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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Using Photos as Prompts for Discussion

Yesterday I came across the following slideshow of photos by Samuel Aranda in the New York Times. The photos are black and white shots of scenes occurring around Spain that highlight the desperation some are living due to the financial crisis that began in 2008. Some of the photos may seem shocking, especially to those that have lived in Spain during the long boom period, being more reminiscent of a country in political conflict or of say 50 years ago. This gave me the idea of using these photos in class, with teens and adults but without providing the context behind them. I plan to show some of the photos (2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14), asking the following questions:

Who are these people?
Where are they? (In which country/city?)
When was the photo taken?
What is happening?
Why do you think this is happening? What are the reasons behind it?

I will encourage them to give reasons for their answers, describing what they see.

I am fairly sure that none of my students will recognise these photos as being taken recently in Spain.

I will then give students the information provided underneath each photo on slips of paper, which they have to match with the photos. Hopefully this will generate some discussion.

As I will be using this activity with B2-C1 levels, I may ask students to write:

a) A discursive composition on the problems Spain currently faces
b) A report outlining the main problems Spain faces and possible solutions (a hard one, seeing as the government aren't able to provide any!)
c) A story based on one of the photographs
d) A diary entry of one of the people in the photographs
e) An account of the eviction in photo 1 from the point of view of one of the children

I know that this is a complex topic and one that teenagers will find difficult, but we all know people who have lost their jobs or aren't being paid, we all see it daily on the news so I think that everyone will have something to say.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Five Six Seven - Ideas for Young Learners aged 5 to 7 (ish!)

As most of us are just starting back at school for the new academic year, I'd like to take the opportunity to write a little about a book I wrote last year. Those who follow this blog may remember me setting up a website devoted to the project a year ago, where I started to upload some of the material. The website is still available, but now there is just a sample including several complete lessons. This is because I have now self-published Five Six Seven and it is available for a very low price at Lulu.

Since I set up the website, I was contacted by a few teachers looking to try out the materials with their classes. I have not received much feedback so I have emailed those teachers with a short questionnaire.

Here is a modified FAQ of Five Six Seven:

What is Five Six Seven?

Five Six Seven is a content-based language course for young learners of approximately 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. It can be used as a course or as a resource book to dip into.

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 sample material from the course. The book is currently available for just 79p from

Do I have to pay to use Five Six Seven?

Five Six Seven is available for a nominal fee. This is to cover the commission that Lulu takes from each copy to pay for hosting and listing costs. However, you can share the contents with your colleagues and other teachers in your school without charge. 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 for more information or buy a copy from

Monday, September 3, 2012

Scotland the Brave - Part 2

This post is the second in a series based on  the Visit Scotland website. In Part 1 I focused on a section of the website that showcases different aspects of the beautiful landscapes of Scotland. Most of the activities I mentioned are suitable for teenagers and adults of various levels. I would recommend this other website for younger learners.

You can find Part 1 here.

Book of Beasts

  • Ask students to tell each other what they know about the Loch Ness Monster. What does it look like? Where does it live? How big is it? What does it eat? Alternatively, give a description of the monster to students, either orally or written, and ask them to draw a picture. 
  • Project or print out a copy of all eight creatures (you can do this with the PRINT SCREEN button and clipping with Paint). Give students a creature each/per pair/per group and ask them to imagine what it is like. They can give it an appropriate name, home, lifestyle. This could later be the basis for a story and can be used in some of the writing activities I mentioned in Part 1.
  • Alternatively, print out or project the descriptions of the creatures and ask students to draw what they think they look like.
  •  Write a list of adjectives on the board suitable for monsters/mythological creatures. Ask students to choose the best adjective(s) for each creature. Generate discussion by asking students if they agree or differ. Comparative sentences could be a good language focus as students can compare the creatures.
  • After looking at the different creatures, students invent their own. With younger learners, ask them to draw it a provide some basic information. Otherwise, ask them to write a description as well as draw. (I would suggest not making adults draw if they don't want to!).
  • For homework/or if you have a computer room, ask students to research one of the creatures. They can look for pictures, stories that mention them, newspaper articles about "sightings", maps showing their home etc. They could use Glogster to make an virtual poster.
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