New Food – A Personal Story Prompt

New food - a personal story prompt, great for past tense practice or essay writing

Here’s a prompt that will help your students tell a past tense story about a personal experience. I would recommend using this toward the end a unit on food. It’s a good way to let students practice some of the food-related vocabulary they have learned.

In case you can’t see the image above, it reads:

Describe a time when you tried a new food. Think about these questions:

  • How did you feel before?

  • Who were you with?

  • Why did you try it?

  • What did it look like?

  • How did it taste?

  • How did you feel after?

Here are a few teaching ideas to get you started on your lesson plan:

  • Warm your students up by asking them to make a list of a few foods that they remember trying for the first time. Tell them that it might be an unusual food (insects, horse meat, etc.), a grown-up food (coffee, beer…), or new cuisine (Thai food, American food…) or just something that they remember trying for the first time (sushi, cupcakes, broccoli, hot peppers…). You might want to list a few of their ideas on the board.
  • Tell your students that they should choose one of their ideas to tell a story about.
  • Display the slide above (or write the questions on the board). Tell your students that they should use these questions as a guideline to help them write their story. Remind them to focus on using correct past tense verbs.
  • If you’d like to focus on speaking instead of writing, you could ask students to prepare index cards and make a presentation rather than writing out the entire story.
  • After they finish, students can present either in small groups, or to the whole class.

Want more?

If you’re looking for more food-related activities, here’s another post you might like: Design a Restaurant Task


As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comment box at the bottom of the page.

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


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.

Boom! : A story-starting warm-up prompt

I was leaving my house when... BOOM -- Finish the story prompt


Today I have a creative prompt that you can use with students of all ages. It’s so simple and colorful that I think both adults and children would respond well to it. If you’re an ESL teacher like me, it’s a good way to practice simple past and past continuous tenses.

Here are a few ideas for you:

  • Use this as a do-now or warm-up prompt. Display the image on your Smartboard or projector, and ask students to write silently for 5 minutes. Then ask them to share their mini-stories in small groups.
  • Or have students write in small groups and share their stories with the whole class.
  • If you want to make the exercise more structured, try telling students to write 5-sentence stories (or 7-sentence stories or 10-sentence stories…). Each sentence should have a different verb. Here’s an example: (1)First I saw a bear. (2) Then I slammed the door shut. (3)The bear heard the noise. (4)  He ran in my direction. (5) Finally, I called 911, and waited…
  • If you have a lot of visual learners in your class, you might even ask them to draw their stories into a comic panel organizer. After they finish drawing, they can either tell their stories to a partner, or write captions under each picture.

What do you think?

How would YOU finish the story? And if you’ve tried this activity with your students, how did they answer the question? Please share your favorite ideas in the comment box at the bottom of the page.

And if you have any other ideas on how teachers could use this prompt, please share those, as well.

Throw a party – Create-It #4

Throw a Party - A speaking activity for ESL Class - Great for present continuous tense

Yay! A Party!

I like to use this speaking activity at the end of units on special occasions or holidays around the world. It’s also a good way to practice using present continuous, going to, planning to, and other future grammar structures. It’s one of those simple, fun activities that require very little prep, but really get students engaged.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Display the slide above on the projector, or write the questions on the board. You might also want to use this Party Planning Worksheet to help your students organize their ideas on paper.
  2. Divide the class into groups. Explain that they are going to work together to come up with an idea for a party. After they finish, they will need to present their ideas to the class,and invite their classmates. 
  3. Read through the questions to make sure that everyone understands them.
  4. Let your students get to work. (I suggest giving them a specific amount of time to plan).
  5. Groups make their presentations.
  6. (Optional) Do a class vote: Who had the most creative party idea? Whose party would you most like to attend?

I made you a worksheet! 

Here is a worksheet that you can print out to help your students organize their ideas: Party Planning Worksheet

Like It?

Please take a moment to say hi and leave comments in the box at the bottom of the page.

The Moment Before… – A Picture Prompt

Writing + Speaking Prompt: What happened the moment before the picture was taken?

What happened before?

Here’s a joyful, open-ended prompt to get your students speaking, writing, or practicing whatever grammar point you’ve been working on. Below are some of my ideas on how you might incorporate it into your lesson plan.

  • Start by asking students to describe what they see in the picture. List new vocabulary on the board. (Some words that you might want to introduce: to cheer, to applaud, to clap, to laugh, auditorium, uniform, joyful)
  • If you’re teaching high school you might ask students to make inferences based on what they can see in the photo. (For example, I infer that the students go to a private school because they are wearing uniforms.)
  • Use the question at the top of the picture to practice past tense or present perfect with “just” (What has just happened?) You might have students respond individually and then compile a class list of responses. This can be done as a quick speaking warm-up, or extended into a longer lesson if you want to practice writing… Maybe have students listen to each other and then write all of their classmates’ ideas into a journal.
  • Another idea is to have your students work with partners or small groups and come up with a list of 5-10 possible things that might have happened just before the picture was snapped.
  • If you want to extend the lesson, you can ask students to choose one of their ideas and write a story about it.

What ideas do you have?

The suggestions above are just a handful of my own ideas, but like I said, this prompt is open-ended. Do you have any other suggestions on how to use this prompt in class? Please join the conversation and share your thoughts in the comment box at the bottom of the page.

Flowers on the Ground – a creative picture prompt with a storytelling worksheet

Flowers on the ground

Hi everyone! Lately I’ve been experimenting with new ways to use picture prompts in class and turn them into longer, full-blown lesson plans. Along with the prompt above, I’ve created a worksheet which you can download, print, and hand out to your students. (If you happen to try it out, please let me know how it goes. That would help me figure out whether to make more like it in the future.)

This creative prompt can be used to practice both speaking and writing skills, and it gives students the chance to work both on a team and individually. Your class is going to use a simple picture to build vocabulary, brainstorm ideas, create a character and finally, write a full-blown story.

As usual, my focus is on teaching ESL, but I think that English (ELA) and Creative Writing teachers might be able to use this prompt, as well.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

  1. Divide your class into small groups (3 0r 4 students per group works well).
  2. Display the picture on the projector, and/or hand out copies of this worksheet:
    flowers on the ground worksheet
  3. Discuss the task with the students. Explain that students need to brainstorm a list of possible reasons why the flowers ended up on the ground. I would recommend giving a couple of reasons of your own as examples (A girl got angry at her boyfriend and threw his gift on the floor. / A clumsy man accidentally dropped them as he was opening a door…)
  4. Give groups time to come up with a list. While students are working, you can help students with difficult vocabulary and list new words on the board.
  5. Ask groups to share back two of their favorite reasons with the rest of the class.
  6. Ask students to choose one of the ideas on their lists and turn it into a story. This can be done independently if you want your students to practice writing, or as a team, if you’d like to put more emphasis on speaking and teamwork. Again, you can use the worksheet to give your students some guidelines. If you don’t have access to a printer, you can write the following questions on the board:
    a- Who dropped the flowers?
    b- What happened in his/her life before he dropped the flowers?
    c- How was he/she feeling?
    d- What caused the flowers to drop?
    e- What happened after? How did his/her feelings change?
  7. Students share their work. I would recommend sharing in small groups if students wrote their stories independently, and sharing as a whole class if they wrote their stories in groups. It’s fun for students to see how many possible crazy stories came out of the same simple picture.


If you liked this activity, or if you have any questions about it, please take a moment to leave your comments in the box at the bottom of the page! I’m still new to blogging, so your feedback is super-helpful to me!

Night Walk – A descriptive writing lesson about sounds in your city

Night Walk - A lesson on descriptive writing with focus on sounds

I thought up the idea for this lesson plan one evening after my IPod battery died in the middle of my walk. In case you’re having trouble seeing the image above, it reads:

Night Walk

On summer nights, my neighborhood is mostly quiet. Crickets buzz, air conditioners whir, and my feet pat, pat, pat against the pavement. There is a low hum of traffic in the distance, and glass dishes clink against tabletops. It smells like dinnertime. Muffled chatter floats from inside of kitchens. A scruffy stray cat on a lawn meows softly, and a kid on a porch shrieks:
“A cockroach!”
“Kill it!”
“YOU kill it!”
But mostly it’s dark and quiet, just me and my shoes on the pavement: Pat, pat, pat, pat, pat.

When I was in middle school, my teacher gave us a descriptive writing exercise once a week. She would announce a one-word topic, and we would have a certain amount of time to write a paragraph with as many specific sensory details as possible. Then we would all read them aloud, and “ooh” and “ahh” over each other’s use of descriptive adjectives. That’s kinda what I have in mind for this lesson, although I have some ideas on how to scaffold it for English language leaners. I haven’t tried it with my own students just yet, but here’s what I plan to do:

Step 1:

Display the passage above on the projector, and/or print out a copy of the text for students to look at. I would recommend using the PDF Worksheet which I created to go along with this lesson. Read the passage aloud to the class, and have them underline any words that are used to describe specific sounds.

Step 2:

Make a class chart of sound words from the paragraph, and sources of each sound. For example: Sound – buzz / Source – crickets.

Step 3:

Brainstorm a list of things in your current neighborhood that make sounds. You might give students a few minutes to come up with their own lists of sources in groups. After they finish, you can help them think of descriptive verbs for each source.

Step 4:

Ask students to write their own descriptive paragraph about the sounds that they hear when they walk through their neighborhood. You could either ask them to write about their current neighborhood or about their native countries. I would give them some time to begin writing independently, and then ask them to finish and self-edit it for homework.

Step 5:

Allow students to share their work with classmates. You can deicide how you’d like to do this. You might have everyone read their passages aloud to the class, or just ask a few students whose passages are the most descriptive. Sharing could also be done in small groups. Another idea is to have a writing gallery walk. Everyone can tape their passages to the wall, and then students can walk around, read each other’s writing, and leave comments on post-it notes for their peers to read.

In case you missed it above, click here to view and download my PDF worksheet for this lesson: Worksheet


What do you think about the activity above? Do you have any ideas on how it could be improved? I may add a worksheet to this post if anyone is interested, so please let me know if that would be helpful to you.

Have you tried this, or a similar descriptive writing activity with your class? I’d really like to hear about it!

Please feel free to chime in and post your comments in the box at the bottom of the page.



A student who was about to go back to his country once told me that he loved my class because I taught him something that he’d been confused about for his whole life. I expected him to say present perfect or past continuous or some big, important thing like that, but nope.

His life-changing epiphany was when I taught a mnemonic to tell the difference between the words Tuesday and Thursday:
Tuesday sounds like the number two, and it’s the second day of the week,
so Tuesday = 2-sday. So easy!

I’m sure that wasn’t a planned part of my lesson. I probably mentioned it casually when a student stumbled over one of those words in conversation. But he was really excited about it. He said that throughout all of his years of school, he’d always had trouble with the days of the week, but not anymore! Isn’t it funny when you realize that things that seem little and insignificant to you are the things that your students end up remembering the most?

A cool thing about conditionals – When grammar meets psychology

After I teach real and unreal conditionals, I like to show my students the following example:

Speaker A and Speaker B are both entering a competition. Based on the following statements, who do you think is more optimistic about winning?:

Speaker A: If I win, I’ll be really happy.

Speaker B: If I won, I’d be really happy.

The answer: Speaker A probably is. He used a real conditional, while Speaker B used an unreal conditional.

If you teach grammar to ESL students, you know that we use real conditionals when we think that something is realistic (If it rains, I will being an umbrella), but we use unreal conditionals when we think that something is unlikely to ever happen (If I were president, I would give everyone free ice cream on Fridays.) So in the example above, Speaker A subconsciously thinks he has a good chance at winning, while Speaker B is not really so sure.

While it’s likely that neither speaker was thinking about the psychology behind their choice of words, it’s cool to think that your feelings are subtly reflected in your grammar.


What’s your favorite subtle grammar point to teach? Please share your ideas in the comment box at the bottom of the page.

Create a Trivia Quiz – Create-It Task #3

Create a Trivia Quiz

Here’s an activity that I like because it gets students practicing lots of skills (speaking, reading, writing, grammar, and just working collaboratively), and it requires very little prep-time for you. I usually find that once students get into it, they’re all really active and they don’t need much help from me at all. I just kinda hover around, checking question structure and assisting with the occasional vocabulary word.

This week I used it after reviewing question words and structure with my adult pre-intermediate class, and it was really fun and productive. I’m sure it would work well with higher levels and younger age groups, too.

In case you can’t see the image above, it reads:

Create a Trivia Quiz:

Write a trivia quiz with 7 questions. After you finish, you will quiz the other teams. You may choose one or more of the following topics:

  • entertainment
  • sports
  • geography
  • history
  • The United States
  • The city where you are now


  • The answers should be FACTS, not opinions.
  • Each question should have ONE correct answer.
  • You must know the answer to the question. (You may use the internet to research.)
  • Try to write questions that are challenging but not impossible.

Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Start by teaching a lesson on question words and/or question structure. (I usually use this activity to practice present tense questions. If you decide to use it for questions in other tenses, you might want to modify the topics.)
  2. Next, I would recommend playing a team trivia game with pre-written questions. This step is helpful because students can use it as a model when they write their own quizzes later. Some ESL class books have mini trivia quizzes where students have to guess the answer to questions on some random topic. If you don’t have one in your book, you can find one on the internet or make up one of your own. I like to split my class up into teams, ask them to choose team names, and have them guess the correct answers together. (No Google allowed!) After they finish, we review the answers. Teams get two points for every completely correct answer, and one point for every partially correct answer.
  3. Now that your teams are warmed up and in competition mode, it’s time to start the activity above. I like to keep students in the same teams as in the previous activity. You might choose to display the image at the top of the page, or create one of your own that reflects what your class is doing more closely. If you don’t have the technology available in your classroom, you can just write the first part of the prompt on the board, and explain the rules orally.
  4. After the teams have their question ready, they can take turns quizzing each other. Every time a team gets a correct answer, they get 1 point.

Other notes

  • If you’re lucky enough to have Ipads or other technology available, this is the time to use them. Because my students are adults, I also let them use the internet on their cellphones for research. If you don’t have the technology, you can bring in books, magazines, brochures, or printouts from the internet for students to use in their research.
  • One minor problem I’ve had is that some groups often write questions that are impossible or very difficult to answer correctly. For that type of question, you might encourage your students to give multiple choice options for the answers. (Do you have any other ideas on how to solve this? Please share them in the Comment section.)
  • If you aren’t teaching question structure to pre-intermediate students, you can probably think of other ways to adapt this activity into your curriculum. For example, if you happen to teach a content class to ESL students, you might change the possible categories to reflect what you’ve been learning. (If you teach history, you might allow students to write questions on any of the wars that you’ve studied over the semester.)


Have you tried this activity in your class or used your own variation of it? I’d love to hear about how it went. Please share your ideas in the comment box! And as always, if you have any questions for me, please feel free to ask.