Connotations

This is going to be the first in a mini series of lessons on connotations. Why bother looking at connotations? Well, there are a few reasons, firstly, for students being able to say precisely what they mean without misunderstanding is key. Secondly, can you really know a word without understanding the implications its use has to those who read it and hear it. Finally, for some students, especially those in CAE or CPE classes a lack of knowledge of connotation can prevent high scores in the Use of English paper.

This whole idea was triggered by my colleague William Tweddle, talking about teaching vocabulary and highlighting the difference in connotation between Opium and Heroin. They are both effectively the same thing and yet with one we conjure images of poets languidly lying in beautiful rooms on divans, music wafting in with the opium haze. The other conjures images of junkies, needles, misery and grime. No surprise which has a perfume named after it.

 

Aims: To raise awareness of how important connotation is when learning vocabulary

Level: Upper Intermediate / Advanced

Procedure:

Discussion

The aim here is to raise awareness of how heroin / opium are perceived

Dictionary example from OUP: “A reddish-brown heavy-scented addictive drug prepared from the juice of the opium poppy, used illicitly as a narcotic and occasionally in medicine as an analgesic.”

They will probably find the word ‘drug’ / heroin and the fact it is addictive.

The aim is to have a discussion on the name but leading to the point that Heroin and Opium have very different connotations.

Activity 1

Remind students here that we are really looking for the best answer. All of them could be used.

answers:

  1. affordable – now possible to buy
  2. good value – the price is fair
  3. cheap  – perhaps low quality

Emphasis that cheap can have a neutral use too.

As an extension, you could ask the students to write a sentence for inexpensive and put the best on the board.

Activity 2

Obviously there is no correct answer here, but it is worth checking with students the meanings

  • thin – neutral though sometimes used in a negative sense
  • skinny – negative – too thin
  • slender – positive – also contains an idea of elegance
  • slim – positive – in good shape

Activity 3

  1. a gossip
  2. a chatty person
  3. a chatterbox

The best synonym for talkative is chatty, but perhaps chatty focuses more on informal chats.

Activity 4

A chance to use those words in a longer text.

1.

“So, last week I went to a party with a friend, she’s lovely but she is a bit of a chatterbox, so I know I can never tell her too much. Anyway, when we got to the party we went to the kitchen to find some food. I wasn’t expecting anything amazing, but I really did hope that there would be something other than affordable crisps. If I had known, I would have brought some nibbles myself. There again, I am supposed to be on a bit of a diet. I don’t want to get too slender, but I would like to be a bit slimmer. The party was ok I suppose, I didn’t stay long, especially after I got stuck talking to this one guy. He was a chatterbox and friendly, but so boring. I didn’t spend any money though, so it was a good value evening I suppose. That’s something!”

2.

  • a chatterbox – a gossip
  • affordable – cheap
  • slender – thin / skinny
  • slimmer – fine
  • a chatterbox – chatty / talkative
  • good value – cheap / inexpensive (if the article is changed)

 

Reflection activity – get students to think about how they could record connotations and their differences in their note books.

Extra activity pronunciation

Eradicating the robots.

Ask students to record themselves saying the improved dialogue and save it.

Drill any words you hear being mispronounced.

You can then look at where they should be pausing. Highlight the punctuation and also get them to think about where the stress should be in each clause – what is the important information?

After they have practised a few times get them to think about tone – how does the speaker feel – ask them to practice this again taking this into account.

Ask the students to rerecord and listen back to both versions and reflect on how the second is an improvement.

Materials:

 

Coming soon, another connotations lesson featuring the following words:

Relaxed / laid back / calm / easy going

Juvenile / youthful / childish / childlike

Famous / notorious / renowned / well-known

 

 

 

 

 

Listening to build vocabulary – Collocations

This is a lesson that I had almost forgotten, until recently I taught a private student who wanted to focus on improving vocabulary to talk about art. Though the topic is art a lot of the collocations are more general than that and I think are a useful addition to students knowledge from B2 upwards.

This is a short little lesson, though there are undoubtedly ways in which you could stretch it, I’ll give you a couple of ideas at the end.

The lesson is based on a 9 minute film about art in Siena, so may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is nicely done and well-presented in my opinion, and features Andrew Graham-Dixon, who I am rather fond of.  Students who I have used this with have found it relatively easy to understand what he is saying which is good as the focus here is on collocation, though you could easily build some pron work into this.

Aims: to increase students collocation knowledge / to practice listening using an authentic text.

Level: B2 +

Procedure:

Pre-listening

Discussion regarding Siena, has anyone been and then fast independent research using mobiles and then all class feedback

Listening

For this to begin with the main focus is prediction, put students in groups and ask them to think of words which might fit. During group feedback praise good collocations and highlight ones which don’t quite work.

Explain to the students that all you want them to do is watch and try to complete the gapped phrases.  They should be able to get most at the first listen, but be prepared to play it again if need be. Get students to check with a partner and then do group feedback.

Speaking and follow on

This is just a quick follow on to tie it together

However, what I would ask them to do next is to either write a short radio or video show that they present to the class or ask them to find a clip and to take note of what they believe to be strong collocations and bring them to class.

Materials

Video:

Taken from a BBC programme – via youtube

Worksheet:

 

 

 

 

School Reunion: A tense review

This is a really simple one that we made as a tense review before an end-of-term test. It had two main aims:

  1. to find out which language points needed a bit more of a review.
  2. to get my students thinking about how all of the language points they’d learnt over the past term might appear together. (so often they are studied in isolation)

Note: depending on the age of your students (mine were slightly older), you might need to change the discussion questions at the end. I’ve attached an editable word copy so feel free to edit it and make it work for your group.

  • Objective: see above
  • Time: 2 – 3 hours
  • level: high intermediate and above

Materials:

  1. Worksheet (word): Reunion tense review worksheet
  2. Worksheet (PDF): Reunion tense review worksheet
  3. Teacher’s copy: Reunion tense review teacher’s copy

 

Procedure:

  1. Students skim read the story and discuss the question at the top of the page. Feedback as a class.
  2. Students match the definitions to the vocab in the story (it’s important that no words / phrases stand in the way of them understanding the text so spend a little time here if needs be)
  3. In small groups, students work through the story, filling in the gaps. I always tell them they should have a reason for every answer they give. I will ask them why!
  4. Students check their answers on the back of the sheet and circle any they got wrong. They should then discuss if their answer was also possible, if it changes the meaning or if it was just impossible.
  5. Feedback as a class, focusing on the ones they had trouble with (this will be clear from your monitoring). If they all had issues with one language point, that’s one to go over in the next lesson.
  6. In the language analysis section, the students look at an isolated piece of language and use the questions to help them analyse it. Discuss as a class.
  7. Finally, students discuss the questions in small groups. Teacher monitors for delayed error correction and emergent language, which they deal with after the discussion.

 

Barry London: Writing + Study skills

Brixton-Tube-CLosed

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.

Materials:

  1. Barry London arrives in London – teacher’s copy – Answers / notes
  2. Barry London arrives in London – student copy WORD
  3. Procedure Barry London story – Procedure
  4. Barry London arrives in London PDF -student copy PDF

 

Low-level Past Simple Story Lesson

THE WAKE-UP CALL

I’ve been working out of New English File Elementary recently and it’s a great book but as often is the case with a book, it never really 100% gets the challenge right for your particular group. Sometimes it’s too easy, sometimes it’s too hard. At the moment it’s a smidgen too easy for my group and we are absolutely motoring through it.

This lesson was basically a bit of an extension after we’d studied the Past Simple in the coursebook. It’s got some revision and it pushes a bit extra as well. We’ve also been talking a lot about language chunks / collocations / pieces of language / items of lexis (whatever you want to call them) so it looks at that a bit too.

Plus, it gets them using their imagination a little bit too, which never hurts…unless they say, “teacher I don’t have an imagination” and then we despair, oh yes we do.

  • Level: Elem / Pre-int
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Procedure: see below

Materials:

  1. Wake-up call (word worksheet)
  2. Wake-up call pdf (PDF worksheet)
  3. Wake-up call procedure
  4. Wake-up call – teacher’s copy

 

TIP: So, I’ve been teaching a lot of low level classes at the moment and they’ve been mostly smaller groups (2 – 4 students). One thing I’ve found is that when the group is this small, any worksheet or coursebook you break out means utter silence as they disappear into its depths. Or, it’s awkward because they’re too aware of you.

One way I’ve found of avoiding this is writing my worksheets up on the board, more or less how I’d have them on the sheet.

the students go up and work on the board as a whole or in pairs on different sections and you monitor from behind them. It really makes a difference.

you can always give them the worksheet afterwards. Here’s a pic of my board for this lesson. You might notice there are some mistakes on the board. Their first task was to correct the errors and then later I gave them the worksheet with the corrected version to check it, which is a slight variation on the procedure above.

Here’s a shot of my board. I like to think that my distinctive cursive script adds an extra layer of challenge to the lesson and is, of course, completely intentionally awful

wake up call boardwork

Grammary Songs! The Script

I’m sorry…I may have gone too far this time and I completely understand if you want to turn your back on me and leave me to wither away into nothingness. I’ve made a lesson out of a Script song. In my defense, it’s not my fault. A student made me do it. This is what happens when you have Spanish teenage girls, who’ve spent a summer in Ireland as students. Honestly not my fault.scripts 1

Anyway, you may remember that I once wrote abouthaving a short extract from a song for every language point. The idea was that it was engaging for students, it gave them a bit of access to the culture and it (hopefully) made the language point a little more memorable.

My first lesson was on “used to” and “would” using a Coldplay song…again, sorry. Check it out if you want to see what I was on about.

This one shouldn’t be a long lesson but it’s a nice communicative one with some guided discovery in there.

Level: Int and above

Time: 1 – 2 hours (depending on how chatty your students are)

Aim: see above

Objective: see above

Materials:

  1. if you ever come back – worksheet
  2. if you ever come back – teacher’s answers

 

Procedure:

  1. Listening for gist / engagement: Play the full song and have students discuss the questions at the top of the worksheet. The idea here is that they engage with the song and love it, hate it or loathe it but at least they engage.
  2. Language focus (vocab): these are quite nice phrases and this activity will really encourage them to think about language in context instead of jumping to dictionaries. You can help them out with the individual parts of the expression (e.g. shoulder) if you think they need guidance.
  3. Language focus (wish): this is all quite self-explanatory guided discovery. The hope is that students can analyse the language in context and decide how it would be used. You might need to walk them through the first one if they struggle with this kind of thing.
  4. Practice: always good to practice.
  5. discussion: This will bring the whole thing together and give them a chance to discuss the topic and use the target language.

The bits of the paper we ignore 2

rush hour pic

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)

Objectives:

  • 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

Materials:

  1. Rush hour crush
  2. Rush hour crush PDF
  3. rush hour crush text
  4. Rush hour crush answer sheet

Procedure:

This is reasonably straightforward but I’ll take you through it step by step:

  1. Gist reading: students skim the text for 30 seconds and discuss what it is and where it is from.
  2. Independent research skills: If possible, students Google and search for the text online to check their ideas.
  3. Engaging with the text: Students discuss the concept and share their initial impressions.
  4. Second reading: Students match the texts to the descriptions (see answer sheet)
  5. Vocab focus 1: students match the words/phrases from the text to the definitions given.
  6. Vocab focus 2: using the context and the vocab from the previous exercise, students try to decide what the phrases mean.
  7. Language focus:
  • 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.

Follow-up

  1. 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.

 

The bits of the paper we ignore 1!

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)

Aim:

  1. to encourage sts to notice and analyse the language in the world around them.
  2. To gather vocab on dating

Materials:

 

full ad

Procedure:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Students look up new films in groups on IMDB and summarise them to their partners.
  3. Students set up a class online dating profile and send comments to people.

Giving advice with Connected Speech!

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:

  1. All students from Elem to Adv need it.
  2. Most of them haven’t come across it in their countries so it is usually new, even for Adv.
  3. We need to raise awareness of features of connected speech over and over if sts are to be able to understand native English speakers.
  4. They love it!
  5. 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).

boardwork

Level: All levels

Time: 60 – 90 minutes

Topic: advice (almost every level has come across 1 or 2 ways of giving advice).

Materials:

Procedure:

  1. 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).
  2. Tell the students that you will be talking about giving advice today. In groups ask them to brainstorm different forms for giving advice.
  3. Tell them your problem. I usually use the one below but feel free to improvise.
  4. Ask the students to write one or two pieces of advice per group using the different forms from part 2.
  5. 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.
  6. These pieces of advice are what you’re going to analyse for features of connected speech.
  7. 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.
  • Check together.

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.

 

A might well:The many forms of “might”

A borderline advanced student stopped me in the corridor the other day and asked me what the difference was between might, might as well and might well and for a moment I was stumped. He was holding his Upper Int coursebook on the grammar reference section for “might” and he made a very good point which was:

The Upper Intermediate book has exactly the same information as the Intermediate.

He was right, so I decided to look at it in a little bit more detail and came up with the lesson below.

The materials and the teaching notes are all in the same file and I’ve attached it as a PDF and as a WORD doc so that you can edit it if you like.

Enjoy

  1. might-as-well  – WORD doc
  2. might-as-well  – PDF

 

guys pic