Day 6 (Term 1): Urban legends

We started with a question: 'Have you had a good week?' Students thought for a minute or so, and then shared their thoughts. Most complained of having too many exams. Just when I was about to move on, one student asked what I thought about Trump's victory, leading to an interesting discussion. It's great when topics like this are raised by students themselves.

The rest of the lesson focussed again on stories. We reviewed narrative tenses in the SB unit in the context of urban legends. I then got them to tell me some that they knew, and we watched the first two stories on a YouTube video: 8 Urban Legends That Turned Out To Be True. After each one, students recounted what they'd understood in pairs, and established what they were unsure about. They then watched again to resolve doubts. The activity was motivating and rewarding - grappling successfully with real English. Their homework is to find an urban legend online and come to class prepared to tell it to the class from memory.

We spent the part of the class on Lyrics Training. The top song for the day, perhaps inevitably considering the news of Leonard Cohen's death, was Hallelujah, and they chose this song. I was amazed they all knew it, but they told me they'd sang it with their school choirs. It was a moving experience, teenagers singing along to a video of a very old Leonard Choen, still able to work his magic on an amazing song.

Day 5 (Term 1): Storytelling

The class theme today was stories. It started with the photo on the right. In pairs, students discussed the questions below, using the phrases for support:
What can you see in the photo?
When and where do you think it was taken?

Useful phrases
I can see … It looks like … It looks as if he’s … The kids seem to be … I think the photo was taken … because ... Perhaps/Maybe ...

The photo is of a Kamishibai storyteller, a form of story-telling from Japan dating back to the 12th century. It used pictures to depict scenes, and many of the first manga comic artists in the 1950s learned their trade as Kamishibai storytellers. Students read a Kamishibai story from Beyond Unit 2 after speaking. It's about a fisherman who gets taken under the sea by a turtle he saved from an attack by a group of cruel boys. Everyone read the first part of the story, then speculated about how it continues. To find out, they did a jigsaw reading, which made them storytellers too.

And with Halloween so close, the class ended with a scene from The Vampire Diaries. Here are the instructions for students:
1 Dictation. Write down these words/phrases: barge in, brag, auction, kitschy, smitten, awkward, on the rebound, doomed, looker.
2 Use your phones to look up the words.
3 Speculate about what happens in the scene.
4 Listen to the scene (picture off). What happened?
5 Watch. Check your predictions and what you heard in 4.
6 Watch again with the script (click on the link above).
7 Dubbing. Work in pairs. Practise the dialogue between Elena and Damon. When ready, play the scene with the sound off and dub the voices. Can you make your lips synch with the actors' as they speak?

Day 4 (Term 1): Memory

Today's lesson ends with a name: Ole Kirk Christiansen. Don't forget it!

It started with me taking in homework. When I suggested they did some grammar exercises at home, some students rebelled, saying 'that's what we always do'. Instead, they suggested practising the same language via writing. So they wrote their answers to a set of questions that they'd discussed in class. As I took in their work, I felt they'd been vindicated, with lots of meaty answers to read through.

The central activity was the listening from Unit 1 in Beyond, a talk about ways to improve your memory. Most students said they had trouble remembering names, and were curious to find out how to improve that ability. And as memorising information for exams is a key part of their lives, they all had lots to say about how they do it. It was also fun to be able to tell them how I went about remembering their names - by really listening first time and trying to associate their appearance with their name in some way.

The class ended with a twenty minutes on one my - and their favourite classroom websites - lyricstraining.com. If you're not familiar with it, it shows videos of songs along with their lyrics, but with some words taken out. How many depends on the level you choose at the start. You play the song and a volunteer comes to the keyboard to fill in the gaps with help from the rest of the class. It's noisy but fun, and only English is used.

Finally, that name. Can you remember it? Do you know who it is? I told students their Edmodo task would be to find out about him, and on Monday I posted The LEGO® Story on Edmodo along with the questions below. You have to watch the first 6 minutes to answer them. (Thanks to Robert Campbell for recommending the video.)

1 Who was Ole Kirk Christiansen?
2 What two misfortunes did suffer at the start of the story?
3 How did he become successful again?
4 Where did the name LEGO come from?

Day 3 (Term 1): Hurricanes

During the week students posted names in the news on Edmodo. These included Barcelona (awarded the Olympics 30 years ago), Marc Màrquez (after his third MotoGP world championship), and Bob Dylan - see the screen shot. Hacerse el Sueco literally means 'behave like a Swede', which is ironic considering the people who chose him!

The class kicked off with a look at some common errors from the students' homework. I then got them to self-correct some of the errors in their own work. There's disagreement about the benefits of this, but I've always found it engages students. They ask questions and this provides the opportunity for some individual attention. My feeling is that it gives them more in return for their effort than simply handing back a corrected composition.

The main focus of the class was hurricanes. The Reading for Unit 1 in Beyond is all about them, so I started by getting students to pool their current knowledge and see if they could answer any of the questions on the SB page. (Answers below.)
1 What’s the origin of the word ‘hurricane’?
2 Where do hurricanes form?
3 How long have men’s names been used for hurricanes?


During the reading task we worked on subskills (strategies) for quickly finding specific information in a text. Developing subskills is is a regular feature in Beyond, the aim being to get students to adapt how they read or listen to to the type of information they want from a text. Their Edmodo task will be a short post about a major hurricane from the past - an opportunity to put the skill into action again.

For this week’s song I chose Elastic Heart, by Sia from the class’ suggestions. The worksheet (click to see) has a focus on collocations.

(Hurricane answers: 1 It’s believed to have its roots in the word Hurakan, an ancient Mayan storm god. 2 Over warm waters in the Atlantic, sometimes off the coast of Africa. 3 Since 1979. Before that only women’s names were used.)

Day 2 (Term 1): Names

It was great to see that most of the class had signed up to Edmodo during the week and answered the photo quiz questions (see previous post). It was fascinating to find out how. One person zoomed in so she could read things in the windows behind the statue. One searched for ‘a statue of a man with a saxophone’. And one searched using the photo itself – something I didn’t know you could do! 

The class today was about names and naming and included a video from the opening spread of Unit 1 in Beyond B2. It's about the story behind different names. It worked well because it’s challenging – completely unscripted vox pop clips of native speakers – but not so hard to understand that it becomes demotivating.  Their homework is to record or film themselves talking about the story behind their name. Their Edmodo task is a post about a name that’s in the news this week. 

We also spent some time looking at naming vocabulary – stage name, nickname, alias, assumed name, maiden name, etc. I wrote some names on the board as a lead-in and asked who they are. Here are the first four. Do you recognise them? (Answers below.) 1 Robert Galbraith 2 Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta 3 The Kun 4 Peter Gene Hernandez. 

The class ended with a song by the last person on the list above. A number of students in the class requested songs by him, and the lyrics for this one felt right for the group. You can download the worksheet here: When I was Your Man.

(Name answers: 1 Writer J.K. Rowling 2 Artist Lady Saga 4 Footballer Sergio Aguero 4 Singer Bruno Mars)

Day 1 (Term 1): Knowing me, knowing you

Over the years, I've developed a first lesson designed to get students feeling relaxed about talking about themselves. It starts with the focus on me. This year I started with a slide show of holiday photos, including the one here. Students had to watch, remember what they saw, and then say what they photos told them about me. Next I handed out a letter introducing myself (click to see) but with information missing. The photos allowed them to fill in some gaps, but had to ask me questions to complete it. Their homework is to write back and tell me about themselves.

As always on first days, there were a lot of practical things to deal with too. One was to get students to sign up to Edmodo. If you're unfamiliar with this app, to quote Google Play it: ‘takes learning beyond the classroom by providing a free, safe place for teachers and students to connect and collaborate—anytime, anywhere’ . The great thing is it’s a closed group, with no personal details exchanged. I use it to send students the class notes I project on the board during lessons, and to post small tasks to encourage students to use their English between our classes. This week's task was the questions below about the photo. (Answers below.)

1 Who's the statue of?
2 What's he famous for?
3 Where exactly was the photo taken?

We finished with a song, 7 Years by Lukas Graham (click to see worksheet). When i asked for reactions, some students said it made them feel relaxed and peaceful. One student said ‘it bores me’. Which lead nicely into asking what songs they want to work on in class. I’ll be interested to see what they suggest.

(Photo answers: 1 Adolphe Sax 2 He invented the saxophone. 3 Dinant in Belgium, in front of the house where he was born, now a museum.)