Embassy English Conference, Hastings 2014, Part 1: Lesson Ideas

Embassy London Teachers in Hastings
Embassy London Teachers in Hastings

I know I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging, but this conference has inspired me to get out there and start sharing ideas again.  To be totally honest, I often get down at the lack of professionalism in the TEFL industry (and I don’t mean from the teachers but from the employers not treating teachers as educated professionals worthy of continued professional development, compensation, job security, etc, etc–ok, not going to rant about this now), so it was really refreshing to be able to attend an event dedicated to teacher development and the sharing of ideas.  It made me feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with teachers from Embassy schools in Brighton, Cambridge, Hastings, Oxford and our other centre in London and exchange teaching tips and experiences.  Because it was impossible to go to all the swapshops and sessions, I thought I would post a summary of the ones I went to so other Embassy teachers won’t feel like they missed out, and for any non-Embassy teachers reading this, hopefully you can benefit from the teaching ideas and I apologize in advance if some internal company references/politics slip in.

Already some of you may be asking, ‘what’s a swapshop?’  and  I hadn’t really known either  before the conference.  This was especially unfortunate because my swapshop was timetabled in the first slot.  Basically, it is a 10-minute slot where a teacher quickly shares a teaching idea they use in their class, demonstrating, with the other teachers acting like students, rather than just telling about it.  We were told less than a week before the conference that every teacher would have to do a swapshop, causing of course mass panic and our minds to go completely devoid of any lesson activities.  But despite the initial despair, these swapshops were brilliant and full of practical teaching ideas, as were the 30-minute presentation slots all done by fellow teachers.

As I started writing this, I realized it was turning into something quite lengthy so I decided to break it up into three sections.  For lack of better words I’ll call them Part 1:  lesson ideas, Part 2:  course ideas, Part 3:  innovative ideas.  So here’s a summary of the ‘lesson ideas’ sessions I went to:

Writing for writing’s sake:  Tom Boulton (London Greenwich)

He started by asking us to discuss:  What was the last thing you wrote?  

(notes in the last session, emails, texts, shopping lists, to-do lists)

Then:  Was it  A) because you expected a reply or B) to read again yourself at a later time?

(yes A or yes B, yes definitely one of those two purposes)

And when was the last time you got students to write something that fulfilled purposes A or B?

(oh, uhm, never)

So the point being we often ask students to do very unnatural writing tasks, for example to practise a language point, rather than writing something for writing’s sake.  He then went on to suggest a quick youtube writing activity.

The readings from our coursebook are often based on a real event/idea which means that there is probably a youtube clip about it.  As a class, watch this clip and then read some of the comments at the bottom.  Each student is going to then write comments about what they saw.  Give them each a letter:  A-absolutely loved the clip, B-hated it, C-just wants to say something controversial, and D-disagrees with whatever the commenter before has written.  Give each student a piece of paper.  They write their comment.  Then pass the papers to the left, read their classmate’s comment and comment on it.  Then pass again and repeat all around the class.  At the end, put them all up on the walls for students to read.  Tom said when he does this activity, it is very motivating for students because it is interesting and they take care about what they write because they know their classmates are going to read it.  He also said that the more stupid the video/article, the better it works.  You can also set specific lexis to use, such as starting all comments with ‘It’s not exactly…’  or ‘I wouldn’t…’ or whatever you’ve studied in class.

Using film and making a film:  Rosie Chard (Brighton)

For low-levels Rosie recommended using video clips to help students learn grammar, such as showing Mr Bean at the airport to teach past simple verbs.  By showing the film several times it helps reinforce the language and get students to make connections.

With higher levels she sets up a film project where students actually make a film.  She starts by teaching key film vocabulary, including words they will need to know for their project such as storyboard, cast, rehearse, etc.  For inspiration, she shows them a model short film, The Black Hole, which is brilliant if you haven’t seen it.  (It’s also good for making predictions.)  Then they work in groups to prepare their films.

(She also gave us some excellent lesson handouts, but as I don’t know her, I don’t really feel comfortable posting them.  And Rosie if you ever read this–thanks 🙂  )

The last 10 minutes:  Chris Reakirt and Alex Cracknell (Cambridge)

They presented three quick vocabulary review activities to do at the end of a lesson that require very little prep.  (Yeah!  Teachers love ‘no prep’)

1.  Backs-to-the-board (aka hot seat)

This is my go-to review lesson activity as I’m sure it is for a lot of teachers.  2 teams,  one student from each team sitting in the front of the room with their back to the board so they can’t see it.  The teacher writes a word/expression on the board, the other team mates have to describe it to the person sitting with their back to the board, the first person to get the correct word gets a point for their team.

2.  Synonym scan

After  doing a reading, exploit the text for incidental vocabulary.  The teacher writes words on the board and as they are doing that, the students have to quickly scan the text to find the synonyms.

3.  Discussion question dictation

For example, if you have looked at phrasal verbs in a text, the teacher reads out discussion questions that include these key lexical items, but instead of saying the phrasal verb, the teacher says ‘banana banana’ and the students have to write down the question incorporating the correct phrasal verb.  After students discuss the questions.