Friday, 30 August 2013

An ESL food lesson for beginners

Topic: Food
Level: A1 (False Beginners)
Length: 1-1.5 hours


Show the students this picture:
Elicit all the different kinds of food they can see in the picture.  The students then decide which food group they fit into. This is a good beginning to check what your students already know.  If needed they can use a dictionary.

Describing Food

Give the students the list of food vocabulary and the vocabulary questions. Students should work in pairs or small groups to make sure they know the meaning of all the words. Then they should work through the general and lesson questions based on the vocabulary. You may need to help out with the understanding of the questions.

Ordering Food

Show the students the picture of two people eating out. Ask: Where they are? and What are they doing?  Then introduce the helpful phrases.  Get the students to sort out the phrases into who would say them; the waiter or the costumer. Finally ask the students to put the short dialogue into order.

Restaurant Roleplay

Now the students are ready to do a short roleplay about ordering in a restaurant. Give each group of three or four students a menu. Students don't need to understand everything that is written on the menu, just enough to be able to order. Get one member of the group to be the waiter and he should write the groups order in the table provided. Get the the waiter to read the order back to the group to check if he's written everything correctly.

If you like groups can perform for the class and you can swap the menu and try again. Make sure all the students have a turn as a waiter and as a customer.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Using the Cambridge-Esol speaking exams as a bases for conversation

Getting students talking in English and using free conversation can be a big challenge for an English teacher.  I very often find that during conversation lessons or exercises the class can become very "teacher focused" with the teacher asking the questions and the students answering.  Although this is fine for short periods, it can become repetitive and dull.

So how do we avoid this?  The answer is to prepare student focused tasks that require as little teacher input as possible. However, this can be more difficult than it sounds as students regularly resist the teacher's attempts to turn the focus on to them. Since sitting in a classroom with 6-9 people you only half-know is not a good start for natural conversation, students need to have clearly laid out instructions and targets for their conversation. Students also need something that will take the focus away from the teacher and centre it onto themselves.  The Cambridge-ESOL speaking exams are ideal for this as they are specifically designed to keep the interlocutor's involvement while maximising the student's talk time.

Lets take a look at the PET exam for B1 level students.  The exam is split into four parts:
  • Part 1 (The Interview) - this is the most teacher-focused part of the exam, the teacher will ask students questions to elicit personal information. It gets students responding to questions and expanding on those responses. The questions can be adapted to relate to the topic of lesson however they must be student focused ie, How was your weekend? What do you like to do at the weekend? etc.
  • Part 2 (The Collaborative Task) - Students are given a simulated situation where they must negotiate towards an out-come.  The main stimuli of this part is a series of pictures representing various options that the students must weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of  and choose the best option.
  • Part 3 (The Long Turn) - Students are given a picture that they must describe for about a minute.  This part focuses on their ability to talk for a sustained period of time, organise their language and ideas and focus on their accuracy and appropriacy.
  • Part 4 (Discussion) The part of the exam closest to natural conversation, the students have to discuss an open question, initiating and responding as appropriate as well as developing the topic.
So how do we take this 10-15 minute exam structure and adapt it into a 45-60 minute conversation? We, of course, have to add in some repetition of the tasks, mingling of students, error-correction and student feedback. Have a look at an example lesson and try it out.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The End of the World

It's been a while since I've posted anything but a mixture of great weather, end of year rush and two weddings have kept me away from the computer.

So here's a conversation loosely based around the recent story in the news about the end of the world.  The lesson focuses mainly on fluency, talking about hypothetical situations, regrets and wishes and a roleplay.

Lesson focus: Conversation
Level: Advanced
Time: 1-1.5 hour

Hand out worksheet 1 and ask the students if they know who Harold Camping is (an American preacher who predicted the end of the world on the 21st May at 6pm).    Get the students to read through the text and ask them to discuss the words in bold.  Follow up by pairing the students up and getting them to answer the questions at the bottom of the page, monitor the discussions to make sure they understand the questions.

Wishing Game
Hand out worksheet 2 along with a dice and counters to each group of two or three.  The students have to roll the dice and move round the board expressing regrets based on the topics they land on using the form "I wish I had..."

This roleplay is based on a popular pub conversation I regularly had with a good friend of mine.  Put the students into groups of  4 and hand out worksheet 3.  Set the scene for the students explaining that it is 2020 and the Human Race faces annihilation.  They are the most important leaders in the world and must try to save Mankind by creating a special team of people whose job it is to re-colonise the world after the meteor has hit.  They must choose 10 people based on their skills, occupations, characteristics to be included in the team. Get the students to justify their answers.

Finish off with a group discussion if you have a small class, or split the class into small groups if you have a large class and monitor.  Hand out the discussion questions and get the students to have a conversation about the questions they find most interesting.  Get the students to answer as fully as possible and to comment on each other's views.  Listen for common mistakes and do a correction slot to finish off.

So there you are, I hope you enjoy.

Worksheet 1
Worksheet 2
Worksheet 3
Worksheet 4

Friday, 22 April 2011


Try this simple warm activity to bring some creativity into your classroom.

Ask your students if there are any poets in the class and then explain that they are going to be writing a poem titled "You".  The first step is to get the students thinking of someone who they either really love or that they really hate.  Explain that they must have very strong emotions towards this person but not to worry as no-one in the class needs to know who it is.

Next write up on the board eight lines beginning "You are....". This is the structure of your poem.  Beside one of the lines, write up (a type of food).  Ask the students to imagine their person as a type of food and elicit some examples.  You may have to give an example to get them started, ie. "You are a strawberry ice-cream." Once the students get the idea, write up next to each line of the poem a topic you'd like them to imagine their person as, ie. a type of furniture, a type of transport, a colour, a month of the year, etc.  Offer some examples of your own to the students.

Once you have the students writing out their poems, explain to them that because poems come "straight from the heart" they are read with lots of emotion.  Ask them to imagine how they feel when they read each line of the poem and ask them to write down the emotion next to it.  Again the secret is to offer some examples of your own and act it out, ie. "You are a thunderstorm!" ANGER.  Read out you examples putting as much over-acting into the lines as possible.  The students will love it and it'll break the ice for them before they have to read out their poems.

Finally, after checking for any errors in the poems, get the students to read them out.  Encourage the students to put as much emotion as possible (and possibly actions) into their readings as they can.  The result is usely a lot of hilarity for all!  The best thing about this activity is that it is very simple and great for mixed level classes as they stronger students can make more of their poems by adding adjectives, compound adjectives and so-on and the weaker ones can keep it fairly simple.  So try it out.
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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Agony Aunt - Can I sell my leg?

Here is a fun lesson that introduces the topic of agony aunts, dilemmas and giving advice, it also introduces some idioms related to money.  The level is upper-intermediate to advanced.

Warm Up

First step, tell the students that they're going to read two short pieces of text. Next hand out the word clouds for the two agony aunt letters and ask the students to come up with ideas about what the texts could be about and discuss any .words they find interesting.


Hand out the vocabulary matching exercise and get the students to match the phrases to the definitions.  Once they've done that hand out the agony aunt letters and their replies.  These letters were taken from a spoof news website so are not serious and they should get some laughs.  Discuss any parts of the letters that are needed and then ask the students how they would advise the two writers.


Make some flashcards with different dilemmas on them (about 10 - 12) and put them face down in front of the group.  I use some dilemmas from a textbook "Innovations Advanced" by Morgan Lewis for ease but it is probably worth making up your own humorous situations.  Get each student to take a card and explain what their dilemma is and have the other students give advice.  This is perfect practice for using the 2nd conditional, ie. If I were you, I'd .....

Follow Up

If you want to expand on the exercise then what you can do is get the student in groups of 2-3 to pick a dilemma from the pile, or think of one of their own and write it down in the form of an agony aunt letter.  Then get the groups to swap their letters and have them write a reply.



Can I sell my leg word cloud
I have magic children word cloud
Vocab matching exercise
Agony aunt letters
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