Report on a stolen game

spiderman-2478977_960_720This is a short report on an activity we did in class earlier today. The idea was originally shared on Svetlana’s blog and I liked it so much that I decided to give it a try first thing Monday morning.

As Svetlana had originally designed the game for learners of business English to help them learn phrasal verbs, I knew right from the start that I’d need to adapt it. I ended up with three variations, each of them adjusted to the immediate needs of a particular group.

Here’s what I did. I printed out ten copies of the game board below (I chose the empty template to which I added numbers 1-15). At this point, I knew I would be able to recycle the material.


retrieved from


Variation 1 (12-year-olds, A2+ learners): 

I asked each student to choose 15 words from the vocabulary set we needed to revise. They wrote them on a separate piece of paper and numbered them 1-15. Students worked in pairs, defining the words.

Variation 2 (18-year-olds, B2/C1 learners): 

I asked each student in the group to make 15 interesting/personal/controversial questions they’d like to ask their partner. Students worked in pairs, asking each other their questions.

Variation 3 (16-year-olds, B1/B2 learners): 

IMG_20180115_074216Each pair got the game board plus each student got a set of 15 tasks (see image on the left). Students worked in pairs, completing the tasks.

The rules:

Svetlana’s objective: The player who manages to exit the spider’s web first wins the game.

My objective: As my aim was to get students to cover as many items on the lists as possible, I had to flip the objective of the game: the player who chooses the longest route to the exit, i.e. manages to step on most numbers, wins the game.

As I flipped the objective, I had to adjust the rules too. Similar to Svetlana’s instructions, in order to make a move, the player had to make a definition/complete a task/answer a question. To be less limited by the arrows, if they landed on the spider, the students were allowed to jump to any number they hadn’t covered yet. If they reached exit too soon (without having covered all the numbers), they could go back to number 1 and try a different route. If they landed on a number they had already covered, it was their partner’s turn.

While Variation 1 was just a short warm-up, Variations 2 and 3 panned out as 30-minute speaking activities.

Thanks, Svetlana! 🙂


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What to do when your students want to prove your incompetence

The other day, I joined in a very interesting conversation on Facebook. A colleague of mine started the thread by asking a question about a certain grammatical point. During the discussion, one of the participants suddenly posted this: “What do you do in case your student wants to prove you are an incompetent teacher of English?” I didn’t react because I didn’t have much to say at that point. But the question has lingered in my mind since …


Last week, a colleague of mine came to observe one of my lessons. The lesson went well and the students were brilliant. At one point, when explaining her health condition, one of the girls used the word conundrum. I didn’t know what exactly gave her the impression of me possibly not knowing the word but she noted, in a very non-threatening, casual way: “You know what conundrum is, right?” I nodded and quickly provided a synonym. Although I didn’t feel threatened in any way (I was being observed, remember?) and I was actually proud of my student’s vocabulary, deep inside I did feel I needed to prove myself (thus the synonym). However, by no means do I think she wanted to prove I was an incompetent teacher of English. But maybe, in a different situation, or if her tone of voice had been different, the poisonous idea of her trying to discredit me as a teacher might indeed have crossed my mind.

But life hasn’t always been a bed of roses. Many, many years ago, after I had just graduated from university, I had this student who liked asking me questions which I didn’t have answers to. I still remember the remark she once threw in: “Oh dear, what did they teach you at that school?!”Although I’m not faint-hearted, I felt devastated and my ego hurt. Moreover, I suspected that I couldn’t do much to prevent such situations.

Fast forward in time. Some years ago, a young colleague of mine got this challenging group of 17-year-olds. There was one boy who was particularly difficult to handle. His English was excellent (he was actually a maths genius) but he was terribly arrogant – especially towards female English teachers. I suspected that he had chosen this particular class because it was originally supposed to be taught by a native speaker. But then the NS had to leave unexpectedly and this young teacher joined our team. I met my colleague in the hall after her very first lesson with this challenging group. To my surprise, she looked very enthusiastic and told me with this triumphant tone in her voice that she had had the boy for breakfast. She said that he’d tried to convince her of something but she retorted: “Well, you know, I studied to become an English teacher for a couple of years so I think I know more than you do!.” Needless to say, this was her last victory. A war actually started that day.

I’m saying all this because I’m afraid there’s no recipe which solves the problem of challenging students. It doesn’t really matter how much you know as a teacher. Neither does it really help to have a set of ready-made responses when such a situation occurs. I’d say it all boils down to a combination of factors:

  1. the teacher’s confidence (which may or may not be relative to their age and the amount of knowledge).
  2. the teacher’s experience (which may or may not be relative to their age and the amount of knowledge).
  3. the teacher’s relationship with their students. Let’s face the fact that students sometimes know more than we do. We must simply accept this as a given and be ready to admit our error.
  4. the teacher’s enthusiasm and love for the subject/language they teach. Students can certainly sense the teacher’s enthusiasm or a lack thereof from miles away. There’s no way to deceive them. But, based on my experience, love is blinding – the light you shine will hide all your imperfections. 🙂
  5. the teacher’s knowledge. It goes without saying that it’s not enough to rely on the fact that you once studied to become an English teacher, so continuing professional development is a must. Plus, the more you know, the more confident you feel regardless of your age or experience.
  6. the teacher’s perspective. If the teacher is convinced that students are always on the lookout for their slip-ups, then, regardless of the truth, they will always perceive their students this way.


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A bit of PARSNIPing, i.e. mock presidential election


The topic of the last #Eltchat was controversial topics in teaching. We discussed some of the taboos and issues that make us cringe in class and the things that we normally tend to sweep under the carpet.

Some of the topics that came up during the chat were religion and politics. In the slow-burn mode of the chat, Cathy Bowden, an English teacher based in the Czech Republic, pointed out that here in the Czech Republic, “religion is just a non-issue for most, politics elicits waves of cynicism but no one gets upset”.

I agree with Cathy that there’s not much to worry about but still – I’m always on pins and needles whenever one of the above taboos comes up in class. Ironically, the reason behind my concern is not the knowledge of my own culture but rather the notion that some people in other parts of the world may actually find the topics disturbing. In other words, if I weren’t a member of an international community of English teachers, it wouldn’t even occur to me that I may get into trouble by discussing some of the PARSNIPs in class.

Anyway, as I’m typing this post (Saturday morning), here in the CR, we’re halfway through the 2018 presidential election. Although the Czech president doesn’t really have much political power, it’s a very important event. The thing is that the current president is a very controversial figure; he’s admired by half the Czech population while hated by the other.

Thus it isn’t really surprising that it was the election which my 18-year old students brought up in class yesterday. As they only recently came of age, this is actually their very first opportunity to vote for a president. So I understand that they are really enthusiastic about it. However, I was a bit reluctant to go into the discussion simply because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Apart from the fact that politics bores me to death, I knew next to nothing about the nine presidential candidates. In other words, I was a bit behind schedule in this respect but I was planning to study the ballots later in the day. However, my students were so keen on the debate that I finally surrendered.

What options did I have apart from making myself look like a complete ignoramus? Well, for example, I could let my students teach me what they knew. Which I did.

I googled an image showing all the nine candidates and asked my students to tell me what they knew about their backgrounds. I encouraged them to share facts, not opinions at this stage but I asked for the impossible. They were so keen on telling me who was great and who was hopeless that they almost lost it.



Image retrieved from

By coincidence, I had prepared a paper ballot box (this aid was actually used for a different activity but I suddenly found it handy). I asked each student to anonymously jot down the name of their favorite candidate on a piece of paper. Only one student refused because he hadn’t decided yet. Then we dropped the ‘ballots’ into the box. Finally, I removed all the votes and we counted the results. It was fun and I hope it was a bit educational, too.

On my way home I remembered the #Eltchat. I wondered whether as a teacher, I have the right to ask for information that is essentially personal and confidential. But since my students had asked for the topic, I concluded to myself that it was OK.

Anyway, off to the real ballot box! Catch up with you later. 🙂


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Information gap activities

chess-board-2375511_960_720.jpgI’ve recently been particularly keen on information gap activities, i.e. activities which require students to communicate with each other (usually in pairs) to solve a problem or complete a task. I find IGAs highly motivating and I appreciate the fact that they require sub-skills such as clarifying meaning and re-phrasing. Most importantly, though, IGAs represent real communication and increase overall student talking time.

In this quick post, I’d like to share a couple of activities I’ve recently done with my students. I’d like to point out that these activities were elements of a larger block – they didn’t stand on their own but were followed or preceded by other stages.

You may know from this blog that I love working with inspiring quotes. I normally use these as warm-ups or as an introduction to a new topic. For example, in one of my recent lessons, we talked about health so I prepared this handout.



As you can see, Student A had the same set of quotes as Student B, but a different word was missing in each of the sentences. The students worked in pairs and their task was to exchange the information in order to complete the quotes. Although they practically only needed to define the words I had left out, I saw them reading the whole sentences in an attempt to get more context. Apart from the fact that it was a meaningful speaking activity, it spiced up an otherwise boring gap-fill.

In the next stage of the lesson, we worked with a text about trending tips on healthy eating. It was a rather long, authentic article so I decided to ease the load a bit: I decreased the amount of text by creating another IGA. Student A only got part of the text (see page 1, on the left) while the rest was in the form of headings (see page 2, on the right). Student B got a complete version of page 2 while page 1 only contained the headings.


retrieved and adapted from


retrieved and adapted from

Ss then shared the information and took notes as their partner was paraphrasing/summarising their text. Again, Ss had to communicate actively to achieve the goal – to learn about the concepts. Also, I believe it livened up an otherwise long and dull reading activity.

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Your students deserve to know…

number-2038275_960_720I think your students deserve to know how much you love working with them. There are many ways you can tell them – some are less cunning than others. This is what I did:

A couple of days back I wrote this blog post, in which I describe my relationship with a group of students who I’ve been teaching for almost seven years. It’s a very appreciative article, written from the bottom of my heart. It occurred to me that if something is so positive and genuine, it’s probably worth sharing with those who it concerns.

So … I made hard copies of the blog post leaving out the title. I also deleted the image of our classroom board (they’ve been looking at this board for seven years so my concern was that it would be an obvious cue). I handed out the copies to the students telling them with a poker face that I had found an interesting article on the internet which they may find interesting too. I told them that I had accidentally forgotten to include the title and that unfortunately, I didn’t remember the author. The task for them was to read the text, invent a suitable title and guess a few things about the author: the country of origin, gender, age, and job.

Well, I guess I wouldn’t be a good poker player because they knew immediately – probably from the very first sentence. So I watched them as they were reading. It’s a pity I couldn’t take close-ups of their faces and share them here on my blog because it was an amazing view – they smiled all the way through. It was like watching a child unwrapping a Christmas present.

The ‘task’ was obviously just a feeble attempt to deceive them and I certainly didn’t want them to guess and discuss my age. When I asked about a possible title, though, they suggested something very touching; it’s hard to translate into English, but it was a pet name designating a group of people (them) who claim allegiance, belong or relate to a certain person (that person being me). My confession certainly made them very happy, which, when I think about it now, wasn’t really my primary motivation. What I really wanted was to pour out my heart no matter what.

The next day they came to me and mentioned that I’m indeed almost a doyenne to them – I’m one of two teachers at our school who’ve been with them the whole time, i.e. for seven years. That means something, doesn’t it? 🙂


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I wouldn’t change them for anything in the world…

IMG_20180105_112158.jpgI’ve been teaching this group of students for almost seven years. It looks like ages and it’s definitely my personal record. I can’t even recall how it all started. It seems we’ve done everything over the years: we’ve discussed every topic and tried every activity. Yet, I don’t feel exhausted or de-motivated in any way.

Teaching the same group of students for a long time clearly has many advantages as well as challenges. I’d say it really boils down to how well you get on with each other. If you’ve built a good rapport with them over years (but honestly, it appears that good rapport sometimes happens without the teacher having to lift a finger), you need to put next to no effort into your teaching. Things somehow pan out the way you need them to and learning emerges peacefully along the way. But most importantly, teaching such a class is extremely enjoyable and satisfying. One of the signs of this blissful stage is, for example, that the coursebooks we’re using have become almost superfluous. They’ve become shadows of the necessary evil.

For the past two years, we’ve had four lessons a week, one of which is the final lesson on Friday. You would probably agree that the last Friday lesson is a nightmare always sort of special. After all, it’s almost the weekend and everybody’s mind is switching to a different mode. This can be positive or negative. If you teach an unmotivated bunch of kids, it can be a real pain in the neck and honestly, such a lesson usually turns out to be a waste of time because the people are not really present for what you want them to do. On the other hand, and this applies to the group I’ve been teaching for seven years, it can be the highlight of the week. Although their energy and motivation are not exactly at their peak at the beginning of the lesson, my creativity and enthusiasm are (because I know I’m teaching them!). It’s the final meters till the end of the race, so to speak. And I enjoy these last moments thoroughly. Luckily, this is infectious. And as they have nothing to lose (nothing threatening or high-stakes is ahead of them on a Friday afternoon), they usually plunge in and swim with me.

I wouldn’t change this group for anything in the world… I feel sad when I realize that there’s just one year to go and then it will be over. They’ll go their own ways. I know already I’ll miss them a lot. After all, they were part of an important chapter of my professional life.

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Flipping the script: the defence

In my latest post, I came up with nine reasons why you shouldn’t follow my blog. In this post, I’d like to reverse the situation; in order to improve my reputation, I’d like to find something positive (in blue) in each of the nine defamatory statements (in red).

law-1063249_960_720.jpg#1 I’m a non-native speaker of English writing a blog in English. So if you are a strict grammarian, don’t bother to come here. You are about to witness a lot of language inconsistencies, weird collocations, incorrectly used punctuation, wrong word order, you name it. 

FTS> However, the fact that I write a blog in a foreign language may well be inspiring for all those non-native speakers who think of starting a blog themselves but haven’t had the courage yet precisely due to the concerns I imply in #1. After all, you don’t need to reach a native-like proficiency to get your message across. And although you may never be able to write in flawless English, you’ll be able to improve many aspects of your performance. Isn’t it worth it?

#2 Also, I’m not an excessively thorough writer. In other words, I don’t really sleep on my posts before I share them; I write a post, hit the publish button and then I let it live its own life. Just like that.

FTS > Some say I’m a prolific blogger. I think it’s because I share ideas quite fearlessly. One of the reasons I’m not afraid is because I don’t take blogging too seriously. Also, I write a lot because I’m confident as a teacher. In fact, for me, blogging is just a means to an end; it’s a way of becoming a better teacher. But most importantly, I write without fear because I trust my readers. I know they will ask for clarification if needed and although they may occasionally challenge my views, they will never judge my writing. 

#3 I’m a teacher of English as a foreign language so if you are not a teacher (or if you have nothing to do with education), find a different place where you can procrastinate. This is a site for ELT nerds (if you don’t know what ELT stands for, you are in the wrong place. I said it!)

FTS > Still, there may be quite a few people out there who have nothing to do with teaching yet they can find something they can relate to. I write about a variety of topics so hopefully, some of them will be interesting to outsiders as well. 

#4 If you are a student of mine, stay away from this blog too because, dear student, I sometimes talk about you. I try to be nice but still, you may see things from a different perspective (for example, I may be convinced that an activity worked well while you may think it was crap). I don’t want you to think I’m a liar making things up.

FTS > This is clearly an overstatement. However, I once experienced a situation when a couple of students misunderstood something I had said here on my blog. So, to be completely honest, although I wouldn’t mind my students reading this blog, I find the possibility a bit threatening. The things I write are only one side of the coin after all. Unless *they* join in the conversation…

#5 If you happen to be a close friend of mine, don’t you dare to visit this blog either. You’ll think this can’t be me writing this. You’re right – I am (I feel to be) a different person when I write in a foreign language.

FTS > Another exaggeration. I know some friends and colleagues occasionally visit this blog and although they have congratulated me on the fact that I am able to share useful teaching ideas through blogging, I believe it must be kind of amusing for them to see me openly talk about my little successes and failures. It’s simply not part of the Czech nature to open up our hearts publicly. However, as I write in a foreign language, it is somehow easier for me. 

#6 Sometimes you’ll have to read between the lines to realize that something is an overstatement. I don’t mean no harm but combined with the fact that I’m an NNEST (who can easily misuse a word or a phrase), this can be too much for you to handle, dear reader.

FTS > Like I said, I have experienced a couple of misunderstandings here on my blog (even with some prominent ELT people). Some happened due to my sloppiness a minor language deficit on my part while others, I believe, happened due to the lack of understanding on the reader’s part. I’d like to stress that I never mean to offend anybody – these things simply happen in any kind of online communication. One of the solutions is to think carefully about the words you choose as a blogger but also, and this applies to the reader, to try to see the writer’s perspective. 

#7 If you are an academic, read academic journals, not my blog. I’m just a teacher and I mainly describe classroom practices. I rarely share research findings or stuff like that here so my posts may appear superficial to someone with an insatiable thirst for scientific evidence.

FTS > On the other hand, there are a couple of academics (one of them is very famous in the blogosphere) who have visited this blog to challenge this ‘superficiality’. They asked tricky questions, suggested alternatives and offered a different perspective. They simply made me think. This can only benefit the quality of the blog. So, please, do stop by, dear academics. 

#8 From a practical point of view, I rarely tag my posts or create separate pages so it’s not easy to navigate through my blog.

FTS > However, you can easily use the search button and I believe that overall, the layout of the blog is nice and neat. 🙂 

#9 There are times when I post too often (my son calls it ‘spamming’). So if you hate spam, don’t follow this blog. You might get nightmares.

FTS > On the other hand, my posts are not lengthy or too difficult to understand because I’m no Woolf. So one post a day will certainly do you no harm. 🙂

Thanks for bearing with me!

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