Search This Blog

Friday, November 26, 2010

Barça - Madrid

Barça vs Real Madrid. 
That's what threatens to mess up next Monday evening's lesson. A class full of "madridistas" means that from 9pm there will be little, if any, concentration in our classroom. One or two have decided not to come to class, others have suggested a kind of Christmas radio party where we listen to the match in the background whilst singing Christmas carols (yes, that was really a suggestion made by one of the students!). If we could get the match in English I wouldn't mind, but I don't think that's going to be possible. Anyway, as we were originally going to be looking at verbs followed by the gerund or the infinitive, I decided to make up a dialogue about football in which lots of these forms were used. You will find the end result below. I tried to make it sound natural whilst including an inappropriate number of gerunds and infinitives! After getting the students to concentrate for ten minutes (before the match starts) and look for the verbs, we will practise the dialogues in pairs. I am hoping that this will be fun...
Watching the match

John:    Alright mate! How’s it going?

Tom:    Not bad, John. I think we’ll win this game.

John:    Yeah, I hope so. Do you want a drink?

Tom:    Just a coke, please. I don’t feel like drinking tonight. Anyway, I’ve got to finish studying for
            Wednesday’s exam later.

John:    Oh right. I love having a beer watching the footy. Don’t you
            miss drinking when everyone else is having one?

Tom:    Sometimes, yeah. Oy! Penalty!........
            Nice one! We’ll score from this.

John:    Yeah, Ronaldo’s been practising taking penalties all week.

Both:    Goooooooooaaaaaaaaallllllllll!

Tom:    Anyway, fancy coming to the match on Saturday? I’m taking
            the kids.

John:    No, I’d like to but I can’t afford to go. My brother suggested
            going and he offered to get the tickets but I refused to accept
            them. He’s not working at the moment.

Tom:    Well, if you change your mind, I don’t mind giving you a lift.

John:    Cheers. Hey! That’s not a red card! He was diving! He can’t deny cheating there!

Tom:     Oh I know. They just can’t help cheating, can they?

John:     Well, I still don’t think they’ll avoid being relegated at the end of the season.

Tom:     No, they certainly deserve it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Five little ducks.. erm pigs...erm... whatever!

As I was getting ready for work yesterday, I made up a little song. You may be thinking that I get inspired whilst doing some rather mundane activities like doing the shopping or getting ready for work, but to be honest, since these activities are not mentally taxing, I can allow my mind to wander and this is how I come up with ideas. (I suppose I'm not a very methodical kind of person).

My six-year-olds and I are looking at the story of The Three Little Pigs and I thought singing a song about them might reinforce some of the language we have seen. Now, finding it difficult to remember and sing a song in class with an original tune, most of the ditties I make up are sung to the tune of another, more traditional, song. In this case, the "little pigs" fit in very well with the "little ducks" in the song Five Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day (over the hills and far away...). Everyone know that one? Here are the lyric to my piggy version:

Three little pigs left home one day
Said "Bye Bye" to mummy and went away
Pig number one built his house of straw
Wolf blew it down and it was no more.

Two little pigs left home one day
Said "Bye Bye" to mummy and went away
Pig number two built his house of sticks
Wolf blew it down and it fell to bits.

One little pig left home one day
Said "Bye Bye" to mummy and went away
Pig three built his house from bricks of clay
and the three little pigs could play all day!

What do you think? I haven't tried it on the children yet but I think they'll like it. I doubt I'd make a career out of songwriting but it suits my purpose alright!  Feel free to use it if you are doing something similar.

And if you've been singing along while reading this post, I bet you won't be able to get the tune out of your head all day!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Party Time!

We have just finished a unit on birthdays in our course book, where party food had been the main lexical input and I wanted to do something a bit more creative that would relate to the topic. This particular class sometimes have some problems getting on with each other and there are often silly little arguments and tale telling, so I thought it may be useful to do some group work, in the hope that they would bond more if they had to work together to complete a task.

The idea I came up with was to organise a class party. Now, there are twelve students in the class - too many to work in a group, so I decided to make it more competitive (they just love competition) and to divide the class into two. Since there are six boys and six girls, this seemed the most practical way to split them up. I don't normally allow them to work in single sex groups, unless they are groups of three, as I prefer them to change partners every so often. However in this case, I thought there would be fewer differences of opinion and therefore quarrels if they were allowed to work with their friends. It was very likely that the girls would prepare a completely different kind of party to the boys.

Each group had a supervisor who I appointed. The supervisor's job was to make sure everybody in the group knew what they had to do and to make sure they were doing it. The others would each be responsible for a task, being able to help the others if necessary. These are the tasks that they had to complete:

  • Make a guestlist
  • Make invitations
  • Make a list of food and drinks
  • Make a list of games to play
  • Decide what decorations you will need
There will be two different parties that we will hold in December, when we finish our current course book. The children really got into organising their parties and making beautiful invitations. We will be finishing things off this afternoon, and deciding who will bring what, as each child will bring one item of food to the party.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Precious Moments

It may not look much, but with a lot of dedication and care it will become something wonderful.

On a day when some classes seem like an uphill struggle, when it appears that some students are just trying to make life more difficult for you, when you find it impossible to get the to children stop shouting and sit down, and all because it is raining outside; there sometimes comes a glimpse of light in that dark, heavy ambience; a ray of sunlight or a rainbow to brighten up your day.

This happened to me yesterday. Not that my previous class had gone badly, but the bad weather along with the ever-present challenge of trying to help some students to learn had started to get me down slightly. It is November, one month til the Christmas holidays and just over two months since the new term began, when things have settled down enough for people to start complaining and demanding things from you. Demotivation starts to creep in to the souls of learners and colleagues. There is a reason why in the UK they have a half-term break!

Then, a six-year-old changed everything.

With this particular class I decided to take a kind of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) approach. I spent the summer designing a course for them, and I am working on the finer details as we go along. Really, what we are doing is learning about and doing lots of different things, of the domains of various school subjects. We learn about living creatures, do projects, make things, do experiments, listen to stories and so on. Yesterday, we were discussing the story of The Three Little Pigs. I hadn't yet read them the story, but as it is a well-known tale in Spain too, we were discussing what the children knew about it. Of course this was being done in Spanish - the children have very little productive English at this stage- and I was providing them with some vocabulary trying to encourage them to use it. This meant that their Spanish sentences explaining the story went something like: "Pig construyó una casa de paja". I could see Lucía was thinking about something, and when she put up her hand she said that she had something to say in English.

Slowly, but confidently, she exclaimed: 

"The wolf up the house!" 

Well, this was something new! A six-year-old trying to make a full sentence in English. On her own. With no encouragement or elicitation. I was taken aback. Of course the sentence needed a verb for it to make real sense, but her sentence had meaning and could be easily understood. Lucía was communicating in English!
And she knew exactly what she was saying because she made a gesture for "up" so that we would know what she meant. For me, this is a really important step for Lucía. I have been exposing the children to more English than they are used to, in the hope that they will eventually understand me and pick up some of it themselves. I focus on important vocabulary and repeat it a lot while we are doing things, and then wait for them to use it without being prompted. It takes such a long time for this to happen usually, and so I was shocked to hear something that included new vocabulary along with vocabulary we learnt in October, and in a coherent sentence.

My reaction may seem over the top, but I almost had tears in my eyes when this little girl said what she did. I felt so proud! I praised her effusively for her efforts. It gave me the feeling that maybe what I am doing is working, maybe this way of learning is effective.

Thank you, Lucía. You really made my week!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Don't Shoot the Bear!

Don't Shoot the Bear is an interactive commercial for the brand of error correction products Tipp-Ex. Watch it:

I have used it today with a group of ten year olds and a group of thirteen year olds, and I am now going to use it with my Advanced class.

With the younger ones, I got them to write a list of action verbs on a piece of paper. I had not told them anything about the video. I then wrote on the board "A hunter shoots a bear", and elicited its meaning. I went on to rub out "shoots" and asked them if any of the verbs in their lists could go in its place. I told them that if necessary, they could add "with" so that the sentence would make sense, for example: A hunter plays with a bear. They then had to tick the verbs on their list that would be suitable in the sentence in question.

I then played the video and asked them for verbs with which to complete the sentence. It's really good fun and it gets them practising 3rd person singular "s" (although the sentence does not need to be grammatically correct for the videos to work). It also activates vocabulary as they try to think of as many different actions as possible to try out.

With the advanced students, I'm hopefully going to get something a bit more complex out of them. I will only accept grammatically correct sentences, and demand synonyms of really basic words. Maybe we could hypothesise about what will happen. We can discuss why the same video comes up when different verbs have been entered. We can look up different and alternative meanings in the dictionary. I haven't really decided exactly what we are going to do, I thought I would see what they came up with first.

I do think that this video has endless classroom possibilities though. It could be used as a stimulus for speaking or writing, the students could create a collaborative story about the hunter and the bear. Surely there must be plenty more ways in which we could use this video, so please add your ideas to the comments section to share with us all.

And whatever you do, DON'T SHOOT THE BEAR!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Autumn Days

Those of you who were at primary school in the eighties will probably remember the following assembly song, especially if you were in the recorder group like I was:

Autumn days when the grass is jewelled
And the silk inside a chestnut shell
Jet planes meeting in the air to be re-fuelled
All the things I love so well
So I mustn't forget
No I mustn't forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn't forget.

Along with harvest festival celebrations where everyone took in a tin of Spam (when it was something to eat, rather than junkmail) and sang songs about crops and giving and thanking the Lord, autumn was a time for putting on your wellies and jumping in piles of leaves and puddles, smelling bonfires and playing conkers and doing leaf rubbings with wax crayons.

I wanted to allow my class of six-year-olds to feel the magic of those days, and relate to it. I wanted them to imagine they were in a park covered in fallen leaves, to run around and jump and play. To smell roast chestnuts, to feel the chilly autumn wind on their faces. To collect leaves and touch them, feel them, smell them. I wanted them to have a multisensory experience with sights, sound, smells and sensations. And all this in the classroom!

This is all part of the CLILing up of my youngest students. This summer I started working on a project to bring Content and Language Integrated Learning into my classroom. After trying out different course books for this age group and trying a materials free approach, I have come to the conclusion that neither is ideal. So why not do things that the children are really interested in? Topics that will motivate and engage. Tasks that are challenging not just because of the language involved but also for their content. This is what I am trying with one class of six-year-olds and at the moment it seems to be working.

Autumn is a mini.project that we have been doing over three lessons. The final lesson was dedicated to creating a display for our classroom. We had already done the leaf rubbings in the previous lesson and we spent yesterday deciding where to stick each leaf and recognising the written forms of the words we have learnt. Here are a couple of pictures of the display:

Creating a display can take some time and effort on the part of the teacher, but it gives the children a real sense of achievement when they see that their work is the backbone of a beautiful wall display. You can involve the children at all stages, in the planning of what to include and where, in the sticking, in handing out pins and adhesives and so on. The display is ours, we have created it as a class and it shows what we have been doing and what the children have been learning. It shows our progress and it is fun.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Teaching grammar to young learners is no easy task. Is there even any need for it? I'm not going to discuss the whys and wherefores right now, but if you want to read more about whether teaching grammar is necessary for young learners, read this post by Dave Dodgson on his blog Reflections of a Teacher and Learner.

In my school we use course books with young learners and in this case I am using Kids Box 2 by CUP, which is actually quite a nice course, with some fantastic songs, although it does present some vocabulary that may seem out of context (who eats water melon at a birthday party?). This is because the course is tailor-made to suit the Cambridge Young Learners' Exams (see this post of mine.) Yesterday's lesson was supposed to present learners with object pronouns - something that they don't even understand in Spanish. Of course, they use the object pronoun "me" without realising it, but I feared, actually explicitly explaining how to use these pronouns was not going to get us very far. The exercise in the book was a very flimsy affair which would be done wrong by all my students if I hadn't shown them the "grammar" beforehand. So how could I get the students using object pronouns correctly without writing lots of boring example sentences on the board and having them write their own?

This is what I did:

After showing them the forms of the object pronouns on a lovely colourful poster with children pointing to each other and speech bubbles saying things like "Give him the ball" I got out a bag of peanuts. Unsurprisingly, everyone started asking me for peanuts in Spanish, to which I replied that they would have to ask me in English if they wanted something. "Can I have a ......, please?" is the phrase they know for asking for things, but that wasn't going to help us with object pronouns, so I provided them with the not-so-polite "Give me a peanut, please!"

They all began shouting for peanuts using "Give me..." and I gave one to each child that asked for one.

I then wrote ME, YOU, HIM, HER, US, THEM on Post-It notes and stuck them along the edge of my desk, where they could be seen by everyone. I then placed several peanuts by each Post-It. I told them that if they wanted more peanuts they would have to come to the desk and ask for one, but they could only take one if they used the word on the note and used the peanut accordingly. For example, if they took a peanut from the HER pile, they would have to say "I give the peanut to her" and proceed by giving the peanut to a female friend. If they chose US, they would take two peanuts and keep one for themself and give one to a friend. And so on.

They loved the game and wanted to carry on playing when we had run out of peanuts! And they were all using object pronouns correctly! When we came to the exercise in their activity book, they had no problems.

It may have taken much longer than a simple explanation, but all the children were involved and engaged, and I think that they will remember what they learnt. I may even have created a cognitive cue with the peanuts - every time they see a monkey nut, will they be reminded of object pronouns?

You could do this with other personal pronouns, possessive adjectives and pronouns, or to practise teh possessive "s". You could use sweets or stickers or anything else instead of peanuts. One hint - if you do use peanuts, make sure nobody has an allergy to them first!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Young Learners Video Challenge!

As everyone seems to be busy completing various challenges (see Jason's Wandrous Whiteboard  and Karenne's Dogme Challenges ) I thought I would come up with my own!

One of my classes is a group of ten year olds who have been in our school for approximately two years.
Over the past couple of lessons we have been looking at different sports and their characteristics as well as how to express likes and dislikes. They wrote about their favourite sports, but I wanted them to practise speaking too, so I asked them if they would like to appear in a video that other children in different countries could see. This particular group are quite outgoing and very enthusiastic, and they love doing drama activities and projects to supplement the course book.

I wrote some prompts on the board to help them remember what kind of things they could say, such as:
I like... I don't like ... Most popular sport etc. They practised their speeches without the camera first, and most of them needed a couple of tries with the webcam recording as they got nervous and started laughing.

Here is the merged video:

They really enjoyed seeing themselves speak in English and I have suggested they try it at home too, so they can listen to their pronunciation.

What I would like to suggest is for those of you who teach young learners to do something similar. All you need is a computer or laptop with a webcam. I used the basic software that came with the webcam and then merged the videos online with a free application which does not allow editing or downloading but offers the HTML code for you to embed the video into your blog, and a link you can email to students, as well as being able to upload to youtube if you wish.

My students would love to see other children talking about their favourite sports. If you do decide to record your students, send me a link to the video and I will show it to my class. This could be a great collaborative project!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Call for Advice

This is a cry for help to my PLN.

                                          Photo by Simon Howden

It is not a nice feeling, after so many years of teaching, the one you get when you have no idea of how to help a student advance. It is a feeling of complete and utter exasperation. A feeling of uselessness and hopelessness. Thoughts of incompetence run through my mind. Why don't I know what to do? Why have I run out of ideas? It is so hard not to lose patience and blame the student as well as myself for not knowing how to overcome the problem. This is why I am asking you, my network of knowledgeable friends, for help.

The Student: a one-to one student in his early forties working for a company recently taken over by a British firm. Started in February as a False Beginner, had three months off over the summer and has started lessons again in October. Two hours per week.

The Course: using an elementary level course book as a source of general vocabulary and grammar as well as skills practice.

The Problem: The student has an elementary level of vocabulary and grammar structures and can understand written texts on a wide range of topics, however his listening skills are at beginner level. He can only comprehend spoken English at sentence level (on a good day) and freezes whenever a recording is played.

The Situation: The student has face to face contact several times a year with British visitors to the factory with whom he is expected to communicate. He needs to be able to understand and respond to native speakers socially whilst showing them around the factory.

How can we improve his listening skills in a short period of time? What kind of tasks can I give the student? One of the main problems is nerves. However much I try to get him to relax and just listen, this seems impossible. We have been working on pronunciation issues such as elision and sentence stress in order to make listening easier but at the end of the day, when another teacher comes into the classroom and asks him a basic question he just freezes.

So, please if you have or know of any ideas, tasks, links, websites or even books that may help, please let me know. How can I rid my student of the sensation of being thrown into a black hole whenever he hears English?
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