You have what I want

I suppose every teacher has their favourite type of activity. I’m really into information gap activities, i.e. activities which require students to speak and work with their classmates to obtain the missing information. And once they’ve acquired the information from their classmates, they can fill the “gap” and complete the task or activity. During these activities, students need to communicate clearly in order to successfully complete the given task.

Most of my classes work best if you get them to work in pairs or groups. An otherwise reticent group will turn into a chatterbox once I ask them to discuss, compare and share in pairs. Some coursebooks have ready-made information gap activities. To give an example, Student A must read a text on page x, while Student B turns to a different page to read another text on the same/related topic. Then they share what they’ve learned. But I mostly design these activities myself. The good news is that practically any exercise or task can be transformed into an information-gap activity.

Below are just a few examples I’ve recently used.

Pictures: I ask Student A to look at a picture for 30 seconds. Student B looks at a different picture on a different page. They close books and describe the pictures from memory. Then they can contrast both pictures without actually looking at them. Students look for the common theme and other similarities, as well as for differences. This can be a springboard for the topic you’d like to focus on in the lesson.

Gap-fills: I like to create two versions of a gap-fill, i.e. I use the same text but omit different words for Student A and different words for Student B. They work individually first and then they share their answers. If they are unsure about an answer, their partner helps them by describing the missing word.

Student A: They work 1 _____________ first and then they share their answers.

Student B: They work individually first and then they 1 _____________ their answers.

Keys: Students complete two run-of-the-mill exercises. When they finish, I give Student A the key to Student B’s exercise and vice versa. They check answers by sharing the keys. This is a time-saver and it’s much more interactive than sharing it as a whole class. Your only task is to monitor.

Half-a-crossword: This is by far the most favourite activity of mine. As the title suggests, you create a crossword where Student A has some words while the others are missing and Student B has the ones Student A needs. The task is to complete the whole crossword by exchanging the information.

A variation on running dictation: Each student picks a certain number of words from a list/text. They write them on a piece of paper. Alternatively, you can ask them to choose a longer sentence, e.g. from a coursebook text, or you can dictate one. Student A stands opposite their partner, a few meters apart. Student A remembers the first word from the list/sentence and runs to their partner. They describe the word and when Student B guesses it, they write it down. Student A runs for another word. When they are done with their list/sentence, they swap roles. The task is complete when both students have written the whole list/sentence. This could be done with pictures as well (see Activity 1).

Drawing: Find some suitable paintings/visuals on the internet. For example, like me, you can google the most famous paintings of all time (our topic was ART). Show one of them on the screen. Student A faces the screen and describes the picture to their partner who can’t see it. After a certain amount of time, they stop, look and compare their drawing to the original painting. Then they change roles. To make it more interesting and fun, before they can look at the original, they compare their drawings with other students’ creations. You can later set up an art exhibition (if students don’t mind displaying their products).

These are only a few examples of information-gap activities. The list is endless. And as I mentioned above, any task can be designed as an activity where students simply need to make a little bit more effort than usual to complete it, which, I believe, is something we should always strive for.


Listen and grab the card: a set of no-prep activities

I really liked this simple, low-prep activity I learned about in a workshop delivered by Ben Herbert at the ILC International House Brno Brilliant Conference earlier this month. I have since tried it with most of my classes and, regardless of their level or age, it has always worked well. It’s definitely good for students who tend to be restless and who like to move and touch things. Plus there’s nothing more blissful for the teacher than watching the most serious students smile during an activity.  🙂

From the perspective of your lesson objectives, the activity can serve multiple purposes. You can use it to pre-teach vocabulary or to practise the vocabulary you covered in previous lessons. It can be used as a springboard for a speaking activity and it also involves a listening practice element.

I’m going to present the no-prep version.

·      Get students to form pairs.

·      Give each pair a sheet of blank paper and ask them to cut it up into 16 pieces (this number is easy to manage, even without scissors).

·      Choose a text you want to work with (plus the recording of it). Ideally, it should be a longer text, such as a story or an article.

·      Select 16 vocabulary items you want to focus on (this is the number I usually work with but it can be different in your context). These can be difficult words you want to pre-teach, keywords you’d like students to use to retell the story, etc.

·      Dictate the words. Students write them on the slips of paper. If the expressions are new, write them on the board first and ask students to copy them.

·      Do the pre-teaching, if necessary.

·      Get students to shuffle the cards and spread them on the desk face up so they can all see them well.

·      Play the recording. When a student hears one of the words, they grab the corresponding card.

·      The student with more words is the winner.

To make it a little bit more challenging and fun, ask students to place their hands on their shoulders. This will make the competition a bit fairer, especially if there are only a few words left.

The good thing about this type of activity is that it makes students focus – even the most easily distracted ones will sit tight and alert. From a linguistic point of view, it encourages learners to predict, i.e. by hearing the context, they can guess what vocabulary items might potentially come next, which is a useful skill to practise. 

Since I like to recycle my teaching materials, I always use the cards multiple times in the same lesson (and in the subsequent lessons as well). For example, I ask the students to put the words into categories or to add collocates. As I mentioned above, at some stage, I get them to retell the story using the words. Later on, they can play a describe-and-guess activity in groups. Another option is to collect the cards from all the pairs and place them on the floor. This time, the students are sitting in a circle with the words in the middle. Play the recording again (or ask somebody to read the text). You can encourage the students to get hold of the same word more than once. Alternatively, you can place the cards around the classroom and students have to look for them. Finally, you can use the sets to play Pelmanism (a memory card game in which a pack of cards is spread out face down and players try to turn up pairs with the same number). This is called killing many birds with one stone, right? 😀

Try and enjoy! 🙂

The 5 out of 10 speaking activity

Here’s a quick post in which I’d like to share a simple speaking/vocabulary practice activity. No preparation is needed.

Get each student to write down 10 words on a separate piece of paper. These can either be from a specific section of the unit you need to revise, or they can create their own sets based on their hobbies and interests. So, if a student is interested in music, he or she writes down words such as conductor, orchestra, stage, etc. While the first option is probably more practical syllabus-wise, the second alternative is far more personalized and student-focused, and your students will probably like it more because they are in the role of experts and can showcase what they like and/or are good at. Tell our students you will collect their lists.

Before you collect them, though, make sure they sign them. Shuffle the lists and draw one randomly. Call out the author of the list and ask them to come to the front of the class (I asked them to sit on my chair while I sat at the back of the classroom). The rest of the class should grab a blank piece of paper. The student in the front chooses 5 of the 10 words from their list and defines them one by one. His classmates try to guess and write down the words, but they must not say them out loud. After the student describes all five words, they reveal the answers. For each correct word, each student gets a point. The speaker then draws another list from the pile. This goes on until everybody has spoken.

I was surprised by how enjoyable the activity was. Also, it was simple yet very effective. Apparently, my students liked both describing as well as guessing the words.

The perfect warm-up activity

So, I haven’t shared anything practical or not-so-practical here on my blog for some time. Not that I haven’t had any ideas going on in my head … it’s just that I somehow lacked the need to write about my professional endeavours. I didn’t even feel the urge to write about my recent trip to Scotland, which is really strange because quite honestly, it was full of potential. Maybe it was too good … too intense for me to materialize it in the form of words. Maybe at some point, I will be able to verbalize what I experienced but not just yet.

Anyway, the time of hibernation is over, apparently. One of the reasons I may have a sudden spurt of energy is that I recently attended an ELT conference. And every teacher knows that conferences are immense sources of inspiration and creativity. The people, the venues, the atmosphere, the memories of the previous events – this all creates a unique experience that invariably recharges everyone’s dead batteries.

So, today I’d like to share an activity which I’d like to call the perfect warm-up/speaking activity. It’s perfect because it’s suitable for all levels of proficiency, for almost all age groups plus it doesn’t require any preparation whatsoever (if you wish so). What’s more, it’s highly personalized. I should not forget to credit Sarka Cox from ILC Brno, who presented this activity in a workshop.

Here goes … While in class, it’s best if you demonstrate the activity briefly and then it’s pretty straightforward. Simply put two words on the board. Ideally, they should be opposites (dark – light, day – night) or two things from a category (train – bus, dog – cat). Ask the students: Do you think I prefer travelling by bus or train/Do you think I like X or Y (for lower levels). When they make a guess, reveal the correct answer and the students who guessed correctly get a point. Then briefly explain why you prefer X to Y (you may also want to put some functional language on the board for students to be able to talk about their preferences). Then it is your ‘partner’s’ turn (choose a student to demonstrate what they would ask you next).

The students can ask about their preferences gradually or they can prepare a list of a certain number of pairs in advance (I prefer the former option because the latter alternative will actually be used later on). Tell your students that they should always record the two options in writing but that they should never indicate the correct answer (by ticking or underlining the prefered option, for example) because their lists will be used in the follow-up stage of the activity.

After some time (a couple of minutes or when you observe that most pairs have, let’s say, a minimum of 5 pairs of words), pause the activity. Ask how many points each student got, i.e. how well they know each other. In the next stage, change pairs. The students take their original lists and swap them with their new partners. The new partner then guesses what the student’s preferences are plus they speculate and give reasons why they think so.

As I said, no preparation is needed but you can create a nice PP presentation with pictures of the options. You can have photos from magazines or other visuals at hand, which, I admit, may be more suitable for young learners. However, I used the simple version of the activity with all my classes (12 – 18 year-olds), i.e. writing the pairs on the board/paper, and it was absolutely sufficient. The good thing about this activity is that it is highly personalized; the students can decide what they want to talk about and avoid what they don’t want to discuss. Also, when I tried it myself during the said workshop, it was quite challenging and enjoyable because I had to make an effort – I had to come up with the options and actually think about what I prefer and why.

If you decide to try the activity out, enjoy! 🙂

That Feeling When …

stažený soubor

I don’t know about  you, but for me, it’s not always easy to resume teaching on Mondays or after a holiday, especially if the break was longer than usual. I normally start the first class by asking students what they’ve experienced since our last lesson. However, even though it’s probably one of the most natural ways of starting a genuine conversation, How was your weekend/ holiday? has become a somewhat hackneyed question over time. So I’m constantly on the lookout for new, creative ways of getting started after a longer break.

Let me digress a little now. The other day, I was about to start making lunch for my family, when I discovered that I can’t find the peeler. As this was not the first time such an unfortunate situation had occurred, I immediately suspected that I had unintentionally thrown the peeler out with the potato peels. I don’t know why, but what spontaneously sprang to mind was the phrase: “… that feeling when (… you discover that you probably threw the peeler out with the potato peels the last time you peeled potatoes.)”.

So, despite my bitter frustration, a new idea for a lesson activity instantly came into existence. As I have a Twitter as well as a Facebook account, I know that the phrase that feeling when is a real fad these days. When you search the Internet, you’ll see that it’s become a popular verbal meme for sharing funny, inspirational or awkward moments people have experienced. You can check this article about its origins.

Anyway, let’s have a look at some possible ways of exploiting this phenomenon in the classroom:

  1. There are loads of That Feeling quotes all around the Internet. There’s even a Twitter account of the same name. By the way, see my post on how to use quotes in an L2 classroom.
  2. It is often used as an abbreviation, i.e. TFW, which can either mean That Feeling When or That Feel When. This may come in handy if you want to play with some slang in the lesson.
  3. Although you can google loads of images of the meme,
  4. you can create your own one here.

Another meme similar to TFW is ‘I Know That Feel, Bro’. This is an Internet slang expression used to convey empathy towards (or agree with someone else’s) feeling or opinion. It may be fun to get your students to use this phrase as a reply to ‘that feeling when’.

Student A: That feeling when you discover that you have probably thrown the peeler out with the potato peels. Just imagine, I was about to start peeling potatoes when ….

Student B: I know that feel, bro. Something similar happened to me the other day. It wasn’t a peeler, though, it was scissors. I was about to ……

So at the beginning of the first lesson after holidays, you can ask your students to come up with TFW memes that would describe their experiences. It’s definitely good to show them a few examples before they start. Maybe you can create your own meme first. Something they will definitely relate to is:

That Feeling when you wake up and realize that it’s Monday.

You can also use a chain activity – Ss will rotate their memes and other students will add what comes to mind when they read them:

Student 1 (the original meme): That feeling when you mess up an important exam. >

Student 2 adds: That feeling when you mess up but you don’t really care. >

Student 3 adds: That feeling when you don’t care but your parents do. >


Anyway, try it and see what happens. 🙂


A flood of conversation


If you need your students to practise speaking about a specific topic, here’s a simple idea you may use in class.

Let’s say you want your learners to talk about natural disasters. What a great topic to start the new year! 🙂

First, think of some words related to the topic (e.g. landslide, hurricane, tornado, flood, etc.) and write them on separate cards. Alternatively, you can elicit the words from your class.

Put Ss into pairs. It’s ideal if you have as many pairs as you have words but if you teach a really small class, you can simply give each pair more cards. By the way, you don’t even have to prepare any cards – you can simply put the words on the board and say what word each pair should work on. By having the vocabulary items on display all the time, your student will remember them better (if that’s your aim).

Now, ask each pair to copy their word vertically on a separate piece of paper. I’ve chosen the word flood to illustrate the activity. For each letter of the word, Ss have to think of a new word. It’s similar to making a crossword except that each new word has to be connected with the original word. To what degree it will be connected is totally up to the students but the less obvious the connection, the better.


When they have finished (hopefully all at approximately the same time), Pair 1 sends their product to Pair 2, who sends theirs to Pair 3, etc. Now, each pair’s task is to guess how the new words are connected with the original word. For example, they may say this:

  1. When there is a flood, lots of things float on the surface.
  2. The land is soaked with water and it becomes muddy. 
  3. Floods happen when it rains heavily or when all the snow suddenly melts in the mountains. 
  4. The rain pours down and the rivers start rising.  
  5. An area can be flooded after a dam cracks open. 


Later on, Pair 2 sends the crossword to Pair 3, Pair 3 sends theirs to Pair 4, etc., and the activity can go on as long as you need. Eventually, some students may want to have a few things clarified, especially if they couldn’t find any connections with the original word. Let them ask the authors of the words they had trouble with. This will generate some more discussion.

As you can see, your students will learn a lot without actually being taught. With just a few prompts, they will produce heaps of meaningful language and interesting vocabulary and grammar items will pop up along the way. The best thing is that the quality of the output will always depend on their level proficiency so you needn’t worry that it might be too easy or too difficult for a particular class.



The 30 questions and student thinking time

The other day I came across an interesting post by Nick Bilbrough about student thinking time, at the end of which the author poses the following question:

Is student thinking time as important as student talking time? If so, what’s the best way of maximising it in your classes?


Obviously, my answer is yes! and here’s why.

I’m proud to say that most of my students love speaking activities and they jump at every opportunity to chat about practically anything. If you give them a set of thought-provoking questions to discuss in pairs or groups, they won’t even wait for the instructions – they’ll instantly start to chatter away. This is fantastic, isn’t it? This is what we English teachers want our students to do – to spontaneously communicate in the target language.

There are a few minor issues, though. First of all, prior to the lesson, you probably have certain aims in mind and chattering away freely may not be the main one; you may want your students to practise specific vocabulary or grammar items or you just want them to approach the speaking task in a particular way – for particular reasons.

Today was the first day of school after the two-week Christmas holiday. So like last year, I gave my students a set of 30 questions to answer about the previous year. The questions were originally shared by Anna Loseva here, and they have recently inspired another great blogging challenge.

Anyway, when we did the same speaking activity last year, I looked at the questions as mere prompts, which were to help the learners express their end-of-the-year reflections as clearly and easily as possible. Despite the fact that the activity went quite well, I felt that it could have been designed more meaningfully. The truth is that I had practically handed out the questions and let the students converse.

Hence, this year, I opted for a slightly different approach; I decided to give Ss some thinking time before the actual speaking. I handed out the questions (slightly edited to suit my mostly teenage classes) and asked Ss to read them and record the answers first. Before they could roll their eyes and sigh in despair (I knew this would be too time-consuming), I told them to write each answer in just one word, namely  a word that summarises or represents the whole answer. Eventually, it took them only about 10 minutes.

During this relatively short period, I observed Ss silently racking their brains, trying to come up with adequate answers. Not only that; they were looking words up in dictionaries, highlighting, taking notes and occasionally negotiating meaning with one another. In other words, lots of learning was happening prior to speaking.

This makes me believe that thinking time is important; at least as important as the production stage (if not more).

Here’s my edited version of Anna’s questions:

1. The best/ most memorable moment of 2015.
2. What/who inspired me the most in 2015?
3. What was the major news of the year?
4. What was the best song of the year?
5. What were the most important people of the year?
6. What was the most difficult task for me to do in 2015?
7. What colour was the year?
8. Which event of the year would I choose to remember forever?
9. Which word did I use most often?
10. What was my most ridiculous purchase of the year?
11. I shouldn’t have experimented with …
12. Last year was wonderful because …
13. Which problem did I solve successfully?
14. Who did I hug most?
15. Whose party did I have fun at?
16. What was my average pocket money last year?
17 Which conversation turned everything upside down in my head?
18. What new project/activity did I start in 2015?
19. If I could become a superhero for just one day, what would I do?
20. What am I dreaming about now?
21. What do I consider to be my most important achievement of 2015?
22. What would 2015 be in one sentence?
23. The latest message I’ve sent.
24. The best quote/sentence I came across in 2015.
25. Did I achieve everything I’d planned for 2015?
26. How many new friends did I make in 2015?
27. Who did I help most 2015?
28. Where did I travel?
29. Which projects/tasks am I putting off?
30. What do I want to achieve in 2016?

The ‘shush’ tweak and lexical priming

IMG_20150920_115047Did I tell you how much I love the define-and-guess-the-word activities with the ‘shush’ tweak? The tweak lies in the rule that whenever a student guesses the word (or an expression, idiom, picture, movie, etc.), they are never allowed to say the answer aloud.

Again, this is one of those activities which require no or very little preparation. They are highly engaging, especially due to the game-like element, but, most importantly, your students will practise speaking, listening, vocabulary and grammar – all at the same time. Oh, this is not an advert, is it? 🙂

I’ll start with the basic, no-prep alternative. I strongly recommend that you spend some time demonstrating the activity; it may look complicated at first sight, but once your students grasp the rules, it’s pretty simple.

Put Ss in groups of (ideally) 4.  Student 1 chooses a random word and defines it. Note: When I demonstrate the activity, I usually start with a very straightforward definition of a simple vocabulary item, such as cat (It’s a pet that likes drinking milk and chasing mice.). When somebody in the group guesses the word, they shout ‘Stop!’ – even in the middle of my definition. From now on, no more comments or elaborations on the definitions can be produced. Also, remember that nobody is allowed to utter the actual word.

Now, it’s the next student’s turn (Student 2)  – this doesn’t necessarily have to be the one who stopped the game, i.e. the one who first guessed the word. It is simply the student in the order given. This student’s task is to find a new word to describe, this time starting with the last letter of the previous word, i.e. ‘t’ (cat).

This is when it becomes interesting. Student 2 either knows what Student 1 (me) was talking about and continues without any major difficulties. Or, she doesn’t have a clue and can either give up or bluff. Bluffing means that she will describe something in a deliberately ambiguous way so that some players come to believe she’s actually in the know. Example: Student 2, ‘the cheater’, tries to bluff by saying something really vague: It’s something that you can find in the classroom. An impatient opponent (Student 3) thinks it must be table (cat > table) and stops the game. This saves the cheater, at least for the time being, and the game goes on uninterrupted, especially if the others swallow the bait too.

However, if one of the players suspects Student 2 was bluffing, they can immediately ask for verification by stopping the game and shouting Check. Now, they must carefully formulate the checking question they want to ask the cheater, e.g. ‘What was the word Student 1  was describing and what was your word then?’ If the cheater answers unsatisfactorily, he or she earns a ‘strike’. However, if he or she manages to justify the answer, or if the questioner gets trapped by asking a bad question, the one who asked gets a strike instead.

Alternatively, if someone feels the speaker defining the word was interrupted prematurely, i.e. that the one who stopped the game could NOT know what was being described, they can ask for a check. I’d like to stress that it makes the game more dynamic if the definitions are interrupted as soon as somebody knows the answer, but someone who intervenes all the time, without really having a clue, will sooner or later spoil the game.

So, when everything’s been successfully negotiated (preferably in English), the next student then chooses a brand new word and the game continues in the same vein. The funniest moments are those when students learn to bluff effectively or when they realise that they can even pretend to be bluffing. 🙂

The benefit of this activity is the fact that it requires a great deal of conciseness and concentration on everybody’s part. But not only do the players need to be clear and succinct and constantly pay attention to what’s being said, they also have to predict a lot.

IMG_20151004_130347What comes to mind here is lexical priming – a linguistic theory developed by Michael Hoey, which suggests that we are primed to expect words to be in the company of other words (their collocations) and also expect words to appear in certain grammatical situations (their grammatical colligations) and in certain positions in text and discourse (their textual colligations).

So it often happens that somebody starts defining the word cat: It’s a nocturnal animal which likes drinking milk and chasing ….. when somebody suddenly interrupts the player by shouting ‘Stop!’. Now, I imagine that at that very short moment, an awful lot is going on in the heads of all the players. They’re probably feverishly searching their mental lexicons as well as the schemata they have of nocturnal animals. Thus, I believe, a lot of learning is happening.

If you want to practise certain vocabulary sets, you will obviously want to limit your student’ choices of the words they describe. You can prepare cards with specific expressions (idioms, collocations), or you can use images or flashcards.

Having said that, here’s one more tip I’d like to share before I sign off: it’s quite interesting to combine this activity with Bingo. I once needed my B2 students to practise some advanced crime vocabulary. On the internet, I found 20 representative images of crimes we had learnt in the previous lesson (arson, robbery, burglary, trafficking, forgery, etc.). I printed the pictures out on small cards. First, I got each student to choose 10 words out of the 20 and write them down. Then, each student got one random image and was asked to describe the crime in detail to the rest of the class. Once somebody thought they knew what it was, they shouted Stop – regardless of whether they had previously written the word down or not. Those who had written it down (and the student who had successfully described it) could cross it off from the list. The aim of the game, as you may have predicted, was to get rid of all the 10 words.

Well, this seems to be the first 2016 post. Once again, I wish everyone a Happy New Year full of professional development opportunities. May all your plans and wishes come true. And, happy blogging to all my fellow bloggers!

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Everyone is a genius.

I must admit that the older I get, the more I appreciate simplicity and spontaneity in language teaching. It makes me very happy when a beautiful, meaningful lesson grows out of something seemingly trivial or when an impromptu action leads to something truly valuable.

20151118_122225bThe other day, in class, we read an article about Albert Einstein. It was one of those classic coursebook texts accompanied by a classic reading comprehension check. Quite boring, I should add. Nevertheless, the text contained an idea that immediately grabbed my attention. Allegedly, Einstein was a pretty bad student. However, as we all know, despite his rather poor study results, he eventually became one of the best-known scientists of all times. So, after having read the article, we talked a bit about what makes somebody perform well/badly at school, about the role of grades, motivation, concentration, intelligence, etc. The students brainstormed some really great ideas.

Anyway, in the next lesson, I felt it might be interesting to elaborate on the topic a bit more. One thing I really love working with is quotes. Quotes are everywhere and everybody loves them. In language teaching, they can turn into nice warm-ups, cool icebreakers or efficient lead-ins. You can choose any word, grammar item or topic and you’ll always find quite a few related quotes. Apart from containing useful target language, a good quote is a well of wisdom and a springboard for interesting discussions. And (off the record), if you don’t have time to prepare your lesson, find a quote. 🙂

So, …

Supposedly, Albert Einstein is the author of the following quote:

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Bingo! That was what I needed for my 15-year-old B1 students. At the beginning of the lesson, I drew 28 lines on the board, each one representing one word of the quote. I explained that it’s a quote by Einstein, closely related to what we had discussed in the previous lesson, i.e. education. First, I revealed that it includes an animal which people typically eat for Christmas in the Czech Republic. When Ss guessed the word, I put it on the appropriate line.

1___  2___  3___  4___.  5___  6___  7___  8___  9___  10_fish__  11___    12___  13___  14___ 15___  16___  17___,  18___  19___  20___  21___  22___  23___  24___ 25___  26___  27___  28___.

VýstřižekIn a random order, I gradually defined all the nouns, i.e. fish, genius, tree, life. Whenever Ss came up with a wrong word, I drew a part of the Hangman. Then I continued with adjectives and verbs, which, like nouns, are quite easy to define. We played with different parts of speech, i.e. able > ability, judge (which is a noun as well as a verb) synonyms, and antonyms. I said that the quote includes conditional tense – something we had spoken about a couple of lessons back. I also pointed out that some verb forms need to be changed (see believing, for example). At this point, Ss had to concentrate on vocabulary as well as grammar. I love it when lexis and grammar merge and blend this way. Anyway, when I added all the content words, I left Ss to their own devices. They had to fill in all the grammatical words themselves (articles, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, etc). This was a useful language practice too, and the fact that they were close but not quite right at times kept everybody in suspense till the very last moment.

When Ss guessed all the words, I asked them to discuss the meaning of the quote in pairs. To my surprise, it was not as easy as I had expected, but most Ss got it right in the end. I elicited some answers and put them on the board as bullet points. Then I got Ss to substitute fish with a different animal. Obviously, the rest of the quote had to be changed, as in … if you judge a parrot by its ability to swim … This helped Ss to reinforce the tricky grammar structure (if… to + verb) and some new vocabulary (judge….by, ability). Also, I made sure that each and every student was clear about the meaning of the quote. After that, as a whole class, we discussed whether we agree or disagree with the statement and why. I asked about the connection between the quote and what we had talked about in the previous lesson (Einstein’s failure as a student, education, grades, etc.).  This provoked an interesting debate too.

We also talked about Ss’ strengths and weaknesses and we mentioned that it’s important to focus on what they are good at.

Finally, as Ss liked the quote, I said it might be cool to learn it by heart. I used the erase-the-last-word technique. I erased stupid first and got a student to read the whole quote. Then I wiped off all the words one by one – each time somebody having to read the whole quote – until there was nothing left on the board. Eventually, I asked them to write the quote in their notebooks from memory.

I guess something similar can be done with practically any quote. To work with quotes, you can use various activities, such as the running dictation, Chinese Whispers, Spelling Contest, Bingo and many more.

A lion or a squirrel?

IMG_20150920_183610When I think of dogme, what first springs to mind is the type of teaching where, ideally, all the resources and the content of the lesson are provided by the students. Although I’m by no means a pure Dogmetist, I regularly love to indulge myself in teaching Unplugged.

Handing it over to the class can result in an enormous wave of creativity and genuine, meaningful conversation, not only in the actual lesson but later on with other classes too. The key is to let yourself inspired by your students.

The other day, a 13-year-old Jane was eager to share a personality test she had come across on the internet. We had a couple of minutes left of the lesson and it was before Christmas anyway, so I thought it may be a great way to wind up. So she enthusiastically marched to the front of the class and told the following story:

Imagine a very tall banana tree. Under the tree, there are four animals: a lion, a giraffe, a chimpanzee and a squirrel. The animals decide to compete to see who can get a banana from the tree first. Who do you think will win? 

If you’re curious to see the results, you can watch this video, which I’ve just found on YouTube. Or you may well think about the answer yourself and wait till the end of the post. 🙂 To cut it short, each answer, i.e. animal, equals a different personality trait. Anyway, Jane elicited some answers from the class and after a short discussion, she revealed the results.

It was fun and everybody loved it, but I immediately realized the activity had a much greater potential. So the next day, I shared it with other classes. By the way, I’m not a great storyteller but I did quite well with this one (it’s very short after all). Needless to say, each and every time, the story provoked different reactions and different language points emerged, depending on the students’ age and level of proficiency.

However, the trick is not to reveal the results immediately. Obviously, there is no correct answer, even though at first sight, some alternatives appear more logical than others. So, let your students tell you what they think and see what happens. Remember that you’ll keep them in suspense and fully engaged as long as you keep the answers a secret. But even later on, once your students are familiar with the results of the test, you will definitely hear some interesting ideas. Most likely, there’ll be words of disagreement or doubt, which is highly desirable and beneficial at this stage. Based on my experience, with advanced classes, you’ll probably end up having a serious, deeply philosophical debate while with younger learners, it’ll be just a light-hearted chat.

Here are some of the questions you might want to ask after you elicit the answers (before you reveal the results, which you can see below the image):

  1. Why did you choose this particular answer?
  2. Why did you dismiss the other options?
  3. What do you think your answer will reveal about your personality?
  4. What will the other answers reveal about people in the class?
  5. In the other class most people chose ‘answer 1’ but here most of you agreed on ‘answer 2’? What do you think this might mean?


  • If your answer was the lion, you are a fighter. 
  • If your answer was the giraffe, you are a logical thinker. 
  • If your answer was the squirrel, you are an optimist. 
  • If your answer was the chimpanzee, you are a deep thinker. 

Now, I have lots of follow-up activities up my sleeve, but that would be another longish post. So, until next time ….