Six Word Stories

In this post, I’d like to share a project we worked on earlier today. I’d like to point out that it was not a single lesson but a block of four 45-minute lessons, in which a group of ten teenagers (12-15 year-olds, 8 girls and 2 boys) worked on their Six Word Stories.

Here’s what we did.

20160323_081226Portraits (icebreaker): First, I asked students to make pairs (some of them didn’t know each other very well, which was to the good). I gave each student a large piece of paper and I asked them to draw a portrait of their partner. When drawing, they faced each other and they were about 2 meters apart so that they couldn’t see each other’s pictures very clearly. When they finished, I asked them to walk over to their partners, show each other the portraits and talk about them for a few minutes. I had even brought a mirror for them to check the quality of the product. 🙂  I pointed out that they were going to need the pictures later on.

20160323_082429Hemingway (background): I showed students a photo of Ernest Hemingway and told them about his famous six-word story: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. I asked them what the story was about and how they felt about it. I told them that the internet is full of six-word stories but some of them are quotes rather than stories. To demonstrate the difference between a story and a quote, I chose to compare Born a twin. Graduated an only child with Dark Places Have Room for Light. I said we were going to work on both types.

Guess the words (speaking): The goal of this stage was to give students an idea of what six-word quotes may look like. I gave each pair several random quotes I had found on the internet (see below). Student A’s task was to describe the words of the quote one by one while Student B tried to guess them and write them down. This was a useful speaking activity as well as vocabulary practice, and the students seemed to like it very much. Here are some of the quotes:

  1. One day, someday, I’ll be okay.
  2. I’m alone, but not lonely.
  3. I’m my own best teacher.
  4. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?
  5. The world is a scary place.
  6. Let me sleep. Wake me never.
  7. Think, hope, dream and make memoirs.
  8. Life is a dream – beautiful, mysterious.

20160323_092125Associations (vocabulary, grammar): Then we played a few games to practice making associations (and to get off the chairs for a while too). The ability to make associations was something the students needed later on in the lesson.

The last activity of this stage was this one: Students worked in two groups of five, completing the following phrases so that the sentences had exactly six words.

Life is….. Love is …. A friend is …. Dogs are ….. Being old is ….. Being young is…..  Time is….. Music is …… Happiness is ….. Art is ….. Children are …..  

Then the groups happily presented their products in front of the class. I was amazed by their poetic spirit!


Make your own six-word story

Facebook (inspiration): I said it was time for their life stories. But first, to motivate them, I told them about my wonderful PLN on Facebook. The night before the project, I asked my FB friends, i.e. English teachers from all over the world, to share their six-word stories. Needless to say, I instantly got a huge amount of answers. Obviously, my students were impressed!Výstřižek

YouTube (reading): For even more inspiration, I showed them this YouTube video, in which a teacher shares some six-word memoirs created by her seventh-grade class. I asked my students to watch the video and write down a couple of memoirs they liked. It was quite fast so they really had to pay attention when reading the sentences.

Tutorial (listening/writing): I told them that writing a good six-word memoir is not easy, but it can be fun if you know how to do it. I showed them this tutorial, in which the procedure is clearly explained and demonstrated. We followed the steps together and the students finally produced their own six-word memoirs.


Finalizing the product (writing): Finally, they made big posters using their portraits and the memoirs they had created.

20160323_103403 20160323_103639

What a wonderful time we had together!


Reported speech: personalized grammar activity

IMG_20160321_082618This is a quick post to share a grammar activity I did with my B1 students earlier today. The main focus of the lesson was reported speech, which, along with the present perfect tense, is one of the trickiest aspects of English grammar for Czech learners. I think that the reason why we don’t quite get reported speech is that it works differently in our mother tongue. When we say: I’m tired… the reported version is She said she is tired…. (not she was tired). It takes a lot of practice until it all eventually sinks in. I keep drawing graphs and doodles until my students finally reach the aha moment: Oh, I see! It is easy indeed.

Anyway, at the beginning of the activity, I changed the seating arrangement from horseshoe to circle. Then I asked each student to make up a sentence. It could be any personalized statement; the only restriction was the tense, i.e. I gave everybody a specific grammar tense to stick to (this was to make sure that the students would come across a variety of grammar structures). So Student 1 had to make a statement in the present simple, for example, Student 2 in the present continuous, Student 3 had to use a modal verb, etc. I handed out blank A4 sheets of paper. Each student wrote their sentence at the top of the page.

Student 1 then sent their sheet of paper with the sentence to Student 2 (S2 to S3, S3 to S4, and so on). Student 2 read Student 1’s sentence and wrote the reported version at the very bottom of the page. Then the same student (Student 2) folded the paper back so that Student 3 couldn’t see what Student 2 had previously written. So throughout the activity, everybody could only see the original statement. This went on until the original sheet came back to its author. The authors then unfolded (unrolled) the sheets and saw how the other students reported their statements.

So far, so good – an ordinary grammar exercise, you might say. But then I asked the authors of the original statements to give a brief feedback; they were supposed to read their original sentences, the correct versions of the reported statement plus share a couple of observations, e.g. how many students had made a mistake in their sentence, what the most common mistakes were, etc.

I believe students benefited from the activity for several reasons.

  1. The activity was personalized and student-centred; by making their own statements, the students were partly responsible for the content of the exercise.
  2. Apart from practising a variety of structures during the writing stage, everybody got some extra practice through the analysis of other people’s answers. Thus, each student’s attention was drawn to issues they might otherwise not have zoomed in on.
  3. Also, a few problematic aspects of reported speech we hadn’t considered/covered in the previous lessons emerged along the way (because unlike an exercise from a coursebook, the content as well as the outcome of the activity was unpredictable).
  4. The feedback was anonymous, i.e. nobody pointed at a specific student saying that it was his/her mistake.
  5. Finally, I believe that due to all the factors above, at least some aspects of reported speech will be more memorable.


Collaborative writing with a methodology tweak

20160317_101849 (1)It never ceases to amaze me that after so many years of teaching experience, I’m still learning new things concerning classroom methodology. Not only do I benefit from attending conferences and reading ELT blogs, but I also learn a great deal by observing my own students.

I’m sure that all of you have already done some kind of collaborative writing with your classes. It’s nothing new under the sun after all. Personally, I use collaborative writing activities quite often. I put students in small groups and usually give them some picture clues to follow. They put the pictures in a specific (not necessarily correct) order and then they create a story. The whole group is then responsible for one final product, i. e. one person is recording what all the members of the group agree on. Then they share the product with the rest of the class.

Today we did a similar thing in class, but I decided to change the procedure a bit. And the tweak paid off in the end. Based on my experience, when only one person is recording the story, the rest of the group is not as involved as they should be, even though they are active during the speaking stages. The smaller the group, the better, but even in a group of three, the writing student is usually the busiest. You can obviously give each student a different role (the writer, the coordinator, the researcher, etc.) or they can simply take turns when writing. Alternatively, you can try what I did today.

I demanded that each member of the group was writing, i. e. all the 3-4 students were producing the same thing at the same time – each of them on a separate sheet of paper.

I noticed that this method had some advantages in comparison with the traditional one.

  • All students were fully and equally involved throughout the whole activity.
  • The degree of language noticing increased dramatically because all of them concentrated on each word of the text – if someone was not sure how to spell a word, for example, they immediately checked with the others. Those who didn’t even realize they had made a mistake benefited too. Also, when only one student is writing, the listeners may think they know how to spell a word or how to make a correct sentence, but I think they actually don’t know until they pick up a pen a start writing.
  • The level of grammatical accuracy increased too because they all kept an eye on one another. It’s simply harder to make a mistake when you put a few heads together. So, if someone spotted a problem, they stopped the others and asked for clarification. Lots of rephrasing was happening at this stage.
  • For all the above reasons, the amount of language practice increased as well.
  • The level of collaboration seemed much higher too because of all the checking, clarifying and comparing.
  • Finally, the sharing stage was easier because each student had a copy of the story so they could take turns when reading.






Using the coursebook without the coursebook

20160312_140514It goes without saying that we teachers are creative and innovative creatures. Although we have all those colourful, glossy materials at our disposal, we can’t help making flashcards, handouts, jigsaw puzzles, crosswords and all the stuff that makes our lessons more interesting and our students more engaged. But not only are we creative; some of us are pretty cunning too – and I mean it in the best sense of the word.

Earlier today, I went to an interesting workshop by Matthew Smith (IH Brno) called Handsfree: Using the coursebook without the coursebook. I had obviously pondered the issue of coursebook-free lessons and Dogme teaching countless times before, but the idea of using the coursebook without the coursebook struck me as utterly groundbreaking.

The thing is that you follow the book as it is, but your students are not aware of it. In other words, you may use the visuals, tasks and exercises from a unit of a coursebook, but throughout the lesson, you present them as if you’ve created them yourself. Cunning, huh?

I believe this approach has quite a few advantages:

  • Your students will think you are the most creative creature in the world.
  • They will eventually come to believe that you work really hard because apart from grading their papers, you plan all those wonderful lessons every day.


  • I believe your students will be more engaged throughout the lesson because you will make them focus on the task, not on the book. They will keep their eyes on you or on one another. This, to me, appears more natural – at least in a communicative language classroom.
  • You will easily create the element of surprise and suspense since your students won’t be able to predict the next step of the lesson. This is particularly useful with teenagers and young learners. Moreover, based on my experience, fast finishers often secretly do the follow-up exercises before I ask them to. This is not a big deal, but let’s be honest, it can sometimes spoil our plans.
  • This approach is environment-friendly (and cheap) because in an ideal world, you basically only need one copy of the book – for yourself. Well, you’ll probably need to photocopy a page or two once in a while, but you will be able to project some stuff on the screen too. As a result, you may need to think of some new effective ways of using the board and the space around you. This may mean more work and more planning, but your teaching methods will inevitably become more varied and thus, the lessons will be more enjoyable.
  • Even if you have to use a coursebook (because, like me, you work at a state institution), at the end of the day, you can ask your students to open their books and tell them: look, we’ve done exercises 1,2,3,4,5 and 6. What a diligent bunch we are! These exercises can later serve as their homework assignment. In other words, your students will recycle what they did in the lesson (and they don’t even need a workbook!).

Thanks, Matthew! 🙂