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

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.

 

Filling out a form – Job applications

So, every Monday we get another bunch of lovely students coming through our doors and the first thing we do is ask them to fill in a form with their personal details. Having done this in another language, it’s not always the easiest thing to do at low levels.

This lesson is quick and easy but can really help any low level students you have who might be interested in getting a part-time job in English or just with filling in forms in general.

Level: Elementary / pre-intermediate

Materials:

  1. Job advertisement
  2. APPLICATION FOR EMPLOYMENT

Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour

Procedure:

(1)

Intro

I  like to start off slowly with this lesson by asking students to think of all of the different jobs they could physically do with their current level of English and then discussing the kinds of duties each role would involve. You could also talk about their jobs or the jobs they’d like to have, anything to get them thinking/talking about jobs.

(2)

Pre-Reading

I tell the students they’re going to read a job ad but first they should think with their partners about what kind of info they’d expect to see in this ad.

(3)

Reading

Get the students to skim through the job ad and tick off the information they had correctly predicted would be there. Then discuss as a class.

Direct the students to the comprehension questions and then let them work through the vocabulary exercise. It’s quite nice even at this level to encourage them to notice and analyse language instead of reading for their dictionaries every five seconds.

(4) 

Post-reading

First of all I like to have a chat about the job itself and give the students a chance to discuss it. Any discussion questions you like would be appropriate but I usually go with these ones:

  • Have you ever worked in a restaurant? How was it?
  • Do you think you’d be a good waiter?
  • What was your first job?
  • Have you ever done a job you hated?

After the discussion I tell the students they’re going to apply for this job and I hand out the application form for them to fill out by themselves but I give them a minute first of all to look at the headings with their partners and decide what information would go in each section and then we discuss it as a group so that they’re all prepared.

(5)

Follow-up

When all the students are done, I like to put them up around the room and have them move around in pairs and decide who was most suitable for the job. While they’re doing this, I take any mistakes or issues and board them for correction when they’re all done.

(6)

Other possible activities

If you like you could go into a bit more detail with the job ad itself:

  • You could analyse the question forms at the beginning?
  • You could have a look at the conditional sentence: if you answered yes to these questions, then don’t stop reading. which is very interesting as it doesn’t fall neatly into the strict first or second conditionals they made already come across. It’s always good to show them this variety and move away from rigid conditional forms that don’t allow them to express themselves fully.
  • You could look at the phone number (020 2555 7653) and look at how it would naturally be pronounced. There’s a rhythm that numbers follow and also explaining that “0” is pronounced “oh” instead of “zero”. You could also look at double 5 and triple 5.
  • Once you’ve analysed the type of language you might find in a job ad, you could give each group a job and have them write the advertisement.

When is the future not the future? When it’s in the past of course!

Apologies for the title…couldn’t resist. 

So, this is a lesson I taught recently and had a lot of fun doing it. The idea was to encourage students to use the future in the past to justify their actions but also to work on comprehension. So often our comprehension exercises are based largely on a student’s ability to skim and scan. I wanted to get them looking further, to read between the lines, to really identify the subtleties of language and to understand exactly what the speaker was saying.

Level: Intermediate and above

Time: 1 – 2 hours (depending on error correction and level of the group)

Materialsargument

Procedure (I think the worksheet is pretty self-explanatory but I’ve highlighted a few ideas you can try out when you’re teaching it)

1

Tell the students you’ve just had a fight with your boyfriend / girlfriend (you may need to change the text slightly depending on your situation). Ask them to think of some of the typical arguments couples might have. (It’s probably useful to start building “argument” language and vocab here, using what the students give you. I find that constructions such as, “he’s always leaving the toilet seat up” tend to come up at this point).

2

Students read the text quickly and discuss the problem in small groups.

3

At this point, tell the students you want them to imagine that they are no longer your students, they are your friends. You have just told them what they have read and they are free to ask you any clarification questions they want but no language questions. This encourages them to dig deeper without focusing on what each word/phrase means. You can make up the answers for yourself and feel free to alter the text to make it suit your needs.

       e.g.

– Did you intend to tell your girlfriend about the meeting?

– How did she find out you had met her?

4

Now that students have clarified what they wanted to, leave them to deal with the comprehension questions and then discuss as a class. These questions are open to interpretation.

5

Get students to underline any examples of future in the past (e.g. was going to / was about to). Pull them out and have a look at the structures together. I wouldn’t worry about pronunciation at this point as it will come up later. You might want to get them to write a few sample sentences to ensure they understand it. I use the example from earlier in the lesson.

– “Why did you leave the toilet seat up?” / “Well I was going to put it down….”

6

Let the students work away on the vocab questions, really digging deep into the text and then discuss as a class.

7

To practise all of the language from the lesson, tell the students they’re going to have the argument with their partners. Give each person a role and then give them a few minutes to prepare some sentences they will say to their boy/girlfriend in the argument. Encourage them to use any language that was on the handout or that has come up in the lesson.

8

Get them out of their seats and let them argue away. Note errors of the target language on the board. Once the arguments are finished, students return to their seats and correct the errors as a group.

Now it’s time for pronunciation. Have a look at the chunks of language below and drill them with your students.

“I was going to” = /əwəzgənə/

“I was about to” = /aɪwəzəbaʊtə/

Now get them up to have the same argument with another student and when they’re finished you can choose to give feedback on errors, vocab, pron or whatever your heart desires. Feel free to change the roles/situation and have them repeat similar arguments. This slight change will keep the activity from becoming tired and boring and will allow them to really focus on upgrading their language with the new language and the pronunciation, something that they won’t do if they haven’t had a chance to try the activity a few times.