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Teaching Tips 160

The 20'' Rule
Expressions of trust


The 20'' Rule

When do your students typically start speaking English to each other in your lessons? I have watched many lessons where the students don't actually talk to each other for quite a way into the lesson. This happens with both inexperienced & experienced teachers. The students are busy listening to the teacher & doing tasks individually. The teacher is wrapped up in the lesson plan, forgetting the students along the way.

If the lesson is abroad , in their own countries, the chances are that they won't have spoken English since the last lesson & they need to warm up to the lesson by speaking English. Even if they are in an English-speaking country, they still need this warming up period.

This is where we need to plan into our lesson plans the twenty second rule - get them talking to each other in the first twenty seconds of the lesson. This could be simply chatting about the weekend, something in the news, or a warmer activity.

For example, ask them to think of their favourite colour & make sure that in each pair they have different colours, they think of their second favourite if there is a clash. Then they persuade each other that their colour is better than their partners - instant discussion & it works every time. In addition to colours, at other times they could think of their favourite animal, TV programme, sport etc It doesn't matter if it seems a little silly persuading each other, the students will see the usefulness immediately.

The students start speaking immediately & then spend five minutes chatting, being creative with the language so that they are ready for the lesson after five minutes. The twenty second rule makes an enormous difference to the dynamics of the lesson - plan it in to every lesson.

Here is a list of warmers, fillers & coolers on the site to consult:

Five-Minute Activities for Young Learners - Penny McKay and Jenni Guse (CUP)

Five-Minute Activities - Penny Ur (CUP)

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- pt 2

We've had a past Tip 'AAA - Acronym Awareness Activity' about looking at acronyms in class:

This week Rolf Palmberg has sent in a short lesson plan around the theme of acronyms:

An acronym is a word formed from the initial letter (or letters) of a name. The term "acronym" derives from a Greek word that means "first letter name" and according to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the date of its earliest recorded use in English is 1943. Well-known English acronyms are BBC (for British Broadcasting Corporation) and MP (Member of Parliament).

The use of acronyms is constantly increasing, particularly among computer enthusiasts. The reason is obvious: the use of acronyms saves typing time. Chatting, for example, is very demanding since it takes place in real time and therefore requires speed at the keyboard from the participants. For similar reasons acronyms are also found in email messages and on websites. Nor is the use of acronyms restricted to native speakers - when it comes to English it is often the case that even very young EFL learners are more skilful in understanding and using (!) acronyms than their own English teachers.

The purpose of this vocabulary lesson is to familiarise learners with the concept of acronyms and to increase their understanding of various kinds of letter combinations in English.

Step 1

Display the following list of acronyms on an OHP:


Ask the learners to work in pairs and assign possible meanings to as many of the acronyms as possible.

After a couple of minutes, ask them what they have come up with.

AFAIK – As Far As I Know
ASAP - As Soon As Possible
FAQ - Frequently Asked Question
FYI - For Your Information
IMO - In My Opinion
IYSWIM - If You See What I Mean
JAM - Just A Minute
NRN - No Reply Necessary (or Needed)
OTOH - On The Other Hand
TIA - Thanks In Advance

Step 2

Ask the learners (who are still working in pairs) to find different kinds of acronyms using either (a) English dictionaries, (b) texts handed out by the teacher, or (c) websites selected by the teacher, for example Acronym Server (at This site is very user-friendly and can be used to search for both acronyms and words.

When they have found more than a dozen or so acronyms, ask them to walk around in the classroom testing their classmates' knowledge.

Depending on the learners' age or proficiency level it might be a good idea to restrict their search for acronyms to a specific topic, for example geography, politics or various kinds of institutions.

Step 3

Write the letters SOUBTT on the blackboard and invite the learners to suggest possible meanings.

After a little while, tell them that you created the acronym and that it stands for "Sentences Often Used By The Teacher".

Next, tell the learners to form groups of three. Ask each group to create new acronyms on the same topic, such as WHYDYH, which could stand for "Why Haven't You Done Your Homework?"

When the learners have agreed on a dozen or so new acronyms, ask them to select three personal favourites and walk around in the classroom putting their classmates' imagination to the test.

Step 4

Finish the lesson by telling the learners that you once saw the acronym AHA on a door somewhere (you may have to write the acronym on the board). Again, invite your audience to think of possible meanings of the acronym. After a few attempts on their part, tell them that it stands for "Acronym Haters' Association". **

* This is a modified, abridged version of a lesson plan published in Rolf Palmberg: Developing EFL Learners' Vocabulary Awareness [].
** To the best of my knowledge, AHA does not exist.

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shaking hands

of trust

We usually use trust activities at the beginning of a course when a group of people are coming together for the first time. The activities are used to create a good group dynamic & as relaxation & limbering up before more taxing tasks or tasks that ask for the contribution of the whole group such as a drama lesson. There's no reason why we shouldn't use trust activities at any time during a course, they might provide that extra element that picks up a group that has been together past its sell by date. They are suitable for all levels as they require little, or no, language. Here are a few ideas:

- Famous introductions: get the students to think of someone they admire, not their Mum or Dad, someone that is well-known. They then wander around shaking hands with everyone, with a big smile, & introducing themselves as the famous person they admire.

- Massage: pair the students off, try to make sure they are with partners of similar height, with one standing behind the other. The one behind gives the front person a massage. Then change round.

- Blind person 1: again in pairs, student A guides the other, who has her eyes tightly shut, around the room with simple directions - 'walk on, turn left/right/around, stop'. Swap round for 'revenge'.

- Blind person 2: this time one student takes the the other student's arm & guides her around the room, putting her hand on different objects, which she has to say what the object is.

- Blind person 3: guide the other student around the room with one word, repeated, so that the blind student has to listen carefully for her partner's voice, as well as the pitch & tone which can express a danger of bumping into others etc. Careful this doesn't got out of hand with younger learners.

- Touching: students, in pairs, stand facing each other, palm to palm & as one moves their hands around, the other moves as well.

- Free fall: put the students into groups of eight in a circle, with one in the middle with her eyes closed. The middle student falls but is supported by the group who gently push her back across the group to fall & be pushed round. The falling student trusts the group not to let her fall on the ground.

You might think that your students would never do some of the above. OK, but it's how you set it up that counts. Just expecting them to do it as a matter of course helps. Obviously some are going to be resistant but the more you do this type of activity the easier it becomes & it's lots of fun.

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