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Teaching Tips 124

Early spring
Air balls
Principled creativity

Early Spring

It's St. Patrick's Day on the 17th . If you want to use the Day & have Easter hols that week, you will have to look at it next week. For lesson material:

And then go on to use this tourist video of Dublin:


The Easter break is on the way for some, including us so we won't be sending out the Weekly Tip next week - the next one will be on the 24th April. So this week we've got a mish mash of ideas, links & plans on Easter, festivals & Spring, from a previous Tip & a few new things.

A lesson plan on 10 very strange festivals

- 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!
index.html There are some amusing quotes from choco lovers at There are a few sites which talk of chocolate eating being better than sex! Among many reasons given are 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:

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? This page is a resource for information on the Internet about Easter Island, also known as "Rapa Nui" and "Isla de Pascua".'

- 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.…

- spring, springtime, to spring to a conclusion, to spring a surprise, a spring in your step, to spring up, to spring to mind, to spring to her defence, to spring from prison, spring clean, springboard, spring chicken, spring onion, spring roll, springs, springy.

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

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 with advanced learners check out an ELTJ article - 50/1 January 1996 - called 'Using Figurative Language to Expand Students' Vocabulary' by Gillian Lazar. There are some very nice ideas at the end of the article.
Also buy the excellent 'Meanings and Metaphors: Activities to Practise Figurative Language (Cambridge Copy Collection)' by Gillian Lazar (CUP). To see a review:

- & for general material on gardening - Virtual where there is a specialised garden search engine called 'dig the net'. Lots of stuff.

- 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'. And while we're on the topic, to finish:

Lines Written in Early Spring
William Wordsworth

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

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Air balls

A couple of days to plan lessons around this week:

1st March - St. David's Day, Wales - for lesson material 'Dewi Sant':

8th - International Women's Day - for lesson ideas:

2nd March - World Book Day - in the UK & Ireland (!).
The Guardian has a quiz to coincide - see if you can do it:,,1428883,00.html
Check out the World Book Day site:
2008 is also Year of Reading in the UK. For more:


Our lower level learners often feel that learning English is an overwhelming task, there's so much to learn that it appears to be never ending. And to an extent they are right, it's a long process. So we have to offer them strategies to get to a level of competence quickly & feel motivated to keep on learning.

Obvious ways to do this are to teach them relevant language, deal with relevant & interesting topics, make the lessons fun, engaging, challenging & manageable.

Another aspect is to give them strategies to communicate when they don't have the language available to them. This is the area of communication & comprehension strategies. The latter is about using strategies to understanding messages while the former is about getting the message across.

Communication strategies have been described & categorised by many. Tarone (1981) as described in H.Douglas Brown's 'Principles of Language Learning & Teaching' (Pearson)(see reference in the book list above) provides the following:

Approximation - use of a single target language vocabulary item or structure, which the learner know is not correct, but which shares enough semantic features in common with the desired item to satisfy the speaker e.g. 'pipe' for 'waterpipe'
Word coinage - the learner makes up a new word in order to communicate a desired concept e.g. 'airball' for 'balloon'
Circumlocution - the learner describes the characteristics or elements of the object or action instead of using the appropriate target language item or structure e.g. 'she is smoking something, i don't know what's its name . That's Persian, & we use in Turkey, a lot of'.

Literal translation - the learner translates word for word for the native language e.g. 'He invites him to drink' for 'They toast one another'.
Language switch - the learner uses the native language term without bothering to translate e.g. 'balon' for 'balloon'.

Appeal for assistance: the learner asks for the correct term e.g. 'What's this?'.

Mime: the learner uses non-verbal strategies in place of a lexical item or action e.g. clapping one's hands to illustrate applause.

Topic avoidance - the learner simply tries not to talk about concepts for which the target item or structure is not known.
Message abandonment - the learner begins to talk about a concept but is unable to continue & stops in mid utterance.

Some argue that learners develop these naturally the more they are involved in communication - speaking development through speaking. I think this is true to an extent but we can help them accelerate their use by focusing on them in class & giving specific practice activities.

In 'Learning to Learn' by Ellis & Sinclair (CUP) (see reference in the book list above) there is an excellent awareness listening activity. The students listen to three dialogues of people in shops asking for something they don't know the name for - in this case each want some rawlplugs - & they first identify the object. Then they tick a chart where they hear strategies being used. Then they can go on to look at the transcript& the actual language used to convey the strategies e.g. 'It's a thingummy for..'

And then the students go on to practice the strategies in a shop roleplay. One student has a paper with lots of pictures of objects & the other student goes to the shop for one of the objects, describing it without using the name. The shopkeeper points to the object on the paper - 'Oh, you want one of these. Here you are...' The students then change roles for another roleplay.

From here on you can encourage the use of these strategies by listening out for them & giving feedback accordingly.

This is all well & good for the lower level but when they reach upper intermediate levels this backfires a little. The students have developed their communication strategies so much that they can cope confidently in most situations & feel there is no need to continue their learning. This is called 'fossilisation' & does hinder language development. Among several past Tips on helping with this is 'Anyone for tennis?':

The two books mentioned above:
Learning to Learn English - Ellis & Sinclair (CUP)

Principles of Language Learning & Teaching - H.Douglas Brown (Pearson)

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Recently I was getting together a course for primary & secondary teachers on 'Creative Teaching' & I came across the following activity in David Cranmer's excellent 'Motivating High Level Learners' (Longman). It's called 'Pigs Might Fly' & looks at ten principles of creativity. To highlight these in preparation for a writing task, the theme of ghosts is used. The students are asked to brainstorm characteristics of ghosts & then the principles listed in the following photocopiable handout are presented:

Ten principles of creativity and examples of each

Principle one - Change the dimension
The Belgian Surrealist painter Magritte produced a painting with a comb, glass, match, shaving brush and bar of soap inside a room, but each of these was proportionately much bigger than the bed and the wardrobe in the same room. Horror films often use this principle, e.g. King Kong, films with giant spiders or other animals.

Principle two - Change the colour
Some punks dye their hair bright green or purple or some other colour that is not a natural hair colour.

Principle three - Change the material
Salvador Dali, the famous Spanish Surreajist painter, did a painting called 'The persistence of memory' which has watches made of rubber instead of metal and glass. Instead of being rigid, they flop.

Principle four - Change the place
Imagine London with canals instead of streets or Venice with streets instead of canals.

Principle five - Change the time (anachronism)
Imagine a prehistoric man listening to a wind-up gramophone or Napoleon using a computer.

Principle six - Change the purpose
Some people use empty bottles as candle-holders or hang objects on the wall for decoration.

Principle seven - Change the velocity or type of movement
Aesop wrote the fable of the hare and the tortoise, but imagine a tortoise that could really run faster than a hare. Imagine a flying pig or crocodile.

Principle eight - Multiply
Indian gods and goddesses are often depicted with many arms, heads etc.

Principle nine - Reverse, e.g. roles
Imagine birds or animals looking at humans in a cage, resting a saucer on a cup and drinking from the saucer.

Principle ten - Animate or personify
Snowmen that come to life, Gerard Hoffnung's animations of musical instruments.

(Cranmer says that he drew these from the work of Bruno Minari in Fantasia (1987))


After discussing these principles the students are then asked to apply them to their ghost characteristics before writing an original ghost story. Here are some ideas the class might come up with:

Principle one - Change the dimension
We tend to think of ghosts as being human-sized. Suppose we had a giant ghost or a mini-ghost, or a combination of sizes, such as a daddy ghost, a mummy ghost and some baby ghosts.

Principle two - Change the colour
In the characteristics we saw that ghosts are normally white or transparent. Why not have one that is orange and goes bright green when it blushes?

Principle three - Change the material
Ghosts are supposed either to have no substance or to be like bedsheets. But a ghost could be made of stone or liquid.

Principle four - Change the place
You usually find ghosts in castles, cemeteries and old houses, but why not in the sitting room or kitchen of a modern flat? Or maybe tile ghost has come from another planet or star, or a human ghost is on another planet or star

Principle five - Change the time (anachronism)
Ghosts are usually linked to the past, the dead. Suppose we had a ghost of someone from the future. Or you could set the story in the future and you are the ghost.

Principle six - Change the purpose
We normally think of ghosts as terrifying and threatening. They could also be warm, friendly and welcoming, helping us to do the washing up and the ironing.

Principle seven - Change the velocity or type of movement
You could have an ultra-high-speed ghost that goes zooming around, or one that swims instead of flying.

Principle eight - Multiply
Rather than write a story about one ghost, write about a whole city haunted by thousands of ghosts.

Principle nine - Reverse, e.g roles
Instead of the ghost haunting humans, humans could haunt a ghost.

Principle ten - Animate or personify
Instead of the ghost being of an ex-human it could be of an ex-animal. Combined with the principle of reversing you could create an inanimate ghost, for example a ghost chair that vanishes just as you are about to sit on it.

The next activity in the book then goes onto another idea for using these principles. The topic of a picnic is chosen & the students work through the relevant principles before writing up a composition entitled 'The Picnic'. For lower levels you could simplify the explanation of the principles & use them just the same. Once you introduce them they can be used in many ways - another idea for the creative classroom.

To get hold of 'Motivating High Level Learners' by David Cranmer (Longman):

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