Thursday, 20 October 2016

Fun ESL Intonation Activity

Here's a great activity for teaching your students to speak more naturally. I've found, over my many years of teaching ESL, that students tend to speak like robots... They're focused on the nuts and bolts of the language, and lose that natural bounce and rhythm that comes with any language.

Sometimes, when you have students practice a dialogue, they'll get into the rhythm of it and play up the role, but it's rare, and only when they can make fun of each other. With this activity, I've found a way of unleashing their natural creativity and allowing them freedom to be silly.

Yet this also emphasizes a serious point - contextual intonation. I only do this activity after teaching some key elements of phonemics - like word stress or sentence stress. This tends to move the lesson into a fun area.

Setting Up

Give the students a short dialogue. It can be anything, but make it well below their level. This is important. You don't want to challenge them here, because the point isn't the dialogue, but how it's spoken. Give them something so easy that they immediately laugh at it and even the very lowest level student in the class has no trouble comprehending. 

My students are intermediate level, and I use this dialogue: 

A: Hi, how are you?
B: Fine, thank you. And you?
A: Just great. What have you been doing lately?
B: Oh, not much. But I've been keeping busy.
A:'s been good to see you.
B: Yes, it has...well, bye!
A: Goodbye.

Tell your students to practice the dialogue a few times. If they're like my students, they'll act silly because it's so easy. Then tell them to memorize it. Tell them that soon you will remove the dialogue from the screen/board and they'll have to perform it from memory.

Running the Activity

Once the students have confined this dialogue to memory, bring up a list of scenarios that involve two people. These could be any two people, but make them fun and interesting. Tell the students to pick a scenario and perform the dialogue in the role of these two people. Demonstrate with an obvious example and show how the above statements could be said while happy or sad, angry or excited, etc.

Here are some idea for roles:

  • Two old friends meeting by chance for the first time in many years.
  • A divorced couple. 
  • A dying man and a doctor.
  • A police officer and a criminal.
  • Two doomed lovers.
  • A landlord and a tenant who owes him money.
  • A monster and a child.
  • Two rival athletes. 
Come up with as many possibilities as you want. Try to make them fun and weird. Have the students pick one and practice it for a few minutes, and then choose another and practice that. You could have students read in front of the class or a group and other students need to guess which roles they were playing.  

Monday, 10 October 2016

ESL Activity: The Price is Right

Today I was teaching my students how to say numbers. They're in university and have quite a high level of English, so you might be wondering why I bother... but numbers are challenging for many learners of English - especially those from East Asia.

In East Asia, some languages group numbers by the tens of thousands - ie with four zeroes instead of three. When students think in their native language and translate, it can be difficult for them. As a result, you need to show the rules for stating long numbers.

I do this by starting at zero and building up to 1,000,000,000,000. It seems inconceivably massive, but if you explain the formulas for stating long numbers, demonstrating slowly and building up with lots of examples, it's actually incredibly easy.

There's also the tricky subject of pronunciation. Most Asian students struggle with "thousand" because of the /θ/ sound. Then there's the slight difference between 15 and 50, 16 and 60, etc.

To practice numbers, I use the idea from The Price is Right - a TV show where people guess prices of products. It's very easy to set up. Just take some pictures and prices from Amazon or any other online store and stick them into a PowerPoint presentation. Put the students in groups and have them guess the prices.

I find the natural competitiveness of people gets even quieter students fired up, and because they might both think the product costs around $250, they'll get tricky and one will say, "$251" to beat the other. It's a great way of having them practice their language. 

Friday, 30 September 2016

ESL Auction Game

I used this activity with two different groups of students yesterday and it worked perfectly. They absolutely loved it, and I can't recommend it highly enough to other teachers.

How it works

The beauty of the ESL Auction Game is that you can use it with any level of student for a wide range of language points. I used it with tenses that I'd been teaching in recent days to check their knowledge. 

I ran a review lesson with a number of exercises testing their understanding of the target language. Then I began to set up the auction by showing them a video from the TV show, Storage Wars. I used this because it's easy to find on YouTube. You could realistically use any auction video as long as it shows the main concepts of an auction. I also taught the vocabulary: auction, lot, bid.

You need to assign the students to groups, and give them a sheet of paper with some sentences written down. Some of these sentences should be correct and some should be incorrect. Tailor this to your group, but I highly recommend making it challenging. Once the game begins, even the most apathetic student tends to get involved and bidding wars are common! 

Give the students time to look over the sentences. Remember that you want them learning from this so give them enough time to discuss in groups which sentences are right and which are wrong. As they do this, you can set up the board work.

I have classes of around 50 students so I typically divide them into 10 teams of 5 students. Therefore, I write the numbers 1-10 across the top of the board. I give each student $10,000 credit to spend on the auction, which is indicated above their team number. Below the team number (you could also use team names, which students seem to find fun), you write the lot which was purchased and the amount it was purchased for. 

Make sure to demonstrate the procedure first. The students must be clear on how auctions work, and how this game will work. Ask some CCQs and ICQs if needed.

Like I mentioned before, this game can get competitive! I was surprised how my shy, quiet students exploded into life and began desperately outbidding each other. This can be helped even more if you get into the role of auctioneer a little! I joked around by speaking really fast, which seemed to amuse the students. Pretty soon some of the more confident ones were shouting out bids rather than silently bidding. 

Reasons for Using ESL Auction

The game is lots of fun and requires surprisingly little time to plan. You need to print out only as many pieces of paper as you have teams, and only to make sure that the sentences (the lots) they bid on are appropriate. 

I firmly believe that most learning is achieved when the student is interested in the lesson, and in this game the students will surely be captivated.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

CELTA Summary

I did a CELTA course earlier this summer in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and was recently thinking about the things I'd learned as I try to apply them to my current university course. Below are some of the key points from the CELTA course. Feel free to leave others in the comment section below.

Authentic language – don’t teach inauthentic dialogues or pronunciation
Boarding – prepare your board work and make it clear and logical
Chesting – demonstrate an activity by chesting the material prior to distributing it around the class
Communicative – language is about communication, so students need to be talking in order to learn
Controlled and freer practice – allow students a chance to use the language in activities that first involve limited choice, and then get freer
Echoing – don’t do it!
Eliciting – try to elicit meaning and grammar labels from students
Fluency and accuracy – these are different; it is most important to build fluency, so don’t worry when accuracy slips except in controlled practice
Graded language – don’t speak too fast, use too many idioms, or overly complex grammar; avoid too much Teacher Talk Time (TTT)
Instructions – make them clear and precise; practice in advance; if necessary, use Instruction Check Questions (ICQs)
Lead-in – activate schemata by offering an interesting, relevant lead-in activity
MPF – (meaning, form pronunciation) for all new vocabulary, demonstrate meaning clearly, then work on P and F with drilling and modelling; use Concept Check Questions (CCQs) to check M
Personalization – use photos and stories from your own life to build rapport with students
Pairwork – always give students time to discuss with a partner after an activity and before reporting back
Phonology – work on word stress, linkage, phonemes, etc
Planning – work on lesson plans and language analyses to ensure successful lessons
Sit back – teacher shouldn’t be talking too much or monitoring obtrusively

TTT – keep it to a minimum

Friday, 23 September 2016

Past Tense Review Lesson - Running Dictation and Guided Discovery

I just did this lesson today with two groups of sophomore university students and it went rather well, so I'm going to share it with my readers. If you use it and find it helpful, please share the link around.

Last week I taught a quite boring lesson to review the present tenses, and I wanted something more kinaesthetic and communicative. I also wanted to incorporate the guided-discovery approach rather than just talking and testing.

I began the lesson with a running dictation, which I'd never done at my present job because the school is rather fusty and conservative. However, it went incredibly well. I wrote this reading passage and had the four sentences stuck up on walls around the school (within 100 meters of the classroom).
 I actually hadn't underlined the verbs in the document when it was printed and cut up for the students. This was just for my reference, and to show them later.

I got the students in groups of five. One student would write and the other four would, one by one, run off and read the sentence, then try to remember it, and come back to tell "the writer."

Here's where the language point comes in... I would tell the students to put the story in order, and then when they'd done that, I'd ask what tense it is in... past, present, or future? They'd say, "past," and I'd ask them to underline all the verbs.

At this point, they would start to realize some of the errors they'd made in the sentences because they'd recall the verb rules. Instead of essentially a game of Chinese whispers, it became a grammatical jigsaw puzzle.

I had a few students read their stories aloud and then gave the correct version to the class to compare.


After this I had them do a guided discovery exercise to have them establish exactly when to use the various past tenses. It seemed really difficult and took them a long time, but they figured it out, particularly after I put them in pairs and told them to check with their partner. Then I had them do two more tasks to test their understanding. Here's the worksheet I made:

And here are the answers for you lazy teachers ;)

After this I had the students write stories from their childhood using a variety of past tenses, and other students were required to ask 3 questions about the story. 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Job Application Task

I made this for my final CELTA class. It's a fake newspaper jobs page. I wanted my students to write a job application cover letter (although you could adapt this for a speaking class and have them do an interview), and so I put some questions on the back. I wanted to check that they understood the content of the advert first, before writing.

Before doing this activity I gave my students a model, of course, and we explored some useful language points for writing a cover letter.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Love/Hate + verb-ing Worksheet

I recently taught a CELTA class about saying whether you like/love/hate etc doing something. The grammar is pretty simple.

subject + like/love/hate/don't mind/don't like + verb-ing

Here's the worksheet I put together. I think it's pretty self-explanatory. I initially taught my students the grammar on a whiteboard, with the "smileys" representing like/love etc on a cline. 

Feel free to download and print for your classes.