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Monday, December 5, 2011

Conducting a Survey with 7-year-olds

As part of our current topic Healthy Eating, the children carried out a survey to find out what foods other students in the school eat and how often. At first I asked the children if they knew what a survey was in Spanish (encuesta) but they weren't sure what one was, so I explained that it consisted of asking people questions to find out information. We were going to ask questions about food to see if the students in our school were healthy eaters or not.

As the children had not come across a survey or questionnaire before, I gave them some sample questions and the class decided that they would be good questions to ask. I divided the children into groups of three and asked them to come up with five questions about different foods e.g.

                Do you eat fish?     Do you drink milk?     Do you eat vegetables?

We then drilled these questions with a chant:

Do you eat fish?
Yes, I eat fish!
Do you drink milk?
Yes, I drink milk!
Do you eat peas?
No, no I don't!

The children really enjoyed the chant, and we did several versions with different food items and with different dynamics such as teacher vs whole class, girls vs boys etc.

By this point they were all able to ask "do you" questions with no problems. I gave them a worksheet in groups with a table. In the first column they had to choose the different foods they wanted to ask questions about. The second column was to record YES or NO and the third column was to write down how many times a week.

In the following lesson, we practised asking questions to find out how many times a week people ate different foods, and the possible answers (one, two, three times, every day). I didn't want to complicate things to much so I avoided teaching ONCE, TWICE. We were then ready to go and ask the questions.
We went to another class and each group went to ask different people. Because the other class were teenagers, I allowed the groups to stay together to ask their questions. The children said they enjoyed asking questions to the other class and asked to do it again! So I said they could go to another class in the following lesson. This time the groups split up and asked questions individually.

The next stage was to compile the results. The members of each group got together and added up all the YES answers to form a total number of people that eat each food. When they had done this, I showed them an empty bar chart and started to complete it with examples that the children gave me. When they were clear about how to make a bar chart using their figures, each group started work.

In the final lesson, the groups finished their charts and then presented their results to the class, saying:

    Eleven people eat sweets. Nine people eat carrots. Twelve people eat chicken.

Each group compared their results with those of the group that was presenting, telling the class of any differences.

The children really enjoyed this project and I think it was because they were really using English to communicate with other people. Conducting a questionnaire and compiling the results is a challenging task for this age group but they seemed to relish in the fact that they were doing something new, that they had never even done in Spanish. They all managed to ask people questions with only a little prompting, and they were all able to work in groups to produce the end results. All in all, a successful project!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Story Project with Six-year-olds

I am a big fan of trying out tasks traditionally left to older students with my youngest learners. Writing stories is one of these activities. I suppose "writing" isn't the right word here as these children are just learning to read and write in Spanish, and have only been learning English for two months with very little exposure to the written word. Perhaps "creating" stories would be a better way of putting it. In any case, my class of six-year-olds have worked together to create a story from scratch, make the pages and then tell the story using Voicethread for the world to see. This is how we did it:

Day One

1) First I told the children that we were going to create our own story as a class. "¿¿En inglés??" (In English???) they all cried! Yes, in English. The first thing was to choose a character as the protagonist. I introduced the concept of voting and we ended up with the spider as our main character.

2) Having ascertained that a story usually contains a problem that must be solved we then started to think of problems the spider might have. The winner (actually my suggestion, but it could have been a student's) was that the spider was sad because her friends were playing without her.

3) I then stuck a series of pieces of A4 paper on the board to create a storyboard. I did this so that afterwards each learner would get a page from which to base their picture. We decided on the events and their order and I drew a quick sketch to remind us of what happened in each scene.

4) I then showed the children the materials we were going to be using - tissue paper, glue and felt-tip pens. I showed them that by layering different coloured pieces of tissue paper, we got different colours and textures. The glue would have a similar effect and the felt-tip pens had a roller stamp which would give us more visible texture. The idea was to create a story similar to Eric Carle's illustrations, as we had looked at The Very Hungry Caterpillar in previous lessons.

Days Two and Three

1) I put the storyboard back on display and I told the story again, pointing to each page. Some new vocabulary came up in the story such as park, play tag, friends, lonely as well as negative sentences (didn't, isn't). If that isn't emergent language, I don't know what is! When all the children were clear about the events of the story and could provide most of the important words, I asked each child to choose a scene. They would be responsible for creating that page of the book.

2) I asked the children what colours they would like to use for the spider. They decided that blue and yellow would be nice with green for the legs. We did the same for the other characters. I cut out some basic shapes from the tissue paper and the children started to stick them onto their pages. The sticking took a while as I had to go round helping them squeeze the glue as you needed very strong fingers! As I went round, I would ask the children what insect the were making. Some children had more sticking to do, others had a spider's web to draw. In the end, we drew the faces and used the pens to draw legs, antennae and patterns.

3) It was then time to find out if the children remembered the story. I ask them to stand in a line with their pages in order. There were no problems here so we then added page numbers. I told the story again, with their help, using their pictures.

4)I took photos of the pictures and later uploaded them to Voicethread.

Day Four

1) I showed the children the basic Voicethread (just picures, no comments) on the computer. They were all thrilled to see their pictures on the internet! I asked them what was missing. I asked them if somebody saw our story, would they know what happened? They decided that it would be difficult to know what happened because there were no words. So I told them that they were going to add the words, but not written words. They were going to tell the story with their voices. "¿¿¿En inglés???" they all cried!

2) I went through the story, page by page, asking the children what happened. I elicited the important words in English and the provided the full sentence. Each child would repeat their sentence several times. We did quite a bit of rehearsing, including using "big voices" that the microphone would pick up.

3) By this stage, the children could say their sentences and they knew what they were saying, so it was time to record. Each child came up to the computer and said their sentence. Some needed a few tries to get it right (including the volume). We listened to each child and then we listened to the whole story. I had to fill in for a couple of absent learners. Our story was now complete!

4) The final task was to collate the pages and create the actual storybook which I would hang in the classroom for everone to look at.

Here is the final product:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Storybooks from the 70s and 80s

Yesterday, browsing on Amazon, I came across the exact same edition of a book I had in around 1980. The book in question was There was an old lady who swallowed a fly by Pam Adams, first published in 1973. Of course, I promptly bought it for the modest price of 3.78 euros! But childhood nostalgia apart, I bought the book to use in the classroom. I loved the story as a young child, partly because the fact that an old lady swallows a horse is hilarious to a four-year-old, but also because the story has fantastic rhythm and rhyme.

There was an old lady who swallowed a bird. How absurd she swallowed a bird! She swallowed the bird to catch the spider that wriggled a wriggled and tickled inside her.
The story also contains a lot of repetition, (think along the lines of The Twelve Days of Christmas) always ending each verse with "perhaps she'll die". My mother, who used to read me the story, is tone deaf, but even she got the rhythm right!

Finding this book, however, got me thinking about other storybooks I loved as a child and whether they are still in print. Here is a list of books I read frequently in the early to mid 80s:

1. Paddington at the Seaside by Michael Bond
2. The Topsy and Tim series by Jean Adamson and Belinda Worsley (an eighties Charlie and Lola?)
3. My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards (I had one!)
4. Mog's Christmas by Judith Kerr
5. The Secret Seven by Enid Blighton
6. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
7. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown
8. The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
9. The Naughtiest Girl in the School by Enid Blyton

These are the ones I can remember, but I'm sure there were many more. I loved anything by Enid Blyton including the Mallory Towers series (boarding schools sounded so exciting!). Most of these books were first published in the 60s and 70s ( the Blighton books in the 40s!) but most are still available in new prints or second-hand on Amazon. It just goes to show that a good book will never disappear.

The next few posts will be dedicated to children's storybooks, old and new, and how we can use them in the classroom.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

ACEIA: CHALLENGING CHILDREN - Content in the Primary EFL Classroom

I would like to thank all those that came to my session yesterday and I hope that you took something useful away with you ready to use in your classrooms. I apologise for rushing through some of the practical activities at the end - I would have sincerely preferred to spend more time discussing stories, crafts and games, but as often happens, time got the better of me! If you do have any questions or if there is anything you would like to discuss, you can do so here in the comments section.

In any case, here is the slideshow if you would like to take another look:

ACEIA Challenging Children: Content in the Primary EFL Classroom

If you would like to know the titles of the books I showed you, let me know and I will post them here.

I hope everyone enjoyed the day, I know I did!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Personalised Dictogloss to Practise Tenses

One way of diagnosing students' knowledge of tenses, or of getting them to focus on the difference between two tenses, is by doing a dictogloss. On Tuesday with my CAE class, we were revising the use of different tenses, and I began by reading out the following short text:

Last Sunday I took part in the Race for Life. 
This was the first time I had ever participated in a race, except for the odd fun run when I was at school.
I took up running in March and I have been training since then - two or three times a week. 
There were over 5,000 women doing the run, of all ages. It wasn't easy to run at first because some of the women were walking.
In the end I finished in 412th position! I'm now thinking of trying to increase the distance on my training runs. Maybe next year I'll do a 10K!
I read it twice. The students then had to write down what they remembered from the text. They then worked in pairs to try to reconstruct the text, paying close attention to the verb tenses used. They could ask me questions about any details they couldn't remember, but I would reply with one word answers. I then wrote all the verbs that appeared in the story on the board and the students could check that they had included everything. There didn't seem to be any problems with the use of tenses in this case, but you can always focus on some of the verbs and ask the students why they used each particular tense.

Today I have a teenage group who were looking at the main differences between the present simple and continuous last lesson. I am going to do a dictogloss with the following text:

I'm feeling nervous and excited. It's very noisy because there are so many people. I am with more than five thousand other people and we are all standing in a small space, like a outdoor corridor. I hear a man through the speakers. He is telling us how long we have before we start. The atmosphere is amazing. Everybody is getting ready to go. The man is reading some names and now five thousand people are singing "Happy Birthday" to those people! The man is now counting ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, go! Now there are lots of pink balloons in the air and we are all running. 
I will pre-teach some of the vocabulary so that the weaker students don't panic when I start to read. The first time they listen will be to find out where the speaker is. This is not explicit - they will have to imagine they are in this situation and guess where they are. Can you guess? The first example should help you!
The second time they can take notes. They will then work in pairs or threes to reconstruct the text. Again, I will write the verbs in their infinitive form on the board. If they find it difficult, I will put the verbs in the correct order. They will have to think carefully about whether each verb should be in present simple or continuous and why.

I am then going to ask them to write their own short text. They should imagine they are somewhere interesting (at a Cup Final, lost in a forest, in the A&E ward etc) and write how they are feeling and what they can see, hear etc. Hopefully, this will get them using both tenses appropriately.

Both texts are true and about an event I took part in last weekend. I think that giving a personalised touch to the materials you use can provoke more interest and discussion - the students may wish to know more, and it is more motivating for students to find out something about their teacher as a person instead of an impersonal text from a book. It may even motivate them to write their own!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Children's Book Week

Last week was Children's Book Week in the UK and I thought it would be nice to have a lesson where we talked about our favourite books. My first stop looking for suggestions on how to focus the lesson was the British Council's Teaching English website because I have previously found great ideas on using literature and poetry there. I wasn't disappointed, finding this great set of lesson ideas by Jo Bertrand.

I didn't know the book "Charlie Cook's Favourite Book" (which you can see here, Jackanory style) but it seemed a great way to introduce different types of books and the topic of "My Favourite Book".
I thought the story video would be too difficult for my class, so instead I followed Jo's advice and concentrated on some of the images from the story. I introduced some key vocabulary and we talked about whether we liked different genres of books or not.

As I don't have a copy of the book, I made this presentation so we could guess what each book on Charlie's shelf was about.

Charlie Cook's Favourite Book

It was then time to think about our own favourite books. One of the girls had brought in a book she was reading (I had asked them to but the others had forgotten!) and I asked her what is was about. I then wrote a simple text on the board with hints to remind the learners what information they would have to include.

My favourite book is ........................ by ........................................
It's about a .................. (who?) who ........................................ (what?) in ........................... (where?)
It's very exciting/interesting/funny/mysterious etc

We completed it with an example and then the learners wote down the text and thought about their favourite book. They are to post their work on our class blog.

Blogging with Kids

By KristinaB

This year I decided to set up a blog for my class of eight to ten year olds. Now I think a bit of background information is required here. Firstly, we do not have interactive whiteboards or projectors in the classroom. However, I have a laptop and wifi access. This has proved to be sufficient to show the learners how to access the blog and to answer any questions with a quick demonstration. In this class there are ten learners but I think even with larger groups you could show them how to use the blog a few at a time and allow them to practise in small groups while the others are working on something else. My main point here is that you don't need lots of equipment to set up a class blog. The main requirement is that the learners have computer and internet access at home.

I wasn't sure how willing the kids would be at first. This is the group I wrote about last month who were having some problems with their attitude towards each other and in particular to one boy. They are in the third and fourth year ar primary school and come to English lessons twice a week after school. For this reason they are not used to having to do homework for me - they have enough of that from school. When I introduced the blog, I didn't use the word "homework" but focused on how they would be able to write what they wanted, from time to time having specific tasks to do. This is in fact not true, at least not yet - I have given them a task to do every week, but until they get used to blogging I think this is a good idea. One of the girls already posted an entry about what she was doing that weekend and I think some of the others will follow suit when they have got used to the platform and how it works.

You can imagine how surprised I was when the very day I gave the homework some kids had already posted their answers! I set up the blog on 21st September and showed it to the class, and I wrote an introductory post which they dictated to me. The following week I set a task - write about your favourite outfit. On that weekend every single student wrote an entry and what is more, they started to comment on each others' posts! Some started by saying hello on our introductory post and then commenting on other people's work. One of the reasons for this is our "Kindness and Respect Box" into which a marble is placed every time somebody does or says something nice to a classmate and the children decided that the blog was a good place for this.

Some of the comments they have made are:
"So good description"
"Wow, your outfit is very beauty!"
"A very good description!"
"Excellent work, goodbye"

There are now 28 entries (so far I have set three tasks, the last one just yesterday) and over 50 comments, some of which are mine. I use the comments to recast some of the learners' errors. However, these kids are not used to writing in English and their work is full of strange spellings and a lack of grammar. I plan to go over some of the more common errors in class, but I'm not too worried about this because they are still young and one of the objectives of setting up the blog was to motivate them to use English outside the classroom.

All in all I am really pleased with the results - the kids are very enthusiastic and love writing and reading each others' comments about their work. The platform we are using is called Kidblog and is designed specifically for primary aged children. You set up a page for your class and then each member of the blog has their own individual page. It is very intuitive and easy enough for children to use without help, once they have been shown how to use it.

Give it a try!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

But I don't like him!

What do you do when your students complain in front of the class about being put in a group with another student? When nobody in the class likes one student because of his problematic behaviour in the past? When several parents threatened to remove their children from the school because of this one "difficult" child?

John (fictional name) is an extremely bright eight-year-old, very short for his age, but intellectually more advanced than many of the nine and ten year olds in his class. Prone to aggressive and challenging behaviour in previous years, John is, after the first two lessons, working fine. There has been no particularly conflictive behaviour on his part, except when provoked by another student.

However, nobody wants to work with John. Of course, John realises this and therefore reacts to their lack of friendliness and kindness with more of the same.

It is going to be hard to undo several years of negative experience that the other children have had with John, but hopefully not impossible. I would like to start straightaway by introducing games or activities that will help integrate John more and foster a positive and kind classroom atmosphere. However, I'm not sure how to go about it. If the children were younger, I feel it would be easier. These children are around ten years old. If you have any ideas or experience of this type of problem, I'd love to hear about how you attempted to solve it.

Thanks in advance :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Classroom Routines for Young Learners: Circle Time

Circle Time is a period of the lesson where all the learners sit in a circle with the teacher. Often this is at the beginning of the lesson, when it helps get the children focussed and attentive. When children come into school on a Monday morning or, in my case, in the afternoons, their heads are full of interesting thoughts about what they have done or seen at the weekend, what they did at school this morning, what happened on the way to school, what they are going to watch on TV after the class and so on. There are two ways of getting children to forget all this interesting stuff that is occupying their thoughts: the first is distraction - maybe showing them something unusual, saying something funny or doing something silly, although we don't really want to excite them too much - that would have the opposite effect to what we really want. The other is sitting down and allowing the children to talk about all those things that preoccupy them. Depending on the situation, both methods can be useful, but I find that having Circle Time at the beginning is a nice routine to have with young learners.

So how does Circle Time work?

Well, the first thing is to have the classroom arranged in an appropriate way before the children come in. If you have space, a rug for the children to sit on is great (those cold marble floors we have here are terribly uncomfortable) but if not you can just arrange the chairs in a circle. The children should leave any coats, bags or materials on their desks/pegs or whatever, outside the circle. If the children have brought in something to show to the class, it is best to take it off them until it is their turn to speak, otherwise they will be easily distracted by this plaything.

Once everyone is sitting down quietly, you may like to ask a question about the weekend/school/holidays to get things started, but more often than not several of the children will be bursting to tell you something, and this will lead to everyone else having something to say, whether or not this is related. Now, some rules are necessary here, to prevent everyone from interrupting each other, speaking all at once, or dominating the time you have.
The main rule is that only one person can speak at a time and everyone else must wait their turn. This is easier said than done. The younger they are, the harder it is for children to understand the concept of turn-taking, so we need to aid them in some way. One way is by having some kind of toy/ball/puppet that the speaker holds. Only the child holding this object can speak, the others have to ask for the object before they can speak. If you have a class mascot or puppet, this is ideal. Another option is to have all the children's names or photos in a bag or box, and the child whose name is taken out is the one who gets to speak. The main thing is to make sure the children know what the rules of Circle Time are and how it works. It is essential to limit this time to five or ten minutes, so that it doesn't take over the whole lesson. This is especially important when Circle Time is conducted mostly in L1. You can make sure the children are aware by holding up a toy clock which shows how much time is left.

One of the advantages of Circle Time is that it can help foment the skill of listening to others, which is something that young children find very difficult. It will often be the case that each child is thinking about what they are going to say and is sitting there with their hand up just waiting to be chosen and is paying absolutely no attention to what is being said. One way of encouraging children to listen is by rewarding any comments they make about what was said before. This could be a simple "Excellent listening!" or you could give the "best listener" a sticker at the end of Circle Time.

Show and tell can also be a fun way to start the lesson and can also be done in Circle Time. Each day a different child can bring something in. I have done this in the past and children have brought in anything from a small toy, a sticker album to a stone they found in the school playground. I usually encourage the child in question to pass around their object so that the others can see it clearly and touch it.

We can also have Circle Time at the end of the lesson. I am going to introduce this in my young learner lessons this year, and possibly with older students too (although with the adults I think "Round Up" or "Lesson Review" would be a better name!). This is what is known as a plenary or lesson review and its objective is to round up what has been covered in the lesson and clarify any problems. The teacher can make a note of any gaps in knowledge that will need to be covered again. Use the Circle Time in the last five minutes of each lesson to remind the children of what they have learnt or practised that lesson. You could play a ball game (still sitting in the circle) to review vocabulary or structures. This review stage has the extra benefit of when parents ask their children what they have learnt in class today, they should remember something!

I have focused on very young learners in this post, but something similar can be useful with all age groups. Older teens and adults can find it beneficial to ease into English at the beginning of the lesson with a simple conversation about the weekend, and it also gives the teacher the opportunity to outline the learning objectives of the lesson. In the review session, students can evaluate themselves against these learning objectives and notice the areas on which they may need more work or practice.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Introducing... Five Six Seven Now Live!

Those of you who read this blog regularly may have heard a little about my latest project, Five Six Seven. I have been working on this over the past year and have trialled the programme with my own class, for whom the project was originally created. Here are a few more details.

Five Six Seven

What is Five Six Seven?

Five Six Seven is a content-based language course for young learners of five to seven years of age.

Who is it aimed at?

Five Six Seven is aimed at teachers of English to young learners. It is meant as an alternative to traditional language lessons.

Is Five Six Seven suitable for subject teachers?

No. The course includes content from other areas of the curriculum but does not replace those subjects. It is an English course that uses content from other subjects to motivate and maintain interest whilst encouraging the learners to communicate in a natural way. It may, however, be useful for CLIL teachers who are looking for extra ideas.

What is included in the Five Six Seven course?

Five Six Seven is a teacher's guide. There is no class book. The guide is made up of a series of 6 step by step lesson plans for each of the 9 units, plus 4 insertable units. At the back of the guide you will find photocopiable worksheets and handouts to accompany the lesson plans, and a bank of pictures that you can download from the Microsoft Office website.  

How can I download Five Six Seven to try it out with my class?

Five Six Seven has its own website. On the site you will find a full copy of the syllabus ready to download. You will also be able to view the first two units of the course. If you wish to download the units or have a preview of later units, please use the contact form on the website.

Do I have to pay to use Five Six Seven?

No! It is completely free of charge. You can also share the contents with your colleagues and other teachers in your school. However, I ask that you provide some feedback as to the use, quality and practicality of the materials. If there is anything that you think could be improved, please drop me a line!

Visit now!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blogging, Twitter and Distractions

Having realised that I haven't posted on this blog for well over a month, I thought it was about time I made a comeback! I hope I haven't lost many of my faithful readers during the dry spell that was July.

A bit of a dry spell... by jczart on Flickr

My excuses? A week meeting my new niece in sunny Stoke, another week spring (that should be summer) cleaning and sorting out the tip that our flat had become, a week being very lazy (after all that work) and a final week getting back down to the grindstone to my project Five Six Seven (which you will hear about very soon!)

I have opened Tweetdeck for the first time in weeks and found no messages or mentions, so I don't think I have been missed too much! That is, of course, the very nature of Twitter. The same people at the same time every day have random conversations, which I must say are great fun, but when the same people disappear off the face of the Twearth nobody really notices. For many teachers like myself, the summer break is a chance to disconnect from teaching and get our real lives back for a bit, spending more time with friends and family and less time stuck in front of a Twitterstream. Having said that, I am getting a smartphone, so I will surely become a Twaddict again sometime soon.

In any case, I haven't completely disowned ELT for the summer. I have been working on Five Six Seven and its website. Sometimes, one needs to choose one thing to focus on and ignore all other distractions.

If I have been away for too long and neglected my own blog, it doesn't mean that I have been ignoring yours - I may not have commented but I have been reading...I promise! I'm just no longer spending hours every day reading and commenting and tweeting.

I will be away in the last week of August, but as soon as I am back I will be launching the Five Six Seven website, ready for Back to School in September. Then it's all go!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wrong Trousers Day

School ends tomorrow. By this I mean that "real" school ends but we, in the language school, still have another ten days to go. Tomorrow will be the last day for many of our younger students, but others will come on Wednesday or Thursday, and a few (poor kids!) will be made to come next week. For these last few lessons something special is required - games, a video, an ice-cream, is common for the very last day of the year, but what happens when there are two or three lessons to go? Well, in my inbox this morning there was a nice surprise from The Guardian Teacher Network - Wrong Trouser Day!

Apparently, Friday 24th June is Wrong Trouser Day. People will dress in a pair of unusual trousers and go about their normal routine. Each participant pays one pound and the benefits go to children's hospitals and hospices around the UK. Organised by the Wallace and Gromit's Children's Foundation, you can find a promotional video on their website which is great for classroom use.

The Guardian Teacher Network has lots of resources for different areas of the curriculum but most are suitable for primary or early secondary learners of English. You will find the most useful links here, in my Delicious bookmarks. Activities include a reading comprehension about the fund raising event, drawing and design tasks, and thinking about how to describe trousers using adjectives. On the Guardian Teacher Network you can find more activities related to numeracy and literacy. You need to be registered to download the worksheets, but I recommend doing so as there are hundreds of useful resources on the site and you will be sent a regular newsletter summarising new or timely content.

I will be using some of these ideas with nine to eleven year old learners, but you could use or adapt them for younger children.

See who is wearing trousers in the class (here shorts are more likely due to the sweltering weather we are having) and describe them. For example, say: "This person is wearing long grey trousers. They are part of a school uniform." or "This person is wearing white short trousers". The others have to guess who you are describing. 

Play the video shown on the Wallace and Gromit Foundation website. Ask the children what people they have seen. This is a good opportunity to teach or revise some professions. What was strange about these people? Were they wearing their own trousers? Whose trousers was each person wearing?

You could use the text as a listening task instead of reading if the children don't feel like reading. In any case, the text and questions will probably need to be modified to suit the level of your students.

Choose one of the students wearing trousers and ask the others to describe them. What colour are they? Are they long or short? What are they made of? Have they got a pattern or picture? Have they got pockets? Are the smart or casual? Write all the adjectives on the board and tell the learners (or elicit, if they have some knowledge of grammar in their own language) that they are adjectives and we use them to describe things. Write some examples of phrases e.g long, black trousers/ short, yellow trousers/ white cotton trousers/ short blue jeans. Now elicit where we put the adjective in English. It may be a good idea to underline the adjectives or use a different colour. Hand out this worksheet and show the students how to complete it.

There are two worksheets you can use for this activity. The first is All Sorts of Trousers where learners think about the different kinds of trousers you can wear for different activities. In the second, they Design a Pair of Trousers for Wallace.The first activity is more suitable for younger, lower level learners.

Watching (film):
Now show the film The Wrong Trousers. There is a special ELT version published by OUP and divided into six parts.

I plan to do these activities over the next two classes.

If you are brave enough, you may wish to go into school that day actually wearing the "wrong trousers" yourself! Or if it would be too embarrassing on the commuter train, take a pair of trousers in and get changed before the lesson!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

100th post!

I thought I should do something special to celebrate my 100th post on this blog - 100 posts may not sound like many in an 18 month period, but it's still a landmark! I made a Wordle of both my 2009 and 2011 (so far*) entries and have added them to the glog below. I have made several glogs for young children before, but I am quite useless at it and it takes me hours even to create a simple glog like the one below! Click on "full size" to see it properly.

*I actually wrote this quite a few weeks back, due to Blogger counting non-published drafts as entries - I thought I had made 100 when really I was only up to about 94! So I had to wait a while... The Wordle, therefore, doesn't include my more recent posts.

I hope you like it :)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dogme McNuggets?

McNuggets by Calgary Reviews  on Flickr

I have a new student. She's twenty-eight and is in the armed forces. I decided to try and take a dogme approach with her lessons, as she's having individual classes. During our first two lessons this has worked well because we've been doing quite a bit of talking about familiar topics such as family and our typical day, and lots of language has come up, but nothing unusual - in fact, the language that emerged was actually the typical grammar and vocabulary you would find in a coursebook lesson on those topics. This makes me feel that I haven't been doing dogme at all! Is it that after so many years of traditional course book lessons, I have it all so strongly etched into my brain that I automatically encourage certain language items to come up? If so, that can hardly be called dogme! But am I really directing the language so much? Or is it that when you talk about your daily life you automatically use certain Mcnuggets? Hmm, I'm getting a bit confused.

In any case, this student has a grammar and vocabulary exam next month, so our short term goal is actually to brush up on all those Mcnuggets. This is student-centred learning - the student's priority is to try to pass her exam, rather than be able to communicate in English. That will come later.  Sometimes, I think we forget about our students' priorities because we were trained in the Communicative era and have some kind of need to help our students communicate. However, as I mentioned in a recent post on jigsaw puzzles, this is not necessarily whar our students want or need.

So, assuming that I have to help my student remember (and in some cases learn) the grammar and vocabulary she needs to pass her exam, can I possibly take a dogme approach? If I do, we will certainly miss out some important Mcnuggets. Again, I'm slightly perplexed.

These are just some thoughts that have been running through my mind, anyway. Sorry for rambling. Take no notice!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rainbow Colours

In several of my previous posts I have talked about my class of six-year-olds, for whom I designed a syllabus based around content from other subject areas such as literacy, science, art and crafts, drama and P.S.H.E.

Today I'm going to talk about an activity I did last week, which the children thoroughly enjoyed. At the moment we are looking at the world around us, and in the previous lessons we had been talking about the weather. In the lesson in question we were looking at primary colours and the other colours that can be formed by these. Some of the children were aware that mixing colours formed new ones, but others were finding it hard to guess which colours would be created. So we did an experiment to see how by using only three colours: RED, BLUE and YELLOW, we could make others such as orange, green, purple and pink.

What you need:
  • A bowl
  • red, blue and green food coloring
  • milk
  • washing-up liquid

    First, I showed the children what we were going to do. I mimed pouring milk into the bowl, and then adding a drop of each food colouring at the edges of the bowl, about a third of the way apart.  I then pretended to put a drop of washing-up liquid in the middle. As I was doing this I explained what I was doing in simple English.
    I then gave the children a worksheet where they had to predict what they would see.

    Worksheet 5

    We carried out the experiment twice, in order to see if there were any changes between the two bowls.

    The children were fascinated by how the colours moved around the bowls, mixing and changing shade and form. We left the bowls for a few minutes and then came back to note any changes.

    The children commented on the new colours that emerged and even compared the second bowl to a planet!
    These pictures show how the two bowls developed:

    The children then completed the second part of the worksheet, by choosing one of the two bowls and drawing what they had seen.

    The final activity was noticing which colours merged together to form new ones.

    The children had lots of fun and were really engaged - one of the few times I have managed to get them all standing still around the table quietly!

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Baggy Trousers

    How many of you teach teenage boys? Or lads in their early twenties?
    For those of you that do, this may well be a common sight in or around your classroom:

    By Lebatihem on Flickr
    Always on the lookout for interesting and unusual non-coursebook topics to use with some of my teenage students, I was glad to find this article in The Guardian.

    I will use the unmodified text with my advanced students, but may come up with a graded version for my younger teen group. Here are some quesions to get the discussion going before introducing the text, for Upper-Intermediate or Advanced learners:

    Introduction to the topic
    1) What kinds of clothes do you usually wear?
    2) Do you wear the same style of clothes all the time? e.g. at school, hanging out with friends, at a disco etc
    3) Do you prefer your clother to be tight and fitted or loose and baggy?
    4) Does your style belong to a particular trend or group? e.g. emo, goth, mod, rocker, hippy, preppy, hip hop, gangster etc
    5) Do your classmates wear the same types of clothes as you? If not, how would you describe their outfits?

    After seeing the picture above:
    6) Have you ever worn your trousers like this?
    7) Would you consider dressing like this? Why (not)?
    8) Why do you think some boys wear their trousers in this way?
    9) Does this style say anything about their personality or views?
    10) Should they be allowed to dress like this at school?

    Tell the students that the council of Florida is considering banning men from wearing trousers that show their underpants.

    11) What do you think about this proposal?
    12) Why do you think they are considering making this law?
    13) Do you think we should have the right to dress how we like? How important is this to you?
    14) Do you think that some ways of dressing are unacceptable in public? If so, which?
    15) In France, the wearing of a face-covering veil in public has been banned for Muslim women. What do you think about this law?
    16) Can we compare Florida's law and France's law?

    Students now read the article.

    17) Are "saggy trousers" only worn by one group of people?
    18) Where did the look originate?
    19) Does "showing your pants" have the same consequences for girls and boys?
    20) What do the "saggers" say are their reasons for dressing in this way?

    With very small high level groups (at the moment I only have 2 or 3 in the class!) I tend to take a more relaxed approach and allow the discussion to move on in whatever way is appropriate in that lesson. These questions are just a guide to fall back on. With a larger group I would hand out the list of questions to students in groups of three or four. I would then look at any language that comes up in the text and any that emerges during the discussion. The text is used as a basis for discussion rather than a reading comprehension, as my students have more trouble speaking (and coming up with things to say) than reading and understanding a text.

    You could do lots of other things with the article, or as a follow up. For example, you could create some rather interesting roleplay scenarios with a "sagger" and his grandmother! The students could write a composition about different styles and fashions, or they could write a diary entry for a boy who has been told he must not wear saggy trousers. If you have any more ideas, share them in the comments section.

    I am now wondering if there are any "saggy-trousered" TEACHERS out there!

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Not A Real Post!

    In case you were thinking that I had miraculously written a second post today, just a few minutes after the first, this isn't a real post! I just thought I would mention that this humble blog is in the Top 200 list of Language Learning blogs created by Lexophiles. There are another 199 fantastic blogs on the list, so I don't expect I'll get many votes, but if you would like to vote (for this one or any other blog) you can do so here.

    I won't be voting for my own blog this year either! (Thought doing that was a bit cheeky!)
    Good luck to all those other bloggers on the list!

    How do you do a jigsaw puzzle?

    Sorry the text is so small - I've tried to change it but nothing happens! The spacing has gone mad too!

    Thanks to liza31337 on Flickr
    I wrote the title to this post sometime ago and then promptly forgot about it. I have just found it amongst the drafts that I never got round to finishing and posting. At first, I didn't even remember why I had decided to write a post entitled "How do you do a jigsaw puzzle?" and what it had to do with learning or teaching English, but then I remembered - I often get these flashes of parallels between day-to-day occurences and language learning methods, as in these older posts: Queuing in the Supermarket and Brick by Brick the Tower is Built. Having received a new jigsaw puzzle as a Christmas present (and taking ages to do it!), I got thinking about the different ways in which people approach things like jigsaws and how this is a reflection of a person's character, and consequently, their learning style.

    I hate Science and Maths and Logic and anything else where you have to follow a procedure, step by step, methodically - boring! Now, I'm not a particularly creative person either, but I have always found it hard to think in a logical, ordered way. This is probably why I never really enjoyed Maths and Science at school. (By the way, you must read Brad Patterson's post Etymology and Dogme flies, 
    where he talks about Science, Humanity and Coursebooks!) I prefer to do things in a slightly more random and ecletic manner. If I do have to solve a mathematical problem, for instance, I would try to work it out (in my head or on paper), but I wouldn't methodically work out the equation that could probably solve it much more quickly. I don't "do" equations! My partner, however, works out absolutely any problem with an equation - he believes this is the most practical, and the easiest way.

    So, back to the jigsaw. Just as my partner methodically separates all the pieces - first the border, then all the other pieces according to colour (yes, in lots of little plastic tubs), I would rather do it more randomly. Ok, I do the border first, but I would rather not spend hours putting pieces into separate piles. On a larger section of colour, such as the sea in a map of the world, my partner puts all those pieces in nice lines, separated according to gender (in Spain jigsaw pieces are male or female, depending whether they have holes or sticking-out bits) and methodically tries each one in the space he is trying to fill. A jigsaw is supposed to be fun and for me there is no fun in this. In the past, we have done jigsaws together, and it's much better as we both have our own style. We complement each other in this way. However, I had to do this last jigsaw alone, and I found myself having to do some of it in exactly the way he would have done - trying out each piece one by one. This was mainly because I was fairly sick of it - it takes a long time to do a 2000 piecer on your own, and I really wanted to finish it.

    Ok, you are wondering what on earth this has to do with anything. (Again!) Well, I think this can say a lot about how a student learns. As a language learner myself, I hated memorising lists and verb conjugations, and grammar rules. In fact, I never got to grips with the subjunctive at university - there are far to many rules to remember. And in any case, knowing the rules doesn't mean that you can actually use them. I learnt how to use the subjunctive by using it, by listening to people and reading. I picked it up. And I think this is reflected in the way I do jigsaw puzzles and solve problems. Other people prefer a more methodical approach.

    So here we have two types of learners, although, of course, there are many more, especially if we look at Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. I think, as teachers, we need to be aware of this - that some of our students feel the need to know rules and have direct translations, and others don't. We often tend to stick to a methodology which encourages discovery and sometimes even glosses over the grammar, keeping everything in context (well, one context), but we always get at least one student who keeps asking "Ok, but what is the rule?" and "How do you say that in Spanish?". In many cases, I have seen teachers (and I have done it myself), try to keep explaining something with examples, refusing to either state the rules or translate, just because it was not the "in" thing to do. But if we really are trying to make our lessons learner-centred, surely we need to do things in the way that best suits our students? 

    I think my main point here is really that "no one way is the right way". Depending on the students in a particular class, you may need to cover areas of language in more than one way. We could have reading and listening texts, even extensive reading, for students like me, who "find" language automatically with exposure. But we could also have more drilling and controlled exercises for those who need to separate their learning into categories. This is obviously very difficult to do in class, but for homework we could give the students several options. On occasion, we could divide the class up into two groups (according to learner type) and give them different actvities to complete. Or even, in pair work, put two different learners together and have one concentrate more on form and the other on the ideas.

    So, how do you do a jigsaw puzzle?

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Imaginary Trips - Let's go to the fair!

    It's Feria time again and I thought I would link to last year's post in which I outlined a way of encouraging (very) young learners to talk about the fair.
    At the Fair by Dominic on Flickr

     When creating my own lesson ideas for young children I always try to provide a variety of activities that include movement and drawing or colouring, in order to change the dynamics - after a noisy game that includes running around, an arts and craft activity can be ideal in order to lower excitement levels and successfully sustain a quiet period during the lesson. I also try to make the lesson multi-sensory, which means using senses other than sight and hearing (which are the predominant senses used in an English lesson), such as touch and smell. This may mean bringing in real or toy objects for the children to handle.

    In the lesson above, I used pictures to present the vocabulary, but another option would be to play recordings of the sounds as well. There could be a horse trotting or galloping, fireworks going off, "sevillanas" music, the sound of a rollercoaster, the siren of the dodgems etc. Using the sense of smell can be more difficult to organise, but you could try to bring in some typical foods of the fair, such as candy floss, caramelised nuts. Taste would be a better option maybe - you could have a blindfolded tasting session of toffee apples, candy floss, lollypops, crisps or whatever else is typical. Try not to give them too much sugar though!

    With young children I always try to tap into their imaginations, as they have not yet begun to doubt their own creativity. Children left alone will naturally start to play and imitate situations they have seen in real life or on TV. All little girls have played "house" and all boys "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and indians" and we have all pretended to be superheroes like Batman or Superman. Children know that these games are not real, but this doesn't stop them from having fun - in fact, it is much more fun to be a superhero than a 6 year-old boy!
    I really believe we should be taking advantage of this in the classroom. Too much lesson time is spent on drilling with flashcards or large pictures - I'm not saying this is bad, but the same language can be "presented" and practised in a much more fun way. Instead of having the children sitting at their desks pointing to flashcards around the room, take them on a pretend bus to wherever you want to take them (with animals you can go to the zoo or the jungle), in this case to the fair. Put them in a line holding hands in twos, just like on a real school trip, and point things out to them. I usually have the pictures of the vocabulary placed around the classroom and I point to them, saying "Ooh look! There's the big wheel! Can you see it? It's very big! Shall we go on it?" In this way the children are being exposed to a lot more language than if you just say "big wheel" and they point to or touch the flashcard. You can involve the children even more by asking them where they want to go next. All this makes it more special - the children can really imagine being at the fair!

    I have done similar "physical" visualisations with the topics Autumn, Winter and Spring, as well as Animals. We pretend to do lots of the activities we associate with those seasons, such as making snowmen or jumping in puddles. The children have lots of fun and just as importantly, all the children have the opportunity learn, whether they remember more things they have done, heard, drawn or written. In short, this kind of lesson is VAK because it includes activities that activate the different senses and therefore encourages learning from all types of learner.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011


    Another activity that older children love is the traditional consequences game. It's very old game and there's nothing new about it, but I think it's worth reminding ourselves of some of the older activities that get put away and forgotten about. The only materials required are a piece of A4 paper and a pen for each student. The activity is carried out in lockstep and practises listening and writing. It is very simple and can be adapted in many ways to suit your purpose and the level of the students. As in Flash the picture, this activity allows each student to work at their own level - starting off very simply but allowing more detail from faster students. One of the best things about it is that the learners see it as a kind of game, but really they are doing a writing task!

    The version that I did last week with my teenage group and with a group of ten-year-olds is one found in the same book as Flash the Picture:

    It is called Fake Biographies and in it the students each write a piece of information about an anonymous member of the class. The procedure is as follows:

    1) Give each student a piece of paper and tell them to write at the top "My name is ..." with their name. They should then fold the top of the paper back twice, so that the name is hidden. I also do the same - students love it when the teacher takes part in something a bit silly, too.

    2) Take in all the papers and randomly give them out. They are not allowed to open the paper!

    3) Say "I am ... years old" and the students complete it with ANY number. It is important that from now on, the students use their imaginations. Encourage them to be inventive and even slightly outrageous - this will make for funnier results.

    4) Carry on doing the same, making up a new piece of information each time. This will, of course, depend on the age and level of the learners. Some of the "questions" I used were:

    I was born in... (place)
    I have ---- brothers and ... sisters.
    My favourite TV programme is ....
    My favourite singer is ...
    In my free time I like to ....
    Last year, I went on holiday to ....
    I met ... and we ....

    You can also ask actual questions if you think the students are capable of writing complete sentences by themselves: What's your name? How many brothers and sisters have you got? What's your favourite TV programme? etc

    5) The students then opened their paper and read the description. I got them to copy out the information onto a piece of paper as a paragraph. They had to correct any spelling or grammar mistakes as they did so.

    6) They then gave the biography to the person whose name was at the top and each student read theirs out to the class. They also had to say if anything was true.

    We have also played the same type of game with a story (as in the orginal consequences game) - this is always good preparation for story telling and writing. You start with a main character, introduce another character, and go on to write about where they went, what they did and said and so on. I usually do this with introductory sentences such as:

    His name was...     He was... years old.      He was from ...    He was .... (physically).
    Her name was...    She was ... years old.    She was from ...   She was ... (physically).
    They met in/at ....    He said "..."    She said "...."    They went to ....    In the end they ....

    This kind of activity can be used with any age group and level from elementary upwards. For younger children or beginners, you could pre-print out the beginnings of the sentences for the students to complete.

    Another version, good for higher levels,  is to mix sentences with drawings. Each person writes a sentence and passes the paper on. The next person reads the sentences and draws a picture illustrating it. They then fold the paper and pass it on. The following person can only see the drawing, and must write a sentence summarising the picture, and so on.

    By evalottchen on flickr

    One of the good things about it is that everybody wants to listen to each other (something very rare with teenage groups!) at the end, and everybody ends up laughing - it's a real feel good activity that's perfect to use at the end of term when something more relaxing is required but you don't want to just play games all lesson. Highly recommended!

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Flashing and Mapping: getting teens to speak

    I've noticed that on this blog I spend half the time moaning about how nothing I ever do with my teenage group is very successful - well in this post that's all about to change as I actually enjoyed our last lesson and I think the students did too! I based the lesson around a very simple activity that appears in Language Activities for Teenagers by CUP, called Flash The Picture.

    The first time I heard of this activity was during my first TEFL experience (not counting my time as a language assistant), during a TEFL taster course in my final year at university. I attended a weekend course, which actually included a kind of teaching practice, run by Jim Wingate. It was a fantastic course, based on humanistic teaching, and had lots of practical ideas, some of which I still dig out from time to time.

    The idea is that you show a picture for only a few seconds before asking students to talk about it. This is great for mixed-ability classes, as learners can use more complex or simple language to describe what they say, according to their level.

    Starting off with something very simple is, I think, ideal for this age group, who are self-conscious and not willing to take risks in front of their peers. They can start with basic sentences, and gradually try to use more language to express what they want to say.

    I decided to do "Flash the Picture" with the whole class, before asking them to do something related in pairs. In this way, the lesser confident learners would be able to listen to some of the stronger students before speaking. For the picture I used one from an old giant flip chart of illustrated scenes. The particular scene I chose was in some kind of office with lots of customers waiting. Some of these customers were daydreaming or thinking about things in cloud bubbles above their heads. There was plenty to talk about, and speculation was also possible. Here is the procedure:

    1) Flash the picture for 1 second. (Yes, only one second! It gives them time to see something, but not much.)

    2) Ask the class what they saw in the picture. Allow everyone to say whatever comes into their heads and don't make any corrections, unless students ask for it (we want to encourage them to speak - we can leave accuracy for later).

    3) Repeat stages 1 and 2.

    4) Show the picture for 3 or 4 seconds (ooh, we're really going for a good look now!) and ask students what they saw.

    5) Display the picture for everybody to see, for as long as they want. The students will now be able to look more closely and add details they had missed previously. I asked the students what they thought was going to happen next, and if they could see any problems in the situation.

    6) Ask each student to choose a person from the scene and talk about them. (This worked for me because there were about ten people in the picture and eight students) I also had each student talk in front of the class, but you could do this stage in pairs or small groups if you prefer. I asked the strongest students to speak first, allowing the others to listen before they would speak.

    I asked the following questions to prompt more information:

    What is this person doing?
    What does he/she look like?
    What is he/she wearing?
    How do you think he/she feels?
    What is he/she going to do next?

    These questions are useful for students who are preparing for the PET speaking paper (Part 3). This particular class is not yet studying a PET course, but will probably begin to do so next year.

    There are plenty of follow up activities you could do, depending on what your lesson objectives are. In this case, I wanted the students to be able to describe a picture in detail. So, based on another idea from the book above, called "Mindmap the Text", I decided to do "Mindmap the Picture".

    This is what I did:

    1) I asked the class to choose another picture from the flipchart. They chose one where lots of sports were going on. I wrote the word "Sports" in the middle of the board, and then branched out from the centre with sub-topics such as PEOPLE, EQUIPMENT, PLACES, ACTIVITIES, FEELINGS. I asked the students to shout out a few things they could see in the picture and to write it in the correct place on the board.

    2) Having shown them how to make a mindmap, I gave each pair a sheet of paper and asked them to copy the map. They then had to continue adding as much information as they could to it.

    3) I then told them that they were going to speak about the picture for 1 minute, using the words on their map to help them. I chose a different picture and demonstrated the task. However, they wouldn't have to talk individually, but within their pair, taking over from the other student when he/she had nothing more to say.

    4) In pairs, I gave them a minute to talk about the picture, all working at the same time. This way, nobody would get embarrassed and, as accuracy was not my objective, it didn't matter that I couldn't hear everything that everybody was saying. The students were actually quite good at taking turns to speak - from what I heard, one student would say a sentence or two and pause, and then the other would jump in with something else. Because they only had a minute for the two of them to say as much as they could, and the picture was very complete, they didn't run out of things to say.

    They seemed to enjoy this activity, so I chose another picture and repeated stage 4, but this time they couldn't make a mindmap beforehand. This time they had to think more quickly, as they hadn't had time to prepare or organise their thoughts.

    I was very pleased with the outcome of this lesson and these very simple activities that require no preparation. All the students had recycled, to some extent, some of the verb tenses we had looked at earlier in the year (present continuous, going to), physical description, clothes and sports vocabulary. They had all participated and had all had some speaking practice. They had practised turn-taking and speaking under the pressure of a time limit. And most importantly for me, they were all on task and fairly motivated.

    Overall, a great success!

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Wiki Waste of Time?

    This year I set up a wiki for one of my classes. The class in question is a group of six year old children, mostly in their second year of English, and with whom I have been imparting my own content-based syllabus instead of using a course book.

    The purpose of wikis, generally, is to encourage the sharing of information, allowing members to edit and add to the entries. This was not my objective in this case, but I preferred the look and navegability of the wiki to a traditional blog, like this one. In a blog, entries are in chronological order, making it difficult to find older posts if those posts are not tagged adequately, or if the user is not aware of how blogs work. In the wiki, there would be a menu of all the pages I created, in the order that I wished to publish them, and a home page with links to every single page.

    Home page of our class wiki

    The other main reason why I chose an Edu Wikispace, free at the time, was that I could make it private. Personally, I would love to share with the world everything that we have been doing, but I wanted to have the possibility of posting photos and videos of the children for their parents to see, and therefore privacy was a big issue.

    Wikispaces makes it really simple to embed almost any kind of multimedia content including Youtube videos, Glogs, documents which can be downloaded, RSS feeds, slideshows etc.

    At the beginning of the year, I sent a letter out to all the parents explaining that we wouldn't be using a course book and for this reason, I had set up a website where they would be able to see all the topics we were covering in class. They would be able to look at the page with their child to practice the language we had been learning. On the wiki I include all the songs and videos we have seen in class, so that the children can see them again if they want to. I explained that the webpage would be completely private and that each child would receive a username and password that would be necessary to access the site. The parents seemed to think it was a good idea, and they all filled in the consent slip I added to the bottom of the letter. I proceeded to create bulk user accounts and gave each child a copy of their username and password.

    I regularly update the wiki with new content, as you will see from the screenshot above. I assumed that most of the parents were visiting from time to time. On a couple of occasions, parents had asked me for another copy of their access details, which they had misplaced.

    So it was to my surprise, this morning, when I looked at the wikis stas and saw that it had hardly been visited at all. Five different users (although this could include anonymous users from search engines that had tried to access the site) entered the wiki in the first month, but after that only an average of two or three users had visited per month. There are ten children in the class, so my impression is that only a small number of them have seen the wiki more than once or twice.

    My priority now is to find out why there has been such little interest in the wiki. I actually thought parents would be interested in what their young children were doing in their lessons, and would take this opportunity to find out. I hoped that they would sit down with their children and go over what they had been learning in their two weekly lessons. How wrong I seem to have been!

    I am thinking of sending out a questionnaire towards the end of the year, on how useful they found the wiki and what problems they had. They all seemed to find the idea attractive, but few of them seem to have done much more. I imagine that time is a huge issue here, but it would only take a few minutes every week to see what's new. I'd like to know if you have any experiences of using wikis/blogs with very young learners as a wasy of encouraging them to interact with English outside of the classroom. Has anybody come up against any lack of interest, as I seem to have? Any ideas for questions to include in my questionnaire to parents.

    This just goes to show that, although everybody uses technology in their day to day life, this does not automatically mean that they want to use it related to their own or their children's learning, especially if this requires more effort on their part.

    And, thinking of the time and effort I have spent on this project - is it really worth it?


    Ok, before you all start accusing me of outrageous lies, this ISN'T the best activity in the world. Those of you who were in Britain in the nineties (and noughties) will recognise the title as a take on the countless pop music albums that appeared, named The Best ... Album in the World...Ever!

    Some fantastic songs from some of the best "indie" artists of the 90s

    The activity I'm going to share with you is certainly not the best in the world, and it's probably not very original either, but it is one of the easiest activities to set up as well as being suitable for a wide range of levels and age groups.

    The main focus can be changed to suit level and needs - in this case (and the most obvious) I have used it to practise superlative adjectives. All you need are lots of small pieces of paper (Post It size is good), enough for each student to have one for each question. You can prepare the questions in advance or make them up as you go along.

    Here is the procedure, as I carried it out with a group of ten to twelve year olds who had recently been looking at superlatives. It is carried out in "lockstep", but if you prefer you could write the questions on the board or on a handout and have everybody work at their own pace.

    1) Hand out the pieces of paper.

    2) Tell the students that you are going to ask some questions, and to write down their answer to each question on a separate piece of paper.

    3) Have somewhere the students can place each paper as they complete it. Alternatively, have students number each paper, so that later it is easy to tell which question it answers.

    4) Ask each question. The students should write down their OWN PERSONAL answer.

    Sample questions:

    Who is the best footballer?
    What's the most interesting school subject?
    Who is the most beautiful woman?
    Who is the best singer?
    What's the funniest TV programme?
    Who is the fastest motorcyclist/F1 driver?
    What's the most difficult school subject?
    What's the nicest food?
    What's the best book?
    What are the coolest clothes?
    What's the most dangerous animal?

    There are plenty of alternative questions but these are some the ones I posed because we had been looking at these particular adjectives. With higher level groups you could use a wider variety of adjectives.

    5) Everybody should now have answered all the questions. Collect in the anonymous answers. Younger students often like to fold up their papers, like in a secret ballot.

    6) Announce each "nominee" and elicit the category. For example, "Maths, Science, English, History. The category is ..." (most difficult subject) and then announce the "winner". (The winner is the answer repeated the most times. If all the answers are different, or there is a draw you could have another vote.) My class wanted to take it in turns to come out to the front and read out the nominees. I would then say, in a grand voice, Oscars style "And the winner is..."

    And that's it! My kids really enjoyed this activity and even asked to play it again the following day with different questions. With older students and adults you could use it as a basis for discussion, a way of practising expressing agreement and disagreement, language of persuasion etc.
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