Student-Generated Comprehension Questions

February 8, 2012

Paul Emmerson, the TEFL writer / trainer has an excellent section on his website with tips on using authentic texts in class which involve zero preparation.

I’d been looking for ways to make work incorporating authentic reading and listening texts purposeful and fun without depending too heavily on worksheets (last thing my production workers want either before or after their 9-hour shift is a worksheet; and part of the ongoing “unplugging” of my teaching!) and was delighted to find Paul’s ideas. I’d like to add to Paul’s ideas with a couple of my own.

Image-based Text Summaries.
Show students a collection of photos related to the article / report that you’re going to use (a lot of online newspapers have news galleries that you can use – see the Guardian ones, for example). Instruct students to write down a few words /phrases that come to mind with each picture. Get students to pool their ideas and write a 2-or-3-sentence summary of what they expect to see / hear in the story. When students are done, give them the text to check their ideas. They can then amend or add to their summaries.

Key Info Prediction Task
Activate students’ prior knowledge and topic knowledge by looking at the headline and photo of a news article and pre-teach any necessary vocabulary. Then, write some of the key details from the text on the board and have students try to guess what the details refer to – students can discuss their predictions pyramid style and come up with a final list. Then, give out the text and get students to check their answers.

Jumbled Articles
Find two different news articles and cut them up into sections which each contain 2 or 3 sentences. Give each pair of students the two jumbled stories and have them separate and order the texts. Once they have finished (and you have checked that the texts are in the right order) give one of the complete texts to one of the pair, and the other complete text to the other partner (i.e. text 1 to student A, and text 2 to student B) and have them write 3 or 4 comprehension questions based on their text. Finally, have students exchange texts and questions and get the students to answer each other’s questions about the text.

Typical Texts
With texts that tend to have a fairly predictable structure, such as film reviews or job ads, have students write questions that they expect the text to answer, then give out the text and have students answer their own questions (i.e. What happens in the film? Who stars in the film? What’s the salary? What are the main job responsibilities?) Here’s a sample text that you could use for this:

Would love to hear more ideas from you…

Adaptable, Fun, Student-Centered? Too True, No Lie

November 21, 2011

Recently, I mentioned reading some great posts on Dogme and materials-light teaching (for Dogme teaching in a nutshell, see Oli Beddal’s post, here). While reading, one comment caught my attention – a comment in which a teacher talked about how he frequently uses variations of the game, 2 Truths and 1 Lie, in class, not only because it is materials-light but also (and more importantly) because it always goes down well with his students, and because it can be adapted for just about any language area.

“Two Truths and One Lie”, I thought. “I haven’t used that for a while!” And my mind wandered back to the early days of my teaching career. It’s a learning activity that I associate with the the period immediately after passing my CertTESOL. Part of the newly qualified teacher’s classroom survival kit.

But why? If it’s communicative, fun, adaptable, why did I stop taking advantage it?

With no good answer to my question, I decided to put Two Truths and One Lie’s adaptability to the test and put it to use in class last week.

My Challenge
I currently teach a number of blended courses at a large international company. Learners spend 2 hours working through a unit of Tell Me More – commercially available language learning software, and my colleagues and I are required to design and deliver the face-to-face element – two-and-a-half hours of consolidation work and productive skills development based on the online material.

Last week, the language areas that my group of B2/C1 level learners worked on on-line were lexis related to airports and, teacher’s favorite, reported speech. I challenged myself to work 2 Truths and One Lie into the lesson.

You can download my lesson notes and handouts by clicking the following link, Reported Speech 2 Truths 1 Lie

The Lesson Sequence
Rather than worry too much about tense change and “back shift”, I targeted reporting verbs, in order to expand the range of my learners’ vocabulary. I prepared a dialogue script – two friends discussing a recent travel nightmare. I initially used the script as a gapfill exercise to check some of the airport lexis that had been presented online (testing language seen online is a course requirement). After some brief teacher-centered, form-focused work on reporting and reporting verbs, I had learners use a number of reporting verbs to complete sentences about the conversation that they’d read in the previous stage. Learners then did some work analyzing the structures that follow the various reporting verbs before classifying the verbs as either “attitude” or “non-attitude” verbs (in line with the classification in Parrot).

Further consolidation work was provided by having learners listen to and take notes on a course book recording in which a couple discuss their honey-moon trip to Europe. Having compared notes, learners made reporting sentences based on the recording, using the verbs from the previous stages.

Two Truths and One Lie
I planned to use Two Truths and One Lie not only to provide fun speaking and listening practice but also as a vehicle for getting learners to use reported speech. I set up the activity, demonstrating with my own examples and having learners interrogate me. I then had them write their own sentences in order play the game before pairing them up and instruct them to start. I monitored discretely, taking notes and letting the activity run. Once the majority of pairs had finished, learners changed partners. I asked one learner to report back on the previous stage but pushed her to do so by using reporting verbs (i.e. “My partner claimed that…”,). I then instructed learners to report back on the previous stage to their new partners, using reporting verbs.

The lesson was effective in the sense that learners it provided further practice of work that learners had seen online, integrated all 4 skills, and provided study and fun (and hopefully) memorable practice of a notoriously difficult grammar area. In the final stage, learners had to be prompted, in some cases, to use the reporting verbs, but then expecting spontaneous production of new language so quickly is probably a little over optimistic.

So, Two Truths and One Lie passed my first test – it was easily adapted to fit my class last week. And I will endeavor to put to use in a different class this week too. And leads me to my final question: Is good teaching (or a least a large part of it) simply about having a repertoire of highly adaptable, easy-to-set-set up, learner-centered activities?

In The Spirit of Dogme: 4, 3, 2 Presentations and Other Gems

October 19, 2011

Recently I’ve enjoyed reading various blogs / blog posts on putting Dogme or materials light teaching into practice in the ELT classroom. See the excellent An Experiment with Dogme, ELT Reflections, and Language Moments, for example.

As Thornbury writes in his A to Z blog, Dogme is all about “teaching that focuses on emergent language.” What this means is, rather than walking into the classroom with a pile handouts and predetermined set of activities “to do”, or language areas “to cover”, we work with the language the naturally results from classroom talk.

Spurred on by the excellent blogs and posts that I mention above, here are 3 staples of my classroom teaching over the years that seem to fit in with the spirit of a Dogme approach to ELT.

N.B. I do not claim to have invented these activities, they all come from, or are adapted from, published teaching resources.

4, 3, 2 Presentations
Basically, students prepare a 3 minute talk on a topic of their choice. In the first round they give their talks in four minutes to each other. Students then change partners and give their talks in three minutes to their new partner. In the final round, students switch partners again and repeat their presentation, but this time in just two minutes. The idea of all this being, of course, that it boosts fluency and automaticity as students get the chance to repeat their talks.

Variations / adaptations are infinite – students can be given specific lexis / chunks to use in their talks, and can be asked to tick of lexis / chunks as they hear them. A really fun one that was suggested to me the other day by my colleague Mike Rowley for higher levels, is to have specific pieces of languages to be used but also to have the listener interrupt and try to stop the speaker getting his or her message out.

15 Minutes of Today
This is nice for intermediate + learners and above. Each student thinks of a specific 15 minute period of their day and then writes down 20 things that they did during those 15 minutes. The teacher helps out here pushing students to break activities such as making a cup of coffee or checking email down into its individual actions (“I filled the kettle”, “I took a spoon form the drawer”, for example). Once students have their list of 20 activities, they read six of them randomly to their partner. Based on those six, the partner has to guess another six actions / processes from their partner’s list (e.g. “Did you boil some water?”). In a business English context, this work really well as generates a need for quite specific lexis for processes and work tasks.

Collaborative Emails Error Correction Task
This small group writing task works really well with classes of 8 to 16 business English students and in classrooms where there is a large board. You start by asking groups to think of a work problem that they can all identify with (for example, server problems, or low staffing levels) and then ask to state specifically what the problem is and who they would address this problem to. The teacher then divides the board into sections according to how many groups there are. Groups are then given time to plan and write their emails on their section of the board. Once they are done, the other groups are invited to come make any changes that they feel appropriate to the other group’s emails. This correction stage typically provokes a lot of discussion and generates a lot of language work.

Teaching Resources
Here are some resources that have helped me teach “materials light” over the years: Mario Rinvolucri’s Grammar Games and More Grammar Games is a must for so many imaginative classroom activities; Friederike Klippel’s Keep Talking has a load of good ideas; as does, of course, Thornbury’s How to Teach Speaking. And last but not least, the Humanising Language Teaching online magazine, which, while not the most user friendly website, is well worth exploring.

Teaching with Technology

March 11, 2011

I made 3 very short screencasts about 3 online tools that you could work with in the classroom. The first one is the Corpus of Contemporary American English. This is searchable database of thousands of texts which gives useful info about word frequency and collocation patterns. Watch the video here:

The second screencast is about the website GoAnimate. Here you can make cool looking text-to-video animations. Watch the screencast here.

The third online tool has been around for a while but it’s still really great and fun. Animoto allows you (and your students) to make eye-catching slideshows with audio. Watch the video here.

I hope these are useful.



September 9, 2010

A few days ago, I was reading here about how Kanye West has started using Twitter so that he can connect with his fans directly (or, in his words “raw”), without having to go through his manager, publicists, record company etc. Many celebrities have been doing this for some time in order to stay in touch with fans but this change in the way we communicate is by no means restricted to pop stars, professional athletes and Hollywood actors.

Indeed, one of the greatest things that has happened in recent years in TEFL (and in many other fields, I’m sure) is that some of the academics, experts, authors that we used to only be able to read or read about in methodology books (and occasionally see at conferences and workshops if we were lucky) are actively tweeting and blogging and interacting directly with their readers. The Teacher Trainer Center (where I work) reading list includes books by Scott Thornbury, Jeremy Harmer and Jim Scrivener – they are all on Twitter, they all publish blog posts, and they participate in on-line discussions. Thornbury’s blog, which is an extension of his 2006 book An A to Z of ELT, in particular, is always interesting and always generates a lot of discussion from other ELT professionals. Take a look at this post on phrasal verbs, for example.

In addition to these 3 authors, there are countless other teaching professionals worth reading on the web – here are just a few that you might find of interest:

Coursebook writer / teacher Jason Renshaw’s blog

Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day


Nik’s Learning Technology Blog

New EFL Teaching Materials

July 21, 2009

I just uploaded two collaborative writing lesson plans on to my teaching materials page which draw heavily on the discourse analysis work of McCarthy, Cook, and others; one at pre-intermediate level and one at a strong intermediate level. Both focus on issues relating to car safety.

That’s in addition to the materials that were already there which include listening lessons incorporating songs by Oasis and Portishead and some stuff on collocations.

Take a look.