Barry deals with “get” collocations and inequality.

Barry, the main character in this lesson, has wormed his way into a number of our lessons. If you’d like to see his other ones you could try here, here, here, or even here.

With this lesson I have learnt something about myself. I have learnt that try as I might, I cannot write a lesson without including some study skills. I tried to do a straight collocations lesson for my students and came out with a collocations + online concordance lesson.

“Get” is one that my students ask about all the time and I am often reluctant to do a lesson on it as I never feel it will do much good unless students actually go out and start to notice these collocations themselves. It’s the whole fish saying thing:

Give me some “get” collocations and I’ll use them for a day, teach me to find them and I’ll use them forever…

That’s the saying, right?


  1. By the end of the lesson students will be better able to notice collocations in context and to use an online concordance to find common collocations.

Time: 1-2 hours

Level: intermediate and above


  1. Barry Deals with Get Collocations – teachers’ copy
  2. Barry Deals with Get Collocations – worksheet


  1. Display the question: what are the major issues we face in the workplace these days? Sts discuss. Feedback as a class and deal with any emerging language but don’t focus on any one over the others.
  2. Explain students are going to read an extract from story. In it, the main character raises an issue with his boss. Read the story and decide in pairs what that issue is. The issue is inequality in the workplace.
  3. Discuss as a class if they have similar issues in their countries and what could be done to avoid this in the future.
  4. Explain that one word is used quite frequently in the story (get) and see if they can find it.
  5. Sts underline all meanings of get and document them and their colocation in the space below.
  6. In small groups, sts examine the get phrases and decide what they mean in this context.
  7. Optional practice: sts write their own sentences using the phrases to check understanding.
  8. Discuss the following questions with sts:
  9. Do you avoid get in general? Why?
  10. Do you use alternative words?
  11. Are these words more or less natural than get?
  12. Where can you find more examples of collocations?
  13. Depending on your tech, either display the following on an iwb or take sts to computer rooms or encourage them to use their phones. For the purposes of this procedure I will assume you are using an iwb. If you don’t have any tech, I have taken some examples and copied them into the worksheet for you.
  14. Display the British national online corpus and explain what it is. Ask sts how this could be useful. Show them how to use it with “get” as an example.
  15. Turn over the page and ask sts to analyse the examples. Are they the same as previous examples, are some different?
  16. Feedback as a class.
  17. Direct students to the controlled practice exercise to do by themselves and then check in pairs.
  18. T deals with any errors or confusion. (Note: confusion and errors will probably occur when manipulating these semi-fixed language chunks in context. Students tend to understand them but can struggle when it comes to using them.)

Optional follow up:

  1. To encourage some level of autonomy, ask the students to choose another verb they find difficult to use. Suggest “have” or “pick” or something that has a lot of collocations or uses.
  2. Students use the concordance and find common collocations. They record them in a spider gram like with get.
  3. Students write their own story using as many as they can.

Optional Follow up 2:

  1. Students write the conversation between Barry and his boss and act it out, trying to incorporate as many “get” collocations as possible.
  2. T gives points for originality, accuracy and use of collocations and decides on a winning pair.

Cats in the Cradle (Listening + Pronunciation, the inexorable link)

Once upon a time I worked in a school and I thought I taught my students how to listen in English. Oh, I gave them wonderful advice such as: listen to the radio every day, watch DVDs in English, listen to people on the bus and tube…all of it utter rubbish if I do not give them the tools to actually decode what they hear, if I don’t prepare them for what they’re going to hear, which was probably why my students did absolutely awful in all of their listening tests but great in everything else. I wasn’t equipped to actually teach listening, the forgotten skill. Then I discovered John Field and developed a little crush on him and his book and I actually started trying to teach my students to listen.

The following lesson gives you some ideas of how you can start doing this. It’s based on three simple assumptions:

  1. If students don’t know something is possible, they WILL NOT HEAR IT! Have you ever learnt a word in another language and then suddenly started hearing it everywhere? It’s probably unlikely that people all of a sudden started using the word more often, it’s much more likely that because you no knew it was possible, you were able to hear it.
  2. If we don’t let students know how words/phrases will actually be pronounced in the real world, they will not understand them. English language learners will often build their sentences one word at a time, however, as native speakers we speak in chunks and use connected speech. By raising our students’ awareness of this fact, they are much more likely to understand an English speaker.
  3. Skills lessons need to involve one of more reflection stages. As teachers we have a tendency to be very sneaky and practise lots of different sub-skills in one lesson but if we don’t actually raise the students’ awareness of what they’re doing and how it can be applied to their real life, it’s all for nought.

Age: teenagers – Adults

Level: Pre-intermediate upwards.

Time: 90mins – 3hours (depending on your choice of activities)



  1. Opening discussion questions: do you use English songs to learn English? What makes them difficult? Are there any negative points to using songs? – Aim: to get students thinking about how helpful music can be / to address any worries they might have about songs containing “bad” English / to raise awareness of the fact that songs often contain spoken English.
  2. First listening: Play the first 26 seconds of the song as a dictation. Prepare students by telling them it will be difficult but to write any word they hear and not to worry as they will hear it a number of times. Play this section as many times as you like, allowing the students to compare with each other after each play.
  3. Focus on weak forms: Hand out the lyrics and ask students to check their answers. Ask them to compare with a partner and to circle the words they didn’t hear. In pairs, discuss which words they heard and which they didn’t hear, and why that might be. – Aim: to raise students’ awareness of the fact that in English, content words are pronounced in their strong forms and very often the “grammary” words around them are weak forms. 
  4. Focus on weak forms 2: Students listen to the first verse again and listen out for how the words they didn’t hear were actually pronounced. As a class discuss the difference between how students expect the words to be pronounced and how English speakers will pronounce them. – Aim: to raise awareness of the schwa and it’s prevalence in weak forms. 
  5. Practice: Students look at the chorus and, in pairs, mark where they think there will be schwas and weak forms. Students then listen and check. Afterwards they discuss whether or not they were correct and if they were able to hear the weak forms at all. – Aim: to put into practice what students have noticed and to show improvement. 
  6. Raising awareness of context and prediction: Play the 2nd verse for the students without any discussion or preparation. Ask them to fill in the gaps. Afterwards ask them how they did. They probably won’t have done very well. Tell them that what you did was very unfair and you really should have allowed them some time to prepare.
  7. Preparation: Ask students to reread the song so far, discuss the story, check what types of words could fill the blanks and what tense any verbs would be. As a class, get a list of three to four possibilities on the board for each space. Replay the second verse and students can check their predictions. (Note: I would be surprised if anyone short of upper int or advanced got the first gap – turned – but if they got the meaning and said anything like came or became or was, you can highlight the fact that it’s not important to hear every word as long as you understand). – Aim: to show the importance of preparation. 
  8. Put it into practice: Direct the students attention to the next verse and ask them to do the same as before. Prepare to listen. Students will undoubtedly do much better this time when you play the verse. – Aim: to show improvement
  9. Reflect: ask students to discuss why they understood the 3rd verse more easily than the 2nd. Ask them if any of the skills they have talked about today could be put into use in their daily lives. – Aim: To encourage students to apply their skills in the real world.
  10. Engage with the text: Play the whole song for the students. Afterwards ask the students to discuss the story of the song, whether or not they liked it and to write one sentence outlining the message behind the song.
  11. Optional follow-up activities: See the materials above for optional vocabulary and grammar activities that can be done in class or for homework.