When was the last time you taught a song-based lesson in which the ‘listening’ component consisted solely of gap-filling? Let’s be honest with ourselves: gap fills are easy to create, easy to give instructions for and (tellingly) easy for students to do, even if they don’t actually have the strongest listening skills. But if a student only listens for the 10 words that complete the 10 gaps on a worksheet we gave them, did they really listen to the song at all?
For this lesson, I forced myself to come up with a variety of different tasks, gap-fill included, that would require students to put those top-down and bottom-up listening skills to work. The lesson also encourages learners to dig deeper into the song lyrics and imagine how they could appropriate the vocabulary they hear for their own personal use. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Level: B2 to C1 (Upper-Intermediate to Advanced) Age: teenagers Time: 60 minutes Materials: song (YouTube or MP3), 1 class worksheet + 1 homework sheet per student ––– comment for files
By the end of the lesson, students will have practised strategies for upgrading story language to make it more descriptive. They will do this by using synonyms to upgrade standard language and comparing their ideas with descriptive song lyrics.
Students will also have practised meaning-building strategies (using contextual and grammatical clues to make sense of audio signals) and decoding strategies (discriminating between similar sounds, transcribing squeeze zones).
I’m not entirely sure what the etiquette is for apologising after a six-month absence from your own blog, but here goes: sorry, everyone. A special sorry to those of you who posted asking for materials, since I was away from my computer for May and June (exam season), and then away from work for all of July and August (backpacking in far-flung and much warmer climes).
You see, I take my work-life balance as seriously as I take the separation of church and state, and after an unrelenting and intense year at work, I threw myself into the summer holidays just as I’d promised myself I would. Thoughts of lesson plans and homework and marking and materials were so far from my mind that even as I told new acquaintances that I was a teacher, I almost felt as though I was describing someone else, a third person neither of us in the conversation would ever meet, or a version of myself lost to the past.
And I enjoyed it: the free time, the complete break with the realities of school, day in, day out, where every day was different and yet somehow the same in so many ways. For the first time in four years of teaching, I had a whole summer off, both on paper and in mind, and it was ridiculously fun to rediscover all the aspects of myself that had been slowly but systematically drowned out by that innocuous label ‘teacher’.
But somewhere around mid-August, the matrix started to glitch. I was listening to a song, and before I knew it I’d made a playlist with one of my super-talented FCE classes in mind. It was full of awesome songs just perfect for decoding practice! They’d all been released in the previous twelve months! The lyrics contained exactly the kind of inspiring, upbeat messages that teen students generally seem to appreciate!
It definitely didn’t count as work though. Did it? I mean, technically I wasn’t at work, and it certainly wasn’t my intention to accidentally get a bit of work done … So I guess what I’m trying to say is, if an ELT teacher plans and doesn’t get paid for it, does she need to take her job a little less seriously?
Anyway, I went back to work on September 12th, mainly writing exams and doing other assorted admin in preparation for the new school year. On the weekend of September 15th and 16th, I saw some of my students out at a festival, and I wondered how their summers had gone, and if they’d had fun on their trip to England, and had they passed their FCE exams? And on September 25th I walked back into my classroom, that one with the same kids I’ve been teaching since I first moved to Calabria in 2016, to a round of applause and lots of hellos and general merriment.
What an amazing vocation we have. What amazing people my students have become over the last couple of years. What a surprise that I actually missed school over the summer! But I’m back now, and I’m ready for another year of academic and professional excellence. On your marks …
In all fairness, the title of this post should really be something like “I did a couple of odd jobs here and there to help out with the absolute ocean of work involved in organising and successfully running an international conference”. In any case, for the purposes of this blog post, I hope you can find it in your heart to allow me this little bit of click-bait.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, down to business. By now you may have heard that my school hosted the IH Young Learners conference last week, which I co-wrote the application for and then eventually got the chance to speak at; all in all, a developing teacher’s dream come true, prosecco all round, clink, blah blah blah …
However, amid all the networking and sharing and developing, there was one particularly special moment during that long conference weekend, a moment that I know I will never, ever forget as long as I work in ELT: on arrival at the conference, every single visiting delegate received a handwritten welcome letter from one of our young learner students.
The idea was deceptively simple, and utterly perfect in terms of the message we wanted to send to our international visitors. Our original conference application stressed the strong ties our school has with the local community, especially the state schools where we run outreach programs. Our directors were adamant that if we were to host a conference for YL teachers, then our YL students should be involved somehow, and they were absolutely right.
Once I had come up with the idea, we just needed to give our students a little nudge in the right direction. To help them get their ideas out onto the page, I designed a couple of easy-to-adapt lesson plans for letter-writing as well as the teaching materials to go with them, including three model welcome letters at the A2, B1 and B2 levels. Our fantastic team of YL teachers then took those plans and materials into their regular English classes and ran with them, and our ridiculously talented YL students did the rest!
Some of them wrote about their favourite restaurants and dishes to try, some of them explained local traditions and cultural references that they thought might interest international visitors, and some chose to give a more warts-and-all description of the reality of living in one of Italy’s forgotten southern regions. Different though they were, however, all the letters were nonetheless spectacular reads.
To encourage participation, the letter-writing task was pitched as a city-wide competition, open to our internal YL students as well as all of our external teen students at local state schools. All in all, just over 120 young learners aged 11-18 wrote welcome letters for our incoming delegates. My colleague @lennyberlenny and I then had the unenviable task of sorting through them all to choose 54 winners, one for each of the delegates coming to visit us for the conference.
The reactions as the letters were discovered and read were absolutely priceless. We had gasps of delight and surprise, and even a couple of tears! As a foreigner who has had the privilege of getting to know this sleepy little part of Italy over the last 18 months, I was so incredibly proud and moved to watch others be offered the same insight into the local culture, especially in a place that has had a historically difficult relationship with outsiders.
The cherry on top was unexpected even for me: our delegates were so impressed by the gesture that they have started writing back to our students. The international community has helped our YL students use real English to speak to real people for real reasons. As an ELT teacher, what more could I possibly wish for?
In my previous job, I used to spend a lot of time lamenting the fact that my students never bothered to listen to any English-language media outside class. Now, I have exactly the opposite ‘problem’ – my students know so much about English-language popular culture that I’m forever trying to find lesson material they haven’t heard or seen before!
That’s where I got the idea for this lesson plan, which I built around a lesser-known song by British electro-pop group Clean Bandit. It has worked particularly well for me with teenagers, but there’s no reason you can’t use it with your adult classes – especially if your students are getting a bit complacent about their listening skills!
Level: B2 to C1 (Upper-Intermediate to Advanced) Age: teenagers and adults Time: 80 minutes Materials: slide with photos, song (YouTube or MP3), 1 class worksheet + 1 homework sheet per student ––– comment for files
By the end of the lesson, students will have understood the overall meaning of a song about moving on from an old relationship. They will do this by listening for keywords and making inferences.
Students will also have practised meaning-building strategies (using contextual and grammatical clues to make sense of audio signals) and decoding strategies (discriminating between similar sounds).
As promised, here’s Part Two of my Banksy lesson arc! You can find Part One here. The strength of this lesson lies in the way I personalised it for the particular city I teach in, and I encourage you to edit your materials so that your lesson can more closely reflect your own city and context.
I really can’t overstate how much production this lesson generates – even when it comes to writing, which my students usually hate. I’ve actually just finished marking a batch of FCE formal letters based on this lesson, and the marks are the highest this class has achieved all year!
Level: B2 (Upper-Intermediate) or FCE Age: teenagers or adults Time: 80 minutes Materials: exam question, list of phrases for formal letters, destroyed model text (comment for files)
By the end of the lesson, students will have written a formal letter (FCE Writing Part 2) in the context of graffiti and street art.
Students will also be more familiar with fixed expressions used in formal letters.
This is easily one of the most engaging lessons I’ve ever taught. So far, I’ve used it with over 100 different students across a range of ages and classes, and it just works. As if that wasn’t enough, it also leads quite naturally into FCE and CAE writing projects (lesson plans coming soon). All in all, it’s a great way to get your students into modern British art, while also encouraging deeper reflection and critical thinking.
NOTE: Originally, this lesson was just a riff on a double-page spread from the Speak Out Upper Intermediate course. Eventually, I developed it to the point that I was no longer using the materials from the coursebook. However, I’m still very grateful to both Frances Eales and Steven Oakes for the fantastic idea!
Level: B2 to C1 (Upper-Intermediate to Advanced) Age: teenagers or adults Time: 60 minutes Materials: vocabulary cards, slideshow of artwork by Banksy (comment for files)
By the end of the lesson, students will be better able to use the following lexis to praise/criticise Banksy’s art: irresponsible, satirical; vandalism, a valid art form; controversial; provocative; anarchy-lite; defaces buildings; derivative; hideous; pioneering; iconic; subversive, distinctive.
If your teenage students are anything like mine, then they’re absolutely exhausted and in desperate need of a fun, festive lesson around this time of year! This low-prep lesson outline uses a task-based learning format to help students tackle a Cambridge FCE/CAE-style speaking task in the context of Christmas presents.
Level: B2 to C1 (Upper-Intermediate to Advanced) Age: teenagers (preferably working towards FCE or CAE) Time: 80 minutes Materials: 1 question sheet per student (comment for files)
By the end of the lesson, students will have practised FCE/CAE Speaking Part 3 in the context of Christmas presents.
Students will also be better able to use phrases for … [e.g. turn-taking, negotiating, etc. – depending on what your students need to focus on]