Polyglots/language freaks lesson plan

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This is a lesson about learning languages quickly. The input is mostly in the form of videos, so your students get to develop their listening skills. More importantly, however, it uses five examples of savants – extraordinarily gifted/freakish language learners – in order to encourage your students to think about what they could do to improve their command of English as quickly as possible. Due to the demanding level of the input I wouldn’t attempt it with anything lower than a solid Upper Intermediate group. If you use all the material it should take between 75-90 minutes.

Procedure

  • Begin by telling the students you’re going to talk about learning languages -not just English. You want to start by finding out which languages they have a command of or would like to learn.
  • Stick up a piece of A4 paper on each of the four walls of the classroom. At the top of one write ‘I’m fluent in’; another ‘I can get by in’, the third ‘I know a few words of’ and the fourth ‘I’d love to learn’. Establish that in this context ‘be fluent in’ means ‘have a full command of’. Students walk round and add their names and languages to each sheet, eg. ‘Davide – French’. Monitor to clarify what the terms mean in case of confusion.
  • Have a brief whole class discussion, drawing on what they’ve written: ‘So, Sandra, you can get by in German’, or ‘So, Yuki, you’d like to learn Chinese’, etc.
  • Elicit/introduce the word ‘polyglot’. Decide together on the basis of the discussion who in the class could be considered a polyglot. Explain you’re going to watch two short interviews with polyglots. The first one is Alex, from the UK. Their task is to write down which languages he speaks.
  • Compare lists. If there is anyone who speaks any of the languages mentioned, ask how well Alex spoke it.
  • Then ask them: if a 20-year-old can speak 11 languages, how many could a 16-year-old speak?
  • They can then repeat the previous exercise with the second video. (NB: If you prefer, there is also a listening gapfill exercise here.)
  • Ask the student how the two polyglots learned all those languages – put them in pairs to discuss.
  • Tell them you’re going to watch two more videos which present very different methods for learning languages quickly. The students’ task is to choose which method they prefer.
  • Gather ideas. This will be very subjective- some will prefer the music/radio approach, others the book-based method. That’s fine.
  • Give them 5 minutes in small groups to discuss how the videos relate to their own language-learning experiences. Get one person in each group to report back on their discussion.
  • Tell them you’re going to show them one more video. Write on the board the phrase ‘from scratch’ and ask them what it means. Once the meaning is established, ask them how fluent you could become in a week in a completely unfamiliar language if you really dedicated yourself to it.
  • Tell them to take notes on: the name of the person; the language; the challenge; how successful they think he is at it. (NB: there is also a listening comprehension exercise here.)
  • Gather responses. Give them a chance to watch some or all of the video again if they need to.
  • Put on the board the following questions, and tell the students on their own to write down their responses:

1. Which example do you find most inspiring?
2. What lessons can you learn from the five videos you’ve seen?
3. What three specific things are you going to do in the next week to improve your English as much as possible?

  • Do a 5-minute whole class stand-up mingle in relation to the third question.
  • To close, elicit some of the things they’re going to do. Make sure they’ve chosen specific things, not just ‘read a book’ or ‘listen to music’. What book? What music? Remind them that they have a week to do those things and you will dedicate time in next week’s lesson to discussing how each thing went.

Det är det!

ps. there’s an interesting dimension to this whole polyglot thing, viz. why are most of those who go online to boast about their language skills men? You could open up this question with a higher-level class, using this blog entry (and the subsequent comments) to guide you.

EFL shoes lesson

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The only two people I’ve ever met who have never worn shoes were 1. a stark-raving mad bloke I once met on a beach in Northeast Brazil and 2. my ten-day-old daughter. Everybody else wears shoes and has lots and lots of stories to tell about them. This is a speaking lesson in which students talk about their personal footwear histories: favourite pairs, fashion disasters, biggest wastes of money, etc. A good way to introduce the lesson is to show them the above painting and ask them who painted it (A: Vincent Van Gogh). Then elicit some ideas as to what kind of person the shoes belonged to, what sort of life they lived, etc. Once you’ve done that, tell them about the pair you’re wearing (think in advance of some entertaining detail to share, e.g ‘I bought these Birkenstocks because my wife objected to me buying another pair of Crocs’) and then ask them to tell their partner about the pair they’re wearing. Then they can move onto the worksheet.

Students sometimes find it a bit of an odd topic at first but when they get going they find they have lots to say, because actually it’s just a way to get them to talk about their memories, tastes, aspirations, etc in a fresh way from an unusual angle. Every five or so minutes they can change partners. Make sure they’re not just going down the list of topics from the top – they can choose whatever they want to talk about in any order. Also encourage them to ask follow-up questions and respond to what they hear, using the expressions on the worksheet. The short interview format lends itself very well to their filming the conversations on their phones, so that they have a recording of their English which they can then use for all sorts of purposes – they could write up the interviews for a ‘magazine article’ or edit them together to make an amusing short film of the whole class to stick on YouTube. Or, if you fancy politically enlivening/depressing your students, you could open up the thorny political question of who made their shoes, which country they live in, what kind of shoes they wear, etc, and then get them to research and write about that for homework. One thing that’s not a good idea is to write up the proverb ‘you shouldn’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes’, and then get them to swap shoes and walk around the school. I’ve tried to do that twice and it was not popular in the slightest. Anything that’s not that will work wonders, I promise. If it doesn’t, get in touch with me and I’ll send you a pair of genuine Made-in-Mexico fayuca Crocs.

WORKSHEET TO PRINT OUT/PUT ON BOARD:

Today you’re going to talk about shoes. Ask your partner about:

  • How many pairs of shoes they have
  • How many pairs of shoes they actually need
  • The most expensive pair they’ve ever owned
  • The cheapest pair they’ve ever owned157378
  • A pair they wore even though they hurt like hell
  • The coolest pair they’ve ever owned
  • The oldest pair they still have
  • The newest pair they bought
  • A pair of summer shoes
  • A pair of boots
  • A pair they miss
  • A pair they regret buying
  • A pair they’d love to own
  • A pair they really should throw away, but can’t for some reason
  • A pair they’ve hardly worn
  • A brand of shoe they hate (eg. Crocs)

* by the way if you really want some shoe-related idioms to ‘sell’ the lesson to the students, here are some I can think of the top of my, er, shoe: put yourself in someone’s shoes; big shoes to fill; when you greet a stranger look at his shoes; if the shoe fits, wear it; the shoe’s on the other foot; step into someone’s shoes; bossy boots; get the boot; tough as an old boot, the boot’s on the other foot, put the boot in, let sleeping Crocs lie, etc.

Lesson Plan: Features of a language (int upwards)

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In celebration of my recently having welcomed my 850,000th visitor to this site, I decided to share one of my favourite ready-made lessons. It’s one I’ve done dozens of times and it’s always worked really well. It encourages students to think carefully about the grammatical features of English and how it compares to their own language(s). In the process they have in-depth and important discussions about what the function of a particular form (eg. continuous aspects) actually is.

It’s designed for multilingual classes but it could easily be adapted for monolingual groups by simply asking each group to discuss their opinions as to whether or not their main language has such features. It could end with the students presenting their ‘ideal’ language to the whole class, followed by further discussion of why plurals are necessary in English, what the function of countable nouns is, etc. They could then write a short essay for homework reflecting on what they like and don’t like about English and why.

Features of a language

1. Does your partner’s language have all these features? Find out!

Language feature

Partner 1

Partner 2

Subject-Verb-Object eg: I love you

Articles eg: The weather is terrible! I’d like a coffee

A perfect aspect eg: I have been to China

A continuous aspect eg: I am learning English

Cases: eg: He loves her; She loves him

Prepositions eg: We are at the airport; I am going to Swansea

Auxiliary verbs eg: Does he like coffee? I didn’t go out last night

Tenses eg: I speak Spanish; We spoke Spanish when we were on holiday

Verb conjugation eg: She likes cheese

The passive eg: My bag was stolen

Countable nouns eg: I am looking for some informations

Irregular verbs eg: I am, you are, she is

Modal verbs eg: must, should, can

Capital letters in nationalities and languages eg: Austria, Chinese

Plurals: eg: dogs; cats; people

Fixed word order eg: I like very much chocolate very much

Reversed order in questions eg: You are South American; are you Brazilian?

2. Now, imagine that we were going to invent an entirely new language which was easy to learn. Which features would you need to include and which could you do without?

Language feature

An ideal language (yes/no)

Subject-Verb-Object eg: I love you

Articles eg: The weather is terrible! I’d like a coffee

A perfect aspect eg: I have been to China

A continuous aspect eg: I am learning English

Cases: eg: He loves her; She loves him

Prepositions eg: We are at the airport; I am going to Swansea

Auxiliary verbs eg: Does he like coffee? I didn’t go out last night?

Tenses eg: I speak Spanish; We spoke Spanish when we were on holiday

Verb conjugation eg: She likes cheese

The passive eg: My bag was stolen

Countable nouns eg: I am looking for some informations

Irregular verbs eg: I am, you are, she is

Modal verbs eg: must, should, can

Capital letters in nationalities and languages eg: Austria, Chinese

Plurals: eg: dogs; cats; people

Fixed word order eg: I like very much chocolate very much

Reversed order in questions eg: You are South American; Are you Brazilian?

Learning Metaphors lesson – good fun and very useful

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You’re a teacher. You’re in a classroom, and you’re teaching a class. But where do your students think they are? Do some of them feel like they’re in prison, while others are just hanging out with their mates and having fun? Is there anyone who feels like they’re in a courtroom, or that they’re being experimented upon? This is a great activity for helping your students reflect on their experiences of learning English, and also for you to find out what they really think of your classes. It should take around 30 mins. You can try it with high pre-int upwards, and as you’ll see it can easily be extended into all sorts of other activities.

Procedure

Stage 1: Briefly tell your students about a classroom language learning experience you’ve had. It could be good or bad, but make sure you compare it with something, e.g.: being in the army, being back at primary school, being on trial…put them in pairs and tell them to compare similar experiences. After 3 minutes, gather a couple of experiences, encouraging them to think about what it was like, e.g.: “sounds like being at a party!” or “sounds like a disco!”.

2. Tell your class they’re going to look at some metaphors for learning English (make sure they understand what a metaphor is). Tell them you’re going to start with a memory game: you’re going to show them some photos and you want them to try to remember all the things they see, and then write down all those they can remember.

3. Silently show them this presentation once.

4. On their own, then in pairs, students write down all those they can remember.

5. Show them this and let them write down the ones they missed.

6. Clarify any vocab issues and make sure they’ve all got them written down.

7. Write up on the board:

‘A classroom can be like a ___________ because…’

‘A classroom should be like a ___________ because…’

‘A classroom shouldn’t be like a ___________ because…’

8. Make sure they understand the difference between the three phrases. Give them one example for each. Try to use places which were not in the presentation.

9. Students in pairs write sentences. It works well if they write each one on a post-it note, if you have any. (10 mins)

10. Student stick their sentences up on the wall, walk round reading the others and ticking the ones they like. If they don’t understand one of them, they can seek out the pair who wrote it and ask them what they meant.

HW: If you and they like, they could write a paragraph or short essay on ‘the ideal classroom’, using the ideas they’ve come up with in class.

Çok kolay!

EFL Fake News lesson plan

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This is a plan for a lesson I taught a couple of times before Christmas on the very timely subject of fake news. I did it with Politics and International Relations students on University courses, but it could be very easily adapted to a more conventional EFL context. The lesson develops their reading, writing and discussion skills and is aimed at upper-int and upwards. It should take about 90 minutes. My students really enjoyed the class and produced some interesting responses and some very imaginative pieces of writing.

Procedure

  1. Write the words ‘fake news’ on the board. Get your students to give you some examples. Have a couple to hand if they can’t (if you’re in Italy, like I am, you could always show them this). (5 mins)

  2. Explain you’re going to give them a presentation in which they will look at how to tell the difference between facts and opinions.

  3. Take them through this presentation, doing the practice exercise in pairs and clearing up any confusion at the end. The final slide directs them to where they can do further practice online. (15-20 mins)

  4. Tell them you’re going to read together an article about a ‘fake news sausage factory’. Elicit ideas about what that might be (Ans: it’s a website which produces and distributes fake news stories – don’t tell them that yet). (5 mins)

  5. (If they have internet access) Direct them to the article online or (if they don’t) hand out paper copies of the article. Instruct them to skim the beginning of the article to check if their guesses were correct. Give them two minutes and then get feedback; clarify if they’re confused. (5 mins)

  6. Put these questions up on the board. Students work through them in pairs. Monitor and give the occasional mild hint to those who are struggling. With weaker upper-int students let them use (but not overuse!) a dictionary. (15 mins)

  7. Go through the factual answers, also eliciting the appropriate part of the text. (5 mins)

  8. Make sure you leave time for discussion of the more subjective questions. (5 mins)

  9. If you have time and the students are willing, you can get the students to do a short writing task. Depending on their level, get them (individually or in pairs) to write the first paragraph or more of a fake news article about someone in the news in their country. (15 mins)

  10. Students stick their articles on the wall, read the others and choose their favourite (5-10 mins).

  11. Homework: Get them to redraft and extend their writing.

  12. Additional reading for very strong students: direct them to this.

Bob’s your uncle; Nora’s your aunt :-).

Two fun activities for very high-level classes

In celebration of my having recently welcomed my 2,000th visitor to this now two-month-old site, I decided to share two of my favourite activities for EFL classes.

A rejoinder: these activities are for very high level classes with whom you have an excellent rapport and who are immune to a bit of very bad language (NB do not do the first activity if you might lose your job as a result).

Activity 1: Why?

The first activity is great for getting the students to practise thinking on their feet, quickly applying whatever language they have in order to negotiate subjects they probably haven’t discussed in English before.

Procedure

1. Warmer: Ask the class if they have kids, younger siblings, etc. Elicit any examples of stupid or awkward questions they’ve been asked. Have a couple of your own examples to hand in case they can’t think of any. Tell them they’re going to play a game related to this theme, and you’re going to start by showing them someone demonstrating how the game works.

2. Show them this:

3. Ask them if they liked it and deal with any language issues (this may involve asking them if they want to watch it again – I’ve also made you a transcript and it’s here). Then tell them you’re going to start and then it’ll be their turns.

4. Tell them something random about yourself or the world, eg ‘It’s a nice day today’ or ‘I’m going to get my hair cut after class’ (ie. start with something light. If you begin with ‘I’m worried about Trump’ or ‘I read something about climate change that really scared me’ things will get very, very depressing very, very quickly). Elicit the question ‘Why?’. Try to answer each question in an entertaining way. You need to keep going until the whole thing collapses into absurdity, hopefully in the form of laughter.

5. Choose the most able student in the group to go first. Before they start, explain the rules: they can’t say ‘I don’t know’ and they can’t repeat an answer.

6. Feel free to step in if it seems that they’re being tortured – it needs to be in a spirit of fun.

If it works well (and this depends on your choosing the right class and ‘selling’ the idea to them by being entertaining when demonstrating it), this game can very rapidly lead to extremely profound (and silly) conversations about topics such as philosophy, psychology, history, science, etc. Then, if you (and they) like, you could use the questions that come up as the basis for a writing assignment or (if it is a nice day) prepare a questionnaire with the most impossible-to-answer questions that emerged and send them out onto the street. I’ve done this before and it works well, as people tend, when faced with EFL students with clipboards, to expect questions like ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ rather than ‘What is history?’ or ‘Why do numbers exist?’. You can easily get them to (consensually) film the voxpops they do and then use them in class in multifarious ways. Etc.

Activity 2: Sentence Stress Game

This activity is very easy to set up and huge fun to do.

Procedure

1. Write up on the board:

James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher. (Make sure you get the right number of ‘hads’ – it’s 11.)

2. Tell them this is a meaningful sentence, but there’s something missing – get them to tell you what it is (A: punctuation). Explain that they will be able to make sense of the sentence if they practise saying it out loud, thinking about which words to stress and where to pause.

3.Put them in pairs and get them to practise. Rotate the pairs every three or so minutes for about ten minutes or so, or until most of them have more or less got it.

4. Elicit the punctuated version (James, while John had had “had had”, had had “had”. “Had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.) and put it on the board. Check their understanding by asking who got the right answer (A: James). Drill it as you go.

5. Write up the following sentence:

The rat the cat the dog bit chased escaped.

6. Put them in pairs and ask them to rewrite the sentence.

7. Monitor carefully, not offering any specific suggestions. See who ‘gets’ it first.

8. Elicit the correct answer (something along the lines of ‘the dog bit the cat, which chased the rat, but the rat escaped’). Write up the original sentence in the following form and then drill it, moving your hands up and down to demonstrate the right ‘tone’ – encourage them to do the same:

the rat escaped.

the cat chased

the dog bit

9. If you have time and your students seem to be enjoying it, write up the following sentence:

What did you bring that book I didn’t want to be read to out of up for?

10. Ask if anyone has seen this sentence before (one or two might have, but tell them not to give the game away). Put them in pairs and ask them to talk about who is speaking, to whom, and when. Give them three minutes or so, rotate them if they’re struggling.

11. Elicit the ‘real’ context (young child talking to parent at bedtime). Drill the sentence.

12. For a final whole-class activity, get them to identify the purpose of each preposition.

Et voilà! Feel free to let me know how it goes (except if you get sacked). And thanks for visiting my site :-).

Getting your class to steal things from shops



For anyone who thinks that this blog should probably have something to do with teaching, like I do, here is a lesson plan I made up in my head while I was ‘Just Sitting There’ thinking hard about shoplifting and what the hell I’m gonna do tomorrow in class…

Shoplifting Lesson

Show students something you can claim to have stolen – bananas or Ipods work wonders. Ask them how much they think it cost. Tell them you it didn’t cost you anything, and try to convince them that you nicked it.

Say ‘No, haha, of course it’s not stolen’ and show them the receipt (‘ask for ‘un recibo, por favor” (Time Out Madrid, 2002)) (unless of course you did steal it, that is, in which case Hey hey!, well done, I’m jealous).

See if they know any other words for ‘steal’ – teach them nick, swipe and ‘five-fingered discount’. Elicit Shoplifting.

Ask them if they’ve ever taken anything from a shop without paying. If no, tell them you understand they might be shy, and put them in groups to ‘share their secrets’.

In pairs or threes or whatever, give them the following questions to discuss:

Have you ever stolen anything from a shop?

Do you know anybody else who shoplifts regularly?

Would you ever nick anything from a shop? If so, under what circumstances?

Get feedback on questions – get one in each group to ‘report’ back and try to find some way of getting the others to contribute instead of just staring at you when you’re not the one talking.

Have a quick vote on who thinks it’s right or wrong to shoplift. If you have someone who is opposed to it under any circumstances whatsoever, try not to spit on them as you put them in the same group with the one who you most suspect of having a criminal record. Or alternatively, stick them in a pair with the one who hardly ever….says…………..any……………………

thing.

Give them the following questions:

Do you think it’s right or wrong to shoplift? Why/why not?

Is stealing from local shops the same as stealing from supermarkets? Why/why not?

Do you know anyone who’s ever get caught shoplifting? Did you feel sorry for them?

See if anyone knows about the €350 thing. Briefly ask them what they could steal ‘for’ €350. Tell them that all the things they’ve mentioned are basically free if you’re prepared to maybe lose face a little in your local community.

Tell them they’re going to practice their shoplifting skills. Because they’re just practising, they will have to take it in turns to be the thief and the shop assistant, or if you have or prefer threes, the third one can be the manager.

EITHER tell them you didn’t have time to prepare properly, and hand them some post-it notes so they can write role-cards for the other pairs. Remind them that you want to practice as realistically as possible, so they should think of a variety of people in different shopping places – supermarkets, chinese shops, newspaper & porn kiosks, off-licenses, the fucking Body Shop, and so on.

Get down into your Tefl Crouch and help them write their role-cards.

OR alternatively you could use these ones I made earlier.

Swap round the role-cards and tell them to get practicing…

..and then all you have to do is wander round giggling and waiting for the bell to ring, which, what with my appalling sense of …. timing, should have been about 35-40 minutes ago.