Term 3: Revision & wrap-up

It's that time of the year again. With an oral exam in 2 weeks and a written exam in 3 weeks,  the class now needs to focus on reviewing work done during the year, and making sure students are familiar with the FC-style tasks in the exam. They need to do some real-time composition writing, and I want to spend time on making sure they're ready to interract with each other during the oral exam too.  So into revision mode we go ...


Everybody passed the exam, which was great news, but it's been a rewarding year for many other reasons. For a start, the group gelled really well and were a pleasure to teach. Then there's the fact that at least some students have been encouraged to watch things in English outside class. Owl Hall, my first experience of using a reader systematically with a group, was a resounding success, and puts using a reader in class firmly on the agenda for the future. And last but not least, I feel proud of how Beyond has worked. No coursebook is perfect, but the original angles we came up with for familiar topics when writing the course have consistently engaged students throughout the year. And generating interest is where it all starts!

Day 7 (Term 3): I can't stand ...

We spent the first part of today's class looking at verbs followed by -ing forms and infinitives. The students copied a table with three columns: verb + -doing | verb + to do | verb + do. I dictated verbs, and pairs had to decide which column - or columns - to write them in. This lead to a focus on how the choice of an -ing or infinitive form after a verb can change its meaning. We followed on with the corresponding grammar lesson from Beyond Unit 5, which is all about museums and collections. 

As a follow-up to the grammar lesson, we listened to the classic Police song Can't stand losing you, and they then spoke about the things they can't stand, and why. There's a worksheet for the song here, if you're interested.

After the break we read and listened to Chapter 8 of Owl Hall. The story is still keeping their interest, and students are starting to speculate about what's really going on. Is Owl hall really just a holiday home ...? Their homework is to read Chapter 9.

For the last 15 minutes, my students asked to watch a series without any activities. I felt uneasy about this, but then thought that if it was something they really wanted to watch, it would be 15 minutes of intensive listening practice, and would perhaps convince reticent students that they can watch things in English and understand enough to enjoy them. They chose the Netflix series Stranger Things.

Day 6 (term 3): Scripts and transcripts

I've always believed we can get more out of listening texts if we get students to focus on things in the transcripts after they've listened. So I used the transcript of the Beyond listening from the last class as an FCE-style word-building task today, and they listened again to check answers. Listening again with the transcript really helps students, I think. You can see that 'Ok, that's what they said!' look on their faces. I suspect those moments signal a real development in their listening skills.

Illustration: Owl hall (macmillan)

Illustration: Owl hall (macmillan)

In the Owl Hall phase of the class, I wanted to do something different, so instead of students reading Chapters 6 and 7 along to the audio track, I got them to listen to the 'soundtrack' of the chapters that are available at OneStopEnglish. This involves students hearing the dialogue only, and in the case of Chapter 7, the sound effects of a bad dream that the protagonist has. This was great for speculation, and for the growing realisation that something very strange is going on. Their homework is to read the same chapters to get a more complete picture of what happened.

In the last part of the class we finished watching Nosedive, the first episode of Season 3 of Black Mirror. Like Owl Hall, it hasn't failed to keep their attention. The theme is highly relevant to their world, and it's full of issues to discuss. One student told me she'd already watched till the end ... in English! This was really satisfying, as part of the reason for bringing series to class is to show students that they can understand real English, and to encourage them to watch things in English beyond the class. If you want to watch Nosedive with your students, you can find my worksheet here.

Day 5 (Term 3): Regrets

We started with a listening lesson from Beyond Unit 4: a programme in which members of the public ask well-known people questions. The theme is regrets, and the lesson includes a focus on abstract nouns like honesty, freedom, fame, youth. It lead to some good opportunities for speaking. I said that maybe the students were too young to have regrets, but one wisely pointed out that "Everyone has regrets." So they talked in groups about their regrets, and we also talked about issues related to the abstract nouns with questions like: Which are seen as positive qualities in advertising? Which can be positive and negative?

The Beyond phase of the class ended with a writing lesson from the same unit which looks at how Trip Advisor-style reviews of a place are written. Their homework is to write a review of a place they've visited.

After a short break we spent some time discussing the Owl Hall chapters they'd read at home. It's becoming clear that there's more to the story than meets the eye. Things happen that don't seem to make sense, and students are starting to realise that something in the past is driving events. I asked them not to read more at home because I want them to focus on their writing, but also because I want to use Chapters 6 and 7 in the next class.

We ended with a little more of the episode of Black Mirror we've been watching. We'll finish that next week and I'll post the completed worksheet.

Day 4 (Term 2): It’s all about the story

We started with a ‘Find someone who’ activity based on information from their speed-writing about Easter in the last class. It got them on their feet and talking, and it appealed to their memories, all of which made it a success. We then did a big conditionals workout in the context of environmental issues from Beyond Unit 4. This involved a sequence of controlled practise activities followed by a discussion of issues. One sentence in particular generated debate: If humans were less intelligent, they wouldn’t have done so much damage to the planet.

After the break, we did some more work with the reader Owl Hall. Two students missed the last class, an opportunity for some real communication as their classmates told them what happened chapters 1 & 2. We then read and listened to chapter 3. Once again, complete silence. Before the break, I was having to work hard to keep them attentive, but there was no need now. In the chapter, the protagonist writes a blog entry, and we stopped reading to visit the Owl Hall website, where students could read it. This impressed them – a reader with a website!  They were even more impressed when the protagonist films a tour of Owl Hall - an old manor house which really exists - on her mobile, and were able to watch that online too. It got a ‘Wow!’ from one student and a ‘Qué guai!’ (How cool!) from another. I asked them to read chapters 4 and 5 at home, and posted some questions for them to think about on our class Edmodo page.

I was left wondering why I hadn’t used readers before in class. Owl Hall is fairly easy for them, but that’s partly why it’s working so well. Students said they liked being able to read it at home without a dictionary, and just enjoy the story. And meanwhile they get the benefit of some high quality contact with natural English and seeing all those things they study in a meaningful context. Time well spent! 

Day 3 (Term 3) extra: Owl Hall

Sunday 23rd April was Sant Jordi's day here in Catalonia. It's long been a tradition to give books and roses as presents, and this tradition is the origin of World Book Day, which marks the death date of both Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare in 1616. 

To celebrate this, I started using the reader Owl Hall in class with my students. It was written by my Beyond co-author Robert Campbell and is based on an original idea by Robert and Lindsay Clanfield.

So why get students to all read something? The more I talk to students whose English is particularly good, the clearer it becomes that their 'secret' is either that they watch TV or read in English regularly. It's why we work on episodes from series in class: to try and encourage them to select the original version of the soundtrack when they watch at home, at least some of the time, or perhaps after watching the episode first in their own language. And its why I've brought Owl Hall to class. When I'm correcting written work, it's not the misuse of verb tenses that stands out as a problem, it's wrong lexical choices and the wrong word order within sentences. I'm hoping reading will help fix both.

My feeling is that the project got off to a good start. I set the scene by getting them to speculate about the story from its cover and pictures of the protagonists. This was generative because students didn't agree with each other, and that meant they were interested to read and find out who was right.

They then listened to and read the first chapter, and it was really satisfying to see them quietly absorbed in the activity, and to hear a resounding 'yes' when I asked if they wanted to continue reading the story. Their homework is to read Chapter 2 at home and to think about some questions I've posted on the class Edmodo page. The aim is to get them reading for pleasure, but I hope that having concrete things to think about and discuss in the next class will provide some extra motivation, particularly for those students who don't like reading.

If you'd like to know more about Owl Hall, you can visit the Owl Hall website. You will also find a lot of free activities to use with the first chapter of Owl Hall at the OneStopEnglish website. The audio recording of Chapter 1 is available at OneStopEnglish too.

Day 3 (Term 3): Easter & beyond

This was the first class after the Easter break, so we started with a speed writing task. I gave them 5 minutes with no planning time to write as much as they could about the holidays. Afterwards, they talked about what they did in small groups, and then told the class which member of their group had the best Easter, and why. This went well, I think because they'd already thought about what to say while writing.

To review language from the last class (past modals), we did one of my favourite speaking activities. I give each student a card with a criticism on it, for example: You shouldn't have walked home alone! Students had to say their criticism to all their classmates, who had to come up with an excuse. The person with the best excuse kept the card. The cards I used are here, if you're curious.

The main language agenda today was to review conditionals. This took some thought because my oldest students are 17 and very familiar with the way conditionals are named and structured, whereas my youngest student, who is 12, and hasn't formally studied conditionals at all. So I got the others to teach her how conditionals work. Doing that kept everyone engaged.

After the break we started a series of activities based around the reader Owl Hall, which I'll look at separately in the next post. And the class finished with us watching the first part of the first episode of the third series of Black Mirror. It's called Nosedive, and you can see its creator talking about it here. The theme of the episode feels really relevant to my students lives: a warning about how the future might look if the growing obsession with social media popularity ever got to the point where it defines our status in society. The students were gripped by it and want to see more. I'll post the worksheet when it's finished.

Day 2 (Term 3): Speculations

Sherlock might not have worked last week, but we continued with the theme of deductions today. I first got them to speculate what I had in my hand with could/may, can't, must. (I made it hard - it was a plectrum.) I then got them to speculate about what a mystery shopper is before checking their thoughts by listening to a conversation from Unit 8 of Beyond. (It's someone who's paid by a shop to act like a customer and assess the service they receive.) This lead into a focus on present and past speculative language and some controlled practise. They then came up with explanations for a series of situations like this: The kiosk in front of your house is closed. It's not a public holiday, and it's normally open. It was a fun activity that appealed to their imaginations. The other situations are here, if you're curious.

We went on to work with two songs that are connected by their titles: one very old (by The Beatles), the other recent (by Taylor Swift). I played the videos and asked them what the connection was, and what each one is about. I then handed out the worksheet you can find here, and got them to try and fill in the missing words before listening again. Some of them had trouble with the gapfill task in the exam, and this felt like a good way to give some practice. (The connection is should have, by the way!)

Day 1 (Term 3): A quiet start

A strange class to start term. Only about half the group turned up, with many away on exchange programmes or spending the day with their visitors. It was an opportunity to give plenty of space to speaking whenever the occasion arose. We started with an FCE-style listening from Unit 8 in Beyond, in which students hear a series of dialogues linked by the theme of customer service, and then they spoke about their own experiences of having to take things back to shops, getting poor service in a restaurant and so on.

In the second part of the class we watched part of the first episode of the series Sherlock, which made Benedict Cumerbatch an international star. The students patiently watched and tried to make sense of things, but by the end of the class it was clear that they'd found it difficult. It's a shame because they really wanted to see it, but we had to admit defeat. Sometimes that's what happens when you bring authentic material to class. If you'd like to try out the worksheet, though, you can find what I used here!

Day 8 (Term 2): Global or local?

We spent a lot of the class today working on passive forms in Unit 8 of Beyond: the use of tenses, passive gerunds and infinitives (eg after modals), having/getting something done, It's thought etc for general opinions. To practise them, students completed arguments for and against a range of environmental issues, like the one one you can see here, and then talked about them. It was good to see the students getting into their group discussions, giving me the chance to listen in and give feedback and support.

I was also aware that the school's exam period is close now. Easter is about as late as it gets this year, so the school's decided to start Term 3 before the holidays, meaning that students have a written exam in two weeks and an oral exam the week after. So before watching the final 10 minutes of The 100 (you can find the worksheet here), we looked at how the FC keyword transformations work, and practised them. Posts will resume again when Term 3 starts.

Day 7 (Term 2): World trade

What was the most important invention of the 20th century? When I asked this question I got a familiar range of answers: the internet, the phone, the plane, television. But I wanted to suggest another candidate. Its inventor is a man called Malcolm McClean, and his invention was ... the shipping container. To find out just how much this metal box changed the world, students read an article about McClean and his box in Unit 8 of the SB. The idea for the article came from a BBC documentary I watched just before working on Beyond B2, and it was gratifying to see how students were also fascinated by the revolutionary impact of such a simple invention.

Keeping with the theme of world commerce, the latter part of the class was spent preparing for the last major writing task of the term: an FC-style essay. As I explained, this is a genre they will have to write in the exam. As a lead in, I got students to think of the good and bad things goods being transported cheaply around the world. We then looked at the model essay in Unit 8 of Beyond, analysed its structure and picked out the words and phrases that are used to argue that globalised world commerce has done more harm than good. Their homework is to argue for the other side of the debate. It'll be interesting to see the results as it's a text type students can find it hard to get right.

Day 6 (Term 2): Teen life

We started with some activities to review language from last week, including 3-word phrasal verbs related to teenage life. This included the speaking activity here. Students completed the questions and then discussed them. At this point I couldn't resist showing them a legendary clip of comedian Harry Enfield turning into a teenager. Some saw the funny side; others  found his transformation too extreme. See what you think!

Since the class I've looked at the students' homework: advice for me about bringing up teenage kids. It was interesting to read, with a clear pattern: parents should keep calm and not shout. They should listen and not automatically say 'no'. We should also allow them some freedom and privacy. As for dealing with problems, one boy recommended parents gain their teen's trust by talking about their own experiences rather than asking direct questions. Plenty of food for thought!

The class ended with another part of the pilot episode of The 100. You can find the full worksheet here. I've focussed on the passive in one of the exercises because it's the language agenda for our next class.

Day 5 (Term 2): The human body

What's the difference between the images at the top, with blue connections, and those underneath? No one in the class guessed correctly, but they show a male and female brain. Apparently, the connections in the male brain (blue) between the front, where action is coordinated, and the back, where sight is processed, suggest a brain wired for action. The female brain, with connections between hemispheres, makes multitasking easier. The images, taken from Beyond Unit 6, provide a context for studying relative pronouns, which they practised by creating quiz questions about the human body, like REM sleep, during which your eyes move rapidy, is a time when an important activity happens. What activity? (Answer: dreaming)

We switched topic next, and listened to a radio interview from the same Beyond unit. Two teens talk about a book they've written with advice for parents who are having problems with their teenage kids. It's a topic that lead to a lively discussion, and their homework is to write to me with their tips for ensuring a good relationship with my older kids, who are 12 and 14. It'll be interesting to see what they suggest!

We ended the class by starting to watch the pilot episode of the series The 100. I'll post the worksheet next week as it needs some work, but it went down well with the group. It's about a group of teenage delinquents who are sent back to re-colonise Earth generations after a nuclear war made life there impossible. Take a look at the official trailer to find out more!

Day 4 (Term 2): Lefties

A class with a distinctly scientific flavour today. Students described photos like the two here using compound nouns and adjectives, the lexical aim of the lesson, and then had to work out what they all have in common. Can you see what it is? To find out, students read a message on the opening spread of Beyond Unit 6 from a scientist to pupils at her old school encouraging them to consider a carreer in research. In the message, the woman explains how her interest in genetic research was kindled by having a twin sister with a different personality despite their shared DNA. Her current work is on handedness in animals, which turns out to be a particularly human trait. (The people in the photos are left-handed.) The article lead into a 'nature or nurture' debate, giving us the chance to consult the identical twins in the class. Listening to their insights and experiences was fascinating.

We continued with another photo puzzle. Do you notice anything strange about the photos of the man? Can you explain the difference between them? To find out, students read an article in the same unit of Beyond that explains how the blueprint for animal life is external symmetry combined with a carefully controlled level of internal assymmetry. However, although we have a preference for symetrical faces, perfect facial symmetry is not appealing - as the man of the right shows, in a photo created using the mirror image of half of his face.

Day 3 (Term 2): Formal letters

We kicked of with some error analysis from their writing about personal goals. It's one of those tasks that worked unexpectedly well - students said they liked the personal nature of the contents. Interestingly, the errors mostly revolved around lexical issues rather than grammar - word choices like win/earn money and not using ing forms as nouns. From here, we moved on to some work on future continuous and pefrect verb forms, relating them to how their see their own lives unfolding.

The other main focus of the lesson was formal letters. An essential text type for the FC exam, but one younger students often have no experience of writing - in any language. This made the context important, so we looked at a letter from the Writing lesson in Unit 3 of Beyond, sent by students to their school principal about setting up a computer club. Their homework is to write a similar letter, so to prepare, they discussed ideas for their own clubs in groups.

We ended with the first part of the pilot episode of a series I'd never heard of: The Gilmore Girls. You can find the worksheet here. It's a good series for teens - funny but not too adult. The problem we ran up against was the sound quality of the version on YouTube, which made it hard to follow. We'll have to abandon it, but if you can find a better quality source, it's worth a look - and has a great theme tune!

Day 2 (Term 2): Phrasal verb stories

The lesson started with a review of the phrasal verbs we looked at last week: carry on, work out, set up, take over, sign up for, take up, miss out on, give up, get round to, come up with, give back, put off. They checked their meaning by completing a dialogue in the SB, and they then split into groups to write a story about the woman in the photo using as many of the phrasal verbs as possible. They came up with some great stories, including one in which an evil grandson worked out how to get his hands on her inheritance by getting her to take up parachuting and tampering with her parachute, only to find he'd tampered with the wrong one - with fatal consequences!

Next, we did a listening from Unit 3 in Beyond about a Scottish boarding school in which students live in log cabins in order to learn to be independent, which lead to a focus on two lexical areas: adjective + preposition, verb + adjective/noun + preposition. Once again, they chose to practice this language by writing about themselves for homework. And we finished the class by watching the rest of the Big Bang Theory pilot episode. You can find the worksheet here, but be warned - there are one or two themes that might cause embarrassment!


Day 1 (Term 2): Off with a bang

The new term kicked off with a 'find-someone-who' activity about the very long Christmas break. Traditionally, 'King's Day' on 6th January is the main event in Catalonia, so it had been 4 weeks since the last class.

They were keen to see their exams, discuss answers ... and make challenges to my maths!  We started Unit 3 in Beyond after that, which opens with a look at short- and long-term goals, a neat follow-on from the new year's resolutions that came up in the clas warmer. The SB lesson also introduces a set of phrasal verbs related to goals, and their homework is to write about their own, including some of the verbs if appropriate. They voted last term to practise new language through writing rather than grammar exercises. It's more work for us all, but it's been a success so far.

The class finished with part of the pilot episode of Big Bang Theory, available on YouTube with subtitles in Portuguese! For those of you who know the show, they found Sheldon hard to follow (no surprises there), but were encouraged by Leonard and Penny. They asked to continue next week, which is always a good sign! I'll share the worksheet in the next entry as it needs a little rethinking.

End of term 1

The last classes of term were used for revision for the exam, and for the exam itself. This is very similar to an FCE test, so I made sure they were familiar with all the task types and knew how to deal with them. 

Exam day kicked off with the oral exam. For this, I swapped class with another teacher so that we could assess each other's students' more objectively. Last year the examiner told me that some of my students lacked the language they needed to interract appropriately, so I spent a lot of time this term teaching them phrases for doing this. You can see these here, if you're curious.

Exams are far from perfect as a way of assessing your students' real level of English, but there's something satisfying about finding out how well they did. That was especially true for the oral exam, and there are always surprises - students who who get nervous and don't show what they can really do, but also those who don't say much in class but come across really well in the exam. I was happy and relieved when my spreadsheet showed that everyone in the class had passed the exam as a whole, and that the time invested in developing interaction had paid off in the oral exam. Let's see what 2017 brings!

Day 8 (Term 1): Graphology

Graphology, personality and computer nerds - the three main themes of today's lesson. I started by dictating questions for to discuss: How often do you write by hand? How would you describe your handwriting? Handwriting's a good topic with teens. Despite being in the keyboard age, students here are still required to write most school things by hand to avoid them cutting and pasting work off the Net. The questions lead into a listening from Unit 2 in Beyond that includes an interview with a graphologist. Here's a brief summary of what he says a person's handwriting can tell you about their character:

-Big letters: open, outgoing, not very tactful
-Neat and tidy: sensible and practical
-Sloping to the left: reserved
-Sloping the the right: inventive, sensitive, temperamental
-Written quickly: creative, with an active mind

Students used these insights to analyse each other's handwriting. What do they tell you about yours?

In the last part of the lesson we watched part of the first episode of  popular British comedy The IT Crowd. The class found it a little tough to follow, didn't really get into the humour and suggested Big Bang Theory instead. But if you want to try it with your students, you can find the worksheet here.

Day 7 (Term 1): Anecdotes

To start the class, students told the urban legends they'd prepared at home. To get them in the mood, we revisited two urban legends from last week's video. I transcribed them and we used the text to work on narrative tenses and word-building . You can download the worksheet here, and the video's here. Some of their stories were familiar, others were new, including one based around tragic events in the Rocafort Metro station in Barcelona! (If you read Spanish, you can find the story here.)

We then spent some time preparing for writing a story. In the Speaking lesson in Beyond Unit 2, one member of the drama group tells others about something scary that happened to him in the street. They used the language from the annecdote to help tell their own ones. We then looked at a fantasy story in the Writing lesson from the SB. Their homework is to write either an anecdote or a fantasy story.

And finally, a song that tells a story. I was worried they might find it too old, but bruce Sprinsteen's The River got applause from them when they finished watching. You can download the lesson plan and lyrics here, but the secret is to give students key words from each of the verses and to get them to try and predict what the story will be about.