Designed to raise awareness of the UN’s World Day against Trafficking in Persons, this lesson begins by asking students to consider what they know about the issue, then takes them through a process of learning more before concluding by asking them about what they have learnt, and how their understanding might have changed.
The lesson involves plenty of speaking, a vocabulary focus, which pre-teaches topic related vocabulary later found in the text, a jigsaw reading and a focus on passives.
Unsung Heroes [click on the lesson title for lesson plan and materials]
This lesson, devised for International Women’s Day, will help to raise awareness of some not very famous, but nonetheless important, women.
The lesson begins by asking students to think of well-known people that they consider to be heroes. It is likely that many of these will be men, so the students then go on to learn about 5 remarkable women in a jigsaw reading activity.
The students discuss these women’s achievements, and learn some useful vocabulary for talking about social issues. There is then a focus on relative clauses, before the final task of writing about another female hero, using the vocabulary and relative clauses where appropriate. For a 50-60 minute class the writing stage could be done at home.
This lesson for adults and teenagers at a minimum A2 level is designed to develop fluency skills.
Students are led through a series of activities to create profiles for imaginary characters who live in the same neighbourhood. The lesson then brings these characters together at a neighbourhood party, where students can practice asking and answering simple questions about work, family, hobbies and so on.
As well as developing spoken fluency, there are opportunities to expand vocabulary (personality adjectives) and some useful questions for making small talk.
A free downloadable lesson, 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. 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..
The lesson would be suitable from B2 upwards, as the video is quite challenging in places. A transcript is provided.
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!). 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.
A free downloadable lesson, based around an authentic video produced by the Rainforest Action Network. Students start by discussing and learning some facts about orangutans, before going on to watch a video in which an orangutan appears to ‘talk’ to a 12 year old girl, using sign language. In fact, the video was staged, but it might have more impact if you don’t point this out to the students immediately. The message of the video, which we discover at the end, is that using unsustainable palm oil is destroying the orangutans’ habitats. The lesson then goes on to focus on vocabulary to talk about the environment, and ends with a discussion task where students can use the vocabulary.
A free downloadable lesson, based around an authentic video. Selma and Kenny couldn’t be at their grandson’s wedding, so they recorded a toast- and some advice.
Suitable from PreIntermediate/A2+, 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.
Back in 1978 the psychologist Melissa Bowerman observed her 13 month old daughter, who was starting to talk. (Psychologists do a lot of this. In fact, I sometimes wonder if that’s the main reason they have children.) Anyway, her daughter was observed pointing at a ball, and saying ‘ball.’ She knows the word ball, you might conclude.
But then, over the next few months, the child also used the word ‘ball’ to describe a balloon, an Easter egg and even a pebble. So what exactly had she learnt? Probably that ball was something (more or less) spherical. That’s certainly part of the meaning, but we’d probably also have to add:
You play games with it, such as tennis or football
It doesn’t break when you throw it
It usually bounces
It can be between around 3 cm to about 12 cm in diameter
All these points go to make up the meaning of the word ‘ball’.
Now obviously when we teach our students new words, they probably already have the concept of ‘ball’ from their first language. However, there are plenty of cases where the semantic boundaries are blurred. Not all languages divide up the world in the same way. For example, in Polish, the word ‘buty’ doesn’t just mean boots, it also means shoes. In English, we generally use just one verb ‘to put on’ when talking about clothes and accessories, but, according to Michael Swan,
‘Japanese speakers use one verb for garments on the upper body, another for those on the lower body, yet another for garments on extremities like feet and hands, another for articles that go on the head, and another still for jewellery like earrings or a watch.’
Even if there is a direct translation, and you or your students know what it is, the word might still not be used in exactly the same way, or might have a slightly different connotation.
This is why we need concept questions.
Concept questions are something which teachers often learn about in their initial training and then promptly discard once no-one is watching. It feels ridiculous, unnatural and patronising to be asking a series of questions to which we already know the answers. Certainly, concept questions can be overdone and, particularly if they’ve been badly devised, they can be completely ridiculous.
A famous example from an International House CELTA course:
‘He didn’t know if he was coming or going.’
Was he coming?
Was he going?
Did he know?
Done judiciously and thoughtfully, however, a good set of concept questions can produce light-bulbs turning on over students’ heads all over the class, with a minimum of fuss and without lengthy and over-complex explanations.
How to create concept questions
The first thing to consider is what exactly the word or phrase means. You will probably feel you know this, but it can often really be worth looking it up in a dictionary to get all the elements of meaning (as with ball above).
So, for example, the word ‘cosy’. The Longman Exams dictionary says:
‘’A place that is cosy is small, comfortable and warm: the living room was warm and cosy.’’
So key elements would be
Used to describe rooms
I’d also say that we could use it to describe clothes (and then small wouldn’t be part of the meaning)
So then we can think about examples that will test understanding of these key elements. These can be short and simple questions, or we can use pictures, diagrams, mime- whatever’s appropriate.
For example, you might have two pictures. One of a small cottage front room, with a fire and the other of a draughty hall in a castle. Then you can ask, Which room is cosy?
If you are cosy, are you usually warm or cold?
If you are cosy, are you comfortable or uncomfortable?
You can also use negative checking, by asking a question where the answer should be ‘no’ and then asking a follow-up question to make sure they weren’t just guessing!
Is a castle cosy? No.
What kind of house might be cosy? A small, comfortable one.
What kind of shoes might be cosy? Slippers
Personalisation can also help
Which is the cosiest room in your house? Why?
And if you think students do have a fairly good idea, try asking for more information to check.
Give me an example of an item of clothing that could be cosy? (dressing gown, sweater) And one that couldn’t be? (bikini)
Using language which is more complicated than the language you are trying to check.
If you’re cosy are you snug and secure?
Checking the situation, not the language
John’s grandma knitted him a cosy sweater for Christmas.
-Did she knit him ear-warmers?
Going too far and dealing with meanings which just confuse the issue.
What do you put on a tea-pot to keep the tea warm? – A tea-cosy (see picture above)
Incidentally, some people believe that you should never use the target language in a concept question. As we have seen, this isn’t the case when dealing with vocabulary, though it may apply to grammatical structures…
It’s going to rain.
Is the weather going to be bad?
When to concept check
Although we refer to it as concept checking, it’s much more than just checking understanding; it’s actually at the heart of teaching. It’s about finding out what students do and don’t understand and helping them to ‘get’ the concept.
That said, you do need to use it fairly sparingly, and most of all wisely. Part of being a teacher (and the hardest thing to teach someone) is knowing just how much clarification students need, and giving it to them in just the right amounts, at just the right moments.
If you are currently taking CELTA, can I suggest my e-book, The CELTA Teaching Compendium, available from Amazon and Smashwords, containing everything you need to know for CELTA teaching practice.
A free downloadable lesson 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.
In a previous post, I looked at how a genre approach could help students who need to produce a specific type of writing. IELTS is a perfect example of this, and in this post, and the next one, I want to look in more detail at ideas for helping students to become familiar with the genres required for the IELTS Writing Test.
At first, the IELTS Writing Test (whether as a teacher or student) can seem rather intimidating. Many people are not particularly familiar with the kinds of texts required, and students are penalised for not producing exactly the right kind of text.
However, as a teacher of General English we ask our students to produce many different genres. For example:
Thank you letter
Letter of complaint
Email to a friend
Letter of application
In contrast, IELTS requires much less:
Part 1: Describing data
Graphs and charts
Part 2: Essay
In addition, although I have separated out the different kinds of tasks in each part of the Writing Test, they do in fact have a lot in common. Learning what the features are of these different genres is quite manageable and, while it won’t solve problems like not having an opinion on the topic in Part 2, it will go a long way towards helping students produce a decent answer.
The features of a particular genre can be grouped under the following headings:
Content or communicative purpose
So, looking at the most typical IELTS Task, describing a graph, chart or table, we could say:
Summarise information (not to give your opinion about it)
Should use paragraphs
About 150 words
Introduction which rewords the rubric to summarise what is shown.
Identifying key features- not every little detail
Logical grouping of information
Comparing and contrasting
Describing changes over time
Rise, fall, plummet etc.
Once you’ve identified the key features, you can start to devise activities to work on each of them.
Rewording the rubric
This comes under organisation, so we aren’t starting at the top, but it is the first thing the student needs to be able to do. Students who ‘lift’ phrases from the rubric will be penalised, so it needs to become second nature to paraphrase.
You can start by doing this together on the board, eliciting different words and phrases for the underlined sections. For example:
‘The table below gives information about changes in modes of travel in England between 1985 and 2000’
Don’t forget that you can change the sentence structure too, so ‘changes’ could become ‘how…have changed’. This is particularly useful if students can’t think of a synonym. Once students have got the idea, and a few useful phrases up their sleeves, this can become a regular warmer, with a competition to see how many appropriate paraphrases they can produce in a time limit. E.g.
The table illustrates how methods of transport in England changed between 1985 and 2000.
In this table we can see the changes in how people in England travelled between the years 1985 and 2000.
This table shows changes in modes of transport in England over a 15 year period, from 1985- 2000.
Summarising information/identifying key features
This is probably the biggest challenge of Part 1, and it takes lots of practice. Depending on their educational background, students may not be very used to interpreting graphs and charts, so you need to try and familiarise them with how they work. A good way to do this is to start off by getting students to make their own, based on information about themselves or the class. In this way they will really understand the data, making it easier for them to identify the most important features.
Next, you could try giving students model answers without the graph or table, and ask them to draw it based on the answer. They can then compare it with the original.
There is usually some kind of contrast in these types of questions-e.g. some sales fell while others grew, so train your students to look for similarities and differences, and any particularly striking contrasts.
One way to practise this is to take a kind of jigsaw approach. Divide students into pairs and ask A to look for similarities between the pieces of data and B to look for differences. They can then share information and decide together on the most relevant pieces of information to include.
Giving a clear overview
This is related to identifying key information, but requires students to summarise the main point(s). It is really important that they are able to do this, though it doesn’t really matter if they give the overview at the beginning, as part of the introduction, or at the end, as a conclusion.
Show students a chart of graph with three possible overviews and ask them to decide which one is best, and why. As they become more familiar with this task, they can write their own choice of three and swap with other students to decide on the best overviews.
Using paragraphs/logical grouping
Once students have identified the key features, they need to decide how to group them. There are different ways of doing this, depending on the information. For example, they might choose to organise it from smallest to biggest (though still not describing every little detail), or first look at similarities and then differences.
Again, model answers can be very helpful. Try asking students to decide how they would organise their answer to a question, and then compare their ideas with the model answer.
Students are very often asked to compare and contrast in these tasks, so a good grasp of the kind of language they need to do this is really helpful. ( Incidentally, it’s also really useful for the other IELTS tests, especially Speaking) This can be achieved through work on formulae (e.g. In contrast, we can see that..) , comparative and superlative structures and linkers such as whereas, while, however.
They might also be used to describe changes over time, which also involves comparing and contrasting, but will need more complex use of tenses (not just present simple).
Try using model answers for students to find examples of comparing and contrasting (or any other suitable language focus). Then ask them to look back at a Part 1 task they have written and ask them to improve it by adding similar language.
Essentially, this approach involves breaking down the component parts of the IELTS genres and practising them separately, rather than simply writing practice paper after practice paper. Of course, you can then put it all together and do some practice papers as well.
In my next post, I’ll look at some more ideas for developing familiarity with the features of Part 2 type writing tasks.
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