Adult Class Level 1: Waiting for Frodo.

5th March 2019

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.

Sir Ian Mckellen, with Sir Patrick Stewart, in ‘Waiting For Godot’.

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

Divide(s) opinion

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 ?

One of my favourite films: ‘Chungking Express’, a Hong Kong movie from 1994.

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’

“..and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Young Teens: deeply, madly, truly.

21st February 2019

Yes, it’s adverb time. This class was introduced to them last week, while I was happily sipping a beer in Thailand, a remarkably beautiful country which, despite being quite close to Vietnam, has a significantly different culture, atmosphere, vibe.

Tonight’s class focuses on speaking, so I’m hoping for a lively session with all students enthusiastically participating.

To begin with, there are several types of adverb:

I use a mnemonic device to help me remember the five main types: DF MPT (degree, frequency, manner, place, time).

I shall look at the adverbs they learnt last week and make a ‘run & write’ game. Class will be split into two teams; I’ll board or say a word (careful, fast, angry etc) and one person from each team will have to write it as an adverb.

To reinforce, I’ll select one of the more outgoing students to act out various scenarios, for example the student can walk carefully, speak quietly, eat quickly. Thus the students will have both written and spoken some basic adverbs.

Next, I shall try a new game, introduced by a song from The Who ‘Who are you ?‘ (which people may know as the theme from CSI:Vegas):    

I’ll just use the opening bars (some versions have lyrics which are inappropriate for the classroom !)

In this game, I will put the students into small groups, and give one pupil a paper with some basic information on it:

Four People

NAME: Alan NAME: Jane

FROM: Cambridge FROM: Manchester

WEATHER: Mild and sunny WEATHER: Wet, grey, rainy

JOB: Student JOB: Lawyer

LIKES: Reading books LIKES: Shopping online

Rowing Films Badminton Cats

WHY IN VN: Exchange study WHY IN VN: Work for UK company

BEST: Lots of museums BEST: Good wifi, interesting history

WORST: Traffic & pollution WORST: Scams, noise, traffic

OPINION: Great place but too noisy

OPINION: Fascinating but walk carefully

NAME: Peter NAME: Anna

FROM: Birmingham FROM: New York

WEATHER: Grey, cold WEATHER: Very cold, very hot in summer

JOB: Journalist JOB: Electrician

LIKES: Making models LIKES: Sudoku

Travelling Football Piano Meeting friends

WHY IN VN: Writing a story WHY IN VN: Travelling around Asia

BEST: Meeting Vietnamese people BEST: Cheaper prices. Good food

WORST: Too hot. Food too spicy WORST: Extremely hot and sticky

OPINION: Incredibly noisy and humid OPINION: Amazingly fun place.

This is an exercise to help students form questions. A great way to start a speaking exercise is simply to model it first, eliciting as much information from the students. For example, I could board answers and ask the students what questions could they ask to get these answers. To broaden their vocabulary, I will demonstrate various approaches;

To enquire about my job:

What do you do for a living ?

What do you do ?

What is your occupation ?

How do you make a living ?

For my likes:

What do you like doing in your free time ?

What are your hobbies ?

What kinds of things are you into ?

The students ask the chosen student questions, then report back to the class. To make sure all the class are paying attention, I’ll ask questions and award points. It is common situation that students who are NOT presenting have very limited interest in other students who are speaking.

Depending on time, I will add a quick game where I board a basic sentence and the students have to elaborate by adding adjectives and, now, adverbs.

The student is good – The intelligent student works extremely well.

The food is nice / The weather is hot / The homework was hard / My cat is lazy.

And onto the bookwork. Today’s book mentions Cambridge (which they read about before with reference to the boat race), Buckingham Palace in London (which most of the students know is the home of the Queen) and Bristol in west England, which, I am sure, will be unknown to the students:

This is quite a good video, as it is just visual (thus giving the students a little break, as well as introducing them to a new city), and it can be followed up by asking what people can do there ? What kind of buildings did they see ? Would they like to go there ? What did they think about it ? Interesting or boring … and then use adverbs to make their answers more interesting.

Also, I like to let the students hear different accents because in the real world, they probably will not be listening to English teachers speaking slowly, carefully and in Standard English, but to people from all over the English-speaking world or, more likely, non-native speakers. Locals from Bristol have a different accent to mine (east London but with Standard for work), so here is a short clip illustrating the difference, and it has subtitles:

The students can try to copy the sounds and also learn everyday fixed expressions. All in all, I’m hoping it’ll be an exciting and active class.

In keeping with the emphasis on speaking, in the reading section, one section of the class can read one paragraph, then close their books while the other students ask them questions, so here we have reading with speaking and listening skills being practised.

Adult Class Level 1: Computer World

20th February 2019

Today’s lesson is about the internet, what it’s used for, what vocabulary is associated with it and how men and women spend their time online. The main topic is ‘do men and women use the internet in different ways ?’

As a quick warm-up, the students can shout out different websites that are famous, and how they would be categorised (social media, news, commercial, blog etc).

No doubt ‘YouTube’ will be mentioned and here is a short video which ties in with the theme of a previous lesson (‘What do you want to do with your life?’). Here, 100 children are asked what they want to be. The students have to write down as many jobs as they hear, so they practice listening skills. Additionally, the children are from USA, so their accents differ from mine, exposing the class to a variety of Englishes. Some speak very clearly, other mumble so turning this into a game could be fun:

Statistics are widely available to show internet usage by region and by gender. One good example may be found here:

The chart can be used as an exercise in data reading and use of comparatives for example, where are the highest users of the internet and, conversely, the lowest ? Do more men or women go online ? Then adverbs can be employed to stress the difference.

We can see that, with the exception of the Americas, men use the internet slightly more than woman in their geographic area. Regarding the Americas, the amount of women compared to men is not significantly higher. Over 80% of European men access the net, but less than 20% of African women do so. Asia is often seen as being in the forefront of technology (think of Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong) yet has a surprisingly low percentage of users, less than 40% of women compared to nearly 80% of women in Europe. What could be the reasons for this ?

High-tech Asia, yet less than 40% of Asian Pacific women actually use the internet.

However, this is a level 1 class so we don’t want to delve too deeply into the reasons, we want to get the students up and talking, and one of the best ways is make them conduct a quick survey among their classmates.

Internet Survey 

Question Name Answer

How often do you go online ?

Do you use the internet for work and/or study ? How ?

What social media sites do you use regularly ? How often ?

Have you ever bought or sold anything online ?

What is good about the internet ? What is the worst ?

This is an adult class, so I’m sure someone may refer to dating sites. this will lead us into the next activity, ‘Lonely Hearts’. Here, I’ll show three men and three women, each with a brief biography, stating their likes and what they are looking for in a partner. The class, in small teams or pairs, have to match each man to a woman, then predict what will happen on the date.

This allows the students to be creative, while encouraging the use of opinion phrases and building sentences by giving reasons to support their ideas.

PETER. Age 46. Lawyer. Likes cooking, travelling, wine, driving, tennis. Divorced, 2 children. Looks for quiet lady with no children, to look after the house and him.

JAMES. Age 26. IT worker. Likes music, dancing, going to clubs, beach holidays. Single. Looks for young lady who is loud and fun, likes to party.

David. Age 22. Model. Likes fashion, clothes, cocktail bars, smoking cigars. Looks for a women who is a model so we can look great together. Must be very beautiful and wear expensive clothes.

Jane. Age 22. Likes fashion, clubbing, kittens, holidays in the sun. Looks for a man with a steady job and ‘down-to-earth’. Non-smoker only.

Lisa 28. Banker. Likes quiet restaurants, badminton, travelling. Looks for a mature man with good income for long term relationship. No boys, please !

Emily. 20. Likes dancing, fashion, going out with my friends. Movies. Wants a young, cute boy-friend so we can go to parties together. No boring old men, please !

This exercise can be used to elicit adjectives as well; the students can describe the physical appearances, and what they think the people are really like.

All the time, I’d like to encourage the students to talk more in English, reduce the teacher- student dynamic, have more open-class discussions. One way to facilitate that is to maybe repeat something controversial and see how the class react to the comment. For example, a man may say that women only use the internet for social media and gossip, men use it for important things.

Obviously, my job is to encourage students to speak with each other, to take a back seat or, as we put it, to cut down on ‘teacher-talking time.’ I’m certainly not here to foster my views or disagree with the class. However, if I feel a conversation is in danger of becoming contentious, I can point out that in Europe, USA, Australia (called ‘the west’ for convenience) such views would be unacceptable on the grounds of sexism or racism. We don’t just teach the English language; we introduce students to western culture and norms.

Adult Mechanics: Olympics – going for gold.

10th February 2019

This is a lesson plan for an adult class I teach comprised mainly of professional engineers and mechanics. The level is mixed, as is natural with all classes, but I would place most students at Intermediate level. In order to boost them to the next stage, I will introduce more expressions, higher vocabulary and more student talking time.

I’ll be trying to implement a CELTA-style plan: ‘Present, Practice, Produce’ (PPP) which basically means I demonstrate some new language, allow the students to practice and then use the language on their own, checking for pronunciation, intonation and context. The key word is PRACTICE; whatever your field, whatever natural talent you may possess, you have to be disciplined and work, train … which brings us (neatly, I thought) to our subject – the Olympics.

Aside – the themes aren’t really that important, they are merely a starting point for learning. Having said that, they have to hold some measure of interest for the student. Allow me to quote the C15th monk John Lydgate, “You can’t please all the people, all of the time.” Even if some of the students aren’t big sports fans, they will at least be aware of the Games, and should find the videos interesting and beneficial.

I’ll begin with a video about the Olympics. It’s aimed at young native speakers, which is helpful for English – learners as the language will be easier to follow. Additionally, it will introduce some European history to my Vietnamese learners, and afford them the chance to listen to native speakers at a natural pace. And now, without further ado, the video:

Video: Listening practice

Try to watch before the lesson, and make a note of any new vocabulary.

listen for: gather together/ for the length of the games/ common ground/ truce

in honour of/ originally/ ancient/ off and on/ alternating / interlocking/ myth/

Questions – Ask each other Speaking practice

When were the first Games ? When were the final (ancient) games held ?

Who was Zeus ?

How many events were there at first ? What events were later added ?

What were winners given ? 

Where and when were the first modern games staged ?

What are the Paralympics ?

What are gold medals made of ?

Why were the five colours of the rings chosen ?

What is the goal of the Olympics ?

“The most important thing is not to win but to take part.” Do you agree ?


What do you think of the video ? Give positive and negative reactions.

Try to use some of the following expressions:

specular / impressive / co-ordinated / visually stunning / you get what you pay for

a waste of money / a drain on natural resources / spectacle but no substance

Team work speaking practice

The Olympics are going to be held in Vietnam. Is this good or bad ?

Divide the class into two teams, one ‘for’, the other ‘against’.

Points to consider:

The cost – how will it be financed ?

How can it generate revenue for Vietnam ?

Impact on the environment 

Does Vietnam have the infrastructure to cope ?

Is south-east Asia a good choice in terms of climate ?

Is Vietnam a good choice ? 

Does it have big cities ? 

Does it have space for an Olympic village ?

What about crime and petty theft ? 

Are the police able to deal with the influx of crowds ?

Do the Vietnamese people care enough about sports ?

Is Vietnam enthusiastic about sports ?

Politics – people from all different countries and political beliefs will arrive. Could that be an issue ?

The legacy – what will happen after the Games are over ?

Raising awareness of Vietnam on the world stage. 

What do people think when they hear ‘Vietnam’ ?

Encourage overseas investors

Is the cost worth it ?

This is from a ‘high-brow’ newspaper and quotes a figure of £8.921 billion. Can Vietnam afford this kind of money ? In China, a lot of money went on infrastructure such as improving airports, subways and roads, and it has been claimed that a profit of $146 was generated. However, Montreal took over 30 years to pay off debts incurred by hosting the Olympics.

Part of the London Olympic complex with the athletes village and, in the distance, the Olympic Stadium, now home to West Ham football club.
Sir Paul McCartney at the Olympic opening ceremony in London 2012

What could Vietnam organise for an opening ceremony ?

Make a plan for the next lesson. Think about celebrating the country’s traditions, nature, economy, history, beauty. What would attract people to Vietnam ?

Welcome to Vietnam – the image
Welcome to Vietnam – the reality

Young Teens: Unesco Sites.

31st January 2019

Lesson Plan

What happens next: Show four clips and ask students to guess what will happen next. Introduce the word ‘predict’, model, then encourage the use in sentences (I predict the man will ….).

Following the clips and slides about fortune telling, the students can 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 needed, prompt with questions about special Tet customs.

With the video clips, what better way to start than with former President G.W. Bush: The clip I want starts at 7:14

Next one is the elephant clip at 1:54 

The following should please my students as it involves some fighting). 

Finally, this clip can start at 0:05 

On the board I’ll write some collocations – reading palms, telling fortunes, predicting the future.

Role-playing: the students can pretend to tell their partner’s fortune. The subjects, more appropriate to this age, can be: school, future job, university, holiday, a surprise, travel, making a new friend.

Before the book work, featuring World Heritage Sites, a short video. Students must try to remember as much information as possible

Real-world examples are a great way to introduce new vocabulary and phrases. In this clip, I can focus on: former / iconic / sparking interest / pass up the opportunity.

On slips of paper, I’ll write the ten sites, while on the board, I’ll write ten countries. The students, in pairs and as a race, will have to find the site associated with the country and stick it on the board. A chance to burn off some energy before the book work. If the class is too rowdy after a fun game (which can happen, a victim of its own success), I’ll do a quick Hangman game using vocabulary from a previous lesson (sonnet, conscious, reporter, lawyer, suddenly, meanwhile …)

After the bookwork, I can do some more run ‘n’ write games. I’ll write an incorrect sentence on the board and a student from each team must rewrite. First one to finish, including punctuation, wins.

I’m not expecting a lot of motivation so close to a major holiday, so we can end with a video of their choice. As long as it’s in English … teaching without teaching, and letting them leave with a smile … hopefully.

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:

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

Next one is the elephant clip at 1:54

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).

Finally, this clip can start at 0:05

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.

Listening Skills: Tips and links.

Listening Skills

The following websites are good for practicing listening. What are the pros and cons of each one ? What do you like or dislike about them ? How helpful do you find them ?

British Council (learn English teens). Home – skills – listening

BBC Learning English (for pronunciation)

There are many courses on YouTube. I use:

English Speaking Course Unit 2

Learn English with Emma

Mad English TV

TOEIC Channel

English Class 101

And … listen to music (with lyrics), films (short clips – 30 seconds to 1 minute) and TV shows with subtitles.

Try these:


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.

Teen Team Project: Tourism in HCM.

20th January 2019

This three-hour lesson was totally devoted to planning, preparing and presenting a project about tourism.

Thailand is very close and there, tourism accounts for 9.4% of their economy, a figure which is expected to rise to 12.8 % by 2028 (source: World Travel & Tourism Council).

This affords the teacher an opportunity to add other elements to the lesson; in addition to new vocabulary and collocations, we have, in the first two paragraphs, examples of alliteration and quoting sources to make a report more official; an opinion supported by facts.

Alliteration is a poetic devise, using words that begin with the same letter. Source quoting – stating where information is found – is a vital aspect of academic writing, so to learn it before university will be very beneficial. However, it is important to use books, newspapers or websites that are official and respected, as opposed to Wiki sites or blogs.

Tonight, I would focus on presentation skills, vocabulary used in travel promotion, and fixed expressions. The later is a great addition to the students’ repertoire, allowing them to sound more like a native-speaker. We use fixed expressions all the time. So, without further ado, into the notes.

Firstly, as a warmer, we talked about HCM / Sai Gon; what does it have to offer the tourist ?

“Trash, garbage,”

Thank you, Sir, but I don’t think you’re getting the point of the exercise. Walking around the room, various answers were put forth: history, mystery, great food, cheap (dirt cheap as we would say in the UK), interesting buildings, friendly people.

Conversely, what were the problems or issues that were keeping tourists away ? Traffic was an immediate response, pollution, petty crime, scams. Perhaps the biggest problem is simply lack of knowledge. When most westerners hear about Vietnam, they think about war, boat people, refugees … the unspeakably horrific photo of Kim Phuc, running away from a burning village. So what could be done to encourage tourism ? That was the project.

I wanted to illustrate the difference between a scam and petty crime. The latter includes bag-snatching and pickpocketing, the former is tricking people out of money, for example fake taxis, over-charging, giving people incorrect change etc. We then watched a short video, highlighting some issues, as well as listening to English being spoken by some young Vietnamese. A good way to learn is to check for mistakes. What grammar or pronunciations errors can you find here?

At one stage, the presenter is walking past a group of tourists, some of whom wave to the camera and make various gestures. This allowed me to introduce a neologism, a new word or phrase that has evolved out of modern technology: photo-bombing. Here is a famous example of the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch with the rock group U2:

Now was a chance for some new vocabulary, words and phrases associated with holidays and travel.

breathtaking / stunning/ sensational / incredible / remarkable/ exclusive / inspiring / spectacular /

once in a lifetime experience/ never to be forgotten / unbeatable prices

book now to avoid disappointment/ best decision you’ll ever make

Structure: To begin with / furthermore … additionally / the fact is … / therefore

As an Example, I showed a short file about London:



Buckingham Palace Tower Bridge

British Museum Wembley Stadium

Shops, parks, theatres, restaurants

London – one of the world’s GREAT cities

A holiday of a lifetime ! Book early !

Mr Paul Tours – visit our website for more information.

From this, I made a short presentation:

Now is the perfect time to visit London, England’s glorious capital. The weather is perfect for walking, so you can enjoy the lush parks, world-famous museums and incredible, unbelievable shops. There is something for everyone … and more ! Like sports ? Go to one of the many Premier League football games. Love shopping ? Everything is here – shop till you drop ! Adore culture – soak up hundreds of years of history.

Flights from TSN airport daily. Seven-day all-inclusive package tour starting from only 50m VND ! All transfers and transport included. Air-conditioned mini bus with Vietnamese-speaking guide.

So what makes a good presentation ?

Volume – not too loud, but not too soft.

Intonation – sound enthusiastic, but again, not overly so. If you sound bored, the listeners will be.

Pace – not too fast, or too slow

Eye contact – look at the audience, engage with them but don’t stare at anyone.

Walk around – this can be energising, but too much will be distracting.

Stick to the point. Avoid repetition or deviating from the subject.

Keep slides simple and basic; too much text and the audience will be too busy reading to listen to you (I got that tip from a former student, a marketing executive).

Gestures, and body language. Look professional and people will take you seriously. Open hand signs indicate honesty. Cross-armed seems hostile.

And then it was time for the teacher to pipe down (stop talking) and let the students work. Most classes have mixed abilities, confidence levels, introverts and extroverts. I wanted each of the four groups to have at least one confident student, so I asked some of the students quietly, explaining my rationale, and they agreed (one deferred, but promised to move next class … right, Ms Uyen ?)

I gave them a set time, after which they had to present. Then came the issue of who would go first; here’s where a pack of playing cards comes in handy. I picked an Ace, 2, 3 & 4 and let the students choose. You can’t argue with the cards !

The work was very impressive, some groups quoted their source material, others had very gifted public speakers. We’ll build on this in the next lesson, when they can practise using fixed expressions and travel adjectives (and the accompanying intonation).

A special thanks must go to my TA, the wonderful Ms Vy, who assisted and co-taught with me. I’ll be writing about my experience with TAs at various schools … but that is for another day.

Young Teens: A funny thing happened to me …

Thursday 17th January

Tonight’s class has fourteen students, mostly girls (“made of sugar and spice and all things nice,”) and four young lads, one of whom demonstrates slight Hulk-like tendencies (i.e. gets angry at the slightest provocation and starts lifting chairs as if to hurl them through several walls). Simple classroom management has to be employed here; the lads are NOT allowed to sit next to each other. Of course, at this age the boys categorically will NOT sit next to any girl (just wait a year or two until those hormones kick in!) so I have to locate them around the room. It can be dis-illutioning for a teacher to allocate so much time to controlling a class as opposed to teaching them, but such are the realities. C’est la vie.

The theme of the lesson is how to tell an anecdote, but to begin (and to wait for the inevitable latecomers), we’ll do some quick warm-up games. I’ll also be able to recycle work form other lessons (which justifies the time spent making slides / Powerpoint Presentations etc).

We’ll begin with a quiz; I’ll show four famous buildings and ask the students to identify them and tell me as much as they can about them:

After, I will point to some (previously-boarded) numbers and ask how to pronounce them, numbers such as:


10, 000



Friday the 13th

I’ll show them that amounts (e.g. £35.99p are often said as simply 35 99, rather than saying ‘pounds and pence.’

For a more active game, help them burn off some energy, I’ll do a ‘run & write.’ In their previous lesson, they learnt past continuous. For this game, the class can be kept in two teams (a bit of competition adds to the excitement, even if there are no prizes at all), one team has a red marker, the other, a blue. I will say a sentence using simple past, they have to write it on the board, using past continuous. For example:

Last night I slept = Last night I was sleeping

Then the whole team has to shout out the sentence. It could get somewhat noisy and impossible to monitor, but it creates freedom for everyone to speak (they are not being listened to individually) and gets the whole class involved, and a noisy engaged class is far preferable to one slouching, sighing and sleeping.

We will then move into the topic area, combining story-telling with pronunciation and accents. I have a great clip of the magnificent Irish actor, Peter O’Toole being interviewed by the fast-talking USA TV host David Letterman. The students can compare the two accents, see which one they understand easier. The clip is below:

Letterman asks O’Toole if he has a story about a fellow actor, Richard Harris. Instead of a rather pedestrian, “Let me see …,” O’Toole, cigarette in hand, responds, “Oh, I’ll shuffle through my memory,” before proceeding to tell said story (this occurs at 0:32 – 3:33).

I extend the activity by asking the students to mimic / copy O’Toole’s voice and elocution. Obviously, I don’t condone smoking at all, but students have had great fun sitting crossed legged, imaginary cigarette held aloft, and repeating, “Oh, I’ll shuffle through my memory.”

The serious aspect here is to demonstrate the rhythms and stresses in English – the elongated “oh,” as he thinks, the focus on the verb, “shuffle’, the linking of “through my,” and the final stressed but downwards – intonations of “memory.” A lot of work covered in just six words. Good value for your teaching bucks !

We’ll then move into a personal anecdote of mine. I’ll create a slide and give a leading narrative using tonight’s key language:

For one thing

As I discovered last year

As you can imagine

In fact …

like the time …

Thanks to ..

People are very interested in stars as I discovered last year when I was in

I saw a very large

Outside a large

in the centre of the city. As you can imagine, I was curious. There were a lot of people there, in fact many were extremely …….

Why were they there, for whom were they waiting ? This was like the time I was in London and many film stars were going into a cinema. I waited … but nothing happened. I was thinking of going, but thanks to some screaming and shouting, I stayed. To my surprise, I saw the world-famous Hollywood movie star …

I felt very lucky. Actually, it was very exciting I just wish I had my phone with me.

The students will then turn to book work, some listening and then creating their own anecdote. Here, I will probably have to help, give ideas. Most students spent too long thinking about ideas and therefore not producing any work. I have found it better to give them a limited choice and then make them start the work.

(In my first year, at my first centre, the students had to write a short story about a boy and girl going to the cinema. I checked all the pupil’s progress, only to find one student had done nothing, all lesson, because he couldn’t think of names for his protagonists. At the end of the semester, I was asked for my recommendation; should he be allowed to progress to the next level ? Absolutely not (it was the only honest answer) CUT TO angry parents, wagging of fingers and pulling of student out of school. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as we say.)

Today we also have some speaking practice and a quick lesson about British culture, in which they will listen and read about the author Daniel Defoe. This will be a chance to elicit how much they know about British literary characters. It could be surprising; they may know Oliver Twist, or Alice (Wonderland). Who knows … some may even have heard of Robinson Crusoe … we shall see. This will then lead into famous writers from Vietnam. I think the most famous is The Tale of Kieu’ by Nguyen Du.

Very famous Vietnamese poem and I highly recommend giving it a read.