Bite-size TD at the ELTC

Teacher development is a key part of working life at the ELTC and the team who are in charge of it this term recently rolled out a new initiative, “Bite-size TD”. The idea is to build up a collection of recordings done by teachers of short talks on a range of topics, that other teachers can watch when they have 15-20 minutes spare and fancy a bit of CPD.

I volunteered to do a whistle-stop tour of which is a corpus tool. Without the /academic part of the web address, a general corpus of texts is analysed, with the academic part included, it analyses a corpus of academic texts from a range of disciplines. Both sites work in exactly the same way, so what I talked about today could equally be applied to the general version. My powerpoint was adapted from one that I used with my ESUS (English Skills for University Study, which has since undergone a few changes and been renamed) students last term, with the aim of introducing the site to them through the medium of guided discovery.

My talk worked in two ways: a) For teachers unfamiliar with the site, I suggested they use the pause button a bit and try to do the activities on the site as they went along, to understand better how it works. b) For teachers who were already familiar, and for the teachers in a) once they were familiar, it modelled my approach to introducing students to the site and provided some example activities that they could use with students.

I suggested that as well as using this approach in class with the students as an introduction, it’s useful to reinforce it by:

  • modelling use of it yourself in class if students ask you something about a word/phrase. (Particularly if you can project it)
  • using it in tutorials based on students’ written work, to guide error correction
  • encouraging students to use it before submitting a piece of work, to check their use of key language

Here is the powerpoint I used (click to download):

I’ll add the recording later if the link is a public one, but you should be able to follow what to do via the powerpoint, it’s step-by-step and the answers are included.

Do you use with your students? How? Would love to hear about your approach/ideas for using it via the comments box below. 🙂

Happy weekend, all!

Reported Speech Whispers 


This activity is a variation on the age-old activity ‘Whispers’ aka ‘Chinese Whispers’ aka ‘Broken down telephone’. I have played it with intermediate adults and upper intermediate teens, both of which groups met with good old reported speech this term. Both groups responded well. It provides controlled spoken practice of direct speech – reported speech and vice versa conversions and encourages students to subsequently reconsider what they have said and check it for accuracy.

Not that my students are monkeys...

Whisper, whisper! (Not that my students are monkeys…)


  • Put students in groups of 3
  • Student 1 whispers something to Student 2 (it can be helpful if you feed in a few examples at first, to get the students going)
  • Student 2 whisper reports it to Student 3.
  • Student 3 says out loud what they think Student 1 actually said, based on Student 2’s report.
  • Student 1 confirms or repeats out loud what they originally whispered.
  • Student 2 explains how they reported it and why (particularly if the message got lost)
  • Together, the group decide if they were correct according to ‘the rules’. (with teacher help where needed)

The only preparation required is the handful of examples that help set the activity up.

For further (written) practice:

  • After they have played this game you could get the students in their groups to write down as many direct speech sentences as they can remember from the game.
  • Students then swap papers with another group.
  • Groups then work together to convert the sentences from the group they have swapped papers with into reported speech.
  • The groups then swap back and correct the other group’s conversions of their sentences. Of course the teacher monitors closely during both game and follow-up, providing help and feedback as appropriate.

IATEFL 2015 Making up Grammar Rules or What a teacher can do to motivate students during a grammar lesson

This talk is part of the Young Learners and Teenagers SIG day… So here I am in the interests of variety: I’ve hit technology, EAP, materials writing, pronunciation, teacher drawing skills, and now it’s time for some YL! And later on, a splash of IELTS and some teacher training may be on the cards! (I say “may” – we all know how fluid and last minute these decisions are…! ) Nothing like a bit of variety to reinvigorate the teacher soul! 🙂

This talk was inspired by a talk given by Ken Wilson last year, apparently. Entitled Motivating the unmotivated. Ken focused on 10 points out of which today we will focus on 5. But first, we need to think about why, for this topic.

Why teach grammar?

  • He doesn’t want his students to sound like Borat.
  • He wants students to produce good, reliable, accurate language.
  • He wants his students to be consistent.
  • Students ask for it. (He recommended students a grammar book as an option, and ALL of them bought it)
  • For the general public, a self-respecting language school cannot not teach grammar.


  • Let students use their imagination; find out what they know and what they are good at. Ask them about school subjects. What is their favourite subject? In Georgios’s case, most of his students liked maths, history, literature, biology, and foreign language was way at the bottom. Ask about their interests. Many areas will be identified.
  • Make them curious. Since the enjoy maths so much, Georgios wanted to show them that there was logic in grammar. He shows us a greek word which has 3 words in the English equivalent. You were running: Who, when, what, continuously. Greek students often make the mistake “you running” – if they produce that he can point out that we need to know when.
  • Challenge them. Elicit. You only get your allowance from your parents if you work for it, then you develop more respect for it. Mental effort in learning language makes it more memorable. Elicitation develops problem-solving abilities and stimulates critical thinking, and all of these lead to greater learner autonomy and self-reliance. Encourages students to personalise grammar rules.
  • Anticipate errors and USE them!


  • Examples must generate the target structure, be relevant and appropriate.
  • Devolve responsibility: make a student an “expert” in something e.g. the past simple ‘did’ auxiliary; the expressions that go with the past simple e.g. “last night”. This creates a memory palace – each students has his or her area of expertise. Students remembered who said what. But students MUST participate voluntarily. It’s a game, they don’t want to be left out; it seems like an easy, fun thing to do; their sense of Philotimo kicks in (it’s the right thing to do). Gives a confidence boost, a way to engage weaker students, it’s stress free environment as a game, it encourages an environment of support.
  • Use Double Jeopardy: you can’t kill your husband twice = no double negative, no I didn’t went etc.
  • VIP rule: What’s most important goes first. Active voice – the subject, passive voice – the object etc.
  • Mr Grumpy: Mr Wilson is always yelling at Denis when he plays near his house. Associate pictures with structures.

Possible problems: Not for beginners or very young students; can be time-consuming; can lead to an unhealthy obsession with accuracy at the expense of communicative competence.

And don’t forget, you need meaning with grammar, like Tzatziki needs bread…






Kaboom! The Explosive Team Review Game (With an added twist…)

I am sure most of you are already familiar with the review game of Kaboom (also known variously as Tornado, Earthquake, and any other non-context-sensitive natural disaster). In this post, I am going to share the adaptations, or tweaks, that I’ve made to it in order to:

  • cut down on preparation time
  • make it more student-centred
  • make it more challenging

The Regular Version

In the regular version, prior to heading to class, the teacher pre-prepares a grid (size decided at discretion – depends how long you want the game to take!). The grid is made of squares, to each of which is allocated one of the following:

  • A question mark – signifies, funnily enough, a question.
  • A flashing B – signifies a bonus (which means 50 free points to the recipient team)
  • The arrows of change – two arrows one above the other, each pointing in opposite directions, signifies the team changes points, either with the other team, or if more than two teams, the chosen team (which is going to be the team with the most points!)
  • A bomb – signifies an explosion of points, leaving the recipient team with zero.

The teacher also prepares a set of questions to ask.

Once in the classroom, the teacher draws a blank version of the grid on the board, with letter and number coordinates. Teams take turns to pick a square and answer a question/receive a bonus/change scores/lose all their points, depending on the square. The game continues till all squares have been revealed. The winners are the team with the highest score.

My Version

Well, it’s the same as the above version, except:

  • The teacher doesn’t prepare a grid before going to class: the teacher draws the empty grid on the board (sized at discretion) and makes up the square contents as he/she goes along. And when the kids accuse you of making it up as you go along, wow them with your amazing memory skills… 😉

This way, you save on preparation time (big deal, it’s pretty minimal, but why not!) AND you get to ham up the drama, orchestrating the changes and explosions etc. to keep it as exciting as possible.

  • The teacher doesn’t prepare a set of questions before going to class: instead, when a question square is selected, the opposing team must come up with the question. How? By working together, looking through their coursebooks/notes and coming up with one.

This way, you save on preparation time AND you wind up with a bunch of teenagers avidly looking through their books/notes either in order to make up a question or preparing themselves to be asked. Encourage them to be crafty: the harder the questions, the less likely the other team is to get points. They try really hard to come up with tricky questions and do a lot of reviewing in the process, with lots of whispered discussions regarding vocabulary definitions and grammar points, and how to make them as difficult as possible. The game becomes less teacher-centred too.

  • The teacher breaks down the question squares in to ? (free question), ?G (grammar-related question) and ?V (vocabulary-related question)

This is so that the students don’t get stuck in a question-type rut. It also serves, in this way, to up the challenge level. If your class were still not coming up with enough variety of questions, then you could throw in a few ?T (teacher-generated questions) as well! This would also enable you to draw attention to a particular language point/piece of vocabulary that you wanted to review, without having to prepare all the questions/make the game entirely teacher-centred.

Here is an example of a game in progress: 



This was with my upper intermediate teenagers class. They are a small class (currently) and so only two teams were necessary. Being quite high-level, they were doing well with regards to question variety so I hadn’t inflicted any ?T squares at this point. Here, you can see the different types of question squares, the bonus squares, the arrows of change and the bomb squares.

All in all, Kaboom! is a great review game. It’s easy to tweak the amount of challenge according to the level of your learners, and children, teenagers and adults all get caught up in the excitement. Finally, I may be biased, but I think it’s even better with my tweaks! 😉


An added twist! Image taken from, licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

An added twist! Image taken from, licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

Teaching teenagers “have to” and “can’t” for complaining – resurrected in TEA issue 71!

A while back, I blogged about an activity I had done with my teenagers, to help them get to grips with ‘have to’ and ‘can’t’ for complaining. Some time down the line, Philip Kerr from TEA (Teachers of English, Austria) approached me to request permission to publish the activity in the TEA online magazine winter 2014 issue, which I, of course, duly granted.

Here is a link to the magazine, where, as well as my little activity, you can find pieces by Ceri Jones, Lindsay Clandfield and others, on a range of focuses.


(PS: there will be more blog posts soon… when the time – things to do ratio is just slightly less punishing!! 🙂 )