Teacher Tuesday: Biography cubes

Biography cubes lesson idea
Completed biography cubes.

An excellent activity for any classes studying within the topic Talking about other people which seems to crop up in any TEFL textbook I have had thrust on me.  I have used this lesson multiple times with various classes and it has always been really successful.

Students choose their favourite celebrity and complete a worksheet with five basic sections;

What is his/her name?  Where was he/she born?

What does he/she look like?

What is his/her personality like?

What are his/her likes and dislikes?

Write three sentences about your chosen celebrity.

The sixth section requires a printed photograph of the celebrity.  Six sections = 1 section for each side of the biography cube you will be making!

If you have internet access this can be completed in class, but I preferred to do an example on the board and set it for homework.

Once the worksheet is completed and the students have a photograph, use the cube template and write the information from the sections on the cube (1 section = 1 side), sticking the photograph on the sixth side.

Et voilas!  Biography cubes!  I like to hang them from the back of the classroom (to show them off and also to stop them getting damaged).

The concept of using a 3D paper cube to display work can easily be adapted to fit within plenty of topics; it’s a nice creative way to explore an otherwise dry subject.  Have a go yourself and let me know all about it in the comments below.

This is part of a weekly feature on the Cornish Kylie blog.  If you have a lesson idea you would like to share, please get in touch!

 

Teacher Tuesday: first lesson introductions

Teacher Tuesday returns after taking a six week summer break.  So it’s back to school for me and back to sharing some teacher tidbits each Tuesday.

As a student I always got excited when that back to school feeling started to creep up and I’m still the same now.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate my six week break but six weeks is a long time to have no structure or daily routine.  I’m definitely glad to be getting back in the classroom!

As I am gearing up for the first day back at school tomorrow (who starts on a Wednesday?  I supose it eases us back in with a nice 3 day week) I thought I would share some of the things I have done in the past in those first introductory lessons.  These are perfect little ice breakers to introduce yourself to the class and break down any awkwardness or shyness.

Introducing the teacher

Name Hangman

A nice simple activity to create some mystery and introduce yourself.  I do this with every brand new ESL class I have, and I execute it in the same way.  Once all the class are seated and settled down, I don’t speak (this seems to add a level of mystery and excitement…)  I turn to the board and I mark out _ _ _ _ _ on the board.  I don’t even introduce the fact that I’m playing hangman.  I like to leave it to the class to figure it out as it gives me a chance to observe how they work, who takes charge etc.  Usually they will recognise the game format and will start suggesting letters.  For the odd class who didn’t get it, I would write “My name is…” above the lines, and then they would cotton on.

The great thing about this for me is as I have quite an unusual name, they are guessing right up until the end.  Actually, even when all five letters are up there, they are still guessing how to pronounce my name, which always ends up being pronounced Kylieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee for the rest of the school year.

All About Me

Students love to hear all about your life, especially in the ESL environment as your life is seen as glamorous and exotic.  The good thing about working abroad is I feel like I can give more personal information about my family and home, than I could if I was in my home country.

Another activity I do in every first lesson is I show a slideshow of pictures all about me, my family, my home etc.  If there isn’t a projector I have taken my iPad and walked around with it.  Again, I try to not talk very much, and try to elicit as much language from the students as I can.  This is really helpful to guage the level of previous knowledge and what topics they have covered.

They love seeing photographs of my family home, my car, the town I come from (especially a picture of it after a snowfall).  Most of the time when I show them a picture of the Union Jack (Great Britain’s flag) they have no idea what country I come from, but if I show St. George’s Cross (England’s flag) all the boys start shouting out ROONEY or GERRARD and suddenly they are all too aware of what country I come from!  And then the ubiquitous question that seemingly all Thai students can ask regardless of their English language level; “Football team?”  – always have a football team, don’t disappoint them!  I usually ask who they support and lo and behold, that’s my team too!  So far I have supported Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton, Chelsea… I don’t even watch football!

Getting to know the students

The Sun Always Shines On

For this to work, students need to be able to speak some English, and the teacher will  need to tailor the game accordingly.

Clear a large space in the room and make a circle of chairs (one less than the amount of students) and a chair in the centre of the circle.  I usually start with myself in the centre of the circle to demonstrate.

Everyone sits on a chair.  The person in the middle says “The sun always shines on…” and then something about them that they may have in common with other people e.g “…people with long hair.”  All people with long hair have to get out of their chair and change places with someone else who has stood up.  Meanwhile the person in the middle tries to take the place of someone standing, leaving someone different in the middle, and the game continues.

This game is great for finding out about students and for them to find out about each other.  And they get to run across the room and fight over chairs, which is always fun.

Human Bingo

This game is excellent when the students are new to each other.  You need to prepare some grids with questions in them and space for signatures – here’s an example of one I have used before;

human bingo

Students need to walk around the classroom asking each other the questions.  When they encounter a student who answers ‘yes’ to a question, they ask the student their name and write it in the space of the box containing that question.  I always say that students can only use one person once.

Prizes can be given for getting a line, or you can wait for someone to fill all of their boxes.  Get students to shout BINGO when they have filled all their boxes.

What I like to do then is call up all of the students whose names are in the boxes on the sheet, asking them the question and getting them to prove it if they can.

Some more useful links

A nice round up of first lesson activities from Education World.

Over 200 back to school activities and worksheets on Busy Teacher.

Articles, lesson plans and activities for the first day over at TEFLtastic blog.

Check out wilderdom.com for hundreds of ice breakers and warm ups – this website was my go-to when I was a youth worker.

Hopefully these activities have inspired you to make your first lessons fun and memorable.  If you have any first lesson tips or tricks, leave them in the comments below!

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This is part of a weekly feature – Teacher Tuesday – make sure you come back next week for another lesson idea.  If you have an idea to share as part of Teacher Tuesday feel free to get in touch.  

 

Teacher Tuesday: ReBeats NEW online learning resource

rebeats 4

ReBeats is an online game that aims to improve English language learning through listening to music.  Using a simple fill in the gaps format, users watch a music video and select the correct word from two options to complete the lyrics of the song.

Scores are awarded for choosing correctly, speed and streaks of correct answers.  Users can then enter a leader board or send a challenge to a friend’s email address.

At the moment the website is still in its early stages of development and they are asking for feedback.  I decided to give the website a test run, looking at its potential as a fun resource to be used in the classroom with students.

rebeats screen shot
Screenshot from ReBeats.tv

The website is very simple with minimal instructions but it all becomes self explanatory very quickly.  You have the choice of using the mouse of the left/right buttons on the keyboard to choose the correct word.  The latter is a lot quicker.  I would like to try it out on an interactive whiteboard, with students taking it in turn to be in control of the ‘magic’ pen (watch this space).  Students left to watch can shout out suggestions or sing along, karaoke style.  I would be singing regardless.

One missing feature that I immediately picked up on is that you are unable to select the song.  They are currently randomly generated, meaning that you don’t know if Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball video might pop up next to your class of 9 year old girls, or if the vocabulary in the next song might be too easy/hard for the group.  A representative from ReBeats has assured me that this is all due to the site still being in development and hinted at song choice and making your own playlists as developments in the near future.  An even bigger improvement could be to rank songs from easy through to hard, based on the language used.

The word choices offered give a good range of easily confused words, homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings/spellings), context specific choices and basic grammar rules.  Sometimes either word could be correct, requiring students to use their listening skills.  There is only one word missing for every few lines of the song and if a song is particularly high tempo or the class are struggling to choose the correct word there is the option to pause the video and go through the sentence with the students.

At the end of each game, points, accuracy percentage and reaction times are displayed, with the option to add this to a leader board or challenge a friend via email.  My students love competition so the fact that there are points and rankings is very important when trying to keep them engaged.

rebeats 2
End of game points review.

Also, once a song is completed you have the option to review all of the lyrics with the correct answers revealed.  This could be a great time to discuss why certain words wouldn’t work in certain sentences and to review any incorrect answers made.

rebeats 3
You can review incorrect answers at the end of each game.

During the time that I played, I had songs from artists ranging from Kings of Leon, Queen and Avril Lavigne to Olly Murs, Adele and Lana Del Rey.  Most of the songs are current and ‘cool’ enough to keep my students happy.

Overall I think it’s a good resource to use in the classroom as a bit of fun at the end of the lesson.  Personally I don’t think this is a tool for serious language learning, although the team at ReBeats are promoting it as a potential resource for making real improvements in English language learning.  The site has a slick, app-like appearance and is  ad free.  As it’s currently in the beta stages of development, expect further feature and game play developments to appear in the not too distant future.  I will definitely be checking back to see what improvements are made as they receive feedback.

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All reviews on this blog are my personal and honest review.  ReBeats is a product from Tonguesten, an education technology start-up based in London and currently incubated by Wayra UK and UnLtd.  I did not receive any payment, monetary or otherwise, to write this review.  If you have a product you would like me to review please get in touch – info@cornishkylie.com .

Video virals: Thai student swears at foreign teacher

This video has been doing the rounds on Thai news websites and a number of TEFL teaching groups I’m in. Watching it, I was taken back to many a moment in my own time TEFL teaching in a Thai government school!

A loose translation of what the boy is saying, courtesy of Bangkok Post:

“They’re hiring you to teach. Why the &*$@ do you scratch your foot? Do your work! This is my country. Understand? I’m scolding you and you still don’t look at me. Animal! Monitor Lizard? Look at me!

“You’re wearing black. Are you going to your father’s funeral?

“You’re scratching your foot again. You have no manners.”

Although these words might not appear hugely offensive, cultural differences need to be taken into account.  For example, you do not want to be called a monitor lizard (or a dog, or buffalo equally) in Thailand.  The Thai word for monitor lizard, เหี้ย – hia (sounds like ‘here’) – is a very insulting name reserved for the worst of the worst.

He is clearly highlighting the fact that she has no idea about his country, referencing the fact that she is wearing all black (very much reserved for funerals only) and her foot scratching (feet are the dirtiest part of a person and should not be exposed or touched in public).

Thailand is still very traditional in its hierarchy, with regards to age and social standing.  A person who is older than you, and who is your teacher, should be respected – unfortunately the fact that the teacher in this video is foreign means that this basic social rule is turned on it’s head and is captured on video for all to see.

In fact, it’s not the fact that she’s foreign at all, it’s the fact that she clearly doesn’t understand a word of what he is saying.  But even if she can’t understand, part of me hopes that the mannerisms of the boy, the way he is talking at her, sneering and laughing – all of these things would have made me as the teacher realise that he was more than likely being rude.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with what the teacher did.  I’ve done my own fair share of ignoring the negative behaviour to try and not give it the attention it so desperately seeks.  But if she had just looked up from her marking, had taken in the situation, perhaps she could have reacted in some way.  It’s not always about knowing what is being said; the way it is being said and the reactions of others can often be enough to understand.

When I was fresh in the TEFL game my old trick was, if I got the impression that a student was being rude in class (whether about me directly or not) I would pretend that I understood, would looked shocked and would let them know that I wasn’t happy with that happening in my classroom.  Nine times out of ten the student would be guilty and would apologise, the odd time I was met with huge protests and realsied that I had probably got the wrong end of the stick, I listened to their explanation and let it go (even if I still had no idea what was being said!).

The sad fact is that this video is not an isolated event.  The Thai government classroom (at least at high school age) is full of students shouting unknown things either at the teacher or across the room.  If I were to play devil’s advocate I could say that this is a natural reaction of a teenage boy who has a foreign teacher who doesn’t know the first thing about his country or his language.  Perhaps TEFL teachers should be better prepared during training to be able to spot this kind of behaviour, or should understand enough Thai to be able to listen out for insulting or rude language.  But the fact is that this would categorically never happen in a classroom with a Thai teacher.  Was it her lack of knowledge?  Or a lack of manners on his part?  Wherever the blame lies, it shouldn’t be happening in any classroom in any country.

Have you been in a similar situation?  How did you react?  How would you have reacted if you were the teacher in this video?  I’d be interested to know – please share in the comments below.

 

Teacher Tuesday: Picture dictation listening activity

Teaching English typically falls into one of four categories; reading, writing, speaking and listening.  Often, the listening aspect can be overlooked or be reduced to the poor effort of pressing play on the cassette that came with the twenty year old workbook your school provides you with, (if you are lucky enough to be provided with anything, decades old or not!).

Listening doesn’t have to mean a silent class listening to an unnatural conversation carried out by actors with questionable pronunciation, it can be interactive and fun if you look outside of the realm of role play and rote Q & As.

Here is an incredibly simple listening activity that can be carried out with very little preparation – the good old dictation.

Traditionally, a dictation would require the class to sit in silence listening to the teacher reading a passage and writing word for word what they hear.  Not fun.

In this activity, the teacher reads a passage but instead of writing what they hear, the students have to draw it.

Either in groups or individually, students have to engage their ears and utilise their listening skills without getting bogged down in worries about spelling or grammar – this is a listening activity after all, not writing.

There are some variations for how you can carry this out depending on the ability of the class and how challenging you want to make it;

  • teacher reads the passage and students can only listen
  • teacher reads the passage and students can make notes
  • teacher reads the passage multiple times including part way through the drawing process
  • teacher reads the passage once and students can come and ask questions to clarify specific details
  • teacher reads the passage and gives a copy to students
  • teacher reads the passage and shows it on the projector/writes it on the whiteboard

Below is an example passage that I have used in my classroom.  You can of course use your own words, taking into consideration the previous learning you have done with your class, or perhaps a descriptive piece of writing from a book.  The important factor is that there are specific details that can be checked off afterwards.

It is a hot summer day and the sun is high up in the sky.  A few white fluffy clouds sit in the bright blue sky and three birds are flying.  The sea is sparkling in the sunlight and the beach is looking beautiful.  A family is sitting on the beach; mum is sat in the shade of an umbrella reading a book, dad is making sandcastles with the daughter and the son is standing in the sea, feeling the cool water on his feet.  A crab is close to him and he can see fish in the sea.  Everyone is happy and having fun.  Two palm trees stand tall, one on the left, one on the right.  On the right, four monkeys play in the tree, throwing coconuts down below.

I’m a big fan of (healthy) competition in the classroom, so I always do this with small groups of students, each group with a  piece of A3 paper.  I encourage students to take different roles, with less artistically inclined students responsible for reading the passage or asking the teacher questions (depending on how you run the activity) and checking off particular details.  The artists in the group will go to town creating wonderful pictures that you can then keep to display around the classroom.

After a set amount of time, I like to get groups up one by one to show their work and as a class we go through the passage and check off each detail.  The group whose picture has the most correct details, wins!

Further variations and extensions of this activity include;

  • students write passages to read to each other
  • matching descriptive passages to pictures
  • students look at a picture and write a passage describing it

Even if you don’t specifically teach listening as a subject, it is an aspect of English teaching that is often overlooked.  Needing so little preparation other than having a piece of writing to hand (you could even write one on the spot if you were caught out) this activity is perfect to insert into any lesson as a warm up, filler or just a bit of creative fun.  Why not try it yourself and let me know how it goes?

This is part of a weekly feature – Teacher Tuesday – make sure you come back next week for another lesson idea.  If you have an idea to share as part of Teacher Tuesday feel free to get in touch.