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.


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.

Learner Diaries; A summary

As the academic year draws to a close, its time to summarise the two projects that I was running this year, at IH Santander.

If you’re new to the blog and Learner diaries, please read through the posts entitled Learner diaries 1,2 and 3 for the lowdown and extracts from the learner’s diaries themselves. If you have been following these posts from the beginning, thank you and I hope that you have gained something from these posts and maybe even been spurred on to try it yourself.

So, what exactly did I get from this project? Well, I think it is more important to focus on what the students got from this experience. After all, they were the main reason for starting this and without them participating I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Due to various reasons, I was unable to get specific feedback on the diaries themselves which is something I regret. So I have read back through the diary extracts and will be basing my summary around these. Firstly, I like to think that the diaries empowered the learners and was in keep with the theme of the unplugged project from which this off-shoot project formed. By giving them an outlet to express their feelings about the class and what happened in it, I effectively had an ongoing needs analysis that was honest and true and was prompted by questions the students were asking themselves, rather than a two page formal needs analysis that they are required to answer at the beginning of the course, which is normally rushed and completed with the same old answers. Anthony Gaughan recently mentioned the need for more frequent needs analysis in his talk about what makes a lesson great.

Well, needs change, and – if complexity theory really has any relevance to language acquisition – they do so unpredictably, so how often can/should needs be reassessed? Every month? Every week? Every lesson? Before or after the lesson? During it? (Anthony Gaughan, 2012)

I think that learner diaries can go some way to combat this and provide the teacher and learner with valuable feedback in which to proceed with further lessons.

This nicely links into the next point. By responding to what is written in the diaries and building lessons around these needs, the learners can see that what they are writing is important and that you the teacher are listening to what they have to say. The knock on effect is to create a greater rapport with the learners, encouraging them to write more and strengthen the cycle of feedback/needs analysis.

The diaries are also a valuable resource for lesson ideas. What’s great about the diaries is that the learners are constantly producing work. From this the teacher can use what has been written for a writing skills based class, maybe pick up on a topic that a learner has mentioned in one of their entries, something they like/dislike, what they did at the weekend and so on. The teacher can also prompt different responses and probe for more information with the responses they leave in the learner diaries, be it in the form of a direct question or perhaps a personal response to something the learner has written. Again, it pushes the learner to write more, further strengthens the rapport and provides the class with a wealth of material.

The learner diaries were also trialed with various other classes within the school and I was fortunate enough to share the project with Noreen Lam (@Noreen_Lam), a teacher at IH Santander, and we also presented our project at TESOL Spain, Bilbao. Recently, Noreen presented the same talk as part of the International house on-line conference and you can see the recording here;

Here is what Noreen has to say about the project;

Looking back at a year of learner diaries, I think that what I have felt most satisfied with is the insight that the journals have given into the lives of students.  Sure, it’s true that with the young learners, there isn’t much meat in the responses, and it’s often limited to “I like games and I hate homework/tests” etc, but once in a while, you get something that surprises you.  The students see it as a way to speak to you when maybe they aren’t able to do so during class time, and you can come up with something like “I hate be (sic) alone and get angry” which isn’t perhaps relevant to English class, but does tug at a more personal response and willingness to express feelings.
With the adults, it has been the same, but on a more complex level, which is what we were aiming for from the start.  I was lucky in that my adults are very enthusiastic and intrinsically motivated individuals, and they really poured their hearts out and were completely honest.  Entries began with a mixture of uncertainty, worry and lack of self-confidence, and towards the end of the year, became more and more positive with noticeable pride in their accomplishments.  They recognise their strengths and weaknesses and have taken it upon themselves to work hard.  It has been very rewarding reading their entries, especially when they share their secrets like how one “play[s] a game” where she mentally translates conversations she has with colleagues into English, thereby creating an internal dialogue in L2 and reinforcing the importance of it in her life!  Something like that just makes you go “wow!” and think, all that hard work throughout the year has paid off, and maybe I have done my bit as a teacher.

I think Noreen has summed up the experience very nicely and I can only echo her feelings. The chance to see into the lives of the learner is not only a privilege but also a very rare chance to get such personal feedback. To be able to allow the learners to do this is what teaching is all about. Empowering the learner.

Despite all the positives, not everything was plain sailing with the project. Initially, the learners took to the idea of the diaries enthusiastically and the responses offered lots of material to work with. As time went by and other things took priority, exams, holidays etc, the entries became fewer and fewer. The fact that we had the diaries spread across six or seven different classes also meant it was difficult to keep up with the responses and to put in the required time in order to get the most out of them. Some learners simply didn’t want to give up their time to fill out the diaries and for some ages it is more difficult to implement than others. I tried to deliver the diaries electronically with a group of teenagers after the initial paper based way failed and even that proved to be futile.

In conclusion, the project has been extremely enjoyable, thought-provoking and useful for both the learner and the teacher. Both Noreen and I plan to continue the learner diaries next year and another teacher at IH Santander is also looking to start the diaries with a class. I would encourage any teacher to give learner diaries a go and it would be great to hear from anyone that has tried or is even thinking of trying this kind of project with their learners to share experiences and thoughts. If anyone has any further questions about the project or the diaries, please feel free to comment here or contact me or Noreen via twitter. (@bealer81 and @Noreen_Lam)

Many thanks to Noreen Lam, Emily Bell and the students of IH Santander for supporting, participating and genuinely being cool people.

Aint no mountain high enough

This is my response to Brad Patterson’s latest blog challenge, which can be found here –

Teaching is like climbing a mountain. Preparation is key. Like a class of learners the mountain and its environment can be unpredictable. Always take the correct equipment (materials), check the weather report (post lesson reflection+lesson planning) and tell someone where you’re going (observation). Don’t over pack, this will mean you have too much to carry and tire yourself out (think about your materials, are they necessary?)  Keep your equipment in good condition, maintain it and upgrade when necessary. (Personal and professional development through courses like DELTA, in-house training, blogging, Twitter, further reading, action research)

All packed and ready to climb Mt Huayna Potosi. 6,088m

Respect the mountain and its surroundings. (Respect your students and make their surroundings the materials you need, they have lives and a lot to say. Give them the chance to say it.) Pace yourself when climbing the mountain, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Why rush to the top and back down again? Enjoy the journey and wonder at the beauty of it all. (It takes time to become a good teacher. Take the rough with the smooth, learn from your mistakes and turn those experiences into learning points.)

When you reach the top, take time to enjoy the view and take lots of pictures. It will be a one-off and every peak will have a different view, as will the journey to get there. ( Document your teaching experiences, be it with a blog, a personal diary or just continuous feedback with your peers. This will keep it fresh, provide other avenues through which to receive feedback and allow other people to feel as though they were there with you.)

On top of Mt Illimani, Bolivia. 6438m

Don’t be complacent on the way down. 80% of all accidents that occur on Mt Everest happen on the way down. ( Maintain classroom management, keep your standards high and this will reflect upon your students, maintain motivation for yourself and your students by pushing yourself that little bit extra to make sure concentration is sustained.)

When you get to the bottom and your legs, back and shoulders ache, take pride in what you have achieved. Not everyone has the courage, determination and willingness to accomplish what you have just done. (Teachers are awesome)

The second challenge was to talk about something that wasn’t teacher related but has brought something to the classroom more than anything else.

For me, it isn’t just one event in my life that has sculpted the way I am in class. It has been a lifetime of experiences, ups and downs, good times, bad times and luck that allows me to bring something personal and unique to the classroom.

Life is for living.

We need to talk about Dogme.

It’s been awhile, I know. After a long break from writing my last post about the project a lot has happened. I took a break due to conferences and then we had the Easter break, which meant that the lessons I did have with the project group, in-between this period, were a bit all over the place in terms of topic, and also lacking in student attendance.

This week has been the first week where I have had all the students back together, including two new students. With such a big break it was hard to go in with any real ideas of where the class was going to go. But, I did have a lesson about giving and receiving good and bad news prepared, just in case.  We started by doing a lot of pair work and reporting back to find out what had happened during the Easter holidays. It was clear that everyone was a bit rusty, so this worked well as a warmer and to ease the students back into the class room. Just at the end of one of the reporting back sessions, one of the students told us that his partner had lost his job and been sacked at the weekend. I asked him how he felt about the events and to give us the reason for the sacking. I then asked the students to tell their partner what the last piece of bad news was that they had received. That lesson was going to come in handy after all. They reported back to the class and I gave feedback and correction where necessary. Next I put the students into groups to talk about how they could make it easier to give someone bad news. we boarded the answers;

  • Telling some good news after or before the bad news
  • using humour / tell a joke
  • don’t tell them the whole truth
  • get someone else to do it
  • do it face to face

I then distributed a worksheet, about advice on how to give bad news from the prepared lesson, and asked the students to work together to fill in the gaps and to read the full article to compare their answers with that of the worksheet. This was a fairly easy and quick task so I moved on to eliciting the language you could use to tell someone good or bad news. I boarded the suggestions and corrected where necessary.

The next step was to get the students to listen to seven short conversations I had recorded onto my dictaphone and work out if it was god or bad news and what the news was. They also had the task of listening for the language that was used in the recording. The recordings really made the students work hard and we spent some time on repeating the different conversations and working out from context and using certain lexical clues to work out what was happening. After some feedback I asked the students to try to remember some of the language that was used in the listening to give good or bad news. I added the ones they had written down to the previous ones on the board.

With the lesson I had prepared there was a set of phrases for both giving good and bad news as well as phrases that could be used for both, depending on the tone of voice and additional information. I placed these on the centre table, all mixed together, and asked the students to separate them into the relevant groups, good, bad or both. After some discussion and a little debate about the ‘both’ group we settled on the final answers and then I went through some drilling exercises. Pointing out the rise and fall in intonation depending on whether it was good or bad news. I repeated the exercise for phrases that we use to respond to good or bad news and also got the students to come up with their own.

The final part of the lesson was to work together and create a dialogue with the situations we had talked about in the earlier part of the lesson, using the language and phrases from the class. The lesson ended here and the idea was to finish and perform the dialogues in the next class.

The next class

So, before hearing the dialogues I went around the class and helped with some rephrasing and structuring in the dialogues. We drilled the language and then the students performed them. They clearly had the hang of where the particular phrases needed to go and there were some quite theatrical performances with interesting use of intonation.

That very morning I had received some bad news myself, my parents were due to visit me for the first time in nearly two years, but there car had broken down on the way to the airport and they ended up missing their flights. From this very unfortunate event, I created a newspaper headline and prepared it before the class and mocked it up into a pretend newspaper. I showed the students the headline and told them it was about something that happened to me and they had to ask questions to gain information and find out what happened. This was where the problems began. The process was quite long and drawn out and the formation of the questions themselves was particularly difficult, and for me worrying, as the students were finding it really hard to get their question word order correct. We eventually got the full story. I checked the students understanding of headlines and why it was so short and why newspapers contract the information in that way.

The next stage was to get the students to write their own headlines about something that had happened to them recently. I worked my way around the room helping them to construct the headlines and to try to keep them short and to the point. This is what they came up with;

  • Gijon are returning to hell (football related)
  • All roads lead to Milan (recent holiday)
  • Lack of sleep can be dangerous
  • Racing are close to going down to hell (football related)
  • Rainy days lead to boredom

The next part was simple, the students would go around the room, ask questions to each other, make notes and then write a report on their favourite story. This very quickly went out of the window. The forming of questions was all over the place, confusing both speaker and listener. This lead to mis-information and a lot of back and forth before actually getting any facts about the story. The amount of errors coming out of the activity was just too much. I didn’t know what to focus on at first and then simply stuck to the questions that were being asked. After 5 minutes I stopped the activity. We were getting nowhere fast and I could see the frustration building. I boarded some of the questions and did group error correction. I then elicited the W question words and what information they were used to elicit. Instead of going back to the milling exercise, I turned it into an interview exercise one person at the front with everyone else asking questions allowing me and the students to concentrate on one question at the time. Again, the process was slow and painful and the students were really struggling, each question needed restructuring and at times was broken down into one word at a time slowly building it back up. Toward the end it got a little better so I moved it back into the milling exercise. Mistake. I was swamped with more errors, too many errors, a tidal wave of errors and the questions spluttered, stuttered and blurted out in all sorts of ways. I allowed the activity to continue to allow myself time to try to work out exactly how I was going to fix this and exactly what I needed to fix. I couldn’t think of anything. I was lost in a sea of errors, confusion and inexperience, my inexperience.

The lesson finished and to be honest I was grateful, and I think the students were too. I wasn’t sure exactly what I had taught them, I wasn’t sure if the lesson was of any use at all. I had no way or idea of dealing with the problems that were coming up. I needed more structure, I needed more support and more importantly so did the students. For me, this highlights certain drawbacks of Dogme for an inexperienced teacher. The ability to deal with emergent language and language problems on the spot is really difficult and there is a lot of pressure to get it right. I feel as though I perhaps did more damage than good in that lesson and it has dented my confidence a little. God only knows what it did to the students. Secondly, what sometimes appears to be a lack of structure and clear aims to the students, in a Dogme classroom, can lead to a class with no clear end results which can be frustrating for the learner who then doesn’t have anything to show for the hard work and time they have put in. This again leads me to another question I have asked myself recently, Who exactly is benefiting from this project, the students or me?

The one positive from the lesson is that I know what I need to work on in the coming lessons. To do this I’m going to go back to the coursebook and really structure the next lessons. I will allow for flexibility and space to react to things that will come up, but my main aim is to restore confidence in both students and myself, resolve the problem of question formation and to get some learning done. I’m stepping away from Dogme and looking to the coursebook, with a critical eye, to provide the support and structure, we as a class, need.

ELTchat summary – Guided Discovery

So out of guilt, seeing as it was my proposal to talk about Guided Discovery, I volunteered to do the summary for the ELTchat that took place on April 4th. The full title was ‘How effective is Guided Discovery in the ELT classroom? Can it help promote learner autonomy?’
Why Guided Discovery, I hear you ask. Well, it all started after Jim Scrivener’s talk at IATEFL about High demand teaching in ELT and the subsequent ELTchat that followed a week later. See summary here by Lizzie Pinard –

I began thinking about how I could implement this in my own classroom and what would really make my students work harder in class and feel as though they have learnt something, rather than simply enjoying the lesson and walking away with relatively little learning actually happening.
Guided Discovery was something I was introduced to on my Trinity Cert course and actually found it rather difficult to get my head around. On a course with so little time and so much to take in I just wanted them to give me the information so I could take it home and study it. I forgot about it and it wasn’t until I read Scott Thornbury’s post on guided discovery that I actually thought about it again.

I was hoping that the chat might lead to some interesting links, resources and lesson plan/ideas. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

We talked about what Guided Discovery was;

@wellmichelle Guided Discovery: students uncovering the rules and structures to the language themselves, but with teacher support #ELTchat

We then discovered that a lot of people use guided discovery, particularly for teaching grammar;

@hartle #eltchat I often use it with a text and the grammar related guided discovery questions refer learners back to context meaning and form
@Marisa_C RT @Shaunwilden: @Marisa_C Well i used it a lot as part of inductive grammar approach #eltchat > so no rule giving but rule discovery
 @reasons4 RT @esolcourses RT @bealer81: So who uses guided discovery? #eltchat  I use it. supplemented with help > isn’t the help the guided but

Then the next question, which for me was the most important, the one where I would be inundated with links and the chance to actual see how a Guided Discovery lesson worked and have, perhaps, a couple of good examples to go away and practise with.

@ShellTerrell What specific lessons have you done in your classrooms that are examples of guided discovery? #ELTChat

And I waited, and continued to wait, and then we went off on a random tangent about Dogme and GD and the chat was over. I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed. This was by no means a fault of the ELTchat format or of the great teachers that took part. The impression I get, and this also includes my findings from searching through various books and scouring the internet, is that there just isn’t that much lesson material or research for Guided Discovery done in ELT.  I have managed to find these articles, which provide a good description of what Guided Discovery is and Perhaps the best breakdown of guided discovery, with examples, can be found here (Vicky Samuell) But, my point remains. There are very few examples being shared and talked about. Which seems such a shame, as Guided Discovery appears to be a very effective way of demanding more of our students and giving them a sense of achievement, leading to greater learner autonomy.

ELTchat may not have answered my question or provided me with the plethora of examples I was hoping for, but it certainly highlighted the need for some further hands on research and investigation. Now, I may be looking in the wrong places or typing the wrong words into my search engine. So please tell me if you know of any great resources. I know that there must be research papers out there, but for teachers what we really need is examples and people writing or talking about their experiences with it. So if you do use Guided Discovery and have some ideas get them out there, blog them or put it out on twitter. If you don’t I may have to do another action research project. Oh wait, that sounds like a good idea!

Here is the complete transcript for the ELTchat –

Unplugging the Spanish classroom.

Now that the term is well under way, and I have settled into a nice routine, I feel as though I can concentrate on other things. I have decided to start Spanish lessons again, beginning on Monday. Nothing earth shattering I know, but after getting published in the Guardian, did I mention that by the way, the Spanish teacher at my school started asking questions about teaching unplugged and has taken it upon herself to try to read ‘teaching unplugged’. (Thornbury&meddings, 2009)

A couple of days later, I asked if she would like to practice teaching unplugged with me. Two, hour lessons a week, no more photocopies, adapting activities from the book and generally making it up as we go. She seem’s very excited about the venture, as do I. A great chance for me to be on the other side of things, more importantly, I’m helping another teacher to try something new and develop, as well as perhaps helping to spread the unplugged gospel, in the Spanish teaching world.

I was wondering if perhaps I was being a bit too hasty in asking my Spanish teacher to go unplugged, until I read this blog from Ben Naismith, He talks about learners learning what they want to and not what is prescribed by the teacher, emergent language and the dullness of set material. I know that I hate being handed a stack full of photocopies, filling in endless gap fills and listening to conversations between Pedro and Jose in a cafe. I know, that if I went back to Spanish lessons such as these, like Steve, I would probably lose interest and drop out. Therefore subjecting my girlfriend to listen to my painfully bad Spanish for another 6 months, before deciding to try again. I suppose it must sound a little selfish too. Expecting my teacher to learn and deliver a brand new way of teaching after only just learning about it. But, I think we are both aware of the possibilities and difficulties that we face and I see it as more of a partnership than a normal teacher, student relationship.

So on Monday a new chapter to my unplugged adventures starts. I would love to know if anyone else has tried a foreign language in this way. I would hate to think I was the first and only. I will post some feedback as the weeks go by and hopefully get some comments from my teacher too.