How a book changed my life
Level: B1 and upwards
Skills: Listening (including bottom up listening skills) and speaking
Language: opinion or comment adverbs (unfortunately, personally, apparently etc)
A free downloadable lesson, based on a video from StoryCorps, which tells the true story of Storm Reyes, who grew up poor in a migrant camp in Washington State. Students start by watching the video without sound, which encourages them to make predictions, which they then check on a second viewing. There is then some further comprehension and discussion, before an activity which helps students to develop their listening skills by focusing on the weak forms that are so difficult to hear.
Finally there is a focus on opinion or comment adverbs, before a speaking activity to round up the lesson, about the topic of books and reading.
Why do cats miaow?
Level: B1+/Intermediate and up
Skills: Speaking and listening
Language: vocabulary (animal noises, vocabulary from the audio) and infinitives of purpose (in order (not) to, so as (not) to) and the conjunctions so that and in order that.
A free downloadable lesson, based on a clip from a science-based BBC programme about cats and their behaviour. This clip looks at how cats communicate with each other and with humans. Students start by looking at some of the ways that different languages describe the way that dogs speak, before looking at some common animal sounds in English. Students are then guided through the video, answering a variety of different question types, and learning some more vocabulary from the video. There is then a focus on infinitives of purpose, in order to as so as to, and the conjunctions so that and in order that.
Level: B2/Upper Intermediate and up
Skills: Speaking, reading and listening
Language: idioms (dream come true, like magic, step in the right direction etc) and wish (including wish + would)
The lesson is about a new online service, CrowdWish, which invites people to post their wishes on their website. Every day people vote on the most popular wish, and CrowdWish will grant it! Students start by discussing some wishes taken from the site, then read a short text about what the site aims to do (so don’t tell them at the start of the lesson!) There is then a focus on some useful idioms, before going on to watch a video in which the founder of the site, ‘pitches’ his idea. The video is fairly complex, but students are simply asked to put the topics they hear in order. Students then look at the grammar used with ‘wish’, particularly at the use of ‘would’ when you want someone else to change their behaviour. Finally the students come up with their own wishes and vote on them, like on the site. You could even try and grant the top wish if you’re feeling creative..
You’ve got to have a dream
Level: B1/Intermediate and up
Skills: Speaking and writing
Language: reason and result linkers, adjectives of personality
A free downloadable lesson, based around a Russian advertising video for shampoo. Despite what is aims to sell, the video is actually quite inspiring, with the story of a girl who succeeds against the odds through pure grit and determination. Students start by watching the video and trying to guess what it is trying to advertise (so don’t tell them!). There are no words on the video, just images. They then try to reconstruct the story in pairs, watching the video again to check their ideas. The lesson then goes on to focus on a range of linkers used to give reasons or results, make contrasts and show when something happened. Students then work with some vocabulary to describe personality, and then put it all together by writing the story of the video, using the linkers and the vocabulary where appropriate. Finally, there are some quotes about success for them to discuss.
Orangutan asks for help in sign language
Level: B1/Intermediate and up
Skills: speaking and listening
Language: environment vocabulary (e.g. deforestation, consumers, sustainable)
The lesson starts with an activity to find out what students know about orangutans. It then moves onto the video, which claims to be a sign language conversation between a deaf American girl and an orangutan. In fact, the video is staged, but it will have more impact if you don’t tell students this at first. The video is subtitled and the language until the last section is very straightforward. Students then do a matching exercise on some vocabulary related to the video, before using the words to complete a short text explaining what is happening to orangutans as a result of the cultivation of unsustainable palm oil, and what we can do about it. The lesson ends by asking the students to consider some of the issues.
Level: B1/Intermediate and up
Skills: Reading, speaking, listening and writing
Language: nouns and adjectives (e.g. happy/happiness, grateful/gratitude)
The lesson starts with a short text to introduce the topic and get the students thinking about how people recognise and celebrate gratitude in their cultures. It then moves onto the video, where students watch two people visiting a friend and reading aloud a letter they have written , thanking them for what they have done. There is some focus on vocabulary, and some useful phrases that students could use themselves to say thank you. Finally, the students are asked to write their own thank you letter, which they may or may not choose to actually deliver.
Secrets of a long and happy marriage
Level: Pre-Int/strong A2 upwards
Skills: Listening and speaking (giving advice)
Language: idioms connected with love and marriage, imperatives to give advice
The lesson starts with some discussion about marriage before students are asked to give their ‘top tips’ for a successful marriage. They then watch the video and compare Selma and Kenny’s advice with their ideas.
The video is quite easy to follow, though the couple do talk over each other at times (there is a transcript). It’s funny and quite touching.
There is then a focus on idioms connected with love and marriage, and then we look at some of the ways Selma and Kenny use imperatives to give advice. Students can then use this language to reformulate their original pieces of advice.
A good deed
Level: PreIntermediate/A2 – Upper Intermediate/B2
Skills: Listening (audio not video), speaking (telling a narrative)
Language: Narrative tenses (simple past and past perfect)
The lesson starts with a short text giving some background to the Depression of the 1930s, and invites students to think about parallels with the situation in some countries today and what can, or should be done by individuals and governments.
Students then listen to the audio, which is quite short and simple, listening both for gist and specific information.
There is then a focus on narrative tenses, specifically simple past and past perfect. This could work as part of an introduction to past perfect, or as a review at higher levels. Students then try to retell Virginia’s story, using tenses appropriately, before going on to tell their own ‘good deed’ stories.
Try something new for 30 days
Skills: Listening, Speaking
Language: Present Perfect for experience (Have you ever + past participle) and idioms.
The lesson starts with a quick review of present perfect for experience: Have you ever + past participle?
Students then watch the video (3 minutes), which is quite simply and clearly expressed, looking at what challenges Matt carried out, and the impact these challenges had on his life.
There is a focus on some idiomatic language, and then the lesson concludes by asking students to think of some challenges they’d like to do themselves (and that they’d like to set for the teacher!)
Skills: Listening, Writing (self-descriptions)
Language: Collocations to describe facial features (thick hair, full lips etc)
The lesson is based around the recent Dove advertisement, showing the huge difference between women’s views of their looks and how other see them. The lesson starts by focusing on collocations to describe facial features, such as thick hair, full lips and so on. Students then watch the video and discuss some of the issues raised, including self -esteem, the role of the media,and differences between men and women. More language to describe physical appearance is ‘pulled out’ of the video, and the lesson ends with students writing detailed descriptions of themselves.
An optional extra that might work well to lighten the class a little is a very funny spoof video, where some men find out that they are actually much uglier than they think they are! The link is in the accompanying notes.
Q & A
Level: B2/Upper Int+ (good intermediate class could cope)
Skills: Listening (inferring meaning), Reading, Speaking
Joshua, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, interviews his mother, giving us insights into what it’s like for him to be different from others, and the loving relationship between the two of them. Great for raising awareness of Asperger’s and of bullying, and very touching.
The lesson involves listening and inferring meaning, plenty of discussion, and also has a focus on ellipsis, where words are omitted because the meaning is clear.
The Science of Smiling
Level: B1+ Int+ (suitable for lower level IELTS students as well as General English)
Skills: Listening, Reading (summary completion), Speaking
Language: Idioms to describe emotions (e.g. fly off the handle)
This lesson is about why smiling, even when we don’t feel much like it, can actually make us happier. The lesson starts with a short video, demonstrating the impact of smiling on the ‘miserable’ people of Edinburgh. After some brief discussion, the students go on to read a text about the various scientific findings about the emotional impact of smiling. The text and task (summary completion) would be suitable for students preparing for IELTS, especially at a lower level, but is suitable for a General English class as well. Finally, the lesson looks at a lexical set of idioms to describe emotions, and the students are asked to discuss how different situations might make them feel.
The Icing on the Cake
Level: A2+/Pre-Int + (adaptable for higher levels)
Skills: Listening and Speaking
Language: Impersonal pronouns/adverbs (something, anyone, everywhere,nobody etc) and vocabulary to describe positive qualities (ambitious, patient, kind etc)
The lesson is based around another wonderful animated true story from http://www.storycorps.com. The conversation between a mother and daughter looks back on the family’s struggles as poor immigrants to the US, and how the daughter was inspired by her mother’s determination. It would work very well with groups of students who have experienced something similar, but is suitable for anyone.
The lead-in task asks students to predict, using pictures of key incidents in the story. The use of pictures makes it suitable for lower level learners, and it could also be done with learners who have literacy issues, by making the follow up questions oral. After watching and listening, students are asked to think about whether they admire the parents in the story (or not), which should lead to some interesting discussion about immigration, the necessity of working versus spending time with children and so on. Then there is a focus on impersonal pronouns/adverbs (something, anything, everyone.nowhere etc) and a discussion task which brings in more vocabulary to describe qualities we’d like to pass onto our children. Again, this could be adapted to lower and higher levels through the choice of vocabulary.
The Chicken Nugget Experiment
Level: At two levels A2+/Pre-Int+ and B2+/Upper Int +
Skills: Listening and Speaking
Language: Vocabulary to discuss junk food (nutritious, saturated fat, obesity). Lower level: Giving opinions, agreeing/disagreeing. Higher Level: Contrast markers (despite, even though, although, however etc)
After a video lead-in, the lesson is based around a video of British chef, Jamie Oliver, demonstrating exactly what does go into cheap chicken nuggets to a group of American children. It’s pretty revolting, but the children reckon it’s ‘awesome’..and there’s a surprise at the end.
The lesson is at two levels, Lower Intermediate (A2+) and Upper Intermediate (B2+). The video is quite easy to follow even if students don’t understand everything that’s being said. Both versions introduce a set of vocabulary for talking about junk food, and both have a variety of discussion tasks and questions. The lower level version also introduces some functional language for giving opinions and agreeing and disagreeing, while the higher level version looks at how to use contrast markers, although, even though, despite etc.
To R.P. Salazar, with love.
Level: B1/Intermediate +
Skills: Listening and Speaking
Language: Different uses of ‘like’, including ‘slang’ uses and ‘would’ and ‘used’ to for past habits.
The lesson uses an authentic recording from http://www.storycorps.com, which has also been animated. The lesson focuses on vocabulary and grammar from the recording, and asks students to think about the role of luck or fate in our lives, and whether there really is someone for everyone. The lesson finishes with a speaking activity where students can tell the tale of how they and their partner (or a couple they know) met.
Living without Money
Level: B2/Upper Int + (because of the authentic reading text)
Skills: Reading and speaking
Language: Vocabulary from the text, related to money and to different roles.
Note that the lead-in video is in German, and students should use the subtitles. After the lead-in, students work on vocabulary from the authentic text, related to money and different roles in life. They then look in detail at the reading text before being invited to consider their opinions about Heidemarie’s lifestyle, and the bigger question of whether society is too materialistic and whether (and how) it should change.
Pay it Forward
Level: At three levels, see below.
Skills: Reading, speaking, writing
Language: Relative pronouns and defining relative clauses (for higher level also omiting relative pronoun when it’s an object, and reduced relative clauses)
This lesson starts with a short reading text about a recent event at a coffee shop in Canada, where some-one’s kindness in paying for the person behind them led to 288 people passing on the favour to the next in line. The lesson then uses the video above (no words, just music) to extend the idea, before focusing on defining relative clauses. There are three different versions, so that you can either choose the most appropriate for your students, or use all three with mixed level classes. The lesson rounds off by asking students to complete a story, imagining their own chain of events.
Level: Upper Intermediate + Adults and Teens
Skills: Reading, Speaking, Writing
With a reading text about a real-life Secret Millionaire, who wanted to give something back, this lesson introduces a range of idioms to talk about wealth and poverty and gets students thinking about the gap between rich and poor, the responsibilities of those who are better off, and what it means to have someone who believes in you. There is a focus on strategies for skim reading and the lesson finishes with a writing activity where students write to someone who made a difference in their lives.