Office Politics – Listening

So, this is a little listening lesson, pretty tricky unless it is scaffolded properly.  It also shows students some conditionals in a natural situation, which is always a plus in my book, it can conveniently fit into either a lesson on work or comedy, but for the purposes of this, it is as a bit of a break from a unit/week on work.

Do let them listen a few times, especially at the beginning, as it is pretty fast.  Your job as teacher is to stop them getting discouraged and to explain that the reason for this is to try to bridge the gap between what they do inside the classroom and what happens outside those walls.


Aims: expose students to real conversation, show grammar, conditionals, in a real context, focus on pronunciation, sentence stress.

Time: 1hr +

Level: High int +


The worksheet should be fairly easy to follow so the procedure would be to follow that, rather than me writing a lengthy one here.  But do have a look before you go into class as i’ve tried to really mix the activities, listening as the main background activity with lots of things coming off it

I would recommend putting in the time for students to reflect on what they have seen as for this I think it is important for all lessons, but especially this one.

Here are the answers to the word stress exercise at the end, feel free to disagree but this is what I hear.

T. Hey dude

G. Give it back

T. I’m just using it for a second

G. It’s got my name on it, Gareth

T. No, it says Garet, actually, but

G. Ask if you want to borrow it.

T. Yeah, you always say no mate, so what’s the point

G. Perhaps that’s why you should ask

T. Gareth it was just there ok

G. Yeah, that’s its home, leave it there.

Also, you could obviously go onto connected speech at this point or other pronunciation features, depending on how your students are feeling.


Worksheet: the-office-worksheet


Vox Pop

I was teaching this week and was wondering what I could do as a warmer for a coming class on clothes and fashion.  As I walked from my classroom to the teacher’s room, it hit me.  Mini interviews with other teachers on what my clothes said about me.  So I pulled out my phone and started interviewing colleagues.

30 minutes later, I played them in class and they were a great mine of vocab and also grammar, used naturally, with lots of lovely aspects of pron there too.  Sometimes, it is easy to forget how easy it is to make our own listening exercises.  All you need is a phone with a record function, preferably some speakers to play it through,  and someone to speak.  Happy days.


1. Choose a question: mine was just “what do my clothes say about me?” Then record as many answers as you want / need, for the record, I chose 4 people and the total time for the recording came to just over 1 minute.

2. Play the recording: I played the recording three times and asked them to one of these each time:

  • listen for the opinions of each speaker and then summarise them.
  • Write down any interesting vocab that they heard, with a focus on adjectives.
  • Write down any grammar they heard

the language that came up was great – teachers tend to have quite large ranges.

These were all in the 1st speakers answer, which was 15 seconds long.

“Maybe you choose things which suit you, which is good”

“if it’s work attire, then, it’s probably not what you would wear normally outside of work”

“you might have a slightly geeky looks sometimes”

There is so much you could do with any of those, but conditionals, modals and relative clauses came up regularly in the answers. Good to provide a model for students and proof that what we teach them does get used by people every day, not just in course materials.

Fillers could also be worth looking at, I chose not to as I was only looking for a 20minute activity

However, my favourite answer was “it makes you look like a pretentious knob”.  you can’t say fairer than that!

3. (optional) Focus on any elements of connected speech that come up, or stressed / unstressed words

4. Students can either: ask each other the same question, or if you are feeling brave, send them out to interview other people about their clothes, it’s up to you and go with whatever will work best with your class.  But, do record it and ask students to listen back for the same things as above.

That’s all folks, let us know if there were any great questions you used.

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!

Writing lesson based on a song

Sat listening to my ipod one day, this song came on and I started thinking as I heard the opening, hmmm, this could be a lesson on letter writing, it has taken a bit of time to properly come to fruition, but now here it is, ready to go.

Like some of our other lessons, this was born out of a frustration with teachers doing wonderful things with songs, gap-fills, questions on feelings, what the song meant,  but then moving onto a completely different thing.  Leaving language left untouched and with no real follow up exercise.  I have tried to do that a little here.

  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Level: High Int +
  • Aim: To raise your students’ awareness of register
  • Sub aim: highlight conditionals


  1. Paperback writer lyrics by the beatles – easy to find online
  2. Worksheet register
  3. Worksheet Language focus
  4. Answers


1. Listening: Cut up the song lyrics before the class and then do it as a listening exercise to order the lyrics, a lighthearted bit of fun and a good way to practice listening.  (Feel free here to change this exercise and if you have good ideas let us know!)

You can do either stage two or three next depending on your main focus and also pre-existing knowledge of register in your class

2. Introducing the main aim: Ask students to think about the lyrics of the song and ask them if they notice anything about them, put them in pairs for this.  Then if they haven’t found it, highlight “Dear Sir or Madam”.  Ask the students where they would normally find this.  Ask students in what situations they may have to write letters / emails.

3. Register: Ask them if they know the word “formal”.  if they do, ask for examples of formal language.  Ask them to look at worksheet 1 and complete gaps 1-9.  Check in pairs and then as a class Then ask them to complete the missing two sentences.

4. Language focus: Go through worksheet two.  Feel free to change the order.

5. Homework: Ask students to write a reply to the letter either agreeing to publish the novel or turning it down.

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.