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Teaching Tips 177

Spooky lessons

loop input


It's Remembrance Day on 11th November so for some lesson material, check out:
In Flanders fields


When I first began training teachers I read Tessa Woodward's excellent book 'Models & Metaphors in Language Teaching' (CUP). The book is about the process of training teachers & one of the techniques discussed is 'loop input'.

Loop input basically means carrying out an activity in that manner. Imagine you are giving a seminar to teachers on developing listening skills - with loop input you would impart the information about the skill through a listening activity using those very same sub-skills on the teachers. So they experience it at the same time as they learn about it.

Why not do the same in your language lessons? Tape an interview with a student on her difficulties with the listening skill & what strategies she adopts - choose a student who is fairly aware of this. Then use the tape with a group as a listening activity, giving them while-listening tasks that ask them to actually carry out the strategies that she talks about on the tape while they listen. The same procedure for the reading skill. And other areas?

A stimulating technique that catches everyone's attention.

If you are thinking of embarking on teacher training then an essential read is 'Models & Metaphors in Language Teaching'

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I've just published an article & lesson plan by Jonny Frank on the site titled: 'First Certificate Speaking: Part 2. Avoiding "ermmm": Adding coherence to spoken discourse using discourse markers'. Here's what he says in his introduction:

'I became interested in the use of discourse markers in spoken discourse after conducting a mock test with my First Certificate group. We focussed on part two and the transcripts, which can be seen in the appendices, were almost all lacking in discourse markers. Students can become nervous and freeze at this point in the exam, and, as Hedge observes "trying to produce language in front of other students can generate high levels of anxiety" (Hedge, 2000: 298). Even so, having examined the students' needs, I believe that discourse markers can de-freeze them as it were: from being more coherent to gaining time using discourse "fillers" to overcome their nerves and process their thoughts and language. By coherence I mean the relationships that connect discourse between utterances (Richards & Schmidt, 2002, 85); to stop talking about one photograph to talk about another, without contrast (however) or dismissing previous discourse (anyway), often leads to incoherence. Students tend to under-perform in part two of the FC exam, failing to provide examiners with "[in]adequate sample of language" (FC handbook, 2008: 55). Students are expected to "to show their ability to organise their thoughts and ideas, and express themselves coherently and in appropriate language" (FC handbook, 2008: 55). Due to this need for coherence and clarity, combined with my needs analysis of students, a range of spoken discourse markers is essential so that in the exam students produce adequate language.'

The article then goes on to look at the causes of the problems, together with ways forward for the teacher. The accompanying lesson plan uses these ideas. During the article he suggests a range of practical activities:

Activities to help teach discourse markers

1. Deductionist Approach - Oblige students to state the connection between points of a text before selecting discourse markers.
Source: The Illogic of Logical Connectives (Crewe, W.J, ELT Journal 44/4,p. 323)

2. Play an extract of a native and a non native speaker performing the same task, such as FC part 2. Students listen and note differences before using a transcript for the language focus.
Source: Having a Good Jaw: voice-setting phonology (Thornbury, Scott, ELT Journal 47/2, p. 129)

3. Supply students with a transcript of their own spoken discourse and ask them to complete the spaces provided using appropriate markers.

4. Record learners and give them the audio for them to compare beside a teacher checklist.
Source: Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, Hedge, p.60

5. Supply learners with an example of spoken/written discourse with ill-fitting markers. Learners have to highlight the mistake and decide on an appropriate replacement.

6. Supply learners with a checklist of markers before a speaking activity. Learners peer assess one another, ticking off the marker once their partner has used one.

7. Jumbled Dialogue. Students have spoken discourse and have to read their part out. In groups they do this and decide on the sequence that would create the entire discourse
Source: Conversation and Dialogues in Action, Dornyei and Thurrel, p. 23

8. Paper conversations. Students write down their responses to the question on slips of paper. Their partners can help them self-evaluate, or the slips could be re-ordered and evaluated by another pair of students.
Source: Teaching Speaking, Thornbury p. 68

9. Supply students with thematically linked pairs of photographs from magazines and an appropriate question.
Source: FCE Handbook for teachers

10. "Watch your language". Supply students with speaking topics to speak about for one minute.
Source: First Certificate Games and Activities (Wyatt: 2002, Penguin)

Check it all out at:

Do also check out all the other articles on the site - page one of three of the index:

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Spooky lessons

Halloween is nearly upon us so below are some ideas & links for the week ahead.

Nearly all the ideas are appropriate for the younger learner classes but the Catholic celebration of All Saints' Day could make for an interesting
topic for more adult students:
Using the topic of death in class is fairly taboo, but does it really have to be? I remember using some interesting material from the coursebook Mode 2 or Mode 3 on the theme of death. The reading text is an excerpt from The Diary of Adrian Mole. He goes to his grandmother's funeral & describes what happens - a humourous & really good choice of material which went down well with the group, & allowed the theme to be explored & vocabulary presented & practised.

Here's another story to ease into the theme:

Fate - A Hebrew Folktale

King Solomon's servant came breathlessly into the court, "Please! Let me borrow your fastest horse!" he said to the King. "I must be in a town ten miles south of here by nightfall!"

"Why?" asked King Solomon.

"Because," said his shuddering servant, "I just met Death in the garden! Death looked me in the face! I know for certain I'm to be taken and I don't want to be around when Death comes to claim me!"

"Very well," said King Solomon. "My fastest horse has hoofs like wings. TAKE HIM." Then Solomon walked into the garden. He saw Death sitting there with a perplexed look on its face. "What's wrong?" asked King Solomon.

Death replied, "Tonight I'm supposed to claim the life of your servant whom I just now saw in your garden. But I'm supposed to claim him in a town ten miles south of here! Unless he had a horse with hooves like wings, I don't see how he could get there by nightfall . . ."

After dealing with the story (eg give out the first four lines jumbled up, the students order them, & then try to predict the continuation, & finally give out the last line to see if they were right, & then a response to the text) the lexical field can be explored: death, to kick the bucket, pass away, coffin, cremation, deceased etc...
And then a discussion of different countries' & religions' attitudes to death, how death is dealt with in your environment etc... For example, when I came to Spain I found it strange that the funeral tends to be the day after a person dies, a very quick process, here one day & literally buried the next.

Clearly sensitivity is required but it certainly makes for more interesting lessons than the stock topics such as 'holidays'!

Monster consequences
This is a variation on the game consequences where you circulate papers in turn adding a bit of information, folding them over & then at the end opening out the paper & reading out the wacky result.
Here you design a monster. All students take a piece of paper & describe the monsters head at the top - this could be drawn. They then fold the paper & hand it to their neighbour to their left. Then all describe the body & do the same - fold & hand on. And on like this with a scary feature, the food it eats, something about its habits, a noise it makes & a name for the monster. At the end each student opens the paper & reads aloud about their monster.
Instead of folding the students could see the previous things & have more of an idea of the monster & a description is being built.

Scary movies
Students write a list of scary movies & explain what happens in their favourite one. Then, each group designs a new monster for a new scary movie. They decide on its name, eating habits, likes& dislikes, physical description, habits etc.

Start you own business - rent-a-ghost
People rent hosts from your company to scare others at Halloween. Design a brochure of available ghosts for hire, including a picture & description of haunting characteristics, special talents & hourly rates. Students then roleplay sellers/customers looking for an appropriate ghost. Give the customers a role card before with ideas.

Ghost interviews
You have a Rent-a-Ghost business which is going well & need to hire more ghosts. Interviewers prepare suitable questions to interview ghosts .g. ways of scaring people, special talents, why they would be good for the job etc. Ghosts also prepare mini-CVs containing previous experience, special haunting skills, ghost courses completed. They need to ask about conditions & pay at the interview. The interviews take place & the best ghosts are chosen.

Ghost hunters

Like Ghost Busters, the film, these people get rid of ghosts. All students draw a ghost & the teacher takes them in.
Std A - has spotted a ghost in their house - one of the ghosts that has been drawn, & they must describe the ghost, what it does, when it arrived, conditions in the house when it arrived etc.
Std B - works for 'Ghost Hunters' & will interview the house owner about the ghost. Also give advice on what to do to get rid of the ghost.

Radio Show - interview with a vampire
Students write down everything they know about vampires - two groups.
Grp A are the presenters on a radio show - they interview about the vampire's daily routine, clothes, habits, likes etc.
Grp B - are the vampires who prepare details about themselves.
Could record the interviews.

Design a potion
Students design a new potion & the advert that sells it. They need to decide on its magical properties, who it's for, what it contains, the packaging, name & slogan. All mingle selling their potions to each other, persuading each other they need this new magical potion.

Scary sounds
You need a tape of a series of scary sounds. Play the tape & students work out a story that fits. If no tape, you could make the noises!

Horror story writing
Students first plan the story deciding on the time, setting, characters, plot etc. (background-problem-solution-outcome) Could also look at specific vocab they might need - scared, terrified, scream, creaking, gloomy, chains, etc.

Act it out
Students discuss fave scary movie & choose a sketch to act out. They write a dialogue & then could write it as a radio play with background scary effects.

Halloween party
Students decide what costumes they would wear & what these character live would be like. Students then act out the party. Could use role cards to smooth things along.

Make a Mummy
Lots of toilet paper required to wrap round one of the children! Or teams - the first to make a Mummy.

From a brief look around at sites dedicated to Halloween it seems quite a commercial time. A lot of the sites have something to sell but keep looking & you’ll also find lots on information to use with all ages & types of classes.


A couple of links for Halloween stuff:
Lots of quality material for lessons from the British Council.
A time to tell your students a ghost story or two. At the History Channel they have some to choose from.

For information about storytelling, how to tell effective stories, check out the article used in the lesson plan here:

And a few more ghost story sites:
A cauldron full of Halloween links
Lots of personal experiences of Halloween
Reading about werewolves & links to related site
101 Halloween ideas
Clipart for all things Halloween
Bat poems

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