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Teaching Tips 137

Take it down
Happy New Year
The Spirit of Christmas

Take it down

Notetaking is an important listening & language skill for quite a few language learners. Younger ones may have to deal with lectures in English, while professionals may have to cope with conferences & meetings. And whether they take down notes in their own language or in English, we can help them by passing on different ways of organising their notetaking. Here are a couple of ways:

Mind Mapping: This consists of a central title & coming off this are the connected points mentioned, relating each point to all the other points.  They can be very visual & personal, requiring an active role in interpreting the points. Here's an example:Study skills mind map

For much more on this see 'Use Your Head' by Tony Buzan - an excellent study skills book for everyone.
From From

For the notetaking software - iMINDMAP
Download Tony Buzan's iMindMap. Try it out & see how efficient it can make you.

The Cornell method: Divide your paper into two columns, the left one a couple of inches wide. As you listen, notes are taken in the right column. At the end go through the notes to see if any additions need to be made. Then in the left column, sum up each section with a few key words. Leave it a while & then covering up the right, look at the left points & recount what was written on the right. At the end uncover the right to see what you got right & what you missed. Nice for reviewing & retention.

Charting: At the top of your paper, mark out the headings of several columns that will be relevant to the discourse you are about to listen to. This is useful for chronologically given information.

Dates Places People Events Effect

Outlining: A more traditional way of taking notes that helps you keep track of related points through indentations as in the following example:

Study skills            
   - Organisation         
      - files
- notebooks
- notetaking
- mind maps
- linear
   - Reading         
     - skimming
- scanning

There are other ways & combinations are possible but each of the above might be useful on different occasions. In class present these to your students through different types of discourse & then ask them how they got on with them & if they will use them again. And then next time when asking for notetaking, think of an appropriate organisation & suggest they might like to use it.

The actual notetaking is only half of the equation, listening skills being the other half. The Tip 'High Speed Dictation' helps with the skill of listening out for the key information:
This is all about prominence & tone units, & there are a couple of Tips on these at:

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Happy New Year

A Happy New Year to everyone. Let's hope for a peaceful 2009.

On getting back to our students after the break a natural start would be through reflecting on the holidays & the past year & what is to come in the new year. Here are a few ideas to use:

We have designed our regular review of the past year in the form of a quiz which you can find at:
There is a pdf download of the quiz & answers.
It is very easy & designed as a springboard for discussion. You might like to focus on the language of past deduction: could/may/might/can't/must have + past participle.

Another way of reflecting on the past year is through well known quotes from 2008 - here are a couple of links.

The Top Ten of Everything in 2008 - Time:

New Year Resolutions - there is a lesson plan on the site about New Year Resolutions at:

From Wikipedia:'s_resolution
'Recent research shows that while 52% of participants in a resolution study were confident of success with their goals, only 12% actually achieved their goals. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, a system where small measurable goals are used (lose a pound a week, instead of saying "lose weight"), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.'

From a past Tip, there is the following article which would make a good focus for a lesson. Have a read:

Psychologists seek key to successful new year resolutions

Ian Sample, science correspondent, Friday December 29, 2006, The Guardian

The first mass-participation experiment to unravel what makes a new year's resolution a successful step towards self-betterment - or more commonly, a dismal failure of willpower - is launched by psychologists today. Volunteers taking part in the study can take comfort from knowing that no matter how badly they fail to keep their resolutions they will help psychologists identify the best, and worst, techniques for motivating people to change their lives for the better.

Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at Hertfordshire University, hopes to enrol around 10,000 people in the online experiment.

At regular intervals during the next six months those who sign up for the experiment will be invited to give updates on how well they are doing. "We know millions of people around the world will be trying to keep to new year's resolutions, but we don't have a clue what is the best advice to give them to succeed," said Professor Wiseman. "We want to find out what's the best way to go about it."

Most of the few studies conducted on new year's resolutions have focused on a very small number of people. The latest experiment, online at, is intended to attract volunteers of different ages from around the world.

The psychologists have identified five tips to help keep resolutions. The first is to make only one resolution: if you are an obese, misanthropic, SUV-driving smoker, Prof Wiseman recommends picking just one aspect of life to improve, to increase your chances of success.

They also suggest planning your resolution in advance, instead of waiting until New Year's Eve. The extra time will allow you to reflect on what you really want to achieve. Another tip is to avoid repeating a previous resolution, or at least try a different technique to keep it. So if trying to lose half a stone did not work last year, plan to exercise more instead. "If people think they can do it they probably can, but if they've already tried and failed, their self-belief will be low," Prof Wiseman said. The remaining tips include keeping resolutions specific and rewarding yourself by buying a new book or CD if you manage to lose a few pounds or cut down on smoking.

The most common new year's resolutions focus on improving health, either by eating sensibly, exercising more, or cutting out smoking. "By a long way, stopping smoking is the hardest, because there are physiological responses involved, it's an addiction," said Prof Wiseman.,,1979625,00.html


A few comprehension questions:
1. What is the experiment about & where do you sign up for it?
2. What is the main objective of the experiment?
3. what has been the difference with this type of experiment in the past?
4. What are the 5 tips on keeping resolutions?
5. Which is the most difficult resolution to keep & why?

The text is suitable for the more advanced group but for the lower levels you could give an oral summary, providing some listening practice at the same time. There are lots of language areas in the text to pick up on; tenses, in/direct speech, gerunds/infinitives etc..

The questionnaire is in English & gives the students a small project. They fill in the three page questionnaire & then they are emailed in a few weeks & then after six months to see how they are keeping up with their resolutions. At each stage they can report back to the class on how they are getting on.

As the sales are in full flow now there is a lesson plan about the sales that went wrong at IKEA:
And there's a lesson plan about taking presents back to the shops:

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The Spirit of Christmas

This week we look at ideas for lessons about the Christmas season.

Firstly, here are some links to material & lessons on the site:

Christmas lesson plan:

Christmas activities:

Top toys each Christmas - list & lesson outline:

Kwanzaa lesson plan:


Santa Claus sacked for answering the phone

Dec 6 2008

SANTA has been sacked by his scrooge bosses – for answering his mobile phone in the grotto.

Hapless Father Christmas, otherwise known as Mike O’Donagh, 53, was sacked from his jovial job at Chelmsley Wood shopping centre.

Because he answered a call from the Jobcentre about his benefits.

The dad-of-two, of Moseley, Birmingham, has now been left jobless in the run-up to the festive season.

Poor Mike insists he was only answering his phone because it was a vital call about his dole money.

“I can’t believe how Scrooge-like they’ve been,” he said.

“I had to answer my phone because I needed to sort my benefit payments out with the Jobcentre – because I was working as Santa.

“I told the kiddies not to worry because it was a call from Lapland about their toys, and that everything would be OK.

“With all the benefits cheats out there, you might have thought they would have given me a break.

“I was being honest and trying to do everything by the book.

“The children seemed to be fine with it, but not my employers.

So much for the spirit of Christmas this year.”

Mike, who has worked as Santa on many occasions, was employed at the Chelmsley Wood shopping centre grotto by employment agency NIDD last month.

He even appeared at the festive lights switch-on in Birmingham city centre on November 23 and took part in the Christmas parade through the city alongside reindeer, elves, snowmen and other Christmas characters.

“I loved working as Santa,” he said. “I loved working with the children because it is such a magical time of year.

“I just don’t understand why they took offence at me answering my phone.

“It did happen during the middle of a picture, with the child on my lap, but nobody seemed to mind – and nobody told me it was wrong.

“I only found out when I turned up at work the following day and was informed I was no longer needed.”

Last night, Jim Sherwin, managing director of NIDD – an employment agency based in Leeds – defended his company’s actions.

He said: “We employed Mr O’Donagh on behalf of another promotions company on a temporary basis.

“So we were well within our rights to let him go.

“We weren’t on site but we were informed that there have been a number of occasions on which Mr O’Donagh answered his phone and was late, which meant we were not happy with the level of service he was providing.

“We wanted to ensure we got the position filled with someone who could do the job properly.”

l Last month Santa Andrew Mondia, 32, was sacked by Selfridges in London – because he asked a granny to sit on his lap.

Store bosses said Santas must certainly not “promote or proactively seek” anyone to do so.

Andrew said his one-day training was “a bit rushed”, adding: “I was just being my innocent usual self. I was shocked when they told me – I couldn’t believe I’ve been sacked for being too friendly.”

A possible procedure:

1. You might begin with vocab connected to Christmas & then focus on Santa Claus - see the article for items to cover eg. Scrooge-like, grotto, festive season etc...

2. A chat about Santa Claus leading into reasons one might be sacked from the job - tell them they are going to read an article about a Santa who was sacked for answering his mobile phone.

3. Give an extensive task - do you feel sympathetic to the Santa? Give a time limit - 2 mins & tell them to read quickly - explain why.

4. Stds compare ideas >> feedback.

5. Set a more intensive task - 5/6 comprehension questions:

1. What was the phone call about?

2. Was the phone call the only reason for being sacked? What else?

3. What was the companies' comment on the sacking?

4. What was the other Santa sacked for?

6. Stds read & answer questions individually >> stds compare answers >> feedback.

7. Language focus - choose to suit. Maybe something on direct & indirect speech - there's a lot of direct speech - you could provide some relevant reporting verbs & the stds write a summary of the speech.

8. Integrated skills:
Speaking - roleplay. Stds take on the roles of Santa & the company - the representative sacks him.
You could give out give each rep a list of reasons for the sacking - the Santa has to defend himself.
Writing - Santa writes a letter to the company complaining about his sacking.
To supplement this you could use a video from YouTube - just put in 'Bad Santa' & you'll get lots of clips from the film.



The spirit of Christmas lesson - quiz:

Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace & goodwill & the theme does make for interesting discussions in class. Below there is a questionnaire about generosity & the Xmas season. The idea is that the students do the questionnaire & then they formulate the results in pairs by allocating the scores (1-3) for each question. They then write up a short profile for three bands of scores & then score each others & give out the appropriate profile.

Have you got the spirit of Christmas?

1. A colleague tells you that by working late on Christmas Eve you could let her get away to visit her disabled mother in another town. She has a reputation for being a bit of a shirker & you have no means of checking her story. Do you:

a. Agree to do so because she might just be telling the truth?
b. Agree because you haven't got the nerve to refuse her?
c. Tell her you're sorry but you too have an urgent appointment?

2. Your neighbour is a bad-tempered bore, who lives on his own & has no relatives. Do you:

a. Invite him round for Christmas dinner?
b. Invite him round for a quick drink?
c. Ignore him & tell yourself you're a hypocrite if you do otherwise?

3. Carol singers arrive at your front door. Do you:

a. Open the door & stand there wearing a Yuletide smile?
b. Appear just before they leave & give them too much money to salve your conscience?
c. Switch the lights off when you hear them coming & pretend to be out?

4. As a business Christmas present you receive a really good bottle of brandy. Do you:

a. Share it with your colleagues?
b. Tell yourself they would appreciate it & buy them a drink to make yourself feel better?
c. Pass it on as a Christmas present to an influential business acquaintance?

5. Every year you set aside a sum for Christmas charities. Is it:

a. Big enough to make you sacrifice something you really want?
b. Big enough to cut the value of your presents to others?
c. A token gesture?

6. The shops have closed on Christmas Eve & your partner realises s/he hasn't bought you anything. Do you:

a. Make a joke of it - & mean it?
b. Extract the maximum amount from her/his discomfort?
c. Fly off the handle?

7. Do you go to church at Christmas because...

a. You're a regular churchgoer anyway?
b. You're not normally a churchgoer but you feel the occasion demands some gesture of spiritual gratitude?
c. It's the done thing?

8. To which of the following can you truthfully answer yes?

a. Have you ever had an underprivileged child to stay at Christmas?
b. Thought about it but somehow never got round to it?
c. Never had it occur to you?

9. Christmas cards. When it comes to deciding who's on the list, do you:

a. Send them to all of your friends regardless of whether you received any cards from them last year?
b. Strike out anyone who didn't send you a card last year?
c. Tell yourself that the whole thing is an absurd custom & send none at all?

10. Late on Christmas Eve there's a knock at the door. A dishevelled couple stand there. They're quite respectable looking, but obviously very poor, & the girl is heavily pregnant. They tell you that they can find nowhere to stay & ask if you can put them up for the night. They'll pay what they can. Do you:

a. Invite them in, give them something to eat & make room for them somehow?
b. Invite them in for a cup of tea while you phone the local social services for them?
c. Say sorry, there's no room, you can't help them, & gently, firmly close the door?

Compare your answers with another student & work out what the scores should be - 1 = the best answer & 3 = the worst answer. Then write up three profiles of the scores;

for people who get 1-10
You are the sort of person...

for people who get 10-20
You are the sort of person who...

for people who get 20-30
You are the sort of person...

A possible procedure:

1. Put 'The spirit of Christmas' on the board & elicit what it is. Brainstorm all related vocabulary. You might need to pre-teach some of the language in the questionnaire here - a shirker, a carol singer, a token gesture, to fly off the handle,

2. Give out the questionnaires & students do them individually.

3. Pair students up & they compare answers.

4. The pairs then give each questions a score, deciding which answer should get 3 points - the answer that fits the spirit of Christmas, 2 points for the next & 1 point for the least generous/appropriate answer. This should provoke an interesting discussion. You might want to think about the language needed here & briefly introduce a few exponents beforehand.

5. The pairs then write up the three profiles - see the end of the material above. Encourage the students to produce a paragraph or two.

6. Pairs then swap questionnaires & they score each others' & then hand over the profile they have written that matches the score.

7. A general class discussion about the spirit of Christmas could then take place.

If the questions in the questionnaire might be a bit difficult for your students to relate to then change them to suit. The questions are actually taken for an ancient magazine questionnaire & I have no idea where it came from.


Buy Nothing Christmas is going full-force these days.

To download the information kit & use to suit:

An article for lessons about Buy Nothing Christmas:

And some Stories at:


Other Christmas links:
The life of Santa Claus - print it all of in a book format.
'More than two dozen original, creative stories are found throughout Santa’s Secret Village. Many stories convey a theme or cheerfully teach a lesson—while entertaining and improving reading skills.'
Santa Claus Stories

Christmas Presents - activities for the younger learner from the BC.

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