I’ve been looking for an excuse to turn this text into a lesson for ages now and with International Women’s Day coming up in on the 8th March, it seemed perfect.
If you’re interested in the lessons we did for last year’s Women’s Day, they can be found here and here, looking at the passive voice and debating respectively.
This lesson actually uses two texts and is absolutely fantastic. Basically some genius of a mother rewrote her daughter’s homework because it was massively sexist. And any time I see 2 versions of the same text, I see a lesson.
Objective: by the end of the lesson, your students will be better able to write complex sentences
This is going to be the first in a mini series of lessons on connotations. Why bother looking at connotations? Well, there are a few reasons, firstly, for students being able to say precisely what they mean without misunderstanding is key. Secondly, can you really know a word without understanding the implications its use has to those who read it and hear it. Finally, for some students, especially those in CAE or CPE classes a lack of knowledge of connotation can prevent high scores in the Use of English paper.
This whole idea was triggered by my colleague William Tweddle, talking about teaching vocabulary and highlighting the difference in connotation between Opium and Heroin. They are both effectively the same thing and yet with one we conjure images of poets languidly lying in beautiful rooms on divans, music wafting in with the opium haze. The other conjures images of junkies, needles, misery and grime. No surprise which has a perfume named after it.
Aims: To raise awareness of how important connotation is when learning vocabulary
Level: Upper Intermediate / Advanced
The aim here is to raise awareness of how heroin / opium are perceived
Dictionary example from OUP: “A reddish-brown heavy-scented addictive drug prepared from the juice of the opium poppy, used illicitly as a narcotic and occasionally in medicine as an analgesic.”
They will probably find the word ‘drug’ / heroin and the fact it is addictive.
The aim is to have a discussion on the name but leading to the point that Heroin and Opium have very different connotations.
Remind students here that we are really looking for the best answer. All of them could be used.
affordable – now possible to buy
good value – the price is fair
cheap – perhaps low quality
Emphasis that cheap can have a neutral use too.
As an extension, you could ask the students to write a sentence for inexpensive and put the best on the board.
Obviously there is no correct answer here, but it is worth checking with students the meanings
thin – neutral though sometimes used in a negative sense
skinny – negative – too thin
slender – positive – also contains an idea of elegance
slim – positive – in good shape
a chatty person
The best synonym for talkative is chatty, but perhaps chatty focuses more on informal chats.
A chance to use those words in a longer text.
“So, last week I went to a party with a friend, she’s lovely but she is a bit of a chatterbox, so I know I can never tell her too much. Anyway, when we got to the party we went to the kitchen to find some food. I wasn’t expecting anything amazing, but I really did hope that there would be something other than affordable crisps. If I had known, I would have brought some nibbles myself. There again, I am supposed to be on a bit of a diet. I don’t want to get too slender, but I would like to be a bit slimmer. The party was ok I suppose, I didn’t stay long, especially after I got stuck talking to this one guy. He was a chatterbox and friendly, but so boring. I didn’t spend any money though, so it was a good value evening I suppose. That’s something!”
a chatterbox – a gossip
affordable – cheap
slender – thin / skinny
slimmer – fine
a chatterbox – chatty / talkative
good value – cheap / inexpensive (if the article is changed)
Reflection activity – get students to think about how they could record connotations and their differences in their note books.
Extra activity pronunciation
Eradicating the robots.
Ask students to record themselves saying the improved dialogue and save it.
Drill any words you hear being mispronounced.
You can then look at where they should be pausing. Highlight the punctuation and also get them to think about where the stress should be in each clause – what is the important information?
After they have practised a few times get them to think about tone – how does the speaker feel – ask them to practice this again taking this into account.
Ask the students to rerecord and listen back to both versions and reflect on how the second is an improvement.
Hi all, apologies for the recent radio silence, but we have been super busy.
Anyway, here is a lesson using a model answer to an IELTS part two writing task. It is pitched at between a 7 and an 8 in case students are interested. It contains a section on brainstorming and planning, before a little on vocabulary and grammar. Where this is perhaps different is that it then examines how this would be different if it were written for university. This is not an EAP lesson, what it seeks to do is to raise the awareness of the students for what may be needed.
Aim: Provide a good model answer for IELTS and to raise awareness of what will be needed at University
Speaking: This is just to get them thinking about the topic. Put the students in pairs or small groups.
1 The aim here is to help with brainstorming ideas and also moving them onto thinking about whether these are good or bad changes. This is helpful in a ‘to what extent’ essay, but will also be very important at university where they will need a position.
2 Here you are just asking them to further extend what they saw in 1a.
3 Skimming practice – a) Give students the model answer and ask them to read and check whether the writer used the same ideas that they came up with. b) ask them to try to evaluate the essay, is it good / bad and ask them to justify. Give them 4 minutes to read it in detail and then put them into pairs or groups to discuss it. They should decide it is a pretty good essay – good vocab / well linked and so flows / some higher level grammar.
1. a) The aim here is to build synonyms – make sure students focus on and record the prepositions here. If they don’t, they will be unable to use the vocabulary in their own writing.
changing quickly –> progressing rapidly
will have a negative effect on –> will be detrimental to
do not talk to –> lack interaction with
ignores –> overlooks
decrease in the number of people who work –> shrinking of the workforce
is dangerous to –> could pose a threat
gives us a chance to –> presents an opportunity to
b) This focuses students on the difference in register. These words are more formal, less general and therefore will result in better scores.
2. This is all about reinforcing the chunks of language and checking that they are using them correctly as well as giving a chance for students to personalise. While the students write their sentences, monitor and offer help and encouragement. When they have finished do all class feedback and board some of the examples.
N.B. It is worth focusing a little on the pronunciation of these words too as they would be suitable for part 3 speaking.
This essay talks about changes in the past twenty years so the writer has used present perfect to talk about the changes. This section aims to focus on specific grammar usage and ask students to analyse it.
1 Ask students to look at the example sentence and work alone to answer the questions. Then put them into pairs to check before all class feedback.
The question talks about the last 20 yrs, this allows us to talk about a change that happened in that time and which may not have stopped or which still has impact.
paragraph 2 – this overlooks the huge change that these screens have made to the lives of millions.paragraph 3 – As well as the communication change, people often complain of the increase in automation that machines have brought.
present simple – this is standard in essays.
2 This looks at hedging* and the use of could.
b is softer and a more defensible position academically so better in an essay. Could is used to hedge the sentence or position.
possible answers – may / might / can (depending one tense) / it is possible that etc
They make your writing more academic – soften the position and demonstrate a considered argument.
possible answer – technology may make life easier
*Hedging is the use of modals or phrases to lessen the impact of a sentence, or to soften. It is common in academic writing.
An essay at University
This section is focused on raising students awareness of how the IELTS exam does and doesn’t prepare them for university.
It starts by asking them what they think is required. This is interesting as some have an idea, some clearly have very little idea. Both are fine, it is good to know where they are.
As an answer, the essay is not suitable – too short – most university essays will be in the 1000s not 100s, not cited, no real thesis position. Areas where it is suitable would be the academic style, cohesion.
1 They are different as the new example takes a position. It tells the reader what the essay is going to argue – This is the thesis statement and students need to be aware that for most essays, this will be a key part. IELTS essays can contain them and it is a good habit to encourage.
2 Ask them to read and then work in pairs. Then do class feedback. They will notice the citations, these are in the Harvard style. They will also hopefully notice the concluding sentence which provides a link to the thesis position. try to elicit this from them.
3 This exercise examines what they do and don’t know about citations
True – they can do, but this is not the prime reason for using them
True – you need to base your argument on the research and arguments of others, but blend it together to create something new.
False – if you do this, your essay will contain no synthesis (blending of sources)
False – paraphrasing is very important
False – most have never had to use them before, or if they have they may not have used the same system.
The big thing here is highlighting that they exist. The students do not need them for IELTS but they will need them after.
4 Ask the students to turn their ideas into full sentences.
The positions are limitless in a sense but could include:
This essay will argue that technology is having an adverse effect on society.
This essay will argue that the impact of technology is mixed and that though some areas are negatively effected others benefit
This essay will argue that it depends on which technology
Ask the students what they feel the differences are between university in their country and the UK, and also how IELTS fits into this. encourage them to reflect on how to use what they learn in IELTS classes at uni, but not to think this is the end of the journey.
Ask the students to write the essay using one of the thesis positions that they wrote in exercise 4. Remind them that it is a good idea to get used to taking a position. Also remind them that each paragraph should have a conclusion that links to the overall position. It is not ok just to get to the conclusion and present your ideas like a magician revealing the answer.
If you are a regular to our blog, you may have noticed that I use ads quite a lot. I suppose the idea here stems from my time in Korea and Spain where a lot of the language I taught myself came from signs, billboards, ads and basically anything I saw as I walked around the city. I learnt so many chunks and phrases and was then able to manipulate them slightly to express myself. I also saw words and phrases that I’d learnt elsewhere being used in different ways. I really think it is important that students are taught to use this skill of analysing everything that they see around them and so here is yet another in the English is all around you series.
If you’d like to see some of the others, you can find them here:
As far as procedures go, this one is short and sweet like the lesson. Basically follow the instructions on the worksheet and you’ll be fine.
What I will say is that at the end, I would include a reflection stage where students think about the benefits of analysing the language all around them. Also, I’d encourage them to think about when / where they would use this language.
Take the sentences that the students produced in the final activity and examine the pronunciation. (I’d is one of the hardest features of fast speech to hear for learners of English as it is reduced to practically nothing, something being little more than just a schwa).
Students bring in ads from online, papers or around the city and analyse them in class.
It has quite a bit of listening, they are included here, but feel free to rerecord them using colleagues. They are not my finest.
Aim: to practice modals of deduction / create opportunities for using them in speaking. Reading and listening practice and vocab building.
Level: Pre-Int / Int / High Int / Upper Intermediate (The lower levels will find it challenging, but that is fine, as long as you tell them it will be, and provide lots of scaffolding and support)
You could do this as a jigsaw reading, where the students have different information they have to share with each other, if you have the right number of students, or you could dictate one and get students to do the remaining two as a jigsaw. Alternatively, you could pass them all to the students.
For further reading on Jigsaw readings see: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/jigsaw-reading
Answers: A – 4, B – 6, C – 1, D – 5, E – 3, F – 2
Just an opportunity for the students to practice the target language. Encourage them to share ideas and support them with linking words. As groups ask them to present the questions or pieces of information they would like to be able to say who committed the crime.
This is challenging, you might need to play it more than once. For the answers try to encourage the students to give fuller answers.
If they are really struggling you could ask them to read it and listen at the same time.
No they have different interests.
He says they get on fine as they avoid each other.
He wanted Adam to take over the family business.
He uses it for his photographs.
Obviously this is subjective, but no, he is rude, arrogant – try to get the students to explain this.
Not happy at all.
Working with stones from the fruit trees – encourage students to think why this may be significant.
He didn’t say what really, he just said some tools.
It’s normal / he is surprised it is illegal.
Encourage them to think further about the new evidence and to make suggestions. If you have time get them to build up a picture of what they think happened and explain it to the class.
at (but in also works)
This is something I like to do, but can easily be left out, ask the students to find a picture online using their phones which represents what they think the three characters look like and ask them to justify their choices.
Encourage the students to make statements using must have and can’t have related to the story.
I did this as a cut up and asked them to match the sections to the different times shown below.
The end is in order, but the times are attached in the tapescript page.
After, ask the students to explain in pairs or groups what has happened in the story to check understanding. Monitor and do all class feedback.
Ask them what surprised them / annoyed them about the story.
I asked them to write a short newspaper article which enabled us to practice passives and recycle some of the vocabulary seen. I did it as pair work, but of course it could be done as homework.
Aim: to practice modals of deduction / create opportunities for using them in speaking. Reading practice and vocab building.
Level: Pre-Int / Int / High Int / Upper Intermediate (The lower levels will find it challenging, but that is fine, as long as you tell them it will be, and provide lots of scaffolding and support)
Start with the reading – Part 1.
The aim of the gist is just to get the students thinking about the set up of the story. For me the answers are all in the text except for the 4th question, which is all about opinion. Some students said they were rich, others poor. At this stage that doesn’t matter, but encourage them to justify why they think that. Here is also a place for them to use modals so you could board some examples.
E.g. He’s sat at a desk so they might have a study so they could be rich. / They have two floors so the can’t live in a flat.
She is the dead man’s wife. / widow
They are married
He has died
We don’t know, but see above
Not in London – “she was away in London”
Ask the students to write 3 sentences describing the situation using could / might / must in the present.
The vocab section encourages learner autonomy, try to discourage them from using dictionaries.
b) icily cold
First use of modals: monitor and board examples, correcting errors and encourage them to think about the pronunciation of have – /əv/
Group feedback – see what the students think – get them to talk to each other in groups.
board examples and correct errors
(Feel free to do other normal textploitation things, such as focusing on the tenses used. I use it to ask the students what the pronouns refer to as I often find these are overlooked.)
Ask the students to underline the uses of ‘it’ in the text.
The room felt icily cold as she walked into it. Her fingers felt for the light-switch on the wall. It was never where she thought it was. She found it and suddenly the room was bathed in light. Her husband was where he normally was, at his desk. He was slumped over and was sleeping. She walked over to the desk, put the lid onto the open bottle of whisky, and tutted. She didn’t like him drinking so much, but he always did when she was away in London. She ran a hand through his hair. He felt cold. She pushed him back so that she could look at him. It was then that she realised something was wrong. She stared at him, he wasn’t breathing. She grabbed his wrist, no pulse, nothing. Upstairs her son was woken by the sound of uncontrolled screams.
what does each one refer to?
the moment she pushed him back
Reflection: Ask students how the text would be different if ‘it’ hadn’t been used.
N.B. I was unsure that my students had fully followed all the details of part 1 so I asked them to act it out in small groups, I had 12 so I put them into groups of three, one of them being a director and telling the others what to do. I was surprised how willing they were and it ended up being really good as a way of checking understanding in a different way and gave the class a different feel.
Prediction: Encourage your students to take guesses about the victim from the photo and only then let them read the report to check their assumptions.
Students read the police report, take notes and discuss ideas as to what has happened, have their ideas changed?
Ask students to decide if the following questions are true or false – ask them to try to answer from memory – they can check after.
He has been married once.
He sometimes plays golf.
He owns a company making computers.
He is well off.
false – he is a keen golfer and member of the club, probably plays more
false – distributes components / parts
true – owns two houses
Read the forensic report and ask them to match the definitions to the words in the text.
a) the deceased
e) other substances
Ask the students to take notes and then compare them in groups. I played the recording 3 times.
Then ask them to decide which pieces of information was the most important for the case.
Below is the tapescript with the sections I think most important underlined
Hi is that the chief inspector? Good, good. This is Laura Donavon from the lab. Right, I have some information for you. Mr Brown did not die of natural causes. In fact, from the tests we’ve carried out on his body we are 75% sure he died of poisoning. Yes, I know. We examined the crystals in the glass and it was definitely poison. Now, this is the really interesting bit. We think it was cyanide, and I know what you are thinking, but let me tell you a bit about cyanide. It can be swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin and it stops people being able to take in oxygen, causing an ‘internal asphyxia’. The victim suffocates to death as he breathes in oxygen he cannot use. Yeah, not very nice is it. Yeah, yeah, effects are almost immediate. Oh, and you might want to know something about this, it can be made from the stones of fruits as well as from chemicals, so something for you to think about there. Yeah, good luck with the enquiry.
Once the students have understood this, ask them to reflect on what they know so far and what they think may have happened now.
More to come soon and let us know what you think.
P.S. thanks to Jess for recording the text for me. x
As many of you know, I am extremely interested in register and style and feel it is often something that is overlooked in coursebooks as well as class.
The number of students who have no idea what I am talking about when i raise this issue is pretty high, too high. So, I think we should try to make it a feature of everything we teach.
This lesson follows on from some on phrasal verbs, which are often, though not exclusively, informal. I wanted a revision session which provided scope to use some, but also gave time for us to examine student examples and look at how they could be improved.
Why texts? Well, they write them, so they are relevant. They give opportunity to use some of the TL. They are short so don’t discourage. Plus they are short so can really be broken down.
Aim: to check register and appropriacy through the writing of short texts
Level: pre int / int / upp int / advanced
1. Write the four texts on the board. Ask the students in pairs to discuss who wrote them and why. Encourage them to think about how the writer felt and which words or features give this away.
Hi. Can you call me asap please. x
Hey, wondering if you’d chosen anywhere yet. I finish here at 4 so let me know before then. Cheers.
Have you got any plans for later? I’ve got a spare ticket going for a gig if you fancy it.
Where are you? Do you know what time it is? I’ve been here for ages now.
Do whole class feedback. Really go into detail.
Hi. Can you call me asap please. x
This really troubled my class. They said work so I asked why. They said the polite question and the fact it was direct. I agreed but asked about the x. It was a name they said. I pointed out it meant kiss. So they came up with the idea that it might be a parent messaging a child with bad news. I was pretty happy with this explanation.
Mine got that this was two friends arranging something. Cheers was interesting as they knew it in other contexts. We looked at whether there was a difference between Hi / Hey – concluding Hey could be seen as more friendly
Some of my students decided that this was a guy inviting a girl out, which I liked as a possibility. We checked meaning of gig – one of the students was able to explain it.
Mine didn’t get the repetition of the same thing as possibly being anger. Some did suggest it was to a friend as a joke, we discussed the potential for that to be misconstrued
I think the secret here is to really ‘demand high’ don’t let the students be lazy. Ask further questions, make them ask you questions. Encourage them to consider the connotations of the choices writers make.
2. Once you have gone through them all ask them in pairs to select two which they are going to reply to. Monitor and cajole. Again question what they want to say. For me, this was a great chance to prompt the students to use some of the TL, but also to fix register issues e.g. When i arrive – not wrong but is there a more natural way of writing this to a friend?
Additionally, it prepared me for things that could be highlighted for the whole class.
Then put some/ all of the student answers up onto the board. Ask which questions were being answered and how the person would feel receiving the reply. Highlight the examples of good language and fix what needs fixing through elicitation.
3. Finally, allow a few minutes for reflection. Ask the students to discuss what they feel was useful from the class; ask what they might now do differently. Highlight too that this was a chance to see them using new language and to provide an opportunity for them to use language they need for daily communication.
So, I’m a huge fan of using adverts for lessons. I suppose my aim is that if I do it often enough, my students will go out and start analysing these tiny little snippets of language themselves. There’s so much interesting language out there plastered all over the walls. Now, obviously not everyone lives in an English speaking country so the opportunity might not be there but there are ads all over the internet or maybe it’s our job to bring these ads to them.
Either way, here’s yet another lesson using an advert from the tube. If you’re looking for others, you could try:
Intro: the idea here is just a discussion to get them thinking about the idea of using ads for language analysis.
How to say: This is a word I find sts often struggle with and there is quite a difference between British English and American English. I personally think it’s easier to steer them towards “ad” or “advert” which I feel are more common anyway.
Reading between the lines: The nice thing about this ad is that it seems quite obvious to us but only if you assume the reader knows about the Tube, knows about how people can sometimes treat tube workers and understands that this is a child speaking.
Vocab focus: This is a straightforward matching exercise and by the end of this and the previous discussion, sts should be able to answer the single comprehension question, thus showing they have read between the lines.
Language focus 1: This shouldn’t take too long or be too taxing but it sets the sts up for the final practice section and encourages them to analyse language when they see it.
Language focus 2: For some of them this may be new. Take them through it one step at a time and they shouldn’t have any issues.
Practice: This can be adapted to any kind of story that might be relevant for your learners. Something short and snappy that might encourage them to use reported speech is the key.
Final reflection: Discuss with the learners what skills they have practised today and how they could use them in their real lives. Encourage them to tell short anecdotes at the beginning of the next lesson. Encourage them to bring in pictures of ads they have found.
Look, screw it, it was St. Patrick’s day last week and I’m Irish so I’m doing one on Ireland.
Living abroad as an Irishman means two things:
No matter how profound a comment you make, there is always the chance that someone will repeat what you’ve said back to you in the voice of a leprechaun and then laugh uncontrollably at the hilarity…it’s awesome.
If you are speaking with another Irish person, nobody will have a clue (although we might say an iota) what you’re talking about.
This lesson largely came about thanks to the second one. I was watching two of my Irish friends having a conversation and, because they’d known each other for years, I noticed that they didn’t actually finish any of their sentences. Our English friend found it next to impossible to follow the conversation. They were using words he didn’t recognise and they weren’t even speaking in full sentences. He didn’t stand a chance.
(by the way if you’re interested in learning more Irish-English, you might want to check here)
For this reason I decided to have a expose my students to this kind of conversation and see what happened. In reality, they weren’t that much more confused than normal because they expected words they didn’t understand. What they found tricky was the assumed / shared knowledge these two people had.
This lesson examines that.
Objective: by the end of the lesson, you will be more aware of what kind of words can be omitted from a conversation. You will be better able to follow a native-speaker conversation.
I introduce this by asking students to discuss the introductory sentence in Italics and thinking about what kinds of words people might leave out. I put these up on the board for later but don’t really comment on them just yet.
I ask students to read through the text and discuss what they know about the two men. We check this as a class. Again, you can put this on the board and add to it as more info is revealed.
I tell students that these two people are from Ireland. Sts discuss what different versions of English there are in the world and which one they should be learning
What you kind of want to get from them here is that these days there are many different types of English but that in general there is a global English that is being used. That said, it doesn’t hurt to know a few of the major differences between the types.
sts match up the Irishisms using the information in the vocabulary section.
Sts re-read the text to check what the words in bold refer to in the text.
Sts examine the sentences from the text and decide which words have been omitted (they may not get every word from the teachers’ notes but as long as they’re getting the main ones, you’re fine)
Teacher encourages the sts to refer back to section 1 and see if they can add anything from their answers at the beginning of the class.
Sts should also see if there’s anything they could add to section 2 above.
Teacher directs sts to final comprehension questions and checks as a class.
Reflect on what they have used to answer the above questions and how this can help them with future native-speaker conversations.
one of the biggest issues students have with native-speaker conversations is that they assume that the problem is all theirs. It never enters their head that maybe an English person might not understand everything 2 Irish people are saying. This is worthy of discussion as it could help stop students blaming themselves when they don’t understand and instead focusing on what other clues are available to them.