Big think – Advanced level discussion idea

big think

Here is a quick lesson idea that I tried out earlier today and went down very well with my C1/C2 class of lawyers.

I try to listen to a variety of podcasts when I have the time and one that has provided me with food for thought recently has been the Big think/Think again podcast which you can find here. Alternatively, you can listen here;

Other ways to listen:

The premise is quite straightforward. In every episode a guest (professors, artists, actors, poets, writers and leaders in a wide range of fields) is interviewed and asked to react to several audio excerpts picked at random by the podcast producers. The topics are excellent for generating debates and pushing you to think a little bit more outside of the box.

Here is what I did with my class;

  1. I chose 4 or 5 different episodes which contained a question or statement I thought would get my student’s attention and ultimately produce an in-depth discussion.
  • Monogamy is ridiculous” Episode 2 Henry Rollins(Artist) – Monogamy/sexual opportunism (audio starts at 3m 28s) Warning: Contains explicit language
  • Is attention an endangered species?” Episode 12 George Takei (Actor+Activist) – Ego/Focus/Xenophobia (audio starts at 1m 40s)
  • Is stress good for you” Episode 8 Maria Konnikova (Author) Mindset/Creativity/Suburban B-Boyz (audio starts at 1m 17s)
  • Is it better to be happy or interesting?” Episode 15 Salman Rushdie (Novelist) – Happiness/Monsters (audio starts at 2m 43s)

2. In the classroom I presented the statement to the class and asked them to discuss whether or not they agreed or what they thought about the statement/question. We discussed it as an open group and immediately they were interested. At this point I realised that in another class it would be a good opportunity to practice turn-taking and language for agreeing/disagreeing.

3. Once everyone had spoken and the arguments and discussion died down, I played the audio of the person who proposed the statement/question and why they took this particular stance.

4. Once the audio had finished I asked the class to react to what they heard. Did it confirm what they had already said? Was it completely different to what they thought it would be? Did they agree/disagree with this persons argument? etc. Again, there was a lot more talking and discussion.

5. As an extension and further listening, you could also play the audio of the how the guest reacted to the audio and further talk about whether the students agree with the response or not.

This is a simple activity which produced a large amount of discussion and opportunities for slightly lower Advanced levels to practice there speaking and listening skills. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any audio scripts for the episodes but the audio doesn’t tend to last any longer than 2 – 3 minutes.

Enjoy the lesson and let me know how it goes.


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!

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;

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 – The lesson that inspired this post is called ‘Make it count’ and the link for it is here –

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 – 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. (*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 – – 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 –
  • 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.

Proficiency class idea (CPE exam revised for 2013)

I just wanted to quickly write about a class I did on Monday with my proficiency group.

We are currently in-between books, so I am trying to use authentic texts and other supplementary material before we crack on with the exam preparation.

In the previous lesson, I introduced my students to TED talks – and showed them one of my favourite talks –  Birth of a word by Deb Roy. A must for anyone who is interested in linguistics or general language learning/acquisition.

I went through the website and its functions and also pointed out the subtitle feature and generally praised it as a very useful learning tool.

I left them with a piece of homework. They had to explore the site, find a video of interest and then plan a 2 minute introduction and summary of the talk itself. This would work as good practice for part 3 of the CPE speaking exam. I asked the students to email the videos before the class so I could watch them and be prepared with any related materials and follow-up questions.

Of the three students present (class of four) one of them emailed me their chosen video. It was a short presentation on how You Tube works together with copyright holders to create a win win situation for all involved.

After watching the video I searched for some articles that were related to the same theme or in a similar vein. I got lucky and found an article in the Guardian newspaper that pretty much went hand in hand with what the video was talking about but further extended the example of music videos. –

I then went on to find another article in the Guardian related to Youtube, but this article went in an altogether different direction. It spoke about the dangers facing children who used Youtube and how they were just “3 clicks from explicit material.”

I went into the class with just the video, two articles and a vague idea of where I wanted the class to go. Luckily, one of the other students had found a TED talk he wanted to watch and by chance it was loosely related to the You Tube talk. It was entitled, Tracking the trackers.

I asked the student to introduce the video and we then spoke briefly about internet security and how one search on the internet can lead to a multitude of advertisements for related websites and offers popping up on your websites.

We watched the video and spoke about what was said, whether the programme was a good idea and the pros and cons of the internet as a whole. This built up some nice vocabulary and worked well as a warmer, getting the students focused on thinking about the internet and so on.

I asked the next student to introduce her video. She did this by practising part 3 of the CPE speaking exam. A two-minute talk to introduce and summarise what we were about to watch. I asked a few questions about YouTube, how often they use it, what do they normally watch and we spoke about how videos can go viral and I showed them the latest craze, the Harlem shake.

After the video, we discussed some of the language that came up and talked about the general theme of the video and who was affected by it. We then moved on to the first text.

Before the class, I took the first article and cut the paragraphs out and made a simple text jumble exercise. This simulated part 6 of the new Reading and Use of English exam for the CPE. If I had had time, I would have written an extra paragraph that didn´t fit into the text, but seeing as the text was quite long anyway, I focussed on getting the students to concentrate on the reference words and ordering the information.

This proved to be quite difficult but it got the students working and they were pointing out why each paragraph went where and giving reasons, and it proved to be a good workout for them. I gave them the original article and they checked their work and then I asked them to read the article, highlighting collocations and any language they wanted to ask about. At the end of the reading I asked them to discuss who they thought really benefitted from the copyright agreement.

After feedback we moved onto the next text. I had written the title of the text on the board and left out the last two words and asked the students to discuss what they thought the article might be referring to. Eventually they worked it out and we talked about the dangers of the internet and who was most at risk and how this could be prevented.

Before the class, I had gone through the text and tippexed out some of the phrasal verbs and important collocations (part 2 of the Reading and U of E exam) and asked the students to read through, complete the gaps and then discuss who was responsible for what children can and cannot see on the internet.

We now had two texts, which were kind of connected. I split the class into pairs and gave each pair one of the texts. I asked them to look for the main points of each article, no more than three, and then to summarise the article into one paragraph. The results are below;

With the arrival of the internet and websites such as YouTube, the music business has changed. Streaming accounts for a bigger slice of the cake than buying records through downloading . Therefore, labels and musicians need to rely on advertising. This is a new relationship between the music industry, advertising agencies and streaming providers. the ultimate aim is to generate revenue for all the stakeholders involved.

Children surfing on the internet are surprisingly close to explicit material. For instance, on YouTube a child can easily end up watching pornographic or violent content from the innocent act of watching a sesame street video due to the “suggested videos” feature. Even though these platforms have their own systems to prevent these baleful consequences they admit they´re defenceless against this situation.

However, the bright side of the story is that great strides have been taken during the last year in order to provide children with a safer internet experience.

We now had two summary paragraphs and all we needed was a question to tie them both together and complete the writing task and the students homework.

I asked them to look in a copy of the new course book and see how the authors had written out the part 3 speaking exam questions and then to work together to come up with their own question. After some debate as to what the focus of the question and corresponding exam response should be, they finally came up with this;

“Which is more important? Our children’s safety or the interests of the You Tube stakeholders?”

I was really happy with this lesson and the way that it developed, as well as the way the students responded to working without the course book. I made sure that they were aware we were still working towards the exam and continuously referred to the part of the exam that each task was testing or going to test.

If I had the chance, I think I would exploit both of the texts more and perhaps have a few more structured speaking activities to really milk the topic, but the lesson flowed well and it was very natural. The timing worked well too, as the 3hr class finished just after the exam question was put on the board.

Now I’m just waiting for the student’s responses and I will be interested to see if the fact that they themselves created the task will have any bearing on the quality of their writing and the answer they provide in their essay’s.