Original pirate material

So, January has come and gone already. The more I teach the faster time seems to go. The past month with my project class has seen me look closer at the materials I have been bringing into the class room, how I have used them and how the students have reacted to them. So far, the results have been positive and the students seem to enjoy having something they can engage with, be it a video or a simple jigsaw reading.

Midway through January I asked my students to bring in an article or picture that they would either like to talk about or would like me to base a lesson around. In the next lesson I received three articles and a photo with a short description. One of the articles was a short internet piece about the new Ferrari F1 car. It was easy to read but with enough information for some questions to be made from its content. At the end of the lesson, I handed out a copy of the article to all the students and asked them to read it over the weekend and write three comprehension questions. In the next lesson I received three sets of questions back from my students. This was quite good for my group, who are notoriously bad for doing the homework I set them. I picked out the best five questions, typed them up and handed the article back in the next lesson with the five comprehension questions attached. The students noticed which of the questions of theirs I had used and seemed pleased also, the student that brought in the original article seemed happy that it was getting so much attention. This all seemed to have a knock on effect as nearly everyone handed in the homework during the next lesson.

Another student had brought me an article taken from the BBC learning English website. It was time for the students to do some written work, so I decided to do this activity, predicting the original text (pg58) from Teaching Unplugged (Meddings&Thornbury, 2009).


I started by getting the sts to talk about the last dream they had and telling their partner. From the feedback we discussed the meanings behind different dreams and whether dreams had any meaning at all. Some people had recurring dreams, while others could never remember their dreams. We talked about the possibility of recording dreams and this lead into the activity nicely. I had prepared the summary of the text on the IWB this included the title, type of text, names of the people and places and the length of text. I also included some important information that needed to be included in the text. The sts then worked in groups of 3 to write the article from the information on the board. I moved between the groups helping with vocab and grammar and boarding some of the more useful and interesting language that came up. Once the sts had finished we swapped articles so that each group could read and compare. The next stage involved the original article, but as a jigsaw reading. The sts worked together to complete the article and I asked them to explain why they had decided on that particular order. Once complete they completed a simple gist question and we finished off by writing comprehension questions for the other groups to answer.

The last material I used managed to generate two lessons and also allowed me to build the lesson around part of the PET speaking exam. The material was this image –

(image taken from life.time.com)

We started the class by talking about photography in general. Do you like photography? Did you have a camera? Why is it important to take photos? This naturally led into the question; What is your favourite photo? A lot of language came out at this point as the sts seemed keen to get the descriptions right and obviously wanted to share their favourite pictures. As it happened, the student that gave me the above image started to describe it to the class. After she had finished, I showed the class the image and asked her if this was what she was describing. The big smile confirmed it and I passed copies of the photo the rest of the sts. Their first task was to simply describe what they could see in the photo for about one minute. I introduced some useful language for them to use, drilled it and asked them to use it when doing the task.

This is part of the PET speaking exam and as predicted it resulted in a lot of new vocabulary which was boarded and drilled. The next part involved the sts discussing what they thought was happening in the photo. This isn’t part of the PET exam, but it was a good chance for them to practise and revise language for speculation which we had already covered in the class. After eliciting the language and then drilling it, the students discussed the photos. Lots of talk about protests naturally came up and even mention of a black hat vs a white hat street battle, which had everyone laughing.

When the sts had finished I asked them if they had noticed the faint but readable logo in the corner of the photo. The photo was originally a front cover for Life magazine and I asked the sts if they knew anything about the publication. Surprisingly, not many of the sts had heard of it so I gave them a brief history of the magazine and mentioned that all of the magazine’s photos were archived on their website. The sts next activity was to spend the next 15 mins searching through the website and finding a picture that they really liked. I would then print it out and we would take it back to the class. Below are the pictures they chose. I would highly recommend a visit to the Life magazine site, there are some amazing images there. http://life.time.com/

(all images taken from life.time.com)

Some great photos and all vastly different in topic and theme. Perfect for the next part of the lesson. I asked the sts to describe the photos with their partners, as before. Again, more new vocab and drilling of these new words. To finish, I explained to the sts that the final part of the PET speaking exam is to discuss a question related to the topic of the photo, but is not directly related to the photo itself. The last task of the lesson was to write a question about the topic of the photo they had chosen. This was easier for some than others and after some clarification of the task and a few examples the sts all managed to produce a question. I now had all the material I needed for the next lesson.

The next lesson started with a quick review of the last one and we went straight into it. I had put all of the photos from the previous lesson around the room. Also, I had written out eight words related to each picture, on mini post-it notes. These were scattered all around the room too. I asked the sts to walk around the room and look at all the words and then, working together, decide which word applied to each photo. The sts worked their way around the room. There were a few differences in opinion, but some of the words could easily be used for at least another one of the pictures in some cases. Now it was the sts turn. I gave them some post-it notes in pairs and asked them to add their own words. They came out with some great stuff; camouflage, ritual, spiritual, revolutionary, psychedelic, temple, misery, solitary, championship, spectators and more. The next task was to listen to a short recording of myself describing one of the photos on the wall. The sts had to simply tell me which one it was. In the recording I had used all of the useful language from the previous lesson as well as some new phrases. The sts got the answer easy enough, but the most important thing was the language I had used. I boarded everything and drilled it. The sts next task was to describe the photos using the new vocabulary we now had along with the new language. The descriptions were immediately better than the previous lesson and some of the new language was making its way in too. I swapped the pairs and changed the photos, keeping the sts on their toes and making notes of any errors as I listened in. I noticed that some of the sts were struggling to describe one of the main objects in a certain photo (the first photo in the group above) It was a large red metal piece of wreckage that no one knew how to describe exactly. Luckily I had already predicted that this might come up and had a small recording of myself using some useful language to tackle such a problem. Not only that, but I had recorded myself talking about the exact same thing they were struggling with. Again, I boarded and drilled the language. Partners swapped, photos changed and the sts continued to describe the pictures. When all the photos had been exhausted we moved on.

I reminded the sts of the questions they had written in the previous lesson and what part of the exam it they represented. The questions are below; (I polished some of them up)

Do you agree with war?

Who is affected the most by war?

Where would the ideal place be for you to celebrate something important?

What do you think about traditional families?

What is your opinion about modern arts?

Why do so many people enjoy sports like football, basketball and baseball?

I gave out the questions and asked the sts to discuss them in their pairs. One of the sts was using some good language to invite the other person into the conversation, so at the change around I highlighted it. He used some more in the next go, so I added that and a few more for good measure. Towards the end the sts seemed to be tiring and running out of things to say. I didn’t want the task to be too repetitive so we stopped it there, and to finish we did a vocabulary recycling game. Two teams, one photo. They had one minute to write down as many of the words that we had used at the beginning of the lesson to describe them. It was another chance to check pronunciation, as well as spelling. More importantly it was a fun way to end the lesson.

I enjoyed looking at different ways of using the student provided material. The students really seemed to respond to the fact that it was something that one of the class had brought in. Also, it was a great exercise for me to use the materials effectively and make them relevant and useful for the students. I’m looking forward to the next batch of materials they bring in.

Time to take a break from the blog. I am talking at both TESOL Spain and IATEFL Glasgow in the coming month, so lots of preparation and work ahead. I hope to see some of you there.