A letter from God to man

God to man pic

Here is a quick writing lesson idea which I recently put together. I received some really good feedback from my students about it so I thought it was only fair to share it with you.

The lesson was originally designed for my ILEC (International Legal English Cert) students and the task rubric takes the form of part 1 of the writing exam. The recommended level for this material is Strong upper-intermediate (B2+) and above.

The text for the lesson is a set of lyrics by Scroobius Pip from the UK hip hop duo Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip. A link to the YouTube video can be found here.

The main theme of the lesson is God, religion and what you would say to him if you had the chance. Clearly, this is a difficult subject for some students, so think carefully about whether it can be used in your classroom.

The lead in is entirely up to you. I simply began by asking who believed in God and who didn’t. I then announced that God had written a letter to mankind and that I had a copy. The reason I had a copy was because the people in the room had been tasked with the job of replying to him.

I then distributed a copy of the task rubric to each student;

God has recently contacted the people of Earth and he is not happy with us.

There has been much debate as to who should reply and how to answer. The world’s leaders have elected you to respond, therefore creating a buffer zone between them and any potential blame for the onset of Armageddon if it all goes wrong.

Choose your words carefully.

Read the letter carefully, on which you have made some notes. Then using all the information in your notes, write a letter to God on behalf of the entire population of the Earth.

Good luck.

Write a letter of between 150180words in an appropriate style. Do not write a postal address.

Once the students had read the rubric and were clear on what they had to do, I showed them the letter and the notes that had been made. Click here to open the word document. A copy of the rubric is on the second page.

We dealt with any unknown vocabulary and then talked about how the students might respond. I mentioned that they might want to think about their own relationship with God and how this might affect their response, as well as the register they think would be most appropriate.

The students really enjoyed the process and their finished letters were funny, touching and cleverly done. They commented on how difficult it was to begin the letter and how they had to think a lot more about the style they wanted to use, compared to that of the normal coursebook tasks. Overall, it was a successful departure from the standard course material and a fun writing exercise.

Please feel free to edit the word document as you see fit. The comments I made were appropriate to the class and the time, but you may feel the need to change them.

Please comment on the lesson if you used it and let me know how it went. Enjoy!


Work-life balance – A business class idea

Photo taken from TED.com

Photo taken from TED.com

This lesson idea is based around a funny and thought provoking TED talk by Nigel Marsh. The talk is titled; How to make work-life balance work.

I have used the class with C1.3 and Proficiency students and each time the talk prompts different conversations within my groups, leading to good language work and exposure to authentic listening.

Here is the link to the talk – Nigel Marsh; How to make work-life balance work. (link will open in a new tab)

Here is what I did

  • Begin the class by asking your students to discuss two questions:
  1. Do you think you have a good work-life balance?
  2. If yes, how do you maintain this balance? If no, what would you like to change to create a balance?
  • An alternative opening could be to put the following statements, taken from the video onto the board/projector and ask the students to discuss and say which they agree/disagree with.

there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hateto enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you [as] they can get away with. It’s in their nature; it’s in their DNA; it’s what they do — even the good, well-intentioned companies.

We have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want in our life.

  • Let this run, and try to make notes as you listen. Get feedback and ask any more relevant questions to push the students further.
  • Next, introduce the video and the title. Tell the students that they are going to listen to exactly the first 5 minutes of the talk. I prefer to use the video purely as audio. The video contains nothing of importance visually, i.e no slides, quotes etc. The only task for the student is to listen and when the first part is over, to say whether they agree with the points mentioned in this part. Encourage the students to write down any vocabulary as they are listening.
  • In my classes the following vocabulary was picked out and discussed; startled, thorny issue, getting to the nub of smthg and abattoirs of the human soul.
  • My students had a lot to say about the talk and most genuinely agreed with what was said. It was great for getting them to personalise the subject and talk(moan) about the companies they work for.
  • Once this dies down, remind the class that at the end of the 5 minute clip, Nigel Marsh begins to talk about how he sat down and wrote out his perfect working day. The video stops just before he tells us what it is. Get your students to write down or think about their perfect working day. It needs to be based around their current job. Get them thinking about what time they would start, how many hours they would work, time for lunch, when to finish and what they would do with their spare time.
  • Get feedback and ask more questions.
  • Now the students will listen to the remaining 5 minutes of the talk. They need to compare their ideal day with that of Nigel’s and again write down any vocabulary they want to discuss. In my classes the following vocabulary was discussed after the second part; daunting, upheaval, moronically simplistic
  • Again, work with the discussions that come up after the clip and ask how the students felt about Nigel’s perfect day. To finish off, here are some questions worth discussing;
  1. Is it true that we often neglect the intellectual, spiritual and emotional side of life?
  2. Do you dream of retiring or do you live for the hear and now?
  3. What small things could you change in your life to create a better work-life balance?

I hope the lesson is useful. As always, please feel free to comment and let me know how it goes. Remember that with all TED talks you can activate subtitles and also access an interactive transcript of the talk.

Strapped for cash

This is a very quick post about a lesson I did a few times today and it worked really well.

It is aimed at C1 level students and above and is based around an article from the BBC, which you can find here: Debt campaigners tear up student loans

The article is about a group of activists who bought second-hand student debt in America and paid it off. In doing so, they highlighted the huge amount of people in serious debt due to paying university fees and the fact that many people remain in debt, way into their 70’s.

I started the lesson by asking the students to discuss what they knew about going to university in both the U.S and the U.K. After getting feedback and comparing both countries systems to the current Spanish system, the topic of money and fees came up and this led nicely into the article.

I simply asked the students to read the article and when they had finished they had to talk about three things with their partner;

Something that surprised you

Something that scared you                      in/about the article

Something that made you angry


This led to some really good discussion, as well as the article providing lots of good vocabulary and interesting collocation.

I hope you enjoy the lesson and it proves useful. If you have any comments or questions please feel free to leave them below.

The seven deadly digital sins

This lesson is based around a wonderful set of videos made by the National film board of Canada and the Guardian, and can be found here; http://www.theguardian.com/technology/ng-interactive/2014/jun/06/-sp-digital-deadly-sins

It features artists such as Billy Bragg (musician), Josie Long (Comedian), Bill Bailey (Comedian) and Jon Ronson (writer/journalist), amongst others. Each of these people talks about a deadly sin and relates it to their own use of the internet and social media. Discussing how we are all affected socially, morally and personally by the digital age.

As well as videos, each sin comes with interactive questions and short articles related to other areas of internet use and applications, which may well be of use to students for further language study.

I have chosen to use the videos for listening and discussion practice as it exposes the students to a variety of different accents as well as providing some interesting discussion points.

The lesson is suitable for Advanced C1 learners and above.

I have given the answers for the specific vocabulary questions but I have left the rest of the questions open to individual interpretation, and this will also get the lazier teachers among us, to actually watch the videos and put the answers into their own words.

I have begun to transcribe the videos and these can be found in the file below. It contains the transcriptions for the videos, Wrath, Lust and Pride. I will try to have them all up as soon as possible.

The files are word documents and can be changed and edited as you see fit.

Enjoy the lesson. Comments are always welcome.

Seven deadly digital sins teacher&student notes

Seven deadly digital sins transcript

Eat my goal!

Google image

This lesson idea is inspired and directly linked to a lesson I used from the excellent website, Designer lessons, which is put together by George Chilton and Neil McMillan. Here is the link to the website – http://designerlessons.org/ The lesson that inspired this post is called ‘Make it count’ and the link for it is here – http://designerlessons.org/2012/06/11/esl-lesson-planmake-it-count/

That lesson is based around a video by a guy called Casey Neistat, who is asked to make a commercial for Nike, but instead decides to use the money to go on a round the world trip and films it, making this the actually advertisement. The advertisement is about a Nike product called the fuel band, more of which later. Neistat is actually quite a prolific film maker and has his own YouTube channel which can be found here – http://www.youtube.com/user/caseyneistat I’m pretty sure I will be using many more of his videos in the classroom, in the future.

After doing the ‘Make it count’ lesson I found the sequel to the advertisement which actually  explains what the Nike fuel band does and is based around the theme of setting goals and eventually achieving them.

Lead in:

  • Ask the students to re-cap the previous lesson and to talk with their partner about what happened in the video. (If some pupils missed the class get the class to describe the video and then replay it, to see if the description was accurate and if anything was missed out)
  • Ask the students if they can remember what the video was supposed to be advertising. If they can’t remember show them a picture and ask them what they think the device does. (http://store.nike.com/gb/en_gb/pd/fuelband/pid-683902/pgid-683903?cp=EUNS_KW_UK_*Icons)
  • If you haven’t done the previous video lesson simply introduce the picture of the fuel band and ask the students what they think it does.
  • Get feedback and possibly board the suggestions the students come up with.
  • Introduce the video and ask the students to watch and listen carefully to find out exactly what the Fuel band does. The answer comes in the first 1min 25secs. You could pause the video here to get feedback or simply allow the students to watch the video all the way through and then check.
  • Ask the sts to watch the video again and to work out what the main message of the video is. Give them a clue by getting them to concentrate on the one word that is repeated at the end of the video. Answer – Goal and goal setting.

Main aim:

  • Ask the students if they make goals and if they manage to achieve them. Get feedback and some examples. I always find it helps to give a personal example to prompt the students to open up a bit.
  • Now introduce this worksheet – http://www.stageoflife.com/Portals/0/MyLifeRewards/Store/Stage_of_Life_Goal_Setting.pdf – The link should take you straight to the 7th page of a PDF document and is titled Goal summary. The rest of the document could also be exploited as part of the class. Ask the students to try to add at least one goal to all of the topics, some might not be applicable to your students.
  • After completion get the students to compare with their partner and see if they have similar or different goals.
  • Now ask the students exactly what they have to do to achieve their goals. Again, a personal example would be useful. Try to elicit personal qualities and not just the practical requirements that are needed. put the students into groups and get them to discuss.
  • Get some feedback from the students and feed in any vocabulary.
  • Now might be a good time to do some work on conditionals. I didn’t do this in the original class but getting the students to perhaps write out a goal plan using conditionals or even using some of the future tenses might be a good idea.

If I study for 4 hours a night, I will have a better chance of passing my exams.

If I pass my exams, I will get into university.

If I get into the right university, I will have to work even harder to pass my exams. If I don’t, I could be kicked out.

  • Now ask the students what could prevent them from achieving their goals.
  • Feedback and board ideas.
  • Tell the students they are going to look at an article which names 10 things that prevent people from achieving their goals.
  • Original article – http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/top-10-reasons-why-people-dont-reach-their-goals.html
  • Edited article ready for class room use – Eat my goal worksheet 1
  • Cut the worksheet up so that you have ten problem titles, ten problem definitions and ten quick fixes.
  • Ask the students to come up to the board and match the problem titles to the definitions. leave the quick fixes to one side. You may need to deal with any vocabulary students don’t know, as it comes up. E.g Procrastinating, vague and two of the acronyms FOMO = Fear of missing out SMART = see top picture
  • Once completed and the students are clear on all the problems, put them into groups and get them to come up with solutions for each of the problems.
  • Feedback and then get the students to match the quick fixes to the problems and definitions already on the board. Get students to see if any of their own ideas were the same.

Extra activity/Continuation of lesson

  • Ask the students if they would like to be paid to achieve their goals.
  • Now ask if they would like to be fined for not achieving their goals.
  • This caused a little confusion in my class so a clear and simple to follow example may help here.
  • Ask students if they would use a website to help them reach their goals.
  • Tell the sts that these kind of websites exist and that they are going to see a short video which explains how it works.
  • Show video and ask students to explain how the website, Stickk, works. Be careful as my students found this listening a little difficult (B2)


  • If you want to do a second viewing you may want to use the three simple questions in worksheet 2
  • Ask the students if they think the websites are a good idea and if they have changed their mind about using them.
  • For homework or class use, depending on time, give the students the article that accompanies the video and set a reading activity. Look at worksheet 2 to see what I did. (please note the I have edited the article)

Eat my goal worksheet 2

I appreciate that there is an awful lot here so cut and paste the lesson as you please. I managed to squeeze some into the end of the ‘Make it count’ lesson and then use the rest for another lesson and then give the article for homework.

I would say it was applicable for B2 classes and above and my FCE teenage class really enjoyed all the activities.

I hope you enjoy the lesson and, as always, I would appreciate any feedback.

Spend, spend, spend!

This is a lesson idea that I have been trialing with a couple of my classes and it went so well that I thought it was only fair to share it.

The lesson is based around an interactive computer game called ‘Spent’


The site was first brought to my attention by Graham Stanley (@grahamstanley), who talked about using the game at a small British Council conference, last year. Graham is one half of the team behind the site, digitalplay, so I knew it would be worth checking it out.


The game was designed to raise awareness of about poverty. The basic premise is that you have $1000 to see you through until the end of the month and you have to make a variety of different choices based on a range of different situations that crop up, along with finding a job, keeping a roof over your head and looking after your young child.

The game itself is very simple to play and you don’t need to be a gaming geek to play along. It’s just a matter of clicking on the option you want and reading what happens next. To help, some very kind people have developed a walk-through guide to teach you about the game, how to play it and what to expect.


The game deals with lots of issues from homelessness, workers unions, obesity and doing the weekly shop to name a few. This means there are ample opportunities to use authentic materials to expand on the areas that come up in the game. Obviously, you need to play the game and see what comes up frequently, depending on the option that is taken, but it is easy to plan ahead and prepare the materials before the lesson and bring them up when the time is right.

Authentic materials – Google images

I think that the lesson would be suitable for upper intermediate and above and mature teens at FCE.

I introduced the topic by getting the students to think about what they would spend £1000 on in a month if they had no real responsibilities and no bills to pay. After feedback, I asked them how they would spend the money if they were a single parent with no job and nowhere to live. This worked well as a lead in and got the groups discussing from the very beginning.

One of the first options is to decide where to live. This is determined by distance to where you work, cost of housing depending on distance from the city and how much you spend on petrol to get to work. This in itself promotes lots of debate, but usually results in the students choosing to live quite a way out of the city and this then leads to some information about the rate of homelessness in the US. This lead me to ask the students about homelessness in Spain, if it has got worse, has the crisis made it worse and if they had known anyone affected by it. I then introduced this article, which i found in the NY times.


The article also had a slide show of photos to accompany it and I used these too. Below are some files, showing how I used the article and photos. They are designed to fit with parts of the Cambridge exam but can be easily adapted.

Homelessness reading article and U of E exercise

Homeless pictures CAE part 2 speaking

Homeless pictures CAE part 2 speaking Homeless CAE speaking part 3

Another part of the game involves the students deciding how much to spend on the weekly shopping trip and the exact items to put in the trolley. This again gets the student talking and leads nicely into the next article, which I found on the Guardian website.


This was one of a dozen articles on the subject and this is what is so good about this lesson. You can pick and choose your authentic materials depending on level and age and there is bound to be something related to the issue you are searching for. Below is what I did with the article.

Shopping is expensive Reading CAE

Another one of the scenarios that came up in the game was whether to buy a $5 salad or save money and get a burger from the dollar menu. This topic was actually touched upon when we talked about the shopping article above so it was another good place to introduce another text. This was an article about obesity in Spain, caused by the psychological effects of the crisis.


Obesity reading gapfill

Obesity reading complete

I think the above is just scratching the surface and that the lesson is full of possibilities for a variety of different activities and resources to be exploited. It provided a lot of speaking practice and opportunities for correction and highlighting of emergent language.

If you use the lesson or any of the ideas, I would love to hear how it goes.