A listening (drawing) & writing activity

I have this brilliant student called Aurelien, actually I have lots of brilliant students but this boy often comes up with ideas that I use in class or share with other students. The other day Aurelien and his partner came up with the following idea in a revision class, it’s simple, fun, and effective.

Read a story or article to the class, students draw pictures that represent what you are reading. Then in pairs they compare pictures and rewrite the story. As with a dictogloss the objective is to manipulate vocabulary and form correct grammatical phrases, not necessarily recite the whole text word for word.

That’s it – told you it was simple!

What I particularly love about all this (apart from the ideas to use in class!) is the whole idea of really exchanging with students, and learning from them. My journal encourages me to think about what I have learnt at the end of the day, it’s always a bit disappointing if I can’t think anything.

What have you learnt from yours students recently?

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Things to do with a paper clip


You’ve probably seen activities like this before, as many things as you can think of to do with a cabbage, a brick etc.

Apparently (or so I tell my students!) NASA use this creativity test in their selection process, I tell my students they expect at least 30 ideas.

At first this terrifies them, “we’ll never find that many”, but it also motivates them and encourages team work.

I’ve never had a class that couldn’t find thirty, and they leave the lesson with the confidence that comes from knowing they are as good as NASA technicians!

Posted in Creativity, Fab ideas, Fab YL ideas | 1 Comment

What day do most burglaries take place and other ideas to get students thinking

A few days ago I posted details of my whiteboard layout and mentioned “ponders”, these questions or phrases are written up in a corner of the whiteboard and give students something to ponder upon during lulls in the lesson or when they’ve finished an activity.
Sometimes they’re weird facts, or information on what special day it is (19th November is International Toilet day, no laughing matter when you realise that 62% of the world’s population does not have access to safe sanitation).
Sometimes I use books such as “Do you think you’re clever“, “Thunks“, or “QI – General Ignorance”
Here is a slelection for you:
Why should we buy shoes after lunch?
Cows cannot walk downstairs
Koalas sleep 22 hours a day
Hitler, Genghis Khan & Napoleon were afraid of cats
The average woman uses 24kg of lipstick during her life
Our eyes remain the same size all our lives, our ears and nose never stop going
You are 1cm taller in the morning
No piece of paper can be folded more than 8 times
The Velna and Nelba rivers in Poland cross at right angles and their waters do not mix
Most muppets are left handed
The top of the Eiffel tower leans away from the sun
The Romans used urine to clean their teeth
The human nose can remember up to 50,000 smells
Baked beans are not baked (they are stewed)
The most sold item at Walmarts is bananas
The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn
The word ‘oxymoron’ is an oxymoron
Most burglaries take place on Tuesdays
Film stars with an oscar live longer than those without
OK is the most popular word in the world
The black box is orange
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Whiteboard layout

This is what my board layout (and the back of my students’ heads!!) looks like, it’s a comforting routine – for the students and myself to fill it out at the start of every lesson, day and date goes in top right hand corner, a ponder* in the top left, what we did last lesson on the left side and today’s objectives at the top.
Under this “title” go the various phases, and homework goes on the right, with new vocab added below as we go along.
Writing it up at the start gives everyone a few moments to get into English learning mode, it gives me a few minutes to remember which group I’m with – especially on a day when I’m teaching back to back all morning and/or afternoon.
It also avoids overwhelm, everyone knows where the various information they need can be found, and thanks to the activity plan we know where we are in the lesson, and when it will finally be over!
Some students like to take a photo at the end of class, either because they have visual preferences (we do lots of mind maps in the central part!) or because they find writing notes or copying too much of a challenge.
* A ponder you ask? That’s the subject for another day!
What about you, do you have a particular layout you stick to?
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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!


Posted in Blethering, CPD, ETAS, wellbeing | 2 Comments

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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