2022 – The year of the Tiger

I’m not one to obsess over zodiac signs and how accurately they can define our personalities. However, I enjoy reading my horoscope from time to time and seeing how accurate it is. I think that everyone is quite familiar with the Western zodiac, and believe it or not, zodiac signs tend to come up in conversations every now and then! What about the Chinese zodiac, though? The Chinese New Year is approaching, so why not take this opportunity and learn something about this beautiful culture?

Last year I had a chance to prepare a class on the Chinese New Year – the year of the Ox. In that A2+ class, we watched a TED-Ed video The myth behind the Chinese zodiac, learnt the origin of the zodiac signs and based on our personality traits, we tried to predict which sign best suits us. The class was a success! It brought a lot of laughter as we found out what animal best defines each one of us. We also referred to each other by the animal until the end of the class!

You can download the lesson plan, the presentation and the worksheet at the end of the post!

Start the class by writing – Happy New Year! Since it’s already late January / early February, your students will be confused and have questions about it. Say that you know of celebrations happening on the 31st December and the year starting on the 1st January. You can talk about different celebratory traditions that you have in your country and how your students celebrated this year. Proceed by saying that the new year is celebrated differently in other parts of the world. If your students haven’t guessed that you’re referring to the Chinese New Year, you may give some clues. Write that the Chinese New Year is celebrated in February. Write _____ February 2022 and elicit the correct date (answer: 1st February 2022).

Ask about students’ dates of birth and elicit their Western zodiacs. Say that in the Asian culture, the zodiacs are a bit different. Show pictures of the Chinese zodiac (out of order) and ask to write the English names of the animals. Check the answers. Say that, unlike in the Western culture, the zodiac signs change once a year. This year we are celebrating The year of the ______. Students guess the animal (answer: Tiger).

Zodiac signs appear in a specific order that was decided based on the race. Put students into pairs/small groups and ask them to predict the order in which the animals came in. Check the answers and ask to justify their orders. Watch the video The myth behind the Chinese zodiac (0:00 – 2:15) and see if their predictions were correct (answer: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig).

Before watching the video again, this time in its entirety, go over the multiple-choice questions from the TED-Ed website – The myth behind the Chinese zodiac by Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen. Explain any new words if necessary. Students watch the video and answer the questions. Check and explain the answers.

Look at the animals one more time and ask students to think about the personality traits that come to mind. Do students believe zodiac signs define our personalities? Show vocabulary describing character traits and ask students to choose two that best describe them. Reveal the signs associated with each trait. Check students dates of birth and together discover their Chinese zodiac. Look at the personality traits one more time, this time looking at the ones associated with their zodiacs. Do they agree with these descriptions? Why (not)?

Finish the class by doing the craft. Students draw their Chinese zodiac and write a maximum of five sentences talking about their actual personality traits with explanations.

Happy New Year! I hope that your students will enjoy this class as much as mine did!

The Christmas Countdown

If you live and teach in one of the European countries, it’s almost impossible to avoid Christmas-themed lessons. A year ago, when I worked at an academy in Alicante, I was asked to prepare a short Christmas video or project with some of my younger groups. With my Movers group (ages 7-9), we spent about 5 or 6 hours talking about Christmas and preparing for the big video.

Children love Christmas, and no matter how much you try to avoid it, you will have to devote some time to it. What’s a better joy than counting down the days to Christmas? I thought that maybe it’s possible to keep this holiday excitement while learning English. Why don’t you try using an advent calendar that helps you focus on different exercises in each class?

In this free to download version, there are four classroom activities, each one of them written down on a festive card. You can either print out the numbers and glue them to the back of the cards, or you can put them in festive envelopes! If you have a Christmas tree in your classroom, you can hang them and remove one card daily! Ask your students to uncover the task at the beginning of the class and follow this Christmas activity.

As mentioned before, there are four different festive tasks. Let me present them to you and give you my idea of how to use them in class.

Write a letter to Santa

There is no better way of starting December than thinking about the presents! You can ask the kids whether they’ve been naughty or nice this year. If they believe that they’ve been nice, elicit what kind of good things they’ve done. Think of a list of good deeds and move on to the fun part – the presents. You can then put the letters in the envelopes and send them to the North Pole!

Read a Christmas story

Ask your students to read this Christmas classic written by Clement Clark Moore. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is an interesting choice, but fit it to your kids’ needs and abilities. If you find it to be too long, use only one page and move on! Another way of using this poem is asking your students to work in groups and fill in the gaps with the missing words. You can also try choral reading to keep everyone engaged in the activity. The poem is well-known, so you may also want to use a recording to listen to someone else reading it while filling out the missing words.

Make a Christmas ornament

Your classes shouldn’t be only about learning. Aim to bring the students closer together and build a good classroom community. It’s as necessary as studying! Let each of your students choose one out of six available patterns and give them the freedom to decorate them. If you bring markers and glitter, then you can count on having a great time. In the end, decorate your Christmas tree or a classroom. Students love seeing their projects on display.

Listen to Christmas carols

I chose my all-time favourite kids Christmas carol – Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. First, ask the students to match the vocabulary with the pictures to make sure that everyone knows what words we are looking for. Once everyone is clear, use these words to fill in the gaps while listening to the song. Play this Christmas carol, write the missing words and if you have some more time or need to record a video – why don’t you learn it and perform it for the parents?

Here are some of my ideas for an ESL Christmas advent calendar for kids. It’s easy, low-prep, and most importantly, your YL will love choosing the numbers and seeing what kind of fun surprise they’ve got ahead of them. If you are an after-school ESL teacher with two hours a week, this should give you content for two weeks of classes! If you are looking for something longer and more engaging, head to my TpT store to download the full version with eight more activities and over 60 pages of PDF. The activities include the four previously explained and additionally, the Christmas alphabet, solve and create a Christmas jigsaw, design your perfect gingerbread house, write and design a Christmas card, write a Christmas cookie recipe, roll and colour the ornaments, watch and answer questions about Frosty the Snowman and design and hang your own Christmas stocking!

How are you going to celebrate ESL Christmas this year? Click below to download four activities for free!

Adapting lesson plans to other levels

I used to work at an academy that required all plans to be posted onto the server by Monday. At first, it’s fine, you do it, full of energy and happiness. However, then comes the time when you reach the limit and you start thinking about how you can prepare one lesson plan that can be used for different levels.

It starts to resemble an investigation board. You think about the topics that you can teach at the same time, the activities that you need to tweak just a bit to have a good fit for the other group and the worksheets that need little to no changes. My last post focused on Compound Words for Starters. Using this plan, I would like to show what changes need to be made for Starters (A1), Mover (A1+) and Flyers (A2) levels.

Let’s start with a list of things that needs to be taken into consideration while adjusting lesson plans.

Age

Starters are the youngest ones and they are normally between 4-6 years old. Movers are the transitioning period with 7-9 years old and Flyers are the oldest ones with 10-12 years old. Remember that this is just a rule of thumb and the age can vary. Based on the age you need to choose appropriate activities for each group. That means that Starters and Movers will be very excited about colouring meanwhile, Flyers may already ask for a different type of activity.

Motor skills

It’s perfectly fine to add cutting and glueing to your lesson plan for Starters. It’s a type of activity that allows them to follow English instructions while developing their motor skills. It’s also a type of activity that will take some time to be completed. Movers may also be interested in this activity but it will be done in a much shorter time. You shouldn’t really bother Flyers with their motor skills development. They may find this activity fun but in small doses.

Energy level

Starters will be hyped up and need to run around, jump, dance and sing. Movers have a very similar level of energy (at least in my experience) and may actually enjoy some of the similar activities. Flyers are more relaxed and can sit down for a longer period of time. They may enjoy a kinetic activity every now and then but they do not like to sweat.

Reading and writing skills

When choosing activities for the little ones, it’s best to limit reading activities to a minimum. I like to ask them to read the tasks or flashcard names but longer pieces of reading will put them off. Movers on the other hand are quite excited about reading (especially role-play comics). However, limit the tasks to a minimum as reading can be quite tiring in big amounts. In my opinion, a text with fives sentences should be more than enough. Flyers are perfectly fine with longer texts. They may not enjoy them but they can do longer pieces of reading without any issues.

The same goes for writing. My group of Starters only started enjoying writing in the second semester when they got a bit more familiar with the letters. Even then, there are plenty of errors and they need help with showing them how certain letters look like, so limit writing to one-word answers. Movers can write well! They will take their time to show you their calligraphy but you can already ask for one-sentence answers. Flyers have no problems with writing but just like with reading, you may hear complaints.

Okay, so now let’s look at three different lesson plan outlines depending on the level you’re teaching.

STARTERSMOVERSFLYERS
Lead in: Draw a picture of a raincloud and a bow in a form of a math equation. Elicit the words and put them together to make a rainbow. Draw a rainbow and revise colours.Lead in: Students read a short text with compound words. Highlight one word and divide it into two separate words (e.g. ____ + ____ = rainbow). Following this example, students work in pairs to find more compound words.Lead in: Read a short text containing compound words. Tell students that in this text there are 8 words that have something in common. Students work in pairs to find the common factor. If it’s too difficult you can give a hint until students know what they are looking for.
Song: As a part of revision you can sing a song about a rainbow or maybe you can find a song about compound words to introduce your students to the topic.Vocabulary revision: Students use the words from reading to label the pictures.Teach compound words: Explain the meaning of compound words. Students write and divide the words into two single words. The activity ends with students naming these words.
Flashcards: Take flashcards of two words that make compound words and revise them. This is a form of vocabulary revision. Use 6 separate words that make 3 compound words.Teach compound words: Explain the meaning of compound words. Students divide the words into two separate words.Vocabulary revision: Students use the words from reading to label the pictures.
Teach compound words: Take the flashcards and put two words together. Following the lead in, display the words on the board in the form of a math equation.Flashcard game: Do it in pairs and treat it like a competitive activity. Students get flashcards of compound words and single words. Students race to put two words and the compound word they make. Additionally, you can ask them to match pictures with labels.Flashcard game: Do it in pairs and treat it like a competitive activity. Students get flashcards of compound words and single words. Students race to put two words and the compound word they make. Additionally, you can ask them to match pictures with labels.
Follow instructions: Ask your students to sit down and read short few words sentences. Students take turns reading instructions and colour the objects on the worksheet.Anagrams: Students solve the anagrams of single words.Anagrams: Students solve the anagrams of single words.
Match compound words: Using the coloured pictures, students draw arrows to match the words together. They can use the flashcards on the whiteboard to help them.Match compound words: Students match the words from the previous exercise and write them below corresponding pictures.Match compound words: Students match the words from the previous exercise and write them below corresponding pictures.
Writing practice: Students write three compound words and then draw the new words in the boxes.Optional video: Students watch a video on compound words and guess the words. Click here for an example of an interactive video.Writing practice: Students write five sentences using compound words.
Game: Play a memory game. You can preface this game by hiding the cards around the classroom and finding them to match them in pairs first. Put the cards face down and find pairs that make compound words.Game: Play a memory game. Put the cards face down and find pairs that together form compound words.Game: Play a memory game. Put the cards face down and find pairs that together form compound words.
Free time project: To help your students cool down, ask them to sit down and pick two words at random. Students write the words down and draw the new object.Free time project: Ask your students to sit down and pick two words at random. Students write the words down and draw the new object.Free time project: Ask your students to sit down and pick two words at random. Students write the words down and draw the new object.

As you can see a lot of the activities are the same and the only differences are the wordlists used for these exercises. Starters level reading is limited to reading and following instructions. Movers and Flyers start by reading a short text and in the case of Flyers, they are the ones who need to guess the topic of the class. It’ll make them a bit more excited about the reading exercise and will encourage them to read it more than once.

Another difference is in the teaching of compound words. The concept is introduced much later for Starters and Movers than for Flyers. Flyers also get a full explanation of compound words and will use this phrase in class.

Flashcards are used at all levels, but in the case of Starters and Movers, you can play certain flashcard games like flashcard race, jumping on named words or showing flashcards for split second to hear the pronunciation and check their understanding. In case of Flyers you can play games to put flashcards together in a form of math equations (____ + ___ = ____). This is enough to check their vocabulary knowledge.

It’s also a good idea to play a song or show a video of compound words. Starters and Movers will definitely enjoy that part of the class. Flyers may find it a bit childish and boring already. You can check their speaking and writing skills instead.

The common factor for all three levels are the memory card game and the final project. Even though Flyers aren’t very keen on drawing, they may find this task quite fun, especially if you stay away and let their creative juices flowing.

So as you can see, it’s possible to adapt the topic and certain activities across all the levels. You need to model your language accordingly and make sure that all the activities are age-appropriate. Below you can download the flashcards, memory cards and worksheets that you can use with three levels.

DISCLAIMER: Remember that these are only my suggestions for the activities and their order! It’s based on my experience with the young learners and depending on your students and their level you may use a completely different approach.