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Teaching Tips 148

Notes on a small island
Spell It Out
European Day of Languages

If the UK were a village of 100 people....

Notes on a small

This week we've got a couple of speaking tasks around the theme of British life & culture.

The things that really make Britain great
The Independent Online published a report 'Notes on a small island: The things that really make Britain great'. This consisted of a list of things that the writer thought were quintessentially British. Among the things mentioned were the following:

The Archers
Corner shop
Little Chef
Garden gnomes
Jumble sales
Morris dancing
Net curtains
Shipping forecast
Yellow lines

This list more likely reflects someone's ideas of days gone by, sometime between the 50s & 80s. Anyway, it makes a good list for classroom use. There are corresponding pictures at the site at the following link:

Among some of the things I would add to such a list are:

Saying please & thank you
Double decker buses
Pubs & a pint of beer
Toast & Marmite
Cream cakes
Seaside piers

If you are from a different English-speaking part of the world, you could design the same for your country.

So what to do with it? A short procedure:

1. Introduce the theme of the lesson - that they will be doing lots of speaking through looking at ideas from a newspaper article about things that are typically British.

1. Students write down a list of eight things they think of when they think of Great Britain - go round & help out with any vocab they might need.

2. Students compare their answers - you could 'pyramid' this - individuals form pairs & decide on eight things, then pairs combine in fours & decide on eight things, then groups of four combine to form a group of eight & decide on eight things. So they are constantly negotiating & evaluating the ideas & coming to decisions - lots of speaking. The final discussion could be a class discussion with the idea on the board.
You could also use this stage as an opportunity to introduce some language - putting forward ideas, dis/agreeing, negotiating.....

3. Give out the photos -
Students discuss what the different things are - you could put the list of words - jumbled up - on the board & the students match up photos & words. Feedback.

4. Listening - you choose some or all of the objects & give a short monologue on each photo - invite questions to make it interactional.
Add in some more things that you think are typically British. This could be tricky for the non-native teacher so I should limit the photos & words to the things that you really feel sure about.

5. Students in small groups then work on things that they would use to sum up their own countries. If you have a multilingual group then clearly get same nationalities working together. Students could then present their lists. Or, if you haven't already pyramided then you could it here. It could be in the form of a small project for the teenage group - for homework they could collect pictures to accompany their list presentation.

The Independent's list can be found at the following link.
In an attempt to be amusing, which it wasn't, there are a couple of rather unsavory entries in the list.


If the UK were a village of 100 people....

If the UK were a village of 100 people....

Again in the Independent Online, there was an article about the demographics of the UK. Here's how the article begins:

There are, according to the estimate for this month, 6,790,062,216 people in the world. It's hard enough to say the number, never mind picture those people. You could round it up to a less tongue-twisting 6.8 billion, but does that make such a frightening figure any easier to compute? When you try, do you see faces, or just more brain-frying strings of digits?

The sheer vastness of the data we gather in our attempts to understand the world around us has been challenging statisticians since the earliest censuses. The "size of Wales" approach to number-crunching is popular among headline writers; but is it helpful, for example, to imagine the global population in terms of 75,445 Wembleys, or, indeed, 2,341 Waleses? The numbers are still too big.

It's the same with the news we read and hear each day. What does it mean when we're told that unemployment has risen by 281,000? Is that a huge number? Or just a big one? The stories are about people, but it is often hard to see beyond the figures.

So what if, rather than grapple with endless triplets of zeros, we shrank the world, and all the potentially flummoxing data we mine from it, down to a more manageable size? What if the world were a truly global village of, say, 100 people? What would those faces look like, and who would those people be?

Below you can see the findings. A classroom task would be for the students to read & discuss how, as much as they can guess, these figures might change for their own countries - some are
clearly more obvious than others.

If Britain were a village of 100 people...

17 of the 100 villagers would be under the age of 15, while another 16 would be 65 or over (three of them 80 or over).

There would be 80 adults (aged 16 or over), of whom 40 would be married and 11 would live alone.

There would be 42 households in the village, of which 13 would be home to just one person. (Six of these would belong to lone pensioners, of whom five would be female.)

Of the 19 villagers aged between 20 and 34, four would live with their parents.

The village would welcome one new baby this year. The baby would expect to live for 76 years and six months (if it was a boy), or 81 years and seven months (if it was a girl).

One person would die this year.

Ninety-two of the villagers would be white. Two would be black, two Indian, one Pakistani, one of mixed race and two would be of other races.

Ten people would have been born outside the village, three of whom would live in London.

Six people would be gay or lesbian (probably).

84 of them would live in England, eight in Scotland, five in Wales and three in Northern Ireland.

Eight people would live in Greater London (one of them in Croydon).

There would be 51 women and girls, and 49 men and boys.

If Britain were a village of 100 people, and its land mass were scaled down by the same proportion as its population, the village would cover an area the size of 99 football pitches.

Fifty-three of these football pitches would be English, 32 Scottish, nine Welsh and five Northern Irish.

Agricultural land would occupy 20 football pitches, on which 54 sheep, 17 cows, eight pigs and 273 chickens would roam. There would be one farmer.

London would cover just over half a football pitch.

All built-up areas and gardens would occupy the equivalent of six football pitches.

Seventy-two people would identify themselves as Christian (although only 10 people in the village would go to church regularly). Fifteen people would say that they were not religious, while there would be two Muslims, one Hindu and 10 people who practised other religions.

Each person would generate 495kg of waste every year. The village as a whole would generate 163kg of waste every day, of which just 47kg would be put out for recycling.

If Britain were a village of 100 people, 17 of the villagers would smoke, of whom 11 would like to give up.

Nineteen adults and three children would be classified as obese (that is they would have a Body Mass Index of 30 or greater).

Sixteen men and eight women would usually exceed the Government's daily sensible drinking benchmark (3-4 units per day for men; 2-3 units a day for women).

Eight men and four women would have taken an illicit drug in the past year.

Eight people would have asthma.

Eight adults would be suffering from depression today (but as many as 20 would suffer from depression at some point in their lifetime).

One person would have dementia.

The villagers would have 118 mobile phones between them (66 of which would be pay-as-you-go). There would be 55 telephone landlines.

There would be 90 televisions (an average of more than two per household).

Twenty-one villagers would have watched Andy Murray beat Stanislas Wawrinka under floodlights at Wimbledon this year; 32 people would have watched Susan Boyle lose 'Britain's Got Talent'.

Of the 42 households in the village, 32 would have satellite, digital or cable television.

Twenty-seven households would have access to the internet (24 of those would have a broadband connection).

Thirty people would have a Facebook account.

Sixteen of the villagers would be at school – of whom one would be in private education.

One of the 16 pupils would leave school this year. Twelve of them would, when the time comes, go into higher education. Nine of them would achieve five or more GCSE or equivalent passes at grades A*-C.

One person in the village would be illiterate.

There would be one teacher.

Seven people would be in further education. (In 1990, there were only four.)

Of the 62 villagers of working age, 45 would have jobs; nine of them would be in the public sector.

They would earn an average of £388 a week (including part-time workers).

Of the 13 villagers of working age who weren't working, four would be unemployed; three would be looking after family and/or home; three would be excluded from the workforce by sickness; two would be students; and one would have taken early retirement.

The 80 adults in the village would share a personal debt of £2.4m (£30,480 each, on average).

Six would be claiming housing benefit; five would own their homes but have negative equity.

The richest 10 people in the village would receive 30 per cent of the total income. Between them, they would earn more than the poorest 50 combined.

The poorest 10 people in the village would receive 2 per cent of total income.

Two adults would not have access to a bank account.

Fifty-six of the 100 villagers would claim to have given to charity within the past four weeks. Overall, the village would donate £17,393 to charity this year.

Twenty people would claim the state pension; 12 would be women.

Five villagers would be employed in the food industry.

Five men and four women would have had multiple sex partners in the previous year.

If Britain were a village of 100 people, there would be 74 voters.

Only 26 of those voters would have gone to the polls at this year's European elections.

Of the 42 households in the village, 18 would have at least one pet. Between them, those households would have 38 pets (not including fish), including 13 dogs (comprising 10 pedigrees, one cross and two mongrels) and 13 cats (12 of which would be moggies, or non-pedigrees).

Three of the villagers would be vegetarians and a further five would be partly vegetarian.

Between them, the villagers would spend £2,955 a week on food and non-alcoholic drinks. They would spend £1,154 a week on food eaten outside the home, of which £355 would go towards alcohol.

Seventy-eight of the villagers would have a passport.

Fifty-five would have a driving licence.

There would be 56 motor vehicles in the village, including 44 cars and two motorbikes.

Of the 42 households in the village, 18 would have one car, 13 would have two or more cars and 10 would not have a car at all.

In the past year, the people of the village would have made 107 trips abroad, spending £60,055 between them.

So some interesting material to promote a speaking lesson about the life & culture of an English-speaking country.

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Spell It Out

It's International Spelling Day on the 30th, an area that is difficult for students, & everyone else, through no fault of their own. As teachers we have to help them make some sense of it by tackling it systematically.
The excellent book 'Teaching English Spelling: A Practical Guide' by Ruth Shemesh & Sheila Waller (CUP) is packed full of teaching ideas & plans, & does just that, tackling the area systematically.

A couple of quotes about spelling:

'I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.'
Mark Twain

'A man occupied with public or other important business cannot, and need not, attend to spelling.'
Napoleon Bonaparte

'The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. German and Spanish are accessible to foreigners: English is not accessible even to Englishmen.'
G.B. Shaw, Pygmalion, Preface

'It is a damn poor mind indeed which can't think of at least two ways to spell any word.'
President Andrew Jackson

A couple of interesting spelling facts:

Cleveland, Ohio – the leader of the crew that surveyed the town's territory was Gen. Moses Cleaveland, and the region was named in his honor; reportedly the town's first newspaper could not fit the town's name in its masthead without removing the first "a" from the name.

Google – accidental misspelling of googol. According to Google's vice president, as quoted on a BBC The Money Programme documentary, January 2006, the founders – noted for their poor spelling – registered Google as a trademark and web address before someone pointed out that it was not correct.

Ovaltine, a popular bedtime drink in the UK, came about because someone misspelled the original name Ovomaltine on the trademark documentation.


A nice warmer or a springboard into a spelling focus:

..a rcent sudty funod taht it deosn't meattr waht odrer the lerttes of a wrod are in, the olny imopraotnt tihng is taht the fsirt and lsat lerttes are in
corrcet poistiosn. Unfaertuontely, taht's not the csae for evryhtieng in lfie...

Takes a sentence and misspells all the words, but the sentence should still be readable:

A few web links:

For a list of basic spelling rules:

100 Most Often Misspelled Words in English from Your

To show your students some public spelling mistakes:

A dictionary of misspelled words, names and places:

Online spell checker:

Spelling reform round up at Wikipedia:

Here are the last couple of Tips that coincided with Seplling Day.

How's your spelling? Are there certain words that you always have to stop & think about?

Take the test - which spelling is correct.


Clearly you need to spell correctly. Have you ever been corrected by your students with your board work? If you have any doubts, check the spelling out before the lesson. To coincide with International Spelling Day on 30th September, here's the Ghoti Tip:

Have a look at the following words. Which do you think could be English words:


You can easily guess but could your students? The sound- spelling relation is a complex one in English & although some rules may be manageable, there are a lot which are just too complicated to pass on. When our students meet a new written word they either use their existing knowledge of English to guess at the pronunciation or fall back on their native language convention for the particular letter combinations. The task
above, guessing which combinations could be possible & then discussing why & why not, is a useful one.

The idea of sound values is crucial to this. Some letters can have one sound value while others can have two or more. The letter 'd' has only one sound value as in 'daft', 'did', don't' etc. The letter 'g', with very few exceptions, has two sound values - the first as is 'g' followed by 'i', 'e' or 'y' has the sound of 'dj', as in 'imagine' & 'gent'. The second is the sound
'g' as in 'gun' & 'grey'. (The exceptions to the first include the words 'give', 'girl', 'anger', 'eager', 'gear', 'get')

The letter 'c' has two sound values. Look at the following words & work out the rule: ::


It is a very confusing area & one that the teacher needs to be aware of.

George Bernard Shaw gave one of the nonsense words above, 'ghoti', as an example of the ridiculous system behind English sound-spelling by reasoning that it could have the same pronunciation as the word 'fish'! He got this by taking the 'gh' from 'tough' for the 'f', the 'o' from the word 'women' for 'i' & then the 'ti' from the word 'nation' for the 'sh' sound. A nice example for your students.

The letter 'c' rule
It's the same as with 'g' - if it is followed by 'i', 'e', or 'y' then it takes the 's' sound, otherwise it takes the 'k' sound.

It is a very confusing area & one that the teacher needs to be aware of.

Answers to the spelling test:
(Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)

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European Day of Languages logo

European Day of Languages

It's 'European Day of Languages' on 26th September so for some classroom reading material check out the past Tip at:
The Council of Europe Day site can be found at:

If you're not based in Europe then the material could be used as a springboard for discussing the languages on your continent.

There is a page at the site, 'Get Inspired', to help you with ideas for celebrating the Day with your students:

A nice way of getting into the theme would be to play the different ways of saying 'Hello'.

There is a Language Facts page at the site that could provoke lots of discussion - have a read:

Language Facts

01 There are between 6000 and 7000 languages in the world - spoken by six billion people divided into 189 independent states.

02 There are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe - roughly 3% of the world’s total.

03 Most of the world’s languages are spoken in Asia, India, Africa and South America.

04 Many Europeans think most people speak only one language, but in actual fact at least half of the world’s population are bilingual or plurilingual, i.e. they speak two or more languages.

05 No language is in itself more difficult than any other – all children, in fact, learn their mother tongue in the same natural way and with equal ease.

06 Many languages have 50,000 words or more, but individual speakers normally know and use only a fraction of the total vocabulary: in everyday conversation people use the same few hundred words.

07 Languages are constantly in contact with each other and affect each other in many ways: English borrowed words and expressions from many other languages in the past, European languages are now borrowing many words from English.

08 In its first year a baby utters a wide range of vocal sounds; at around one year the first understandable words are uttered; at around three years complex sentences are formed; at five years a child possesses several thousand words.

09 The mother tongue is usually the language one knows best and uses most. But there can be “perfect bilinguals” who speak two languages equally well. Normally, however, bilinguals display no perfect balance between their two languages.

10 Bilingualism brings with it many benefits: it makes the learning of additional languages easier, enhances the thinking process and fosters contacts with other people and their cultures.

11 Bilingualism and plurilingualism entail economic advantages, too: jobs are more easily available to those who speak several languages, and multilingual companies have a better competitive edge than monolingual ones.

12 Languages are related to each other like the members of a family. Most European languages belong to the large Indo-European family.

13 Most European languages belong to three broad groups: Germanic, Romance and Slavic.

14 The Germanic family of languages includes Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, German, Dutch, English and Yiddish, among others.

15 The Romance languages include Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian, among others.

16 The Slavic languages include Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Bulgarian and others.

17 Most European languages use the Latin alphabet. Some Slavic languages use the Cyrillic alphabet. Greek, Armenian, Georgian and Yiddish have their own alphabet.

18 The mother tongues spoken by most people in Europe are Russian, German, English, French and Italian, in that order.

19 The non-European languages most widely used on European territory are Arabic, Chinese and Hindi, each with its own writing system.

20 Russia (148 million inhabitants) has by far the highest number of languages spoken on its territory: from 130 to 200 depending on the criteria.

21 Most countries in Europe have a number of regional or minority languages – some of these have obtained official status.

22 Due to the influx of migrants and refugees, Europe has become largely multilingual. In London alone some 300 languages are spoken (Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Berber, Hindi, Punjabi, etc.).

23 In their daily lives Europeans increasingly come across foreign languages. There is a need to generate a greater interest in languages among European citizens.

There is a brief pdf guide to learning languages at:

On the Council of Europe Day site there is a section devoted to the 'Favourite word'. 'The idea of the 'language treasures' database is to compile a list of words from different languages which no translation can do justice to. In 2008 the Portuguese word ‘Saudade’ was submitted more often than any other word to the database. It (roughly!) expresses a feeling of missing and longing for something or someone.'

The section hasn't really developed much but you could use the idea in class, asking your students for words from their own language which can't really be translated. A word in Spanish that is very apt & doesn't quite sound the same in another language is the word 'rematar' for finishing something off & I'm told it comes from the last stage of the bullfight when the bull is killed.

So check it all out & on or around the 26th include something in your lessons on the European Day of Languages.

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