Conversation Questions About Halloween

Copy of Conversation Questions About Homes In case you’re planning a Halloween lesson for next week, I’d like to share a list of conversation questions to get your students chatting about the holiday. The questions are mainly in simple present and simple past tenses, so they can be used with high-beginner classes and up.

I’ve posted the questions, along with a printable handout, at my new site, ESL Airplane. You can find them right here: Conversation Questions About Halloween

 

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Introducing ESL Airplane

 

 

Copy of ESL Airplane-3

Hi Teachers!

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything in this blog. I took a break for a while, but I’m back. Well, kind of, anyway. I’ve started a brand new blog called ESL Airplane, and I’m super-excited about it!

It’s going to include everything from In Your Country, plus new sections for quirky news stories, conversation questions and more. I’m gradually going to be moving the content from this site over there and adding lots of new material, as well. It’s still new, and I still have a lot of work to do and things to learn about blogging, but it’s open and ready for visitors.

You should stop by! 🙂

Click right here to check it out: www.ESLairplane.com

 

Beginner Ideas: Describing Pictures with “There is” and “There Are”

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There is a table. There are two hands. There is some coffee. There are two cups. There are two cups of coffee. There are two bracelets. There is pink nail polish. There aren’t any faces…

Early on when teaching beginners, there usually comes a point when my students have enough vocabulary to make simple sentences with the verb “to be,” but they can’t yet say much else. They can describe what they see in front of them using “there is” and “there are.” They can form plural nouns and use the words “some,” “a lot of” and maybe “any.” They have learned to use numbers, and they might even know a bit about adjective order in English. They still need more practice with “to be,” though, before we move on to other verbs.

At that point, I like to bring out the pictures. I show a series of simple pictures to my students, and we work together to describe what we see. I try to look for pictures with a mix of images that they already know the words for, as well as some words that they haven’t learned yet.

Here are some examples of the types of images that I might start with:

What is in the picture?-4.jpg

 

What is in the picture?-2.jpg

 

What is in the picture?.jpg

 

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What is in the picture?-3.jpg

How can I use pictures with individual students or small groups?

  • Flip through the pictures individually, and prompt students to name or make simple sentences with the words that they know. (There is a bicycle. There are two people.)
  • Allow students to ask you questions such as “What’s this?” or “What are these?” or “How do you say __________?” about objects in the picture. Encourage them to ask you “How do you spell __________?” when they would like you to write a word on the board.
  • After you finish going through a series of images, go through them again, to review the new vocabulary.

How can I modify this idea for a bigger class?

It is possible to use the idea above as a whole-class warmup or end-of-class activity for a bigger group. However, you can definitely make changes if you’d like to let your students work in small groups or pairs.

  • You might show one image to the entire class. Ask students to write a list of things that they see in the picture in small groups. Prompt them to ask each other “What’s this/that” questions, and to look up unknown words in their dictionaries.
  • You might also start this activity by having students write their lists individually, and then compare ideas in small groups.
  • After the groups are finished speaking, bring the class back together, and review all of the sentences and new vocabulary that students came up with.

Or:

  • Divide your class into groups. Give each group a different picture to work with. Tell your groups that they should be able to describe everything that they see in the picture. Give them time to find the new vocabulary that they will need.
  • After they finish, call a group up to the front of the room, and display their image on the projector. Prompt students from other groups to ask them, “What’s this/that?” questions about the picture.
  • Once again, after each group has had a turn, flip through all of the images again to review new vocabulary that students have learned.

 

What do you think?

Have you used any of these ideas with your students? How else have you used pictures to teach beginners? I’d love to hear from you, so please take a moment to leave your comments in the box!

On Teaching Beginners…

I love teaching complete beginners to speak English! For me, it fees like starting a project from scratch and then watching it develop.

I like teaching the basics and then seeing students connect the dots in their minds as they learn new things. (For example, if they learn “I don’t understand,” on day 1, they often have a lightbulb moment when I teach them to form negative sentences three weeks later.)

I like the feeling that if I train them well from the beginning, I can help them avoid the common basic mistakes that more advanced students make all the time (“go TO,” not “go IN!).

I love when a few weeks in, the occasional beginner student looks at me all bright-eyed, and says something like, “Wow! I understand everything we learn!” or “Wow! English is easy!” or “I can’t believe I like English!” And then they share a horror story about a nightmare teacher who told them they were bad with languages and would never learn English, or about getting stuck in a class where they didn’t understand anything. Beginners are really appreciative, and when I’m doing my job right, I know it.

Luckily for me, none of the other teachers at my school seem to share my enthusiasm for teaching low-level learners, so when they come along, I’m usually the one asked to teach them. A lot of teachers who I’ve spoken to seem to think that it’s harder to teach beginners than to teach intermediate and advanced students, but for me it’s the opposite. (Advanced students ask hard questions!)

This month, my goal is to put together of series of posts to help other teachers who need help with their beginner classes. If you’re one of those people, I’d love to hear from you:
-What questions do you have about teaching beginners?
-What are some problems you’ve had in the past?
-Do you have any beginner horror stories?

Or if you’re like me, and you do love beginner classes:
-What do you like about teaching beginners?
-What tips do you have for anyone who is struggling?

Please take a moment to answer a question or two in the Comment section.  🙂

1oo Things that Make me Happy

100 things that make me happy

A bunch of years ago, back when I was a college student majoring in creative writing, my favorite poetry teacher gave us this journaling assignment: Make one list of 100 things you like, and another list of 100 things that you hate. I remember it being fun and challenging. It starts out easy: I like parks and sunshine and the color purple. But as you get closer toward the end and start running out of general ideas, your likes get really specific: I like people-watching while sipping iced coffee on park benches on humid August afternoons.

Recently, while going through my millions of old notebooks, I came across those lists, and they made me smile. I thought I’d like to try to bring this idea into my ESL classes. I like the idea of it because it really gets students thinking about things that are important in their own lives, and should help them find a way to describe the things that are interesting to them. It’s will definitely take students away from the textbook language that they may be used to. And since it’s nearly April and everyone is starting to get into a springy state of mind, I think that now is a good time to start listing things you love.

So here’s my somewhat vague, super-happy lesson plan:

This lesson plan is pretty adaptable, but I would probably suggest using it with Intermediate through Advanced students. Even as a native speaker, it’s a challenging task, so you’ll definitely need to adapt it if you plan to use it with students at lower levels.

  1. On the board, write:
    ___________ makes me happy.
  2. Give students a minute to complete the sentence. Then go around the room, and ask everyone to share what they wrote. You might want to list their ideas on the board. Another option, if you want to get your students moving, is to invite students to come up and write their own idea on the board.
  3. Pick out a reading or two or five from 1000 Awesome Things, a website which has a long, long list of posts about specific awesome things that will make you smile. (High fiving babies, the smell of crayons, when the subway doors stop right in front of you…)
    OR: Have your students browse this Top 1000 list, and choose one favorite to share and chat about with a group.
  4. Give students this assignment for homework: Write a list of 100 things that make you happy. Tell students that they can either type their lists, or write them by hand, journal-style on a loose sheet of paper. (Not in their notebooks.)
  5. When the assignment is due, plan for a gallery walk in your classroom: Tape each student’s list to the wall. Give each student the same number of post-it notes. Then give your students time to walk around the room and look at all of the lists on the wall. When something stands out to them, tell them that they should write a note to the author about it on a post-it, and stick it on the wall.

 

Thoughts and Suggestions:

  • Before doing this activity with your class, I’d highly suggest making a 100 Things That Make Me Happy list of your own. You might even want to share it with the class.
  • For lower level students, you might have students make a list 0f 25 things that make them happy. For Intermediate, maybe try 50?
  • A list of 100 really is challenging. If you do ask for this many, students will almost definitely ask you if they can write less than 100. Tell them no. It has to be 100. The more challenging it is, the more creative their ideas will be.
  • Make sure to give your students enough time to complete it. A single night definitely won’t be enough. A week would be good.
  • I would suggest telling students that you won’t be grading their grammar, spelling or punctuation. Tell them to try their best, but to focus more on finding new vocabulary and communicating their ideas than on choosing the perfect verb tense.
  • Tell students to make sure that the ideas that they write are all ones that they are comfortable sharing with their classmates.

 

What do you think?

  • Do you think you might try this lesson plan?
  • If you tried it, what are some of your favorite ideas that students wrote on their lists?

    Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section at the bottom of the page!

 

 

 

Expression(s) of the Day

EnglishBeach Wear

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

I’m not much of a morning person, so lately I’ve been thinking a lot about setting up classroom routines to help cut down on prep-time, and make mornings run more smoothly. I find that teaching is less stressful when I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to say just after I greet my students.

One idea that I’ve been thinking about is starting with a class segment that I’ll call Expressions of the Day. I’m simply going to start each class by introducing a couple of useful English expressions, explain how they’re used, and have students come up with a few example sentences. Every day, I’ll challenge students to try to use one of their new expressions at some point during the class.

I plan to choose phrases that either (a) I personally use in everyday life, or (b) could be helpful in understanding media and cultural references. I’ll to try to avoid cute but outdated idioms like, “raining cats and dogs.”  Students seem to like that one, but to be honest, I don’t know any native speakers who wake up, look out the window, sigh and say, “It’s raining cats and dogs again.” Most people I know just say, “Ugh. Rain.”

And that’s it! Simple but practical, I hope. 

If you’d like to try this out along with me, I’ve created this little graphic organizer, which you can view and print right here: Expression Organizer

If anyone is interested, one of these days I’ll post an expression checklist that you can keep on hand so that you never run out of ideas.

Comments?

  • Have you tried this out? How did it work out?
  • Do you already have any similar routines in your class?
  • Would a useful expression checklist be helpful to you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you have a moment, please post ’em in the comment box below.

 

 

Sell This Stuff!

Here’s a creative activity that should get students of all ages thinking outside of the box.

A while ago, I posted The Balloon Chair Prompt, in which students sell an unusual product to their classmates. Today I put a similar prompt onto a handful of different images so that you can use it with groups more easily.

The new prompt reads: You work in a shop that sells unusual, expensive items. A customer walks in and asks you about the object in the photo. Sell it to him/her.

Take a look, and then scroll down to the bottom of the page for some lesson plan ideas.

Sell it - stones: A creative prompt in which students use their creativity to sell a pile of stones.

 

Sell it : A creative role play prompt in which students use their creativity to sell a pile of pencil sharpenings

 

 

Sell it - Stuffed animal

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Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Start by modeling the activity. Show one of the pictures to the class, and ask: What do you see in the picture? Why do you think this object is so expensive? What else could it be used for? (A pile of stones? This isn’t just ANY pile of stones. These stones were found inside of an ancient Egyptian tomb lying next to a mummy. They are said to bring good luck to whoever possesses them.)
  2.  Divide your class into several teams. (The pencil sharpening group, the pink drink group…)
  3. Tell each team to imagine that they work for a secondhand shop or a curiosity shop. Their job is to sell the precious, expensive object in their picture. Instruct the groups to work together to make a list of reasons that a customer should buy their object. Encourage them to be creative and come up with a backstory for their object, or come up with unusual uses for their products. (I would recommend making sure that all students write the list down.)
  4. Now rearrange the groups. Your new groups should have at least one member from each of the previous teams. (One stone person, one pencil sharpening person, etc.) Each group member should take turns playing salesperson and customer. The salesperson should tell the customers about their product, and try to convince them to buy it.
  5. *Instead of dividing the teams up again in step 4, an alternative is to have your original groups give whole-class presentations about their products. After they finish, classmates can ask questions, and then decide which one item they’d like to buy.

Like it?

Would you use it again? Do you have any other ideas on how to use these prompts? I’ll be happy if you let me know! Take a moment and leave your ideas and suggestions in the comment box below. Thanks for reading.

 

Back again

Hi there!

These past few months have been pretty busy, but I think I’m back for real, this time. I’ve got a new table in my new apartment, and it’s set up near a sunshiny window overlooking my city street, and there are birds chirping in the background and everything. So… I’m totally motivated to sit down and get back to writing!

This week I’ve been working on coming up for lots of new ideas for speaking prompts, classroom activities and more. If that’s what you’re looking for, check back soon. (And feel free to say hello in the comment section to let me know you’re reading and keep me on my toes.) 🙂

New Apartment Moving Checklist – A vocabulary-building lesson plan idea

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I last posted, and I was planning on posting a quick update to let you all know that I haven’t disappeared. I am in the process of moving, and my brain has been taken over by sofas and comforters and window blinds and drain stops.

Somehow, in the process of posting this update, I came up with a new vocabulary-building prompt, and a few ideas to help you plan your lesson:

Moving Checklist - An ESL vocabulary building lesson plan idea

Lesson Plan Procedures:

  • Warm-up: Introduce the following scenario:

You have just moved into your first new apartment. The apartment is unfurnished except for a refrigerator, an oven, a shower, a toilet, sinks, closets and cabinets. You have a sofa, a bed and a mattress. You will need to buy everything else. With your group, make a list of 20 things that you need to buy.


  • Let your students know that this is a vocabulary-building exercise. Encourage them to think about the little things that they use on a regular basis that they couldn’t live without, and to focus on words that they don’t know how to say in English.
  • As groups are working, you might want to jot down useful words that they come up with on the board.
  • After they finish, you might ask groups to read their lists aloud to the class. Tell the other groups to check off words on their lists that the other groups mentioned, so that they don’t end up repeating them.

Other Ideas:

  • Here are a couple of first apartment checklists to have on hand for your reference. (You might want to print one out for your students after you’ve finished the activity):

    Checklist from My First Apartment
    Checklist from Bed Bath and Beyond

  • With lower-level students, you might begin by teaching vocabulary for the rooms of a house.
  • Once they have learned the relevant vocabulary, ask your students to draw a picture of their house (or of their imaginary dream home). Make sure to remind them that they aren’t being judged on their artistic ability. 🙂 After they finish drawing, pair your students up, and have them describe their houses to a partner. I was a little uncertain about how this would work out the first time I tried it, but my students always seem to love it. It works especially well when you have visual learners in your class.
  • Another possibility is to have students draw a picture of their favorite room in their house, furniture and all. They can then tell a partner about what they already have in the room, and what they would like to buy.

Comments?:

As always, I’d love to hear from you.
Please let me know how it works out for you if you try it out.
And please share any other related ideas that you have!

The Best Pet: Would you rather have a fluffy cow or a plant with eyes?

The world is full of big, important issues that your students could be debating, but I don’t have an example of one for you today. Instead, I have this prompt:

Which is the best pet?: Would your students prefer a plant with eyes or a fluffy cow?


Which is the best pet? : A horse? A bear? A fluffy cow thing? A plant with eyes? List 10 reasons why.


This is a prompt for those days when your class just needs a silly, lighthearted debate. It’s a good way to help nervous language learners stop taking themselves so seriously and start brainstorming.

Here’s a little handful of ideas on using this prompt:

  • Divide your class into four groups, and assign each group to a different one of the pets. (I would recommend assigning the pets randomly. It’s more fun and more challenging when students have to defend an idea that they don’t actually believe.) Encourage them to (a) compare their pet to the other pets, and (b) Think of specific examples of activities that they could do with their pet.
  • After your students are finished writing down their ideas, it’s time to debate! My debates are usually somewhat informal. I give each group the chance to state one of their ideas at a time, and then I allow the other groups to argue against it. (If anyone has any ideas for a better organized debate, though, I’d love to hear them.)
  • This prompt works well after teaching comparative and superlative adjectives. (A bear is stronger than a horse, but a plant with eyes is cuter and less dangerous than a bear.)
  • Here is a simple, printable organizer that I created to help your students outline their ideas: Best Pet Organizer

Thoughts and Ideas:

How else could you use this prompt in your classes? Please share your ideas in the comment box!