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Teaching Tips 135

Talking about it & talking with it
In Flanders Fields
The US elections


Talking about it
& talking with it

When teaching vocabulary it's sometimes easy to forget that it needs practising. We introduce structures & functions in small amounts & take students through a gradual series of controlled to freer tasks to help them incorporate the items. Vocabulary tends to be more unwieldy. With vocab we look at meaning, form & phonology, giving some very controlled practice through drilling, but it can get left there. There are two ways of providing practice; either by talking about it or talking with it.

The first, talking about vocab, consists of comparing & contrasting the words. For example, when looking at the lexical set of jobs, students are asked to discuss the best/worst paid job, the jobs that require the most manual labour or intellectual ability etc. So here the students are talking about the words & using them at the same time.

The second way, talking with the vocab, involves contextualising the items so that students are simulating a conversation, needing the items & thereby practising them. This is much the same as with structure & functions. For example, the set of negative character adjectives - mean, moody, vain etc. - the students are asked to roleplay a situation where they are complaining about their partners to friends. They need to describe their complaints with the vocab.

The items you want to practise will dictate which way you choose. Both ways can incorporate a degree of personalisation. In the first example, the jobs, the students are giving their personal opinions, & the second, the adjectives, students can be asked if they know anyone with four or more of the characteristics, which they proceed to describe.

So when dealing with vocab, don't forget the practice. There's so much vocab that we introduce that we need to prioritise which items get the most attention. Clearly this will depend on the frequency of the items & the needs, level & interests of the students, but sometimes it is difficult to decide.

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In Flanders Fields

It's Remembrance Day this week, on 11th November - a timely reminder - as if we need it with the daily slaughter around the globe that we see on television each evening. So, one wonders, what have we learned & how far have we come since the First World War? Not a lot & not very far at all, it seems.

Below is an article from the BBC website that explains the origins of the day, the traditional poppy, the reading of 'For The Fallen', the poem 'In Flanders Field & bringing it to the present with a mention of the white poppy for the 11th September victims. There are also a couple of links at the end.

Here's a brief outline of lesson ideas:

1. See if anyone knows what Remembrance Day is. If not, get the students to guess. (The Day is not only held in the UK - countries involved in the First World War all hold their own remembrances, especially Canada & Australia.)

2. Give comprehension questions & the text - minus the poem. Students read & answer >> compare answers >> feedback.

Read the questions & find the answers in the text about Remembrance Day

1. What does the day remember?
2. How did it begin?
3. Why the 11th?
4. What do people do on this day?
5. How is this day viewed by the majority of people in the UK?
6. Why poppies & how did the poppy wearing begin?
7. And the white poppy?

Give out the final words from some of the lines from the 'In Flanders Field' poem. Ask the students in pairs to match the rhyming words >> feedback.

4. Students then insert the words into the correct line of the poem >> pairs >> handout the poem for the students to compare >> feedback.
A follow up to this might be to get the students to invent a new ten line poem, using the rhyming words as the end of each line.
There could then be some reading aloud of the original poem.

blow - die - sky - glow - foe - fly - throw - high - row - ago

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies ____
Between the crosses, row on ____
That mark our place; and in the ____
The larks, still bravely singing, ____
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ____
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset ____,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the ____:
To you from failing hands we ____
The torch; be yours to hold it ____.
If ye break faith with us who ____
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

5. Discussion - a few prompts - do the students have a similar day in their country? If not, do they think they should have one for a particular war? In small groups, students think of a few days connected to wars in which the victims could be remembered in a similar vein, or how else could the day be remembered. Do these days have an effect? Should we continue to hold them?

There is no language focus mentioned although there are several things to things to pick up on, lexical sets eg. war - tense analysis present simple - passives etc..

And although suitable for intermediate up, you could still use the material with lower levels eg. skim reading followed by listening with you telling them about the day in more detail, followed by the discussion.

Remembrance Day - Poppy Day
Many countries have a special day to remember those that fell in their wars; America has Veterans Day, while France has Armistice Day. The British commemorate those who fought, and are still fighting, in wars for their country on Remembrance Day.

The British Remembrance Day is always held on the 11 November. This is the day that World War One ended in 1918, when the armistice was signed in Compiègne, Northern France, at 5am. Six hours later, the fighting stopped, and to commemorate this there is a two minute silence in the UK at 11am, every 11 November.

The period of silence was first proposed by a Melbourne journalist, Edward George Honey, in a letter published in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919, which subsequently came to the attention of King George V. On 7 November, 1919, the king issued a proclamation which called for a two-minute silence:

All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

As well as the two-minute silence, there are marches around the country by war veterans. The Royal Family, along with leading politicians, gather at the Cenotaph, a large war memorial in Whitehall, in London.

The nearest Sunday to the 11th is called Remembrance Sunday, when church services are held in honour of those involved in wars, and wreaths are laid on the memorials which have a place in every town. Many two-minute silences are followed by a lone bugler playing The Last Post, reminiscent of times of war when trumpets were as much a part of battle as bayonets. A poem called 'For the Fallen' is often read aloud on the occasion; the most famous stanza of which reads:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Fourth stanza of 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon (1869 - 1943)

These words can be found adorning many war memorials across the country. The author, Laurence Binyon, was never a soldier but certainly appreciated the horrors of war.

Remembrance day is taken very seriously, with disrespect being avoided at all costs (which is why the vandalisation of the Cenotaph on 1 May 2000 was seen as such a horrific crime). If 11 November falls on a weekday, schools, workplaces and shopping centres generally attempt to observe the silence, although some people choose to ignore their attempts and go about their business regardless.


Remembrance Day is also known as Poppy Day, because it is traditional to wear an artificial poppy. They are sold by the Royal British Legion, a charity dedicated to helping war veterans, although they do not have a fixed price - they rely on donations.

The motto of the British Legion is Remember the dead; don't forget the living, and they are campaigners for issues relating to war veterans, especially elderly ones.

The poppies are worn because in World War One the Western Front contained in the soil thousands of poppy seeds, all lying dormant. They would have lain there for years more, but the battles being fought there churned up the soil so much that the poppies bloomed like never before. The most famous bloom of poppies in the war was in Ypres, a town in Flanders, Belgium, which was crucial to the Allied defence. There were three battles there, but it was the second, which was calamitous to the allies since it heralded the first use of the new chlorine gas the Germans were experimenting with, which brought forth the poppies in greatest abundance, and inspired the Canadian soldier, Major John McCrae, to write his most famous poem. This, in turn, inspired the British Legion to adopt the poppy as their emblem.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

The American Moira Michael from Georgia, was the first person to wear a poppy in remembrance. In reply to McCrae's poem, she wrote a poem entitled 'We shall keep the faith' which includes the lines:

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.

She bought some poppies, wore one, and sold the others, raising money for ex-servicemen. Her colleague, French YMCA Secretary Madame Guerin, took up the idea and made artificial poppies for war orphans. It caught on.

In November 1921, the British Legion and Austrian Returned Sailor's and Soldier's League sold them for the first time.

The tragic events in New York on 11 September 2001, left ever increasing numbers of people feeling stronger than ever the need for peace. This, in turn, prompted the manufacture of white poppies to represent peace. They are not a new idea, though. In fact, they date from 1933, having been designed by a UK Women's Guild. The British Legion was invited to produce them twice, in 1933 and 1988, but they not only declined, they also refused to accept the proceeds from them, because they were seen as disrespectful by some soldiers. They are having a surge in popularity once again as people stop feeling as safe as they once did.

Other material from the BBC site:
Shot At Dawn
The Unknown Warrior

First World War collection of articles from the Guardian:


On 16th November it's International Day for Tolerence - for lesson ideas:

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US elections

The US elections are with us this week so it would make a good topic.

Alicia Delahunty has a speaking plan up about the elections at::

The BBC has a clear overview of the issues with a breakdown of Obama & McCain's views. You can find it here:
US Election issues guide - Find out the positions of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain on key election issues

It is divided up very nicely & makes a good matching task - the students match the opinion with the issue & the candidate.

Here's a short procedure:
1. Elicit all the students know about the elections - dealing with election & politics vocab as it crops up.

2. Read the profiles on the BBC aloud - a live listening section - see the following links for a profile of each candidate:
Profile of Obama:

Profile of McCain:

3. Give out the list of 'Issues':

  • Economy
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • National security
  • Climate change
  • Healthcare
  • Illegal immigration
  • Abortion

Students predict what each candidate would say about each of the issues.

4. Handout the material below cut up so they have the candidates at the top of the desk & they have to find the issue, & two opinions that refer to it, & then decide which candidate would back that opinion. They lay it all out accordingly. Go round & help out as they do it & when all finished, go through & deal with any vocab that may have come up.

5. Roleplay - set up a presidential debate using the information from the Issues reading. You could include the vice presidential candidates to make groups of four.

For lower levels you can easily grade the materials & activities. For the live listening, simply summarise the main points & for the reading you could re-write some of the issues or only use a few, instead of all of them.

Barack Obama
The Illinois senator promises "change" and would be the first black US president.
John McCain

Arizona senator and Vietnam war hero would be oldest man to become president.


In each of the issues, the first opinion is that of McCain & the second, Obama.

Would cut taxes on middle-class families by abolishing the Alternative Minimum tax. Would keep Bush tax cuts, but reduce government spending. Wants to reform social security and healthcare.      
Would use targeted tax relief to help middle-class families cope with rising costs and stagnant pay. Would repeal Bush tax cuts for rich households. Wants to reform healthcare and renegotiate free trade deals.

Voted for 2003 invasion and backed Bush troop escalation. Had said US forces should remain until Iraq is able to defend itself, but now predicts under his presidency most would have withdrawn by 2013.     

Opposed the war in Iraq from the outset and says there is "no military solution". Opposed "surge" strategy. Backs phased withdrawal of US forces - with all troops out of combat operations within 16 months of taking office.

Would focus on trying to get a league of democracies to escalate economic sanctions against Iran. Refuses to rule out military solution if necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. No unconditional diplomacy.    

Favours "aggressive personal diplomacy". Would meet Iranian leaders without preconditions. He says they would change their behaviour if given incentives to do so. Military option not off the table.

National security
Argues his military background equips him to safeguard national security. A former Vietnam POW, he has sought to prevent the CIA using "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment".        

Says Bush foreign policy has put US at more risk; would build alliances. Wants increased national security funding to be allocated to areas most at risk of attack.

Climate change               
Says climate change is real and devastating. Says US should consider joining with every other nation in the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if China and India join in.    

Wants an 80% cut in US greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Wants US to lead global effort to combat climate change. Would invest $150bn over 10 years in clean energy.

Has highlighted his record on supporting health care for military veterans. Favours tax incentives to encourage people to get personal health insurance.                

Backs universal coverage but would not make insurance compulsory, except for children. Subsidies would make cover more affordable and insurers would be unable to refuse coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Illegal immigration
Co-sponsor of bill which offered an amnesty to illegal immigrants as well as tougher border controls. Says undocumented workers already in the US should be put on path to citizenship.             

Wants US-Mexico border better policed and backs stricter penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers. Argues that giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship is not an amnesty if they pay a fine.

Wants to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion, Roe v Wade, but was supportive in the past. Would aid state efforts to boost adoption. Backed 2007 ruling banning late-term abortions.    

Trusts women to make their own choices on abortion "in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy". Criticised Supreme Court decision to uphold ban on late-term abortion.


It's Bonfire Night on 5th November & there's some material at the past Tip 'Remember, remember':

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