What makes you nostalgic? – B2 Listening Part 3

The other day, I posted a lesson plan based on a short scientific podcast The Healing Power of Nostalgia. I felt immediate motivation when I saw short extracts of speakers talking about what makes them nostalgic. It made me think of a typical FCE Listening Part 3 exam task, in which students listen to five speakers talking about one topic.

If you missed my last post Let’s get nostalgic – B2 guided listening, click the link and give it a listen. I did this class with a pair of adult students who were excited to tell me about their nostalgia triggers and gladly discussed why even the hardest of times seem like happy memories after some time. Science Friday, the website which provided me with this podcast gem, has much more to offer! Once I saw separate extracts of real people talking about their nostalgia triggers, I started thinking about FCE exam preparation classes, particularly Listening Part 3.

You can find the worksheet with the lesson plan and all the answers at the end of this post.

I thought that the best way of introducing this topic would be by playing sounds, which should induce group nostalgia. Depending on the age and nationalities, you should choose the sounds accordingly, as some of them may not make any sense. The best way of finding out what triggers nostalgia in a particular age group is by searching Nostalgic Sounds + year on the Internet. In my worksheet, I decided to include sounds that I’m familiar with. Listen to the sounds below. Are you familiar with any of them? How do they make you feel? Are there any other sounds that make you feel nostalgic? Why?

Sound 1
Sound 2
Sound 3
Sound 4
Sound 5
Sound 6

If this is the first time doing FCE Listening Part 3, you may want to explain what this task is about and what you need to do to get a good score. You can either refer them to the Cambridge English website or remind them that this listening consists of about 30 seconds long five themed monologues. Students select five correct options from a list of eight possible answers. There is one point available for each correct answer.

This part of the lesson is based on the short extracts of people talking about things that make them nostalgic (found under the summary of the podcast The Healing Power of Nostalgia). Present a typical Listening Part 3 exam task. The students will listen to two speakers talking about things that make them nostalgic (one related to the sound and the other to collectable toys). It’s only a practice round, so students are presented with only five options instead of eight. Read the text and underline any key information. Say that underlining keywords will help them focus on the most important information and avoid any distractors.

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Proceed by listening to Speaker 1 and reading the transcript simultaneously. Identify two distractors and the correct answer. Underline phrases that give you information to justify all your choices. This part should be underlined and labelled for a better understanding of the distractors, as seen below.

Now that students know how to tackle this task, play the recording of Speaker 2. Listen to the recording twice, choose the correct answer and justify your choices. If necessary, show the transcript and underline the distractors and the correct option.

If you haven’t explained it before, remind that in this part of the exam there are five speakers and eight possible answers to choose from. Give students about 30 seconds to read the task and all the options while underlining key information. In this part of the lesson, students listen to five speakers talking about different smells and what they remind them of. Listen to each speaker twice. While checking the answers, discuss all the options and any possible distractors that your students identified in this part of the exam.

All the audios and transcripts are available on Science Friday – The Healing Power of Nostalgia.

Speaker 1
Speaker 2
Speaker 3
Speaker 4
Speaker 5

Finish this part of the class by discussing the smells that make your students feel nostalgic. Are there any smells from the listening that your students can relate to in particular?

If you want to throw another part of the exam into the mix, I always love having a final pair/group discussion based on FCE speaking part 3. Divide students into pairs and show them the question they need to discuss How do these senses make us nostalgic? Students look at the list of five senses and have two minutes to discuss any examples from their lives and the things that make them feel this way. Finish by asking students to decide which of these five senses makes people the most nostalgic and why. Monitor this activity and finish by giving general speaking feedback.

Click the file below to download the worksheet, and if you need to add any changes to the worksheet, you can head to Canva and edit the file accordingly!

B2 – Let’s get nostalgic (podcast)

The older you get, the more you realise the emotional sadness and sense of longing for the past. You start appreciating all the summers you spent in your grandparents’ countryside, running around carefree, worrying only about making it on time to watch your favourite TV show. This podcast-based class should make your B2 adult student look back at their past through rose-coloured glasses and reminisce about their childhood.

Recently I’ve noticed a pattern all over my social media pages – millennial nostalgia. The content creators hit the right spot, reflecting on our sense of style and songs we loved listening to as children. We poke fun at the use of iPods and the extensive use of photobooth on iMacs. We think about different food and drinks that we used to enjoy and which don’t exist anymore. I got so into it that I started scrolling through the #millenialnostlagia, laughing and feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Of course, since we all come from different backgrounds, our nostalgia triggers are unique. However, no matter our past, we can all agree on the origins of nostalgia: the smell, the taste, sounds (music), films and TV shows, and certain emotions that assisted us during that time. Since it’s such a feel-good topic, I believe it may spark some interesting discussion about specific things that remind us of better times.

This lesson is based on the podcast by Science Friday titled The Healing Power of Nostalgia, which can be assigned as a pre-lesson listening task or can be listened to in class. Since the topic is quite specific, it is targeted at adult students who may have some experience with nostalgia. You can download the worksheet with the lesson plan and the answers at the end of the post.

Start the class by thinking about different things that make us nostalgic. If you have a bigger group, you can ask students to write down three things that make them feel this way on sticky notes, and put them on the whiteboard under different categories. If you have smaller groups or 1:1, you can show the categories and elicit things that make students nostalgic in each area. Ask individual students to share their stories with the rest of the group.

An example of the nostalgia categories and triggers may look like on the whiteboard.

Depending on the amount of time available, you can do this activity in two different ways. You can send the podcast (available on SoundCloud) and ask the students to listen to it before the class, or you can do it in the form of a guided listening. If you choose to do the latter, focus their attention on Exercise B and ask them to read the question and three available options. At this point, do not explain any words yet. Play the recording (-17:26 – -16:08) and check the answers to the question about what makes the host nostalgic. This should introduce some new podcast-related vocabulary (e.g. a host). Check the diagram from the lead-in and compare your nostalgia triggers with the ones mentioned before.

Continue by dividing students into pairs or small groups, and discussing the benefits of nostalgia. Ask to think of the best way to define this word. Listen to the next part of the recording (-16:08 – -14:06) and check the answers to the questions. The benefit of nostalgia mentioned in the podcast was an emotionally protective force in times of crisis. Do the students agree with this statement, or can they come up with other more appropriate or relatable advantages of nostalgia?

Proceed with some individual work. Students read two questions regarding feelings associated with nostalgia and the reason people used to associate nostalgia with negativity. Continue by listening to (-14:06 – -12:05), then check and discuss the answers.

Put students again into the same pairs or groups as before and ask them to talk about different ways in which we can induce nostalgia. Listen to the next part of the recording (-12:05 – -10:47) and compare your suggestions with the ones mentioned in the podcast, e.g. listening to music, consuming media that reconnects us to the past, journaling and scrapbooking. As a group, collect some ideas and check how students like to induce nostalgia and when they tend to do that. Discuss if anyone has ever tried or would try scrapbooking in the future.

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Continue with individual work. Students read two questions about different ways of processing nostalgia and the negative effects it may have on people who tend to be standoffish in their relationships. Students predict the correct answers and listen to the recording (-10:47 – -8:11) to check the answers. Finish this part by discussing whether they agree with what was said in the recording.

Once again, ask the students to work in pairs and think of the differences between personal and group nostalgia. Listen to the recording (-8:11 – -6:31) and check the answers (personal nostalgia is unique to each person, while group nostalgia depends on generations, people living in the same area, etc.) Discuss different examples of group nostalgia in their countries. I know that for me, a millennial from Poland, a big part of group nostalgia is listening to music channels (Viva!) and drinking the artificially sweet beverage Frugo (sadly, discontinued and then brought back to be terminated again).

The next part of the listening involves talking about different parts of the brain that are included in the process of nostalgia. The second part of the task checks their knowledge of vocabulary. Students need to find the word that best describes the feeling of nostalgia. In the podcast, this word is gratitude, which needs to be matched with its synonym (homesickness, appreciativeness or greatness). Listen to the recording (-6:31 – -4:08) and check the answers.

Since we are on the topic of brain activities, students work in small groups again and discuss the accuracy of their memories. Listen to the recording (-4:08 – -2:57) and report on what was said about the way we tend to remember things (it’s a memory of a memory). Finish this part by discussing if the students are maybe unsure of some of their memories and whether they remember some things from stories or pictures and not from living those experiences.

The podcast finishes with a short comparison of our nostalgia and memories to movie making and editing. Play the recording until the end (-2:57 – 0:00) and check the answers. Finish by writing a quote, ‘People can be very nostalgic about difficult times in their lives’ and discuss whether they agree with it or not. If the topic isn’t too sensitive, students may share their personal stories and how they look back at them through rose-coloured glasses.

Since the lesson is for older students, ask them to use their phones to search for things that induce group nostalgia in their countries, e.g. the sound of dial-up Internet, specific food and drink products, etc. Present them to the rest of the group and discuss how these things make them feel and what they make them think of. Below you can find some of the things that certainly make me feel quite nostalgic.

Click the link to access the PDF directly from Canva (+ edit it if needed!) or click the link below to access the ready-made PDF with the teacher’s notes and the answers at the end of the file!

What induces your nostalgia? Do you know some of the things from my picture above? What would you add to the nostalgia list?

Disclaimer: All the time stamps of the podcast are measured backwards. You can play this podcast directly from the website and check the time above!

B2 – Separating the art from the artist (guided reading)

Recently the whole world united, as we all witnessed twists and turns in the biggest trial of the 21st century between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Even though there was one clear (public) winner of this case, I can’t help but feel rather disappointed that such a great actor had so many skeletons in his closet. It made me wonder – will I ever be able to truly enjoy Johnny Depp’s movies again?

As a material creator and a teacher, you often need to search for relevant and topical articles that are interesting for your students. The trial brought millions of people in front of the screens, streaming hours of court footage and becoming interested in law vocabulary. There are many different angles from which you can approach this topic. From the strict vocabulary side, perfect use of question tags (You didn’t expect Kate Moss to testify, did you?) or talking about more serious topics such as domestic violence.

Initially, I was planning on talking about the MSNBC article The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, America has lost, which poses a serious question – Why were we invested in the trial of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard? It also deals with the consequences and the impact it may have on domestic violence victims who may be too afraid to come forward and talk about their experiences. I started digging and thinking about it more and eventually, I landed on The New York Times article Can We Separate the Art from the Artist by Jennifer Finney Boylan.

This time, instead of a lesson plan, I prepared a short presentation that can be used as a part of guided reading and a full-class discussion. Since we are heading towards the end of the academic year, lessons get a bit lighter, so it may be a nice way of finishing with a conversation about our favourite films, songs and TV shows that include a list of problematic people. Head to the end of the post to download the presentation.

Start the discussion by listening to American Pie by Don McLean. Ask what kind of emotions the song brings and if you enjoy it. It’s an old classic, so it may not be approved by the younger generations, but they may be familiar with its cover by Madonna. Proceed by reading the first part of the article, discuss how the author of the article feels when she hears this song and compare it with Don McLean’s ex-wife’s feelings. Which feelings are closer to your students’ emotions and why? Talk about the effects music has on us. Discuss if you have any songs that make you involuntarily happy or sad.

At this point, you may want to deal with some of the law jargon such as plea agreement, to plead or criminal mischief. Proceed by talking about the guilt of Don McLean and the plea deal that he accepted. Discuss who the students believe more in this situation, Don or his ex-wife. Despite their opinions on the artist, talk if his music should be banned from the radio or if it should be celebrated.

Show a list of different movies, TV shows and songs that all feature problematic artists, such as Charlie Sheen, Roman Polanski or Michael Jackson. Discuss if students still enjoy these pieces of art, or if they sabotaged them once they found out about the crimes of the artists. Go over each person and the gravity of their offences. Make sure to go over the allegations of Gary Glitter and his song which was used recently in the infamous Joker stairs scene, as mentioned in the other part of the article.

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The next part talks about the seriousness of crimes and if they should be a deciding factor in cancelling the art of problematic artists. You can also think about the old crimes and if our perspective on them changes with time. Is it possible that some of the criminal offences can expire and shouldn’t enter the equation? Shift the conversation into removing certain pieces of art and not others and the requirements they need to meet to completely erase a song or a movie. Come back to the part about American Pie and think if this song deserves to be preserved in the National Recording Registry.

Focus on the Rolling Stones’s song Brown Sugar. Analyse the lyrics and the meaning behind them. Discuss if the students can see why the lyrics were seen as controversial and racist. Follow up by reading about the removal of the song from the tour and if it was a good decision to make. Is it possible that some art may change its meaning over time?

Finish this discussion by talking about our feelings towards the art coming from the damaged artists. Discuss the author’s feelings about it and compare them with your students’ feelings. Did this class change their mind about some of the artists? Will they reconsider listening to songs and watching movies of artists who were accused of certain offences? If you want to make it a bit more topical, you can also bring Johnny Depp into the mix and think if you will watch his movies and support his future endeavours.

Click the link to my Canva project if you are interested in the presentation, but would like to adapt it to your needs. If you like what you see, click the link below to get the PDF version of the guided reading presentation.

B1/B2 – Job interview – Soft skills

During my time teaching online, one of the most commonly asked things was to have a pre-job interview class. This happens frequently, especially on online platforms, such as Preply. The demand for these lessons made me sign up for a Preply webinar, “Preparing students for job interviews”, which served as an inspiration for this lesson plan.

Sometimes all stars align, and everything falls into the right place. It happened recently when immediately after the webinar on preparing students for job interviews, one of my current students messaged me saying that she’d received a job interview invitation and needed some practice. I immediately got into planning. Firstly, I went onto Preply and checked out their newest course on preparing for job interviews. I usually don’t follow their learning plans, but I enjoyed their structure and decided to adapt it to my needs.

This lesson plan focuses on differentiating between soft and hard skills by reading authentic material Hard Skills vs Soft Skills by Indeed.com. It is followed by learning about the STAR technique, analysing example questions and answers on soft skills adapted from 10 Soft Skills Interview Questions and Answers, authentic text from Indeed.com. At the end of the class, students should feel confident organising their answers using this method. You can download the lesson plan, the presentation and the worksheet at the end of the post. Also for the first time, you can get an editable copy of the presentation made in Canva so you can adapt this lesson to your needs – click here to get access!

Start the class by looking at 12 words shown in alphabetical order (bilingual, creativity, database management, dependability, empathy, organisation, programming, problem-solving, SEO marketing, statistical analysis, teamwork and typing proficiency). Divide students into pairs and ask them to divide the words into two categories and justify their logic behind it. Reveal that the words can be used to describe hard and soft skills.

If this is the first time that your students hear these expressions, you can ask them to predict their meanings. Read definitions of hard and soft skills and discuss which one they think is more important to get a job.

Check the understanding of these two skills by looking at different actions that can be done at a job interview which may highlight soft and hard skills. For example, showing up on time or early to the interview highlights soft skills by proving that we are punctual and responsible. Once you divide and discuss all the actions, you may want to elicit more examples.

Ask if your students have ever heard of the STAR technique, which is frequently used at job interviews. Students work in pairs and decode the acronym. Say that STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. This technique allows job candidates to organise their answers while discussing their soft and hard skills.

This class focuses on soft skills and the rest of the class will deal with developing perfect answers to questions about these skills. To further highlight the STAR technique, students read a sample interview question Can you discuss a time when you had to manage your team through a difficult situation? supported with an example answer. Students work individually and underline different parts of this answer that best match each point of the STAR technique.

Now it’s time for the students to try and develop their answers. Show a question What is the most significant problem you solved in the workplace? and provide them with a short example that will facilitate them with writing their answers. Students work individually and respond to this question. Monitor the activity and provide students with writing feedback.

Students should feel more confident with the STAR technique. To further help them with answer organisation, give them two more questions and some time to plan their answers following the technique. Once again monitor their writing and provide any help as necessary. Share the answers as a group, and if necessary, think about different ways of improving them.

The final part of the class is answering five more questions about soft skills and responding to them on the spot while following the STAR technique. If you have a bigger group of students, this can be done in pairs. In one-to-one classes, listen to your student and give them speaking feedback as needed.

If you enjoyed this lesson, click the links below and get your free versions now! How do you prepare your students for job interviews?

B2 – Greenwashing – Reading and Speaking

I’m a few days late to the party, but it’s never too late to celebrate Earth Day! This B2 lesson focuses on authentic material on greenwashing, different ways of spotting it and techniques for avoiding it. The best part of it is that the topic is timeless and can be discussed whenever. It’s never a bad moment to talk about the environment!

A while ago, Content Catnip commented on my post Have Yourself a Sustainable Little Christmas and shared their website Palm Oil Detectives.

This comment motivated me to head onto their website and check out what they’ve got to say on the topic. This blog is amazing – it brings to attention a lot of important issues related to the use of palm oil. However, what really caught my eye was 10 Tactics of Sustainable Palm Oil Greenwashing. I went down the rabbit hole of greenwashing and promised that one day, I will use this topic in one of my classes. This lesson plan is dedicated to Content Catnip – a great blog which has one of my favourite series on the platform, 10 Cool Things I Found on the Internet.

At the end of the post, you can find the lesson plan, the worksheet and the presentation available to download for free.

Start the class by showing three real-life examples of greenwashing obtained from The Sustainable Agency. The first things that will come to students’ minds will be big companies, green, environmentally friendly, etc. Collect the ideas from different groups and discuss them.

Try to elicit the term environmentally friendly and think of a range of words associated with it. Students think of at least three words. Their answers may be eco, eco-friendly, green, organic, sustainable, recycle, etc. Read the first part of authentic material from BBC titled What is greenwashing and how can you spot it? and check if students’ environment-related words are in the text. Students answer in their own words the question posed at the beginning of the paragraph – Why do companies want to appear more eco-friendly?

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Ask if students have ever heard of the term greenwashing. If not, elicit their predictions on this topic. Check the answers by reading a short paragraph titled What is greenwashing? Based on its definition, ask how students could spot it. Put students into pairs or small groups, show them three boxes and ask them to spot five signs of greenwashing. If you teach this lesson online, you can do this as a game, by playing an interactive game on the BBC website.

You can either circle the signs of greenwashing on paper, or go to the website and play online!

Even though there are many more signs of greenwashing, this class focuses only on five of them. Students read five short descriptions and match them with headings: buzzwords, green packaging, no proof, not fully recyclable and promises to carbon offset or to donate to environmentally friendly causes. Explain any new words as needed.

Show four real-life examples (Volkswagen, Windex, Walmart and Sun Chips) of greenwashing taken from The Roundup.org – Greenwashing Explained. Students analyse the examples and try to spot greenwashing and match it with the types from the previous exercise. There is more than one answer available. If you want to find out more about these examples and what happened, you can get all information on the website. Ask if students have heard about any of these examples. Maybe this exercise jogged their memory and helped them think of some of their ones!

Discuss why greenwashing may be a problem. Students discuss their answers and read the text Why is greenwashing a problem to find the answers. Five words are missing. Students think of the missing words and guess them based on their definitions. Ask about different ways of avoiding greenwashing and say that one of them is looking out for certifications such as Leaping Bunny, Fairtrade, FSC, Carbon Trust and B Corp. Match the certificates with their purposes.

Finish the class by answering opinion-based questions on greenwashing, for example, if they agree with the examples seen in class as being considered greenwashing or not.

Happy Earth Day! How did you celebrate this day with your students? What are your thoughts on greenwashing?

Thank you, Content Catnip, for the inspiration! This class wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you!

B2/C1 – What’s the best seat on the plane?

By now pretty much everyone has been on a plane at least once in their lives. The feeling of booking the perfect seat based on our preferences is essential. Everyone can also relate to sitting on the plane and waiting impatiently to finish the boarding announcement, hoping that we will get to have a free seat (or maybe even a row) next to us. This reading and speaking class looks into the perfect airline seat and lets students choose the less of many evils to be their long-haul flight companion

Allow students to slowly transition from the spring into the summer with this fun, travel-inspired lesson plan for upper-intermediate/advanced students. This class focuses on developing speaking skills based on authentic material by Anthony Cherkas written for Business Class Experts. Scroll down to the end of the post to download the lesson plan and the worksheet with the adapted article for free.

Start the class by looking at the seat map of a plane and ask students to discuss their perfect seat. If you feel as passionate about the topic as I do, you can also provide your opinion. I believe that there is no better airline seat than a window seat. Yes, I’m a plane sleeper! Ask students to justify their choices by saying what they usually do and how they behave on planes.

Image from Seat Guru

Tell to pay attention to the seats marked on the seat map. Students work in pairs and think of the best places for the six types of travellers: a sleeper, a scared flyer, a family, someone afraid of turbulence, someone tall and someone with a quick connection. Gather some answers and reasons for each answer. Give students about 3 minutes to read the article and see if their predictions were correct.

The text isn’t too challenging, but some vocabulary items may require explanation (e.g. a long-haul flight, a bulkhead row, to recline, long-limbed, etc.) However, it shouldn’t hinder the overall understanding of the text.

Finish the text by discussing whether students agree with certain seats being better than others for a specific group of people. Would they consider the advice given in the article and implement it on their next travel?

Move to the speaking part of the class by discussing different types of travellers. Have they ever sat next to a traveller? What is the ideal passenger to have on their side? Read the typical FCE B2 speaking part 3 exam task and look at the five options, each representing a less than ideal travel companion. Students work in pairs and discuss the characteristics of each traveller (or group of travellers) and think about how they may behave on a plane. Once they have a list of advantages and disadvantages of each passenger, they need to decide which traveller would be the best to sit next to on a long-haul flight.

Proceed by asking standard opinion-based speaking part 4 questions related to air travel and the travellers discussed in the previous part. For example, Is it better to fly alone or with family/friends? Some people believe that flying is the quickest way of travelling. What do you think? Is it beneficial for airline companies to operate near-empty planes? Why?

What’s your ideal airline seat? Are you a sleeper or a hard-working businessperson? Do you agree with the points included in the article?

B2 Use of English Part 3 – Incredible vegetables

I guess spring is in the air, and it makes me more inclined towards healthy food and keeping fit topics. This time we’ll look into different vegetables and their health benefits. This will lead towards the lesson focus and the nemesis of Cambridge exam candidates – Use of English and word formation.

This post and lesson plan is inspired by Stephanie Valerio and her blog post titled B2 Word Formation Sudoku. When I saw it, I knew that I have to find a way to incorporate this incredible idea and spread this game all around. So thank you, Stephanie! I hope that this lesson plan will do your activity some justice.

This lesson is prepared for online/hybrid classes. It contains a lesson plan (with all the answers) and a presentation. Click the files at the end of the post to get your free copies.

Once again, I was going through free Cambridge Sample papers and found a Use of English Part 3 task titled An Incredible Vegetable. You can get your copy of this task with all the answers included from Sample Paper 1 for B2 First.

The first part of the lesson is based on a short YouTube video on the health benefits of certain vegetables titled Foods That Look Like Body Parts Give Clues To Their Health Benefits by ELLICSR Kitchen.

Start the class by showing pictures of foods from the video: walnut, carrot, tomato, olives and Brazilian nut. Students name the vegetables and nuts and match them with body parts that they resemble. Watch the video and check the answers. Discuss if students knew about the health benefits of these foods and if they have tried them before. Check if students remember what they have just watched and ask to write the health benefits of each. Watch again to see the answers and complete the list of health benefits.

Introduce the Reading and Use of English Part 3 by showing a picture of garlic and naming it. Ask if students enjoy it and what are its possible health benefits. Show an official exam task titled An Incredible Vegetable and read it for gist. Elicit some benefits mentioned in the text, e.g. infection resistance, killing bacteria and viruses, useful for coughs and cold, etc.

If it’s the first time that your students do this type of task, you may want to explain the rules and approach to be successful. Mention that one of the strategies is looking at the gaps and thinking about the type of missing words, e.g. noun (plural/singular?), verb, adjective, adverb, etc. Go over each gap and think of the types of missing words. If you have a strong group, you may want to encourage them to predict the missing words at this stage.

Show the base words in alphabetical order and give students some time to think about their different forms. Once everyone has completed the table to the best of their abilities, go over and write the answers. Make sure to include the words that will be used in the exam task later on! Once everyone has their cheatsheets ready, reveal the base words corresponding to each gap. Give students a maximum of five minutes to complete the task by changing the words to fit the gaps. Check and discuss the answers. This class shouldn’t cause too many problems to your students, as you have done the majority of it together.

Finish the class with a fun word-formation sudoku game created by Stephanie! Divide students into pairs and ask them to complete the sudoku – the first group to solve it correctly wins.

The use of English is a pain, and it’s so hard to turn it into a fun class, but I hope that you enjoyed my idea and will adapt it to your lesson! And what about Stephanie’s sudoku? That brain teaser will help many students memorise the new words and their spelling.

Click the links below to download the files for free.

Where do babies come from? – question forms

The other day, I was preparing a C1 level lesson plan on question forms. It’s an exam preparation group, so we follow a coursebook. As always, I started the preparation by checking the approach in the teacher’s book and as always, I decided to put a spin on it. I thought of a class that starts with a revision of the question word order and rising/falling intonation, followed by question forms.

I started my preparation process by thinking of random or shocking questions that I could ask my students. As I was thinking about the first crucial question, it hit me. Why don’t I ask them the most commonly asked questions by children? They are quite random, at times funny, but most of the time they are head-scratchers. I opened the class by asking Where do babies come from? and Why is the sky blue? It’s a Friday evening class, and I needed to get their attention immediately. Of course, you need to be careful with the question choice as I know that asking about certain things may create an uncomfortable situation. I teach in Spain, and the culture here is quite free. I can get away with talking about unusual and at times inappropriate topics in any 16+ years-old class.

All you need for this class is a lesson plan and a PowerPoint presentation that can be used for both online and in-person classes.

The original lesson plan, suggested by the book, didn’t mention the question word order or the question intonation. I decided to quickly go over these rules, as even though my students are quite good, they make mistakes now and then. In Spain, questions are made by keeping a statement in word order and adding an inflexion at the end of the sentence. It is quite common to hear this tendency during any English-speaking task, for example, You like chocolate?

After the opening questions, I asked my students who may ask such tough questions. I proceeded by telling them about the internet survey from April 2020 by nypost, which focused on the most commonly asked difficult questions by children. I told them to think about six other questions that may appear in the survey. Once they finished their discussion, we compared their answers with the actual answers.

I continued by looking at two question types – one with and the other without a question word – and analysing the word order. We also went over other wh- question words. As a revision, students thought of some more questions that we used to complete the table. I asked them to explain the rules and then showed my presentation to help them remember this information. Since it was only a revision, I didn’t spend too much time on it.

Instead, I moved on to the rising and falling intonation in questions. It’s another common Spanish speakers’ problem. In Spanish, questions are made by rising inflexion at the end of a sentence. I proceeded by showing a Y/N question (Do you like chocolate?) and said it in two ways, with a rising and falling intonation. Then I asked a wh- question (Where are you from?) and did the same thing. Students had no problems identifying the correct intonation, but they weren’t sure why it happens. I quickly explained the rules, so they can be more confident about their pronunciation and intonation in the speaking exam. We finished this part by modelling and drilling the intonations.

I finished this revision part by going back to the slide with the eight toughest children’s questions. I asked my students to rank them from the most difficult (1) to the easiest (8). Once students decided on the order, I revealed the answers, and we tried answering some of the questions!

Then I decided to go back to the book and focused on the question forms (the actual objective of this class). This particular part focused on Angelina Jolie and her rainbow family. I segued into this by asking them What is a rainbow family? (= a multicultural family). There were some wild guesses, but eventually, some of the students were able to define that term. It led to an interesting discussion about who and what may be classified as a rainbow family. Since the conversation was flowing and students were genuinely into it, I decided to get off topic and search for a proper meaning of a rainbow family just to clarify any doubts.

As we were all looking at the picture of Angelina Jolie and her children, I decided to ask them a set of questions using different question forms. I wanted to move to the teaching part as seamlessly as possible, and it worked quite well. It allowed my students to realise that they are familiar with different question forms and that their understanding is quite advanced. You can see all the questions mentioned below.

Once we finished talking about Jolie’s rainbow family, I asked them to decide on the type of question form used in each question. That was probably the hardest part, as some of the forms were not too straightforward. I let them work in small groups and brainstorm to clear any doubts. After the activity, I showed them the answers and explained the politeness and word order of indirect questions, the use and structure of question tags, and the use of question words as the question subject/object.

We proceeded with the grammar practice given in the book. However, since I’m planning on using the same lesson plan with my other C1 level students who don’t follow the book, I thought of two exercises that could be done instead. The first exercise is ordering the words to form questions. The second exercise is thinking about six different questions (total) for the classmates. This freer writing activity will give you a chance to monitor their understanding of the topic. The lesson ends with students answering the questions.

Do you always follow the coursebook and the teacher’s book, or do you like to venture, too? How would you approach this type of class? Let me know!

Click the links below to download the lesson plan and the ppt for free!

The problem with Halloween

It is my last post of October, and even though I had fun with all my themed lessons, a few questions stood out to me. What if I don’t like teaching themed classes? What if I don’t like teaching Halloween? To all those questions I say – fair enough. You shouldn’t teach anything that doesn’t bring you joy. If you are not excited about the topic, neither are your students.

If you work on your own, you have a choice to avoid any type of themed lessons. You don’t need to celebrate any local or British/American holiday. However, if you work at an academy, then from time to time, you’ll be asked to prepare a themed class (whether you like it or not!). Remember that you are still in charge of lesson preparation, so be creative and spin the topic in your favour! PS. This class was heavily inspired by the Teaching with Tracey’s IG post.

This is a B2+ lesson plan that focuses on reading supported by expressing and responding to opinions. You can download all the files at the end of the post for free. I hope it will spark some creativity and not much controversy in your classroom!

Start the class by asking about students’ experience with Halloween. In some countries, it has become popular recently. The chances are that some of your adult students don’t have any memories or sentiment on this holiday (I’m one of them!). You can ask them to share their opinions on this holiday, and if they have children, ask if they allow them to go trick-or-treating. Maybe they have been to some Halloween parties and got dressed up. If yes, what were their costumes?

While you are on the topic of Halloween costumes, show some outfits taken from the Insider – 15 offensive Halloween costumes that you shouldn’t wear. Just yet, don’t mention the problem behind those outfits. Instead, casually chat about them and ask if the students like them, which one is their (least) favourite and if they would ever wear any of those costumes. Once you finish the first part of this discussion, you can mention that these outfits may be a bit problematic. If your students haven’t mentioned the way, in which the costumes are controversial, you may play a snippet of a Bo Burnham song – Problematic (0:52-1:10). I wouldn’t focus on the whole song, as it talks about the cancel culture, which is a whole other class. Instead, focus on the following lyrics:

I'm problematic (He's a problem)
When I was 17, on Halloween, I dressed up as Aladdin (He's a problem)
I did not darken my skin
But still, it feels weird in hindsight

If your students haven’t guessed the theme of the outfits, this verse should help them figure it out. That would be a good moment to explain the meaning of in hindsight and introduce the phrase cultural appropriation.

Move on to the main part of the class – the reading of an article by Alessandra Malito A lot of really bad things are more likely to happen on Halloween. I divided this article into two parts – the problems and the solutions. Firstly, divide the students into pairs or groups and ask them to discuss any other problems that may occur on Halloween. If they struggle with thinking of any other issues, you can help by giving main topics, such as crime, theft, accident, etc. Then let your students read the first part and check if any of their ideas are mentioned in the text. Ask them to read the text again, this time paying attention to the details and answering multiple-choice questions. Proceed with the vocabulary task – matching the words with their definitions, for example, perilous and deductible.

Go to the reading part 2. Before you ask your students to read the text, ask them to work in groups and discuss different ways in which they can stay safe or protect others on Halloween. Read part two and check if your ideas are similar to the ones mentioned in the text. Explain any new words and move to the last part of the class.

Since the class is hand-picking problems in a relatively harmless holiday, ask the students to complain about other topics related to Halloween. You can illustrate it by giving an example.

Put one minute on the clock and start by saying: Don’t get me started on…candy. Proceed by complaining about it in the most ridiculous way, for example, Who needs it? You get so much of it, and all it does is damage your teeth! Pointless! Hand out topics to your students. With weaker groups, you may want to give them some time to prepare their answers. Other topic suggestions are candy, Halloween, costumes, trick-or-treating, pumpkins, parties, etc.

That’s my idea of going against the typical Halloween lesson! Click and download all the files below.

You can do it before or right after Halloween to check on your students and their non-problematic costumes. Did you celebrate Halloween in your class? If yes, what did you do?

Halloween themed B2 speaking

Happy October! As an ESL teacher, you know what that means – themed lesson plans! I’m not a fan of conducting the standard History of Halloween lessons. Instead, I like to have the best of two worlds: exam preparation and Halloween.

Last year I was working with the second year of the B2 Cambridge exam preparation group. They were all great – just a bit stressed out about the upcoming exam. I decided to reduce the stress of the speaking exam and turn it into something a bit more fun – a speaking exam task (all the parts!) related to Halloween. It was one of my best classes. My students were excited to talk and sometimes even wanted to steal each other’s questions because they had so much to say!

This class contains a PowerPoint with all the questions and pictures (in case you either don’t want to print anything out or for all the online teachers out there!). It also has the examiner’s speaking guide (this part includes pictures and the discussion topic, available for printing). All you need to do is to download the files and you are good to go! Keep in mind that if you do this class with teenagers, you may not have enough time to finish it! Since it’s a Halloween themed lesson, I’m not very strict with time and I just want my students to have fun.

As you can see the class requires absolutely no preparation time. The examiner’s notes were written using the original B2 exam speaking script. If you want to keep this class a bit more educational, you can ask other students to take notes on their colleagues’ mistakes and things that went well. You can also time them and end class with general feedback.

The class starts with Part 1, which is just a little bit different than at the exam. Ask students to spell Halloween related words (they may be shocked that they need to spell, but it’s good to keep them on their toes!) and then some general questions about their likes and dislikes about Halloween.

I prepared this class for a group of four, so all my students had something else to talk about in Part 2. I’ve prepared four sets of pictures. Each set is supported by the main topic and a follow-up question for the other candidate. Remember to give them 1 minute to talk!

Part 3 is a pair discussion about what makes a successful Halloween costume. You read the imaginary scenario and students discuss what would make their outfits stand out at a party. It is followed by an additional question about which of the Halloween costume qualities would win them an award for the best costume.

In my opinion, Part 4 is always the best one. Ask students about Halloween celebrations, potential dangers, traditions, etc. I remember my students being so excited, willing to answer the questions for the rest of the class. They were so engaged that we didn’t have time for any error corrections! But it’s okay! It was a special class and it created many happy memories for me. I hope you will enjoy this class as much as I did!

Click below to download all the files for free!