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Teaching Tips 147

Getting Them Reading & Writing
Lesson shapes
Clunk Click Every Trip


Getting Them Reading
& Writing

It's BlogDay on 31st August. This is what say about it:

BlogDay was created with the belief that bloggers should have one day dedicated to getting to know other bloggers from other countries and areas of interest. On that day Bloggers will recommend other blogs to their blog visitors. With the goal in mind, on this day every blogger will post a recommendation of 5 new blogs. This way, all blog readers will find themselves leaping around and discovering new, previously unknown blogs.

What will happen on BlogDay?
One long moment on August 31st, bloggers from all over the world will post recommendations of 5 new Blogs, preferably Blogs that are different from their own culture, point of view and attitude. On this day, blog readers will find themselves leaping around and discovering new, unknown Blogs, celebrating the discovery of new people and new bloggers.

BlogDay posting instructions:
Find 5 new Blogs that you find interesting
Notify the 5 bloggers that you are recommending them as part of BlogDay 2009
Write a short description of the Blogs and place a link to the recommended Blogs
Post the BlogDay Post (on August 31st) and
Add the BlogDay tag using this link: and a link to the BlogDay web site at

Blogs are a great way to get our students reading, writing & communicating.

There are lots of blogs around & a nice theme over lessons would be for one student each lesson to recommend a blog to the others to read. You can then build up an interesting list for all to use. This will then bring in lots of discussion as they will be commenting on them in future lessons.

Here are some places where you can set up free blogs for you & your students:

100 Best Blogs for Teachers of the Future


Here are two ideas that could be easily transferred into blog format:

The learner diary is an excellent idea for two-way feedback between you & the individual student about the course & the learning process. The student gets a chance to privately let you know how the course is going, get feedback from you & also be involved in authentic writing practice. You get valuable feedback on your lessons.

Here's how to set it up: Provide, or get your students to buy, a notebook exclusively for the diary. The students complete them individually after few lessons, depending on the frequency of the lessons. They will need some guidelines initially, something along the lines of the following:

Which parts of the lessons did you enjoy? Why?
Which parts did you find challenging?
Which parts would you like to look at again?
Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Clearly write the pointers to suit the group. For example you might be asking them to prepare a mini-presentation outside the class to present in the class in the near future. This might be a place for them to ask you language questions they have.

It is probably better to get the students to complete their diaries in class time, 10 minutes at the end of the week, as many might not do them outside of class. And if they are of a very low level, they could write in their mother tongue.

Take in the diaries & comment in each. You are mainly interested in the content but also give them some feedback on the writing - not too much as it might put them off the diaries! You can also comment on other things that have happened in the class e.g. praise the student for a good performance in a roleplay or encourage more attention to pronunciation etc. Do give individual feedback.

Encourage the students to write as often as they like & stick to the minimum. So not only the time in the class but when they wish outside of class. You will have to talk to the students & convince them that it is a good idea to use learner diaries but once you get the project going all should see the benefits. And talk to the group about general points that crop up through the diaries.

Another format for the diary could be through emails or the Moodle software. Your students could email you their learner diary or leave their entry in their online space for you to see.

An alternative to a semi-public diary (ie. you see it) is to encourage your students to write their own diaries at home & not give them in. This would give them a purpose to write outside of class & also help them reflect on their own learning periodically. Some students would find it difficult to keep this up over an extended time.

However you choose to use learner diaries, they are sure to be useful to your students & if you get to see them, they will provide some interesting ideas on your own teaching to reflect on.


We've talked before about the usefulness of learner diaries & the same is true of the teacher. A teaching diary is to help you reflect on what happens in your classroom, what you do & how you go about it & what the students do & how they go about it. You could write it every day about each of your classes or just about one group you have taught each week.

Here are a few general guidelines you might want to follow:

1. How did you feel in terms of motivation & energy during the week? Can you relate any highs & lows to specific events?

2. Did the lessons keep to the lesson plans & the overall timetable? If not why not?

3. Which was the most successful lesson of the week & why?

4. Which was the least successful & why?

5. What was your personal aim for the week & did you achieve it?

6. What are your personal aims for the coming week?

7. Looking back in your diary over the last two weeks/month are there any trends coming through?

This is an excellent way of beginning your own mini-projects. You'll be able to find areas that interest you & want to do more research in your classes to develop your ideas.

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This week we take a brief look at lesson shapes, the main stages that make up a lesson. There are many different ways of shaping a lesson & we turn to the shapes that work well for both our students & us. Some might commonly use the following shape for their lessons:

Controlled practice
Reading or listening skills
Speaking through a roleplay or discussion - freer practice of the language introduced earlier in the lesson

Within this shape there is the procedure known as PPP - presentation, practice, production.

A Test-Teach-Test shape enables students to see the relevance of the new language.

Test usually through a speaking task
Teach - the language focus & practice
Test again with a similar speaking task

The students are given some form of test, a roleplay or discussion to see what language they use, then additional language is introduced, & finally the students are tested again with a similar speaking task, putting the new language into practice. This shape might take place over several lessons & might be considered a form of task-based lesson shape. For a simple outline of a task-based approach, see the past Tip 'Taken To Task':

Language teaching has moved towards a discourse-based approach in recent times. One aspect of this is the use of texts in the classroom to provide the context for language. So you might find a lesson shape such as the following:

Text - reading or listening skills development
Language focus through noticing tasks, problem solving, of language within the text
Language consolidation & practice
Speaking skills development or recycling of language from previous lessons

Texts can be either written or spoken, thereby providing reading or listening skills development before a language focus. This language focus can come through a 'noticing' activity, the teacher guiding the students to notice a feature that is present in the text. This feature is then analysed, preferably with the students working out manageable rules themselves, & checked by the teacher. Depending on the focus, a controlled practice task might then take place. Then the final speaking might return to the content of the text in the form of a student response to the text, not demanding production of the language in the prior focus, but practice of some other skills or language from past lessons. This last stage makes the lesson cyclical, going back to the content of the text & the timetable cyclical in that it brings in recycled language from before.

With this last shape, the text is clearly all important. The teacher needs to invest time in looking for Interesting texts, interesting in content & in the language they contain.

There are lots of different lesson shapes, each reflecting a particular approach to language & learning, & there are many pros & cons of each, too many to go into here. The nice thing about a discourse-based lesson shape is the exposure to the language you provide through the text, as well as the context for the language focus. The last stage also recognises the need for time to assimilate language before production in semi-controlled practice activities.

Students like to know where they are going in a lesson & familiar shapes provide this. But as with anything, the familiar can change into the monotonous if used all the time.

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seat belt

Clunk Click Every Trip

1969 was quite a year - a couple of weeks ago we had a Tip about the 40th anniversary of the first man on the moon. It is also the 40th for the Woodstock Festival so for classroom material a good starting point is Wikipedia: & then there's lots on YouTube.

Ten years before, in 1959, an invention came onto the market that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives over the years - the car seatbelt. Have a look at the following article from the Guardian Online:

Happy birthday to … the seatbelt

Invention thought to have saved a million lives is 50 today

It's an invention that is thought to have saved a million lives since its inception half a century ago today. You may very well have belted up today without a second thought to the seatbelt's inventor, Nils Bohlin.

It took a few attempts to get the standard V-type three-point safety belt right. Former aircraft engineer Bohlin, who was used to working on catapult seats, was drafted in by Volvo to help out with its designs for a safety harness in cars.

seat belt

Patented in 1958, the first seatbelt — as we know it — was fitted to some vehicles in Volvo's Nordic market. Within five years, front seats across the US and Europe carried the belts, and a further four years later passengers in the rear joined in.

In the promotional shot above, Bohlin demonstrates his belt while a passenger relaxes smoking a pipe in the rear. Clearly it was a few years before the dangers of smoking were emphasised.

This would make an interesting part of a lesson on transport & car safety. Here is a brief outline:

1. Warmer - tell the students that they are going to look at a short article that discusses an invention that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives over the last 50 years - they try to guess what it is - 'could/might it be...'

2. A quick storm on parts of the car - get students to shout them out & then on to a picture labelling task so they have a record on the lexis.

3. The text - it is short enough to be used in a dictation.

4. Focus on aspects in the text - to belt up x2 meanings, the use of the passives, was used to working,.......

5. Some discuss questions - small groups >> general class discussion.

a. Do you wear a seat belt?
b. Have you always worn one?
c. In your country is it necessary to wear seat belts when sitting in the back by law?
d. What is the general attitude to seat belts in your country?
e. What are the major contributory factors to traffic accidents?
f.  Do you have a points system for infractions in your country?
g. If so, does it have an effect on the amount of traffic accidents?
h. What do you think should be done about the amount of traffic accidents?

6. Discussion - public awareness - the students think of the TV promotions that have aired in their countries, they explain them, & discuss which they think were the most effective. I vividly remember in the UK in the 70s the seat belt TV promotion fronted by Jimmy Saville, a popular DJ, with the slogan 'Clunk Click Every Trip'.

If you have internet access in your classroom, here's a clear video:
Dr. G: Hidden Causes Not every car accident is an open-and-shut case. Learn more about the investigative process in this video from Discovery. (March, 2008)

There are a lot of different directions you could take on this theme - hopefully you might find this a useful starting point.

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