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Teaching Tips 118

Chocolate tasting
Happy healthy teaching
Thought groups


Chocolate tasting

We have looked at Days & Weeks to celebrate different things in out lessons & a list of prominent Days can be found at:

So instead of some historical figure or a worthy cause, we now have the chance to celebrate something much more interesting - 'chocolate' - all week long. Well, if you live in England that is. This week, 15-21 October is designated 'Chocolate Week'. I suppose, judging from the list of participants, that it is a front for persuading the public to buy even more chocolate that they already do - 'The confectionery industry is worth over £5 billion in the UK alone of which chocolate is £3½ billion.'. But let's not this, or geographical boundaries, put us off a well earned chocolate binge, or at least, a lesson on chocolate.

The first thing that comes to mind when contemplating a lesson on chocolate is how & when to get in the chocolate tasting. This involves taking along enough chocolate bars (a small investment), without the wrappers, so that there is a piece of each type for all. Hand round the different chocolates & the students taste each & give points on each, discussing them together. At the end, work out the overall chocolate winner & show them the wrappers. This could be done throughout the whole lesson, introducing a new tasting between stages of the lesson. And don't forget to provide & expand the language for them to comment on the tastings. this works with all types of groups at all ages. A memorable lesson for all & a real opinion gap.

And then don't forget to use chocolate bars as prizes in class competitions.

A way in to the lesson would be tell the class about Chocolate Week & ask them if it is a good idea or not, would it work in their country or not etc.. And then into some vocab connected to the area - choc, chocoholic, wrapper, bar, a box of.., etc. Maybe following with some quotes to discuss:

Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands - and then eat just one of the pieces.
Judith Viorst

Forget love-- I'd rather fall in chocolate!!!

I could give up chocolate but I'm not a quitter.

Put the chocolate in the bag and nobody gets hurt.

A day without chocolate is a day without sunshine.

Life without chocolate is like a beach without water.

I have this theory that chocolate slows down the aging process.... It may not be true, but do I dare take the chance?

And then on to a reading on the history of chocolate - see the links below.

To finish you could have some chocolate-related roleplays:

You are addicted to chocolate - a chocoholic. You need to eat 20 bars a day. Ask for ideas to help you cut this down.
Your friend's children are huge because your friend gives them too much chocolate. Talk to her about the problem. Be tactful!

Here are some links to help you look for material:

The Chocolate Week website:
A history of chocolate - reading material, from a UK perspective:
How to tell good chocolate:
How chocolate is made:

There is a 'Chocolat' lesson plan on the site. This looks at an excerpt from the book 'Chocolat':

Links to material on chocolate themed holidays:

Wikipedia's page on chocolate, with lots of links:

Making the most of chocolate on the BBC website:

Exploring chocolate:

A recent scientific study came up with the following results on our cravings for chocolate - 'A small study links the type of bacteria living in people's digestive system to a desire for chocolate. Everyone has a vast community of microbes in their guts. But people who crave daily chocolate show signs of having different colonies of bacteria than people who are immune to chocolate's allure.'
For the group that are interested in science, this would make a good article to use - Scientists Explain Chocolate Cravings:

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Happy healthy

stress noun [C or U]
great worry caused by a difficult situation, or something which causes this condition:
People under a lot of stress may experience headaches, minor pains and sleeping difficulties.
Yoga is a very effective technique for combating stress.
the stresses and strains of the job
stress-related illness

stressed (out) adjective [after verb]
worried and anxious:
She's been feeling very stressed since she started her new job.
I was really stressed out before the exam.

(From the Cambridge Advanced Learners' Dictionary)

This week, on the 10th October, World Mental Health Day is celebrated & to acknowledge this, on a very different level, here is a brief look at combating stress. Teachers have some unique challenges to deal with & often find themselves under great stress. Usually these stressful situations are resolved but when they are not, stress becomes a serious danger. Here are a few reasons why we might sometimes find it difficult to cope:

- class sizes
- unruly younger learners
- difficult individual students & groups
- difficult timetable
- insufficient financial reward
- excessive number of teaching hours
- job insecurity
- no sense of control over own job - no participation in decision-making
- conflict with management
- conflict amongst staff
- below standard working conditions
- lack of experience
- a class observation by a supervisor
- lack of resources
- insufficient knowledge on how to use technology
- insufficient training for a particular teaching environment

People react to stress differently, some people being better than others at dealing with it. Here are some straightforward primary actions to take:

• Talk, talk & talk more with colleagues & supervisors.

• Prepare - timetable lessons well in advance so that on day all you have to do is think through the lesson & get your materials together.

• Prioritise what you have to do each day, take one thing at a time, you can't do everything.

• Recognise the successes in your classes & give yourself a pat on the back, & tell colleagues about them, the students & the things you do with them.

• Develop - each day do something new or differently & in the longer-term take teacher development courses.

• Forget the classroom when you go home, do completely different things.

• Eat healthily & do regular exercise.

World Mental Health Day
'The theme for World Mental Health Day 2007, the World Federation for Mental Health’s global mental health education project, is 'Mental Health in a Changing World: The Impact of Culture and Diversity'. There is a very complete pdf download at the site.

Here's some material about stress that you can use in your classes, from the BBC website:


Stress in itself isn't necessarily harmful. Everyone needs goals and challenges. But too much can be damaging. We explain how to spot when stress is becoming unmanageable and suggest ways to deal with it.

Stress is a well-known trigger for depression and it can also affect your physical health. So it's important to identify the causes of stress in your life and try to minimise them.

Any sort of loss, from bereavement, divorce and separation to a child leaving home, causes stress, as do long-term illness and disability. But things such as marriage, moving house, a new job and holidays have quite high stress ratings too.

In work, worrying about deadlines or about not being up to the challenges of a particular task can cause stress.
Symptoms of stress

Some common signs of too much stress include:

* Increased irritability
* Heightened sensitivity to criticism
* Signs of tension, such as nail-biting
* Difficulty getting to sleep and early morning waking
* Drinking and smoking more
* Indigestion
* Loss of concentration

It's important to act to relieve damaging stress before it affects your physical or mental health.

Dealing with stress

The secret of managing stress is to look after yourself and, where possible, to remove some of the causes of stress. If you start to feel things are getting on top of you, give yourself some breathing space.

Take a day off work, domestic chores, family and everything else that puts pressure on you. Spend the day doing only relaxing things that make you feel good. It can make all the difference, reducing the threat to your wellbeing.

Some ways to cope with stress:

* Accept offers of practical help
* Do one thing at a time - don't keep piling stress on stress
* Know your own limits - don't be too competitive or expect too much of yourself
* Talk to someone
* Let off steam in a way that causes no harm (shout, scream or hit a pillow)
* Walk away from stressful situations
* Try to spend time with people who are rewarding rather than critical and judgmental
* Practise slow breathing using the lower part of the lungs
* Use relaxation techniques

Work-related stress

Stress caused by work is the second biggest occupational health problem in the UK (after back problems). Because there's still a stigma attached to mental health problems, employees are often reluctant to seek help in case they're seen as unable to cope.

Many situations can lead to stress at work. These include:

* Poor relationships with colleagues
* an unsupportive boss
* Lack of consultation and communication
* Too much interference with your private, social or family life
* Too much or too little to do
* Too much pressure, with unrealistic deadlines
* Work that's too difficult or not demanding enough
* Lack of control over the way the work is done
* Poor working conditions
* Being in the wrong job
* Feeling undervalued
* Insecurity and the threat of unemployment

When people feel under impossible pressure at work, they tend to work harder and harder to try to close the gap between what they're achieving and what they think they should be achieving. They stop taking breaks and lose touch with their own needs.

Tackling work stress

There are general things you can do:

* Talk to someone you trust - at work or outside - about the things that are upsetting you
* Use whatever counselling or support is available
* Work regular hours and take all the breaks and holidays you're entitled to.
* If things get too much, book a day off or a long weekend
* Use flexitime, if available, to avoid rush-hour travel or to fit in with childcare needs
* Look after yourself through exercise and healthy eating
* Tackle addictions to alcohol, smoking or other drugs

Specific things to do:

* Make your work environment comfortable and suited to your needs
* Discuss problems with your supervisor or manager, and if difficulties can't be resolved, talk to your personnel department, trade union representative or other relevant members of staff
* Treat colleagues with the respect and consideration you'd like from them
* Be aware of company policies on harassment, bullying or racism, so you know how to challenge unacceptable behaviour and what back-up there is

An article like this, one that is split into definable sections with headings, is very exploitable. Here is a brief lesson procedure:

1. Elicit the word family; stress, stressful, stressed - & any related words - overworked, under pressure etc.
2. Students in pairs define the word 'stress' > elicit definitions.
3. In pairs students storm ideas for each of the following sections of the article. After each storming, give out the section of the article for them to compare their ideas. Then, before moving to the next section, have a class discussion, asking the students what they think, personalising it - the 'response' to the article.

- Some common signs
- Some ways to cope
- Situations that can lead to stress at work
- Things you can do to help

4. Give out the full article - or as you proceed through the lesson the students unfold the article, instead of handing out bits of the article. Get students to 'notice' some language areas in the text - the use of 'too', first/zero conditional, problem/solution discourse....

5. Integrated skills - this could be an extension of the earlier discussions leaving the personalisation until now. If appropriate for the group they could discuss the pressures they find themselves under & if any of the ideas in the article would help them. Or you could do some roleplay like the following:

A: You are under pressure at work. your boss is a terrible boss, not good with working with people & delegating. He is always complaining about your work, which you think is very good.
B: Talk to your friend. S/he seems very stressed with work. Try to help.

C: You are having problems coping with your life. you have the demands of your partner, your three children & a very busy job.

D: Listen to your friend & try to help out.

Think of your own roleplays. If you have enough, give a problem to each student & they mingle, explaining their problems & getting advice. The purpose is to find the best advice to their problem.
It would be useful beforehand to review language they will need in the roleplay: ways of sympathising, ways of giving advice, active listener responses, ways of explaining problems & causes....
And afterwards, apart from the feedback on the content - if the problems had been solved - don't forget the feedback on the language - the positive & helpful feedback on the language used in the roleplays.

Choosing interesting material is vital. Not only do your students get interesting exposure to English but they might well learn something that will help them in their lives.

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Thought groups

Thought groups

A really useful way to help our students with their listening is to help them become aware of 'thought groups' - a term from the excellent phonology book for learners 'Speaking Clearly' - Rogerson & Gilbert - (CUP). These are sometimes called 'tone units' or 'sense groups'.

Rogerson & Gilbert define 'thought groups':

'When we speak, we need to divide speech up into small 'chunks' to help the listener understand messages. These chunks or thought groups are groups of words which go together to express an idea or thought. In English, we use pauses & low pitch to mark the end of thought groups.'

A very nice way to highlight the importance is through an activity in 'Speaking Clearly' that looks at mathematical equations. Compare the following:

(A + B) x C = Y (A plus B, multiplied by C, equals Y)

A + (B x C) = D (A, plus B multiplied by C, equals D)

Say these two equations to yourself & note when you have to pause. Each pause means an end of a thought group & the start of another. You have the same words, but said in different groups, you have different results.

So how it is interpreted depends how the utterance is separated into chunks. The speaker chooses when to pause to make the message clearer for the listener.

After an activity like this, there are a series of equations read out which when calculated give an answer. If the thought groups have been interpreted correctly, then the right answer will be given.

(2 + 3) x 5 = 25

2 + (3 x 5) = 17

With a listening text, after explaining the concept of thought groups with examples on the board, get your students to mark the groups on a short text. Then they can listen to the tape to see if they were right.

We mark the groups with slash marks at the beginning & the end of each group. Here is a short text, similar to one in the book, with the thought groups marked:

a. /Who shall we invite to the party?/

b. /Well, //we could ask Helen./

a. /OK,// but what about Ben./

b. /OK// we could ask Helen & Ben,// & don't forget Josh./

a. /Yes,// Josh.// What about Sarah & John?/

b. /OK.// So that's Helen & Ben,// Josh //& Sarah & John./

a. /Yes./

The division of the thought groups in line 6 tells us that Josh will be going on his own but Helen will go with Ben & Sarah with John.

This is the same idea as in the Teaching Tip 'A telegram warmer & prominence':
This is a fun activity to use as a warmer & also as an introduction to prominence.

Ask the students to write a three or four word telegram in secret - elicit an example to give them the idea. When all have one written, assign roles in pairs of sender & receiver. The receiver sits in front of the sender with her/his back to the sender who writes, letter by letter, the telegram on their partner's back with a pen. Not with the nib - the other end so that the student 'receiving' the message can feel each letter being drawn on her/his back.
While the message is being conveyed the receiver can write each letter down. When all of the telegram has been written they check to see if it has been received correctly. Then the students change roles.

After this you could then ask the students to write their telegrams out in full & then you could tell them about prominence (sentence stress). E.g. we hear the prominent words - the content words (nouns, verbs..) - not the grammar words (prepositions, auxiliaries..). The content words carry the important information. This is the first function of prominence - to convey important information. The idea of telegrams is the same.
Then you could transfer this all to a listening activity - the students listen to isolated utterances & have to mark the stressed words/syllables. They then see if they could get the message across with just these words - telegram style!

Said often, but true - awareness is half the battle won! Get them marking & listening.

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