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Teaching Tips 181

All you need is...
Interesting letters
Basic training

All you need is...

Very sad about Whitney Houston. Her song 'I Will Always Love You' from The Bodyguard film seems to be her most well-know song, & to use in class there is a video of the song on YouTube with the lyrics appearing at the same time.
The part from The Bodyguard with the song:
& Witney Houston's Wikipedia entry:

And there's Valentine's Day coming up so you could combine the above with the Day & the theme of romance & relationships. There's a Valentine's Day plan on the site at:

Also 'Love & money are in the air' Valentine's Day lesson plan
Chocolate lesson plan

And here are some ideas on the theme for classroom use:

- Valentine's Day on the Internet - there are a lot out there but most sites are trying to sell you something although lots of links from
- Information about the Chicago massacre can be found at

- Short mystery stories, with a touch of romance connected to Valentine's Day can be found at

- The Science of Love from the BBC -

- Debate on V day - commercialism v romance.

- Who to send a V card to - personal/the famous.

- The above could be extended to students deciding what presents the famous people give each other, where they go to eat, what they eat, what they say to each other (reported speech) etc. Or the game 'Consequences' - name of fam. woman (met) name of fam. male (at) place ..(he said to her).. (& she said to him) . (& the consequence was) .- each piece of information is written on a paper which is folded over each time obscuring all that came before so that at the end when all is written it is unfolded & read out - lots of fun.

- Romantic films - students make a list of the top ten romantic films e.g.. Love Story, Casablanca, An Affair To Remember, The Piano, Brief Encounter, DR Zhivago, Now Voyager, Four Weddings & A Funeral, Gone With The Wind, When Harry Met Sally ...

- Lexical set: like, fancy, chat up, ask out, go out with, get on well, fall/be in love, 'go steady', live together, get engaged, get married, have children, go off, split up, get divorced ....change to suit.

- Heart to Heart/Lonely Hearts ads, the more diverse the ads the better - first decide which sex is advertising for which sex in each
- they could put a M-F code next to each ad & then compare ideas before general feedback - Then onto some scan reading; you ask a question e.g. who is looking for a red head & students quickly look & when found answer put hand in air & when half group got hands up ask one for the answer & locate for those that didn't find it. Could do this with about ten questions. Could then get them to see if any of the advertisers could be matched up or do the students like the sound of any of them - write their own ads or for others in the group ....

- Language of physical & character description could be related to Blind Dates which could be in the form of a letter describing self, where to meet, etc..

- Language of chatting up - could come from a tape of mini conversations & then pull out the different language being used >> practice with mini-roleplays. Useful & lots of fun for a youngish group.

- Language of invitations..could combine with a What's On Guide to use for scan reading & the language of preferences before going onto invitation role-plays, maybe on the phone which then involves telephone language.

- Role-play about parental disapproval - Mum, Dad, brother & girl who is going out with older boy. Dad is dead against it, Mum too but is more delicate, brother sides with sister & girl determined to carry on seeing boyfriend - do battle!

- Marriage: vocab - bride, groom, vows, reception etc./

- Discussions on: British v students country wedding traditions compare/civil v church weddings/sex before marriage/alternative weddings/gay weddings/debate: live together v marriage/4 Weddings & A Funeral - the reception speech is very exploitable & enjoyable for higher levels - could lead on to a writing task.

- Problem page - there are many ways to use these e.g.. give out problem & students write answers/ give half students problems & other half advice & they write the opposite & after the written problem is read out to see if it matches they read out new written advice/ match up half a dozen short letters with the advice given leading on to a discussion of whether the advice given was the appropriate & if not any better.. role-plays from these: writer with friend, couple with marriage guidance counsellor. Advice language e.g..: It might be an idea to. Why don't you .?, etc.

- Hypothetical relationship situations - 2nd conditional practice - What would you do if ..all related to romance.

- The 'Couples' activity in 'Discussions That Work' by Penny Ur (CUP) works very well (well worth checking out if you haven't already!).

- Divorce - discussion on associated topics e.g.. stay together for sake of children v split up - Life after marriage/sex before marriage/life as a single person.

- Love poems: eg: Love's Philosophy - by Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever,
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one another's being mingle;--
Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven,
If it disdain'd its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;--
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

This would lend itself to being cut up, every line or every two lines, & the students put into a logical order. A glossary of synonyms for the difficult old-fashioned words would be necessary. And then on to a comparison with the original & a discussion of the content. A follow up could be writing a few more pairs of nature-related lines.

- Love quotes - eg:
'I love you - those three words have my life in them.' by Alexandrea to Nicholas III
'The courses of true love never did run smooth.' by William Shakespeare
'There is only one happiness in life: to love and be loved.' by George Sand

- 'All You Need Is...' a song - songs & more songs -
Someone has posted their 'Top 20 Best Romantic Love Songs' (!?!) - you could view & students could discuss & vote on top three.


- Here's a text about the origins of Valentine's Day:

5th Century, Rome

Mid February was traditionally the time of the Lupercian festival, an ode to the God of fertility and a celebration of sensual pleasure, a time to meet and court a prospective mate. In AD 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagan festival. But he was clever to replace it with a similar celebration, although one deemed morally suitable. He needed a "lovers" saint to replace the pagan deity Lupercus.

The martyred Bishop Valentine was chosen as the patron saint of the new festival.

Saint Valentine had been beheaded for helping young lovers marry against the wishes of the mad emperor Claudius. Before execution, Valentine himself had fallen in love with his jailer's daughter. He signed his final note to her, "From Your Valentine", a phrase that has lasted through the centuries.

Pope Gelasius didn't get everything he wanted. The pagan festival died out, it is true, but he had further hoped people would emulate the lives of saints. Instead they latched onto the more romantic aspect of Saint Valentine's religious life. While not immediately as popular as the more passionate pagan festival, eventually the concept of celebrating true love became known as Valentine's Day.

Ideas on using this text:

- as a straightforward dictation task - read through first, students listen. Dictate each tone unit, repeating if the students want. Read again for all to check. Give out the text & students self-correct.

- elicit if anyone knows the origins of Valentine's Day. Then give out choices for students to discuss & choose possible stories. e.g. Valentine's Day comes from the romantic character in Shakespeare's play 'Much Ado About Valentine' ...

- put key words on the board & students try to predict the story, then read to verify.

- cut up the text into the paragraphs & students put in order.

- give out the first two paragraphs cut up, line by line, & students order the text. Then use the third paragraph as a dictogloss activity - read the text at normal speed & students take notes - the stressed words. Then together they reconstruct the paragraph from their notes. It's not necessary for it to be the same as the text so long as it is a coherent paragraph that fits with the preceding two paragraphs. Then give out the last paragraph to read & see if their own paragraphs fit in.

- could follow up with the letter from Valentine to his lover before he was beheaded (!) - could be fun.

- discussion on any current festivals they would like to replace - with what?

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Interesting letters

I came across an interesting article on the BBC site today titled, 'A Point of View: Mourning the loss of the written word',
( ) in which the author says; 'The modernist writer Virginia Woolf called letter writing "the human art, which owes its origins in the love of friends". In our frenetic world of electronic communication, we must remember to write with thought and consideration, says historian Lisa Jardine.
In these days of email, texts and instant messaging, I am not alone, I feel sure, in mourning the demise of the old-fashioned handwritten letter. Exchanges of letters capture nuances of shared thought and feeling to which their electronic replacements simply cannot do justice '

She then goes on to exemplify her points with reference to letters to & from Virginia Woolf. Check it out.

And then over the last few days the internet has been buzzing with the publication on Letters of Note ( of an unusual letter from Jourdon Anderson. Here's the intro from the site & the letter:

'In August of 1865, a Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdon Anderson, and requested that he come back to work on his farm. Jourdon — who, since being emancipated, had moved to Ohio, found paid work, and was now supporting his family — responded spectacularly by way of the letter seen below (a letter which, according to newspapers at the time, he dictated).'

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

There are lots of very interesting letters on the site , well worth checking out -

It is Black History Month in the US & Canada in February (in the UK in October) so using this letter might well make an interesting aside to the coursebook/syllabus & could easily veer into letter writing development. Using the letter in class with lower levels would be very challenging & ultimately demotivating so if you wanted to use it with lower levels you could give an oral precis or choose a paragraph or two & grade the language a little.

The advanced student should find the letter fairly straightforward, much of the sentence structure, although a little archaic, will be accessible. Here's a brief procedure:

1. Give out the four paragraphs without the date & introduction, or the salutation & set the task: read the letter quickly & decide what the letter is about & who it writing to who.

2. Students read > students compare ideas > class feedback - provide the full letter, clarify Yankees, Rebs & pull out the ironic tone of the letter - elicit a response to the letter - opinions?

3. If needed, another more detailed reading task - design to suit - comprehension questions, True/false sentences...students read > students compare > class feedback.

4 You could set a vocab task here - students find synonyms in the text - some possible levis to focus on:
para 1 - uneasy, harboring
para 2 - victuals, folks
para 3 - gained on that score, old scores, toil, a day of reckoning

5. Students in pairs then discuss the purpose of each paragraph - 1. Intro & picking up the relationship 2. Asking for more clarification of the offer 3. Proviso to taking up the offer 4. Asking for assurances.

6. Discuss the writing process - how do they go about writing a letter - just write & forget? or take time brainstorming, planning, drafting & revising? Which would produce better end results? do you think Jourdon's letter was drafted & redrafted, even though it says it was dictated? - I rather think so.

7. Set up the writing task - students write a letter to an old employer who treated them badly & has now written to them asking them to return. In pairs they need to:
a. think of the job & the unfair treatment
b. using the paragraph plan above plan ideas for each paragraph.
c. write the paragraphs
d. revise & redraft
While this is going on, tak e the opportunity to get around & feed in ideas & correct.
e. 'send' the letters by putting them on the walls of the classroom for all to mingle & read them all, deciding on the most interesting.
Make sure that all have decent letters to display publicly - it can be embarrassing for students to display writings that are weak. By following a process approach, & you taking a hands-on approach, the products should be of a good standard.

8. A speaking follow up could be a roleplay of the employee & employer coming
together to discuss the offer - could be lots of fun.

Here are a couple of articles among several on the site about process writing:
A Process Genre Approach to Writing Transactional Letters by James Frith

A Process Approach to Writing by Adam Simpson

And writing past Tips:

Write on!

Six Word Summaries - quick fun writing

Product, process or genre?

Writing back

Silently chatting

Writing for beginners


Hopeful Haikus

Keeping to the limit

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basic training
Basic training

I was recently helping a fairly inexperienced & untrained teacher with a course plan. It was a Cambridge First Certificate preparation course, 12 lessons of one & a half hours over two months leading up to the exam. I made a list of some of the things that I should get across to him as basic course planning principles. They included the following:

  • interest & engagement
  • fun & variety
  • challenge
  • logical sequencing
  • progress
  • recycling
  • exploiting material
  • thematically linked lessons
  • exam awareness & technique

A lot of points are clearly obvious when pointed out but then how does he incorporate them into his scheme of work? More experienced teachers have a host of activities & ideas to draw from but all he had was common sense, his own previous learning experiences & the book, which, as the discussion evolved, he used all very effectively to include most of the things in my list.

He applied his common sense to various aspects, the first being the choice of the coursebook. He had been given the Student's & Teacher's books & Exam Booster for the Spotlight on FCE book (Heinle, Cengage Learning). As time was limited he decided not to use the student coursebook but the Exam Booster, which is basically a self-study workbook very much based on exam practice. He assumed the students would see if they were up to the level of the exam as the course progressed.

He also chose how to distribute the themes in the book. There are 16 units so he looked through them & chose twelve that he thought the students would find the more interesting. He also used his common sense in the way he was going to stage the lessons, getting in the different parts of the exam, finishing with the fun speaking section each time & leaving the readings for homework.

We talked about how he went about learning English & French at school, the things he liked about the lessons & the teachers. From this one of the many things he brought up was using dictation. It was an enjoyable activity for him & showed him he was making progress. We then discussed how he could include this activity into his lessons & I gave him some alternative dictation ideas.

He reflected on how bored he had been in class, & why, & came up with the idea of lots of short tasks & changes of focus & interaction. He turned around his lack of progress into recycling language with fun game-type tasks.

Clearly the coursebook & teacher's book help a lot. In some places around the world they are the sole source of training. The book here is the Exam Booster from Spotlight on FCE & the series is one of the better ones on the market so he was lucky in this respect.

So as I said he more or less sorted it out for himself, with me pointing him in the different directions. In our efforts to help colleagues & trainees develop their teaching we can sometimes overlook how much they can actually bring to the process. And as we regularly remind them to get their students thinking & working things out for themselves, maybe we should take a leaf from our own book & allow our trainees to do more of the same using what they bring with them, possibly accelerating their independence as teachers..

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