A free downloadable lesson about Sophie Scholl, a young German girl who took the brave decision to stand up to the Nazis, during World War II. The lesson could be used to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th, or at any other time of the year.
The lesson starts with a couple of lead-in discussion questions and then students watch a short trailer for a film about Sophie Scholl. Note that the film is in German with English subtitles. In this lesson the video is only used as a lead-in, the main input is in a reading text.
After watching the video, the students read the text to check their ideas. They then carry out an exam style note completion task, before matching some possibly unknown words in the text with their definitions.
In this lesson plan designed for the British Council Teaching English site, students read a first-person account by a person who stammers, about how he would prefer people to respond when he does so. After some discussion about the topic, the lesson goes on to focus on some different grammatical structures to express preference and sometimes annoyance: would rather/sooner, would prefer, wish. There is some practice using sentence transformation (as found in FCE) and then some more personalised practice.
To help students understand more about stammering and how (not) to respond when someone stammers
To practise reading for specific information
To be able to use a range of structures for expressing preference and/or annoyance: would prefer, would sooner, would rather, wish.
Adults and older teenagers
CEF level B1+/B2 (especially useful for Cambridge First Certificate preparation)
The lesson plan and student worksheets can be found and downloaded here
Considering that our brains are the key tool for learning, it is surprising how rarely teacher education focuses on neuroscience. Education is full of vague statements about only using 10% of our brains, or using the right or left brain, or being a kinaesthetic learner, but are these really based in science?
Friday 5th October 2018 is World Teacher’s Day and to celebrate I presented a free webinar as part of the British Council’s 5 on 5. In my session we looked at what recent research has to tell us about learning, looking specifically at motivation and memory, and how to apply these findings in the classroom to help students learn more easily and effectively.
Speaking in English is something that many students find stressful or anxiety provoking. They can fear making mistakes, failing to understand the person they’re speaking too, or simply drying up. So shouldn’t we try to make speaking activities as stress free as possible?
There are certainly benefits to making sure students are well prepared, that they have the necessary language, that they have a clear idea of what the task demands. However, there are also some good arguments for not trying to remove all stress, and even adding some pressure at times
Most spiders have four pairs of eyes, which enable them to see what is happening all around them. And most teachers can only wish they had the same ability.
Good teachers do appear to have ‘eyes in the back of their heads’ though. They seem able to sense not just when a student is confused or off task, but even the moment before they are about to go off-task. This ability is sometimes referred to as ‘with-it-ness’, a term coined by the educationalist, Jacob Kounin (1977). Through observing many different classes, Kounin came to the conclusion that the most effective teachers were able to pick up on quite subtle changes in their students’ emotions and behaviour and respond quickly and effectively.
More recently, Robert Marzano (2003) wrote a summary of more than 100 experiments designed to find out which classroom management techniques caused the biggest decrease in disruptions. He looked at explaining and negotiating rules, relationships between teachers and students, rewards and punishments and what he called ‘mental set’. This last was a combination of awareness, or with-it-ness, and a conscious control over how the teacher responded to a disruption.
He found that, by quite some margin, mental set had the biggest positive effect, reducing the number of disruptions by 40%.
What Marzano refers to as mental set could equally well be called mindful awareness, meaning that a more mindful teacher can expect a considerably less disruptive classroom, and by extension, his or her students can expect to do better overall.
Kounin, Jacob S. (1977) Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms. Huntington, N. Y
Marzano, R (2003) What works in schools: translating research into action, ASCD
Every teacher recognises the concept of the intermediate plateau.
Students at intermediate, or upper intermediate level start to feel that they aren’t making real progress anymore. They just don’t feel as if they’re getting significantly better, despite putting in plenty of hard work.
Feeling this way can be pretty de-motivating and it’s one of the key reasons why learners often give up at this stage.
In this post for the British Council Teaching English site, I explore how recent findings in neuroscience can help us motivate our learners to go beyond the plateau.
My latest lesson plan for the British Council Teaching English site looks at the benefits of being bilingual or multilingual, and a few myths, hoping to encourage students to value the languages they speak.
The lesson begins with a few statements about bilingualism. The students decide if these are true or false and then read a text to check their ideas. Having discussed the topic of the text, the students move on to look at impersonal report structures. These are very common in essays, articles and more academic-type writing, and it is useful for students at this level to be aware of them and to be able to produce them accurately.
After some practice with these structures, the lesson ends with a more light-hearted and personalised practice activity.
To raise awareness of the benefits of speaking more than one language
To enable students to recognise and use impersonal report structures
To provide students with practice in making predictions and reading to confirm them
Adults or older teenagers with CEF level B2 and above
The lesson and student worksheet (3 pages) can be downloaded here.
A couple of weeks ago I received a comment on the blog from a teacher who asked me to write a post about speaking skills. This is what she said:
‘The other day I was asked to observe some students doing a short peer teaching session. They were supposed to “teach a speaking skill”. Each group decided to do a group discussion activity. When I asked them what speaking skill they had tried to focus on, they were really puzzled; in fact, they had no idea what I was getting at. They said their aim was ‘fluency’. But to me it’s a very generic skill. How do you teach ‘fluency’? What is ‘fluency”, anyway? I assume it’s a culmination of numerous sub-skills. So, what could these micro-skills be?’’
I realised that she was absolutely right. In the same way that we often try to develop listening skills by practising listening, developing speaking skills is often just seen as giving students an opportunity to speak.
Practice is important of course, but, as the teacher asked, what are the microskills involved in speaking?
First of all, we need to identify what exactly we mean by speaking. Brown and Yule (1983) distinguish between primarily interactional (conversation) and primarily transactional (transmitting information) functions of speaking. Jack Richards has added a third broad function- talk as performance- which would include such things as presentations and speeches.
Each of these three types of speaking could be more or less formal, depending on the context of the talk, who is taking part in the talk and the power relations between them.
So, when teaching speaking, one of the key things that we need to do is to identify what kind of speech we are hoping students will produce, how formal it is likely to be and what kind of exponents* it might be useful to teach them.
Coursebooks often have ‘Useful Language/Phrases’ boxes with sets of functional exponents for students to use in a speaking task. Teaching these sets of phrases is helpful in developing fluency because as we start to use these chunks of language automatically we are able to use them as what Scott Thornbury describes as ‘islands of reliability’. We can skip from one automatized phrase to the next, filling in the gaps with our own ideas and language.
Depending on the needs of your students there are literally dozens of different functions that you could focus on. More interactional functions might include expressing likes and dislikes, comparing, agreeing and disagreeing, giving your opinion, expressing surprise. More transactional functions might include asking for directions, ordering food in a restaurant or checking into a hotel. Performance related functions could include summarising what you are going to say, or what you have said, moving onto the next section of your talk, giving an example to support your argument etc.
I would argue that teaching these chunks is very much part of teaching the speaking skill. However, we should also be looking at teaching communication skills, which may or may not involve using relatively fixed chunks of language.
For example, to have a conversation with one or more other people students will need to be able to:
Decide whether they need to use more casual or more formal language.
Be able to join in the conversation, which may include interrupting without seeming rude. We can teach interrupting phrases, but we also need to teach them how to use them appropriately and with the right intonation.
Be able to back-channel- nodding, making supportive noises and also using short words such as Really? or question tags, e.g. Did you?
Check that they have been understood, using such phrases as ‘Do you see what I mean?’ ‘Do you follow me?’
Rephrase if they haven’t been understood.
Check they understand. E.g. ‘I’m not quite sure if I understood that correctly. Did you mean…?’
Change the topic politely and at the right moment.
Take a balanced role in the conversation- not hogging, and not saying too little.
Use politeness strategies appropriately, such as hedging (see post here), being indirect, apologising and so on.
Students will not necessarily be able to transfer these strategies from their first language, partly because the rules of engagement may be different, and partly because they are too occupied with speaking accurately, or with making a good point. Therefore we need to focus explicitly on them, and they are, in my opinion, also a key part of teaching the speaking skill.
To summarise, I don’t think we can ever say that we are ‘teaching fluency’. Instead we need to drill down a bit more and ask ourselves the following questions:
What kind of speaking are we teaching?
What are the learners trying to achieve? (build a relationship, get a nice meal?)
What are some useful phrases for this kind of speaking?
What degree of formality is likely to be appropriate?
What impact will intonation have and what kind of intonation might be appropriate?
How will the students be interacting with each other and what might they need to know, do or say to make the communication work smoothly?
*An exponent is a piece of language used to perform a language function. For example:
Give me the salt
Pass me the salt, please.
Could you pass me the salt, please?
I wonder if you could possibly pass the salt?
All these exponents have the same function- getting someone to pass the salt- but they obviously vary in terms of formality and when you could use them without causing offence. Intonation would also play an important role.
How can we continue to challenge ourselves and grow as teachers? In my latest post for the British Council Teaching English site, I suggest ten questions that could help you climb above the teaching plateau.
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