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Teaching Tips 218

Striking the right note!
Figuratively speaking
Springing to life

Record Store Day '15

Striking the right note!

CROSSWORD DAY - 18th April
The 18th April is Crossword Day so for ideas for using crosswords & some interesting materials see:


Stephen Hawking is getting in on Record Store Day with the issue of a video of him singing the Monty Python 'Galaxy Song'. The limited-edition 7 inch single will be issued in vinyl on Record Store Day. Check out the video:

Record Store Day is the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music. Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day..'

The official site:

David Grohl 'will wear the sash of Record Store Day Ambassador 2015'. Here's what he says:

I found my calling in the back bin of a dark, dusty record store.

1975's K-Tel's Blockbuster 20 Original Hits by the Original Stars featuring Alice Cooper, War, Kool and the Gang, Average White Band and many more, bought at a small record shop in my suburban Virginia neighborhood, it was this record that changed my life and made me want to become a musician. The second that I heard Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" kick in, I was hooked. My life had been changed forever. This was the first day of the rest of my life.

Growing up in Springfield, Virginia in the 70's and 80's, my local independent record stores were magical, mysterious places that I spent all of my spare time (and money) in, finding what was to eventually become the soundtrack of my life. Every weekend I couldn't wait to take my hard earned, lawn mowing cash down for an afternoon full of discovery. And, the chase was always as good as the catch! I spent hours flipping through every stack, examining the artwork on every cover, the titles and credits, searching for music that would inspire me, or understand me, or just to help me escape. These places became my churches, my libraries, my schools. They felt like home. And, I don't know where I would be today without them.

More recently, I've been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to rediscover this sense of excitement, that magical feeling of finding something all one's own, by watching my kids go through it. Let me tell you: Nothing makes me prouder than watching my daughters spin that first Roky Erickson LP one of them picked out for their very own on one of our weekend trips to the record store. Or to watch the reverence they have as they handle their Beatles vinyl. How carefully they replace the albums into their sleeves, making sure they're placed back onto the self in the proper sequence. Watching them realize how crucial and intertwined every part of this experience is, I relive the magic of my earliest experiences with vinyl singles and albums, their artwork, liners notes etc. all over again and again.

I believe that the power of the record store to inspire is still alive and well, and that their importance to our next generation of musicians is crucial. Take an afternoon (and some hard earned lawn mowing money) and please support them.

You never know, it might change your life forever, too.

This would make a good reading for an interested group. Then onto discussions about their first records, their local record stores, first concerts, best concerts etc - see ideas below.

An article in The Guardian last year about the best independent record stores in Britain:

With independent record stores disappearing every day, this Day raises awareness of their unique place in the development of popular music. A lesson could take the following form:

1. Intro to the theme - ask the students: buy records? where? names of any indie record stores? what was the first record you bought?

2. Elicit why there is 'Record Store Day' on the 18th.

3. If you can use video in class, there are several videos on , a few of them for the vinyl enthusuast so choose carefully.

4. You could choose some of the quotes on & design reading tasks for them.

5. Students discuss how one could promote the Day > pool ideas.

6. Students design a poster for the Day > put them on the walls & all wander round & vote for the best.

7. Pairwork discussion - for/against RSDay - the against arguing that RSDay should be every day.

8. Discussion:
- why have record stores declined?
- do you buy music online?
- do you think it is valid to download music without paying for it?
- what do you think of the music & flim companies prosecuting individuals?
- what do you think of the French idea of three warnings & then internet cut off?
- etc

9. End with a song - choose a song the group would be interested in - you could ask them the previous lesson for ideas on this. Here are a couple of books to help with designing tasks with songs:

Music & Song - T.Murphey (OUP)

Musical Openings - D.Cranmer & C.Laroy (Longman)

Record Store Day '15

A few other ideas for using music in class:

- Music vocab: musician, musical, song, sing, play, tune, rhythm, composer, lyrics, music, notes, key, beat, different genres: blues, rock, reggae etc., band, group, vocalist, singer, choir, backing singers, guitarist, drummer, bassist, top ten, charts, cd, single, mini-disc, MP3, player, album, solo album, cover, hi fi, cassette recorder, recording session, studio, concert, recital, gig, on the road, roadie, groupie, fans, stars, live, record company, label, jukebox, music to my ears, musical chairs.

- Figurative music - ring a bell, chime in, drum (sthg) into someone's head, as fit as a fiddle, play second fiddle, fiddling while Rome burns, jazz something up, all that jazz, music to one's ears, face the music, strike a false note, strike (or hit) the right note, (sound) like a broken record, go for a song, call the tune, sing a different tune, fine tuning, blow the whistle .....

- Background music is a good idea when doing roleplays & discussions as it gives the shy student something to hide behind. I wouldn't put it on during a silent reading activity as it can be very distractive for some. What kind of background music? Soothing classical music never fails. If it is music the students really like you run the risk of them concentrating on the music rather than the lesson. I would certainly make a point of making sure the lyrics were in English.
In Suggestopedia music is used while dialogues are being read out. The first 'active' concert uses music from early & classical romantic periods such as Beethoven, Mozart & Hadyn as it is dramatic & therefore emotionally engaging. The second 'pseudo-passive' concert uses Baroque music such as Vivaldi, Telemann or Corelli as this is supposed to be less personal & provides a background of order & regularity which is better for the presentation.

- Music taste questionnaires - students write their own & fill it in & feed back on the classes' tastes in music.

- Play a selection of different genres - students identify & discuss which they like.

- With the selection of genres, students match moods to the different excerpts.

- Using a song is a really nice way of starting a theme off.

- Reading & writing music reviews - students could bring in own music for the others to listen to who then write the review.

- Music discussions: give out discussion points - e.g. 'Music with offensive lyrics should be banned.' 'Downloading music from the internet is not illegal.'

- For the very young learner music & songs are a must. Lots of language can be learned by repetition & a good store of songs is essential. Get to the EFL Playhouse

- Provide the language to talk about music. Eg. the language of like/dislikes - 'a great sound', 'love the bass line', 'it doesn't do much for me', 'when I hear this I think of....' etc.

- Music & the past - 'which songs encapsulate each period when you were growing up?' Take in examples from your development & get the students to bring their own in.

- Play music & students think of a film type that might 'go' with that music & then a scene that would be suitable, & then they write the script for that scene, & then practise acting it out, & finally act it out in front of the class with the music in the background.

- Listen & tick 'emotion adjectives' that the song evokes & then students compare & give reasons.

- Listen & unjumble the verse order.

And the list goes on so we'll stop there & point you towards Sarn Rich's article on how to use pop music in the classroom. There are lots of ideas & materials.

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kick the bucket
Figuratively speaking

Rincewood looked embarrassed. 'Yes, but, well, it's my home, don't you see?'

No,' said the shopkeeper, 'not really. I always say home is where you hang your hat.'

'Um, no,' said Twoflower, always anxious to enlighten. 'Where you hang your hat is a hatstand. A home is-'

The Light Fantastic - Terry Pratchett

It used to be thought that teaching advanced classes consisted in large part to expanding the use of idioms. A lot of the 'grammar' had been covered so what was left to teach but idioms! The result was a lot of inaccurate students coming out with uncommon & out of context idioms, lots of 'cats & dogs' being cited on rainy days. Nowadays we have a better idea of the needs of advanced learners & idioms have taken a more realistic backseat.

Here's a Google definition of an idiom:

'An idiom is a phrase or a fixed expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning. An idiom's figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning.'

And the idea of figurative language as described in the Longman dictionary of English Language & Culture 1992:475:

'figurative adj (of a word, phrase, meaning etc) to suggest a picture in the mind or make a comparison.'

So how do you decide if an expression is an idiom or not? Below is an analysis of idioms from R.Glasser 1988 (I cannot find the source for this - if anyone has it please let me know). Have a go at the task:

The idiom test
The following are all incorrect idioms – correct the mistake & formulate the rule.

An idiom has:

a. You're a very wet blanket*.
no additions

b. He fell for it hook & sinker*.
no ...........

c. Don't spill the peas*.
no ...........

d. They moved everything: barrel, lock & stock*.
no ...........

e. (Of a business) My partner is sleeping*.
blocks ...........

f. Freda is a wetter blanket than Mary*.
blocks ...........

g. The playing of the waiting game is always hard*.
blocks ...........

h. An eye was kept on him*.
blocks ...........

See end for answers.

So the above dealt with the grammar of idioms, now onto the meanings. There have been many ways proposed of categorising the meanings of idioms.

The basic distinction is that an idiom has two meanings, one literal & the other figurative.
drop them a line = send a message
rocket science = difficult
spill the beans = reveal a secret
it cost an arm & a leg = it was very expensive

'The spectrum of idiomaticity' provides four differences, the overlap sometimes a little blurry:

1. Transparent - the literal meaning or very close to it, can be inferred easily.
e.g. go places = become successful
take a walk

2. Semi-transparent - has a metaphorical meaning, the different parts have little to reveal about the meaning.
e.g. pass the buck = avoid responsibility
pull strings = use one's influence for unfair advantage

3. Semi-opaque - an idiom which has both a literal & a figurative meaning, the latter not connected to the parts of the idiom.
e.g. bring the house down = make laugh or applaud enthusiastically
break the ice = relieve tension in a situation

4. Opaque - impossible to infer meaning as the parts do not reveal anything about the meaning, cultural references are needed for the meaning to become apparent.
e.g. kick the bucket = die
face the music = confront unpleasant consequence of one's actions

This is more teacher knowledge, I would not pass it onto my students.

Here are a few rules of thumb for dealing with idioms in class:

- deal with them as they crop up in context.
- treat them as another chunk of language.
- always deal with them in context.
- get students to infer the meanings from the context.
- do not assume the idiom exists in the learners' languages.
- focus on high frequency idioms.
- aim for reception, that students can recognise them, rather than production.
- talk to your students about the dangers of using them wrongly!
- play them down as a means to sounding more native-like.
- plan, as much as you can, & make sure you can explain them if the students cannot infer the meanings. There are lots of sites that have useful explanations of idioms.

To get ideas on how to approach figurative language & idioms check out an ELTJ article - 50/1 January 1996 - called 'Using Figurative Language to Expand Students' Vocabulary' by Gillian Lazar. And also 'Meanings and Metaphors: Activities to Practise Figurative Language' (Cambridge Copy Collection) by Gillian Lazar (CUP):

Answers to task above

So one definition is that the folllowing are true of idioms:
a. no additions
b. no deletions
c. no substitutions
d. no permutations
e. blocks predication
f. blocks comparative
g. blocks nominalisation
h. blocks passives

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Springing to life


Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Catalog of Beautiful Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Maria Popova

The euphoria experienced as you begin to fall in love, the pile of books bought but unread, the coffee "threefill," and other lyrical linguistic delights.

"Words belong to each other," Virginia Woolf said in the only surviving recording of her voice, a magnificent meditation on the beauty of language. But what happens when words are kept apart by too much unbridgeable otherness? "Barring downright deceivers, mild imbeciles and impotent poets, there exist, roughly speaking, three types of translators," Vladimir Nabokov opened his strongly worded opinion on translation. Indeed, this immeasurably complex yet vastly underappreciated art of multilingual gymnastics, which helps words belong to each other and can reveal volumes about the human condition, is often best illuminated through the negative space around it — those foreign words so rich and layered in meaning that the English language, despite its own unusual vocabulary, renders them practically untranslatable.



Spring, my favourite season, is almost upon us in the northern hemisphere, & the Easter break is on the way for some, so this week we've got a mish mash of ideas, links & plans on Easter, festivals & Spring.

A lesson plan about Spring breaks:

Easter traditions around the world - stds explain local traditions & compare with other countries. For a few links go to 

- This could be the excuse you've been waiting for - Chocolate! - coming from Easter eggs - what a link! There's loads of info on the net about the art of making chocolate, recipes, the history & care of chocolate - did you know that chocolate eaten in moderation helps you live longer - we all secretly hoped that anyway!
 There are a few sites which talk of chocolate eating being better than sex! Among many reasons given, it is said that 'it doesn't make you pregnant, it's easy to find, size doesn't matter with chocolate, it satisfies even when it has gone soft & you can have it on your work desk without offending anyone!' When looking at the theme of chocolate you could incorporate a chocolate tasting into the lesson - stds taste different ones & vote - it would be better to keep the wrappers secret until the results are announced - lots of fun! If you are abroad do try & get hold of some chocolates from your home country to use in the tasting.

Lesson plan on the site about chocolate - quotes about chocolate & a chapter from 'Chocolat' - reading lesson:

- For the younger learners - a treasure hunt - two teams write instructions for each other, 'Look under the door for the next clue' etc, until they reach the Easter egg provided as a prize by their generous teacher!
- design & send Easter cards
- decorate eggs (getting into shapes & animal lexical sets etc.) 
- make Easter Bunny masks 
- interview the Easter Bunny 
- chocolate tasting!
- Easter worksheets for the younger learner at:

A lesson plan on 10 very strange festivals:

- As they say on the site: "What is an "Easter Egg"? - The term "Easter Egg", as we use it here, means any amusing tidbit that creators hid in their creations. They could be in computer software, movies, music, art, books, or even your watch. There are thousands of them, and they can be quite entertaining, if you know where to look. This site will help you discover Easter Eggs in the things you see and use everyday, and let you share Easter Eggs you discover with the rest of the world." So, give your stds a different kind of Easter Egg.

- Easter Island - 'has long been the subject of curiosity and speculation. How and why did its inhabitants carve and transport the massive statues which surround the island? What remains of this culture today, and what lessons can we learn from their legacy?

- Spring is the month for fashions - cut up lots of fashion pics from magazines - lots you can do with them - e.g. work out wardrobes for selves/each other/famous personalities - combined with physical description vocab - connected to mood adjectives reflected in clothes, adjective order, blind date describing appearance when meeting etc.…

- lots of ideas on Spring & the younger learner from Teach-nology

- why change the clocks?

Gardens & Gardening - not a topic that comes up much in the coursebooks & no. 1 hobby in the UK - topical at this time of year:
- get stds to design their ideal gardens/parks - if you've got them, use cuisenaire rods.
- for the younger learner; plant something - use the topic of Spring as the basis for a project.
- Figurative language - all things to do with gardening - to flourish/to nip something in the bud/salt of the earth/raking over the ashes/a spurt of new growth/blossoming/blooming/to have green fingers, etc.. To get ideas on how to approach figurative language check out an ELTJ article - 50/1 January 1996 - called 'Using Figurative Language to Expand Students' Vocabulary' by Gillian Lazar. And also 'Meanings and Metaphors: Activities to Practise Figurative Language' (Cambridge Copy Collection) by Gillian Lazar (CUP):

- Poetry - William Blake poems such as 'Spring', 'The Sick Rose', 'My Pretty Rose Tree', 'Ah! Sun-Flower', 'The Lilly', 'The Garden of Love', 'The Echoing Green' & 'The Lamb'.
- 10 best poems about Spring from the Guardian:

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