Saturday, 20 May 2017

Facilitating Fluency

Right, so it's taken me 100 posts to actually get down to the bones of the matter. How on Earth are we to improve the fluency of our students? Well, generally speaking it's easy. Ensure they know that speaking in a language that isn't their mother tongue isn't easy and that making mistakes is both natural and useful. Once they're past that everything should start looking rosey.

How do we get past that and how do we apply it to a totally unnatural exam situation? Again, there are more ways that one. I'm just going to whizz you though a lesson I did with a few classes just last week based on an idea another teacher, and friend, came up with.
The lesson starts with a fairly simple statement. Ensuring students that the day will be about fluency over accuracy. Mistakes are ignored (not completely of course) and thinking (well, overthinking) is actively discouraged.

The first activity is simple. Put thirty seconds on the clock and students just speak. In English. About anything. Anything at all. If they're feeling particularly shy you can provide them with some kind of stimulus. The colour yellow or something equally obtuse.

Activity 2. After students have losened up I like to move onto the next section. This is where "the exam" comes into play. Be it a PET, FCE, CAE what ever. go to the picture section of the exam. Remind students of the types of thing examiners listen out for. In PET, some complex grammar, what people are doing, a bit of speculation etc.In FCE far more speculation, questions answering and a bit of comparing. The next step is to ask students to think about what they're going to say for a minute or two and then try and say it without taking a breath. Simply say what thay can in one nice deep breath. Give students 3 or 4 attempts. When they manage to complete the task they'll notice that their hesitation has gone and there are fewer umms and ahhhhs than ever before.

Activity 3and 4. Depending on class size you can do this first as a group actvitity and then broken down into pairs/threes. For this activity I get students to continue looking at the photo section of the exam, a new photo, of course. This time they work with their partner/group to create "The Perfect Minute" First they decide what they're going to talk about, then they take turns in saying a word each. This can be adapted to a sentence each if you so desire. The fact of the matter is, if students are only taking one word each, they aren't going to say um, ah, er or even... hang on a second.  When doing this, they may start by feeling silly but soon enough your students will be working in unison and giving some of the best answers you've heard. This also helps with communication further down the line. But for now we'll focus on our fluency.

Right, that's about all you're going to get from me. Saturday night has turned into Sunday morning and I think it's time I went to bed.

'Til the next time.

H

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Collocation's what you need!

If you wanna speak the best you gotta learn the rest. Collocation's what you need.

While the title it may not be grammatically correct it is a fun throwback to my childhood watching the world's finest breaking all kinds of records from the sublime to the ridiculous.  If you were a record breakers fan they have a quick walk down memory lane with the link below.

Record Breakers Theme

Ok, so back to the matter at hand. Collocations. As we all know are what you need to sound more natural when speaking any language, not just English. What is languange if it isn't just a group of words that somehow sound right together.

I must confess it was again my considerably better half that has again drawn my attention to this most interesting of topics and her material that I use in class and that you're going to have the chance to get your hands on today if you just click -----------> for the collocations powerpoint. (courtasy of the delightful Gema Galan)

I'm not going to go to great lengths to describe this lesson for you. Simply go through the powerpoint and elicit as many examples as you can for each of the examples there.

At the end of the powerpoint and refelctions I tnd to give my students this -----> handout (not my own material, borred from Elspeth Pollock) and get them to close their eyes and choose three or 4 collocations at random. I then set about allowing them to select roles, a situation and a topic in which they have to have a conversation and shoe horn in their randomly selected collocations, while making it sound as natural as possible. They're encouraged to add any others they've come accross that day.

So here's how it went the other day with a wonderful group of software engineers.

Me: "Ok, so Juanman you're in a........"
Juanma: "errrrr theatre"
Me: "Great, so Alvaro, you're talking about......."
Alvaro: "who committed the murder."
Me: "Wonderful, now Kiko you're a...."
Kiko: "A hot shot lawyer."

and so on.


Give it a shot. The class should take around an hour or so. It can easily be extended to last an hour an a half and students can thus be given plenty of time to use their newly acquired language.

Thanks for sticking with me.

H


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

What have you got, Taylor?

The other day whilst cruising along the motorway on the way home from seeing the in-laws I was doing what I do best, vaguely irritating my remarkably tolerant wife. Every time there was some kind of statement, question or... well basically anything, I was responding to the lyrics of the song. The song in particular was Blank Space, by Taylor. It's not the first time I've done it and I'm certain it won't be the last. It then dawned on my wife, who is also an English teacher, that this horrifically irritating habit could be turned into a fun classroom game.

I started by doing the same song in class:

What could you show me Taylor?
I could show you incredible things.

Like what exactly?
Magic, madness, heaven, sin

Fair Enough, Well what happened next and what did you think about it?
Saw you there and I thought
Oh my God, look at that face
You look like my next mistake


How long is it going to be?
So it's gonna be forever

and so on


Image result for taylor swift looking terrible
This went on a wee while. I then set my students the task of choosing a verse of whichever song they liked to prepare and come back into class and have a conversation with their favourite pop stars

They did stunningly well. Even my weakest students were forming questions perfectly and it even seemed like they were producing some kind of natural language.

It was just one of the many sensational, inspirational ideas given to me by my significantly better half.

Have a go.

@ELFluencyfella

Saturday, 11 February 2017

A Fistful of Fillers. Loads of Games!

A few weeks back I was asked to do a training session at the academy for which I work. When it comes to training sessions and meeting my opinion has long been one of practical over theoretical. I truly beleive that as teachers we tend to prefer the talks we leave with a whole bunch of ideas and or materials which make our classroom and class planning a wee bit easier.
It was for that very reason that I put together this session of low prep, no technology games so they could be used whenever, whereever one chooses to use them.

Here's the handout. There is a little powerpoint that I tend to throw up in class so students know which game is which and what they have to look forward to if and when they complete the main tasks of the class. It also gives them the option of which "English Learning Activities" they get to play.

A terrible two minute transition? An awkward eight minutes remaining at the end of your planned materials?  This is a simple session to help you fill those gaps with something fun and rewarding. Activities you probably know and you may have seen in the past but completely forgot. Harry’s here to remind you and hopefully add a few to your teaching repertoire.

POWEPOINT

 Why is there a Monkey in your bag?
I tend to ask one of the stronger students this question. They are then forced to come up with an answer. In turn I get each of the students to ask a question about said monkey. You can then get the students to develop the idea and ask each other why they have various other bizarre objects in their bag. It’s great for question formation and imagination.  Works with all levels from about K2.
2.       Line of Excuses
A great cooler. As students are preparing to leave they have to give reasons as to why they should leave first to get their way to the front of the line. The teacher decides who has the best excuse and that person gets to leave first.
3.       City Race
Elicit a city from your students. Write them vertically down the board two or three times. Students must then take turns (in their teams) to come up to the board and write the longest word they can which starts with each letter. For higher levels you can make the parameters more difficult. Eg. Adjectives or Words related to a specific lexical set.
4.       Consequences/Secret Story
Students write a line each for a story and then fold the page. After 8 rounds the pages are unraveled and stories read. This game is great for working on narrative tenses and the art of surprise. The 8 topics I use are: 1: His name 2: Her name 3: Where they met 4: When they met 5: What he said 6: What she said 7: What happened next 8: Why did that happen.
5.       Pig, Dog, Cat, Duck
This is a pronunciation activity to work on weak forms. You can use any single syllable words from a lexical set. After Christmas perhaps you’d use. Toy, Ball, Doll, Car. Set a beat of about 112bpm. Then chant the words. Show them how the stress remains on the words even when other words are added. Stage 2. A pig, a dog, a cat, a duck. Stage 3. A pig and a dog and a cat and a duck. Stage 4. A pig and then a dog and then a cat and then a duck.
6.       Rapid Spidergram
This is as easy as it sounds. Write a word on the board about the topic you’re studying or about to study and get students to come to the board and write ANY word they can thing of related to that topic. I usually do this before and after a unit to show how much they’ve improved.
7.       Scattagories
I’m sure you often use this. It’s nothing like the board game of the same name. Although that is also super fun.  It’s similar to rapid spidergrams but it’s done in a notebook. I often ask other categories as opposed to just lexical sets.  Eg. Adverbs that don’t end LY. Or words containing the ə sound.
8.    Stop the Bus
This absolute classic has been a staple in my classroom since day one. 4/5 categories 1 letter.  Students have to complete each category using the letter chosen. When each category is complete they shout stop the bus and the game is over. You can make students write two or three in each column if they’re getting through the answers too quickly.
9.       Shark Bait
It’s hangman, it just looks different.
 Sound Match.
Start students with a word, the next student has to think of a word that starts with the same sound as the previous word ended with. Eg. Watch -  Chunder,
1   Lexical Phone Numbers
Write 0-9 on the board. Above each number write a word. Students then have to come up with a very short story including all the words that appear in their phone number. It’s a great way to recycle new vocab from the previous class.
1   Spoken Word Snake
Just like sound match except you just use the final letter from the word before.
1   Would you rather
A funny way to drill. You can make the questions as serious or silly as you like. The only important thing is students answer and then give their reasons. Eg. Would you rather have glitter ball eyes or a glow in the dark tongue? I’d obviously prefer to have a glow in the dark tongue because then I could read at night without having to run up huge electricity bills. After you’ve played a few times students will be able to come up with some real crackers.
1   Higher Lower
This is one of my favourites as you can use it to drill any kind of number and you can personalize it to you students. I usually start with something like Mount Everest and get students to guess its height. For time I get them to guess when I set my alarm or I ask them what time they had dinner. It’s great for numbers and comparative structures. You can use students’ height, shoe size, age of their grandparents. You can also get them to just think of a number between 1 and 10,000.
1   Word Sneak
This is a great way to recycle vocabulary. I often do it at the end of class to review new vocab. I give the students 5 words each and they have to seamlessly sneak them into a conversation. I normally give them a starting topic and see where the conversation goes. It’s also good to use at the start of a class to recycle vocab from the previous lesson, especially after the weekend.
1   Cheddar Gorge
A very simple game here, whereby your students create a story by using just one word each. You can make it a sentence each if you so desire.
1   Memory Shopping
It’s just a memory game you can use whatever lexical set you like. Start with, I went to the shop and I bought a banana. You then add an item to what you bought/need to buy and keep going around the room. I obviously did this one with Christmas presents. This year Santa brought me a beard comb…..
1   Alphabet Story Race
I get my students to think of a word for each letter of the alphabet and then sit with a partner and include each one in a quick story or a dialogue. Remember to encourage them to use each part of speech and not just nouns. Otherwise you’ll just get a boring list.
1   Where in the world am I?/20 Questions
Students chose a place on the map. The others have to guess where they are, more or less. This requires a small degree of geographical knowledge but it’s great for prepositions. If you’ve got a few maps then it also helps as you’re less geographically gifted lot can also figure it out. The obvious alternative to this is just 20 questions.
2   Odd one out/Throw it out
An old favourite with a recently discovered twist, thanks to a delightful lady named Gema. Give students 4 similar options they then have to discuss which one is the odd one out and why. The twisted version has you assigning each student a word and them fighting to their lives to remain as one of the three. I make out they’re all in a boat and the odd one out has to leave. Obviously this sends all the wrong messages about accepting differences in people but hey, you’re a banana get in the water.
2   Tenuous Link
Students are given 2 words they have to find a way of linking them in the most tenuous way possible. This is far better with higher levels as it gets more amusing and challenging. Eg. Table to Motor Torpedo boat. A table has legs, you can walk with legs, Birds have legs with which they walk they also have wings, wings are what make them fly, wings are also a prime component of a plane, some planes were built to drop bombs, others were built to land on the water, a motor torpedo boat goes both on the water and uses its own type of bomb.
2   Alphabet Challenge
Set a topic and students have to go through the alphabet in order naming one of each letter. Capital cities, food, Names etc.
2   Hot Seat
Utter classic. This can be played a few different ways, either with 5 words on the board that the other students have to describe or with a bunch of questions written on the board that the one in the chair has to answer.
2   Which one was yours?
Great for drilling. I get my students to write an item on a card. Perhaps a present they got or an innocuous item from their room. The cards/pieces of scrap paper are then mixed up and redistributed. Students then have to guess who the owner of their card is. I had my pet students saying. I can’t be sure but I reckon the beard comb belongs to Harry because he’s the only one in here with a beard like a majestic lion. (ok perhaps the reason wasn’t quite that elaborate)
2   Just a minute
Great for anything above PET. You give students a topic or a part one question. They then have to speak about it for a minute. Other students have to listen out for hesitation and repetition. I make this vaguely more interesting by giving each student an animal name and they have to interrupt but using said animals sound. The students speaking at the end of the minute gets the point. I often use this in a =’s and X’s kinda style.
2   Platanos Vs Bananas
This little game is a great way to get students up and moving. I use it for all levels. I put two opposing words/views on either side of the room. Students have to run to whichever they prefer. They then have to question each other as to why they chose the side they did. Eg. Cats vs Dogs. If Pablo choses dogs then you (or his cat loving, more awesome classmate) asks Why did you chose dogs, don’t you think they look far worse in selfies than cats?
2   Things You Should Never Say
This is a lovely funny filler I use with higher levels. I start with the easy ones like, things you should never say in an airport. “I’ve got a bomb.” I try and get them to think of situations. One student once said things you should never say in an elevator. “I’m just going to leave this smell for you guys.” was his divine answer.
2   Catagory Catch
I used to only use this with my kids but have started using it with higher levels as well to mix things up a bit. I simply grab a ball and throw it at to a student and shout a topic/category. Students have to both catch the ball and respond instantly without repeating what’s already been said. If they drop it they lose a life. I tend to give 2 or 3 lives. Eg.
Pepe, Animals: “Dog.” Good,
Carmen, Clothing: “A shirt.” Good.
Joaquin 15th Century Renaissance Artist “Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simon, also known simply as Michel Angelo” Nice.  And so on.
2   Instant Role Play
Simply give your students a new identity a situation and tell them to have a conversation. If you want to give prompts and language by all means do. That does require more prep and thus makes it a bit less fillery. I usually do this as a last 3 minute thing and try re using the new vocab on the board as some kind of stimulus.
3   Word Association
Just give the students a word and they have to say the first word that comes into their head. The following student does the same. It’s a great little game to play whilst you’re doing some kinda of paper filling in, like a homework list or something.
3   5 words story
A simple and effective way to kill 5 minutes. Get students to use the theme of the day to write some kind of story. I did horror stories recently after teaching about fear. The example I gave them was one stolen from the internet. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Monday. One, particularly strange students came up with this classic: I cooked your dead cat. So be aware of who is in your class.
3   You scratch my back
This is a delightful way to get students out of their chairs and more comfortable with each other. I’ve used it to drill difficult spelling and just for fun. Students are put in a line the student at the front is the writer and the others are the information road. The student closest to the teacher is given a word. They then have to send it forward to their writer, without speaking. The method they have to use is simply drawing the word letter by letter on the back of the student in front of them with just their finger. They will then in turn do it to the person in front until they reach the writer who writes the final word on the board, letter by letter.
3   Ad something
A simple sentence transformed into a beautiful one. In this game I write a boring sentence on the board and get the students to AD something. After eliciting that adjectives and adverbs are the key to descriptive writing I set them off in pairs or threes to create the most descriptive sentence EVER. This on one I got from my CAE class a couple of weeks back. From: The Teacher Ate a Sandwich. To: The morbidly obese teacher greedily ate a disgustingly greasy BLT sandwich, without the L, the T or the sandwich.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Use of English Part 4 Made Fun. CAE

I knocked up a little powerpoint with some of my students favourite activities to practice UOE part 4. This is for the Advanced exam but it can be easily adapted for CPE and FCE.

There are 4 basic "games"

The first one is to simply remove the word. students then try and guess the newly transformed sentence and with it the missing word.

The second is a little more tricky. One student (S1) has to sit with their back to the board. The other students (S2) work out the answer and must relay the answer to S1. S1 then has to guess what the first sentence is. This is an excellent activity as it makes students think carefully about exactly what grammar they have used. Whether S1 has to use a noun or a verb. If it's a set phrase or a phrasal verb. It's really tough at first but once they get the hang of it they seem to really enjoy it.

The third activity is mix and match. Students have to find which sentences match and then try and guess what the answer is. They are provided with all of the words, however, they have to figure out which one goes with which question.

The final activity is by far the most fun. It's exactly the same as the previous one but done with glue and a piece of card. Students are given six questions cut up into their various parts. They have to stick them down in the correct order, with the correct word and then figure them out.


I hope you find this useful. My class and I spent a full hour and a half working through these as did my CPE class last year. I was told it was the most useful class they'd had in terms of exam prep, so I hope your students like it too.

You can find the PowerPoint just here and the Cut and Stick workshet here.

Enjoy

Thursday, 10 November 2016

What's a nuclear scientists favourite food?

It's been a fair old while since I had time to throw a little blog together. So I thought as the kid is in bed and my delightful wife is yet to return from work I'd add some materials I've made recently and see if anyone fancies using them.

I've been putting a great deal of foucs in my classes on pronunciation of late. Sadly, it is the one skill that is far too often glossed over by textbooks nowadays.

I made this little powerpoint to help with binomials bʌɪˈnəʊmɪəlz/or word twins as I like to call them. 

It starts with a "hilarious" joke and goes on to help students form these word twins. It's just a quick selection of ten sets of words that are placed in a specific order.  The aim of this activity isn't only to make students aware of the fact these words come in a certain order but also to draw their attention to the weak and which comes between them. 

The powerpoint is right here Word Twins Powerpoint. If you fancy having a look at anything else from this blog then it's all shoved in and around that powerpoint.

Right then. I'm just about done here. If you have any questions please feel free to chuck a comment below.

'til the next time.

Friday, 16 September 2016

When's your birthday?

A little idea that popped into my head just the other day whilst doing a wee bit of research (looking on wikipedia) with my good lady about her birthday.

It was a simple little idea about a mini project. Either written or spoken. Or better still both.

We're told in the world of TEFL that translation is bad. I tend to disagree with this idea as I feel it has a useful place in almost any class. Perhaps not as a general rule but as a one off activity it seems foolish not to utilze this option. This very activity thrives on the translation side of learning.
Much like many activities using songs! But that's for another day all together.

Anyway, this super simple activity can make students feel valued and that you genuinely care about them. After all what's better than someone remembering your birthday and not thanks to a notification on facebook. This activity will get it stuck in your mind and you might learn something new yourself.

I simply sent my students home and told them to research their birthday on wikipedia in their native tongue. I then asked them to choose 5 events from their birthday in history, translate them, research them a little and come up with a quick 10-15 minute presentation. Leaving them just 2-3 minutes on each event/celebrity birthday.  I emphasis that it needs to be searched on wikipedia in their own language is that each different page has different events and national events are often more interesting to the students.

My birthday, for example, is one of the least interesting days in history with very few notable birthdays and a derth of interesting events.

My quick presentation consisted of a mini biogrophy of Clyde Barrow and his antics with Bonnie Parker.
James the VI of Scotland becoming James I of England.
The Abolishion of slavery in Venezuela.
Elvis being drafted into the army.
The bombing of Kosovo by NATO.

I threw in the bonus my namesake of Harry Houdini being born on the illustrious qday of March 24th.

Image result for birthday

I found my students got really involved and I could now tell you the birthdays of all of those students in my B2 class. If you wanted to send them a card or something.


I hope your students enjoy this as much as mine did feel their true value as people rather than just students.




Friday, 24 June 2016

Movie reviews with a twist. Or just twisted movie reviews?

It's been more than just a little while since I last posted anything. That's not to say I 've been resting on my laurels, I most certainly have not. I've merely been lacking in what some might call free time. Be that as it may, the summer has arrived and I shall be presented with a little more free time. For that very reason I'm going to try and churn out as many ideas I've come up with/adapted over the last six months, in the coming months.

Today's post came about thanks to one of those silly games I tend to play with a group of friends that lends itself very well to teaching. We decided to make new movie titles by taking old ones and adding just one word.

Some of the first to come out were things like NOT Saving Private Ryan and Million Dollar Baby Sitter.

I took this game into a classroom environment. As a warmer I got students to think of as many films as they could in English. After two minutes I gave them an additional two minutes with their phones to get as long a list as possible.

as soon as they'd got their list at the ready I told them to get started on the game.
Captain South America, Paranormal Sexual Activity, The Rubbish Pianist and African American Beauty were but a few of the titles that popped up.

After their lists had been compiled I asked students to get together and talk about what their films would be like and who'd star in them.

Next up was reading reviews of real films. I gave the students a list Review sites and set them about looking for reviews of some of the films we'd talked about. I also ensured they took some useful chunks of language from the reviews for later use.

All that was left after the discussion was to set the homework. After going through a few movie reviews online I set got them to set about the task of writing their own. using at least 3 phrases they'd come across in the movie reviews we'd read together in class.

The results were nothing short of spectacular. I had by far the largest amount of homework handed in this year with this activity and it was by far and away of the best standard.

I found that doing exam style tasks just a little away from the exam really gives the students a chance to express themselves.

right that's all from me today.

I hope this gives your class something to write about.

Until the next time

Friday, 19 February 2016

Why are you so petrified of silence?

Why is it as language teachers we sometimes feel grossly uncomfortable when the class is sitting in silence. We sometimes think, these guys are learning a language why on Earth aren't they speaking it, ALL THE TIME?

Last year I had the good fortune of working with some great teachers and here I picked up a number of great activities. One of which was centred almost entirely around the notion of a silent classroom. I used this wonderful warmer and have since adapted it for my teenage PET class and will do so with my pre-advanced class later in the term.

So the big question. How can we make students speak without making a sound?

It's pretty simple really, they write to each other. The first time I did this in class, I did it with every single level I had.

I made sure they entered the class in absolute silence. There was a slide on the board (which you can find here) which told them they weren't to speak to each other but they could communicate through scraps of paper and a pencil.
The slide also contained a couple of starter questions to help them on their way.
For the kiddies it was stuff like: "What did you do at school today?"
For the adults something similar but a little more complex like: What did you get up to at work today?


It worked really well.

For that very reason I decided to do it again, this time with my PET students. I told them to make sure they brought their mobile phones to class.

When they entered the room in silence they could see the activity outline up on the board . I sat them in a circle facing away from each other and gave each of them a piece of paper to write their number on.

I then gave the numbers out to different students.  I then let them chat to each other, freely. In English, in silence. I put a few ideas up on the board to help them out. I gestured questioningly towards my students to see if anyone wanted to make a suggestion at a conversation starter. If so they had the chance to write it up on the board (without using words of course)

The next step was to see if they could deal with multitasking.  I ushered them to change numbers and add the new person to their group. There were then three people in each group and everyone was speaking to in two groups each.

At first this caused a bit of an issue, but soon enough their amazing teenage brains adapted to it and their multiwhatsapping brain came to the fore. After a good ten minutes I stopped everyone and asked them to read aloud what had come up in their conversations.

Some of it was surprisingly deep, two of the students had got themselves into a discussion as to how the Spanish education system was in desperate need for reform. Other students were talking about how good Cristiano's goal was the night before. Best of all though they had been writing in English and correcting each other's work and having fun at the same time. Never in my life have I seen a group of 12 teenagers so happy to sit in silence and speak English to each other. It was utterly glorious.

Give it a go. If your students don't have phones, just give them some scraps of paper and get them to pass them around.

'til the next time

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Talking Movies

I have got a great pre-advanced class. I only get to see them once a week on a Friday for three hours. Sadly for them next week is parents day so they'll be missing their class. As I'm obviously a very conscientious teacher and know that whilst being away from the classroom, even the best of students will lose touch with the language. For that reason, rather than just setting a whole bunch of homework from the book and past papers I decided to set a movie review as homework.

Whilst having a chat with my DOS, Chris,  we came up with a nice little idea. Rather than just setting them on their way to write about any old film we came up with a lesson plan to really engage our students in the lesson process.

1.Speaking part three with grabactivity



2. Select two movies each, discuss in pairs, down to one.

3. Each pair puts their idea forward. Class decides on final from the four or five selected.

4. Students decided which film to watch.

5. Find real reviews of the film online for them to read at home.


In the next class.


1. In pairs then as a class. Discuss the film.

2. Talk about the language used in the reviews they read as homework.

3. Create a plan.

4. Work in pairs to write review or do a circular writing.

5. Homework. Write your own review.


Right then. I'm off to class. Have a delightful weekend one and all.

'til the next time

H



Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Potatoes and Their True Potential

I've got root vegetables on the mind. Root vegetables? What are you on about Harry?!

I recently sparked a great deal of interest in one of my classes by walking simply placing a potato on my desk as the class walked in.

"Teacher, A potato?" questioned a rather befuddled Alfredo.Image result for potato

"Yes, Alfredo, it's a potato. Very good but what else could it be?" I asked the teenager usually nattering away in Spanish as he walks in.

He stopped in his tracks and respond it could be a Spanish omelette if we just added a few eggs and some onions.

After getting a few of the more obvious answers I got students to sit down in groups and try and write 10 unique uses of a potato.  We got a few good ones. A door stop. a pencil holder, a paper weight and one particularly strange students felt it would work well as an instrument of death as you could destroy the evidence in a delicious fashion. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Or run to my car.

It's a great way to upgrade lower level students' language. I had my kids 4 (10 year old) saying things like:

"Well, it's a potato but it could be used as a toy."

For my B1 adults I created a quick conversation template that I put up on the board to get them to use language slightly above their level.

A: "Well, It's obviously a potato, but it could be used as a............ or even a........... not to mention a............."

B: "I see you're point. They're all great ideas. However, I'm pretty sure it would be best used as a............ . What do you reckon?"

My favourite idea from this class came from a lady in her early fifties who suggested the best use of a potato would be as a fake breast.

I've also found with my higher level students, teens in particular, it's a great way to get them using their mobile phones in class. Words like doorstop and bookend don't tend to pop up in everyday language, so after they've described what it could be used as:

"It could be used as the thing that keeps doors open."

I get them to take out their phones and ask Google exactly what it is. They type in, "What's the name of the thing that is used to keep doors open, in English."

As a warmer I found this really worked and got the students thinking straight away. I went on to try it with other vegetables and then on to other household items. By the end of the month students were disappointed if they walked in and there wasn't a foreign object sitting on my desk waiting to be analyzed.

Another fantastic item is the eternally useful paper clip. Which can be used as practical things such as opening your iPhone or other more surreal ideas like the zip on a zipline for small beasties. I was particularly fond of that idea.

Yesterday I ended the activity by telling my students that potatoes could be anything, which meant they were potatoes. I then went rouind and each students stated loud and proud. I AM A POTATO.

Give it a try. Get your students thinking outside the box as soon as they walk into the room. It'll go down as a class that lives long in the memory. That's for sure.

Til next time

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Songs and Translation



Just a quicky today as classes start in 13 minutes.

I've been doing this activity with my classes for a little while and I've found it really develops understanding and paraphrasing.

What I do is play the first few lines of a song. Get students to write what they hear. Listen again, compare what they have to make sure it's ok then I ask them to translate what they have both literally and adapting whatever idiomatic language might be contained within the first 4 lines of the song.

After they've translated it I ask them to translate it back into English but they have to avoid using the same vocabulary, as far as possible, to the original.

I then go through the entire song, using some kind of gap fill. when we're done with that I translate another section of the song. then back again. In doing this it makes the students think about exactly what message the singer is trying to convey.

The most recent two songs I've done this with are. Ed Sheeran's hit Thinking Out Loud and the Kooks early naughties classic Naive and of course my favourite all time song Everlong by the Foo Fighters.

You can do it with any song you desire and there are a plethora of options out there on the internet if you're looking for ready made materials. If you look in my materials folder at the top you'll find two or three songs already done. Help yourself.