In 2019, I remember going to a talk by Peter Watkins and one thing he said really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing but it was essentially that what students needed in the early days of (and indeed throughout) the language learning process was lots and lots of comprehensible input. At the time it really struck a chord with me as I was learning Spanish and all I wanted to do was read, read, read. Sadly, the only graded readers I could find were pretty rubbish and much to my chagrin, I just couldn’t understand the news in Spanish. It was very frustrating.
Well, with that in mind we decided to bring Textploitation directly to learners of English with Tiny Texts for Learning English. The plan being to give learners the opportunity to read a little & learn a lot.
If you have students who need to work on their reading, send them our way. They’ll find recipes, diaries, stories, articles, reviews and much more, all at their level. With each text, they get a little task that helps them exploit what they’ve just read. They even have the opportunity to push themselves, produce something related to the text and get feedback from us and our community.
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
So we finally have it, Barry London’s second official lesson. If you haven’t seen the previous one it’s right here. The idea we came up with was that seeing as how for some reason every character in my lessons is called, Barry, we’d just embrace this and create a person and give him a string of lessons. They’re for different levels and will look at different aspects of the language. Also, they do not need to be done in any sequence. They do not build on each other.
This one is very different to our normal lessons in that it looks at descriptive writing and study skills in more detail than we normally would. It started out as a low level lesson but it was most definitely a high level one by the end.
I’d recommend this lesson as something different to do at the end of the week or course or for more creative students. It’s definitely not a straight grammar lesson.
Level: Upper Intermediate / Advanced
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Objective: to encourage sts to record language in context and to think about metaphors and imagery in creative writing.
OK Once is not actually my favourite film but it’s not bad at all. I was in the middle of a lesson the other day and this was the only film I could think of. I did this lesson (or a version of it) and it went really well.
It’s a simple low-level lesson and if you do similar lessons or activities little and often, you really will begin to get slightly more autonomous students. The whole idea is to encourage them to notice the language that’s all around them just a little bit more.
In this case, they have a tiny text but they’re going to use it to notice 3 language points as well as working on noticing errors and getting the meaning of vocab from context.
Level: elementary / pre-intermediate
Time: 1 – 3 hours
Objective: to encourage sts to notice language in context
If you’re looking for some more film related lessons try this one or this one.
Tip: If a film comes up in class that your students don’t know, do a research hunt. Give them 3 minutes and send half the class to IMDB and half to Wikipedia and then see what they come up with. It’s great for practising independent research skills.
So this is the second and last of the “bits of the paper we ignore” series. This one is based on my personal favourite, Rush Hour Crush. If you don’t know what this is, I suggest you check it out. Each morning on the way to work lovely people hand me a copy of the free newspaper, The Metro. It’s mostly awful (but actually very useful for the classroom as the articles are not that difficult or long) but I do love the Rush Hour Crush section.
The idea is that commuters see people they fancy on the tube or a train or bus and they write a text to that person and send it to The Metro who prints it in the paper. It’s sooooo creepy and weird and hilarious and absolutely choc full of lovely vocab and noun phrases. Great fun for the classroom. So, if you don’t live in London, I shall bring London to you in all of its creepy glory. Enjoy!
Level: Intermediate and above
Time: 1.5 – 3 hours (depending on activities)
to encourage students to write more complex sentences, using noun phrases
to encourage students to notice the English around them and to ask questions of it
This is reasonably straightforward but I’ll take you through it step by step:
Gist reading: students skim the text for 30 seconds and discuss what it is and where it is from.
Independent research skills: If possible, students Google and search for the text online to check their ideas.
Engaging with the text: Students discuss the concept and share their initial impressions.
Second reading: Students match the texts to the descriptions (see answer sheet)
Vocab focus 1: students match the words/phrases from the text to the definitions given.
Vocab focus 2: using the context and the vocab from the previous exercise, students try to decide what the phrases mean.
students read the definition of a noun phrase (feel free to change this definition for one of your own).
students identify the noun phrases in the examples from the text (see answer sheet)
students examine them further and find specific types of noun phrase.
check as a group and discuss any issues
Students (in pairs) compete to write the longest complex sentence using noun phrases.
What I would do (especially if you’re living in this country) is get students to write their own Rush Hour Crush texts and send them in. Even if you can’t send them in, get students to write them and make a poster. This is a lovely way to finish things off as it practises all of the target language and will lead to tonnes of new vocab and some lovely error correction before the texts are ready to be sent or put on a poster.
This is to be part 1 of a 2 part series focusing on the bits of the newspaper we throw away. A lot of our lessons on this blog and the lessons we do in class use articles as the basis for the lesson. But what about the rest of the paper?
We want to encourage our students to be fully-functioning autonomous machines out in the real world, constantly analysing the English around them, learning new words and structures and reconfirming what they have learnt before. One way to do this is to help them find what they should be analysing in the first place.
This first lesson looks at an advertisement for a film. It’s a film I haven’t seen a to be honest I have absolutely no intention of seeing ever…but that doesn’t matter. Check out the lesson and let me know how it goes.
Level: Intermediate and above (although low-ints might need some help with some of the questions on the worksheet. A lot of ICQs and CCQs please!)
Time: 1 – 2 hours (depending on discussion times and follow-up activities)
to encourage sts to notice and analyse the language in the world around them.
This is quite a straight forward lesson. The worksheet takes you through it nice and easily. I think the only part that might need to be commented on is the final part, the reflection. The idea here it to get them thinking about the English that surrounds them. Even if you don’t live in an English speaking country, the Internet is at your disposal and by driving them to sites like IMDB.com, you can help them to see this.
Possible Follow-up Activities:
students write their own tweets about bad dates (real or imaginary) and either put them up around the room for correction or tweet them using the hashtag at the bottom of the ad.
Students look up new films in groups on IMDB and summarise them to their partners.
Students set up a class online dating profile and send comments to people.
At our school we offer weekly free pronunciation lessons to all of our students. We get quite a lot of students attending each week and some of them come week on week but for others it’s their first week. This means we need to come up with new ideas all the time, building on the previous week but ensuring that new students can join at any time and not be lost. We also need to design lessons that span all levels from Elementary to Advanced (sometimes Beginners attend but not so often).
My favourite thing to look at in these classes is connected speech for the following reasons:
All students from Elem to Adv need it.
Most of them haven’t come across it in their countries so it is usually new, even for Adv.
We need to raise awareness of features of connected speech over and over if sts are to be able to understand native English speakers.
They love it!
The easiest way for you to get to grips with it is to teach it.
In the teacher’s worksheet below, I have included my own boardwork so that you can visualise what I’m talking about.
NB: don’t panic if you don’t know the phonemic chart off by heart. Highlight where linking occurs and model any other connected speech that comes up. You don’t need the phonemic symbols (but they do help).
Level: All levels
Time: 60 – 90 minutes
Topic: advice (almost every level has come across 1 or 2 ways of giving advice).
Display the discussion questions from the worksheet and allow sts to discuss them in small groups. Discuss as a whole class (see possible answers on the teacher’s sheet).
Tell the students that you will be talking about giving advice today. In groups ask them to brainstorm different forms for giving advice.
Tell them your problem. I usually use the one below but feel free to improvise.
Ask the students to write one or two pieces of advice per group using the different forms from part 2.
Write them up on your board, 1 from each group. Ensure that they have used the advice forms from above. If they have all used “should”, reformulate their ideas as a class so that you have some variety on the board.
These pieces of advice are what you’re going to analyse for features of connected speech.
NB – don’t panic! you don’t need to be a pro at connected speech, just follow the steps below.
Ask students to underline which words they think will be stressed in each sentence. Check as a class.
Say each sentence out loud as you would normally and ask students what happens to the other (unstressed) words in the sentence. e.g. are they weaker? are some words connected? do some sounds disappear?
As the same things happen in each sentence, draw your sts attention to the patterns. E.g. “to” is usually pronounced = /tə/ & “and” is usually pronounced /ən/.
Drill each sentence with the class.
Ask sts to examine the sentences and try to find common patterns.
Get sts to fill in the Sentence Pronunciation Guidelines on their worksheets.
Help me, I need some advice!
My girlfriend came home last night and told me she wanted to move to Brazil. She says she is sick of London and needs a change. The problem is that I have friends here, I have a job, my family live close to here.
I would love Brazil, it sounds amazing but now is not the time to move. I’m scared if I say no that it will be the end of our relationship.
This is a relatively straightforward test/teach/test type of lesson but there’s lots that you can do with it. I’ve put the basic lesson plan below and then a few suggestions for extra activities you could do.
The whole point of the lesson is to practise giving advice, largely using conditionals and should. It really encourages students to analyse language and hopefully to use it afterwards.
As the first test, I like to walk in and tell my students a personal problem. I quite like pretending that it’s a real one and asking their real advice but that’s up to you, you could even say it’s your friend’s problem and your telling them about it. Here’s a problem I often start with:
So, my girlfriend rang me last night. Turns out she wants to move to Brazil. She says she can’t handle the weather here anymore and needs a change. I completely get it, going to Brazil would be amazing but we’ve got stable jobs here, things are going well, I’m really enjoying where I live right now…I just don’t know what to do.
We usually discuss it for a bit and then I say OK everyone, write down one piece of advice for me. (It’s a nice idea to give them a post-it note and then collect them in afterwards). you can come back to these pieces of advice later on.
Pre-Reading / Gist Reading
Display the picture of the 2 men on the board or hand them out and get sts to decide what they’re discussing.
Instruct sts to read through the dialogue and answer the questions on the top.
Language Focus: Advice structures
Get the students to read the dialogue again and underline any structures giving or asking for advice. They should find the obvious “should” and “if I were you” but also highlight the chunks of English “Do you mind if I ask your advice on something?”.
Very often students skim over language without really noticing what’s going on. The idea with this exercise if to get them in the habit of examining the structures they come across in the hopes they can reproduce them in the future.
The really interesting piece of language here is that the “If I were you” structure is used twice, once to give advice for future and once to comment on the past. Draw their attention to this and to the form as they’ll have the opportunity to practice it in a second.
Display one of the pictures and the problems from the set, whichever one you like.
In pairs, ask sts to write their reply to this person. Don’t give them too much in the way of guidelines here as this can produce some really interesting language. I like to give them a post-it note to do this on as then I can collect them in easily.
Correct any errors in advice that come up, board any other ways of giving advice that come up and any interesting language you find.
Display the remaining problems and pictures around the room. Students walk around in pairs and give advice to the pictures.
Teacher monitors, helps out when necessary and notes down interesting errors and language.
Feedback as a whole class and correct anything that has arisen.
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:
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.
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).
Test: Replay the original story.
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.
So, over a pint…or ten, a friend of mine and I came to the conclusion that if we were going to teach our teenage students grammar, we needed a way for it to stick in their head. We decided that if they had a catchy line / verse from a song for each grammar point they might actually learn it.
Whether or not we were right remains to be seen but what did happen was that we came up with a lot of quick and easy grammar lessons based on one verse / chorus of songs from a variety of genres. Over the next while, I’ll hopefully share some of these with you.
Here’s one that worked well with my Spanish teenagers. They really liked Coldplay…don’t judge me.
I used to Rule the world by Coldplay
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
Possible Quick Activities:
Focus on pron
Changing the words but keeping the rhythm.
“used to” / “would” Guided discovery – see below
Possible Guided Discovery Questions:
Does the singer rule the world now? When did he rule it? Was it just one brief action?
Does he own the streets now?
Can you find another word that has the same use as “used to”?
How does the singer pronounce “I used to rule…”?
Which word is stressed?
How do they pronounced “would”? Is it stressed?
These are short musical lessons that can break up a grammar lesson.
With long term students, you can refer back to this if the language point arises again.
The lyrics can be placed around the room to remind them.
Students are encouraged to engage with the language and the culture. By fostering an interest in music inside the classroom, hopefully learners will go off and seek it out outside the classroom. The little taster of the song will hopefully whet their appetite.
Songs are perfect for a bit of guided discovery as shown above.