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.

Writing skills – Restaurant Review

Being someone who regularly teaches Exam skills, teaching writing plays a key part in my normal week.  One of the main things I always try and do is focus students on key features of genre.  These are things we often take for granted, so as well as vocab and grammar, I look a lot at what makes up register encouraging students to ‘notice’ the key features, such as genre specific vocab, sentence length, objective or subjective.  It’s easy to forget that what we know and expect of a text might not for the student necessarily be the same, so it is often worth highlighting these things.  This lesson also goes into paragraph structure and touches on theme and rheme (the topic and the comment made about it).

The aim is to give students the opportunity to produce a piece of writing that will have some interesting lexis, some grammatical range and cohesion.

For copyright reasons I wrote the review as I didn’t want ‘Time Out’ to kill me!

Level:  Upper-intermediate and above

Time: 1.5-2hrs + homework

Aims:

  • To examine language used in restaurant reviews
  • To build learner autonomy
  • To teach genre specific high level adjectives
  • To prepare students for a piece of writing

Outcome:

  • The students will be prepared to write a restaurant review

Age group: Adults – especially FCE / CAE / CPE

Procedure

  • Discussion of restaurants / favourite foods / favourite flavours
  • Language focus: Vocab – working it out from the context / Grammar participle clauses
  • Pronunciation focus: matching the script to the new lexis
  • Writing: planning / cohesion
  • Practice: Writing a review

 Materials

Frame Again

Preface:

So there I was, walking out of the tube station, wondering where I was going to get my hands on a short text that didn’t immediately strike me as an obvious text for a lesson (one that we could use to challenge ourselves) when a lovely young lady, standing shivering at the top of the steps handed me the above postcard. Perfect!

I think most of the activities that go along with this lesson are pretty self-explanatory but I briefly wanted to talk about one of our aims: to encourage learner autonomy. For us, the end game has to be sending students out of the classroom with the tools they need to continue learning on their own. Exercise 2C in the lesson below aims to do just this. Of course we need to be teaching the students vocabulary in class but imagine a world where students come across an unknown word in a text and their first port of call isn’t their dictionary, instead the use the context and a variety of other strategies.  Imagine they were able to simply insert a synonym and move on, happy that they’d understood the meaning. This is a world we want to live in.

The exercises below are a way of training your students to start doing just this. When done over a series of lessons, you should start to notice a difference in how they approach new vocabulary and their confidence when faced with unknown words and phrases. We’ve had a lot of success with these types of activities but it’s all for naught if we don’t let the students in on what’s happening. So, take a second after exercise 2C and ask the students why you just taught them this vocabulary, why you spent ten minutes teaching these specific words. Of course it helps them engage with the text, and you could argue that all vocabulary is important but what you’re really doing is teaching them a skill and to do that you have to make them aware of it first. Give a man fish and all that lark.

Anyway, try it out and let us know how it goes. Enjoy.

 

Level: Pre-intermediate – Upper-intermediate

Time: 1.5 – 3 hours

Aims:

  • To examine persuasive language
  • To encourage learner autonomy
  • To highlight the difference in use of real and unreal conditionals.
  • To raise awareness of and practise weak forms and features of connected speech.

Outcome:

  • By the end of the lesson the students will have created a radio advertisement, using weak forms, and persuasive language.

Age group: Adults

Procedure

  • Discussion questions
  • Language focus: Vocab / informal + persuasive language / real versus unreal conditionals
  • Pronunciation focus: Features of connected speech within the audio
  • Reflection: What have we looked at so far?
  • Practice: Creating a radio advert using the language/features of connected speech that have been looked at in the lesson.

 

Materials: