Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Teaching ESL Students to Describe Movies

Everyone loves movies, but can your ESL students adequately describe them? Sure, they can say "comedies are funny" or something like that, but do they know more than one or two genres? Could they say why they like horror films?

I recently taught this very successful lesson to a group of intermediate university students. It gives them the vocabulary needed to describe movies, along with IELTS questions to test them. (My students are all training for the IELTS right now.)

I like to start off with a compilation of good movie moments. You can find hundreds of these on YouTube so pick one that's suitable for your class in terms of contents, length, and interest. Then the students can say which films they know, and if possible mention some information about the film.

Then teach this PPT:

Monday, 20 November 2017

IELTS Reading Practice - free printable (with answers)

I love sharks and so when I found this article on New Scientist, I couldn't wait to share it with my students. As it falls under the topic of environment/animals, it's perfect for IELTS. It's also written in the right tone for IELTS, too, and all difficult words of vocabulary can be figured out from context.

I put together some questions aimed at developing key reading skills: figuring out vocabulary from context, highlight important features for later use, and some common question types. I've also put in a writing response at the end to make it a bit more productive.

I like to begin my lessons with a discussion as a lead-in activity. You can ask students some general questions like:

  1. How do you feel about sharks?
  2. What are some problems sharks face?
  3. What do you know about sharks?
and so on. Don't get them to talk about how to save sharks because that comes later. 

You can also show a short video that deals with the above questions. I like this one from Discovery News: 

Next, give out the reading paper and guide them through the questions, discussing each. I like to show where in the text each answer could be found. It helps them a great deal.

Here's the document:

Finally, when it comes to the writing, I show another short video to get some ideas in their minds. You don't have to, but it's pretty easy viewing.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Great PPT for Teaching Technology Vocabulary [ESL Lesson]

Teaching technology vocabulary is essential but you can't just rely on the textbook. The textbook my school gives me is great but it's also about 12 years old. In the world of technology, that's a dinosaur. Students all use tablets, smartphones, apps, and videostreaming services, but none of these things are mentioned in most ESL textbooks. If you want to teach, you've got to do it yourself! Well, actually, you don't. I've put together a PPT that you can use. It's got some really useful ESL technology vocabulary like:

  • tablet
  • smartphone
  • app
  • meme
  • social network
and much more. Feel free to download it, adapt it, and share it. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

A Fun Way to Practice Adjective Clauses

Grammar can be boring... but it doesn't always have to be that way. You can use games to teach grammar. Take TABOO, for example. It's a classic after-dinner game in English speaking countries. You probably didn't think of it much before, but often when playing TABOO you would use adjective clauses. Think about it:

You need to describe the Eiffel Tower but you can't say:

  • Paris
  • France
  • Tower
  • Tall
So what do you do? 

How about this: 

"It's a famous landmark which is located in a popular European city. It is a big structure that is made of metal." 

Look at that. Two adjective clauses! 

Here's a PPT I made that's ready to go for your students. Just download it (it's free) and take it to class. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

5 Time Management Tips for ESL Teachers

New ESL teachers often find that one of the hardest parts of the job is managing the timing of a class. It's a newbie's worst nightmare to find they have run out of activities with five or ten minutes to go. This is something you naturally get better at with experience, but there are some things you can do to make to get better at time management.

1. Have Extra Activities Planned

It's better to have too much than too little planned. If you can't finish everything in class, you can always assign it for homework or do it next time, but if you run out of activities early... well, it can be difficult to think of something new on the spot. Make sure that you plan out your lesson with a few extra activities that could - if needed - be skipped.

2. Have a Go-to Activity Ready

This one sort of comes with experience, but if you're a naturally creative person, it might be easy for you. Rather than doing the above and actually planning out a lesson, many teachers just have certain activities in their head for events like this. Rather than dragging out a grammar lesson when it's already run its course, have a productive activity to follow-up. Certain tasks are universal, like asking students what they plan to do later or how they feel about something. If you can tie some sort of discussion to the previous work, that's perfect. 

3. Plan Carefully and Realistically 

This is sort of a no-brainer, but it really is important. In your lesson plan, make sure that you time everything well. Be aware, of  course, that the best plan often go awry... but you have already built that into your lesson, haven't you? Be flexible but realistic in your planning. Don't expect a group of intermediate students to have a thirty minute discussion on an abstract topic. Likewise, be aware that sometimes an activity may prove more interesting and worthwhile than you anticipated, and that you may need to continue it for the students' benefit.

4. Don't Drag Things Out

It's really tempting sometimes when you know that you're coming to the end of a class to drag out an activity in order to fill the allotted time. Instead, follow the above tips. Dragging a speaking activity out can be a massive mood-killer in the classroom as students run out of things to say and simply sit in silence. You don't want to end the activity because you know you have time to kill... so you let the silence run on and on. It's awful. Avoid that by giving them a new task. 

5. Divide Your Lesson Into 15 Minute Periods

My classes are 90 minutes long and the school mandates a 10 minute break at the 45 minute point - so basically 2x 45 min lessons. I like to break those 45 periods into 3x 15 minute units. This may sound silly, but it really makes planning much easier! Of course, activities run on and others fall short, but breaking it into these groups of 15 minutes really makes it easier. Within that 15 minute period you may have several activities or one longer one... but it helps you structure it in your head and manage it during the class.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Teaching Halloween Vocabulary to ESL Students

Today is October 31st and that means ESL teachers across the globe are busy explaining Halloween to their students. It's a great opportunity to have fun in the classroom and I advice you to do whatever you school or university is happy with you doing. Carve pumpkins, give out candy, watch movies... whatever they'll let you do, do it! This is a fun day, like Christmas, and nothing gets students learning like fun.

For me, I have some pretty tight constraints in as far as what I can do in the class, so I keep my lessons a bit more overtly educational. Still, I like to blend in a little music and some visuals, and I always carve a couple of pumpkins beforehand to decorate the room. My students here in rural China have never seen anything like that before up close and it blows their minds!


I like to start off a lesson like this by simply asking them, "What do you know about ______?" Then I'll let them tell me what they've heard about Halloween. Chinese students tend to know a lot more about this holiday than, say, Christmas. Still, I take this chance to board some vocabulary and correct any misconceptions they may have.

After that, I go through this Halloween vocabulary PPT:

Halloween ESL Vocabulary from David Wills

When I finish up with that, I usually talk about pranks because that's the last slide. Ask the students about pranks they've pulled or would like to pull. Then you can show them a prank video from YouTube (something scary is best).

Finally, I download the Halloween episode of Modern Family for them to watch. They can then try to describe what they saw because most of the vocabulary from the PPT pops up during the show. 

Friday, 27 October 2017

A PPT Guide to Noun Clauses

I made a PPT overview of noun clauses to help in teaching my students this important area of grammar. It starts off asking what a noun is, then a clause, and from there it explains noun clauses. It makes use of some valuable examples and then concludes with a short test.