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!

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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!

Giving Directions in the Real World – An idea to get your students speaking outside of the classroom

Asking for Directions: A lesson plan idea to get your ESL students out into the real world

Last week one of my Pre-Intermediate adult students asked if I could teach some expressions for asking for directions. Another chimed in, “Yeah, and then can we go outside and practice?” I’d been thinking about doing something like that for a while, and but that student’s idea gave me the push I needed to finally create these worksheets to help take language outside:
Asking for Directions – A real world worksheet <– (Click there to view and print it for yourself).

Here’s how I’m planning to teach this lesson:

  1. Ask students: If you got lost, what question would you ask to get directions? List their ideas on the board.
  2. Distribute handout and read through the questions and responses in the chart at the top of the page. Check that students understand and know how to use them.
  3. Write a simple sample directions dialogue with the whole class.
  4. Ask students to imagine that they are lost in your school’s neighborhood. In pairs, have them write their own little conversations to ask for directions.
  5. Ask each pair to perform one of their dialogues for the class.
  6. Now for the fun part! You can either take your students out for 15 minutes, or assign this part for homework. Tell students that they are going to put their new language into action. Each student should choose three directions questions that they would like to practice. They should then ask three different people for directions to some place in your city. It could be a street, a specific restaurant, a library, the nearest Starbucks, or whatever they like. Ask them to write a simple description of what each person looks like, and then try to write out their entire conversation.
  7. Once you’re back in class, ask each student to report back on what happened. Did the people they ask understand them? Did they understand the responses? What words or expressions were confusing to them? Were the directions accurate?

I have no idea how this will go, but I think it will be a fun way to encourage students to put something that we’ve learned in class into practice.

Again, if you missed it above, here is my worksheet. Feel free to print it out and use it with your classes: Asking for Directions – A real world worksheet

Comments?

Please leave your questions and comments in the box at the bottom of the page. Have you tried this lesson, or anything else like it before? I’d love to hear about it.

Beginner Box, Part 2 – How to fill your box with questions and get your students speaking!

Beginner Box, Part 2: Growing List of Beginner Conversation Questions for Your Classroom

Yesterday I posted about creating a question box geared toward your Beginner ESL students. Today I’m going to give you a big list of simple questions to fill your box with. There are tons of lists of conversation questions on the internet, but most that I can find are aimed toward Intermediate students and above. My goal is to create a massive resource for teachers of lower-level classes who want to get their students chatting. 

I’m trying to keep the questions simple, with no phrasal verbs or idioms. Some of them may require students to look a word or two up in the dictionary, but not more than that. Some of them are yes/no questions, but if the student is ready, you can encourage them to elaborate. For example, if the question is, “Do you like dogs?” Your student might say, “Yes, I do. I have a dog. My dog’s name is LuLu. She is brown and white. She is friendly.” Etc…

Please keep in mind that this is a growing list, and I plan to update it regularly, so if you have any suggestions on questions or categories to add, please leave a comment in the box at the bottom of the page.


The Categories

I’ve organized the list into the following categories:

  • Simple present
  • Simple past
  • Future (Includes “will,” “going to,” “want to,” and “would like to”)
  • Describe… / Talk about…
  • Opinion questions

I would suggest color-coding your question cards (blue for present, pink for past, etc.) to make it easier for students to pick questions that are relevant to them. Again, this list is a work in progress, so if you have suggestions for other categories, feel free to let me know.


The Questions (so far)

Simple Present

  1. Are you happy today? Why?
  2. Are you tired? Why?
  3. Are you hungry? What do you want to eat?
  4. When are you angry?
  5. Are you hot or cold today?
  6. What do you do every day?
  7. Where do you go on the weekend? (Saturday and Sunday)
  8. Where do you go after class?
  9. What is your favorite restaurant? Where is it?
  10. Who is your favorite musician?
  11. What is your favorite comedy movie?
  12. What is your favorite action movie?
  13. Do you like horror movies? Why or why not?
  14. Is your city safe or dangerous?
  15. Is your city exciting or boring?
  16. Do you prefer dogs or cats? Why?
  17. Do you prefer hot weather or cold weather? Why?
  18. Is a monkey a good pet? Why?
  19. Is a mouse a good pet? Why?
  20. What animals live in your city?
  21. What’s your favorite animal?
  22. What’s your favorite food?
  23. What do you drink on hot days?
  24. What do you drink on cold days?
  25. What do you eat on hot days?
  26. What do you eat on cold days?

Simple Past

  1. Where did you go yesterday?
  2. What did you see yesterday?
  3. What did you eat for breakfast?
  4. What did you eat last night?
  5. Where did you travel last year?
  6. What was the last thing you bought?
  7. Did you exercise last week? How?
  8. When did you last play sports?
  9. What did you last cook?
  10. Did you speak English yesterday? Who did you speak to?

Future

  1. What are you going to do after school today?
  2. What will you do after you learn English?
  3. What will you do this weekend?
  4. What would you like to eat today?
  5. What are you going to eat this evening?
  6. What are you going to eat for lunch?
  7. What will you do after you learn English?
  8. Who are you going to speak to later?

Note: The prompts in the next two categories (Talk About and What Do You Think About…) are intentionally open-ended. Encourage students to say anything that comes to mind on the subject. You will probably need to teach the meaning of “Talk about” and “What do you think about,” but students will catch on quickly.


Talk About:

  1. Talk about your family.
  2. Talk about your hometown.
  3. Talk about your neighborhood.
  4. Talk about transportation in your hometown.
  5. Talk about food in your country.
  6. Talk about shopping.
  7. Talk about clothing.
  8. Talk about a famous person from your country.
  9. Talk about the weather.
  10. Talk about your house.
  11. Talk about your first day in this city.
  12. Talk about animals.
  13. Talk about police officers.
  14. Talk about doctors.
  15. Talk about school.
  16. Talk about horses.
  17. Talk about summer fruit.
  18. Talk about recycling.
  19. Talk about winter.
  20. Talk about summer.
  21. Talk about spring.
  22. Talk about fall (autumn).
  23. Talk about your job.
  24. Talk about coffee or tea.
  25. Talk about apples.

What Do You Think About…?

  1. What do you think about animals?
  2. What do you think about cars?
  3. What do you think about bicycles?
  4. What do you think about books?
  5. What do you think about new technology?
  6. What do you think about sports?
  7. What do you think about crowded places?
  8. What do you think about children?
  9. What do you think about fast food?
  10. What do you think about chocolate?
  11. What do you think about makeup?
  12. What do you think about vintage clothing?
  13. What do you think about horror movies?
  14. What do you think about action movies?
  15. What do you think about comic books and animation?

Thanks for taking a look at my gradually-growing list. I hope you find it helpful. If you decide to use them in your class, I’d love to know how they worked out for you.

And if you have any suggestions for new questions or categories, please don’t hesitate to let me know. You can leave a comment below, or email me at inyourcountry1@gmail.com.

Little Box of Beginner Questions – Part 1 – How to make a and use conversation box for your ESL class

Create a Beginner speaking box for lower-level ESL students

Every week or so, I have some variation of the following conversation with a different teacher:

Other Teacher: Which level are you teaching?
Me: Beginners.
Other teacher: That’s hard! You need so much patience.
Me: Yeah, that’s true.
Other teacher: I prefer teaching the higher levels because I like having conversations in class. You can’t really do that with beginners.
Me: Um…Well, that part’s not so true.

I love teaching the lower levels! I think it’s a misconception that beginner language learners can’t have good conversations. I mean, obviously, absolute beginners won’t be discussing politics on day one, but after a few weeks, my motivated adult students can say a lot more than, “Hello, my name is…”

I have a Brazilian student, for example, who often talks about violence in his hometown and starts conversations with classmates about safety in their countries. Another student from Japan is fascinated by trash cans in America and loves to talk about littering, recycling, and garbage removal around the world. These aren’t light topics, and of course the students make grammatical mistakes and need assistance with vocabulary, but with lots of body language and giggling, they can usually get their points across. I really think that once they get settled into the class and get comfortable in their environment, beginners like to talk as much as anyone else. 

So if you’ve been assigned to teach a beginner class, and you’re feeling kinda jittery: Don’t worry! Your babies will be chatting about all kinds of important things soon. Beginners don’t stay beginners forever, and when they start talking, you can really see the effects of your teaching.

The Little Box of Questions

The little box is my go-to tool for prompting students of all levels to talk. I fill it with assorted questions on a variety of random topics and give students time to chat. You can use it in whole-class activities, or split students into smaller groups  and give them time to talk spontaneously in small groups.

How to Use Your Little Box:

You never know when a box full of random questions will come in handy. Here are a few suggestions for how and when to use it:

  • Monday morning ice-breaker or Friday afternoon cool-down: Start and end the week with a little chit-chat.
  • The “Speak for ____ seconds” strategy (I posted about that here: Prep-Free Speaking Activities)
  • Small group fluency practice – Students take turns selecting and either answering or asking questions to their groups. (You might need more than one box to make this work smoothly in larger classes).
  • Random class survey – Students choose one question, ask it to as many students in the class as possible, and write down what they learned.
  • Random journaling prompt – Students choose a random question and write a journal entry about it.
  • Practice for the speaking section of the TOEFL (This one isn’t for your beginners, obviously, but it’s a good adaptation for Intermediate and Advanced students).
  • A one-to-one tutoring activity – Try it out when you have an individual student, and you want to step away from the book.
  • Allow small groups to use it independently when they finish an assignment early.

Can you think of any other ways to use a box? I’d love to hear ideas from other teachers. Please leave your comments and questions in the box below.

In my next post, I’m going to be sharing my list of beginner-friendly questions to fill your box with, so check back soon!

My Favorite Prep-Free, Interactive Speaking Activities for ESL Classes

My Two Favorite Prep-Free Speaking (1)

While googling around for new classroom activities, I often find myself thinking, “That sounds like a great idea, but who has time for all of that preparation?” Like many adult ESL teachers, I’m not paid for the time that I spend planning my classes, so I’m kind of obsessed with simplicity when it comes to preparation. I’m always looking for fun, effective activities that are super-simple to set up to add to my teaching routine.

I’ve chosen a couple of my favorites. I like them because they are communicative activities that really get everyone talking. They can both be used at any level, and with mixed-level classes.

So, here you go:

1. One Question Walk-and-Talk:

Tell your students to think of one single question that they could ask their classmates.
For example, What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?, What was the last thing you bought? or What’s your favorite place to visit in this city? (You could leave it open-ended if you’re using it as an ice-breaker, or you might have students ask questions on a specific topic or with a specific grammatical structure.)

After everyone has one question in mind, ask your students to stand up, walk a bit, and then grab a partner. They should take turns asking their question to their partner. After about a minute or two, call out “Switch partners!” Students should grab a new partner, and ask the same question again. You can have them switch partners several times.  It helps to have some kind of bell or whistle around to signal that it’s time for a partner switch.

If you want to add a little more structure to this activity, you might consider asking the questions yourself, instead of asking students to think of them. For example, you might ask students to walk, grab a partner, and then say, “Ask your partner: What’s your favorite food?” And then have all students ask the same question at the same time.

At the end of the activity, I ask students to share one thing that they learned about one person in the room. We go around the classroom, round-robin style, and everyone shares a single sentence about someone in the class.

2. Speak for a Minute:

Before class, cut up some blank scrap paper into little squares. (Or, if you don’t have time to cut them yourself, tell students just to tear a  little piece of paper out of their notebooks.) Give each student one or two slips of paper. Then ask each student to write down a random topic that someone could talk about. The topic should just be a word or two. I usually tell them that it could be something general like “food,” “sports,” or “shopping” or it could be more specific, like “watermelon,” “trash cans,” “monkeys,” or “Justin Bieber.”  After they’re done, ask them to fold their papers in half and give them back to you.

Once you have all of the slips, tell students that they will each take turns choosing a topic from your pile. Their challenge will be to speak for 60 seconds about the topic without stopping. (If your class is more advanced, you might give them 2 or 3 minutes.) If they choose watermelon, for example, they might say, “I love eating watermelon, especially on the beach in the summer. Watermelon reminds me of barbecues in my grandmother’s backyard when I was a child, etc, etc….” If time allows, I usually allow a couple of classmates to ask questions after the speaker finishes.

This activity works well for me because I teach small classes. If you do it in a larger class, you might consider dividing students into smaller groups of 4 or 5, and have them time each other, instead of doing it as a big class activity.

So…

Those are my two simple go-to activities. What are yours? I’m always looking for new ideas, so please, please, please, leave yours in the comment section below. 🙂