Present not so simple

I’ve often wondered about the logic of teaching present simple to beginners. It is the most complex and fiddly tense to get right. If proof were needed, how many high level students still make mistakes with it? Yet we ask beginners and elementary students to struggle with this tense, their first.

Of course, I know why we focus on this tense. It has to be done. The present is the logical starting point. It doesnt make it any easier for our poor students though.

This lesson aims to try to solidify those rules, and also offer reading skills practice and some vocabulary work. The context is someone talking about their likes and dislikes looking for a flatmate. The final task is about them leaving a voice message with the opportunity for some controlled and free practice.

Here is a copy of the text.

Hi there!
I’m looking for a social friendly fun flatshare with people my age. I currently live in Dalston east London and I am looking to move south to New Cross, Brockley or Deptford. £650 pcm is my budget and I would like a double room.

I work 9-5 for a charity and volunteer at the weekends, which keeps me pretty busy but I love having flatmates I can socialise with. I love going out to eat, exploring fun bars, watching good films and experiencing all London has to offer. I am looking to share with fun and interesting people. I also love animals, so cats and dogs are not a problem for me! I’m a smoker so I’d need somewhere I could smoke but happy to go outside.
Thanks in advance!

Sarah

 

Enjoy and let us know how it goes

Aim: practice present tenses

Level: Elementary +

Procedure:

Pre reading task

1.1 Chat about flats, ask students to think of what they want when they move to a place?

1.2 Ask about what they they want the people they live with to be like?

Vocab

2.1 Do vocab match and check as a class

Grammar focus

3.1 Look at the Present simple practice exercise, checking together.

3.2 Look at the rules and help the students by monitoring

Production

Target: to record a voice message that they could leave on Sarah’s phone

4.1 Ask the students to think whether they would like to live with Sarah

4.2 Ask them to complete the plan for a phone call and add any extra parts they choose

4.3 Ask the students to record it – and save – this part of the lesson goes test – teach – test.

4.4 This is where you can get into any pronunciation details you want. I looked at connected speech, weak forms and tone units.

4.5 Now ask them to listen to their first recording and think of where they could improve it. They will initially tell you it is all terrible so make them listen a couple of times.

4.6 Ask them to rerecord it and email it to you so that you can send feedback.

Materials:

I wish I’d never been born! – Conditionals / Hypothetical language

After you’ve taught the same lesson a bazillion times, you do tend to get a little bored of it and it falls into the  forgotten depths of your USB or sits crumpled in a plastic wallet at the back of your locker. The great thing is when you come across one of these lessons after a year or so and remember why you loved it in the first place. This lesson uses a silly little story I wrote years ago and have recently resurrected.

This lesson came about as a result of my frustration with how conditionals were taught in coursebooks. In general, they were taught as if they were rigid structures and that every conditional sentence fit into these strict frames. As we all know, this is not the case.

The reality is that a conditional sentence is just a sentence made up of two clauses, if students understand the language to make up each clause, they’ll be able to create their own sentences without worrying about 1st, 2nd or 3rd.

That’s the idea anyway…

Level: Intermediate and above (possibly a strong pre-int group too)

Time: 2 – 3 hours

Materials:

  1. Tony’s story
  2. Language focus 2 – answers
  3. conditional questions

Procedure:

(1) 

Intro / Pre-reading:

In the past I’ve used Harry Enfield’s Kevin character as the intro picture for this lesson but any stroppy teenager will do really. I usually display the picture and get the students to talk about how he’s feeling and why he might be feeling this way. Naturally, words like “stroppy”, “moody”, “teenage angst” , etc will come up at this point.

(2) 

Gist reading:

Any gist-reading question will do here. I like to ask them what kind of relationship the characters have and who they sympathise with in this story.

This is nice as it usually starts a little discussion and gives them the opportunity to use some of the vocab from the first section. It also gets them engaging with the story a little, and not just a simple true/false question.

(3) 

Language focus 1:

I like to keep my students on their toes and I like to constantly review and practise language points from previous lessons which is why I tend to use this as a quick revision of narrative tenses. Students discuss the first paragraph and decide what tense to use in each case. Feel free to ignore this and put the correct tenses in yourself if you don’t want to focus on this at all.

(4) 

Vocabulary Focus:

Direct the students to the vocabulary section below the story. They must match the definitions/synonyms to words and phrases in the story.

(5)

Language Focus 2:

This is where the real fun begins. The guiding questions on the second page are designed to break down a typical hypothetical conditional into 2 language points:

1- hypothetical language (e.g. wish/if/if only + past perfect for speaking hypothetically about the past)

2- Hypothetical modals (e.g. would have done / would do / might do)

Students should work through these 3 stages in small groups, using the story to guide them. One of the benefits of this is it encourages them to think critically about language in texts and to helps them to analyse language.

I would probably stop after each of the three sections and discuss it as a class. You can find the answers in the materials section above.

(6) 

Possible follow-up exercises:

There are a few ways you could follow this up. I’ve added a few below.

  1. Pull out the modal sentences and focus on the pronunciation. These are all spoken in the story but the way it’s written, there are no contractions. For example, “you should have told me” would probably be pronounced: /jəʃədətəʊldmiː/ or something similar.
  2. Print out some nice conditional questions that might give students the opportunity to explore the language from the text. I’ve attached a few questions in the materials section above. I usually chop them up and put them face down in the middle of a circle of students. One student picks one up and reads it aloud. The other students can’t see the paper but can ask them to repeat or speak up etc. It becomes a nice pronunciation and listening exercise as well. and the teacher can sit back and write down any nice conditional sentences or any errors for examination later on.
  3. Discussion on teenagers / youths and how they are treated in different countries.

Listening skills – making use of global knowledge

Disclaimer: This is more of an idea than a lesson (however, I am going to give you some materials at the bottom that you can use to turn it into a lesson should you so desire).

It’s an answer to a question and the question is one that my students ask me over and over, again and again.

Teacher, why can’t I understand the news and the radio?

The answer is very simple: you just got her and you don’t know enough of the back story to have a hope of making head nor tail of a complex news story.

Realising this, I have over the years done virtually the same lesson with a variety of different news stories. It’s simple and it only has 4 steps:

  1. Test: play a radio / news story about something complex and topical. Ask the students how much they understood. Usually, to their dismay, not a lot.
  2. Teach: Break out a lovely article from a current newspaper on this topic and do with it what you will. Perhaps some vocab, a bit of a discussion, general and specific comprehension…all the classics. (see here for tips on using articles in class).
  3. Test: Replay the original story.
  4. Reflect: How much did they understand now? What did they use?

This is a simple formula but it has a number of benefits:

  • Encourages students to use what they know about the world when engaging with listening texts. Instead of just waiting for information to reach their ears and make sense. It’s all about being pro-active listeners.
  • Can foster an interest in the culture and society of the language they are learning.
  • Leaves students with a sense of accomplishment.
  • It can be applied to any topical story.

 

So, as promised, here is a link to a news story. It’s a little old but it’s one that works and usually leads to some interesting discussion. The article you can use is below.

Material: living wage

Narrative tenses – higher levels

Narrative tenses, students normally know them, they can tell you what tense it is, but can they identify their functions? that is always the trickier and more important thing.

This lesson uses a few different short story beginnings and moves from a focus on narrative tenses to language that tells us what sort of story is being told, with a view to improving the students’ own production skills.

It also features something you’ll find in most of our lessons, working out some vocabulary from context.

I must say at this point that some of the vocabulary ideas in this lesson were things I first thought about after teaching from the old New First Certificate Gold.

Level: Upp Int + (high level upp ints)

Aims: To check functions of the different narrative tenses.

Procedure:

Introduction

1.a You could give each student a different story and get them to read them before telling other students in the group.

Or

1.b Place the stories around the walls and the students have to read them.

2. Students are asked to match the stories to one of the following genres

love / action / suspense / horror / sci-fi / fantasy / 

There are I suppose no correct answers but the obvious ones to pick would be:

  • story 1 – horror
  • story 2 – love
  • story 3 – suspense
  • story 4 – sci-fi

3. Ask students to discuss in groups and pairs what they think is typical of each genre and what made them choose the answers they did.  At this point you could highlight some of the vocab you elicit from them on the board.

Grammar focus

Hand out copies of the stories

  1. Ask students to identify examples of past simple / past continuous / past perfect / past perfect continuous.
  2. Ask the students to match the tense to its use
  3. Ask them to look at the timeline for story 1, and then to create one for one of the following three stories.
  4. Ask them to look at the story on page 3 the story and decide how it could be improved by using the different tenses.  Obviously there is no definitive correct version, but set them the challenge of using past simple, past continuous and past perfect.

Vocab focus

  1. Ask students to identify words that are typical of the genre. e.g.:
  • story 1 – wind was howling, crept, old abandoned, 
  • story 2 – sun was shining, fluffy clounds, perfect day,
  • story 3 – nervously, paced
  • story 4 – ice clouds, ship’s computer, new planet gleamed

Also ask them to predict the meaning of the words, don’t let them use dictionaries, explain that the exact meaning is not necessary, just a general idea.  Do whole class feedback on any words which present difficulties.

2. Ask the students to add further words typical of one of the genres to the table on p3.

Materials: worksheet

Follow up activities

  1. The obvious thing is to ask them to carry on one of the stories and there is nothing wrong with that as long as the emphasis is on reusing the grammar and getting them to use some of the vocab they worked on together.

2. Another could be to ask them to record an anecdote for you and email it to you, this gives you the chance to really get them to practice the language in a context they may frequently use.  An advantage of this is you can send them notes on their pronunciation, especially the intonation.

E.g. I was walking down the street yesterday when …

You know what will motivate your class best.

Enjoy

English is everywhere…even in the toilet!

 

As long as you don’t think about its origins too much, this is a nice idea for a lesson.

The overall aim is to get students into the frame of mind that English is everywhere (if your teaching in an English speaking country that is), it’s all around them and they can/should be noticing it…even if they’re in the bathroom.

This is a quick lesson based on a half-ripped sign on the cistern of the toilet in school. It could be done at the beginning or end of a lesson. These sorts of mini-lessons could be done regularly (here’s another one on using a text message) to keep students thinking and noticing the language around them. They take very little prep but over time you can train your students to analyse chunks of language and hopefully they will start bringing in their own signs, emails and text messages for you to exploit in class.

Level: Pre-int and up

Materialtoilet sign

Procedure: You could do some or all of these.

  1. Identify the origin: get students to try to decide what kind of a text it is and where it came from. As a class discuss how they figured it out (language / register / how it looks).
  2. Gapfill: the sign is half-ripped. Get your students to fill in the blanks. The clues are all in the text. Encourage your learners to use them. (answers below).
  3. Grammar grab: Get your learners to identify the passive voice in the sign. Find a prefix (what is its meaning). Why is “must” used instead of “have to”
  4. Reformulation: Rewrite the sign as a conditional sentence. Rewrite it in the active voice. Rewrite it as spoken advice to a friend.

 

Quotes – the return

Good afternoon from a sweltering London (words that don’t often appear together).  As some of you may have seen there is a lesson written months ago on Inversion that feature in quotes.  link below for those who haven’t seen it.

https://textploitationtefl.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/mini-lesson-inversion-in-quotes/

So it will come as no shock that we are going to return to some quotes.  I love them as they are little nuggets of text, great for prediction activities, great for grammar, and often chock full of interesting lexis.  Frankly, what is not to love.

This time rather than focusing on quotes for a particular grammar point, we are going to look at a collection of quotes and take what we can from them.  All sitting comfortably, then I will begin.

Obviously, you can use whichever quotes you want and use the same activities i have just picked out 4 that i felt i could make a lesson from and ones which might engage my students.

The ideas below are a sort of pick and mix of different activities, select the ones that you think would work with your students, the worksheet has some of these activities for the quotes i selected.  But really they should all transfer across.

Level: Int +

Ideas

1. Word Jumble – broken sentences need fixing (see worksheet)

2. Independent research – prediction and a reason for reading. Give the students the quotes and ask them to predict what type of film they came from, get them to chat in groups and explain why they think that and then ask them to try to find out which film they did come from using smart phones or computers. (I am sure that your students will have no problems doing this, but if they are remind them of quote marks.)  When they have found which film they come from ask them to find a summary and does the summary match their prediction?

Obviously, at this point it would be good to get the students to think about what they mean.

3. Grammar hunt – This is pretty easy as it is aimed at Ints, the conditional though may need some scaffolding, such as try to find a phrase that could be replaced by ‘if’.

4. rewriting – The most obvious thing to do with all quotes is to turn them to reported speech.  When I do this I prefer to give them a choice of reporting verbs so that they are reporting the meaning a little and not just relying on said/told.  I always find that students are ok with the backshift, it is the pronouns they tend to forget, so maybe remind them of that.  To raise the level of challenge I have put in extra tests like linkers.

5. Follow up – Encourage the students to watch one of the films.  Or you could watch one, or clips of one in class together – obviously giving the opportunity for work on vocab and pronunciation

Materials: Quotes – the sequel

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/what-to-watch/greatest-quotes/

 

A quick guide to exploiting articles.

During a peak period when my teaching hours went up to 37.5 hours a week, I have to admit that the time I spent planning went down accordingly. I just didn’t have the time. But, I didn’t want to deliver sub-standard lessons and I still wanted them to be relevant and using authentic texts. So I developed a quick and easy way of turning an article into a lesson.

I’ve attached a template below that you can adapt as well as some step by step instructions and an example lesson using the same format.

It’s not perfect by any means as every group and every article is different but it should be enough to get you started.

  1. Lesson template
  2. Example

Step by Step:

  1. Reading: Scan or copy the picture from the article and place it beside the headline at the top of the worksheet. When you hand it to the students, fold the sheet over so they can only see these two parts.
  2. Scan or copy the entire article and place it below the headline / picture.
  3. Vocab Focus: Pull out some words / phrases from the text that you think will help the students to understand the text or that they might be interested in learning. (practising the skill of finding the words from the context is the real aim here).
  4. Organise the vocab so that they have the word form and a synonym or definition. This will help them to find them in the text.
  5. Discussion: The aim here is to get them to engage with the text. It’s not just about comprehension. Give them questions that encourages them to share their opinions and to think critically.
  6. Language focus: This doesn’t need to be a massive grammar lesson (although it can be) but the key is to get the learners to analyse a piece of language in context. Pull out an interesting language chunk and ask them why this tense has been used or if it could be rephrased. Get them looking at verb patterns and how prepositions are being used.
  7. Follow-up: As a follow-up you could encourage writing. Students could try to summarise the article, they could rewrite it as a story or they could write a similar article using the same vocab and style.

The Passive Voice: A quick revision

I’m a big fan of using short articles in lessons and although I’m loathe to admit it, the Metro is a great source of material as the articles are usually quite short and not too difficult for the students. Very often, after I’ve taught a language point, I like to revisit it a week or a few days later. My favourite way to do this is to examine it in its natural surroundings. For the passive voice, I very often use newspaper articles.

This is a nice little lesson I did a few years ago. I’ve always enjoyed it. Try it out and let me know what you think.

Materialpassive- an article

Time: 1.5 – 2 hours (depending on follow-up activities)

Level: Pre-int and upwards

Procedure:

(1)

Intro

I like to introduce this with the following discussion questions. It gets the students warmed up, gets them talking from the beginning of the lesson and can be revisited later.

  1. do you read much in English?
  2. what have you read so far today?
  3. do you read English newspapers?
  4. what are the benefits of reading English newspapers?

Feel free to do any error correction you like after this but I think question 4 is the most important. By the end of the lesson you want them to realise that articles can be used, not only for vocabulary and reading practice but also to consolidate their grammar.

I would put their answers from question 4 up on the board, or take a note of them somewhere to refer back to later.

(2)

Pre-Reading

Explain to the students they’re going to read an authentic article from the newspaper and direct them to the prediction questions a the top of the material. NB: make sure they read the second article about the lollipop man. A little bit of ICQing here is important.

Once they’ve come up with some ideas, ask them to skim the article (give them a time and stick to it or you’ll have students painstakingly trawling their way through this tiny article, underlining every second word).

Check their ideas as a class and if needs be, display an image of a lollipop man.

(3)

Vocabulary Focus

Direct the students towards the key vocabulary and allow them to work together without dictionaries to match the definitions to the words/phrases in the text.

if you like, you can allow them to check their ideas with a dictionary afterwards.

(4) 

Post-reading: Engage with the text

At this point I think it’s hugely important that students engage with the text in a meaningful way. They now know the key words and have access to the entire text but what do they think about it? I’ve avoided providing questions here as I don’t like making it an exercise as such.

I usually sit down with the students, try to get them in a circle or small groups and just chat about the article. What do they think? Do they have this kind of job in their country? Is it necessary? What are their local councils like? Do they have much contact with them? Would you find this kind of story in their newspapers?

You just want them engaging and giving an opinion. Judge it yourself and if you need to give them guiding questions, then go for it.

(5)

Language Focus:

At this point, you want to draw their attention to the passive in the text. I’ve pulled out one sentence for them. I’d start by asking them if it’s active or passive and how they know.

then let them off to answer the questions below and discuss as a class when they’re finished.

(6) 

Reflection:

Bring back out their answers from question 4 at the beginning of the lesson and ask them if there’s anything else they can use articles (or any reading text) for. At this point hopefully they’ll mention grammar and you can chat about noticing language points in texts and the benefit of taking a second to look how it’s being used.

(7)

Follow-up 1

I’ve given you some passive V active practice sentence transformation on the second page that students can do for homework or in class as immediate practice.

I’ve also given you a second article that again can be done for homework or in class. Students can immediately practise what they have learnt above and use the article to notice the passive voice.  I would also show them how it can be used to gather word chains (groups of words in a text on the same topic), in this instance it’s CRIME vocabulary.

(8)

Follow-up 2

If you’ve done the first follow-up exercise, I’d get them to do some writing practice using the passive voice and the crime vocab. What you end up with is an article based on what they’ve gleaned from the articles. The idea is that they can go out and try the same with other articles and texts.

Opening lines – Making an impact

So, any students of mine who have been in my Cambridge classes in the last few years will recognise this lesson, I usually do it right at the beginning of term.  I like it as it uses novels, and asks students to respond to them in a natural way, then examines the language that is used to attract the reader, and then features a bit of peer teaching of vocab.

Procedure

Right, to begin you need to pick 4-6 novels and photocopy the first page (it can be a good idea to blow them up a bit to make them easier to read), cutting off any paragraphs that continue onto the next page, or you can just use the first paragraph if you prefer.  Also have the extracts photocopied onto A4/A3 so that you can hand them to the students.

Books I have used include:

  • Girlfriend in a coma – Douglas Coupland
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
  • The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
  • The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguru

Those ones have always worked pretty well and all have a different beginning, but any books that have a good opening that you think might interest your students will do the job.

At the beginning of the class, stick the different beginnings up around the classroom spaced out.

1: Reading:  Ask students to read all of the 1st pages, give them between 5-10 mins depending on their reading speed.  Emphasise that here you are not worried about them understanding every single word, but just reading to get the general idea.

2: Reacting: Ask students to go and stand next to the extract they found most interesting and ask them to try to justify why.

3: Checking gist / memory: Ask the students to sit back down and brainstorm in pairs what they can remember about the different extracts.

4: Genre / dating: Hand out the photocopied extracts to students in pairs and ask which they think is the oldest and why.  Give them the answers, but accept that in some cases they will be written in a more archaic way.  For example in the books above, students always expect “the remains of the day” to be oldest due to the formal language used, when in fact it is the most modern.  Similarly, “Catcher” is normally believed to be the most recent, as long as they can say why, I am happy with any answers.

5: First line analysis: Ask students to look at the first line in each extract and to look at what grammar or lexis has been used to try to grab the readers attention. I monitor while they do this to help students and push them in the right direction.

For example

Girlfriend in a Coma“I’m Jared, a ghost” – short sentence, abrupt, shocking, directly addressing the reader.

The Remains of the Day – “It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days” – Directly addressing the reader, use of language of prediction, being vague about the expedition

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – “It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea” – Very poetic, lots of adjectives, setting the scene, letting the reader picture it.

The Catcher in the Rye – “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – Conditional makes it confrontational, use of slang, really long sentence that sounds as if the narrator is speaking to the reader directly.

Optional: You can ask for students to look for other specific bits of grammar, depending on their level, you could do it as a grammar hunt, or just ask them to find things of interest if you think they are strong enough, basically, scaffold the task as much as you think your class will need.  I do this on the first day so I tend to use it as a form of diagnostic to see how much grammar students know.

6: Vocab: Ask students in pairs to work on one of the texts each, they can use their dictionaries if you want. Or you can help each group.  If you have already worked on meaning from context, encourage them to do this.  Then, ask them to peer teach the other students the new vocab.

7: Reflection:  Ask students to think about where this could be used in their writing to improve it, give it more range.  This stage is especially useful for Cambridge Exam Students

Set texts – go on, set a text!

So, CPE is the last one standing, the set texts having been taken away from the FCE and CAE exams as no one answered the questions on them.  Well, some of my students did, and even if they didn’t, reading the set text gave us the chance to practice lots of other skills as well as the obvious benefits of students reading.

When I first started teaching I encouraged my students to read and the first advanced class I taught we read a book together, I have also used audiobooks in class for extended listening practice.  To be honest, some of those were not so successful, but I think that was a failing with me as a teacher, I just wasn’t experienced enough to get the most out of the materials.  Last term I taught CPE, and we read Howards End by Forster and as well as note taking, building character profiles, discussing themes etc. we also did a variety of other things.

I’ve put ideas for some of them below, give them a go, they give the reading much more focus.

  • Turning a page of it into a part 1, 2, 3 Use of English, classic but reliable fall back and a chance to get the tip ex out! Or, if you are very smart try to copy and paste from a digital version.  With my last CAE class last year, I wrote summaries of the chapters and then made them into different parts of the paper.
  • Getting students to create their own reading parts of the exam, for example giving them a section and getting them to write multiple choice questions for it.
  • Cutting up the text and seeing if they can put it back into order using logical sequencing (you have to check that you can do this yourself).  Practices reading part 2
  • Showing the film of the book (if there is one) and getting the students to review it.  With the film there are obviously lots of opportunity to work on pronunciation as you already have a model to work from.
  • Summary writing of sections of the text will help them write concisely and learn how to paraphrase. Summary writing is also a necessary skill for CPEs.
  • Encourage students to make a set text dictionary, especially useful if they can list page numbers and example sentences, to help build vocab.
  • Do a Grammar hunt in a particular piece of text, students search for Conditionals, participle clauses, passives etc to build grammar awareness.
  • Vocabulary from the context, students match synonyms, practises scanning as well as building their vocabularies.
  • Rewriting some of it into a different register, for example if you have a book with rather formal text it can be fun to get them working in pairs to rewrite it in an informal way.
  • Using the direct speech for students to practice intonation and word and sentence stress, get them to record themselves, practice it, get them to think about changes in meaning depending on where the stress is and to think how it should be said, it is also really good to get students to think about where phrases should end and where they should breathe, for many, this is a real challenge and encouraging them to think about it can really help, especially if you do a little of this often.  Recording again after working at it gives students the opportunity to really see progress and who doesn’t like that?

Many students don’t want to read, so short stories or any form of text can be used for a lot of these activities, but I do think that for many students the satisfaction of reading a story and understanding it, along with the practice that they have put in by reading it can make a real difference to their confidence as well as level.

Just always remember to stress why it will be useful for them and what skills you are practising!