Embassy English Teacher Summer Swapshop 2015

Yesterday we had an INSET session where teachers at my school shared an idea that they use in teaching.  Here’s a summary of the ideas.  Thanks Sarah Wakefield, Fiona Thomas, Melissa Threadgill, Esohe Ebohon, Mariella De Souza, Kallie Watters and Maggie Carruthers!

Grass Skirt Race — Sarah

This could be used for anything:  error correction, gap-fills, etc.  ‘Grass skirts’ are put up around the room.  One student has to run, rip a paper off and take it back to their partner.  Together they complete the task and then bring it to their teacher.  If it’s correct they can take another strip, if not, they have to try again.  It’s a race to be the first to complete all of them.

Sarah with a "grass skirt"
Sarah with a “grass skirt”









Speaking Games — Melissa, Esohe, Fiona, Sarah

We talked about lots of speaking games including classics like ‘backs-to-the-board’ and ‘stop the bus.’  Another one that came up from several teachers is putting a sticky note with the name of a celebrity on students’ backs.  They have to go around asking questions to find out who they are.  This could also be done with character adjectives.  A variation of this is ‘ask the expert,’  a game Fiona saw presented at IATEFL, where students have to research their celebrities and write questions to ask their fellow celebrity classmates.  In class students hold up a mask of the celebrity and then answer their classmates’ questions.

Esohe told us about a game she often plays which is similar to charades.  She gives students 6 pieces of paper each.  They write words for 6 given categories (e.g. famous people, sports, animals, jobs).  Then all the papers get mixed up.  A student has one minute to come to the front of the room and describe or mime as many as they can for their team.


Writing Games —  Esohe

The first writing game has students write the name of the story at the top of a piece of paper, then fold it over to cover it up, pass it to another student, write the name of a man, fold, pass, name of a woman, fold, pass, he said…, fold pass, she said…, fold, pass, her mother said…, fold, pass, then they…, fold, pass, etc.  until they end up with a crazy story.

The other game involved writing key words (man, woman, number, etc.)  that then slot into a template story written on the board.


Speed Dating — Melissa, Laura

Students are introduced to the concept of speed dating by watching a short clip from Sex and the City.  Students are divided into male and female (not necessarily matching their real gender) and get to create a new identity.  They choose a photo from a selection of laminated, somewhat crazy-looking images of people and then write a description of themselves (who they are, what they like, don’t like).  Then students sit across from each other and ‘speed date.’  After 2 minutes, all the ‘men’ change chairs and meet someone new.  At the end of the 2-minute date, they have to decide if they want to go on another date so they complete a form (name / do you want to meet again? / comments).  This is a lesson I often do with my own students and it’s always so much fun.   It’s good for practicing question forms and it’s worked at all levels from elementary to advanced.


Trip to Borough Market — Mariella

This is a multi-part lesson, spread out over many days.  First, students research Borough Market and make a list of 20 tasks for another group to complete at the market (e.g. Find three stalls that sell apple juice and find out where the apples come from).  Then in other lessons teach conversation starters, indirect questions and reported speech if you want to have them report back the information after.  On the day of the trip, distribute the tasks created by other groups.  Then they have to go around the market using the conversation starters and indirect questions to complete as much of the task as possible.  Encourage them to take photos. As a follow-up, they could create a blog or pamphlet about their trip and have a discussion about their experience.

Some of my students at Borough Market
Some of my students at Borough Market








Drama Improv Games — Kallie

Kallie presented three improv games.

1.  Situations:  Students are given a character, a setting, a problem and an opening line.  They must resolve the problem.

2.  Waiting for the bus:  Students are given a character, profession and personality trait.  Two students sit at the front of the room ‘waiting for bus.’  They have to guess who the other one is (e.g. Superman and Obama).  If they guess, another student comes to take their place.

3.  Party mingle:  Students are given a different motive (e.g. borrow £50) while they mingle at a party.  They have to guess each others’ motives.  They can never say no to any requests, only yes to everything.

Lexical Find Someone Who — Laura

This is something I often do on the first day of a new class.  I’ve been doing it for years, but I think I first learned it from Luke Fletcher.  I give my students a ‘Find someone who…’ task, but instead of only having to complete it with their classmates’ names, they have to complete part of the statements with missing lexis.  I adapt it in many ways for different levels or language focus.  I use it to try to draw attention to collocations and chunks, get them to notice prepositions, or work on playing with the language to generate more examples.  I use it on a first day to train students to record lexical chunks in their notebooks and generate discussion on learning strategies.  After they mingle, I make students turn their papers over and ‘test’ them in pairs to see if they can remember everyone’s name and something interesting about them to help build class rapport.  Then I ‘test’ them to see if they can remember some of the new expressions and see how well they can produce them (for example, they often remember ‘keen’ but not ‘is keen on doing’).   Here is the one I used with teachers in our training session.

Find Someone Who…

  1. ____________ has been teaching for what feels like ages
  2. ____________ is r…………….. an interesting book at the moment
  3. ____________ thinks they take a lexical approach to teaching (emphasizing chunks, fixed expressions, collocations, etc.)
  4. ____________ has …………………. abroad
  5. ____________ is in a …………………… relationship
  6. ____________ is keen …. going to gigs
  7. ____________ is looking f……….. to going ….. holiday soon
  8. ____________ can’t stand doing paperwork
  9. ____________ is fed u….. with one of their students
  10. ____________ tweets about ELT or follows teaching blogs
  11. ____________/ ˈɒfən ju:ˈzɪz fəˈni:mɪks wɪðeə(r) ˈstjuːdənts /
  12. ____________ fancies going out for a drink after this workshop

Reflection from a learner’s perspective: the inspiration

One of the most interesting talks I went to at IATEFL 2015 was one that I went to to just hang out with my friends.  I was tired, there was nothing particularly inspiring, and so I thought I’d just wander into ‘Lessons Learned as a Language Learner’ by Jo-Ann Delaney and Madeleine du Vivier because basically my friends were going there, it was right next to the entrance and I couldn’t really be bothered to sort out another talk to go to.  I’m so glad I went.  I didn’t think it would be that relevant for me because it was about exploring trainer beliefs, but really I felt it could be applied to any teacher and getting them to reflect on their teaching style.  This workshop allowed me to reflect on my teacher training, but also on my own teaching, though not in the way I think was intended and probably not in the same way others who went to the workshop would have reflected at all.

Reflection as a Teacher

In this workshop we were given a set of teacher beliefs, asked to rank them as not important, important or essential, and then to discuss with people around us.  I loved this stage because it got me reflecting on why I do things in the classroom.  Then Jo-Ann and Madeleine told us about their experience as elementary Spanish learners and showed how this changed their beliefs.  So interesting.

Here’s the list they gave us to rank:

  1. Learners should engage with the meaning of a written or spoken text before they do any language work.
  2. Teacher should provide controlled practice of pronunciation through repetition and drilling.
  3. Classroom tasks and resources should be authentic.
  4. Learners should work in different pairs/groups in a lesson.
  5. Whole group questions should be asked randomly.
  6. It is good for stronger and weaker learners to work together and encourage peer teaching.
  7. Praise is important for motivation.
  8. Be aware of physical features of the learning environment.  e.g. heat, light, furniture layout
  9. It is important to always use the target language even with a monolingual group.
  10. There should be a variety of tasks and input.

And here’s what they found:

  1. Before doing their Spanish course, they both believed this to be important but not essential.  After, though, they deemed it essential.  As learners, they really wanted to engage with texts and talk about meaning, not just move on quickly to exploit the language point.
  2. This also changed from being important to essential.  They really wanted more pronunciation drilling.
  3. This shifted from essential to not important.  They didn’t care if the resources or tasks were authentic.
  4. It’s essential to change pairs because they got bored always talking to the same person.
  5. They disagreed about whether students should be randomly nominated because one of them wanted time to prepare while the other liked being put on the spot.
  6. They started thinking this was essential, but changed their mind to not important, and even suggested the idea that peer teaching benefited the stronger student was rubbish.  They wanted to work with someone of the same level.  If they were stronger, they hated having to explain to someone weaker, but they found it frustrating to be the weaker student as well.
  7. Praise is extremely motivating.  This changed from important to essential.
  8. The physical environment is so important, more than you might think.  Their beliefs went from not important to essential.
  9. They disagreed on this one as well.  One wanted only Spanish, but the other wanted more English explanations.
  10. They wanted a variety of tasks and input, changing their views from important to essential.

To sum up, they thought all teachers and trainers should do a short course in another language.  We need to be more aware of our assumptions because they can end up being prescriptive without us really understanding why we do the things we do.

Reflection as a Trainer

I really enjoyed how this session was presented and so thought back to it several times when planning workshops for other teachers at my centre.  What makes a good workshop?  Why was this one so enjoyable for me?  Two main things I think:

1.  A good workshop allows teachers to talk about their own teaching.  I mean, what teacher doesn’t like talking about their classes, students, methods, lessons, etc?

2.  A good workshop has a ‘take-away,’  something you can use in future lessons or something that makes you think about what/why/how you teach.


Reflection as a Learner

I found this talk so inspiring that I wanted to try reflecting from the learner’s perceptive.  And so I enrolled in a beginner’s Spanish course.  Actually, in all honesty, I was thinking of studying a bit of Spanish anyways, but this talk gave me a bit of the push I needed as well as more of a structure for evaluating my experience as a learner (rather than from just my own over-critical teacher’s perspective).  More to come in a future blog post 🙂