Recycling lessons: “Reissue, repackage, repackage …”

31st January 2019

One of the less interesting aspects of teaching is lesson planning; I can easily spend an hour or more trying to make activities or find suitable video clips for a class. It can be worthwhile if said activity is a success, but quite often the reverse occurs leaving one with a sense of futility. All that time wasted …and for what ?

To counter this we can, with the necessary tweaking, use and reuse parts of previous lessons for different classes and thereby justify the time spent on creating slides that may only have been employed for a few minutes (having taken considerably longer to create).

It’s early afternoon, I have two more classes at my centre this week, one for young teens the other for actual teens, and I’m not entirely enamoured of either class. Still, needs must … so I open the student book, and see the subject is UNESCO (which should be interesting) but then I see the vocabulary; words such as ‘heritage’. I see the general knowledge section, mentioning places such as Pompeii, then referencing the Tower of Hercules. My students are Vietnamese and most, if not all, attend public schools. At age ten, eleven, twelve, it is highly unlikely they will know these places. It is also highly unlikely they will want to know these places.

There’s going to have to be some pre-teaching before the main book work and, as it’s Tet Holiday next week, I’m think I’m justified in making the lesson more game or activity based. Tet is also a time of tradition and superstition, which was the subject of last night’s adult class, so I will be able to re-use some slides, video clips and class work. The adults were at level 1, so their language skills are about the same, if not less, then these young teens. Furthermore, I will adapt and recycle for tomorrow’s class thus making the effort totally viable in terms temporal (“I never knew you wrote such bloody awful poetry,”).

As in cinema, my centre favours a ‘show don’t tell approach.’ Therefore, I’ll show a short YouTube clip about Unesco. There will be ten sites, and I’ll write the countries on the board. On paper, I’ll write the names of the sites and I’ll stick them around the room, making sure that they remain there and not torn down, eaten or generally mutilated in some way. Telling students (at least in Vietnam) NOT to do something is an sure-fire invitation for them to do exactly what they have been admonished NOT to do and I kid you NOT. In my first centre, which was modest and low-tech, the rooms had old, cantankerous CD players. Students were told not to touch them. I walked into class one day and found one boy sitting with the plug in his mouth, sucking happily away. He wasn’t a Kindergarten child … he was in his early teens.

Back to the use of video clips; I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for appropriate clips. So many videos take forever to start, with opening credits and endless introductions that are merely exercises in tautology. If one can find a clip that “does what it says on the tin,” bookmark it – It’s gold.

I can also reuse slides showing various aspects of Tet Holiday and ask the students what they mean – what is ‘lucky money’ ? What special food is eaten, what clothes are worn … and why ? At this age, some role-playing could be fun … the students can act out for me the procedure for giving and receiving lucky money.

Another useful teaching ‘trick’ is to reverse the class dynamics, and have the students teach me Vietnamese, correct my pronunciation and grade my performance. They learn different English skills here, to instruct as opposed to being instructed, and as it’s fun and they are in control, it doesn’t seem like a lesson … but it is. We teachers can be a pretty sneaky bunch … we have to be … however the only object is to make sure the students leave the class having learnt new words and been given the chance to practise using them. The ends justify the means.

Adult Class Level 1. Cross my palm with silver …

30th January 2019

The theme of tonight’s class ?

It doesn’t take a fortune teller to predict tonight’s lesson is about … fortune telling, predictions and the use of the future tense phrase ‘going to.’ Firstly, I will make some predictions about tonight’s class:

  1. Most students will be late
  2. I shall ask students to work together and speak English; they shall speak in Vietnamese
  3. At least one student will fall asleep
  4. During the reading and listening section, there will be sighs, yawns and clicking of pens
  5. I shall encourage students to get up, move around, speak with different partners; nobody will move.

And now, without further ado, the lesson plan

I’ll show a slide of the above five images and elicit feedback. This will lead into the first speaking activity, where I want to combine the theme with practising ‘going to’, as well as getting the students up and talking. To this end, I’ll prepare a questionnaire. The students have to interview each other.

What are you going to do for Tet Holiday ?




Do you believe in fortune telling ? Why ?




Have you had your fortune told ? Why not ?




Do you have any superstitions ?




Do you think you are going to pass your English test ?




What special things are you going to do at Tet ?




The students must ask two classmates the same question and then record the response. If they need some prompting about special Tet customs, I can show the following webpage and ask them if they agree:

https://www.victoriahotels.asia/blog/10-things-to-know-about-lunar-new-year/

As it’s Tet next week, and this is the last lesson of the short teaching block, I want to make the lesson more entertaining. Tying in with the theme of predicting future actions, I’ll show some funny clips. I’m sure you can guess the task; the students watch a normal situation, then have to predict what happens. What better way to start than with former President G.W. Bush: The clip I want starts at 7:14

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhmdEq3JhoY

Next one is the elephant clip at 1:54

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUVuaja6u0E

The following should please my students as it involves some Chinese (the Vietnamese have certain views on the Chinese, but this is not an appropriate forum to discuss that).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4H4gLEOmWrY

Finally, this clip can start at 0:05

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPyFzLeRYpg

And so … to books. My classes generally focus on the passive activities of reading and listening, hence my desire to promote as much speaking as possible. After the books, there will be some role-playing games where the students will be given some cards (depicting money, travel, luck etc) and they have to ‘read’ their partners fortune. We could see who can make the most outlandish predictions. New vocabulary can be generated by a ‘word bomb’ game, using the word ‘luck’, for example how to form the adjective from the noun and vice versa (success and successful), as well as encouraging the use of adverbs; he will be tremendously successful, she will be incredibly famous, they will marry and be unbelievably happy.

If time allows, I can do an exercise where students practise opinion phrases. I can play some English-language music, maybe three excerpts from three different genres, and ask what they think of them; which are their favourites and why.

After Tet, the students have some English tests. I will offer to help, ask the students if they want to revise any subject, if they want me to go over any grammar. I think we can all predict the answer to that one.

Teenage Class: The Truth is Out There.

Saturday 12th January 2019

The theme of the lesson is ‘trust and truth,’ and is split between reading and listening in the first half, followed by a speaking section in the second.

It’s also my first time with this class as their permanent teacher, so getting off to a good start is paramount. This means having fun and creating a conducive learning atmosphere but also stating class rules and stating the consequences for breaking said dictums.

I’ll start with a STB game. Students will probably be arriving up to fifteen minutes late, so they won’t miss any new work, while those who manage to arrive on time aren’t left waiting around. The game can be used to review recently-learnt vocabulary (in the last lesson I see they encountered such phrases as ‘off the beaten path’, ‘culture shock’ & ‘left to your own devices.’

We can then talk about different cultures. I’ll show a little of this YouTube clip (it has English subtitles which is great for my students, and the speaker is from USA so he has a different accent to mine).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHnQKvU8OiA&t=547s

Following this, I’ll show my Friends (men) sheet (I’ll put the link below). This will lead into the lesson, the theme of trust and trustworthiness. I’ll introduce the students to my ‘friends’ (yes, they are just five random photos from Google) and ask them which ones they would trust and why. They will also meet ‘Simon’ who will feature in the second part of the lesson.

https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2018/12/28/friends-men-teaching-sheet/

We’ll then move onto the Truth or False game. Here, I board three things I have done, or achieved. Two are false but one is true. The students have to ask me questions to determine the correct answer. Tomorrow the three will be:

I worked for Apple in Sweden

I have riden an elephant in Thailand

I have fluent Vietnamese, but I speak with a Huế accent

I speak a little Swedish so that could convince them that the first is true. However, my knowledge of all things tech is pitiful, so they could easily see through that. Similarly, by asking me a basic question in Vietnamese, they will, within microseconds detect the fib. The answer, therefore is:

The students can then copy the activity in small groups, while I monitor that students are speaking English (which is the whole point of any speaking activity). I will them introduce them to the phrase ‘call my bluff‘, for example, if I claim to be fluent in Vietnamese but I can’t understand anything they say … they have called my bluff. This will segue into the next game, ‘Call My Bluff.’

For this game, I prepare some A4 sheets with a number of words on with three definitions. One team will read out the word and different people will read out a definition. The opposing side has to guess the correct meaning (and new words can be recycled next lesson in a warm up exercise). For example we have:

obnoxious 1) (adjective) a very unpleasant person 2) (noun) a gas that becomes liquid at 50 degrees C. 3) (noun) a small village without a church.

mindset 1) (noun) a tool designed by scientists to analyse personality 2) (noun) a system of rules to allow students to memorise lots of information 3) (noun) a set of attitudes held by someone or a group of people.

Other words can include demeanour, troglodyte (everyone loves that word), superfluous, salient, volatile, anomaly

After this, it will be time for book work, up to break. After the interval, it’ll be more speaking. I’ll show them the picture of Simon again and say he’s coming to HCM City next week and wants some advice: where to stay, what to do, where to shop, what to eat, how to get around, what to do at night etc. The students have to plan a day for him including breakfast, going to a tourist attraction, shopping, using local transport and a night time activity.

I will give them some information about Simon, for example, he loves trying local food, is interested in history, wants to buy typical souvenirs and enjoys a beer or two at night. However, he is on a limited budget which will affect where he stays, where he goes to eat and how he travels around the city.

Activities like this help students to think critically in a second language and leads into the main exercise in the text book.

In the last twenty to thirty minutes, we need to wind down and do more activities or games after the reading and book activities. In keeping with the theme of truth, I can show some slides and ask are they true or false, eliciting as much information as possible. They include:

Loch Ness Monster
Spring-heeled Jack from Victorian England.
Elvis once flew in his private jet to a different state just to get this peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Fairies at the bottom of a garden. Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, believed in this photo.


Another end game will be with collocations – showing a list of words and asking them which ones collocate, for example an email – you can send it / open it / redirect it / delete it etc. Or maybe just a simple general knowledge quiz or hangman or a B2B.

Adult Class Level 3 Jan 2019: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Tuesday January 8th 2019

This blog site really saved my bacon last night – allow me to explain …

Those who know me know that, as much I love the idea of technology, I know NOTHING about it. People have to show me how my iPhone works, how to access websites, even basics such as how to turn the computer on in the first place ! Then, when I’m on a piece of equipment … it breaks, crashes, gives up the ghost, malfunctions … dies (just last weekend I broke BOTH the office photocopiers – technicians had to be called).

In Greek mythology, there was a King called Midas who asked for a gift – he wanted to be able to turn everything to gold, just by touching it. I seem to have the ‘anti-Midas touch’ – every piece of hardware I touch breaks.

Last night, in the classroom, I wasn’t able to access the class ebook, nor my Powerpoint presentations (ppt) which I was going to use as warm-ups for the class. Fortunately, this blog page opened and I was able to use the IELTS blog for the class. The theme last night became ‘keep clam and carry on.’

So, in case a similar event occurs, here’s tonight’s Adult Class:

When I looked at the work, my heart sank. The text books are not aimed specifically at Vietnamese students, but for all students, possibly mixed-language classes. Subsequently, some of the themes are of limited interest to my students; consequently my class are going to be less than enthralled. I need to jazz up the lesson !

These classes are arranged in blocks of four, the last part of the last lesson being a spoken exam. Therefore, I will allocate the second part of tonight’s class to speaking activities and, to warm up, I’ll have them speak to each other but in the form of a market research survey. Quite simply, I need a new mobile / cell phone.

However, I don’t know which one to buy ..

It is very confusing – I am confused.

I love Apple but … they can be very expensive

In addition, the reviews have been less than favourable:

So I need to do some research, read some online reviews or do some market research.

A typical market research office
One of many online review posts.

I need my students to carry out / to conduct a survey for me


The students will be arranged in small groups. One member will be responsible for gathering the information, then reporting back to me. I shall then collate all the data and display the findings in chart form (which will be beneficial for those who wish to study IELTS later).

After this, I shall do a vocabulary- building exercise – showing some basic words and a ‘better’, higher-level word (a ‘low-frequency’ word as some books term them).

boring mortifing

confusing irritating

embarrassing tedious

exciting bewildering

frustrating exhilarating

Spelling rule:

‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’

Examples: believe field niece priest achieve

but

receive ceiling receipt deceive

These are exceptions to the rule

This leads into the book work. Many study get confused with the I am / It is structure. For example, some teenagers and university students have wished to proclaim their disapproval of my classes, and have very politely shouted out, “I am boring.” They of course mean to say ‘I am bored’, which causes laughter from those who know the grammar, and a certain satisfaction on my part. Instant karma, baby !

The class will then practise the correct -ed or -ing form of the words, before moving into the reading and listening part of the lesson.

I like to use real-life videos for listening when appropriate. Tonight I’ll show a YouTube clip from Mark Wiens, who is a food enthusiast. In this clip, he tries a typical Vietnamese breakfast, and I want to see how much my class understands. Here, the paralinguistics are important; body language, intonation, word stress

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crPVJ3CXs1g

Mark tries what is basically a pretty normal breakfast but he seems to be really enjoying it. Other students have found him very amusing, though feel he was overcharged at 91 000 VND (for two).

After break, I want the students to practise speaking, so I’ve prepared a list of general questions.

Speaking exercise

What did you do on New Year’s Eve ?

What was the last film you saw ? Did you like it ?

How many people live in your house ?

What is hard about learning English ?

How often do you chat online ?

Which social media sites do you use ?

What is your favourite food ?

Do you often eat western food ? Do you sometimes eat fast food ?

What sports do you play ?

What do you feel about shopping ?

What would you most like to buy ?

Do you like living in the city or countryside ?

Have you ever sang karaoke ? 

What country would you like to visit ?

Do any of your family live outside of Vietnam ?

Have you tried Korean or Japanese food ? What did you think ?

This can be arranged in a ‘speed-dating’ format. Students sit facing each other, speak for a few minutes, then move on to the next student. This way, they are able to practise speaking and listening with a variety of people, not just their friends. There is generally some resistance (or even refusal) with adult students to comply, so I encourage them by using non-confrontational words such as ‘suggest‘ or ‘recommend‘. Having said that, last night in my IELTS class I used, “Teacher says ‘stand up’ ” … and half the class actually DID stand up and mingle. Hey – whatever works !

A good game to end is a variation of the British radio show ‘Just a Minute.’ Students are given a subject (for example, HCM City) and must speak for one minute without repetition, hesitation or deviation. This can be done in pairs, and they can time each other on their mobiles. In order to practise for next week’s test, we can discuss what makes a good answer, and how to use discourse markers to link ideas together.

Another ‘trick’ is the use of phrases or words to ‘buy time’ while they think of an answer. This can include:

Let me think ….

How can I put it ?

That’s an interesting question …

Well,

And also repeating, in part, the question but using intonation:

Q: What will you do tonight ?

A: Tonight, I will ….. (go home and study / meet friends)

Then, if time allows, I’ll play the ‘eyewitness’ game. This involves showing some faces (three men followed by five women) for a limited amount of time, then seeing how much they can remember.

Tonight’s objectives will be for students to be able to differentiate between confused / confusing, learn some new vocabulary and be more confident and proficient speaking in longer, more fluent sentences … and to hear how an American ‘foodie’ loves Vietnamese breakfasts.

Classroom Games.

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.