enough to find something on birthdays. I had a quick look in one of my resource books and found an activity that would work well with a class this size.

I started off by eliciting the months of the year, and then the seasons, asking which months were in each season. This was revision, but I really had little idea of what the other class had covered before the lesson. They all knew the months, if some of them had a few pronunciation problems. We then looked at how to say dates, which is normally a source of confusion for Spanish kids, since in Spanish cardinal numbers are used. We went through ordinal numbers and there didn't seem to be any serious problems.

We played a quick game of "Guess my birthday" with "hot and cold" clues to practise dates.

I then wrote on the board:

Somebody whose birthday is in the same month as mine.
                                             in a month that begins with J.

This was to prepare the children for the following activity, where these kinds of sentences would appear on cards with presents. 
I then told them all that they would each have three presents that they would have to give to other students.

I demonstrated by taking a card (I had very briefly cut up the cards whilst practising dates earlier- multi-tasking!) and reading it aloud. It said "Somebody whose birthday is in winter". I went round the class asking several individuals when there birthday was until I found somebody whose birthday was in January. I then repeated with a different card. After that, I asked the class what question they had to ask the other students (to see if they had been paying attention and to make sure they all knew what they had to ask).

I gave out three cards to each student. And then came the mingle! Fifteen eight to ten year olds actually successfully managed to complete the task (mostly!) in English. After this task, we discussed who had received the most presents and why (because their birthday was in a month that began with J and was in summer etc).

We then all sang Happy Birthday to Jorge, asked him what (real) presents he had got and the did a quick pairwork activity talking about the best present you would like to get.

The activity I did was from Speaking Activities (Junior English Timesavers) by Cheryl Pelteret and Viv Lambert, Scholastic. However, you could make your own similar cards using language that your learners are capable of understanding. You could make the clues more simple or more difficult.

This is yet another example of how improvisation can work in almost any situation, even when you don't know the learners. As long as you do something that interests and engages the students (and hopefully teaches or practises some language) the lesson should work.

Note: I actually learnt some silly versions of the Spanish version of Happy Birthday, Cumpleaños Feliz in this lesson. Does anybody remember any English versions? There was one that went: Happy Birthday to you, squashed tomatoes and stew... but I can't remember the rest. These could be fun examples of authentic (if nonsense!) English rhymes and I can guarantee the kids will love them!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wider Reading - updated

The title of this post has just teletransported me back into my A Level English Lit class (circa 1993). At the time the expression really just meant reading something you chose rather than the books from the syllabus, on which you would later write an essay. Surely I should have forgotten this by now, but I remember writing about Thackeray's Vanity Fair, something about the similarities and differences between Amelia and Becky. In fact I must read the novel again as it is a brilliant piece of work.

I'm not going to talk about literary works here as this blog is supposed to be about teaching and I am also no literary expert. What I would like to do is to ask for recommendations for ELT wider reading. I am not a big non-fiction reader and I am also more of a bedtime reader (ELT books hardly making ideal bedtime reading) but I would like to compile a list of ESSENTIAL ELT works that myself and others could pick and choose from. The list could also be suitable for schools looking to update their library. Any kind of book is welcome as long as you think it would be of interest to ELT professionals, whether they are teachers, materials writers, teacher trainers etc.

If I get enough responses I would then like to categorize the entries, e.g. methodology; resource; teacher training and development; young learners; course books; exams etc.

So what would you put on the list?

At the moment I have listed your suggestions in two categories, although if I get any more suggestions I will update the list.

Language and Linguistics

The English Verb by Michael LewisPractical English Usage by Michael Swan
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter
Language Myths edited by Bauer and Trudghill
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage
The Teacher’s Grammar of English by Ron Cowan
Learner English by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith
Language, Context and Text: aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective by M.A.K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan
The Language Web by Jean Aitchison
The Fight For English by David Crystal

Teaching Methodologies

Teaching Tenses by Rosemary Aitkin
Teaching Grammar Creatively by Puchta, Gerngross and Thornbury
Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener
Young Learners by Sarah Phillips
Implementing the Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis
A Framework for Task-Based Learning by Jane Willis
Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching by Richards & Rodgers
How to Teach Speaking by Scott Thornbury
Language Assessment – Principles and Classroom Practices by H. Douglas Brown
Principles of Language Learning and Teaching by H. Douglas Brown
The Techniques of Language Teaching by Lionel Billows
Teaching Collocation edited by Michael Lewis

I don't think I've come across many of these books before but there are certainly some interesting titles here that I would like to have a look at. I would recommend anything by David Crystal, who is a genius! If you have any favourite resource or course books I will create another section. There are so many thousands of ELT books out there, mostly available on Amazon, and it really can be difficult to choose a book to buy, so I really appreciate your help in compiling this list, which is by teachers for teachers.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time flies when you're blogging

I have been so busy reading and commenting on posts on different ELT sites I have recently joined that I seem to have abandoned my own blog! And the only reason I was admitted to Bloggers in ELT, Freelance is because I have a blog, so I guess not updating my own blog due to spending too much time there kind of defeats the object.

So, I've been wandering around the Beltfree site, trying to figure out if I have to upload my blog entries, or copy and paste them, or write different ones just for that site... but I haven't been very successful. I've spent at least 45 minutes sending friend requests and getting sidetracked by some rather interesting comments (a bit of a soap opera melodrama between two feuding members!) and haven't actually found out what you are supposed to do on the site. Maybe I should just look for a "I'm new and I'm lost" section, which is the kind of place I usually avoid.

I've also been busy on ELTCommunity, which is run by a well-known publisher (don't want to do any free advertsing!) where I've been drawn into the addictive points system they have. This is surely the downfall of heavily competitive people like myself. I only joined last week but I'm trying my best to get from "newbie" to "novice", by answering questions in the forums and taking part in polls (unfortunately, I discovered after about 15 polls that this doesn't give you points!).

While I think all these sites and social networks are a really good idea for teachers and writers to share ideas and have interesting discussions, I'm not entirely convinced that I am not wasting a lot of my free time on them. And not just my free-time, since I've really got into this whole world of PLNs, Twitter and Google Reader lists, I think I have actually spent less time planning my lessons! One day I was so engrossed that suddenly it was lunchtime and I hadn't even decided what I was going to do that afternoon in class. Luckily, this isn't a major disaster for me, being able to pull tricks out of my hat and improvise when necessary. That lesson even worked out really well because I took the children on an imaginary trip to the past using a  visualisation that required very little preparation.

I  would just like to ask anyone who reads this blog, how do you find the time to keep up a blog (and some people even have more than one!), read other blogs, tweet, belong to other social networks, plan lessons and actually teach all at the same time?? Is it possible to do all this and have a private life?

By the way, if anybody can help me on the beltfree question I'd be grateful as I don't want to sound stupid on the site itself! Thanks.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jack and the Beanstalk Trial - a roleplay for teens and adults

A few years ago I was teaching a group of upper-intermediate/advanced teenagers and the topic of the week was crime. It was in a UK summer school and we had done all the usual vocabulary activities and language work, and I wanted to do something different that would get them speaking. They were a lively group and I knew that some kind of drama activity would go down well with the majority. Mentioning this to a colleague who was teaching a similar class, she introduced me to something she had found surfing the web called The Jack and the Beanstalk Mock Trial. Now, this is actually a real mock trial, I assume designed for Law students, but it can be easily adapted to suit an EFL class. It is available in its entirety here.

Your teenage students will probably not have had any experience of a trial, but they should have seen plenty of Hollywood films that they can base the activity on. If not, you can always show them a few scenes of a trial from a film or TV show, so they get an idea of what happens.

The first thing I do before introducing the roleplay idea is to do some vocabulary work related to the courtroom: judge, jury, defense, prosecution, witness, sentence, be charged with etc. 

Then, I ask them to tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. They can do this in pairs or small groups before giving feedback to the whole class, just to make sure that they all know the story. Then tell them that Jack is in trouble. He has been charged with two crimes: the first being the MURDER of the giant and the second being BREAKING AND ENTERING the giant's house and subsequent THEFT of  a goose and her golden egg.

Now give out a copy of the Charge Sheet to all the students, which they should read. Say that the class is going to act out Jack's trial.  Tell the class that you are going to split them into two small groups representing the Prosecution and the Defense, a Judge and Jury (depending on the number of students), and four Witnesses. You will need a minimum of eight students to do this activity (1 Prosecutor, 1 Defense Lawyer, 1 Judge, Jack, 4 Witnesses). If there are several students forming the defense and prosecution, they can either choose a spokesperson to speak during the trial, or take turns to speak. It is a good idea for these students to be the stronger and more outgoing ones as they will have to try and persuade the judge that they are right.

If the group has a very high level of English you can give them the Legislation and Legal notes but if not you could quickly explain and discuss what actually constitutes the crimes Jack has been accused of.

Now give out the roles and the following materials:

The Prosecution needs Martha's Statement and Detective Morse's Statement
The Defense needs Jack's Statement and Nora Jones (Jack's mother) 's Statement

Each group needs to read the statements they have been given and prepare their case. The witnesses (and Jack) should prepare their own statements, trying to remember as much of the information as possible in order to answer questions in their own words. They should try to think of any questions that they may be asked and make up the answers.

The judge is the most problematic at this stage because he/she doesn't really have anything to prepare but you can either ask the judge to help the Prosecution, or you could be the judge yourself, especially if you have a shortage of students. The judge is an important character, however, since he/she will have to instruct the Prosecution, Defense and witnesses to speak.

During this preparation period, you should go round monitoring and helping with any problems (language or ideas) students may have.

The trial itself is probably best held another day, as otherwise it will be rushed. This also gives students time to look over and learn some of the information they will be required to present, making a more organised and fluent trial. When you are ready to begin the trial, make sure everyone is comfortable and clear about what they should say and when, although it doesn't really matter if things go a bit astray, you can always put them back on track yourself if necessary. (If they are not camera shy, you could even record the trial and show it to them another day. Taking photos is another option. They could later make a poster as a kind of photo story, detailing what happened during the trial.)

Then, let them get on with it, only interrupting if absolutely necessary. If you have a very shy student that doesn't want to take part, you can give him/her the role of taking the minutes, which means that he/she has to listen carefully and can later type up what was said (or give to you to type up!).

At the end of the trial, the judge and jury must decide whether Jack is innocent or guilty and what punishment he should have, if any. The judge should base this on what he/she had heard during the trial and which side has been more persuasive, with the better arguments. There are some worksheets for the judge and jury to complete during the trial on pages 9-11 here (pdf).

You can then make a big drama out of sending Jack to jail if he is found guilty, which they all love!

I have only used this activity once and I had completely forgotten about until yesterday, when I was thinking about what kind of "crime" materials I had for my FCE teenage group tomorrow. So I am going to try it out with them. I think they will enjoy it because they are a lively noisy bunch and are quite fed up of doing FCE-type tasks. I will report how it went down on Thursday. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Baby Talk

One of my closest friends has just given birth to her first child. His name is Andrés and is two days old and he is beautiful. However, I have a dilemma - and no, it is not whether to have one of my own. The dilemma is the following: do I speak to the child in English or in Spanish? Of course, my natural instinct is to speak Spanish: I speak to his parents in Spanish, none of our group of friends speak English very well and although completely fluent in Spanish, I'm not the best at switiching between the two languages. Every time I'm with an English-speaker and a Spanish-speaker at the same time, I always end up speaking the wrong language to each one.

So why the dilemma?  Well, as soon as my friend discovered she was pregnant, she promptly informed me that I would have to speak to the child in English so that he would have a headstart and somehow acquire English just by listening to me speak English babyspeak. Of course, my friend has no knowledge of language acquisition and just assumes that if I talk to the boy in English for half an hour very week (I only see them on weekends) he will suddenly be able to speak the language when he is older. Everyone has it got into their heads that children are brilliant natural language learners (which is why they all put their kids into English lessons when they are four years old) but there is evidence that a child who starts at four and one that starts at eleven will have similar chances of learning a language well. My friend's son will evidently not acquire English from me speaking to him for a few minutes a week.

What is your opinion on the subject of language acquisition? Is it worth me talking to the baby in English? Will he get any benefit from this? Or will he just think that his "Auntie" Michelle speaks funny? Should I just do it to keep my friend happy?

I'd love to know your thoughts on the matter.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ten blogs

It's my turn to recommend ten blogs that I think are worth taking the time to follow. I was given this priviledge by Richard, at and I'm finding it hard to come up with ten that haven't already been nominated! When I started my blog, I didn't realise how many other ELT blogs were out there, and have only really started to discover many of them recently. This means that I follow some of the most typical blogs on everyone's reading lists, but I am going to try to provide some different ones here. Of course, my favourites are going on the list, even if they have been listed 20 times already! By the way, the blogs are not listed in any particular order.

1) Carol Read's ABC of Teaching Children
I have unwittingly become a kind of young learners specialist over the years and Carol has some wonderful ideas about teaching children. She also gives extensive replies to comments you make, which means she is all for helping and sharing with others.Well worth following if you teach kids.

2) Tefltastic with Alex Case
 Alex was the first person to comment on my blog and I regularly read his. He also accepts guest posts by newbies like me, helping novices to get our faces out there! He also provides lots of interesting ideas to use in the classroom.

3) Early EFL by Leahn Stanhope
I have worked with Leahn in the UK and I can say that she is a funny, intelligent and dedicated teacher who has now entered the blogosphere to share her thoughts and ideas with the rest of us. This blog concentrates on Primary Ed and CLIL.

4) Training English Language Teachers Blog by Vanessa Reilly
Vanessa is a teacher trainer and writes course books and resource books for very young learners. Her blog has some lovely ideas to use with children under six, as well as older children.

5) TEFL Clips by Jamie Keddie and blog http://www.jamiekeddie.com
Fantastic resource site and blog (I've included them in the same entry because they're both worth a look and are both by Jamie) with plenty of original and interesting lesson plans and ideas, especially using video and images.

6)  Mantras of a Mad Man
A blog by a dedicated tutor of English, Mister Mike provides ideas to use in the classroom as well as how to use different web 2.0 applications and funny anecdotes. All in all, a good read!

7) Nik's Learning Technology Blog
I am a complete tech novice but I am trying to learn, and following Nik's blog is a great way to do so. I attended a workshop of Nik's at a virtual conference and discovered his blog. He presents different web tools in a very simple way and provides tutorials, which really do the trick.

8) Strictly4myteacherz -A tefl blog with Swag!
I have actually only just discovered this blog even though it has been around for ages. It has lesson plans and teaching ideas, and amusing general posts. Put it on your reading list!

I am starting to flag now... I think I might have to include all the blogs that I am trying to avoid - they are brilliant but they have already been on so many lists, I really wanted to exclude them!

9) English Raven
Jason Renshaw's blog was one of the first I started reading. I really don't think I need to say anything about this blog, it's one of those "must-reads".

10) Sean Banville's Blog
I'm including Sean because apart from his blog he has several resource websites and I think he must be a kind of robot in disguise to manage all these things at once! He is totally dedicated to sharing and helping teachers and students alike with his lesson plans and online activities.

So, these are my ten. It has actually been much harder than I thought it would be, but I never imagined I would get to do one of these lists, I am honoured to take part. I wish I did know of more up and coming blogs rather than renominating these oh-so-famous ones because surely that's the idea of the initiative, but I don't. I would love to find out about more blogs, though, so if you have any recommendations or friends who have set up ELT blogs, please add them in the comments box.
Licencia de Creative Commons
So This Is English Blog by Michelle Worgan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at