Dec 18, 2011

Things I've done

I came up with this activity while looking for a creative way to review Present Perfect + superlatives. I think it's awesome to let students use their imagination. They are likely to surprise and more than once to come up with really interesting ideas.

Level: Intermediate
Materials: Cards with adjectives
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Present Perfect/Adjectives-Superlatives
Prep time: 2-3 min to cut the pieces of paper.

Before the class you'll have to prepare cards with adjectives like: scary, tasty, fun, interesting, rewarding, dangerous, hilarious, bad, sad, etc. These are going to be the basics that will serve as a main guide. To introduce the activity, I suggest that you tell the students that the class is going to be about interesting or remarkable experiences that we've all been through and that using the cards they'll get to ask/answer questions about life experiences. It's important to emphasize that there are no rules and they can choose the verbs they want based on what the cards say. The main goal is to get them to ask questions using the present perfect and the superlative of the adjective in the card. Each student will take a card and use it to ask a question to the person on his/her right, until everybody has asked/answered once. I'd recommend that you do it once or twice as an example until everybody gets the idea.

Student A: What is the most dangerous animal you've ever touched?
Student B: The most dangerous animal I've ever touched is a snake. I have never touched anything more dangerous than that.

Student A: Where have you tried the most delicious ice-cream ever?
Student B: When I went to Brazil with my family we went to get ice cream. It was the most delicious ice cream I've ever had, I still remember its taste.
Prompt students to use different structures to ask and answer, in fact, it's a good idea to set one rule: Do not repeat the question/answer structure that the previous students. I would also offer a creativity award to the best question/answer. 

When sharing about (important) moments in their lives, students tend to relax and even sometimes forget that they are in the classroom and that they are supposed to learn. I have found this activity very rewarding and lots of fun, and I'm sure you will too!


Nov 20, 2011

What are you thankful for?

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”  W. T. Purkiser

This week in America, they celebrate Thanksgiving. For many teachers from around the world I have talked to, it doesn't seem right to globalize traditions and adopt patterns of behavior that are not supposed to be part of our particular culture. However, (and I might be a little biased, since I lived in the US for some time and I've fallen in love with the country and traditions, but oh well!) I think it's a great idea to introduce that very important American custom to our classes. Rather than corrupting our own country's tradition, we'd be enriching the students' cultural knowledge and taking a moment to do something that should be part our every year (or month!): to say thanks.

No matter how level or age you are currently teaching, it's a great time to devote 10 or 15 minutes of your class to have students write on a piece of paper 3 or 4 things they are thankful for. A very good way to introduce the idea would be to write a quote related to thanksgiving on the board and then give them color papers to express what they wanna say thanks.  

Tip for kids: Have them draw their hand on a piece of paper. Once they do, they can decorate it any way they want  and write inside each finger or draw in the center of the palm the reasons why they are thankful (you thought I was gonna suggest the turkey drawing, huh? - I like to surprise ;) )

Remember that the reason we do what we do is to make a difference in the lives of all those who come to our class. You have a great opportunity to touch lives, don't waste it. And be thankful for it!

Happy Thanksgiving week, y'all! :)


Aug 30, 2011

Would you rather...?

This is such a fun activity to be used as an icebreaker or time-left activity. It works amazingly with medium to large groups of students and it usually very enjoyable for everybody. I would recommend it for teens in their 17-18 and up. I played it with my class of adults and we had a blast!

Level: Upper Intermediate/Advanced
Materials: None.
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Any/I would rather... (It's a great and fun way to practice debate)
Prep time: A few minutes to prepare the questions.

The only purpose of the activity is to have students choose an option of the two you provide by answering a 'Would you rather...?' question. To make it more complex and if you think it's necessary have them explain why they chose that option. It is very important to think of questions that are creative and perhaps a bit controversial. In this way, it's likely that students will have different opinions and they'll get the chance to explain their point of view.

Some examples:
  • Would you rather go a year without your cell phone or without a computer?
  • Would you rather have a brilliant mind or a very hot body?
  • Would you rather win the lottery or find true love?
  • Would you rather be completely bald or completely hairy?
  • Would you rather go a year without salt or a year without sugar?
  • Would you rather dump someone or be the one who gets dumped?
  • Would you rather be very fat or very stupid?
I am sure there will be plenty of other interesting questions. These are my examples and the ones I used. I hope you come up with your own and have a great time. I'll be happy to hear your ideas!

Enjoy, XOXO.

Jun 20, 2011

A twist to the Conventional 'Tic-tac-toe'

If you've taught ESL long enough, I'm sure you have used the 'Tic-tac-toe' game to review vocabulary, irregular verbs in the past tense, phrasal verbs and many other topics. This is probably the most cliche game when it comes to the ESL classroom. However, I'd like to make a suggestion for you to be able to use this game for anything. And I really DO mean ANYTHING!!!

Lately, I've used this game to review units from the book. You know how every unit in coursebooks is filled with different topics and contents that students need to learn? Well, I found a good way to check how much they knew about these by playing tic-tac-toe. What I'd do is to set up a tic-tac-toe grill containing key words from the unit in each space. For example, one of our books presented the topic: Jobs and Hobbies and we reviewed using the following chart:
Even when the words seem a little unrelated, we had studied all of these and students had enough information in their books to provide a description of the job/activity and the necessary skills and/or equipment needed to succeed in each of them. So, I would play with a small class divided in two groups. Each group would pick a topic, taking turns and in order to get their cross or nought in the spaces they selected, they are required to provide general information about the topic. I'd set a minimum of sentences according to the number of students in each group. They are all required to participate with at least one sentence related to the topic and using vocabulary and structures from the coursebook. Giving the students the opportunity to speak freely, allow them to be creative and you might get surprised to hear the sentences they are able to produce.
A different option that I LOVED to review grammar, was this amazing grill I found at, one of my favorite websites  :) It's an E-magazine that provides creative ideas and printables to use in class. Check it out! You're gonna love it too! 
As I said before, you can use this game for pretty much anything. And even if it's a very simple one, it helps create a different atmosphere and students forget that they are actually reviewing and learn while having fun. :)

Enjoy! XO

Jun 18, 2011

Tell me what they did

This is a very simple activity I've come up with in one of my many attempts to make my classes with teenagers more dynamic and interesting. In this case, I was working with Past Simple and I was looking for a creative way to review irregular verbs so I thought this would be a good way. I would recommend this to be used with small groups, unless the whole class is able to respectfully listen to their classmates for a considerable time. Otherwise, things may get complicated.

Level: Elementary/Intermediate
Materials: Little pieces of paper
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Everyday life/Irregular Verbs in the Past Tense
Prep time: 2-3 min to cut the pieces of paper.

First off, the teacher will give each student 5-6 pieces of paper and ask them to think about what they did last weekend. Students will pick 5-6 activities they did the previous weekend and write the verbs (in the infinitive form) in the pieces of paper. After that, they will pair up and exchange papers. The task will be to talk about their classmates weekend, so the teacher will give them a few minutes to put those in order and prepare their speech. After that, students will use the verbs they have been provided to talk about their partner's weekend. The interesting part is that they will only have a few verbs and it's up to their imagination to make it a good story.  
The information in the papers shouldn't be too accurate. In fact, it's better if they only receive random information, since they will have to 'fill in the blanks'. For example:

  • work
  • play
  • get up
  • drink
  • sing
Students will have to decide what their classmates worked on, what they drank, what and where they sang, and it can end up being a great story! The more creative students are, the funnier and more interesting their stories will turn out. At the very end and as a closure, students can decide on who told the best one.


  • In case you want to use it to review the Present Simple tense, students can be asked to write verbs they perform on a regular basis and their classmates will try to tell how a day in their partner's life is. 

Good Luck, XO

Jun 15, 2011

Using the imagination

When working with intermediate to advanced levels, it's always useful to have in mind a list of imaginary situations that would work great as prompts for speaking. I find these really useful, since the same ol' activities tend to bore me easily.

Some ideas I'd like to share:
  • Imagine you are interviewing your favorite singer/actor. What 5 questions would you ask him/her? You may wanna consider his past work, his future plans, the effect of his career on his personal life, etc.
  • Imagine you are having a party next weekend. Explain how it would be. Remember to mention: place where it'd be, guests, entertainment, music, food and drink.
  • What would you change in school to make it more fun?
  • Imagine your parents gave you permission to redecorate your room. What would you change?
  • Imagine your best friend is having a huge party in his honor and you are asked to tell the story of how you both met. What would you say?
  • Imagine you won a trip for you and 2 more friends to any part of the world you choose. Where would you go and what would you do?
  • What could've made your weekend a perfect one?
  • If you were to become a singer, what style of music would you make? Who would you look up to? How would your life be different?
Any other ideas?

Memory Game

Memory games; I've come to realize; are particularly exciting for younger kids. Also, teens can respond pretty well to them if we motivate them properly. So I would suggest this idea for all ages and levels.
Sometimes, we work too hard to create a completely language centered activity from scratch, and we forget to use the tools we already have to make our class interesting. For my class, I decided to use this very nice set of memory cards I had and add my "language touch" to the game. Let me tell you how.

Level: All
Materials: A set of match cards
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Any.
Prep time: None.

Select some cards from the set (like 10 pairs), so that the game wouldn't last forever - it's always better to add a couple of pairs than not being able to finish the game. Set the cards on the table or floor, wherever you are more comfortable playing and have students gather around them. 
Students will take turns to pick a pair of cards to find a match. Every time they do, even when there is not a match, they are requested to perform a task. For example,  I tried this with 7-9 year olds and the topic of review was spelling. I had numbers match cards, which in my case was perfect since they had worked with numbers the month before. So, if they didn't find a match, they were still requested to pick one of the numbers and spell it out. The rest of the class also had a task. They were the "Spelling Judges", so in that way I managed to keep them focused on the activity. 
When a student does get a match, then he'll be asked to perform a task that involves a greater effort in order to keep the cards. In my case, I would make them spell the number in the card and the one after and before. There are plenty of options as long as you use your imagination.
In this way, you can turn a simple matching/memory game, into a successful language activity.

Some options I suggest:

  • For colors: Use color matching cards and have students say the colors and provide 3 or 4 objects that are that color if they find a match.
  • For tenses: Using verbs matching cards you can ask students to provide their meaning. In case of a match, have students make a sentence in a certain tense using the verb in the cards.
  • For reviewing the past tense of irregular verbs: Prepare matching cards with the infinitive form of the verb and have students provide the past when they pick the card. In case of a match you can ask them to also make a sentence with the verb.
  • For phrasal verbs: Use matching cards containing phrasal verbs and have students explain the meaning of each and provide correct sentences in case of a match.
  • For vocabulary: Use matching pictures or words and have students say words related to the topic (word or picture). Eg: To review food: Breakfast, Dinner, Dessert, Lunch, Fruit, Vegetables, Candy, Drinks, Snacks, etc.
You can create your own memory cards and print them for free here.
I hope you try this and if you come up with a creative idea, please share!

Enjoy, XO

May 29, 2011

Take a break and enjoy...

I don't know about you, but Languages are my passion. Not only teaching and being able to say different things in different ways, but the essence of Language itself. The way it is so intimately connected to our feelings and how it conveys different meanings to different people. I guess that's why I found this article so fascinating. If you, like me, take pleasure in understanding Language and how much it means, you'll love this. Consider this your personal time and take a little break to read:

20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World


Spelling Game

About a month ago, I was looking for a fun option to review spelling with my young students. Where I work, we have a mimio (interactive board) in each classroom, so I thought that taking advantage of that was a great idea. Thus, using Power Point, I created a document for Spelling Contest . This is how I did it:

1- The first slide is only a "Game Presentation". This is what I used:

2- Then, I arranged 15 numbers in 3 columns.

3- Each number was linked to another slide that contained a picture and a word. I did this using hyperlinks. So the overall layout was looked like this:

So how does this work? I started the Power Point presentation so my students got to see the first slide only. It's amazing how excited they got, just to see that they were playing a game on the board, like the ones on TV!! :) As I moved to the second slide, I explained that they were going to be divided in two teams and each team would take turns picking their numbers. Each number was gonna unveil a secret word that they were expected to spell, in order to get a point. Since it was a small class, I had each student pick a number and spell the word by himself, having his group as a backup in case he had trouble with a letter.
The great thing about using this presentation, is that as you click on a number, it immediately takes you to the correspondent slide, which makes it really neat. I was very happy to see how excited they were to play this and how easily it was to get them engaged. It's like they didn't even notice that we were reviewing! 
If you have the opportunity to try this in class I would highly recommend it. If not, you can always use flashcards and stick them on the board or even easier; you can just write numbers on the board, and have student pick one, and then write a word on the board for them to spell it out. 

You might even come up with a better idea! If so, I'd love to hear it!
Good Luck!! XO

PS: I will be more than happy to send you this document via email, so if you want it just contact me and let me know!

May 18, 2011

In my backpack I have...

You like to take advantage of every single minute in class? This is a great activity to practice vocabulary that requires no prep at all! And to make it even better you can adapt it to different topics. It's important to keep the dynamics in this activity or else it could turn very slow and therefore, boring.

The teacher will start the game with the phrase: In my backpack I have... and then point to a student who will be expected to provide a suitable word (notebook, book, pencil case, etc.). Then the teacher will continue by saying: And in my pencil case I have... and again, the students will provide words to complete the sentence.

Depending on the topic you are studying you can adapt the activity. I suggest some variations:

  • For clothes: In my closet I have... 
  • For food: In my fridge/pantry I have...
  • For furniture or objects around the house: In my bedroom/kitchen/living room I have... 
You can always come up with your own ideas. 
Good luck! XOXO