You’ve got Voicemail

So this lesson is based on something I did for my DELTA many years ago.  Back then I had to phone each of them and leave them all a little voice mail message.  Now, just create a what’s app group and share it.  Much easier, and less time consuming.

Why make it a voice mail, well a lot of the listening practice that we do as teachers involves us playing the text to them, in the real world they normally only hear things once, unless watching T.V. The exception is voice mail, I think everyone has had to listen to a voice mail a few times to get a long number or to catch a name.  So in this lesson, students can listen as many times as they want, the power is in their hands. Literally!

The context for this is looking for a flat, which is something many students may have had some personal experience of, especially living abroad.  One of the main focuses here is on prediction and script work, getting students to think before listening about what information they really expect to hear.

Also be prepared for the fact that a lot of house vocab can come up in the discussion stage, monitor and board the language that you think would be beneficial for the whole class.

  • Time: 30-60mins + follow on activity
  • Level: Int +
  • Aim:  To help students listen better for specific information in a natural context
  • Sub aim:  To raise awareness of stressed and weak forms in natural speech patterns.


Before going into the classroom you will need to have recorded the text, either yourself or using someone else – it is important to make sure it is natural sounding.

1. The context: Explain to students that the context is that they have contacted an estate agent looking for a flat for them and a friend. They have been told about two, property A and property B.  You can show them the details to the property at this point and ask them to discuss with partners what they think and which place they would prefer to live in and why.

2. Prediction: Tell students that they are going to get an answerphone message in a minute about another house on their phones.  Get them to predict what might be said, what vocab they expect to hear and also if there is any grammar that they think will be used in the recording.

3. Strong and weak forms: Write the first line of the message on the board

“Hi , this is (name) calling from Fairhouse”

Ask the students, in pairs/groups, to think about which words they would expect to hear clearly, if you have done some work with them previously, they should be able to identify them, if not, then give them time and help when monitoring.

Play the 1st line of the recording only and ask students to see which words are stressed

Hi , this is (name) calling from Fairhouse

Say only the stressed words and ask if they can understand the meaning of the sentence

Hi, (name) calling Fairhouse

Get the students to reflect on why those words are stressed and why the others aren’t – ie, it gives meaning, the others don’t.

Tell students that it will be important to listen out for only the key information while doing the task.

4. Note taking: Get students to reflect back on what information they expect to hear and then share the message with them using what’s app or another similar method.  Hand out the questions on the worksheet and let them listen for the answers. Give them 3-5 minutes, remember the whole point is that they can listen as many times as they want.

Hand out the final property information sheet (C) and now ask the students if they would change their first choice of property and in pairs/groups ask them to discuss this and why?

5. Language focus:  Ask the students to listen again and make a note of any grammar structures they hear used.  They should hopefully notice the repeated use of conditionals.

Then ask if they can write them down – a bit of dictation.  Encourage them to listen only twice and then try to reconstruct the rest of the conditional with a partner (dictagloss).

Then pass on the small section on function or put the information on a board.

(this section is short as I don’t want conditionals to be the focus of the lesson, if you want, feel free to go into much more detail on them)

6. Pronunciation: Ask students what happens to the first ‘I’ in if when saying a conditional.

Write this on the board

/faɪ wə juː/

explain that the first sound often vanishes when native speakers talk quickly.  Highlight the fact they therefore need to be prepared for this while listening.

Get them with partners to practise the pronunciation of the three conditional sentences or drill chorally, whichever you prefer or more importantly your class respond best to.

7. Reflection: Place students in small groups / pairs and ask them to think about what different aspects of listening skills they have focused on and why.  Then share as a group discussion.


8.  Follow up: Ask students to make notes for a reply to the estate agent explaining which house(s) they would like to view and putting forwards ideas for a time. Remind them of the use of conditionals for giving choices. Once they have ideas, get them to record it, don’t worry about mistakes at this point.

Ask them to listen, focusing on their pronunciation and get them to think about two parts they could improve.  Ask them to record again, trying to improve those two things. When they have done this and are happy, ask them to send the recordings to you.

Listen to them, make some notes on the different recordings and work on any issues in forthcoming lessons.



Property details

worksheet 1


Video lesson – catch it if you can – connected speech

Last year I attended a really good CPD session given by a colleague on using video clips in the classroom, I’ve never been a fan of using whole films in class, as I have always seen it as a cop out, but the focus on using short clips or parts of films really struck a chord with me and so I started thinking about how I could use them not just to stimulate interest in a topic or for comprehension questions but how it could be used for pronunciation practice.  So, this lesson focuses on connected speech and listening skills using video. It uses a clip from Catch me if you can, which you may have been able to guess from the title.

  • Time: 30-60mins
  • Level: High Int +
  • Aim: To raise awareness of how spoken English sounds
  • Sub aim: To highlight stressed and unstressed words

This mini lesson can work in a couple of contexts:

  • as a follow on to indirect questions practice
  • as an extension from FCE Result p58-59 (reading on cons and tricks)


  2. Worksheet


1. Listening: Students watch and listen to get a general idea of what is happening.  Some of the students have probably seen the film and they can help those who haven’t, explaining the context and the situation.

2, Vocab building (optional): Encourage students to think about how they would describe the two characters and their behaviour. Board interesting vocab and push students to use more interesting words to describe them, e.g. calm, stressed, hesitant, looks annoyed.

3. Listening (Test): Tell students they are going to watch a very small clip of the film and you want them to copy down the words (dictation/dictagloss if they are familiar with the terms).

Play the recording from 43 seconds where Leo says: “Do you mind taking that gun out of my face please, really, it makes me nervous.” When you have played it once, ask them to compare together, then you can play it again to help them if you want, or use the worksheet with the option to cut the words up to reconstruct the sentence if you want to scaffold the task a little.

(Teach) Students may have had problems hearing the “do you mind” so focus on this and explain the way it is pronounced and drill /ʤə mɪnd/ or /ʤuː mɪnd/ whichever you yourself normally use, personally I am the former and think that is what is on the recording.

(Test) Play students a different clip of the film at 1.35 – 1.58 and ask them to listen for the two polite questions that are used in the clip you show.  Ask them to check with partners and then listen again if necessary.  Hopefully this time they were able to pick up the question forms, so this time highlight what happens to ‘mind if I’ – /maɪnɪfaɪ/ and drill this.

4. Practice: 1.Give the students the block of text and ask them to record themselves saying it.  Then ask them to highlight which words are stressed, ask them to predict and then play it to check and you can either use the board to show them or use the answers provided here. Ask them to think about what happens to words like ‘and’, ‘a’ – if they know the schwa they should be able to see this, if not, here is a good moment to introduce it.

Also ask them to focus on what happens to groups of words like ‘look at’, ‘would have been’ and ‘got to’.  Show them the clip again and ask them to identify the sounds and how they join together and which sounds are used. See below.

look at – /lʊkət/, would have been – /wʊdəbɪn/, got to – /gɒtə/ 2. Now ask them to say the text in pairs using the correct stress and also trying to join the words together where they are in the recording.

3. Ask the students to think about the adjectives they used earlier and think about how this might influence the way they speak. Ask the students to try to do the text again, taking both the stress and the emotions into account.

4. Ask them to stand up and do it, so that they can really get into it.

5. Ask them to do it without the script, tell them to adlib if they forget parts 6. Ask them to sit down and to record it again.

5. Reflection: Ask the students to listen to both recordings and in pairs discuss how they differ.  Ask them which was better and why.  Also explain that knowing the pronunciation is really useful for their listening, as if they don’t know what to hear, how will they hear it?

Many of the ideas for this lesson stem from sessions given by Gillian Lazar and Martin Parrott, so thanks to them!

Life in the Countryside…the origins of Textploitation

So, this was the first text that we textploited. It was a story that we wrote and decided to use in class. I’d been using it as a lesson for some time and then Mark got hold of it and added his own touches and now we’ve got it to a solid 3-hour lesson, which is quite flexible and gives the students a little bit of autonomy as they get to choose what exactly they do with it.

It’s also the text that we use to demonstrate Textploitation in any CPD sessions we do on it.

We’ve laid out a lesson plan below as well as a number of follow-up possibilities. The idea is that  you can leave it up to the students what you focus on in the second part of the lesson.



  1. Introduction: Activate a bit of schemata by asking the students whether they’d prefer to live in the city of the countryside.
  2. Prediction: Explain to the students that they’re going to read a story about a couple living in the countryside and display the following words from the story: (Tread / muck out / the high life / godforsaken / vodka / farm / I’m used to / sunshine / heels). Ask them to predict what will happen in the story, explain that if they don’t know what a word mean, that’s OK, just ignore it. The idea here is that there will be some words they don’t know and without a context they can’t figure them out. Later when they have the context, they’ll be able to work out the meaning.


  1. Gist/Checking predictions: Give the students a few minutes to skim read the story and check their predictions.
  2. Vocab (meaning from context): Focus the students attention on the vocab exercise below the story. Encourage them to use the context of the story to find the meaning and to stay away from dictionaries. (The idea here is to highlight the importance of context and encouraging them to avoid dictionaries – not that dictionaries aren’t great but they shouldn’t be a crutch.)
  3. Reflection:  Sit down and have a bit of an informal chat with the students. I like to lead by asking them if they thought the 9 pieces of lexis that I chose were important words for them to learn (e.g. pig pen). Are these words that they will use every day? The answer is obviously a resounding “no”! So why did we spend 15 minutes working on them? (You want to herd the students towards the understanding that you’re teaching them / practising a skill. You can also take the time to ask them why they thought they were unable to understand the key words before they read but were more than capable of understanding them once they’d read the texts.)
  4. Engage with the text: This story tends to lead to quite a bit of discussion as it is very much open to interpretation. I like to take a moment here and explain to students that this is an example of Flash Fiction, which is shorter than a short story and perfect for a student of English who has ten minutes to spare on the bus. They are usually quite open to interpretation. There are two questions that I find really open up the discussion on this story and with any class this will lead to some lovely error correction:
  • Did you like the story? Why / why not? What would you change? what more would you like to know?
  • Who did you sympathise with most, Barry or Brenda?


So, the second part of the lesson is very much up to the students. Ask them what they would like to focus on. I’ve given you a few different options below, one of which I stole from the wonderful Gillian Lazar, who wrote the amazing book: Approaches to Using Literature. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in that kind of thing.


Focus on punctuation: Punctuation is one of those things that we assume translates from a student’s L1, however, this does not always seem to be the case. Take some of the direct speech from the story (which the students have probably read about 3 times at this stage) and write it on the board, removing the punctuation. Ask the students what punctuation they’d like to add. They will probably want to use colons, inverted commas at the base of the words, full stops outside the quotation marks or any other number of variations.


Keeping with the direct speech, draw students attention to the fact that both Barry and Brenda have one large piece of speech each. My advice would be to prerecord both sections on your phone naturally and then to use this to raise their awareness of connected speech.


And this was stolen from Gillian Lazar. Using the same pieces of speech, we want to encourage students to put a bit of emotion into what they’re saying, to move away from the monotonous robot speech. Try following these steps:

  1. Get the students to say it to each other in pairs without any preparation.
  2. Ask them to think about which words would be stressed and try it again.
  3. Ask them to put down the sheet and do it again but adding in hand gestures.
  4. One more time, but standing up, with emotion.
  5. Finally, ask them to stand up, put down their sheets and try it from memory. Let them know that it doesn’t matter if they remember every word as long as they convey the message and capture the emotion.

Trust me, the difference between Step 1 and Step 5 is unbelievable. What you’re basically doing is drilling but by changing the instructions slightly each time, the students don’t get bored. Also, with each repetition they become less worried about the language and focus more on their delivery. It’s also loads of fun!


This story is only full of grammar (like any story). Let the students choose what they want to focus on: wishes / be + get used to / narrative tenses / direct – reported speech, and then just give them a few questions that will help them to uncover the grammar within.

For example, if they choose wishes, give them the following guided discovery activity and leave them to it:

  • underline all of the strong desires in the text.
  • Are they real/possible or imaginary/hypothetical?
  • What time do they refer to: past, present or future?
  • What is the form?

Check it as a class and then encourage them to make their own examples.


A) Life in the Countryside (Story + Exercises)