Soaring with Swallows – Making lessons fun with what students really want!

This is a workshop I gave at ETAS (Switzerland) Professional Development day in September 2021. Apologies to the participants for the delay in sharing this, but you know…life!

So this workshop was really easy to prepare, I went into school and asked a couple of classes what I should talk about. One of the suggestions was to “tell teachers what we really want and don’t like in English class”. This was a popular one so the second step was getting students to write a list of activities they really enjoyed – or didn’t! This resulted in a great chat where we remembered all the fun things we’d done together, and most of the photos here were sent to me by students who had kept them!

  1. Ponders, Thunks & Fun Facts

I like to start the lesson with a general knowledge fact or something to ponder upon. This is handy as apparently my students enjoy it too! It gives us a chance to “get into” English, and let some students shine when they don’t necessarily in other areas of language class. For a list of ponders check out this previous post :https://fabenglish-ideas.com/2019/01/28/what-day-do-most-burglaries-take-place-and-other-ideas-to-get-students-thinking/

2. Trips Out

Some graffiti at the end of our street

Trips out don’t have to be hard to organise and complicated, especially in these days of lockdowns and rules changing almost daily. If your class is old enough get them to go and check out something locally before class and then take the class on a “guided tour” next lesson. If they’re younger then just take them to the local park and do the same during class time. You can even to trips to the playground, elsewhere in the school, an exchange trip to the German class next door. We have had presentations of trees, bus stops, bins…

3. Using Our Phones

Of course they love this, it’s hard for some to go a whole hour without using their phone anyway so why not embrace this! Use them for research, use them in literature class to guess the book using emojis (👻 🏰 🇩🇰🤴🗡️ – write your guess in the comments below!), and of course for filming students – this is a brilliant way to be able to keep some trace of speaking in portfolios, to be able to take time later to go over it for feedback, to keep it and show students the progress they’ve made over a year.

Here, I gave students a job add:

and then asked them to film themselves applying for the job.

My holidays

Their phones are full of photos that they show and share, so make the most of this natural opportunity to do it in English, it’s a great way to add a new twist to the old “what I did in the holidays” activity. They can show their neighbours, of if your classroom is dead swish like mine they can airdrop them onto the beamer! Holidays, family, pets, my best moments, things I have done since… (present perfect) all these topics can be brightened up with a few snaps!

4. Projects

Something about the word “project” lights up their eyes, especially when used with the word “invent”. Basically any subject can be made more interesting with asking the students to invent their own… animal, menu, school, … here we created our own planets after studying the solar system.

5. Visits

Like trips out, this doesn’t have to be complicated, I’ve dragged my friends in to talk about their jobs, my kids to talk about England, and here I managed to drag in a former student (he was much smaller before!!) and the students interviewed him about his hobbies. Even better he took the time to tell them why English was so important in his job now!

6. Games

Any games, scrabble, pictionary (pictionary air uses an “airpen” and an app for phones – ticking all the boxes), using lego, brainboxes, Name 5, Don’t say it, Who am I… All great at secretly practising vocabulary or question formation.

7. Connecting to the World

Students said they enjoyed activities that linked them to the real world so we try and join any challenge we find, the 100 word challenge is great for this https://100wc.net As is writing letters;

The queen always answers!!

Recently we joined an online challenge to reproduce artworks in our own environment:

8. Being given a choice

This was very important and can be done so easily, just ask would they prefer to do the listening or the reading first, offer a couple of texts on different subjects – especially of different levels, etc.

9 And…although we didn’t have time to go into detail on everything here, this is a list of other things they mentioned.

When the teachers ask a question and then LISTEN TO OUR ANSWER!

A mixture of TTT and STT

Students coming to the board

Mindmaps (especially to revise)

Students giving presentations

The right speed

10. What they don’t like: Of course when talking about what we like, we always have to mention what we don’t, in fact students seem to prefer talking about food/films/sports etc that they hate!

Long tests (short and frequent please)

Doing the same thing for too long

Copying too much from the board

Lectures

No images

Boring stuff!