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.

Don’t trust everything you read!

So, this lesson is designed to be taught as a follow up to teaching the dreaded verb patterns (stop, remember, forget, regret, try). I usually bring this out a few days after they’ve been taught. But it can also be used as part of a test, teach, test type lesson. If the students read it for errors before you teach these verbs and then reread it again at the end, they’re generally delighted that they can now identify the mistakes that completely eluded them at the beginning of the lesson. You can’t argue with that type of in-your-face improvement.

The main idea is to check their understanding of the differences between the gerund and infinitive versions of these verbs but also to get them to analyse language in a text and not just skim over it. The awwwwww moment when they realise that something they’ve happily read 3 or 4 times is riddled with errors is always fun to be a part of.

Materials: Smoking – gerunds and inf story

Procedure:

Feel free to do any sort of lead in about vices, smoking or health or to change the end of the story if you think it’s too depressing (although I find that happy stories don’t really generate much discussion in classrooms). I also think that the vocab sections are pretty run of the mill and there’s nothing special there really.

The interesting part is when you’ve finished discussing the topic and examining the vocab and you ask the students to go back and read the text for errors. You can then get them to underline all of the gerunds and infinitives in the text and decide which ones are correct and which ones need to be changed. The real kicker is when both are possible but have slightly different meanings.

What’s the big deal with phrasal verbs anyway?!

This is quite a high level lesson and it came in response to students freaking out about Phrasal Verbs. My hope was to highlight the importance of learning phrasal verbs in context and not worrying so much about learning lists of them (something which the vast majority of students seem to be obsessed with).

However, when I taught this lesson the first time, I realised that the main issue students had was not with the phrasal verbs but with the pronouns in the text. They really had trouble deciding who they were referring to. So the second time I used this story I added in a section on referencing which the students found extremely useful.

If you’ve tried any of our other story-based lessons, you’ll notice some common activities but the really interesting part is the referencing. I’ve included a short procedure below but the worksheet is pretty easy to follow.

Material:  pick up story

Textploitationtefl: What's the big deal with phrasal verbs anyway?

Procedure:

(1)

Creating interest in the story:

Show the students the title of the story and ask them what they think the story will be about. Ask them if they think it will be a happy story or a sad story.

(2)

First Reading / Discussion:

Get students to check their ideas from part 1 by skim reading the story and then discussing it. Discourage them from discussing vocabulary at this point.

(3) 

Focus on Vocabulary:

Match the definitions to the language in the text.

Get students to underline all of the examples of “pick up” in the text. Ask them if it’s got the same meaning in each case. Using the context, ask them to come up with a definition or synonym for each situation.

It’s a good idea to have a little chat after this section on the importance of learning phrasal verbs in context and try to demystify them a little. The idea is to encourage students to notice them when they’re reading / listening and hopefully to not be as scared of them as they can often be.

(4) 

Focus on Pronunciation:

Examine the features of connected speech in the direct speech from the story.  It can sometimes be good to get the students to record themselves here so they can really focus on natural speech.

(5) 

Referencing within a text:

Get students to follow the instructions on the worksheet. Really encourage them to work in pairs and to discuss this as they can have some real issues with this.

(6) 

Follow-up Activities:

There’s lots you can do as a follow-up to this story.

  • I find it usually leads to a discussion about living in big cities how they can be lonely places or about Facebook “friends” etc.
  • You can also get students to write the story of how some of the characters met. The focus here  can be on using the phrasal verbs in context or on referencing within the text.
  • On another occasion, I focused on the night John and Tina met. We expanded the connected speech section, discussed flirting and opening lines and then students created the dialogue and acted out their first meeting. This was obviously a lot of fun but the real challenge was getting them to mark the connected speech on the dialogue before they acted it out. For homework I asked them to try it again and to record themselves. We played them in the next lesson and there had been real improvement.

A bit of appropriacy please!

So, I’ve had a little obsession with using text messages / whats-app style messages in class over the past few weeks, hence this is the second lesson I’m putting up about texting. Soz!

The main reason for this is that we tend to focus on language in classes and very often miss out on appropriacy. Trust me, as someone who spends a lot of their time in correspondence with students, appropriacy is something we need to be looking at. What I’m talking about here is both style (levels of formality) as well as register (the right words for the right context).

Just the other day a student started a spoken conversation with my by saying: “Dear David,”

This cannot continue. Something must be done. It starts here. Actually that’s probably a little bit too extreme but it’s definitely something to think about.

 

Procedure:

I think the procedure for this one is pretty self-explanatory as you just follow the worksheet but the really interesting thing is focusing on the features of a text message. Think about examining the following:

  1. Informal vocabulary
  2. Lack of punctuation (but not in all instances e.g. we’re could look like were)
  3. Omitted words (e.g. You free on Tuesday?)
  4. Shortened words (e.g. Tue / Fri)

A lovely follow up for this exercise for this is, once they have got the appropriate text message language down and have practised with one of their one, give each student a pile of post-it notes and tell them they are going to have a whatsapp group chat, making plans for the weekend. One person starts off the conversation by writing a message and placing it on the wall in front of the group. From then on the conversation happens in real time. Each student can reply to the message(s) that came before but they have to keep an eye on the thread as their partners may send the message they had planned to send. It’s quite fun but also ties the lesson together and makes error correction quite easy at the end as you have all of the physical messages.

Let us know how it goes, if you’d like a more detailed procedure, leave a comment and I’ll put something together.

Material:

A) Making plans Text messages worksheet

 

A Day in the Life – Elementary / Pre-Intermediate

This lesson came after I started learning Spanish and the immense sense of achievement I got from reading and actually understanding a short story. I was fully aware that it was written entirely in the present simple and was probably the worst written story of all time and that the ending did not make sense in any language…but that didn’t matter, I’d read a story a I felt great.

This is a simple story for lower level students, hopefully giving them a similar feeling. There are a number of activities that go along with it but I particularly like the last one, in which the students write a text message from one character in the story to another. Students tend not to think about the different language you might put in a note/text as opposed to a story or a formal email. It’s important to draw attention to these differences and to practise different types of writing.

A) Material: A Day in the Life A Day in the Life

Procedure:

(1) Intro (Get the students thinking/predicting)

Get the students to give you a list of famous people. Choose one that they all know and ask them what they think they do on a normal day. Get some student suggestions up on the board and work through any present simple errors that come up.  I’ve always found Tiger Woods works well for this…I can’t imagine why.

tiger

(2) Reading (Checking predictions) 

Tell the students they are about to read a story about a new movie star. Ask them to give you a few ideas about what his average day is like. Board their ideas.

Give the students a limited time to read through the story. Negotiate this time with them but really highlight that you don’t want them to focus on every detail, you don’t want them worrying about vocab or grammar, you ONLY want them to check their predictions.

Let them discuss in pairs before feeding back as a class.

(3) Language focus 1: Vocab

(Giving the students access to the text / encouraging sts to move away from dictionaries)

Ask students what if they don’t understand a word. Have a discussion about how dictionaries have a time and a place but that there are other ways to understand a work (e.g. the context / the type of word / the surrounding words). Direct their attention to the vocab section.

When you’ve finished correcting this exercise, take a moment to ask the students how they found the answers. Reflect on it for a moment and ask them if they could have found the meanings without the help of the exercise.

(4) Detailed reading

Ask students to reread the story, negotiate the time again. Direct their attention to the true/false questions afterwards.

(5) Engage with the text (Encourage sts to have a real response to a text)

Let the students have a real reaction to the text. It’s not important that they loved the story, they could hate it with every fiber of their being but at least they have the chance to express that. Try a few of the following questions but feel free to add more:

Did you enjoy the story? / Did you like the characters? / Were you surprised by his answer? / Do you think any celebrities have similar lives? / Do you think he will have the same life in one year? / How much of the story do/did you understand? / How did you feel when you read the story?

(6) Language focus 2: Chunks of English

It’s nice, even from such a low level, to introduce sts to lexical chunks and different ways of using words they “know”. Draw their attention to walk in the story, ask them to underline  all the examples and then to do the activity.

(7) Follow-up (Encourage students to use appropriate levels of formality)

Hand out a post-it note to each student and ask them to write the text message at the end of the worksheet. Give them 5 minutes and then take in the post-its. Don’t just look for mistakes, focus on unnatural language, get it up on the board and naturalise it with the students. As a class, build one perfect text message, highlighting the type of language as you go.

As a further follow-up or for homework, ask the students to write another text message in the space at the bottom of the page. This can be a reply to the one above or something more personal.

Exploiting a text message.

In one of my previous jobs, teaching teenagers in Spain, I was forced to accept something: 15 year old girls don’t want to read newspapers, stories or other long texts. They receive their input through their phones and I-pads and if I didn’t accept and adapt, I was never going to get very far with them.

So I started bringing in text messages and encouraging them to WhatsApp each other in class and to write comments on Twitter in English. I definitely wasn’t going to be able to beat them and although I didn’t really feel like joining them would be appropriate, I was able to get a lot of new language and error correction up on the board…which was nice.

Here’s one of the texts I brought in for them and a couple of suggestions for exploiting it.

“Alright mate, I’m gonna be nearby later on. I might pop in and say hi if you’re around.”

  1. Focus on the register. Get students to rewrite it as a more formal email.
  2. Examine the informal language. Pull it out and look at the different ways you can use it. “Pop” is the obvious choice here. Not one you tend to see in your average coursebook, but a lovely piece of language all the same.
  3. Give students a post-it note and get them to reply to the message. Take in the notes and examine the messages, focusing on register and interesting language that comes up.
  4. Perfect for a bit of connected speech analysis. At the very least you have “gonna”.

 

Reading skills – Newspaper articles

This lesson basically came about when I recommended that all of my students read newspapers on a regular basis. The obvious reasons being, I wanted to widen their vocabulary, improve their reading skills and increase their cultural knowledge. It seemed so simple at the time.

After a week I asked them how they were getting on and they all dropped their heads sheepishly murmuring to themselves. I was about to give them a pompous little lecture on how they had to put more into their English studies as 3 hours a day in class wasn’t enough and all of that other stuff that we say, when one student piped up and said: I tried, I really did but I couldn’t get past the headline, if I can’t understand that, how can I understand the rest of the article?! (I’m paraphrasing here but you get the idea).

It was then that I realised I’d asked them to do something without giving them the tools to do it. The next day, I taught this lesson and sent them off into the world with no excuses…they still didn’t read very much but at least they had no excuses now.

  • Time: 90 minutes – 3 hours (depending on the optional language focus section)
  • Level: Pre-int and above
  • Aim: To raise your students’ awareness of the skills they need to tackle a newspaper article.
  • Sub aim: To encourage students to discuss possibilities in the past/present

Materials:

  1. Pictures
  2. Article and exercises
  3. A variety of articles / a few free newspapers (if possible)

Procedure:

  1. Opening discussion / outlining your aims: Put your students in small groups and ask them if they read newspapers in English. If not, why not. Feedback as a whole class. (you will probably get something about headlines here. feel free to explain puns to them but suggest that they ignore the headlines until after they’ve read the article as they often contain a cultural reference or pun and can be demotivating). Explain that by the end of the lesson they should have the tools/skills they need to read an authentic English article.
  2. Prediction: Display the two pictures and ask sts why they think these two boys were in the paper and what their relationship was. Feedback and write students ideas on the board.
  3. Optional language focus: Inevitably your students will have used “maybe” or “perhaps” or just present simple in their predictions. Explain that a native speaker would probably have used “might” at some point. Ask them to rewrite the predictions on the board using “might”. give them no help at this point. Feedback as a class and highlight how “might” works in the past and present. Further practice can be, if any student or teacher is absent from the school ask students why they think he/she is not here.
  4. First reading: Give the sts the article and ask them to check their predictions. Ask them how long it will take them to read the whole article, then tell them they have 90 seconds. Tell them to focus only on their predictions and ignore language they don’t understand. feedback as a class. Briefly discuss how it doesn’t matter if all of their predictions are correct, just that they’re constantly making and correcting them based on new info.
  5.  Vocabulary focus: Ask students to underline all of the crimes the boys committed, even if they don’t understand them. Then draw their attention to the vocab exercise on the worksheet. Allow sts to work in pairs. After about 5 minutes, allow students to use their dictionaries to confirm their answers. Feedback as a class.
  6. Second reading: Ask sts to reread the article in their own time and then in pairs to decide on the best summary from the worksheet.
  7. Discussion: Place sts in groups, arrange them in a circle so that you are not a major presence. Direct their attention to the discussion questions and highlight that these are just to get their conversation going but they can move the discussion any way that feels natural.
  8. Error correction/emergent language: Monitor carefully and divide your board into: Errors (you don’t need to put the titles on the board), interesting language and pronunciation. board student errors and the language they struggled for but couldn’t quite get and any words that they had issues pronouncing. Call an end to the discussion whenever you feel it’s appropriate and direct the sts in their groups to the board. Sts work together to correct the errors. Feedback as a class.
  9. Skills focus: Ask sts to think back over the lesson and decide what the steps were. Direct them to the skills box on the worksheet and in pairs get them to match up the steps. discuss the final questions as a class.
  10. Skills practice: Hand out the extra articles / papers and in small groups ask the students to choose an article and follow the steps. Monitor and help sts along when necessary but if possible, leave them to it.
  11. Reflect: take a few minutes at the end to ask sts how they feel about articles and if they feel they could read them. Deal with any issues and highlight that it’s not important to understand everything and that it might be a good idea to start with shorter articles or articles on topics they are familiar with.

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)

Materials:

Procedure:

  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.