Thursday, June 27, 2013

TOEFL Test... what to eat?

My EFL students are always looking for any extra edge they can get for the test so this is what I advise them in regards to eating and drinking the day of or the day before the test.

I KNOW that taking the TOEFL is stressful and that you have lots of other things going on in your life, but to make sure you do your best you need to fuel your body. You need to get enough sleep and feed your body "good" food. The LAST thing you want is to fall asleep during the listening section!

(NOTE: I am NOT a nutrition expert. Please use common sense when following these guidelines and do you own research if needed)

The snack enjoyed by E.T.
Reminder 1: Bring a Snack
    • Don't start eating your pencil during the test. See if the testing center will let you bring in something small (not a subway sandwich). A candy with some protein (like peanut butter M&Ms, or Reese's Pieces), some gum (not a food, but sometimes the flavor helps) or  some almonds. Be sure your snack is QUIET ruffling a candy bar wrapper will not make you friend. Sometimes it helps to open it before hand and move the snack into a quieter zip-lock bag. (If you plan this right your snack can even help you remember things you studied.)
Reminder 2: Hydrate or Die!
    • One of my roomies in Spain, used to always remind us to drink water constantly. Dehydration tends to cause headaches and make people feel tired. Make sure to drink a lot throughout the day. However, you don't want to have to go to the bathroom during the listening exam, so about an hour before the test you may want to stop drinking
Reminder 3: Coffee isn't ALWAYS the answer

Oh sweet caffeinated liquid
    • I know you have a lot of test and projects going on right now. Sleep is essential, and caffeine is NOT a successful replacement. If you normally don't drink coffee don't start today! If you drink a cup of coffee early, you may find that around lunchtime the effects wear off and you start to feel more lethargic. Instead of having a venti from Starbucks in the morning, grab a few tall cups throughout the day. If you normally drink coffee don't stop today! If you stop drinking you may start exhibiting withdrawals. Like with water try not to have coffee right before, it may make you want to run to the bathroom during the test.
 Reminder 4: Forget your diet, rock the fat  
    • Fat is hard for the body to digest and thus is one of the best ways to regulate your blood sugar (in comparison to letting it drop and spike).  So go for eggs compared to cereal. Your teacher didn't lie to you fish is great brain food too, and I've had tuna fish sandwiches for breakfast, but many people think that's weird. 
 Reminder 5: Don't make your stomach angry! 
    • This seems obvious, but essential so we'll touch on it. If a certain food sometimes gets you sick AVOID IT. Don't take any chances! Taking the TOEFL is already not very fun. Taking the TOEFL while you feel sick is just painful! This also means don't over eat the night before or starve yourself. You want your body (and mind) performing at its peak.
If you have any other suggestions let me know in the comments and I'll be sure to share them with my students.

Good luck!

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013

    Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo- Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

    Graphic per:

    I try to avoid using worksheets with songs as I prefer to use them with TPR or other activities that don't require a worksheet. However, I've had this idea stuck in my head for about 72 hours so I made a quick worksheet for my TOEFL students tomorrow.

    NOTE: This (clearly) includes references to alcohol) please DO NOT use this unless your EFL students are old enough and your school is OK with it.

    The worksheet basically replaces the phrasal verbs, idioms and lesser known words in the lyrics with synonyms. The students read the lyrics and match the synonyms with their original lyrics (found in a word bank below).

    The song is a great because it really does use lots of idioms e.g. carry a tune in a bucket, drown my sorrows, left feet, etc. It is country (which I find tends to be a bit slower and easier to understand than other music genres). I know some people avoid country music because of the "twang" factor, but this one became pretty popular on the Bilboard charts, so it appealed to people other than country fans (like me).

    If you want to check out the song here's a music video set to the music:
    The original album
    The single

    This worksheet (one page with a one page answer sheet) is available for free on Teachers Pay Teachers. If you don't already have a membership it is FREE just sign up here. If you do download the worksheet please leave a review to tell me what you thought or comment here.

    What's your favorite song to use with idioms?

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013

    Trying to Teach No More!

    For a few months now I've been randomly getting e-mails from people telling me that my blog name, "Trying to Teach" was outdated. They felt that I wasn't trying to teach at all! In fact, I had helped them teach and seemed to be doing quite well teaching myself. As a result I've contemplated changing my blog name for a bit, and I finally found a name that fits.

    Here are the three reasons I like the name (number 1 is the big one)

    1. I love to adapt things. I love to make things which others can adapt. I love the concept of one person's idea becoming another person's inspiration and turning into something else. I think that melting is a great analogy for this process. If I have a crayon and I think it is pretty that's great. You see my crayon you like my crayon you use my crayon. If we melt my crayon though we can mix it with other things. It becomes more flexible more transient and it can better fit more situations. That's what I want this blog to be. A place where people can see an idea and think, "Aha! I could do something like that...but different."

    2. English is a great big melting pot, of other languages. I like the fact that I allude to this a little in the name.

    3. The word melting has ELT in it :) I am a simple person.

    I still feel like every day I am trying to teach the best I can, but I guess people are right. I shouldn't think of it as trying anymore...I am teaching, and I think I am doing it pretty well.

    Thank you for your support as I make this change, though other than the name the content will pretty much stay the same. I am not usually one who will post here with epiphanies about the teaching world; I just like a place to share ideas with others.

    Jokes for distinguishing the D / Th

    I know some Spanish speakers mix up the sound the D makes and the sound the TH makes (yes I realize th has different sounds).

    I saw this meme today and though "That's a perfect example of this minimal pair." For those of you who don't know this meme is one of the many floating around the internet that always ends in, "you're going to have a bad time."

    For example, "If you don't do homework in my class.... you're going to have a bad time."

    "If you don't compliment your girlfriend's haircut... you're going to have a bad time." etc.

    This one's especially humorous to me because of the play on words. As most of you may have figured out I have been in a big joke mood lately and am currently compiling a series of  knock knock jokes and other jokes that deal with minimal pairs and connected speech. Since this meme popped up I thought I'd share a few jokes I have as well:
    D / Th

    ·     Knock Knock. Who’s there? Dishes. Dishes who? Dishes your friend let me in.  This is your friend.

    ·     Knock Knock. Who’s there? Datson. Datson who? Datson awful question to ask. That's an awful question to ask.

    ·     Knock Knock. Who’s there? Dakota. Dakota who? Dakota’s too thin. Please open the door.  The coat is too thin. Please open the door.
          Knock Knock. Who’s there? Gladys. Gladys who? Gladys isn't a robber, aren't you? Glad this isn't a robber, aren't you?
    NOTE: The Th and D sound are normally mixed with a voiced TH however since the meme used an unvoiced TH as an example I chose to to delve into this.

    Do you know any fun jokes or tricks for helping EFL students with the differences? Would you ever use a meme or knock knock joke in your EFL class? Are you laughing, but only because these are so lame? Leave a comment and let me me know.

    Monday, June 24, 2013

    Proverbs in the EFL class

    I've been reading a lot about including culture in the classroom. I think it is important to note that you should never shove your culture down someone's throat. It will only turn them away from the culture and harm your relationship. That being said, most students want to learn English AND they want to know more about the culture. Besides, culture shows up on the TOEFL so they need to understand at least some of where the test is coming from. An easy way to do this is by adding some proverbs in your classes. There are TONS of ways to do this!

    This website lists proverbs via repeated sounds making it useful for pronunciation practice.
    • If your class struggles with the sound a "J" makes try: Every Jack has his Jill.
    The British Council has some suggestions on how to use proverbs in class (and when to avoid them).
    • Don't teach more than 5 a day (I'm going to break that rule later, but it is a great rule of thumb)
    BogglesworldESL has a communication exercise using proverbs
    • In this exercise students become the "experts" on one proverb and go around explaining it to classmates. At the end they take a quick quiz to see how many proverbs they understood.
     I also think proverbs are great to use for a dictogloss
    • Not on their own, but many proverbs are based on a story. Telling a short story and ending with a proverb makes this a great activity.
     There are also quite a few songs you can use that have proverbs.
    • There are multiple ways to use a song, just try to steer clear of clozes if you have already done one that month.
    Finally, here's a packet I put together. It plays off of this graphic you may have seen floating around:

    Essentially it gives funny endings to proverbs, so I thought, "my students could do that."

    This packet contains: The first part of 20 proverbs for students to try and finish. 20 funny endings given by other students. It has opportunities for pair and group work in finding their favorite proverb, a matching section where they can match the start of the proverb with the real ending, 6 different homework assignments (I like to let them choose which one they want).

    For upper level students who are practicing writing I also included my essay prompt, essay outline, sample outline, and sample essay all on proverbs.

     The packet is available for free on Teachers Pay Teachers. If you don't already have a membership it is FREE just sign up here.

    I'd love to know more about how you use proverbs in class. Do your students like them? Do you?

    Friday, June 14, 2013

    Coffee and Dress Codes

    It no surprise that I wasn't thrilled with my last minute Summer class, but I vowed to make the best of it and my small EFL class and I have had a good time studying different TOEFL techniques. We've played BINGO, used some jokes, and have rocked out to some tunes in class. Nonetheless it can be exhausting having the same class day after day and today I decided that we all needed coffee.
    In the normal class

    All of my students (who have been smiley-faced to protect their identities) and I meet in a perfectly fine classroom every day for three hours. We started class with business as usual with a quick idiom review in the form of BINGO and then taking the partial exam in our class and then students took their break (while I graded the exam and calculated their partial grade).

    At the coffee shop
    The possible dress
    After, I told them we needed to get the heck out of the class and I took them to a cafe nearby (a short 5-10 minute walk of about 600 meters). There we talked about my friend's upcoming wedding and how I was unsure if we could wear a pink dress to a wedding because it had a cream top and you shouldn't wear white to a wedding. We talked about other wedding rules (like not to wear black to a wedding or how some cultures consider wearing green to a wedding bad luck). It was funny to me how one of the students whom I had always considered a tomboy was adamant, "Of course you can't wear cream to a wedding!" whereas the more feminine students were oblivious to any possible faux pas.

    This transitioned well into the "actual" lesson about dress code. The lesson plan the curriculum called for was based on an article from the Christian Science Monitor on a middle school student who died his hair blue and earned detention. It is a good article, and a great topic, but it is over 10 years old. So I used this one about banning yoga pants in school instead. If you have school-aged students talking about dress code is usually great because it is something they love to discuss! Here's the quick worksheet available for free on Teachers Pay Teachers that you can use to help discuss this topic. I don't usually make my students fill out the comprehension questions, rather we use them as discussion points during the lesson. When we got stuck on a word I could quickly google it on my tablet and show them the google image result.

    I am not sure if it was the topic, or the fact I got the students out of the classroom, but it went over really well. They stayed in English and relaxed as we talked about their opinions. Normally my EFL classes frustrate me a little, because they all share the same opinion. This time we had varied ideas. Some thought dress codes were essential especially in middle school since the students were too young to make their own decisions, but in high school they should be able to learn their own restraint. One thought that dress codes should never be implemented.  Finally one student thought that teenagers need regulations because they are too eager to show off.

    Before they left I had them write a quick paragraph about how much of an influence they felt a school should have over students. Their casual attitudes were seen in the their writing too. They seemed to have less anxiety even though writing is their least favorite skill.

    One student's answer
    So there we go, a simple three skill lesson: Reading, Speaking and Writing. And like Mary Poppins said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." Or, in this case a few cups of coffee!

    If you have older students who you don't think would want to discuss school dress codes check out this Breaking News English mini-lesson about the dress code for train drivers.

    Have you ever taken your students out of the classroom? How did it work?

    Wednesday, June 12, 2013

    Baby Shower Games in the EFL class?

    No I am not expecting! I was planning a wedding shower for a friend a while back and I mainly fell back on my teaching knowledge of random games to amuse the guests. So when I was scrolling through free kindle books and found this I thought, "You know, I bet baby shower games would be great in some EFL classes!" Some of them were, and others... not so much. Here are a few of the ones I think I could use in class.

    Feed the baby: Great for beginning EFL students (I'd say A1 or A2) learning about food. Think of it as a specified Simon Says. One student volunteers to be the baby (or the teacher starts). The baby starts shouting out random vocabulary. For example, the baby says: "Broccoli" The parents, the rest of the students, have to decide if it is edible or not edible. If it is edible they clap twice. If it is inedible they cover their mouth.

    Baby: Broccoli
    Parents: Clap twice
    Baby: Bread
    Parents: Clap twice
    Baby: Shoes
    Parents: Hands over their mouth

    If a parent messes up and does the wrong motion they are "out" and should sit down. Start out slowly but speed up eventually. This should help students recognize food words. The last student standing becomes the baby.

    This can also be done with flash cards! While I think this works well with food, you could easily lose the baby and parent scenario and use it for colors or rooms in a house. For example the topic could be "Things we find in a kitchen" Two claps would be: Knives, Drawers, Microwaves. Hands on your mouth would be: bed, toilet, etc.

    What animal is it? Take a shoe box and put a hole in it. Put an animal cracker in it. Have the student put their hand in and describe it. Can they guess the animal? Great for adjectives (rough, tiny, bumpy, etc.) and animals! You can use a puzzle piece or small toy if you want to avoid food (or have to because of allergies or school regulations. Alternatively put things in plastic Easter eggs and have them describe and guess. Probably best for Primary or Pre-K.

    Who is it? Finally an easy ice breaker. Hand each student a post it and have them write three facts about themselves on it. Put a number on it and place them around the classroom. Have students go around with a student roster and guess who is what number.

    Name Game! Probably the hardest (I think). Either give all the students a name (your name, a mascot name a celebrity name, a main character's name, an author's name, etc.) or let them use their own. Have them make a sentence with each letter starting a different word, so: Carissa Create Awesome Relics Inviting Super Stars Around. To make it easier have each letter start a sentence: Clearly you are special As such you should be careful. Really think before you decide to do something. If you do that, then your life should be awesome. Should you not follow those directions, things may end badly. So you've been warned. Act cautiously and you'll love life!

    So those are just a few ideas from this book. Have you ever been to a baby shower? What's your favorite game? Would you use it in the classroom or keep it away from EFL?

    Thursday, June 6, 2013

    House (Learning the rooms)

    Sample House
    OK, last post for a while about these boxes I PROMISE, but this is by far my FAVORITE way to use them in class and the one all my teacher friends always LOVE.

    I did in this Korea with my 3rd and 4th grade EFL students, and in Spain with my EFL students (preschool and first grade loved it). Of course, I have adapted the activity a bit each time to best suit the students but the basic steps are the same.

    Step 1: Hand out a piece of paper that looks like the picture below. The four middle squares should be different from one another to assure students can easily see the differences (with higher level classes you could probably just give them a blank piece of paper)..

    A basic Template for the House

    Step 2: Follow the steps from or and have your students make their own box.

    Step 3: Have them unfold the box and show them your sample "house." They usually get pretty excited at this point (or at least the younger ones do).

    Step 4: Let them draw their own additions to make each room its own. I teach: Bedroom, Bathroom, Kitchen, Living Room.

    Step 4: (Alternative) If your students shy away from drawing give them a page of household idtems and let them cut and paste those objects into whatever room they like. I don't suggest using catalogs for this as they will probably have items that are too big. This free download includes a sheet of objects they can cut and paste which I've made sure are the right size..

    Step 4: (Alternative) Make this a listening activity. "Put a refrigerator in the room with squares on the floor," "Put a cupboard next to the refrigerator," etc.

    Step 5: Give them small toys (like Lego people) and let them play. They are little; they like to play! Let them use their English. Every few minutes shout, "FREEZE" and call on a student to say where his friend's toy is, "In the kitchen."

    Step 5: (Alternative) You can also do another listening activity (with prepositions too if you like!) "Put your finger in the kitchen," "Put your finger on the toilet" and listen to them shout, "Ewwwwwwww."

    Complete House Template
    If you want to get straight into the games and not bother with the making it, give them a "complete" house that you photocopied. Then they just need to fold and star having fun!

    All of these templates and the house items (adjusted from are available for free download here: but my art is really not that great, so you can probably make something better on your own :-)
    If you have an alternative that you use when teaching about the house or try this with your class I'd love to know! Drop me a comment below!

    Opposites Origami (added pictures!)

    I've posted a few different ways I like to use origami in an EFL class (or pretty much any primary class). This is a fun one for primary students and I have found that it can be adapted to work with opposites quite well! (You could also do this with shapes, adjectives, rooms in the house etc.)

    I posted about it a while ago at this link: but some people had asked for a video. All the videos I've tried just haven't been very clear :( But I am still working on it.

    Here is a graphic with pictures that may help.

    Wednesday, June 5, 2013

    For lazy teacher's only- Book Review

    In general this book is a collection of several different ways to teach a class with little to no preparation.

    Daniel Marques has written quite a lot of books in areas from "Apocalypse: A message from the Universal Alliance of the Intergalactic Confederation regarding the End of the World" to "Why You Should Believe in Me." I haven't read any of his other books, but I do tend to think, "Jack of all trades, master of none." I could be wrong. It seems he has experience needed to write a great book. He has been a teacher in primary school as well as high school.

    In essence, he wrote this book for those days when a teacher just is not feeling up to teaching a "real" lesson and can fall back on some of these "lazy teacher" classes instead.

    Here's a sample page from the Kindle App on my tablet.As you can see he does offer a lot of variety, which I appreciate.

    Overall, this is not the best book I've ever seen on teaching. In fact, I don't think it would make the top 50 list. I think that learning a few simple no-prep activities, or putting some serious planning into "backup" classes that can run themselves is the best way to do things. However, if you are a teacher looking for a bunch of ideas (some better than others) you can go to when you've had a bad day, this is the book for you!

    Would you buy this book? Or what activities do you save for days when you just can't hold a normal lesson.

    Tuesday, June 4, 2013

    This will not be a rant

    This is how I felt yesterday and this morning!
    This post would love to be a rant, but I am determined to see the sunny side.

    Because of a last minute class cancellation, I am now teaching a 7am class I am not prepared to teach... two hours earlier than I am supposed to teach. This means my leisurely Summer of getting to school at the late (for me) hour of 8:00 is gone as now I teach at 7am... meaning I leave the house at about 5:30 to get to school at 6:00.

    This class that I am teaching..I am still not quite sure what it is, but it is TOEFL preparation, but not like the other TOEFL prep classes I give where students are taking my class to prepare for the TOEFL, no in this class taking the TOEFL is optional.

    I had talked to the teacher who had my class previously to see if I could snag his syllabus, only to be told he hadn't made one. He was planning on doing a TBL type class involving anime with one student, and working on the other student's confidence... well that's great! But how do you give a grade to confidence?

    So the first day's lesson plan? I cheated. I am giving them a diagnostic TOEFL test because I didn't know how else I'd be able to ad lib a 3 hour class.

    Seven am rolls around and I meet my two students. They seem pleasant enough and speak to me in English (YAY good first signs). I explain that today will be boring, but I just want to know what they need to work on, so we'll do the TOEFL diagnostic test. At this point a student I used to have (and failed my first semester here) walks in and explains she's taking this class too.

    She isn't on my list, but after talking to my boss she figures out she should be in another class, but she can't make the time, so she's joining mine. I am still not sure what to do about that.

    However, as I said before, this is NOT a rant.

    I am going to look at the numerous benefits this situation has given me:
    1. I get to walk to school early before the sun comes out, so that prevents skin cancer!
    2. I'm employed and will be receiving a pay check for June and July.
    3. I get the luxury of tailoring my lessons just for my students and don't need to stick to a curriculum someone else made.
    4. The girls seem very nice, and while there are the occasional lapses into Spanish, for the most part they are speaking English.
    5. There are three students! I doubt I'd ever get a class of three students in the states.
    6. My new work laptop's battery actually lasts the whole class meaning I don't need to lug the power cord around.
    7. My classroom is now in the same building as my office which means less time spent walking around campus.
    8. I won't have that week of being nervous while I wait for my students' TOEFL results.
    9. My boss is being super chill and even said he wouldn't object if I wanted to hold a class or two at the nearby coffee place.
    10. I asked my boss if I could leave early, so instead of working from 6:00am-6:00pm I'll have a shorter work day of 6:00am-4:00pm/5:00pm. (Of course leaving early won't help me if I have to stay late to lesson plan, but let's overlook that.)
    So there we go, my Summer is looking to be a bit busier than I had originally thought, but I look forward the chance to try out new things.

    Right now the plan is to: 1. Grade their diagnostic tests to find their weaknesses 2. Sort these in the order I want to teach them 3. Find a television show that I can use to teach these points (I am thinking Boy Meets World right now, but I am not 100% sure yet).

    So there we go. My attempts at turning my frown upside down. This isn't the worst teaching situation I've ever found myself in, but it comes close.

    If you think you have me beat I'd love some schadenfreude! Tell me about the last "last minute" teaching chaos you got thrown into in the comments!

    Monday, June 3, 2013

    British Council's Blog for May

    The British Council's facebook page has shortlisted a recent Blog for their TeachingEnglish blog award for May. (Ignore the typo in their graphic; I assure you that I am nominated for a Blog award and not a Bog award)

    "This activity gets students creating a cootie catcher which they then use as a fun way to practise vocabulary and grammar.

     Click on “like” if you think that Carissa should win this month’s Teaching English blogger award!"

    If you like it too, give it a "like" here (or click on the picture).

    If you haven't checked out the post yet you can find it
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