Six books to look out for in 2010

I made a similar post to this one last year so I am repeating the same idea. Here are six books relating to English language teaching that I have heard about already and are worth looking out for over the next 12 months. Just wave your mouse over the book titles to find out more information about them/the publisher.

Teaching English Grammar – Hurrah! Finally another new book by one of my favourite methodology writers Jim Scrivener. This is the latest in the Macmillan books for teachers series and is due out later this year. Expect a guide that combines grammar explanations as well as lots of creative and very practical ideas. I’m sure this won’t disappoint.

Culture in our Classrooms and Being Creative – OK, again I am cheating a bit by combining but these are the next books in the new popular Delta Development series and will both be released for the IATEFL conference this year (in April). Mario Rinvolucri returns with a new co-author Gill Johnson to examine the issue of culture in language classrooms. Expect lots and lots of nice activities as well as a great overview of culture and language teaching. Being Creative is by new author Chaz Pugliese and contains a great essay about the history and development of creativity in teaching and then more than a hundred very creative, quick and easy little activities for language classrooms.

Intercultural language activities - I have it on very good authority that this is a really good book to look out for. It is the new one in the Cambridge Handbooks for teachers. Intercultural awareness in language classroom is a big issue, especially now as so many classrooms around the world are multicultural. It’s by John Corbett from the University of Glasgow. I will be buying a copy of this at IATEFL this year.

Lifestyle - Vicki Hollett’s new coursebook for business English light. I enjoy Vicki’s blogposts a lot and have also taught with her materials back in the day when I had business English students. This will be one of Longman Pearson’s big titles this year; expect to see presentations and talks about Lifestyle at conferences.

Global - I can’t really NOT mention Global, as this is my big project and it is finally out now. A new adult general English course with a focus on global voices and global English, as well as being the first major coursebook to go 100% celebrity-free. You can find out more about Global here.

Teaching Online - This is going to be a must-have title, especially as the main author is none other than Nicky Hockly of the Consultants-E. Nicky has been teaching online for longer than I care to remember, and she trained me as an online moderator for courses (she has an excellent blog about this here). Expect lots and lots of activities which should prove extremely useful to anyone using a VLE or thinking of teaching online. This book is also from Delta, and in fact I am contributing some activities to it myself!

There are probably more coming out that I have not heard of – it’s entirely possible! If you know of another eagerly anticipated title please post a comment.

Published in: | on January 13th, 2010 | 20 Comments »

Six language teaching trends of the 00s

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This past month I’ve found myself reading loads of lists to do with the past decade. Michael Jackson, the ipod, the war on terror and other events and trends that marked the beginning of the new millennium and influenced the past ten years. So I thought we should have something similar for English language teaching. Without further ado, here are six trends that characterized the noughties in language teaching. I have written these in a flashy headline style.

1. Corpus linguistics goes mainstream! Corpus study has been around for at least twenty years, but it was in the noughties that it finally made its mainstream appearance. Coursebooks now proudly proclaim that their English is based on corpus research, or that their books contain a “real English” guarantee, backed up by the corpus. We have seen more talks about practical application of corpus data, some of which is now freely available online. And this decade was the decade that words like “collocation” and “pattern” ceased to be the domain of linguists and became common currency among teachers.

2. Teaching with technology becomes the new imperative amid moral panic! More than anything else, this decade could be seen as the decade in which technology muscled its way onto the teaching scene amid a mixture of delight and anguish (perhaps more anguish than delight in many teaching contexts). As laptop computers, interactive whiteboards and broadband internet became cheaper and more available schools around the world began to introduce them into classrooms, often and sadly without appropriate training. This was the decade that we learned of digital immigrants and digital natives, which created an extra gulf between teachers and students who were often considered in separate camps. A big symbol of these developments was the interactive whiteboard, which would have seemed almost unbelievable in 1999. We also had to learn a bunch of new acronyms (IWB, ICT, URL etc), as if we didn’t have enough already.

3. Teachers harness web 2.0 – is this the end of national associations? In 1999 there were very few language teachers, authors or methodologists with a strong web presence. The last years of the 00s saw a slow but steady growth of ELT professionals moving into the online arena. More and more blogs sprung up, and many language teachers joined twitter and Facebook. This decade saw the wider development of the online PLN (personal learning network) for teachers. As ties via online networks strengthen and develop further could we be seeing a decline in traditional national associations?

4. The Common European Framework sweeps aside all in its path! This decade saw the rise and rise of the CEF (another acronym!) with its system of levels and can-do statements. Originally published as a book in 2001, the CEF has spread beyond European borders to other regions around the world. Has it changed language teaching methodology? It may still be too early to say.

5. Blockbuster coursebooks kept alive through “new” versions! Was Headway the first coursebook to get a “new” version? I am not sure, but I suspect it was one of the first. Other big courses were quick to follow anyway, and this decade saw books like Inside Out, Cutting Edge and English File all get overhauled and repackaged with the “new” label. This fashion got frankly ridiculous when Headway brought out its New New Headway, which they seem to have dropped now in favour of Headway, the 3rd edition. Do I sound a bit snide about new versions? Yes, until of course I get a new version of one of my books. When that happens expect me to change my tune completely ;-)

6. English as a lingua franca rocks the ELT boat! English as a Lingua Franca had been around since before 2000, but it has really become more and more important as a new area for teachers over the past ten years. The VOICE corpus of English as spoken by speakers of other languages is steadily growing. Books like David Graddol’s English Next saw a more mainstream recognition of the fact that “non-native” speakers of English already outnumber “native speakers” and that these terms have become a bit obsolete in today’s globalized world. But this was not without its share of controversy (you can find out a bit more about this here), as sectors of the ELF movement have challenged some established norms of English teaching.

If you have been teaching English over the past ten years, would you agree? Are there other trends that I have missed? Post a comment.

Published in: | on January 8th, 2010 | 27 Comments »

Six blog resolutions

Well, I know I won’t be the only one doing this kind of post but, like New Year’s Resolutions in general, these are more for me than anything else. You know, by writing something down and making it public you feel more bound to do it. And in addition, Karenne Sylvester asked all fellow ELT bloggers what their resolutions were on the BELT Free network.  So without further ado, here are my six blog-related resolutions for 2010.

1. Keep up with the blog. I had thought about making Six Things only last for a year, but I think there is still some life left in this so I resolve to keep up with it for the coming year.

2. Keep up with the other blogs. As many of you have already noticed, the language teaching blogosphere is getting more and more busy. It’s hard to keep up, and I’ve been slipping. My first thing to do is update my Google reader to include all the blogs on my blogroll and delete some of the blogs I originally put on my reader that I don’t look at now. A spring cleaning of sorts.

3. Begin a new blog project. I have often wanted to blog things that weren’t in lists of sixes but my own rules have prevented me from doing so. Either I had to change this blog to something like Six Things and Other Thoughts, or start blogging somewhere else. I have opted for the latter, and will be posting here soon where and what I will be blogging elsewhere on the web very shortly.

4. Stay calm. I posted a short piece on another blog about how I found myself getting very tempted to rant or rage at things I have read or come across on the web and how I notice this medium can make people do that. This year I will breathe out and count to ten before making a blogpost or tweet that might be misconstrued or that I might regret. These could be famous last words, mind.

5. Check my blogposts for errors! Enough said on this, ahem. So embarrassing to have fellow English teachers and authors send me a message pointing out a particularly silly spelling mistake.

6. Find out more about what is going on. This means that I want to keep up with different tools and widgets to make this blog better or more interesting, but also with what is going on with the people I know in the blogosphere or on twitter. For example, I am going to try and follow and join #edchat at least once this year.

There they are. Will anyone join me on any of these resolutions?

Published in: | on January 5th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Six gift ideas and the 2009 recap

Well, it’s that end-of-the-year season finale time, and Six Things is getting ready to close up shop for the holidays. So I thought that the last post of 2009 would be a recap in special form. I’ve noticed that some of my posts have included products or things that readers have commented on favourably. So I thought why not do a recap in the form of gift ideas for the language teacher and devoted reader of this blog? Here goes…

1. A Flip Mino Camera. Lots of love and nice comments about this little device after I posted six activities with camcorders. It is really a neat gadget too, and cheap as far as camcorders go.

2. A book for teachers. I love books, and I’ve had some great responses and feedback on posts about books that could revolutionize the way we think about ELT, books about critical ways of looking at images, about dialogues or about words you never knew existed. That last book actually takes first place as an ideal stocking stuffer!

3. A special unique boxset of the Grapevine videos in DVD format. People seem to LOVE these videos, just see the comments here, and our VCRs are breaking down. A 25 anniversary (or however old it is) boxset of all the Dennis Cook episodes on DVD would be very welcome. They could even include a special extra new Christmas Special episode! Now that would be fun.

4. A new moleskin notebook. On my six favourite items of stationery this ranked as a big fave. Cheap, small, perfect for the stocking.

5. A Teacher’s Calendar. No, I don’t mean a real calendar full of half-naked photos of the Sexiest Men in ELT, but something different. The Teacher’s Calendar is a book that comes out every year from American publishers McGraw Hill. It’s a day-by-day almanac of historic events, holidays, famous birthdays and lots of interesting teaching ideas. THIS is the place I go to first for my monthly topical teaching ideas. There, now you have one of my little secrets! Worth every penny.

6. An extra two hours every day. This would be a gift of time to read all the great new blogs that have come out in our profession over the past six months. I’m having trouble, serious trouble, keeping up with all of them. I have been adding them to my blogroll though and try to keep on top of it. But it’s hard!

Ha! I bet you thought I was going to mention Global, didn’t you? No, that will have to be for next year’s list as it won’t be out until after January first! So you’ll just have to wait. Besides, I’ve written enough about it on this  blog. But in the meantime just put any or all of the above on your wish list and have a happy, safe and fun holiday!

Six Things will return in January.

Published in: | on December 20th, 2009 | 8 Comments »

Six drinks for an English teachers New Year's Eve Party

Mixed conditional Martini, anyone?

Mixed conditional Martini, anyone?

I’m bringing this one out from the vaults, just because I imagine there are plenty of parties about right now and this was one of my earliest lists, before many people knew about this site. And, well, yes because I haven’t had time to do a new list recently to tell the truth! I am working on a year-end bonanza, so this will have to do until that’s ready!

Below is my list of six special drinks I would serve if I were hosting a New Year’s Eve party of only English teachers (which I’m not, thankfully!).

1. The Mixed Conditional Martini. A hefty dose of vodka in this one, leading to the following sentence which gives it its name: “If I hadn’t had that extra martini last night I’d be fine now”.

2. The Champagne Collocation. Basically this is like a big punch bowl filled with champagne and a mix of other alcoholic drinks it’s best not to ask about.

3. The Bacardi Washback. Washback (or backwash) is a term in testing about how a test affects the teaching that precedes it. There can be positive and negative washback. This drink has positive washback, trust me.

4. Learner-centred lager. This is the cheap beer I’d have on hand to serve to any students who managed to sneak in to the party.

5. RP  Riesling. RP stands for Received Pronunciation, the accent of the Queen of England. RP Reisling is a fine chilled bottle of aromatic white wine from Germany that will have you speaking English with a flawless German-Posh-English accent.

6. Speech Act Slammers. A speech act is “doing something with words” (Thornbury, An A-Z of ELT). A speech act slammer is “doing something with tequila”, usually drinking it. To finish the evening.

Right, does anyone else have something they would add to this party?

Published in: | on December 18th, 2009 | 13 Comments »

Last month I neglected to do a list of topical teaching ideas, instead focusing on activities with camcorders. But I can’t really let December and the last week of classes before the holidays go by without some kind of practical post. So, here goes!

1. Play the Christmas Stocking game

I’m currently not teaching (my classes finished last month), but if I were I would use this favourite standby. I bring in a Christmas stocking (if you don’t have one, use a big woollen sock) and a bunch of small items (e.g. toy car, pencil, eraser, keys etc). I explain the tradition of Christmas stockings and then discreetly put an item into the stocking. Students pass it around and have to make a guess as to what it is. I did it once with kitchen utensils (e.g. carrot peeler, garlic press) with a group of adults and it was hilarious. Good practice of modals of speculation too.

2. Talk about something other than Christmas

Here are some other interesting national holidays from December that have nothing to do with Santa Claus: United Arab Emirates Independence Day (Dec 2), Thailand King’s Birthday and National Day (December 5),  Turkmenistan Neutrality Day (Dec 12), South Africa Reconciliation Day (Dec 16) and the anniversary of Panama assuming control of the Canal (Dec 31).  Now, I’m sure if I put my mind to it I could create an activity to do with one of these but I’ll leave it as a germ of an idea for you to develop.

3. Make  a Christmas or end of year Crossword puzzle

Pretty standard idea, yes I know. But December 21 marks the 96th anniversary of the first published Crossword Puzzle so hey that can act as the hook for the lesson! Make your own crossword puzzles here.

4. Read some Sherlock Holmes

One of the big films coming out around this season is Sherlock Holmes. I’m really not sure about the Hollywood version, but it’s as good as oppotunity as any to read a bit of Sherlock Holmes with the class.  Full texts available here.You don’t need to do a whole story, just choose an extract as a starting text and go from there.

5. Rate the top gifts of 2009

A link on Yahoo took me to the top gifts of 2009. I’m always a sucker for this kind of thing. Anyway, these top products each come with a little text, making them ideal for a matching activity, followed by some vocabulary work and then perhaps a ranking activity?

6. Make some New Year’s Resolutions

The following website from the American government shows some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions for American citizens with links. It’s an interesting list, quite predictable to me as a North American but it could be interesting to ask students to guess what these are before sharing the list. This could form the basis of small group discussions on the benefits of making resolutions and what, if any, resolutions your students want to make. Or ask students to write simple resolutions on pieces of paper (using going to!) and put them in a hat. Students them pull out a resolution and say how likely it is they will do it.

There you have it! Hopefully ONE of these ideas can help you get through to the end of the year!

Six misconceptions about teaching young learners of English

I met Anita Kwiatkowska at a teaching conference in Hungary and she made a very good point to me about this blog: why aren’t there more things for teachers of Young Learners? Well, the short answer is because I no longer teach young learners. But Anita was right that there is nowhere near as much ELT blogging going on for Young Learners as there is for Old Learners. Faced with this I answered the only way I could: I asked her to write something for me to begin to redress the balance.

Here are Anita’s six misconceptions about teaching young learners (YLs) of English.

1. Teachers of YLs should be paid less money because the only thing they do is playing games and singing songs

2. Teachers of YLs have lower qualifications that’s why they teach kids (or – They teach kids because their qualifications are not enough to deal with more serious teaching)

3. Teaching children is not REAL teaching (Can’t remember how often I was given a look saying ‘Now what do YOU know about the difference between Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous???’) . You also don’t speak REAL English, because if you teach YLs (and are not a native speaker) most probably your level of English is equal to the one of your students’.

4. Teachers of YLs cannot/should not/ are not able to teach adults (This one is interesting – it seems like anyone can get a job teaching kids but if a teacher of kids wants to get a job teaching adults, he or she is immediately rejected)

5. Teaching YLs is a very easy/difficult job (it actually is not, once you get the idea how to do it properly)

6. Teachers of YLs like children (hmm… how to say that… I guess not all of them :)

So, what do you think? Are these misconceptions true where you work? Are you a frustrated YL teacher? Are there any others? Please post a comment.

Anita Kwiatkowska is a Polish teacher of young learners currently in Turkey. She is also active in the blogosphere and twittevers and is the person behind the blog l_missbossy’s ELT playground.

Published in: | on December 11th, 2009 | 15 Comments »

Six favourite coursebook or photocopiable lessons

I believe that all English teachers, even the most die-hard anti coursebook ones, have certain favourite lessons that they’ve taught from coursebooks or photocopiable material books. I would sometimes find myself eagerly hoping to get to the “good unit” or “good activity” in a book, one that almost always worked for me and that students enjoyed. I know lots of teachers feel the same way. I’d go as far as to say that a teacher who claims that “no coursebook or published lesson has ever worked for me” is perhaps not as fantastic a teacher as he/she believes.

There’s quite a lot of teasing and trashing of bad lessons or topics in published material. I wanted to celebrate six lessons that I’ve taught over the years that were written by people other than myself.

1. Reward Resource Pack: Poor Fabio.

Written by Sue Kay. Published by Heinemann/Macmillan

I taught with the Reward series after our university switched from Headway around 15 years ago in Mexico (there Reward was called Move Up). The book was fine, I got along with it well, but it was the resource pack that really became popular. I’ve seen copies of those photocopiables just about everywhere. I even slugged my own copies of them from America to Europe only to find a whole set at the school I worked at next. Poor Fabio is a picture story (to practice past tense, I think) starring Fabio, a skinny little guy who puts on a whole bunch of jumpers to make himself look bigger to go to the disco, whereupon he faints from the heat. Great stuff, and always got a laugh from my students.

2. Grapevine Video Lessons: A Day in the life of Dennis Cook

Written by Peter and Karen Viney. Published by Oxford University Press.

Right, well I can’t really say that I enjoyed teaching Grapevine the course, but I loved the videos. They had a great sense of humour and I really don’t think they’ve ever been matched. They are probably out of print now, shame. Dennis Cook was one of the main characters. A Day in the Life of Dennis Cook always, always got my students laughing when they discovered he actually busked (you, ahem, have to see it to understand). And Lambert and Stacey (a detective episode) always made me chuckle even though it was pretty silly. Peter Viney was always a genius at doing lots with very little language, and was a big influence on me. I remember bitterly fighting with another teacher over who got the television and VCR one class because I wanted to do that video. Maybe these would feel old-fashioned now, the style is very 1980s, but I would still use it.

3. English File 1. Watching You Watching Me lesson.

Written by Paul Seligson. Published by Oxford University Press.

I taught for two or three years with English File Elementary (the first edition) and loved it. It felt very different at the time (this was late nineties) and quite fresh. I wish I still had an old copy, I don’t anymore and I can’t remember which lesson this was. It was a lesson on the present continuous, based around the Rear Window film story. A man is sitting watching all his neighbours who are doing different things. It all fit together really well and felt completely original too. Never got tired of teaching that one. Can someone tell me what unit it was?

4. Straightforward Intermediate. Unit 3B Bedrooms

written by Philip Kerr. Published by Macmillan

OK, well I did work on the Straightforward series so I have a bias I ADMIT. But I didn’t write this level, and it’s this is a great lesson. I taught an intermediate group with it though earlier this year and we really enjoyed it. The lesson is 6 things you probably didn’t know about beds and bedrooms (instinctively I knew I would like it just for that title!) and it had some really curious information, as well as an interesting lexical set and good contextualised grammar practice. Plus the teacher’s book had some great suggestions for bringing it more alive. Great stuff.

5. New English File Pre Intermediate, Pessimist’s Phrase Book 3B

Written by Christina Latham-Koenig, published by Oxford University Press

This is another lesson I did in a standby class once to cover for a colleague. I thought it was a very clever way of doing will for predictions. You have to match the phrases to the pessimist’s response (e.g. I lent James some money yesterday. Pessimist response: He won’t pay you back.) The rest of the lesson is okay, but my students and I really enjoyed making other situations and pessimist responses.

6. It’s Magazines, The House

Written by Robert Campbell, published by It’s Magazines

A slightly more unusual choice here as this isn’t from a coursebook but it’s still a whole lesson (as opposed to an activity) so I put it in. I have had so much fun with this lesson, and have done it countless times. Students read about a house with a curse on it, that strikes at each subsequent owner of the house. They read about the first owner and how he met his sticky end, then they have picture prompts to help them create the stories of the subsequent owners, each of whom have a dark secret in their past which leads to their untimely demise. This is the perfect Halloween lesson, and you can see some interactive exercises connected to it here. It’s available in the book It’s Fantasy, which you learn more about here. After doing this lesson I basically went to Its and begged for a job with them. That was how I started getting into writing.

There you have it. I realise that I don’t have a proper spread of things by other publishers but going through my shelves these were the lessons that really jumped out at me. I also restricted myself to coursebook or photocopiable lessons, not teacher activity books (I’m going to a six favourite of those one day too, although that is a harder list for me because there are so many great teacher resource activity books). I also realise that I am showing my bias towards books used primarily in Europe and Mexico because that’s where I’ve taught. I know that there are some very good things being done in Asia (and very bad ones too) but I have not taught with those.

What about you? Remember this is about celebrating the ones you like, not making some comment about how they are all dreadful, loathsome, lack wow-factor, don’t meet learner needs, crush teacher creativity etc. etc. If you really want to do that, I happily suggest you go to this place.

Published in: | on December 7th, 2009 | 21 Comments »

It’s that time again at Six Things, time for another guest piece. This time we’re joined by none other than Ken Wilson, author of one of my all-time favourite resource books Drama and Improvisation. I’ll quickly pass over to him here as he has quite a bit to share. It’s all worth it, a real ‘wow’ of a post.

There are moments in all our lives when we go ‘Wow!’ Some of us say it out loud. Some of us say ‘Wow!’ quietly to ourselves. Some of us just raise our eyebrows. Emotionally, it amounts to the same thing.

Imagine you bump into a friend called Eric, who started going out with a girl called Susie three months ago. The conversation might go like this:

“Hi, Eric! How are things between you and Susie?”

“Good. We’re getting married next week.”

How would you react to this news? Select your answer from the following choices, or write your own.

a)     Say out loud: “Congratulations!”

Think: “Wow! You’ve only know her for three months!”

b)     Say: “Wow! You’ve only know her for three months!”

Think: “Is she pregnant?”

c)     Say: “Is she pregnant?”

Think: “Have I got time for a coffee before I start work?”

If the answer is (c) and you’re a teacher, you may want to consider finding another job – maybe as a police interrogator.

Eric’s announcement of his impending nuptials was enough to elicit a spoken or thought ‘Wow!” in examples (a) and (b). In other words, the statement had “The Wow Factor”.

Now try to imagine the following scene: an English class full of state-school teenagers who HAVE to be there. They aren’t PLS students who have paid to be there, nor are they students in a multinational class in Cambridge, England or Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The adjective often used to describe such teenagers is ‘bored’, but that isn’t fair. They’re going through a lot of emotional and physical changes in their lives and at this point, they probably haven’t realised the ‘importance’ of any of the subjects they are being taught. So telling them that English is important because half the world speaks it is not a motivation to learn.

They’re probably underwhelmed by the material in front of them. Particularly the reading material. Apart from a lack of engagement, there will also be a sizeable percentage of the group for whom the act of reading a dense text is an ordeal.

For these students, at least for a few moments in your lesson, you have to try to create “The Wow Factor”. Make them feel the same emotion as you felt when Eric told you he was marrying Susie.

By the way, I think I’m the first one to talk about The Wow Factor in ELT, so I’m going to trademark it as my own. From now on, I will refer to it as The Wow Factor .

OK, here goes.

Generally speaking, it’s really difficult for course books to provide anything remotely resembling The Wow Factor . It’s therefore something you the teacher have to provide. Or you have to get the student to provide it. The good thing is that if you are the one who provides Wow Factor material, the students will think you’re really cool.

The simplest way to provide Wow Factor reading material is to use ‘Amazing Facts’. So before I suggest six ways to use them, here are some examples of ‘Amazing Facts’ which may be useful in one or more of the following activities.

  1. A cockroach can live several weeks with its head cut off.
  2. Your heart beats over 100,000 times a day.
  3. Coca-Cola would be green if they didn’t add colouring to it.
  4. Worldwide, more people are killed each year by bees than by snakes.
  5. The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds.
  6. You’re born with 300 bones in your body. By the time you reach adulthood, you only have 206.
  7. A quarter of the bones in your body are in your feet.
  8. More people are killed by donkeys annually than are killed in plane crashes.
  9. A chicken with red earlobes will produce brown eggs, and a chicken with white earlobes will produce white eggs.
  10. In the course of an average lifetime you will eat about a hundred insects in your sleep, including ten spiders.

Now! Six ways to create The Wow Factor in your classroom.

1      Put Wow! facts on the wall around the room.

Before class one day, put some ‘facts’ on the wall. If you want them to  be noticed by the students when they come in, put them in big letters on coloured card.

But it works just as well if they DON’T read them when they first come in. At a certain (quiet) point in the lesson, ask the students to walk round the room and read the facts on the wall. The students do this, and when they sit down, you say: “Can you now write down the facts, please?” They will look daggers at you for asking them to do this, because you didn’t tell them that part of the task when they first walked round the room.

When they’ve written what they can remember, you can ask: “Would you like another chance to look at the facts?”

Their faces will light up with smiles and they will nod their heads. This time, they will read the facts more carefully, and will be able to write down the things they forgot when they sit down. You can give them a third chance, if you like.

There is also the chance you might see a raised eyebrow or two while they’re walking around and reading – the nearest you’re going to get to a ‘Wow!’ from most teenagers.

2      Wow! facts before you start using a new course book.

With a new class and a new course book, I like to do this: take 10 topics from the Contents page of the new book and write them on the board. It might look like this:

What do you know about …

  • great white sharks?
  • American prisons?
  • meeting people online?
  • Julius Caesar?
  • Heath Ledger?
  • megacities?
  • Ian Fleming?
  • the Amazon rainforests?
  • Australia?
  • healthy eating?

Now ask the class if they know anything about any of the topics. They will say ‘No’ of course, because they think they will have to stand up and say something. Tell them that they don’t have to say anything, they just have to write something down. Ask them to write a fact about one of the topics on a piece of paper.

Now ask the students to mingle and read other people’s facts. Finally, ask them if any of the other facts made them go ‘Wow!’

3      Wow! facts warmer

Go online to find some Wow! facts about the topic of the next unit in the book. It is almost certain that there are facts about the topic that you can find online that will impress your students. All you have to do is google the topic + amazing facts. I just did it with the first topic on my list above, great white sharks, and I found this:

The great white is the largest shark. But a relative of the great white that lived 65 million years ago, Procarcharodon megaladon, was 13 metres long! It was big enough to hunt and kill whales.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s probably more interesting than the material in the book. If you can get a modest ‘Wow!’ from the students, they may find the reading text a little more interesting.

4      Students bring their own Wow! facts. (Google homework)

This is basically the same as (3) but the students do the work. Simply give them the topic of the next unit in the book and tell them to bring a ‘Wow!’ fact to the next class. They can of course look up the facts on websites in their own language, but they must write them down in English.

5      Wow! Gap exercise

Find some Wow! facts and ask the student to try to fill in the missing words.

Here are some examples.

1     A Boeing 747’s wingspan is longer than ________________
(a historic event in the history of aviation)

2     Walt Disney was afraid of _______

3     More than 50% of the people in the world have never ____________

4     It is physically impossible for pigs to ______________

5     In Saratoga, Florida it is illegal to sing while wearing _____.

Do you know the answers? I will send them to Lindsay in a week or so!!

6      Wow! True or False

Finally, do one of the above activities, but add one or two untrue ‘Wow!’ facts. Student have to work out which one/s they thing is/are false.

So how and WHERE do we find Wow Factor material? Very simple, just google Amazing Facts, and you have more Wow! material than you could wish for. And if you want material about a specific topic, do as I did and google Amazing facts + the topic.

Happy Wowing!

Six fun little mnemonics

What's the mnemonic to help us spell "field" correctly?

A mnemonic is a sentence or short poem to help you remember something. I’ve always been on the lookout for good mnemonics to help in my teaching, and awhile ago I came across a really neat little book called i before e – old school ways to remember stuff. I thought I’d share six fun little mnemonics that you can use in your teaching (well, maybe not the last one…).

1 Spelling rule: i before e, except after c. This is the most famous one, used to remind us how to spell words like friend, or field. Actually, to make up for the exceptions like weight (which goes against the rule) there is a longer version I found which goes

i before e, except after c

or when sounded like a, as in neighbour and weigh.

2 Spelling Wednesday – remember how to spell this with the following. The book I mentioned above has a whole chapter of these!

WE Do Not Eat Soup Day

3 The months of the year. Most readers will probably be familiar with this one, Thirty days has (originally hath) September, April June and November; All the rest have thirty-one… But how does it end? I always ended with the lame “except February, which has twenty-eight”. I’ve found two other versions though, which I put below.

Excepting February alone, And that has twenty-eight days clear, with twenty-nine in each leap year.

Excepting February alone, which has but twenty-eight, in fine, till leap year gives it twenty-nine.

4 Parts of speech. The American readers of this blog might have been familiar with a song: Conjunction junction what’s your functio (if you are one of those poor deprived souls who did not grow up with Schoolhouse Rock, you can see a video here) Anyway, here are a couple of others:

The preposition shows relation, as in the street, or at the station.

Conjunctions join in many ways, sentences, words or phrase and phrase.

5 Commas. I think this one is cute:

A cat has claws at the end of its paws

A comma’s a pause at the end of a clause.

6 Finally… I wanted to include one very useful mnemonic for English teachers for the upcoming end-of-year party (and also to get this in before the TEFL Tradesman said it :-)

Beer before liquor, never sicker… Liquor before beer, never fear.

Published in: | on November 26th, 2009 | 17 Comments »