Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Doodling for Complex Sentences

Are your students struggling with making sentences more complex?

Many students can write simple sentences, and run-on sentences, but they struggle with writing solid complex sentences.

This written activity is a fun way to get students to sculpt more complex sentences using relative clauses and transition words.

Before ANY of this, my students have learned different transition words, how to use them where to use them relative pronouns, etc.

I usually start by drawing a few random doodles on the board. describe what a doodle is. If students guess scribble, I also accept this word as appropriate.Then, I ask what they see in the doodles. Once they see how doodles can be changed into different forms, we are ready to start!

Activity: This can be arranged in many ways, but I like to have students sit in circles.
Step One Doodle on different pieces of paper and 
STEP ONE Each student gets a paper with a doodle drawn (Note: To make this a no prep activity, students may make the first doodle, but I find giving them a doodle tends to work out better.)

STEP TWO Each student expands on the picture. I know the picture below vague, but notice how the student turned the doodle into a rabbit!

STEP THREE (optional) Have the students write one or two words describing their picture. Again looking at the picture to the below, the student could write something like, "An animal," or, "A rabbit,"

Have a box of transition words and relative prnounouns
STEP FOUR The students pass the paper to another student. The student will form a sentence describing the picture: "The rabbit is tall"

STEP FIVE Pass the paper again. This time students also take (or are given) a piece of paper with a random connecting word.  They are told to find a way to make the sentence longer using that word, "The rabbit is tall; however, he is fat."

STEP FIVE  There are multiple ways to do this. I like having students pass the doodling paper to the right, and their connecting word to the left. The students then needed to add another word to the sentence, "The rabbit, who is furry, is tall; however, he is fat."

STEP SIX At this point you can continue having the students pass connecting words to the left and doodles to the right, or you can give out new connecting words.

STEP SEVEN Continue step six until students become bored you you have had them make at least four rotations.

STEP EIGHT Finally, the last time students don't add to the sentence. Their job is to read through the sentence, which at this point can be quite complex, and make it coherent.

STEP NINE Students present the final pictures to the class as well as the final description of the picture.

 Why it Works 
Students could get bored by this, but because the pictures are so random almost every time it goes like this:
Teacher: OK pass the paper to the next student please.
Student 1: What is that?
Student 2: What did you draw?
Student 3: Oh my god this sentence is ridiculous.

They are ALWAYS entertained!

This is also a great activity to use with adjectives or any other clauses. Basically, anything where students add onto a basic sentence. If you want students to practice speaking you can have them do this in partners.

This activity isn't directly humorous, but I PROMISE you that your students will laugh at some of the doodles created and sentences written.  On August 2nd the deadline for submitting your blog to be part of the ELT Blog Carnival on Humor will CLOSE! Don't miss out!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Giggle Poetry: Book Review

I am a huge fan of humor in the classroom (reminder there's still 5 days to submit your blog for the ELT Blog Carnival on humor). I think that getting students to laugh lowers their inhibitions and makes them feel more comfortable. In addition to making class a happier place to be it also allows students to participate more.

I am also a fan of poetry. I like the dream flag project because it encourages students to participate in more figurative thinking, not worry so much about rules, and get interested in other parts of English (other than just short stories and novels).

Giggle Poetry Reading Lessons is a great book for teachers of hesitant learners (especially readers). It introduces new vocabulary in a fun way, and encourages fluency by having students present their poems in front of the class. Many of the poems also encourage motions and movement, making this a TPR expereince.

Approximately the first 10% of the book is helping teachers (or parents) learn how to navigate the book. It goes over studies (why they developed the book), methods (how they encourage the book to be used in class) and examples. You can (clearly) ignore this part if you just want the poems, but the content is pretty solid and helps you understand how you may best use the poems in your class.
Keep them smiling while reading!

Then, we have thirty-four different poems. Quite a few of these I like enough to use with my high school students! Several I didn't like at all (but I can see how students would), and the vast majority I found perfect for middle school or elementary students.

To give you an idea of the topics of poems here are some of the titles: Dirty Socks, What I found in my Desk, Bad Hair Day Rap, Ish!, Someone's Toes Are in My Nose, and How to Torture your Teacher.

The poems are usually 1-2 pages and divided into stanzas. Next to the poem there is often direction as to the desired motions or intonations (e.g. "Act stern. Wage your finger.") While the poems are fairly basic in terms of vocabulary there are some cases where rather advanced words are used. If you are dealing with EFL students, you may like to scaffold more than the book does. An alternative is to substitute advanced words with cognates or more basic synonyms. Most of the poems are written with a rhyme or meter that makes memorizing and reading them easier than a standard text.

After each poem the book provides a lesson plan. As with all prefabricated lesson plans, I suggest you make many adaptations to best suit your class. These ideas area great start! The objective for each poem;s lesson plan is more or less the same, "Objective: The student will read text fluenty, with attention to pace and expression and with a high level of accuracy, as a means of comprehending the text."

Then it walks you through the five steps they suggest you follow:
  1. First activate background knowledge. The book provides sample questions to ask students to get them thinking of the topic. In an EFL environment some visuals would probably be helpful too!
  2. Skim/Scan. Usually they advise students to underline any words they may don-t know without looking at the context or situation. There are other great skimming and scanning activities you could use here.
  3. Modeled Reading. Usually this is set up for the teacher to read (and it gives guidance on how it should be read), but you could do this in many other ways as well.
  4. Guided Reading. Students are given the chance to look at vocabulary, inference,  and practice reading as a class (echo reading and choral reading) or in pairs (buddy reading)
  5. Finally students are given time to read on their own during Independent Reading.
  6. The last step is to have a student present (the book emphasizes to encourage them heavilily and focus on their successes rather than failures).
Personally, I feel that after the third poem this lesson plan structure is BORING! It has a great structure, but repeating it again and again isn't very fun to read. Don't be afraid to vary it for your class. Use the skeleton but adapt the activities, or do your own thing!

After the poems, at the end of the book, there are rubrics and suggested assessment methods. Again, feel free to adapt these as needed to keep your class interesting and best suit your students needs. This is by far the best book I have read all year, and I suggest you look into purchasing it yourself. To read more about Giggle Poetry you can check out their website.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Teacher Fashion- Back to School Shoes

Try wearing the same color in public
This isn't my normal type of post, but I am starting a new job in August. Therefore, I've been thinking a lot about what to wear on my first day, and what teachers tend to wear day to day. Thus here's a post about my favorite footwear to wear when teaching. For the next few weeks on Friday I'll post a quick post about my opinion on teacher fashion. These will probably stop after August, but who knows I may feel inspired :)

I think everyone knows teachers spend a lot of time on their feet! We move around the class, run from classroom to classroom and don't spend a whole lot of time sitting down.

Usually when I teach I am in flats. I wear heels the first day of class because I find that helps students take me more seriously. After that, I am usually in flats.

I think my ankle looks weird here.
I discovered these shoes when I was home for the holidays. I had forgotten to pack a pair of black shoes and borrowed a pair of my mothers. It was just a boring black flat and I didn't really think it looked that cute. However, once I tried it on, I felt like Cinderella.

Since then I've been doing my best to brag about these shoes to every teacher I meet. I am pretty excited. These, "dexflex comfort" shoes are amazing. The company line is that they are, "happiness for your feet," and I couldn't agree more! Normally they run for $30 at your local Payless. While this isn't a lot, I try to hold out until I can find them for less. Payless often has BOGO (buy one get one free) sales making the shoes only $22.50 each. You can also normally find them on sale. I just picked up three pairs for $15 each!

FatWallet Coupons and DealsFor those without a Payless near you, you can always shop online! If you do shop online, I have an easy way for you to get 6% of your bill back! Just join FatWallet. FatWallet is an easy site to join, and I've been a member for a while. Before you shop at a website just stop by FatWallet to see if they offer CashBack. If they do click through their link and shop as usual. At the end you'll get your goodies (as usual) and cash back from FatWallet!


If you shop as much as I do (check out my shoe collection on the right), you'll be getting significant savings!

Basically, I feel these shoes are worth the investment. They look professional (my conservative father tells me they look nice which is a win!), come in many different colors (so you can find a match for any ensemble), and are pretty affordable (especially when combined with sales and FatWallet).

So that's my all time favorite teaching shoe... what's yours?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Group Collaboration- Crossword Puzzles

This is nothing new, but my students had so much fun on Tuesday, that I wanted to share a more dynamic way to use crossword puzzles in class (rather than making them and passing them out yourself). 

This can be used for almost any grammar point, but we were reviewing relative clauses on Tuesday, so those are the examples you'll see. We use Passages Student's Book 1, which teaches defining and non-defining clauses by discussing different cities and overall travel.

After my students and I worked our way through some grammar activities, it was time for them to produce some sentences, in a collaborative and (I hope) fun way!

My board work
Setting it up (5 minutes): I wrote some sentences/ phrases using relative clauses on the board.

1 Down Something that you use to eat

1 Across _________, which is the capital of Japan, is the birthplace of Joan Fontaine.

2 Across When in Japan, you speak _________

I asked students for the answer to 1 down. One student shouted, "Spoon,! At this point I drew crossword boxes to the side. We quickly solved the puzzle (Chopsticks, Tokyo, Japanese).

Dividing the class (3 minutes)
I have a small multicultural class right now. I have five Japanese students, three Taiwanese students, and one Brazilian student. I don't really love having nine students, but at l east in this case it made the decision to divide the students into groups of three easy. I "randomly" assigned each student a group (A, B, C) to be sure that each group had as many different nationalities as possible.

The Assignment (3 minutes): You can do this many different ways, but this is how it went Tuesday in class.
Teacher: "With your group you need to come up with a theme. What was the theme of my puzzle on the board?"
Students: "Japan."
Teacher: "Yes! You're all so smart! We have been discussing traveling, so what other themes could be select?"
Here is a student making her clues
Students: "Asia" "China" "Barcelona"
Teacher: "Good, you can also do other themes like: 'Things you pack in a suitcase,' or 'Different ways to travel.' The FIRST thing you need to do as a group is  agree on a theme. The SECOND thing you will need to do is come up with some clues. How many clues will you need?"
Students: "Ten" "Five teacher" "Twenty"
Teacher: "There are three of you so 15 clues, but only 10 of them need to have relative clauses" (Note: I thought this would take 30 minutes, but students took about 50 to complete their puzzles. Looking back I would change it to 10 clues.)

Students: "How many clues?"
Teacher: *Writes on the board* "15 clues 10 relative clauses"
Students: "Does it matter how many across and how many up?"Teacher: "Nope. You may do this however you like. When you finish, you must give me TWO blank cross word puzzles. Each group will receive a crossword puzzle from every other group" (With larger classes you could have them photocopy for homework, or just make it so they trade with another group).
Students: "Can we use our phones?"
Teacher: "You can use the textbook, or your cell phones to get information. Please TALK to your partners, but don't talk too loudly, or the other teams will hear your answers."

The Work:
As students worked in groups I heard a lot of English! Some of it was the grammar point (What about, "The woman who is the queen of England?") and some of it was the task based English, "No it doesn't fit there." "That question is too different. Not our theme." etc. I originally was going to give 15  minutes to create the questions and then 5 minutes to make sure everything fit on a crossword puzzle. Maybe with an extra five minutes to actually write out the two final copies for the other groups.... the groups ended up needing about 30 minutes to make the clues and another 15 to assemble the puzzle. However, they were speaking English THE WHOLE TIME! Because they were on task, I told them they could take as much of the class as they needed.

In the end they needed all of my class-time, but I feel it was well worth it!

Complete the Puzzles
Give groups a crossword puzzle(s) from another team. Allow them five minutes to work on it as a team WITHOUT CELL PHONES. Just see how many they know. 
Then, because this isn't the main aim of the class, give them the option of using cell phones or textbooks to find answers. 
The first group to finish both crossword puzzles wins! Since my students are just visiting America for the Summer I give them American paraphernalia (there was an after Fourth of July sale where I got tons of bracelets, pencils, necklaces etc. for less than $1.00 each!), but anything works! If nothing else they win bragging rights!
  • Provide each student with a different text from which to find their answers and clues (a short article about safaris in Africa for examples)
  • Use this as a literature assignment. Have students each create a crossword for a different character, or chapter.
  • Make it about the school, or the teacher!
  • I know there are many crossword puzzle generators on computers, but part of the reasons I like doing it by pen and paper is because students get to talk about where to put the boxes. While you could have them use an online tool, I would avoid it.
  • The options are pretty close to limitless :)
There it is! A simple, and dynamic way to get students to work together, practice the target language, and create a little fun for all the students. How do you use crossword puzzles in the class?   

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Using ‘COMEDY FOR ELT’ Clips

This is a guest blog written by Nick Michelioudakis and it will be included as part of the August ELT Blog carnival on humor. You can read more about the blog carnival and how to participate here (11 more days to submit your blog!). This post covers how English Language Teachers can use different YouTube videos to get students more interested in English. I am sure you'll enjoy it and hopefully get a laugh or two from the videos shown here!

Why use these clips?

This material is not meant to be used like ordinary coursebook material. There is no progression from easier extracts to more difficult ones, nor has there been an attempt to focus on micro-skills in any systematic way.  The main purpose of these sketches is to motivate students.  Having used extracts from comedies for a number of years, I found them by far the most interesting material for students and I was amazed to find that although virtually everything else has at some time or another been put to use in the EFL classroom, this was not the case with radio and TV comedies. 

What can I use this material for?
The fact that most of the sketches are quite short suggests that they can be used as ‘fillers’.  Naturally, this is not to say that they cannot be used to achieve other aims.  For example they can be used to...
... practise topic vocabulary (‘Comedy for ELT – Technology’)
... practise functions (‘Comedyfor ELT – Small Talk’)

However, most of the dialogues are so funny that very often all the introduction the teacher needs to make is: ‘Listen to this!’

In what way is this material different?

Compared to what one normally finds in ELT coursebooks, these excerpts are generally more difficult for a number of reasons:
  • They are authentic – i.e. not originally meant for the ELT classroom.
  • They are scripted, so there is none of the redundancy and repetition which makes real-life speaking somewhat easier to understand.
  • The delivery is usually very quick.
  • The accents are either ‘strange/funny’ (deliberately) foreign-sounding or exaggerated.
  • There are puns and ‘double-entendes’ which make real-time processing harder.
  • There is often play with register, or other devices which again make the listener’s task harder – just as even in the L1, it is often difficult to ‘get the joke’, even if one understand all the ‘words’.
It follows from the above, that the teacher’s role is to help the students as much as possible, to make it easier for them to enjoy these extracts.  This can be done by:
  • Setting the context: explaining what the situation is and who the participants are.
  • Supporting students with unknown vocabulary / background knowledge / cultural elements etc.
  • Keeping the tasks easy – easier than the students’ level would suggest. 
Precisely because the material is fun, it may be that some students (of the ‘unless-it-hurts-it-can’t-be-good’ school of thought) may feel that it is a waste of time.  For this reason it is a good idea for the teacher to:
  • ‘Sell’ the idea to the students, stressing that if they can understand these dialogues they will have no problem with the – relatively easier – ones in the exams, and
  • ‘Link’ the dialogues to the rest of the lesson, so that they are integrated and there is a sense of purpose and continuity (that is the reason why the ‘Theme’ is mentioned in the notes accompanying the clip).
  • Don’t give students the punch-line; it spoils the sketch for them as it deprives them of the pleasure of understanding it themselves.
  • Don’t play extracts which require too much explanation.
  • Unless you know your class / private student really well, don’t take unnecessary risks with ‘dangerous / taboo’ topics (e.g. sex, politics, religion).
  • Don’t treat this material like the listening tasks you normally come across in coursebooks.  Make it clear to students that you see it as an ‘extra’, a ‘treat’.  If they expect it to be special, this will act as a self-fulfilling expectation.  Remember: Anything can be ‘schooled’!.
Task 1

Normally in listening activities it is a good idea to get students to listen to the audio/video clip more than once, with the normal sequence being first listening for gist and then for detail. In the case of these sketches the first task is normally easier than one would expect as focusing too much on it would detract from the students’ enjoyment.  Typical activities are T/F Qs, Complete the sentence, Ordering or Straightforward open-ended Qs.

Task 2

In my experience students want to be able to understand the dialogues as fully as possible, which is why in most cases the second task involves them working with the script (e.g. typically filling-in gaps combined with adding, deleting or changing words). 
[NB: The words which are blanked out are not random; in most cases words are deleted so that students have to understand the missing words to ‘get the joke’ or in order to focus their attention on some important preposition, collocation etc. Similarly, when a word is substituted for another, in the vast majority it is a near synonym, so that students will not have to look up the meaning of the original word].


For the students to both enjoy the extracts and derive the maximum benefit from them, I believe it is a good idea to listen to them more than once.  In fact (unlike other material) the less challenging their task becomes through repeated listening, the more students enjoy the dialogues as they can appreciate the humour more – their increased confidence enables them to catch things they had previously missed! 

Follow up

As the main aim of the listening activities is to help students to appreciate and enjoy the dialogues, I have not included any follow-up language or skills work so as not to spoil the whole experience for them.  However, there are a number of things teachers can do after these listening sessions.  Here are some ideas:
  • Role play:  students may like a particular extract so much, they may want to act it out, or, better still, record their dialogue on audio or even video tape (‘Constable Savage’).
  • Parallel writing:  students may write a similar dialogue on the same or a related theme (‘Two Recipes’).
  • Extension:  where a dialogue is part of a story, students may want to continue it, or simply write a paragraph ‘predicting’ what is going to happen next (‘Letters H – Miss P.’) They can then listen to the rest of the sketch/episode to check their predictions.
  • Noticing:  unless the script-writers have deliberately tried to create a funny effect, the language used perfectly mimics colloquial speech. Indeed, some of the best scripts are not scripted (‘Death’). Therefore it makes sense to occasionally ask students to go through the scripts simply underlining phrases.  [NB: Instead of focusing on unknown–extremely rare/low- frequency items, it is best if they look instead for expressions/collocations which they can easily understand, but which they would not have used themselves.] 
Last words
This is the main idea: You ‘sacrifice’ some of your precious contact time in the hope that the motivational effect will more than make up for it! In a sense, it is a calculated ‘gamble’; there is always a trade-off between quantity and quality. Here the bet is that the amount of exposure the students get, will more than make up for the opportunity cost. If the ‘gamble’ works, you may find that the students who spent 15 minutes in class watching a Rowan Atkinson clip, will then go on to spend another 5 hours at home watching every similar clip they can find!  To find out why just watch some of the clips yourself! :)

 About the Author

Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) is an Academic Consultant with LEH (the representatives of the Pearson PTE G Exams in Greece).  He has worked as an ELT teacher, examiner and trainer for both teachers and Oral Examiners. His love of comedy led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ project on YouTube. He has written many articles on Methodology, while others from the ‘Psychology and ELT’ series have appeared in many countries. He thinks of himself as a ‘front-line teacher’ interested in one-to-one teaching and student motivation as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology.  When he is not struggling with students, he likes to spend his time in a swimming pool or playing chess.  For his articles or handouts, you can visit his site at
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