10 reasons to attend a conference


  1. A day or more surrounded by the most motivated and vibrant group of people you can imagine, I have never attended a conference anywhere that was attended by morose, unmotivated teachers – they all stay home!



2. The chance to reflect on life as well as teaching, at   ETAS AGM this weekend Marjorie Rosenberg’s plenary about stretching out of our comfort zones – a subject dear to my heart this year.


3. Not to mention practical ideas that I can use to tweak my lessons next week, I always feel I’ve got value out of a conference if I’ve got a few ideas to share with colleagues just to show the boss I was really working there!


4. I even get ideas from the location itself! This was from the walls of one of the workshop rooms, so I “borrowed” a complete project on Sherlock Holmes.


5. A load of great new resources to look through at the book exhibition, as well as freebies. If you hang around the book exhibition when they’re clearing up on the last day some publishers give away stuff rather than taking it back home.


6. The chance to meet some brilliant people, this year I met the amazing swissssirja at ETAS, who has promised she’ll blog again soon! Over the years I’ve met people who have become really good friends, such as the fantastic IP&SEN SIG gang, and the ETAS tribe.


7. The chance to visit new places, thanks to conferences I’ve been to Frankfurt, Harrogate, Athens, Glasgow, Paris, Brighton, Toulouse, Lisbon, Manchester, Grenoble,  Madrid, Birmingham, and loads of places around Switzerland.


8. The opportunity to spoil myself in a yummy hotel with a great friend instead of doing my usual weekend chores( is that really naughty of me?!)


9. New places to go running – pack your trainers, a great way to discover the conference town as well as essential airing of brain matter.


10. As Marjorie mentioned in her plenary, there’s also the chance to stretch myself out of my comfort zone, by giving talks in these conferences I take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about subjects that interest me. While I’m certainly no expert I try and learn enough so I can share these ideas with other teachers.

And finally I feel that as teachers, it is essential we keep up our CPD. I realise I’m very lucky to have the time and finances to attend these events, but trust me, if you can manage to go to an ELT conference – you won’t regret it!


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The Teacher you want to be – Teaching Resolutions

This was a great workshop given by Colin MacKenzie at the recent TESOL France colloquium. Colin asked some very useful questions and really got me thinking, and is especially useful at this time of year when many of us are looking to improve our teaching habits in the New Year.

Colin recommended journalling your answers to the following questions and see what comes up:

What areas are you good at?

I think I am good at encouraging critical thinking – I try to play devil’s advocate and push students to think a bit deeper. I’d like to think I support students who need a little extra.

What do you enjoy doing?

Having a laugh! Project work, fun class activities.

What are your positive characteristics?

I’m open-minded, positive, have and encourage a growth mindset. I’m hard-working and want to make a difference.

What are you not good at?

I talk too much, I don’t listen enough, I’m not very organised and waste time looking for stuff I’ve mislaid. I also have to make an effort to follow through projects I start.

What do you NOT enjoy doing?

Marking! And a lot of the testing we are supposed to do in our school, it takes up a lot of learning time.

Characteristics that hinder you? 

I’m a starter not a finisher and have a monkey brain!

How would you like to improve?

I plan to organise my CPD better next year and find time to read more articles and research. I’d also like to think of different ways to go about evaluation.

What’s stopping you?

Mainly time, which as we know is not really an excuse – we have the time to do anything, but not everything, so I guess what is stopping me is what I’m making a priority.

How can you overcome that?

By prioritising my priorities (easier said than done!)


As we know SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. To be even more sure of achieving your goals you should also be Enthusiastic about them and make them Relevant.

Colin also suggested declaring your goals to someone but from what I’ve read elsewhere the jury is out on that one, some suggest that telling people about your goals gives you the same feeling as if you’d already achieved them, thus making them less likely.

Let me know what your teaching resolutions are!

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How to get them writing

I have an uncomfortable relationship with writing, I mean I know it’s important, parents are always asking me if they do plenty of writing – especially those of higher level or English speaking students – it is one of those areas where there’s always progress to be made, or so it would seem.

It’s just soooo boring, sitting there watching them write, or worse, hovering over their shoulder and correctly every mistake as it comes out of their pen. I just feel like it’s a cop out, to have them working while I sit there twiddling my thumbs.

So, here’s a few things to make it less tedious, for all concerned:

5 Minute Sprints

A great way to activate vocabulary or evaluate students’ needs at the start of a topic, or revise what was done in a previous lesson. Just write up the title and ask students to write as much as they can in 5 minutes. As I’m really lazy  into self- and collaborative correcting, after the time is up I have a nip round and look at the work, and then write up fake examples of common errors on the board for the class to correct together, or I remind students of some forgotten rules and ask everyone to correct at least three things in their text, or add three adjectives, or find synonyms for certain words, like nice, good, bad, interesting…

Collaborative Writing

Get students to write a text together, sharing ideas etc. In a group one of them can be Brains, Dico-boy, Grammar Guru, the Punctuation Posse, whatever you need, play on their strengths. This is a great way to get students with learning difficulties involved in writing, and it takes the trauma out of individual production.

The Reverse Reading Comprehension

This is a great activity for collaborative writing, it’s also a brilliant idea if you’re filling in at the last moment. Give the students a set of reading comp questions, either from a text or just make them up, then ask them to write the text to fit the questions. Explain they can make it as difficult or easy as they like, for example they don’t have to say “Paul is 72”, they could say he is a pensioner, using his bus pass, or mention a some famous event that happened when he was, say 30.

Once they’ve finished and checked their work, they swap with other groups, answer the questions and give them back to be marked by the “author” group. If the questions were from a text you can always finish the lesson by giving them the original, or ask them to read it at home.

Try see it this way

Some of the writing tasks can be too simple for higher level students, so try and shake things up a little, when students are asked to write a letter or a review, any text, give them the instructions as usual and add one final one… and write it from the viewpoint of the head, an old lady, etc. Another thing you can do is give everyone their “character” on a post-it, when students have finished writing they read each others and guess where they were coming from.

Collaborative Feedback

I got this idea from a workshop but can’t remember whose, so if it’s yours please shout out so I can credit you!

After the students have written their work stick it up on the walls, everyone goes round reading the work and stick post-its on it which note things the students liked or though were good. Another variation is to give them highlighter pens and as them to highlight good parts.

If you want to “correct” as well as giving positive feedback then I suggest students write grammar reminders or correct spellings on the board, NOT on the original work, and let students keep all the positive things about their work.


You’ve probably played this yourself. Give each student or pair a piece of paper, and ask them to complete a first phrase, “It was Sunday morning, the weather was_____, and (name of someone) was _____(what were they doing).

They then fold the sheet to hide their work and pass it to their neighbour. Continue the story for as long as you like, being sure to give them a framework to keep things “logical”. When this has gone on long enough ask them to open it out, and you’ll probably end up in fits of laughter!

Jazzed up Journals

Rather than just writing an informative text about a place or country, my colleague Genial Deutsch asks them to write their “road trip diary”. They can add tickets, boarding passes, souvenir postcards (real or invented) and I think it’s a brilliant way to personalise written work.

The Cop Out!

If a student finishes early then they pick a card from my fast finishers box and write their answers while they wait for the others to finish an activity.

Please feel free to share your ideas below

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Great games for lessons

All too often when we talk about games in language lessons we mean some “fun” way of practising the present perfect for with a dice or a board for example, I’m not sure all my students are convinced by this!

There are however loads of “real” games that are fun, even for lower level classes.


Headbands is great fun, you have to ask questions such as “am I an animal?” etc.

My students also love Werewolf; a kind of role play game which doesn’t need much vocabulary either.

Then of course there’s Taboo, which also has a junior version.

All the Brainboxes are fabulous, and Choices in a jar are a great way of getting conversations going.

What about you? Please leave a few suggestions in the comments box.



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Does this story ring a bell? – Presenting Shakespeare to teens

Imagine your dad had just died? How would you feel? (Obviously be careful that you know the family situation of your students first.)

Now imagine your mum remarried, how would you feel?

She married your uncle (dad’s brother), any thoughts?

Now you find out your dad may have been murdered, maybe by your uncle, what would you do?

Now read Hamlet, I like to start with Playing with Plays’ short version.

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Mood Boosters for Fast Finishers

I’ve talked before about Fast Finishers as you can see in the category section to your right  and I’ve even produced an ebook full of them!

Here‘s a bunch of ideas for creating cheer and wellbeing at the same time. As with all the FF ideas, cut them up & throw them in a box, any students that finishes an activity early can choose one and get on with it autonomously. They can also be used as whole class ideas as warmers or fillers.


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#ELT Project Ideas for teens


Write a letter – last year we wrote a letter to the queen, who replied. This year we wrote to Harry, who apparently has been to busy to answer. So next year, rather than write one letter from the whole class the students are going to write one each, or in pairs, then we should get at least a few answers.

Series Club – The plan is to choose a series during our first meeting and then fix a regular date to get together and watch an episode and discuss it in English. Friday lunch usually works well, and the main rule of course is NO SPOILERS!

Book Club – This was hard to get off the ground last time as not many students could read whole novels in English and we wanted to read YA fiction, not easy readers. So the solution we have come up with is to read the book in whatever language you are comfortable in and then discuss it over lunch in English.

Whereas the series club meets once a week, the book club meets once a month – we need time to read them after all!

Weekly magazine– with news from current events and from the school. One student suggested an e-format to avoid wasting paper, so maybe we’ll set up a blog and have a weekly columnist.

Make a “how to” video- Youtube is full of videos showing you how to do anything from change a car battery to how to birth kittens ( don’t ask!) so we’ve decided to make our own, not sure on what yet, but not birthing kittens that’s for sure, maybe hobbies and skills, or learning for tests, getting the teacher in a good mood, etc.

Make a board game– This can be a simple snakes and ladders format or something more complicated, and include questions or challenges on any theme.

Charity Project– Easy to set up and run, and very motivating. The students research and present different associations they would like to support and the class votes for their favourite. Then we brainstorm different money-making ideas including cookie sale, writing & selling class newspapers, tombolas,  etc. At the end of the project if possible we invite a charity representative to come in and receive the money we raise.

Time Capsule – Get students to collect articles and write a description of them for future generations – “this is a coke can, coke is a drink that…” – you get the idea. Then bury it somewhere in the school with a sign (like those to tell you which plants are in the ground) or a map left somewhere safe – remember to include a date that it can be dug up.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, please share your ideas below!

BTW – This has been posted before but I’m clearing up my blog – procrasticlearing to avoid writing my study plans, and so I’ve just moved it here – please don’t think I’d fob you off by republishing the same stuff!)

Posted in #YL, Advanced English Programme, Fab ideas, Fab YL ideas | 3 Comments

Things I’ll be doing in the first week back

It’s that time of year again and I don’t know about you but I’m really looking forward to going back to school. I always think it’s a good idea to start the year with some original activities because a) the students’ books never arrive until week 3 and I hate the thought of photocopying a load of stuff they’ll just throw out afterwards and b)I think it encourages students to see the English class as a place where they can do fun stuff, use their creativity and take risks and c) it will lull them into the false impression that my classes are fun!

It’s also time to take a look at some CPD to make sure my students aren’t the only ones progressing in my classroom.

So here’s some of the stuff I’ve got planned:

a) The paperclip test

Those of you old enough to be familiar with headway first edition might remember a similar thing with a cabbage. The idea is to ask students to come up with as many alternative uses as possible for a paperclip. I read somewhere (but can’t find where!) that the average person can find about 10-15 uses, however NASA use this as a test to employ engineers and are looking for about 200 uses!!

b)F.A.I.L. lesson

Check out this  FAIL lesson about famous failures:

Who do you think the following famous people are ?

This person didn’t speak until he was four-years old. He also failed his entrance exam to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic school located in Zurich at sixteen-years old. And, even his father, up until the time of his death, considered his son to be a major failure. After eventually graduating from college he worked as an insurance salesman, but quit after some time because he failed at that as well.

When she was 9-years old, her group, Girl’s Tyme, appeared onStar Searchand lost.

At the age of sixty-five-years old, he set out with his famous recipe and only a $105 social security check to his name, in an attempt to sell his franchise model. 1,009 restaurants rejected him before one accepted his offer.

He intended to earn his PhD in literature Lincoln College, Oxford, but failed and subsequently dropped out of school. After he wrote his first book, And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street, it was rejected 28 separate times.

He was rejected during an early Hollywood screen test when the producer stated, “Can’t act. Slighty bald. Dances a little.”

His first company went bankrupt. His second company also went south when, after a dispute with partners, he was forced to walk away with only the rights to his name.

After you’ve taken a guess check out https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/21-famous-failures-who-refused-to-give-up_us_57da2245e4b04fa361d991ba?guccounter=1for the correct answer.

Write a resume of the successes of one of these people.

What have you learnt about « failure » ?

3) I’ll be printing out the brilliant Learning scientists posters to put up and then we’ll discuss leaning strategies – time spent discussing successful learning strategies is never wasted!

4) After a brilliant weekend training session on positive discipline I’ll definitely be using some of these resources.

5) I’ll be registering for and preparing the workshops I’ll be giving at a few conferences such as ETAS PD day,  TESOL France, and putting in a proposal for IATEFL Liverpool 2019. If you’ve never put in a talk or workshop proposal for IATEFL or your local/national ELT association then it’s a must – the best way to learn is to explain to someone else, and teaching is all about sharing knowledge so go for it!

6) Organising a girls’ night out! Don’t forget self-care is essential for teachers, you deserve and need a break and your lessons will be even better after a break doing something you love!

Whatever you get up to this new term, enjoy it and let me know what you’ve got planned!

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Another look at art class

The other day I came across this fab idea on Facebook and copied it in class. It’s a great way to introduce some classic (and not so classic) artwork in class.

Firstly I handed out some famous painting flashcards that students had to describe and give their opinion on.

Then I asked students to choose one or find a famous painting online and re-enact it. The results are fab!!


Just in case you don’t recognise the original the students are holding it!



And finally a group effort!


The language generated, not only in terms of describing and discussing art, but especially later when students had to direct each other into the right positions, was just amazing!

Remember, this is Wafia Sboui’s cool idea!


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10 things to do when you finish the coursebook

I don’t want to rub it in but we have less than two months of school left and that time is filled with school trips, bank holidays, exams etc.

This means we’re arriving at the time when we get to the end of the text book, now this post is not a debate on whether or not, or how to use a coursebook, I teach in a secondary school and am expected to use one so choose a good one and supplement it as I go along – so there!

Anyway, the “programme” is more or less done so now we can do some other stuff:

  1. Tapescript drama

Using the typescript as the dialogue, have students act out the scenes. Depending on the actual dialogue these mini-plays may take on very different aspects to the original book version.

2. Replace the characters

The characters and “celebrities” are often quite dated in books, -hardly any of my students have a clue who Victoria & David Beckham are! So ask students to rewrite a text or two with a celebrity of their choice – or themselves, including similar information to the original.

3. A good old cloze text

I don’t do this very often at all so when I do the students actually quite enjoy it. Give them a text they’ve already studied with various words blanked out. You can focus on verb tenses, prepositions of time (mine definitely find that one a challenge), or just give the first part and ask them to finish it in their own words.

4. Dictagloss

As above, use a text you have already seen in class. Here’s an explanation if you’re unsure what a dictagloss is, or just want to see if you do it differently.

5. Rewire Comprehension

I love this activity, (not least because it takes very little teacher time and can easily be done in replacement classes when someone thrusts a book into your hand and pushes you into a room of teens!) Just give the class the comprehension questions and ask them to write the written text or listening text themselves, using the questions to guide them. You can then get the groups to swap their finished versions and use them to do a basic comprehension exercise. You may find their version better than the original in the book, keep them for next year, or at the end of next year hand these new versions out to the class and ask them to find which original text they could replace, before having them do a similar thing, and so on to infinity and beyond!

6. Organise an Outing

Chances are there may be an end-of-term trip, so get the class involved. Explain the limits – time, financial, distance, etc. and ask the students to research activities or places to visit. they can then present them to the class who votes on where to go. If they will need extra accompanying adults ask them to find them, asking other teachers or parents. Giving students power and choice is a great way of getting them on board, and the resulting trip is fab for getting to know students in a different context. This is also a great way to get to know everyone at the start of term.

If you know the school won’t allow a trip at this time, and your students are old enough , then organise something on a Saturday afternoon, even bowling or cinema – you’ll be surprised at how many turn up.

7. Start planning next year

Ask students to brainstorm what they would actually like to get from their classes next year/term. This gives you chance to incorporate some of their ideas into your plans for the future. See above for the benefits of empowering students in their own learning.

8. Rewrite the book

This may seem a little ambitious but can be done at various levels, it also reveals how little students actually know their book, I’m always surprised (well, actually I’m not anymore) about how few students realise there’s a lexical list at the back of the book, and a grammar explanation and about a billion practice exercises, oh and there’s a few longer texts to read. If you don’t present these activities as “rewriting the book” half the class don’t even realise that they are related to the book they’ve just spent a year studying with!

  • Rewrite the chapter

Give students the headings and ask what they think it could talk about or what they would add. They can find texts or write their own to add under each topic. Can they find important people to include and research information on these people? Can they link these topics to current affairs?

  • Give the language points and have students come up with texts

When do we use suggestions? Or the past continuous? Ask the students when they do. You can give the language explanation from the side bar, and/or the vocabulary tool box (many of mine never see these side boxes when we read the book!) and ask them to come up with an original way of presenting this language to the rest of the class. Give each group a different section and your new book is almost written.

You can then form new groups which contain one member from each of the original groups to “teach” the members of this new group what they prepared with their original group.

  • Give the texts and have the students come up with the language points

Similar to the idea above but vice-versa, give each group a text/language presentation and ask them what they would teach from this. Students often find this quite challenging so it’s worth giving them a nudge, either when you go round or by writing titles on the board such as “prepositions”, “talking about the past”, “holiday vocab” which each group can choose from. Then get the groups to write their own grammar and vocabulary toolkits, which they can compare later to the version in the book.

  • Come up with something completely different

Ask the class what they think they should have learnt this year, what they would have done differently, ask them to give a rough outline of the book they wish they had. Groups or pairs can present these new versions to the class who chooses the best. A great chance to get the artists involved by designing the front cover.

9. What Have I learnt

This is such an important part of the learning process, it should be done at the end of every lesson, unit, etc. and if I’m so bossy about about telling you this it’s because I don’t do it enough at all. Ask students to have a think-pair-share about what they have learnt this year, what was easy/difficult/etc, how they learnt, what advice they would give next year’s class, which leads on to the final idea…

10. Write a letter to next year’s students

Ask the class to write a letter/survival manual for next year’s class, and then keep them to give the next year’s class, it’s a great way of introducing your class to new students, mine get to know important stuff such as “Mrs Harris likes chocolate”, “If you get her talking about star wars you won’t do any work all lesson”!

Bonus idea: There are a hundred ideas in 100 Activities for Fast Finishers that can be used when you’ve finished the coursebook 😉

Have a look at this article for some more ideas and if you’re already planning next year then take a look here.

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