And … listen to music (with lyrics), films (short clips – 30 seconds to 1 minute) and TV shows with subtitles.
Any English song with lyrics (words) will be a great way to learn, and fun as well.
Film ‘King’s Speech’
TV show – ‘Eastenders’
This is a ‘soap opera’ – a TV drama that is shown two or three times a week. Each episode last 30 minutes and has many different characters. This drama is set in eat London, so many people have an accent typical of that area. See how much you understand.
Tonight is what we call a ‘mixed bag’; the lesson includes speaking, reading, listening and grammar. It’s Monday; students will be arriving after work, tired, maybe not entirely motivated, maybe not entirely in the mood for a three-hour lesson, maybe committed to watching the clock move it’s intractable hands from 6 to 9. IELTS is a hard course, it requires work, energy, motivation. The teacher’s thankless task is to bring the book alive, motivate the unmotivated and ignore, rise above, the veiled insults and sarcasm that is prevalent in most classes. But, enough, time to put noses to grindstones and upload tonight’s plan.
The first 15 / 20 minutes or so are a French farce of people coming and going, greeting each other, moving chairs, chatting on phones. I do a short warm up exercise, introducing vocabulary or phrases. It provides useful expressions for punctual students, whereas latecomers will not have missed any book work. Tonight it’s going to be common fixed expressions and in which situation they can be used:
This one’s on me Let me thinkabout it It doesn’t matter Thanks for coming
I don’t believe a word of it I’ll be with you in a minute As I was saying It was lovely to see you I don’t get the point I see what you mean
You look great today I’ll be making a move then Just looking, thanks
Match the phrase(s) with the situation
You meet an old friend
You are asked a question but need time to consider
Someone tells you a story – you think it is false.
Friends drinking in a pub / bar
You go into a shop but not necessarily to buy anything
A customer arrives but you are busy
You don’t understand what someone is trying to prove
You understand what someone thinks (but not necessarily agree with)
There is a small problem / Someone upsets you but you want to make it OK
To continue with a conversation that was interrupted.
These fixed phrases are so important in making students sound like natural speakers, which will result in higher IELTS scores.
The next section will be expressing likes, dislikes or having no strong feeling either way. A good activity will involve different skills being used, so here I will play three songs, in English naturally, but from different countries, and with different accents. I want to elicit the students’ opinions of the music and how much they can understand. First, the presentation, new vocabulary:
Like: I absolutely love … I’m crazy about … I (really) like I’m into I’m a big fan of … I’m quite keen on I haven’t heard (seen/read) this before, but I think it’s great
No strong opinion: I don’t mind I have mixed feelings about …. It’s OK I don’t really have any strong views / feelings either way
Dislike: I hate I detest I can’t stand I don’t really like I think it’s awful I’m not a big fan of … I’m not that keen on …
Secondly, we could play a ‘word bomb’. In this activity, a generic word is boarded, in this case, ‘music’. The students shout out as many words they can, a word-association game. Once the board is full, or the students have no more ideas, we can expand; types of musical genres, instruments, musical terminology, ways of listening to music, of buying music, musicians, bands, solo artists, people who work in the industry. This type of game is good as there are few ‘wrong’ answers and the speed can encourage shyer students to speak and participate (note comparative of shy can be shier or shyer).
First, from Australia, we have Kylie Minogue. The lyrics start at 00.30
The students will play the role of examiner and candidate. One will ask questions and the other will be expected to answer in an IELTS-style manner, ie, long sentences, discourse markers, good grammar and syntax, appropriate intonation, eye contact and body language.
I have already given the students tips of ‘buying time’ or filling up ‘dead air’ by employing expressions such as:
That’s a good / interesting question
Let me think …
Well, I would say …
How can I put it … ?
Of course, these mustn’t be over-used. Students will also be encouraged to stretch their vocabulary, and self-check:
Is that the right word ?
By which I mean …
Have I used that in the correct sense ?
After this it’s time to hit the books. As mentioned, the tasks are varied and I want to pace them so that all students feel they have understood before moving on to a new subject. Tonight we also have the three ways of pronouncing the -ed form of regular verbs:
Pronunciation of -ed past tense verbs
Words have 3 end sounds:
If the word ends with:
ch / f / k / p / s / sh / thi The sound is ‘t’ look = ‘lookt’
t /or / d/ The sound is ‘id’ visit – ‘visitid’
Other sounds are ‘d’ bang = ‘bangd’
What is the correct pronunciation for these regular verbs ?
Look = Looked / laugh = laughed / end =
beg = / visit = kiss =
brush = / breath = love =
Read these sentences:
He cleared up the mess / He rolled up the newspaper / I have visited Hue
No Homework ! That sounded good / Teacher shouted, ‘No way !’
We all worked hard today / Tom talked so much / The students played many games and laughed till their sides burst.
To end, I like to expose the students to short video clips using a variety of Englishes (as there is so much variance even in the same city with slang, pronunciation, argot, accent, dialect, local words etc). To make it more relevant, I look for a Vietnam-related theme. One of my favourites is this chap, a serious beer enthusiast, who has just discovered a beer from Vietnam, Sai Gon Red.
I want the students to hear a different accent from mine (I aim for a standard British variety), learn some new vocabulary and also watch the para-linguistics: the expressions, intonation, body language. As my beer-drinking friend has just discovered, to paraphrase The Smiths, “some beers are better than others.”
Tonight’s lesson focuses on reading and listening, quite passive activities so, to offset this, I’ll do some warm up exercises that will be (hopefully) relevant, interesting and stimulating.
The first exercise needs to be quite light and easy. Students arrive at various times and I don’t want the task interrupted, nor have to keep explaining for latecomers. At the same time, it is not fair that those who are punctual should have some unproductive ‘downtime’.
Yesterday was ‘one of those days’ – nothing seemed to go right but I’ll take my own advise and try to turn the lemons into lemonade: I’ll use it as a learning exercise.
I’ll board some information and then show the students a slide of various pictures and see if they can construct an interesting, flowing narrative. Later in the lesson, I’ll have a task where they have to build longer sentences utilising discourse markers, adjectives and adverbs, so this will give me a general view of their capabilities.
The narrative: 6.50 leave for work 7.40 – 9.40 Young Learners class (21 students) 10.10 arrive home 10.11 – 14.30 wedding party across the street 10.30 – 12.00 prepare work online 17.00 – 21.30 another wedding party but much louder, more drunken karaoke singers 18.00 go for coffee BUT 23.30 Tottenham Vs Manchester United (0 – 1) so ‘All’s well that ends well.’
Vocabulary: cancellation / hyper-active / irritating / excruciating /connection / deafening / anti-smoking / culture shock / a real handful / “A plague on both your houses !”
After, we’ll do a sentence-building exercise. I’ll show how to turn a basic sentence into something more elaborate:
Make longer, more interesting sentences:
I like music but I don’t like karaoke.
Although I love both listening to and playing music, I absolutely detest karaoke because I hear it so frequently in my neighbourhood and I find it abhorrent.
Expand these basic sentences:
I have been to Paris but not Berlin.
She liked the film so she read the book.
His girlfriend asked him to stop playing video games but he didn’t listen and she left him.
The last exercise will lead into the book work, (where students have to look at pictures of various people, some world famous, other not so) and attempt to deduce the reason for their fame. I’ll show six photos of famous Vietnamese, from history, sports and the arts. The students should be warmed up by now and be willing to discuss with partners or in groups who the people are, why they are famous, dates, any information.
Non-Vietnamese may not know many but they may be surprised by the last (a clue there)photo; they may know her without knowing it.
This should stimulate some good discussion especially in a mixed-age class. The first four are historical figures, and it’s fairly obvious what kind of person the fifth man is, and why he’s famous. The last figure could stump the students, but if they look at her, maybe they can guess what field she’s in; the way she looks, the manner in which she holds her head.
The answers are:
Võ Nguyên Giáp (General who defeated the French in 1954) Trung Sisters (defeated the Chinese around 40 AD / CE) Lê Lợi ( 15th C emperor) Võ Thị Sáu (Student activist against the French) Hoang Xuan Vinh (First Vietnamese to win Gold at the Olympics) Ngô Thanh Vân (Model & actress – she was in ‘The Last Jedi’)
NOTE: Võ Thị Sáu could be a controversial figure and living in Vietnam, one has to be sensitive and delicate about certain subjects. I include her because she is a famous Vietnamese woman, with streets named after her.
Tonight’s reading exercise is practising scanning or skimming through a text, to help develop speed reading, finding pertinent information in a limited amount of time. There will be a block of text and students are given 90 seconds or 2 minutes to find the answers to some questions.
The secret is, of course, to read the questions first then just look for the answers, skimming over unnecessary text, in the same way as a listening test requires reading the questions, only listening for those answers.
After break, the lesson changes gear into listening. Many students find this the hardest part, and each track may need to be played several times. I usually play the entire text once through, then repeat but in short segments.
The last half-hour needs to be a ‘wind-down’ section. As they have focused on reading and listening, the activities should be active and fun. A general knowledge test can be entertaining, the class put into groups and points awarded. Depending on the mood of the class, we could try a B2B game – one student has to guess either a famous person or describe a photo or video clip from clues given by the team-mates. A time limit could be set to make it more dramatic.
It is good to see the students leave smiling and exhilarated from the games as opposed to shoulders hunched and shattered expressions from a grammar-overload. The students, like the Force, awaken !
Tomorrow evening, 7th January, the class will focus on speaking, pronunciation and present simple/continuous grammar. I aim to get the students speaking as much as possible with as many different people as possible. I intend to kick off with a warm-up exercise, something light while late students arrive.
I’ll show some new compound nouns to do with shopping
After defining, and demonstrating the pronunciation, I will ask the students to match with the following photos:
And after some binge or impulse shopping, this could be the reaction:
To encourage students to speak, I’ll ask them what they think is happening in the photos, then elicit more and more information. Describe how people look, what they are doing (to link with the present continuous grammar), why they are doing it and how they feel about the types of shopping.
This can be an activity for the whole class to join in, relax the students and let them feel confident to shout out answers. We’ll then turn to working in pairs. I’ll show four slides and ask the pairs to tell me the story:
I’ll ask two or three pairs, but the basic story is quite straightforward. To make it more relevant to IELTS, we’ll see how we can develop a basic sentence into a more elaborate, interesting one, using adjectives and adverbs.
Many students, when describing a photo, will use pronouns – “She is asleep.” This should be replaced by naming the subject, (a girl) then giving more information (age, clothes, surroundings, appearance etc) and by employing discourse markers to link the ideas into longer, IELTS-friendly sentences.
An example would be: A young girl with long, brown hair is sleeping at her school desk. She appears to be a public school student due to her uniform of white blouse and blue skirt. Furthermore, she sits in an old chair with a thin wooden desk, typical of schools. Additionally, she has a black ribbon in her hair but her face is covered by her arms. It can clearly be seen that other students are also finding it hard to stay awake.
After this activity, we’ll move onto an IELTS-style speaking test. In pairs, preferably new couples, they can act out a Part One test. Here, the examiner will spend four to five minutes asking basic questions of the student, subjects such as where are you from, interests, job, studies, family etc. However, these are just leading questions, there is no interaction.
The examiner will be looking for answers that are relevant, neither too short nor too long, use correct grammar, employ good vocabulary and are given in well-structured sentences.
After this, it’ll be a case of ‘hitting the books‘. Students need to realise that in many cases, a teacher’s hands are tied – we have to teach certain pages or subjects and it can’t always be entertaining or wildly interesting … but we can try. One reason why teaching is so exhausting is that the class depends on the energy radiating from the teacher (who may well feel under par) even when we are confronted by bored faces, unmotivated students, loud yawns, mournful sighs and obsessive, repetitive, pleading looks at the clock … which never seems to move.
To end, I may try a ‘Family Fortunes’ (FF) game or eyewitness. I’ll show two slides of faces, give them two minutes then ask them to describe what they have seen, as if giving a report to the police. It’s interesting to see what students find as important. It can also be fun to use a famous person in the ‘line up’; in Vietnam, I use the singer / TV personality Hari Won.
At the end of the lesson, the students should have learnt: new vocabulary, which words are stressed in normal conversation, should feel comfortable using present simple or continuous … and have spent most of the lesson speaking and listening to each other.
First IELTS class at my new centre, and if you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know my previous experiences with IELTS have been less than glorious. However, I was optimistic about this class; I would only be teaching reading, listening and speaking. No more having to read (often poorly-written) essays about graphs or charts.
One of my first students said she was, “Very excited.” I thought she meant about the lesson – but no, she was excited about New Year’s Eve and what she would be doing after class. Oh well … nevermind.
I thought it would be good to immediately get the students mixing and talking to each other, get them up from their seats, so I prepared a questionnaire. They had to interview different classmates and learn a little about them
Gather information about your classmates
Why are you studying IELTS ?
Where would you most like to visit and why ? Would you like to live abroad ?
What is the hardest thing about learning English ? How do you solve this ?
How often do you use English ? Do you need English at work ? Do you write, read or speak English everyday ?
What do you like most about western culture or countries ?
What idioms do you know ? Which are your favourites ? Do you understand why people use these idioms ?
This lead into the idiom it’s raining cats and dogs which most students had heard (it means raining heavily).
Today’s reading and listening was based on types of housing and areas. I boarded some extra terms:
gritty / industrial
quite / safe / residential
boring / peaceful / suburban
bustling / vibrant / city centre
Which would you apply to these:
All photos are from the UK
New vocabulary introduced included:
apparently – something you believe to be true
conversely – the opposite, on the other hand, however
bear with me – please wait a very short time
Pronunciation focused on dates – the difference between 3rd, 13th and 30th.
Grammar was adjective-noun phrases – such as a stressful journey, a peaceful holiday, delicious food, expensive watch etc.