A Valentine’s Activity Talking About Gestures

Just a quick post in honor of Valentine’s Day (or “Dia dos Namorados”) in Brazil, which takes place on June 12th.

I have always been fascinated by the video clip for Paul McCartney’s “My Valentine” song, featuring Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp. Her gracious movements, how movements related to words…. So I decided to use that clip as the essence of a Valentine’s Day activity. One that should raise students’ awareness to the importance of gestures and body language, as well as sign language and those who can’t hear.

This is how I did it…

First, I played some love song (in my case “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” performed by UB40) in the sound system as the students came in and offered them whiteboard markers to write any words that came to mind when they thought of Valentine’s Day.

Then, after they had settled down, we talked about what they had written and the meaning of Valentine’s Day in different countries, the different dates. Then I approached whether the students demonstrated love more through words or gestures. And I asked the id they thought they could decode body gestures.They were all very confident, so I proposed a challenge: WATCH the video of a song that would be sign “languaged” and try to fill in the blanks of the lyrics. They would need to take in the context of the song as well as the gesture to try to figure out the words. So I played the clip once for them (you may play it twice if your students are at a lower level (mine are at a B1/B2 level) to try to get the words.

Most of the words are obvious valentine-related, but still… After a first run, I asked them to share among each other and discuss their word choices. I played it once more without the sound, for students to get a better idea of the gestures. Then I played once more, this time with the sound on so the students could check their previous answers. After we had all checked the answers I focused on the last question:

“Were you able to infer the words from the signs? Why/ Why not?

After (or maybe during) that, we went on to a discussion of body gestures, sign language and the effectiveness of it, how much sign language resembled feelings and so on. We talked about whether it was beneficial or not to have a person who can’t speak to learn sign language, what were the alternatives…

It was a very interesting discussion. The students enjoyed the activity. I am now looking forward to hearing how it went (or that you’d think it’d go) in your groups and why :-)

Valentines Activity – Paul McCartney ACTIVITY

Valentines Activity – Paul McCartney KEY

Hot off the Press!!! An Activity about Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs before Apple became THE Apple

I have an adult conversation class every Tuesday and Thursday. They’re very advanced speakers, most having had lived abroad in English-speaking countries, many already have proficiency certificates. We meet these two times a week to chat in English, about various topics so that they can maintain their English fluency. There isn’t a syllabus. They prefer not to have homework, no writing tasks. So we mostly focus on actual conversation, with the eventual work with vocabulary and student-emergent language work (meaning me going unplugged whenever I see a teaching moment, prompted by a sentence or comment by one of the students). When that happens, sometimes I bring the language in a more structured way the following class, sometimes I work with it immediately, using the board or coming up with ideas on the spot.

With this group I very often use a text (taken – and sometimes adapted) from a newspaper or news website from an English-speaking country, and I love to use things that are hot off the press. So after hearing the sad news about Steve Jobs passing away, I came up with this worksheet. It’s very basic: some vocabulary work, the reading and some discussion questions. I will probably not limit myself to the questions I wrote on the worksheet. I usually guide the discussions on a student/conversation-emergent basis – depending on how and where the discussion goes.

To begin the class I will have the image of an apple projected on the board, and ask learners to say the first thing that comes to mind. I expect at least one of them will mention the company and Steve Jobs. I’ll see how much conversation I can draw from there (let them share what they know/think about the company and its founder). then I’ll give them the worksheet and go with the flow ;-)

It’s nothing special. But I thought it was worth sharing, so here it is.

TALKAEN Steve Jobs SHARE

If you have any other ideas, use this activity in any way, I’d love to hear how it went and which adaptations/changes/extra activities you did :-)

And I need to go Public… ;-) Some ideas for Listening Activities

Listen to it!!!!

A couple of weeks ago I taught a class to a very special group of teachers. At the school where I work we have a project (along with the US Department of State)  where school teachers have classes there. The intention of such classes is not only teach / review methodology but also improve the teachers’ English fluency through it. They are a wonderful group of teachers, super motivated, hardworking….

The lesson I taught focused on listening skills. How to teach, why to teach, pre-listening activities, authenticity… I had some technical problems, but we had a great class nonetheless. Towards the end of the class, the activity involved splitting the students into smaller groups and assigning them types of activities and have them come up with a listening activity. I was amazed at the results – so many fantastic ideas! So I asked them if I could post them on the blog, and they kindly agreed. So here it is, their ideas (ideas are about what they had at hand, but they can be easily adapted):

• Show & Tell – Listen to a fashion show, learners identify vocabulary related to clothes they hear. Do a general accountability using the board. Then show images of famous people with different kinds of clothes. There should be at least more than 9 images – 20 or more. Then teacher asks SS to draw a grid with the numbers of the images, and the teacher does a bingo (SS draw a bingo grid and choose 9 of the images.) Teacher reads the description of the clothes, students mark them.

• TPR – Teacher chooses a story suitable to the levels of the class in question. Split the students into 2 groups. Assign a part of the story to each group. SS listen to the story. The students have to re-enact the part that was assigned to them.

One of the students is (privately) told to do things wrong. each group acts one part. The other students have to guess/ say  who is playing it wrong.

• Another TPR – Have learners listen to the audio. The have them stand in a line. Teacher reads true/false questions about the text. Read the questions out loud – I love it! – and students have to give a step forward if the sentence is true. Possible variation for large classrooms is to have them stand up / sit down as you read the sentences.

• Dictation – Choose a movie – well known to the student – maybe it makes a difference?) elicit things about the movie, what happens, the plot, etc… Think (to yourself!!!) questions about the text…. dictate them. The students should write the questions down. Play the video of the part, have students check their own answers.

• Dictocomp – Read the same text 2 or 3 times. Do it very slowly – do it very slowly the first time, Then read it naturally the next time. The teacher can use images, pictures, anything that might help the students. Then the students are instructed to jolt down the key words of what they listen. Have they write down the story – as close to the original as possible.

I was amazed at the activities they came up with, not only for the activities themselves, but especially for considering the setting they are in. They have huge classrooms – 50, 60 students – many of which barely know how to read and write in their L1 properly. And still, they are willing…they are creative. I bow to them.

I hope you guys find their wonderful ideas useful :-)

A post about firsts – First impressions and first activities on the first day of the semester

Bitten all nails this week…. as usual (photo by Maxwell GS / Flickr – CC)

First day of classes always make me super nervous… Well, to be quite frank, so does presenting, but that doesn’t happen so often. So it’s first days that drive me crazy, because I have those (and a number of them if you take into account I have many groups) every semester. At first I thought it was because of being a new, inexperienced teacher, and that it would get easier with time. It didn’t. I’ve been teaching for nearly 18 years, and I’m afraid I’ll feel like that as long as I have first days of class :-) It’s a mix of “Will they like me?” and “Will I like them?”, “Will we ‘click’?”. So I try to plan activities that will allow me to get to know students better, while giving them the chance of knowing more about me and also breaking the ice and having some fun. Start our relationship – and the semester – on a positive note.

This semester’s first day(s) went really well and I am fortunate to have great groups filled with great students, apparently eager to learn and motivated. So I decided to share here some activities I used on my first classes. The 2 first ones are not my creation. I can’t remember where I got them from – except for the “I have never” one, which I have recently been reminded of in a in-service workshop by Scott Chiverton – and I regret not remembering, because I wish I could give credit for them. I hope you like them!

• Classroom Crossword:

Before the class started I put a big piece of paper on the board and wrote my name in capital letters, some space between the letters. in the middle of it. I told the students this would be our class crossword, because a crossword is made on words that mix to form a whole, and our class was made of individuals that made a whole as well. And then I told them I’d tell them what the clue to my name would be. And I said something (maybe not exactly this, but along these lines):

She’s been teaching English for over 17 years and loves teaching. She is fascinated by languages and the power of being able to communicate. She has 2 beautiful children and in her free time she reads avidly, watches TV and films as well as spends time in the virtual world. She lived in Kansas as an exchange student and that was a life-changing experience for her. She’s not happy if she’s not studying and learning and she truly believes we learn more effectively if we have fun, if we enjoy coming to class.

After I had done this I told them they should all do the same I had just done, telling us things they thought defined them, after putting their names into the crossword. They all did it and we ended the activity with a poster that symbolizes our class – as well as a handy reminder of the students names, which I’m sure will help me memorize their names in the first weeks :-) Here’s one of them:

This is the Class Crossword for one of my High Intermediate 2 groups

• I Have Never

This is a game I have played with friends for fun (at parties) and have recently done in a workshop for the teachers in my school, as an activity to use with students. I used it in the first class as an opportunity to have fun and at the same time learn about each other, getting to know everybody a little.

I divided the students into groups of 5 or 6 people, trying to mix and put students who hadn’t been sitting together (and therefore most likely weren’t close to each other – yet) in the same groups. I did this so they’d be with people they didn’t know very well. Then I explained the activity and modeled it, to make sure they understood it.

Everybody should have their hands and five fingers spread out open, and students were standing in a circle.One person starts the activity by saying something he/she has never done. Anybody in the group who has done what was said should lower one finger. Then the next person says something he/she has never done and the game goes on until only one person still has at least one finger up.

After it was over, I asked students to take turns sharing something interesting they had learned about a classmate. The students had a lot of fun doing the activity. It also gave me an opportunity to check their language ;-)!

Note: For groups in lower levels – who haven’t learned the present perfect yet – I adapted it and their statements should start with “I don’t” or “I didn’t”.

• Setting a Personal Goal

On first day of all my classes I like to ask my students why they are studying English, what is their objective. A very common answer is: “It’s important for my future.” Well… I don’t accept this answer. It’s a “too-automatic-that’s-what-people-say-I-should-learn-it-for” answer. So when that comes up, I ask them why is it important for their future, what is it they’ll do in their future that they’ll need English for? I also tell them it’s better if they find a use and reason for learning English for their present. So I talk to my students about motivation and objectives for a while.

This semester I am trying something that I’m serious to know how it’ll go. After this little discussion I mentioned, I gave each of them a slip of paper that started with “By the end of this semester I hope I’ll be able to…” and told my students I wanted them to complete the sentence with something specific they weren’t able to do now that they wish they could do by the end of the semester. It should be a realistic goal. Something like “I’d like to be able to write a formal letter to a company” , “I’d like to understand what the character in my favorite video game says” or “I want to get a XX score on the TOEFL”. I also said that no one but them would see it, and that on the last day of class we will get those papers back and they’ll see if they can do it then. After they had written on their slips I gave each a sticker to close the folded slip and put them all inside a bag labeled with the name of the class (the code we use).

This might backfire, but I am anxious to open those bags on the last day of class and see what happens. I think it can trigger some good reflections.

The bags with their personal semester goals in it and the blank slip

• Positive Tunes

At the end of the lesson I did an activity with the song “Good Riddance” by Green Day. First because everybody likes music, but most importantly because I think this song has a very positive message to it. As a group the students had to put the song in order (each line was printed in a big piece of paper), and after it we sat around the lyrics to discuss what was the positive message each of them saw in the song.

You’re welcome to use any of these activities, and please share how it goes and any adapting you do! :-)

Sharing a Lesson on the 5 Senses


I was browsing through Jamie Keddie’s (@cheimi10) fantastic site for video lessons, just looking at what was new and came across something that wasn’t so new, but it called my attention nonetheless…a lesson based on the McGurk effect. I watched it a couple of times and came up with a lesson / Powerpoint presentation for my Advanced Conversation group. It worked really well…Here is the Powerpoint I came up with: The Five Senses . If you can’t open the video on the PPT, you can see it here.

Hope you enjoy it!


P.S. I need to thank Sue Lyon-Jones (@esolcourses) for helping me sort out my linking issues and giving me excellent advice to make this post and the files work. You rock Sue!