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Monday, 27 August 2012

Six Quick Lesson Ideas For Starting Your First English Lesson

Six of the Best

These quick English lesson ideas are for anyone starting with a new group or starting a new school year. They could (almost) just as easily be used in your first ever English lesson, although hopefully you'll have had some sort of training beforehand!

So in the spirit of all good 'top ten' lists, here's mine for this coming academic year, or whenever. Everything is straight off the top of my head so a real mish-mash, a 'hotch potch', if you will. Comments, as ever, are more than welcome.


1) Tripping
Take a  trip out of the class (if possible) or failing that get the students to look out of the window and name everything they can see. Give them letters which words must start with, to make it harder. Give them random words like 'but', 'seven', 'green' etc. and they have to make sentences (e.g. It is sunny but it is cold. / I can see seven trees. / The grass and the leaves and Maria's skirt are green.). Give them examples first!

2) Today I Feel...
Write 'Today I feel...' on the board. Invite students to come to the front of the class and complete the sentence. For example, Today I feel... hungry, nervous, happy, sad, nervous, excited, like an ice cream... Choose any sentence you think would produce some fun responses, such as Today I want..., Today I will..., Yesterday I..., This year I am going to..., etc. Then ask students more about what they wrote, focusing on the content of what they are saying, not correcting mistakes.

3) Questions For Answers
My personal favourite. Put the answers to some imagined questions up on the board. For example '47' (How old are you?), 'Edinburgh' (Where were you born?), 'running' (What is your favourite sport?), etc. The questions you are looking for should be at the appropriate level for the class and the facts should be about you, the teacher. This allows students to get to know you a little. Students can then do the same activity with their neighbours about themselves.

4) Find Someone Who
One of the real classics which always works well if the activity is guaged at the right level. Give students a handout where they have to find someone who has done certain things. The question form is 'Have you ever...? For example, 'Have you ever visited Italy?', 'Have you ever written a poem?', 'Have you ever eaten a snail?'. For lower levels the questions can be in the past tense: What did you do this morning / yesterday evening / yesterday morning / last weekend / last summer, etc. Or simply a questionaire for the students to get to know each other better: What's your name? What's your address? How old are you? What's your favourite sport? etc.

5) Class Objectives
On a more abstract level, get students to discuss their objectives and requests for the lessons they will be having with you. For children this could be a list of things which will go to make a successful class (from which you can extract some sort of 'class rules' list collaboratively with them. For adults a more professional set of aims will arise but the principle is still quite close to the kids' lists: what they expect to happen in order for them to reach their goals, which will help you to plan your lessons accordingly. Get them to discuss the order and importance of the items in order to produce a 'top ten' list which can even be put on the wall for future reference.

6) Random Presentations
Start by giving a random two-minute presentation yourself on your favourite sport, meal, place or whatever. Divide it into three clear parts, such as: Rollerblading - a) Equipment needed and cost; b) Where you can do it; c) Why you love it. Introduce the three sections at the beginning and sum up at the end. Ask for questions about it at the end. Then give the students some time to do exactly the same with their favourite hobby or interest. There is no judging, no marking and lots of interest and questions. This is guaranteed to be a winner and even the most timid should be willing to present when they realise they are not being assessed. Make them stand up at the front for confident groups, and just do it where they are sitting for less advanced or nervous students.


There! I managed six fun activities - more lesson ideas than lesson plans, I admit - without looking in a book or killing myself to do so. Just don't ask me for a seventh - I think that's all I've got! Feel free to contribute your own ideas or variation on things which work particularly well for you in the comments section, and good luck - have a great one.

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© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch EnglishWill Power English : "Six Quick Ways To Start Your First English Lesson"
Sab Will is a teacher, teacher trainer, fanatical blogger... and stuff.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Top Six Twitter Teaching Tips

Six of the Best

Twitter's everywhere, everyone's got it, but some don't know what to do with it. Or what it really is. Or whether it's genuinely interesting or the biggest waste of time yet invented by man.

In the world of teaching with Twitter the jury's still out but here, inspired by a seminar I attended by Petra Pointner at a Pearson Longman open day, I offer you my Top Six Twitter Teaching Tips. Actually, they're all I've got, but they'll do for the moment. Feel free to add to them in the comments if you wish.

1) International Conference
I loved Petra's idea about getting someone you know - a colleague in another country would be ideal - and having a 'live session' with them using Twitter. You create a #hashtag for the session and chat away. An interview format would work well, asking questions of this exotic stranger. They could even pretend they are someone famous. Or the students could take on famous personas too. In a classroom this would probably have to be done on one central computer projected onto the wall or complete chaos could break out.

2) As Tom Cruise Said To Me...
Famous people tweet, and anyone can read them, this is a fact. So why not choose a popular and prolific tweeter and print out some of their choicest tweets for analysis and other language work in class? And of course it's Twitter we're talking about here, so you can tweet back and who knows, maybe even get an answer! Each member of the class could compose a 140 character response to famous Tweeters' tweets and see who comes up with the funniest.

3) Build Your PLN
The PLN (Personal Learning Network) is a huge buzzword in geeky teachy circles at the moment. I've finally come to the conclusion that it's just a bunch of people you know or have heard of who are interesting to follow or work with from time to time. All well and good. So what about if students created one of these too. Starting with each other and their teacher. They could then start following some interesting Tweeters - those who give instant content such as 'word of the day' posters, for example. Tweets should remain heavily English-focused or again chaos could come a-calling and you end up with a Particularly Loathsome Nuisance, or words to that effect.

4) Follow That Tweet
One of the main things people use Twitter for is to share links to websites. And to discover interesting sites in this way. So it makes sense for students to click on a few links and see where they lead. When they discover a particularly interesting site relating to the English language or not, they write a report about it, post it on the internet somewhere if they are able to do this (like on their personal or class blog), and post a tweet with a link to it for everyone to read and follow for themselves. This would be great for homework, it seems to me.

5) Linguistic Analysis Twitter Bingo
You could get all serious and analyse Tweets on a fast-moving channel for parts of speech: verbs, nouns, prepositions etc. It could be turned into a game of bingo with students having cards and looking out for particular types of words or actual words. You could use categories to look out for such as food, clothes, numbers, colours, animals, actors, politicians and so on. This may or may not work - I haven't tried it yet -  and you may have to carefully construct a list of bloggers whom you know will produce the sort of language you're looking for.

6) Find Poetic Fame & Fortune
Well, no, probably not, but the challenge of writing something meaningful and coherent in 140 characters is considerable. Having said that, the popular haiku form of poetry uses only seventeen syllables and still manages to say something. You know, "Clouds appear and bring - to men a chance to rest from - looking at the moon", that sort of thing. And 17 syllables fit easily into 140 characters so what's holding you back? And of course there are a ton of Tweeting haikuers out there to follow and interpret, although haiku itself is supposed to be extremely easy to understand. It needn't stop (or start) with poetry though. What about short movie or book reviews, for example. Or a diary entry. Or a question. All in best English, naturally. Now, where's that moon gone..?

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© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch EnglishWill Power English : "Top Six Twitter Teaching Tips"
Sab Will is a teacher, teacher trainer, fanatical blogger... and stuff.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Cambridge CELTA Course: Top 6 Classic Worries

Six of the Best

If you are doing a Cambridge CELTA or similar TEFL certificate – four intensive weeks including at least 6 hours of teaching practice – there’s something you need to know. You’re not alone. If you’re feeling fairly confident it may be that someone else is too. If, however, you are nervous and possibly doubtful as to whether you can ‘be a teacher’ or not, it’s likely that you are in the majority. And some people positively dread the idea of standing up in front of a class and speaking. Let me give you the first of several lists which hopefully will help you overcome these fears…

1) My English Is Crap
You do, and always will, speak English far better than everyone in your English class (assuming you’re a native speaker, of course). This sounds blindingly obvious, but a lot of people seem to forget or belittle this fact. But it’s true. OK, you need to be a good teacher too, but you’re starting from a position of strength and your students themselves may be more nervous than you are…

2) The Trainer’s A Weirdo
Your trainer may, just possibly, and I’m not suggesting for a moment this is a common occurrence… be an idiot. There seems to be something curious about being a TEFL trainer. It’s a strange position of pathos mixed with power which can sometimes produce unexpected results. Anyway, to cut a long story short, there are some weirdos out there but what normally happens in those cases are that a rock solid class camaraderie quickly develops and you get through it anyway. But be warned.

3) Grammar Does My Head In
One of the things that preoccupies many trainees the most is grammar. They worry that they won’t be up to scratch or won’t be able to explain things properly. And this is a genuine concern. However, if you’ve been accepted on the course this means, in principle, that you are fit for the job or you shouldn’t be there. The simple fact is any normally literate person should be able to grasp a few fundamentals about the language even if they haven’t been in a classroom for many years. Don’t worry about it. And read a grammar book before the course – there are plenty to choose from.

4) I’m Too Old For All This
It seems to me that a large proportion of TEFL Certificate candidates are not about to start their first job. Some are students simply adding to their credentials or hoping for an easy way to tour the world, but many are hoping to start a second or third career well into middle age and are worried about it. Very worried. For some it’s a last stab at a new start before they become too old – in their eyes – for anything. Rest assured. Not only is teaching English to non-native speakers surprisingly easy to get into, but it’s also one of the few careers where somewhat advanced years and accumulated business experience is often looked upon very favourably indeed, especially in the professional world.

5) Which @*¿X#! Course Is Best?
If you want a qualification where no questions are asked (well, they will be, but you know what I mean), the Cambridge CELTA is the gold standard. The Trinity certificate is similar. Then there are three or four types of course to consider, or not. The first are the highly reputable ones with serious trainers who produce teachers to the CELTA standards. The second are the unfortunately prolific cowboy outfits with low or non-existent standards and results to match. And finally there are the on-line options with or without a face to face element or teaching practice, and a handful of weekend courses if you must. The simple fact is you should choose your certificate course extremely carefully, including the trainers and the syllabus, even if it’s Cambridge, but especially if it isn’t. Check testimonials but also some of the many on-line forums where ex- or former trainees discuss their experiences very frankly indeed.

6) My Confidence And Personality Suck
Well, maybe (you think) they do, and it's true that these are important aspects of being a teacher. Many people fear that they don’t have the right character for the job, especially if they are coming from a non-related field. This is something to work on, but there are as many types of teacher as there are teachers, and each brings a unique combination of qualities to their teaching environment. There’s room for all sorts out there, or rather in there, the classroom, where the door’s closed and you are the boss. Teaching practice on TEFL courses is about as unrealistic as you can get, with all those people watching you! You create the mood and the learning atmosphere in your real-world class without external interference and who’s to say yours won’t be the best there’s ever been?!

© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch EnglishWill Power English : "Cambridge CELTA Course: Top 6 Classic Worries"
Sab Will is a teacher, teacher trainer, fanatical blogger... and stuff.

Top 100 English Words

About This List

This list was taken from a search done on the British National Corpus of spoken and written English. The spoken aspect is often ignored which is a shame because this is exactly what a vast number of students want to improve in and have great problems with.

I've just included the top 10 written and spoken English words here but you can down load a free pdf I've put together with the top 50s of each. I'd have done both top 100s, but boy is that a labour of love or what!

I've also given little example sentences for each word and recorded the whole thing - more love and labour, I can tell you!

Here's a link to my list - left click to open or right click and chose 'Save As' to save to your computer. You need to save and then open as a pdf in order to get the recordings to open in a new window I'm afraid.

Pithy Observations

The main observations we can make are:
  • Spoken and written English are not the same
  • Some spoken ‘words’ like ‘erm’ and ‘mm’ do not occur in written English
  • We need different English words for different circumstances
  • Written English is not enough for effective English speaking
  • Many common written words are less important when speaking

Ideas for Teachers and Students

Here are some ideas for using this list in learning English:
  1. Get students to guess the top ten words themselves
  2. Learn the words by heart
  3. Listen before reading and try to understand everything
  4. Listen and repeat aloud until the accent is perfect
  5. Do a dictation: listen, write everything down and then check
  6. Read aloud to a friend and they write
  7. Create new sentences using the key words
  8. Write a story including some or all of the key words
  9. Print out and cut up the words and use in card games
  10. Spell the words aloud and students have to give the example sentence
  11. Students test each other: A) says word; B) says sentence
  12. Give top ten sentences – students put in order
  13. Students give parts of speech for each word
  14. Stop recording at random; students guess what comes next
  15. Students analyse a newspaper article and look for top written words
  16. Students analyse a radio recording and listen for top spoken words
  17. Students write a short diary entry without using the top 10 written words
  18. Students give a presentation without using the top 10 spoken words
  19. Your ideas are welcome!

Top 10 Most Common Words List

© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch EnglishWill Power English : "Top 100 English Words"
Sab Will is a teacher, teacher trainer, fanatical blogger... and stuff.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

So What is Teaching Anyway?

Sab: So, what is 'teaching' anyway?
T1: Well, it's... teaching people things, isn't it?

Sab: Teaching people what?
T2: Things they don't know!

Sab: And why would you want to do that?
T3: To help them.

Sab: Help them what?
T3: Help them know things they don't know!

Sab: And why would you want to do that?
T2: Because it will make their lives better.

Sab: In what way?
T1: In a lot of ways, maybe getting a new job, or more money or more respect...
T4: Or a new girlfriend!

Sab: Right! And what do you think it takes to be a good teacher?
T5: You have to love your subject.

Sab: Why do you say that?
T5: Because if you like your subject you are more enthusiastic, and your lessons are more interesting.

Sab: OK, what else?
T6: You need to like your students.

Sab: How do you mean?
T6: Well, if you like them as people, and know a bit about them, they will like you too and want to do well in your classes.

Sab: Does everyone agree with that?
T4: Yes, but also you have to be a good teacher, I mean, if someone is messing around you have to know how to deal with that or the lesson won't be so good. So you need good classroom management skills...
T5: And good people skills too.

Sab: Right! So, T7 - I see you've been listening closely to this discussion - can you sum up what teaching is about?
T7: Yes, it's really about helping people to learn new things which will be useful to them and make their lives better.

Sab: Great! And what are some of the things that go to make up a good teacher?
T8: I'd say it's a combination of being good at teaching and organising a class, also really liking the subject you're teaching, and then enjoying getting to know your students as people too a little bit.

Sab: Fantastic, and finally, can any of you tell me one great technique for helping your students to think and learn for themselves?
T1: Asking questions!

Sab: Why do you say that..?

© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch EnglishWill Power English : "So What is Teaching Anyway?"
Sab Will is a teacher, teacher trainer, fanatical blogger... and stuff.

Call For Cool Article Submissions

We get material, you get (more) famous!

And you can't say fairer than that.

As part of the relaunch of the Teacher Training Forum here at Hotch Potch English we're doing something very special.

Holding an on-line scratch 'n' sniff BBQ? No! Giving away free copies of incredible teaching books? No!! (That happens over on our ELT Resources Review blog). Offering dodgy teaching jobs all over the world? No!!!

What we are doing is opening up these pages to great ELT writers of all shapes and surprises. Here's a 'how it works' six of the best:

  1. You read some past articles to get to know our style
  2. You decide you love our style
  3. You send an idea or a finished 500-1000 word article roughly in said super-style
  4. We publish it and you get (even more) famous
  5. We both get loads of readers and comments
  6. A nice warm feeling is felt by all and the rest, as they say, is history 

Sound good to you? OK! Just a couple more points then, as a Q & A this time (variety is the spice of life - and blog writing - right?!).

Q: Do I keep the rights to my article?

A: Oh yes, every last one of them.

Q: Do I get paid?

A: No. Neither do I! The words 'labour' and 'love' come to mind.

Q: Can I submit something I have already had published elsewhere?

A: If you have the right to do so, absolutely.

Q: Could I eventually have several pieces published or do a series?

A: Sure, if they fit in with what our readers are enjoying reading.

Q: Who should it appeal to?

A: A global audience of new or experienced teachers interested in staying up to date with developments in the industry and improving themselves through learning new ideas, tips and tricks. Specifically, teachers tend to read our articles in their free time, so they should be both informative and entertaining as much as possible. Lists of key points on your topic are particularly popular and successful (hint hint)...

Q: What format should I send my work in?

A: Simple text is best, either in word format or in an e-mail.

Q: Any other tips?

A: Keep the profile of a typical Cambridge CELTA or DELTA trainee in mind when choosing your topic and you shouldn't go far wrong. Or failing that any enthusiastic, forward-thinking teacher you know.

This idea is very much about mutual benefit, and I hope that's obvious from the above. The aim is to bring as much useful and often fun activities and information to our readers as possible whilst getting a large number of new readers to discover your work.

You will find that my editorial process is very different from a stuffy serious academic journal or even a teaching newsletter. I'm looking for a fresh, enthusiastic and personable writing voice, with a fun aspect coming through if at all possible.

Having said that, I want quality content, just as good or better than that you might find in similar publications. I want to offer great stuff with added personality, not run-of-the-mill banality with added fluff. Hopefully you get where I'm coming from.

Don't worry, your submissions don't have to be wild and wacky, just well-written, original content on a topic you feel strongly about and believe you have something to say on - that'll do nicely.

We have a great family and feel here on this blog and I'd like to grow that as rapidly as possible, with your help. Are you on board?

If so, well, obviously just get in touch and we'll take it from there. There are plenty of days in the year so lots of opportunities to be published - even regular slotters would be welcome. Over to you, and fire to your fingers (without the flames)!

© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch EnglishWill Power English : "Call For Cool Article Submissions"
Sab Will is a freelance English teacher, trainer and coach. And stuff.


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