Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP”

Today was the inaugural session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”*. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.) The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

The plan is to look at the lesson materials for the following week (all of the courses here except for the highest level one have a very structured week-by-week, lesson-by-lesson syllabus and materials) and share ideas for how to breathe some life into them. We shall be doing this between 12 and 13.00 on a Friday and all in all, we will be aiming, through some most excellent collaboration, to avoid this** happening in our EAP classrooms! šŸ˜‰


*not necessarily the official name!

**substitute ‘lesson’ for ‘lecture’!

Here are some of the ideas that came out of today’s session:

  1. For a listening and note-taking lesson: when you want students to work in pairs to use their notes to answer questions, make it impossible for themĀ not toĀ (or they won’t!) – you could do this by setting up the activity with clear stipulations i.e. one student to close their folder and one to read out the questions that they then work on together to answer. This avoids students getting buried in their folders, which is the tendency.
  2. For a citation and referencing lesson: students may be good students but may not be familiar with terminology that we take for granted, such as “semi-colon” or “bracket”. To ensure that you start the lesson with all students clear about the language you are going to use in teaching the lesson content, take that terminology (e.g. semi-colon, italics, brackets, et al etc) and use it as the basis for a backs-to-the-board game. This enables you to check that students know the terminology before you use it.
  3. A pronunciation warmer for working on minimal pairs: Minimal pairs phone numbers. Number the board vertically from 0-9 and give each number a word within which is a minimal pair sound. Here are the examples we had: 0-Annie, 1-any, 2-rise, 3-rice, 4-fool, 5-full, 6-light, 7-right, 8-sit, 9-seat. (Adapt it according to the sounds that your group of learners tend to struggle with) You read out your (invented) phone number by saying the word that corresponds with each number. So 989 would be sit seat sit. The students have to write down your phone number by deciding which word you have said and writing down the corresponding number. They can then do it in pairs. This gives them practice in both recognition and production of the minimal pairs.
  4. Do a speaking ladder at the start of the lesson based on the lesson content: It takes some time to do it, but the benefits range from giving the students (who have very long days at the college) an energy-levels boost, get them mingling, get them thinking/speaking in English and make them focus (as it generates a lot of noise, they have to listen very carefully to concentrate on “their noise”). It also gives them some bonus fluency practice.
  5. (This one was mine!) A warmer for a nominalisation lesson:Ā Make a grid of academic verbs, one verb per square. Put students in groups of three and give each group a grid, counters and dice (they can use a phone app and the change in their pockets if needs be!). The aim of the game is to “collect” as many squares as possible by turning the verbs into nouns. To do this, students roll the dice and move their counter the corresponding number of moves. If their square has not been claimed, they can claim it by giving the correct noun form. If they are correct, they draw their symbol on that square. They can move in any direction that gets them to an empty square (backwards, forwards, diagonally, vertically etc) in any combination. They continue until all squares have been claimed or the teacher calls a halt. The winner has the greatest number of squares when the game stops. You can then get the students to group the nouns they have made according to the different suffixes used to create nouns and then try to think of any more verbs–>nouns they know that work in the same way.
  6. Academic style:Ā When the activity requires students to edit sentences to make them more academic, here is a fun way to do it in groups. Write each sentence at the top of a blank piece of paper and make sure you have enough for each student in each group to have a different sentence. They write their edited sentence at theĀ bottomĀ of the sheet and fold it over to hide it. They then pass their paper to one student and take a sheet from another. Repeat this until all the students have written their edited version on each of the sentences going round in their group. At the end, as a group, they can look at all the different versions and collaborate to make a final “best version”, combining their ideas, and write that best version in their folder.
  7. Working with a text: take out ten key words, do a few rounds of backs to the board; once all words have been guessed and are on the board, get students to use them to predict the possible content of the text.
  8. Summary-writing tasks:Ā get students to record it rather than write it for a change! Put them in pairs and give them time to make notes, discuss what they want to say and decide who will say what, then get them to record that. They can send you the recordings to listen to and give some feedback on.

The hour went by very quickly, it has to be said. Looking forward to more next Friday! šŸ™‚ (I am planning to share the ideas here regularly but marking 30×3000 word essays [in chunks of 1 and 2000 words] is likely to get in the way somewhat! Hopefully I will catch up eventually though. )



Pronunciation tweaks for familiar activities

I wrote this post during the summer of 2015, when I was working on the 1o week pre-sessional programme at Sheffield University. (However, it is relevant for for anyone who does regular vocabulary review and wants to integrate pronunciation into such activities.) I have finally got round to publishing it some 8 months later! Better late than never…!

I’ve been doing a lot of pronunciation work with my Social English students recently. (Social English class is a class for students on the 10 week pre-sessional programme at Sheffield University, who have unconditional offers from their departments for degree courses starting in September-October this year.) I’ve also been doing quite a bit of vocabulary work. (Spaced) review is a regular feature of our classes, so I am constantly on the look-out for different ways of doing this, in order to keep things interesting. Part of the pronunciation work done with these students was an introduction to the phonemic chart, which I reviewed in a subsequent lesson using a phonemic chart version of Connect 4. Since then, I’ve also been trying to integrate review of the sounds into vocabulary review activities. This has the benefits of linkingĀ the work done on sounds to our target vocabulary and of making vocabulary review that slight bit more interesting and challenging. Here are a few familiar activities that I have tweaked, in order of increasing level of challenge…

Board Race

In board races, learners race to write something on the board in response to a prompt from the teacher (e.g. a clue for a target word as vocabulary review.) Here are a few pronunciation based board races. For all these races, learners are put in teams and team members take turns to race to the board.

(The more complex versions may Ā be kept for when learners are more comfortable with the sounds and symbols in recognition and production.)

  • The phonemic chart is projected onto the whiteboard. The teacher makes sounds and one learner from each team races to touch the correct sound on the chart. First person to touch the correct sound wins the point.
  • The teacher calls a sound and one learner from each team races to write that sound on the board.
  • The teacher gives a clue for learners to guess an item of target vocabulary; learners race to write it on the board in phonemes.
  • The teacher gives a clue for learners to guess an item of target vocabulary and they race to write the word AND stress pattern on the board.

The letters game

In its traditional form, I was introduced to this game during my CELTA course at Sheffield Uni. Each group of learners has a set of letters (multiple examples of each letter) and the idea is that the teacher provides clues to elicit a target word, which the learners must race to spell out using their letters. Turns out it works equally well using sounds instead of letters! And once you have made your sets of sounds, of course they are a resource you can use over and over, with different groups etc, meaning that after one job lot of preparation, it becomes a zero prep game. To warm learners up with an easier start, make sounds for the learners to find, before calling out words for them to sound out, and then graduating to clues for words.

Two sets of sounds

Two sets of sounds, ready to go!


Nothing new to anybody about Hangman, it can safely be assumed, in fact I think it has mostly gone out of fashion as a waste of time. However, it does work quite well if instead of using letters, you use sounds. So, instead of each __ __ __ being for individual letters of target words, they are for individual sounds (which of course won’t necessarily be the same number as the number of letters in a given word). I had my students in two teams, and the teams took it in turns to make the sound they wanted to guess. Within the teams, students took it in turns to be the one who made the sound but they collaborated first in deciding which sound they wanted. Once learners are familiar with the game, you could round it off in a later class by doing an utterance and then once it is on the board, in symbols, perhaps write the words underneath and then in a different colour pick out what happens in connected speech vs. in individually pronounced words.

Backs to the board

Instead of writing a target word on the board in letters, write it on the board in phonemic script. Teams have to decide what the word is before helping their teammates at the board to guess what it is. Once those at the board have guessed the word, you could award bonus points if they can write it on a mini-whiteboard in phonemic script.

Ā Target

The teacher draws a target on the board (or you could pre-prepare and project onto the whiteboard to save time) and puts sounds in all the gaps. Students are in two teams, and take it in turns to throw the ball at the board (1-4 times per go, depending how challenging you want to make it) and should then try to use the 1-4 sounds hit in a single word. You could add even more limitations, e.g. it can only be words that you have studied this week or something, to bring in an added vocabulary element. (In my case, the teacher did prepare a target but she left out a couple of sounds – no problem, the students identified the missing ones and the teacher drew those on in board marker. šŸ™‚ ) (Can you see which sounds are missing?)

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Banana dictations

In this activity, traditionally learners, in pairs or small groups, have a mini whiteboard between them and the teacher says a sentence with a word gapped out – the ‘banana’ word – which the learners race to write on their mini-whiteboard. To bring in sounds as well as vocabulary, why not ask them to write the word in phonemic script? To do this, in their groups, they will be sounding out the word and looking at the chart for help, so it reviews sound-symbol relationships.

… This is clearly not an exhaustive list! Can you think of any more to add?

ELTC Training Day 2016 – my takeaway (including lots of tech-y stuff!)

After I did my learner autonomy workshop in November, I was invited to repeat it as part of the ELTC Training Day which took place on Thursday 14th January this year. I didn’t need asking twice to be part of this exciting programme of sessions – so duly organised my holiday to beĀ back from visiting family and horse in time to participate! The day didn’t, of course, disappoint. There were two parallel sessions running throughout the day with a tech-focused block and a development-focused block in the morning and again in the afternoon. (I gather the lunch provided in between these two sets of session blocks was rather good, though I did the packed lunch thing which is always easier when you’re vegan :-p )

As all the sessions were really useful, I thought I’d share my notes/take-away from each of the ones I attended…

Smartboard Extras

Smartboard Fun!

Do you have Smartboards at your school/centre? We have. And with Smartboards comes the responsibility of a) knowing how to use the thing properly and b) using it in a principled mannerĀ in your lessons!

It turns out that the newer versions of Smartboard (Version 15.1 onwards) have some additional interactive functions built in, that allow for student participation using mobile devices. Much of it is geared towards school children *but* one of our tech gurus, Nick, identified and shared with us a couple of features that lend themselves to use in the ELT classroom.

The first of these is the ability to post things to the board. This can be text or images (pre-selected by the teacher depending on requirement) and the board can be open or divided into categories (again, pre-set by teacher).

Basically, to set this game up, the teacher selects the “Lab” button, which is in the toolbar of Smartboard and looks like a Top-hat that a magician would use, and chooses to add an activity of “Shout it out” which is mobile-enabled. The default setting is “categorised” board and you can either switch that to open board or keep “categorised” so that in the next step you will then set the category titles. You can have up to four categories. You also need to choose the type of contribution (i.e. text or images) and the maximum number of contributions per device. 3 is the default but you decide and change accordingly. NB: one device could mean one student, a pair of students or a group of students, depending how you want to run the game/your goals. You could then add a timer or buzzer if you felt it necessary (bearing in mind that timing out doesn’t stop the game and stopping the game doesn’t stop the time! It’s not that fully integrated yet…) and load the game.

You will have a dialogue box and if it is the first activity you do on a day with a group, there will be as yet no contributors. If you do a second activity, the contributors remain loaded, but can be added to. When you click on “start activity” a code is generated and students must input the code into They will have a screen that requires the code and a username. This username will be associated with a symbol and that will appear next to all their contributions on the board. (NB you may want to turn off the screen while the students do the activity to stop them seeing each other’s contributions, if it is a competitive activity!)

It is useful to cue your computer to the point of the dialogue box being open and the code being generated (so clicking on “start activity” after which you can pause it) before class starts, as it takes quite a while to load fully. You can hide the dialogue box by clicking on the “activity” button, and clicking again reveals it again.

Suggestions for use include but are not limited to revision of vocabulary and academic language e.g. linkers. (One of my challenges to myself is to come up with different ways of using this with my latest group of students who I started teaching yesterday evening, so watch this space for related blog posts! Likewise the picture activity that follows… )

You can use the same activity “Shout it out” for picture sharing. In this case, the set up is the same but you select images rather than text as the contribution type and use ‘arranged randomly’ rather than setting categories (a setting that could also be useful for brainstorming vocabulary, for example, if you use text rather than images!). Again, a code is generated, which the students enter into

Smartboard also has the capacity to enable teachers to create quizzes and questionnaires. This works in a similar way to google forms but with the added advantage of students being able to respond live in the class, using their devices, alone or in pairs/groups while the teacher can control the time spent per slide or per activity as a whole. It also enables you to view/display graphics showing answers chosen by participants.

A final tip we were given was in use of the pens. You know how when you write on the Smartboard and it looks like a five year old could have done better? Well, if you choose “Text Pen” which is under the pen function, when you write on the board it automatically converts into text! According to Nick it’s pretty accurate even with his writing, and you do have the option to select “x” if it gets it wrong, and that will revert it to handwriting again. Or you can select the tick and edit it, if you prefer.

Ideas for doing a TD session

This was the other TD block session I went to other than my own, and it too gave some food for thought. The TD programme at the ELTC is very teacher-led – the TD team are teachers (as vs. managers) and of course the scholarship circles are teacher-managed too. There seems to be one and often more than one workshop in any given week, with various focuses. Teachers are always encouraged to give workshops (as part of their own development) and attendance isn’t compulsory. Of course, teachers are expected to log 3hrs a week of scholarship time, and workshops can be useful to this end.

Anyway, this session was aimed at teachers who are interested in delivering workshops and we looked at:

  • reasons for attending a workshop
  • reasons for giving a workshop
  • different delivery formats
  • things to keep in mind when preparing a workshop

Reasons for attending included: to support a colleague, to help log scholarship time, to see what others are doing in the classroom, to share ideas, to learn/increase knowledge and skills, amongst others. Reasons for giving included: to help log scholarship time (!), a way of developing yourself, sharing research, sharing ideas and getting feedback on them, feeding back after attending a conference, amongst others.

We looked at different delivery formats and suitability to different scenarios, so talks, presentations, workshops, panel discussions, structured discussions and unstructured discussions, and also agreed that within a single session there may be elements of multiple formats.

Things to keep in mind in preparing a workshop included: knowing your audience (and possible mismatch between their and your aims), knowing the context (e.g. here, it’s not compulsory and teachers are therefore there by choice but that doesn’t mean they aren’t tired at the end of a long week etc.), choosing a suitable format with maximum possibility of engagement, not being OTT (we watched a brief youtube clip parodying a TD session!), amongst other things.

It was an interesting session and I made a few minor changes to the delivery of my session (which was in the afternoon TD block of sessions) based on what I had picked up.

Tech Timesavers

This was one of those sessions that was a whirlwind of little tech things that make you go “ooooh I wish I had known that before!!”

Our main browser on the centre computers is Firefox, so the first thing we looked at was some handy add-ons:

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 15.04.14

  • “Reader” enables you to extract articles (except from BBC) without all the ads and links, so that when you open it in Word, you start with a much cleaner piece of text.
  • “Clippings”Ā is a clipper tool that enables you to reuse chunks of text. So, first you create them (think of and input phrases that you commonly use in giving feedback or report writing – I think this would be super for my colleagues at IHPA during report writing, for instance!) and then you can drag it into any browser window or programme for reuse.

We were also shown how to set the options so that: downloaded files are always saved to a specific location (rather than in some hard to find temporary folder somewhere!) – by clicking on the three horizontal lines, going to options and under general selecting “always ask me where to save files”. The browser will then remember the first location you pick for the rest of your browsing session, which is handy!

Finally, we learnt how to save things to the toolbar by selecting “bookmark this page” and changing the option in the drop-down menu to “toolbar” andĀ THEN how to create folders in the toolbar. So Nick has an ELTC folder with things like the portal link in it.

We then moved on from Firefox to other things…

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  • Sticky notesĀ – my notes for this read “(like Mac!)” … I’ve had my current laptop for nearly five years now and I remember when I first got it, Stickies opened automatically. So I’ve been using it since then. It is basically a programme that enables you to have post-it notes on your desktop screen, in a choice of colours. So you could colour code for priority, for instances. Turns out this programme also exists on PCs! Little did I know… It’s pretty basic in terms of use, you just add new sticky, write what you need to remember on it and drag it to where you want it to be on your desktop. You can also resize them according to need, and, as I mentioned, select the colour, as well as setting a due date (must check how to do this on Mac!). One of the teachers mentioned that when she initially started to use it, she needed a real post-it on her real desk to remind her to look at the electronic ones on the computer desktop! šŸ™‚ So maybe it takes some getting used to. Good though. One thing to remember if you use a “managed desktop” : the stickies only open on the first computer you log into. So, for instance, if you got in and went to your classroom to set the computer up, the stickies would appear on there. If you then went to your office and loaded up that computer, the stickies wouldn’t then appear on there too. So, you need to make sure you first access the computer you want the stickies to show on!

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 15.06.45

  • Google KeepĀ – this is available to anybody who has a Google account. So, when you are in your email, you go to those nine squares in the top righthand corner of your screen, and click on “more” as many times as you can, including “even more from Google” and in “Home and Office” you will see Google Keep waiting for you. There is also an app for it that you can download onto mobile devices, so you can use it “on the move”. Basically, it’s a lot like EvernoteĀ but free. If I didn’t already use Evernote, then I would use Google Keep. The concept is great. An electronic organiser that lets you do most things you could think of – write notes to yourself and keep them in different notebooks, of course, but also saving pdfs/links etc., making checklists that you can tick off, speaking into it for it to convert to text etc. You can colour code notes and add labels (like tags in blog world!) that make the notes more easily searchable, like an index system. And you can share notes.

Next we looked at a couple of things that Google Drive allows you to do:

  • Convert a photograph of a .pdf file into text –Ā take a photograph or screenshot (saved as a .jpeg) of a pdf and save it in your drive. In the options (three vertical dots), open it as a google doc and ta-dah! It doesn’t, however, pick up on italics or reproduce diagrams/images.
  • Voice to text:Ā This only works when using Google docs in Google Chrome browser, apparently. You go to ‘tools’ and select voice typing. You will get a pop-up message asking you to allow use of your microphone and then you are away. Say stuff and it will appear on screen. It also converts punctuation – e.g. if you say fullstop it types a “.” and so on. “New paragraph” and “new line” also have the desired effect. You can imagine the potential of using this with students when creating dialogues etc…

Finally we looked at a few more general things:

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 15.03.52

  • Web Corp:Ā A corpus tool that bases its analysis on up-to-date web data. You can specify exactly what it looks at using the advanced options. (E.g. newspapers, which type of newspapers etc.) You can also generate a wordlist for a text that you input (by link or by copy-paste) that ranks words by how often they appear in that text. This could help you decide what language to focus on before teaching a text, for example.
  •Ā This is NOT free. However, Sheffield University has some kind of licensing agreement with it, so teachers can access it for free, except not me because I am an associate not a teacher apparently! Anyway, if you work for a university, or big institution, could be worth checking if your place has such an agreement and therefore you have free access. It is basically a collection of tutorial videos on everything under the sun, indexed. Would have liked to have had a proper gander but who knows, hopefully one day!
  • Youtube playlists: Unlisted playlists are a good way of collecting videos and sharing them with students. When you find a video you want to share with a class of students, click on “add to” to add it to a playlist. You can then create a new playlist, which you would probably name after your group of students (for ease of identification for you!) and set it as “unlisted”. This means that it won’t appear in search engines but that anybody with the correct link can access it. You copy and paste aforementioned link into whichever platform you use with students (e.g. Edmodo, Google Classroom etc.) in a static location, so that they can easily access it.

At this point we sadly ran out of time and the whirlwind of techy stuff tour came to an end! And you can imagine, at this point I had to directly change classrooms, set up my workshop and deliver it! My poor little brain…

Learner Autonomy

So, my Learner Autonomy workshop was in the last slot of the day (save the Tech Q and A and TD Q and A drop-in sessions, where you could ask the TD team and the tech team any questions – I, for example, asked for a re-run of the questionnaire/quiz thing in Smartboard as I had missed the crucial bit of information for how to access it!), with all that had gone before being a tough act to follow. It seemed to go well enough though, with teachers doing their best to push their tired brains just a little bit longer in order to participate. I enjoyed delivering it, but then I am an LA geek, can never get enough of talking about LA and motivation, and, all-importantly, hearing what others have to say about it too. šŸ™‚ For example, one of the teachers told us about his successful reading project, which sounded really good. In fact, hmm, wonder if I could elicit a guest post…

And that was the training day! Lots of useful stuff to kick start the new term and year with, which I look forward to implementing/using…

Hope some of it is of use/interest to you too!

New beginnings…

Yesterday evening, my upper intermediate General English course at Sheffield University’s ELTC started. I will be meeting this multilingual, multicultural group of students twice a week for the next 12 weeks (including this week). The course does not have an exam at the end, which is not something I have encountered often in my teaching career to date! The Social English class I taught on the 10 week pre-sessional at the university this year also wasn’t assessed as it was made up of students who had already met their conditions, but it wasn’t a four skills integrated standard course either. The only other occasion for me has been the continuous enrolment intensive courses at a private language school in Leeds that I taught on during the third semester of my M.A. but those were every day with continuously changing groups of students rather than twice a week with the same group. The course book for this course is New English File Upper Intermediate, another first for me, and we are using the version where it is broken down into book A and book B, so book A is the book for the next 12 weeks. I’m also planning to use all the learner autonomy materials I’ve developed during my couple of years at IHPA – the reading project, the experimenting with English project and so on. Finally, I am hoping to use the ELTon award-winning materials I wrote for my dissertation, as I haven’t worked in the UK since finishing them so it is a golden opportunity!

Yesterday’s classĀ wasĀ the first class I’ve taught at the ELTC since finishing my CELTA there in March 2010. I *have* done two summer school pre-sessional programmes with the university since then (10 weeks this summer just gone, 10 weeks in the summer last year) but those take place elsewhere on campus rather than at the centre itself. It’s lovely being back the centre – it’s a purpose-built building, with lots of space and a wealth of resources. A lot of value is also placed on teacher development, which I am looking forward to exploiting in the coming months. Indeed, I had my first bit of training yesterday, when I attended a refresher session for using Smartboards combined with an introduction to using Google classroom. Fortunately the tech team have prepared “how to…” guides for both of these, which can be accessed via the teachers portal. It was a lot of information to take in at once! I fully intend to get to grips with both the Smartboard and Google classroom in the coming weeks: Google classroom is very similar to Edmodo, so my interest in that is hardly surprising, and the Smart Board has some potentially useful features. I’m sure it can do lots of fancy, advanced stuff too, but what stood out for me is that you can also do a range of little things with it, that enhance rather than take over your teaching. As I try them out and see how I (and the students) get on with them, I’ll share anything of interest thatĀ I learn here. Of course, Google classroom will tie in nicely with my above-mentioned learner autonomy projects.

Yesterday I also signed up for a free course delivered by Lancaster University, called Corpus Linguistics: Method Analysis, Interpretation. It’s an 8-week course which involves video lectures and interviews, tasks, discussions on a forum, and which allows you take from it what you want to take from it. I learnt about the existence of Corpus Linguistics and corpora during my M.A. ELT/Delta year at Leeds Met, and it’s something I’ve wanted to follow up on since those days but have lacked the time to do anything beyond using with my students and developing some materials to help me to do that. I’m hoping this course will give me the understanding and tools to use corpora more effectively, both for my own and my students’ learning.

All in all, my professional life is a very different picture from what it was this time last year, when I was just starting back at IHPA for a second year and about to embark on my IH tutor training certificate. As ever, I firmly believe this academic year will be what I make of it, and I plan to make as much of it as I possibly can, especially as there is no shortage of opportunity. After a quiet month or so on this blog (time off is good!), I hope to post more regularly again, both teaching-related and corpus linguistic course-related. Watch this space…

Watch this space!

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My professional home now. šŸ™‚

Taking auctions beyond grammar

I’ve never been a massive fan of grammar auctions – mostly because I was never quite sure how they were supposed to work. Generally they involve a list of sentences, most of which have mistakes in them, which the learners are supposed to correct and then bid on. It was always the money aspect that confused me! This summer, however, I have decided how they work (for me) and then applied them successfully to pronunciation and vocabulary…

Pronunciation Auction


to focus on the pronunciation (especially word stress) of a set of target vocabulary with whose meaning learners are already familiar.


Each team of learners need a list of the words to be used for the game.


None – learners should have the words already, as they are previously studied words. Or if you really want, make another special list of them to hand out!


  • Put learners into teams of 4-6 players and make sure each team has a list of the target words for the game. (Our list happened to have 24 words on it, academic vocabulary which we had looked at previously in the context of a reading text, which worked fine.) NB: The list should be numbered for easy identification purposes. (Actually ours wasn’t but before we started I told them how it would be numbered – there were 4 columns each with six words, so it was 1-6 down column one, 7-12 down column two etc.)
  • Tell learners they have Ā£1000 to spend on the words. How much they spend on each word depends on how sure they are of the pronunciation. (We focused on word stress as we hadn’t introduced the phonemic chart yet – but I can already imagine some variations involving it! Watch this space!)
  • Give learners 5-10 minutes (depending how many target words you have) to decide what the correct pronunciation of each word is and how sure they are of it, and to allocate their Ā£1000.
  • When everybody isĀ ready, call out the number of a word. E.g. number 10. Each team reveals how much they bid on word 10. The highest bid gets to pronounce the word. If correct, they gain the amount Ā of money they allocated. So if they bid Ā£200, they get Ā£200 in their score board. They can earn bonus cash by then providing the other words in a word family, also pronounced correctly. E.g. if the target word is ‘advertise’, they can gain bonus cash for ‘advertisement’ and ‘advertising’. (This encourages them to think about how, in many cases, when you change word type, the stress changes too.) We decided that providing correct pronunciation for all members of the word family merited doubling one’s money.
  • If the highest bidder gets the pronunciation wrong, the word passes to the next highest bidder. If the next highest bidder gets it correct, they win the highest bidder’s bid total. So if, in the above example, the team who bid Ā£200 got it wrong, and the next highest bid was Ā£150, if that second team got it correct, they would win Ā£200.
  • Once all the words have been pronounced (if any haven’t been bid on by any of the groups, sell them off at Ā£50 a pop to get learners to have a go even if they aren’t sure!), the winner is the group with the highest total of money.

Vocabulary Auction


To review the meanings of previously studiedĀ target lexis.






  • Give learners, in teams, a set length of time to write a list of a given set of target words that they have been studying (in our case it was a set of phrasal verbs). At the end of the set time, do a quick whole class check to make sure all teams have all the target words. (If one team has them all, and the others don’t, you could award some bonus points!) OR provide/point them at a list of the words.
  • Give teamsĀ time to discuss the meanings of the target words, decide how sure they are of the meaning and allocate their Ā£1000 (as with the pronunciation auction)
  • The procedure follows as per the pronunciation auction except that learners provide meanings rather than pronunciation. Learners can earn bonus cash by putting the target word in a sentence correctly. (You could up the challenge by requiring the meaning and a suitable collocation, with bonus cash for extra collocations…)


Sold! (Image taken from

Sold! (Image taken from

IELTS Speaking Part 2 (Fun) Practice Activity

Each week on a Tuesday, since my IELTS courses finished, I have been doing IELTS PSP Speaking, which is basically an hour of IELTS-focused speaking practice. I have found that when practicing part 2, students frequently dry up before 2 minutes, sometimes well before, so I came up with this activity to encourage them to extend their answers as much as possible… It is a mixture of an activity that was suggested by a Sheffield Uni colleague of mine from last summer, Tim Ball, at the IELTS Swap Shop session that took place at IATEFL this year, and the well-known game, connect 4.

  • It consists of a 6×6 grid (click on the picture to access a ready-to-use document):
Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 12.53.30

Game board

  • Ā In each square of the grid there is an IELTS Part 2 Speaking topic.
  • Students are aiming to score as many points as possible by getting 3 or 4 squares in a row, with 3 being worth 10 points and 4 being worth 20 points.
  • In order to “win” a square, students must speak for the full two minutes about the topic in question.
  • The instructions on the game remind students to think about the what/who/why/when/how type questions that accompany speaking part 2 topics.
  • As with the exam, they have a minute to think about what they are going to say and make a few notes.
  • Students play in pairs.
  • Student A speaks, Student B listens and times, and vice-versa.
  • Teacher listens and does delayed feedback at suitable moments.

The students were engaged by it and theĀ aim was fulfilled: instead of just giving up after 1 and a half minutes, they did push themselves to keep speaking! (How important winning a square becomes… šŸ˜‰ )

Let me know how your students get on with it! Enjoy!

Vocabulary Review Activity for Teenagers


Review previously met vocabulary in a fun, game-like way.


A pre-prepared slide with all the target vocabulary on it (and some red herrings as well, if you wish…) – see example below; fly swats or post-its or balls (I used fly swats in this case but no reason why the other methods can’t work! Balls might be quite challenging on the motor skills, of course due to the target size…); a set of cards with one piece of target vocabulary on each one.

Some vocabulary!

An example: Some L5a vocabulary!

This game is a cross between the board bashes I do with my Ms (10 to 12 year olds) on a regular basis, which is a case of I put a bunch of target vocabulary pictures on a slide, I say the word, they bash the word, or post-it the word or throw a ball at it, as the case may be, and the backs to the board game I often do with my L5a (upper int 13-15yr old) teens. It came about because I wanted to review vocabulary with afore-mentioned teens but change up the usual backs to the board with a bit of variety…Ā 


  • Put learners into teams
  • Invite one member of each team up to the board. Hand them a fly swat or post-it. (Or, get them to stand a bit away from the board and hand them a ball…)
  • One team picks a word card, looks at it, passes it to the next team to look at and so on. Once all teams know what the word is, they start to try and get their team mates at the board to guess the word, in usual backs to the board style (definitions, synonyms, banana sentences…).
  • Team members at the board swat, post-it or throw the ball at the word they think is the answer. (NB to avoid random bashing, stipulate that incorrect guesses lose points…)
  • First team member to swat, post-it or throw the ball at the correct word gains a point for their team.
  • Teams each send another person up to the board for round 2.
  • The game continues until the word cards are finished or until you feel enough time has been spent, whichever happens first!

It worked well, my teens got really in to it. Of course, as you can imagine, the losing points stipulation came about in reaction to the random board bashing issue! It takes a bit more preparation than usual backs to the board but it’s very quick, easy preparation really.

No reason why it couldn’t be used in adult classes as well, of course!