I’m now taking my second IELTS class, and the great thing is that I’ve already made lesson plans. Additionally, my class is much smaller – seven students as opposed to 17 – and they seem slightly more motivated and animated.
But there is still room for improvement … and I’m referring here to myself, as a teacher. My centre tries to promote as much student talking-time as possible, ideally aiming for as high as 80% student conversation … ideally. In reality, the teacher has to face a number of obstacles. I’ll save those for another, more general blog, as I want to dedicate this post to extra work, and tips to get the students talking.
First up, I need to make the students take notes (Vietnamese are not in the habit of doing this, as my centre manager explained). Instead, they will often just take a photo of the board. Secondly, once the student has sat down, they generally will not move until it is time to leave … three hours later.
I will now insist that they take out and use notebooks, the rationale being that the active process of writing will help them remember the words or phrases much better than taking a photo (which they may never look at) or relying on their memory.
Likewise, I will strongly recommend that instead of sitting and talking with the same person all class, they get up and move around, practice with different people (“But teacher, I am tired, I am lazy,” – I have actually heard these from people half my age ).
Now, without further ado, some extra work.
In Lesson Two, I started off with some compound nouns, based upon shopping. This was a way to introduce new vocabulary as well as filling time while late students arrive.
My manager suggested that this could be developed into a speaking exercise. For example, using the compound nouns ‘bulk shopping’, ‘window shopping’, ‘binge shopping’, ‘impulse shopping’ and ‘dumpster diving’, make a presentation with questions:
Have you ever made an impulse purchase ?
How often do you go window shopping ?
Do you ever buy in bulk ?
Is dumpster diving popular in Viet Nam ?
Then, what are the pros and cons of:
Basically, get the students speaking as much as possible. To help them develop longer, more complex sentences, I’ve given them sheets of discourse markers, and each week we focus on one type and select three words. For example, last week was ‘addition’; instead of saying ‘and’, they could use ‘additionally’, ‘furthermore’, or ‘moreover.’
This gets practiced when they have to link two basic sentences:
I like coffee. I like tea.
They could be linked by a simple ‘and’, but try using new discourse markers.
Sentences can be built up by using adjectives, adverbs, discourse markers, and by the use of clauses. This will entail relative pronouns … but that is for another lesson. The students have two months and hopefully they will see improvements after every lesson.
I’m getting a head start on my weekend class planning, and here’s the projected plan for my early morning class of nineteen young learners (13th April). It’s a mixed bag; I have some ideal students, some good but hyper-active students, some ultra-shy students, some recalcitrant students, some who are learning nothing, some who want to learn nothing, and some special-needs students. Thankfully my TA is amazing, but we both end up with vocal chords ripped to shreds, and questioning the meaning of life, or at least the meaning of doing this job. And after, we have two other classes.
One technique is to use one student as class captain, usually the meanest and noisiest. The responsibility can make that student an asset in the un-winable war on noise. I also have recourse to employ John Bercow, Speaker of the House in the UK Parliament for assistance:
And so, without further ado, the plan (and the best laid plans of mice and men …)
In small teams, the students have to write the name of an animal that can fly, one that can swim, then jump, then hiss. This will help review names of animals and give writing and spelling practice.
For this, we pass out small, wipeable boards and marker pens. We also make sure that a different team member writes each time. I know some students will NOT participate, so I will make a note of their names and pass the information onto to Student Support.
Following this, I want to see if the students can use the prepositions ‘on, in, under’. We have 14 flashcards of animals. I’ll ask one student per team to put a flashcard in a certain place e.g. ‘Put the elephant on the board’, or ‘Put the turtle in the bag.’
After I have given one or two instructions, I’ll use the best students to act as ‘thay’ and they can continue giving instructions.
I also want to revise ‘Do you like ?’ and the response, ‘Yes, I do’, or ‘No, I don’t.’ In pairs, the students can ask each other this question, relating to various flashcards that I hand them. Again, I’m sure some students will refuse to open their mouths, and again, their names will be taken. Hopefully, once the parents are informed, the students will start to work in the class.
Next it’s back to old-school grammar drill, and we’re still on the verb ‘to have’. I’ll choose four students and hand them an animal flashcard. I shall model first:
I have a tiger, you have a monkey, he has a turtle, she has a lion.
The students repeat the pattern, while the cards get changed. This helps them learn animal names and the subject-verb agreement.
Finally, before the book work, a chance to practice ‘Can you see .. ?’
I shall model one question: Can you see the rhino ? Where is it ?
After, the students can come up and ask. I’m looking for the students to answer in sentences with correct prepositions.
Then we hit the books and do a project. Fast-finishers can do a work sheet learning new vocabulary and doing a word search. This gives me a chance to hear as many of the students as possible read a few lines from their work books and assess how they are improving, or otherwise.
This weekend, I have a break until 13.00 … and no doubt I shall need it.
Tomorrow night I’m substituting this adult class. I’ve taught them before, so most of the faces should be familiar. I’m not sure they will be over the Moon to see me again; maybe their hearts will sink. So, as a warm up, while students turn up and get settled, a quick review of new and recent expressions. I’ll board five expressions and let the students match with the meaning:
over the moon
complete waste of time
lose your temper
must be a nightmare
my heart sank
Now they have to match with these:
a. A terrible situation or experience
b. to be totally happy
c. to be totally disappointed
d. to become very angry
e. doing something but it produces nothing; it is useless and pointless.
Now practice – which expression would you use here:
He lives above a shop that has open-air karaoke every night.
She got 95% in her test and is incredibly happy.
John was nearly hit by a motorcycle; he was furious.
When the students saw Thay Paul, they were unhappy and disappointed.
Trying to teach physics to dogs is not going to do any good !
I’ll ask the students what the woman is complaining about (the woman is complaining about some Asians speaking Korean in a USA coffee shop).
This is also a good chance for the students to hear other accents; the clip is from USA, so the voices will be different to my British. Furthermore, this can promote some new vocabulary. Is the lady being reasonable or unreasonable ? Does she have a fair point ? Is she right to complain ? How would the students feel if this happened to them ?
Following this, we can board some ‘dos and don’ts’ about complaining, then I’ll give a situation or situations. Students have five minutes to prepare a short conversation:
The food in a restaurant is cold and not properly cooked
A new smart phone doesn’t work properly
A hotel room is not as good as expected
A neighbour is having a loud party with karaoke … and it is 11.30pm on a Monday.
Following this, I’ll move onto the book work but with a difference. I’ve noticed how many students’ hearts sink when they have to open their books. After a conversation with a colleague, I hit upon an idea: I will do the book work, but as an activity or game. For example, the first exercise is pronunciation. How to pronounce ten words with correct stress and intonation. Instead of the students working from the book, I’ll say each word three different ways. In small teams, the students must then decide the correct version and say it. By saying it as a group or class, it prevent people from becoming embarrassed. The words include ‘experience’, ‘qualifications’ and ‘apply.’
Another book exercise involved writing questions about someone’s job. I’ll turn this into a questionnaire, students having to get up and ask each other questions. This involves speaking, listening and writing (& reading the questions) so it exercises many skills, as well as getting the students up from their seats (hopefully) and moving around.
This is basically one third of the book work covered without opening the book. But then, we have to finally take out the bad boy, open it up and start reading. Tonight’s reading is quite a chuck of text; the subject is asking rich business people to invest in a new idea. There is a show in the UK called ‘Dragon’s Den’, which features this concept, and apparently the US version is called ‘Shark Tank.’ What do these names suggest ? Into the dragon’s den is a British expression for going into or doing something unpleasant or dangerous.
As with any reading, the teacher must go through the text first and look for any problem words, or highlight useful, everyday expressions. These are then pre-taught.
Still, looking at a page of text can be daunting for a student, especially after a long working day. One way to break it down, is for students to work in pairs. One reads the first paragraph, then paraphrases it to the other. The process is then switched. However, the students may just prefer to read alone.
The last part of the lesson is speaking. Students are given some time to think up an invention of their own (they are given guides, for example, a new type of gadget, or food, or phone app. The point here is to get the students talking, learning how to ‘pitch’, what kind of language and presentation skills are needed. As a quick break, I can show some examples of people pitching ideas … but things don’t go to plan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYSSYm0b2wk
These are the notes for my new Level 1 class, early Saturday morning (16th March)
For this lesson, I’d like to try something ‘new’, an idea to really drill grammar at an early age so that it, hopefully, sticks and stays with the students. So first, the lesson objectives:
Theme: parks and nature vocabulary.
What can you see ? I see a flower (singular) I see flowers (plural)
Grammar: the verb ‘to have’
Warm up: Students normally arrive up to fifteen minutes late, so the first ten minutes of a lesson are spent on simple activities that will not be affected by the constant interruptions. At this level, two easy games are ‘Teacher says’ and ‘Musical Statues’.
Class rules: This is my first time with these students, and I need to make a balance between a happy learning environment and a controlled working classroom. Easier said than done ! My experience in Vietnam tells me that this is a long-term goal. That notwithstanding, some basic rules, which the students will hear and repeat are:
Listen to teacher and to others when they speak
Raise your hand if you want to speak, leave the room, drink water
Sit nicely in your chair
Revision games: After the rules, I’ll do some games with the purpose of reinforcing vocabulary from previous lessons. They have learnt some food words, and to say ‘I like’ or ‘I don’t like.’ I’ll put some flash cards of food around the room, ask for two students, then make them search for a certain card e.g.
“Where is … chicken ?”
They must find the card, then bring it to me, saying:
“Here you are,” to which I reply, “Thank you.”
One activity I like is to make the students ask each other questions in English. Thus, a student can hold up a card and ask, “What is it ?” (Normally the students, who shout their sweet little heads off in Vietnamese, can only manage a hint of a whisper in English). The answer has to be in the form of “It’s a …” and not just the single noun word shouted out, so “It’s a fish,” and not just “Fish !”
The students have to place the card on the whiteboard in one of two columns, either ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it,’ then say it out loud. As you can see, making the students speak in English as much as possible is the aim.
I then need to asses their command of the alphabet. I expect that most will not be able to recite the whole ABC, so we’ll have a run and write game. Depending on the class size, I’ll have two or three teams running to the board and writing a different letter. For example Team one will write ‘A’, Team two ‘B’, Team three ‘C’, then Team one write ‘D’ and so on. this should be a fast game, and every member of the class will have to take part at least once. And then, onto grammar.
Over the decades, English teaching has moved away from grammar-based learning (conjugating verbs ad nauseam) to minimal grammar and more speaking. I’ve noticed that so many students, even after studying for years, STILL make basic mistakes with grammar. Therefore, I’m going old school:
With the TAs help, I’ll drill the verb ‘to have’:
I have you have he has she has we have they have
Tôi có / bạn có / anh ấy có / Cô bé có / chúng ta có / họ có
The verb ‘to have’ is one of the most useful, and after the drilling, we will put it into practice. The class have learnt (and hopefully remembered) some classroom items (ruler, pen, pencil, etc). I’ll give cards to some students and they must say, “I have a ruler, you have a pen.” After, I’ll ask some students to the front. They will hold cards and I will ask, “What does he have ?” and I will drill and repeat until the class is comfortable with “He has a …’ or ‘She has a ….”
The TA here will need to translate the verb ‘does’ as they may not have learnt it. However, by repeating the verb in a short simple question, they should acquire the meaning.
Then onto the book work. There are six words to learn:
flower, tree, rock, river, lake and hill.
After the students have seen the flash cards and repeated them, we need to see if they can name them correctly. After the drilling, a kinetic activity is a good idea, to get them up from their chairs and be lively. Team games are always good. Here, I can board the six flash cards and students have to throw a sticky ball and try to hit the picture. To make it more of a learning experience, the opposing team has to say what picture to hit. Thus, the students are speaking to each other, repeating the key vocabulary and acquiring new verbs (throw, aim) and expressions (well done, bad luck, excellent).
Now it’s the lesson and some culture. Our theme is ‘The Park’ and here is a very famous painting:
We can use this to illustrate plurals. In the painting there are two dogs. I will then stress the key question in this lesson:
What can you see ?
I see a monkey. I see dogs or even I see two dogs. How many boats, how many umbrellas, how many trees, how many lakes ?
And then, as in days of yore, back to grammar and conjugating the verb ‘to have’.
This could be seen as old-fashioned, will probably be seen as boring but, if it works, if students automatically say the correct verb, it will be worth it. We shall see.
This is the lesson plan for the Sunday morning class, 10th March.
Lesson seek to teach new vocabulary and pronunciation, while also revising and practising various words from previous classes. Today’s focus is on basic sentence construction, asking and answering: ‘What is it ?’ It’s a ….’
What is it? Cái gì đó? It’s a đó là ….
Last week, the students learnt some new animals, and that lesson can be found here:
We want to get the students speaking as much as possible, and to each other, not just the teacher – student dynamic. So, to kick off, the students will greet each other, saying, “Hello, I’m …. ” I shall first model this with my TAs, so the students can hear and then copy.
Then, to reinforce last week’s drill, we have an ABC song:
This is a different version to last week, and can be used to drill both the alphabet and different colours.
Then we have a ‘Teacher says’ game, which helps the students with listening skills, and being able to respond to instructions. The commands are based on previously-learnt directions such as ‘sit down’, ‘stand up’, ‘clap’, then I will introduce ‘click your fingers.’ I can demonstrate how, and introduce the word ‘thumb.’ Then we can imitate various animals. After this active game, we move into the target language.
I’ll put some picture cards on the board, basic objects that the children already know (book, ball, car, doll, chair) and ask ‘What is it ?’ Here, I will just get a single word answer (the noun), but I want the answer in the form of a question. Therefore, I will drill ‘It’s a ..’ This takes time, weeks, not minutes, but eventually it becomes natural. Parents can really help the students at home by copying this exercise and insisting on the answer being framed ‘It’s a …’ (of course, some nouns require ‘an’ not ‘a’ but Rome wasn’t built in a day !)
Then, to make it a game, two students have to run to the board and hit the appropriate card. After, they take the card and become ‘thay’ (teacher). They hold the card in front of them and ask the class, ‘What is it ?’ Now, many students at this age are very shy speaking English, so they get a lot of encouragement and praise.
Apart from the new vocabulary learnt from the books, students absorb so much from what the teachers say. Using this I, along with my magnificent TAs, repeat words and expressions designed to increase their vocabulary; excellent, well done, good job, the basic adverb ‘very.’ To get the students used to taking turns, I will point to a pair and say, ‘First John and Anna, then Bella and Tommy.’
Moving on, I want to get the class comfortable with the alphabet, letter order, pronunciation and an introduction to writing. Today I’ll highlight the letter ‘B’. They already know bag, ball, book and the colour blue. The students can share a mini writing board and practice writing the words. Next up, we need a more kinetic activity.
I teach basic prepositions (on, in, under) by a chant with actions and an easy clap pattern. We shall chant and then practice. I’ll put two chairs and a basket in front and ask the students, in pairs, to put a ball either on, in or under one of the aforementioned objects. The chairs will be of different colours, so it’s great to see how they are able to differentiate between them. All the time, I make the students says what is happening. When they are comfortable with the game, the students themselves can take turns giving instructions.
Today’s new vocabulary is related to the main topic of animals and pets. The four new verbs will be jump, walk, fly, swim. To change the pace of the lesson, I’ll show a quick video:
This video is aimed at older children as the vocabulary is quite sophisticated, but I will be able to use the word ‘high’ and start to use superlatives (highest).
We can mime this actions, and match them to animals, until the students are comfortable with them. Later in the lesson, we shall revisit them to help the students retain the verbs.
And so, to the books, a mixture of listening, following instructions, colouring and pointing to the correct noun.
We will be near the end of the lesson so we want to finish with some fun activities. In a circle, the students will be grouped into rabbits, cats, birds or fish. When I say rabbits, the students in that group must stand up and jump; with birds fly, and so on.
To really drill ‘What is it ?’ the final game will be a student holding a picture card or flash card and asking the name. The answer must be in the form of ‘It’s a ….’
Finally, we say goodbye, see you next week. High fives and goodbyes.
Before the final speaking test, I’ve prepared a list of some useful vocabulary and expressions that will come in very useful. Furthermore, in response to one of my students, I’ve included an exercise on relative pronouns.
Tomorrow night is the last of the four-week series of lessons with one of my favourite classes. Next week they have a test, so a lot of the lesson will be taken up with review work, some reading and grammar. Very important, but can be a tad dry. I want to get the students speaking English as much as possible yet this, I regret to say, can sometimes be a challenge.
I’ll write another blog specifically about the issues I’ve faced trying to motivate my Vietnamese students but, for now, the lesson plan.
The main theme is the actor Sir Ian McKellen. Immediately, we have two interesting points about his name, namely, what does ‘Sir’ mean and why is his name spelt ‘McK …’ ?
‘Sir’ (‘Dame’ for a lady) is an award given by the Monarch (king or queen) for services to the country. It replaces ‘Mr’ so instead of Mr McKellen, he is now called Sir Ian. The ceremony can be viewed here (Ringo Starr of The Beatles is being knighted by Prince William):
As for the ‘McK’, Mc is Gaelic (Irish & Scottish) for Mac or son of. Therefore McKellen means ‘son of Kellen’.
Sir Ian has had a long and distinguished career, in both theatre and film. I was lucky enough to see him on stage in London in a play by the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, ‘Waiting for Godot’, but he is surely more famous, worldwide, for being in some Hollywood blockbusters.
So first, to warm up, a word bomb game. I’ll board the word ‘cinema’ and see how many words, phrases and names can be elicited from the class.
Then we’ll move into a quick Present Perfect review. I’ll write:
I have see many films.
What is the error here ? What would be the contraction of ‘I have’ ? How would the negative be formed ? How could this be turned into a question ?
The present perfect is formed by subject + have or has + past participle (verb 3). Thus, I have seen, not ‘see’. The contraction is ‘I’ve’, the negative becomes ‘I haven’t seen ‘ while the question form is ‘Have you seen ?’ After this modelling, A few exercises for the students.
I have (meet) Sir Ian
You have (read) ‘Lord of the Rings.’
We have (study) a lot of expressions
She has (go) to the cinema many times.
The students have to give the three forms of these short sentences. Now we’ll turn to Sir Ian. Some students may recognise his face, but I’m sure all of them will know him from at least one of these films: This clip is nearly ten-minutes long, so I’ll just show the top two films, the ‘X-Men’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (7:19 – end).
I like using ‘real-life’ videos, as they are great for hearing English being used naturally. The problems in listening can be offset by the benefits in learning new expressions, and many videos actually have subtitles. I often play a short excerpt from a video several times, breaking it down so the students start to recognise the patterns, then practice among themselves.
In the whole clip, I would highlight the following expressions:
We’re counting down
There’s a lot to choose from
A great opportunity
Stole the film
Then, to practise, match them with these sentences:
Some people love Justin Bieber, some people hate him. He ……..
What food shall we order, ……………
The test is in five days, ……..
Brad Pitt was so good he …………
Going to Australia will be a ……………. to learn more English.
At this point, the book work can commence. They’ll learn about Sir Ian, and read a short interview with him. Questions fall into six categories and he gives succinct answers to each. So now it’s the turn of the students to get up from their chairs (they always need motivating to do that despite my continual promulgations that moving around will create energy and lessen the boredom of a three-hour lesson), speak with different people and practice English. It generally falls on deaf ears. A teacher needs to be patient; it’s part of the job.
The questions will be based on but amended from the interview they have just read:
What Kind of music do you like ?
Can you name any plays by Shakespeare ?
What time do you usually get up ?
How do you relax ?
Can you play a musical instrument ?
What skill(s) would you like to acquire ?
What is the best thing about HCM City ?
What is the best book you’ve read OR the best film you’ve seen ?
There is a lot of book work tonight, so it’s good to break it up with some games or a complete change of pace. I used this still last night in my IELTS class, where it met with a pretty luke-warm reception. I showed them how to ‘read’ a picture. First, ask what the students think is happening in this shot. What do the characters feel about about each other ? I mentioned the emotions evoked by the use of colour; here dull – blue and grey, but as we get closer to the lady (Faye Wong), the colours turn red – the sauce bottles, the Coke machine. Then look at the symbol of her T-shirt, look where her eyes are staring ….
We could then move onto film genres – make a class survey by dividing the teams in two and assigning one captain to each. They have to collate information such as favourite type of film, Vietnamese or American, how often do they go to the cinema, do they ever stream films at home and with whom do they go to the cinema ?
To end, the Family Fortune game seems very popular, where the students are put into small groups, given a board and marker, and have to come up with four answers to various questions.
Additionally, I could use some photos from an internet search, about Vietnam, and ask the teams to tell me an interesting story. I will encourage them to expand their sentences by employing adjectives, adverbs, idioms and expressions.
Then, to quote Prospero in Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’
I’ll be using abbreviations throughout these blogs so for clarity, here’s a short run-down of the most common ones:
Back to Board (B2B). Any activity where a student can’t see what is behind them, but has to guess or deduce from clues by the other students. It could be the name of a famous person, or a small YouTube clip. I often show a funny film and drill students how to describe what they see using the subject – verb – object formula.
Call My Bluff (CMB). Based on the British TV show, students are put into groups and given a list of higher-level words. Each word has three definitions, two false, one true. The students have to read out the word, maybe varying the pronunciation each time, state the type of word (noun, verb etc) and a definition. The other team has to guess the correct answer. This can be a fun way to introduce new vocabulary.
Family Fortunes (FF). This works well with larger classes. Students are put into small groups and given a board and marker. The teacher then asks for four answers to a general question. The students ‘win’ imaginary money for each answer that matches the teacher’s four. Example: I have been to four places in Viet Nam, not counting HCM City. What are those four places ? Other good questions are my four favourite Vietnamese dishes, four things I like (and dislike) in VN and favourite types of films or music.
Snakes and ladders (SNL). Based on the popular children’s board game, ideally, space permitting, I use the floor of the classroom. With markers (NOT permanent markers, mind you), the students mark out a board, a large square. On some squares there is a red dot meaning go back 2 spaces, or a blue square, go forward 1 or 2 squares. One square is ‘haha’ – the player has to return to their original place. In a big enough room, I use students who begin at opposite corners, and have to complete one circuit to win. I ask questions which any one in the team can answer – or you could ask students individually – and then they roll a die. In a smaller room, I just make the game on the whiteboard. This can be very exciting and it’s a good idea to establish the rules first i.e. is it first past the end square OR exact number to finish. This game can sometimes be too popular and become too boisterous.
Stop the bus (STB). This is a simple question and answer games, used to warm up or wind down classes. The teacher asks a question, the students shout out the answer, but first have to shout, “Stop the bus !” If they answer without the STB, no points are awarded. The game can be slightly varied, using different nouns e.g. Stop the Taxi, Stop the Grabbike or even, with a lively class, make them get up and sing, “Stop in the name of love.”
Word Battleship (WB). I often use this as a warm-up exercise. On the board draw a 4×4 grid, labeled A – D and 1 – 4. Assign different scores to each square on a separate sheet. Ask sixteen questions (can be general knowledge or a review of recent lessons, grammar, vocabulary). If the student gets the answer right, they can choose a square and you write in the number. I usually have 5 as the lowest, then 10, 20, 50 and one 100-pointer. To engage all students, you could ask them questions individually.
Word cards. I got this from an IELTS website. Make a list of recently – learnt words and expressions. The number and complexity will depend on the level of the class, but at least five or six but no more than ten. Print out and cut into individual word units. Put them in a small container. The students are placed in small groups and given the container with words. Each student has to speak on a basic theme using as many words or cards, as possible, within a set time. They can spread the words in front of them and drop them back into the container once they have been uttered.