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.

Group lessons on Preply

Preply is an online teaching platform that I’ve been using for the last three months. It’s mostly known for its 1:1 lessons, but recently I received a notification saying that I’d be an ideal candidate for their group lessons. After some thinking, I decided to give it a go and see if this option is as good for me as they claim.

On 28th April, Preply notified me about the possibility of teaching groups via Zoom. This email coincided with another Preply milestone – teaching over 60 hours on the platform, which isn’t quite common (only 50% of tutors reaches this far). The message initially freaked me out, but I decided to take it easy and firstly applied for their internal Teach group lessons on the Preply course.

The idea is straightforward and seems a bit too good to be true. You choose the level and the topic you want to teach. Then you decide on a day and time and you’re set. Preply provides you with lesson plans and presentations, and that’s pretty much it. You can sign up for as many or as few lessons as you want. The idea is to provide students with cheaper lessons which they can take whenever they want. It offers flexibility, exposes them to English speakers from all over the world and gives them the possibility to be surrounded by a variety of accents. Sounds too good to be true? I needed to check it for myself.

Firstly, I needed to register as a group tutor. Since all the classes are on Zoom, Preply provides teachers with the full software version. Before you give them your email, they warn you about all the lessons being recorded, which can’t be switched off, so you should create a new email that you don’t currently use on Zoom. Otherwise, you may have an issue with your private Zoom lessons and personal videocalls. I got the access to group lessons and a full version of Zoom in less than 24 hours after registering.

Immediately after receiving the confirmation, I started scrolling through possible lessons. There are a lot of options from A1 to C1 levels. You have the ability to go over the notes before you commit, so you can teach something that you enjoy and feel comfortable with. Initially, I signed up for one class and got nervous. After some thinking, I decided to fill my mornings with group lessons. In my first week of trying group lessons, I joined six group lessons. The advantage of choosing classes is that you can teach the same class over and over again, which reduces preparation time.

As I was waiting impatiently for my first lesson, something unexpected happened – it got cancelled. I realised that the majority of classes get cancelled. At the moment of writing this post, the Preply group lesson policy was that if no one signed up for the lesson 24 hours before, it got cancelled, and you got paid 50% of your hourly rate after commission. From May 2022, this has changed. Now you are informed about group lesson cancellation an hour before. Whether the class happens or not, you get paid your full hourly rate.

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When I was writing this post, I registered for 12 group lessons, and only four of them weren’t cancelled. I must admit that this Preply feature is quite beneficial for me and provides me with income that requires minimal effort. EDIT: As of June 2022, the number of group lessons available got reduced, and it is much more difficult to find a free teaching spot.

However, four out of these 12 lessons happened, so let’s focus on them instead. Once the lesson is confirmed, you can check its status on your profile under Group lessons – Your lessons. After the cancellation, the lesson disappears from there. If you’re waiting for confirmation, you can check when you have this class and what the topic is. It also shows the number of available spots for this lesson. The class size ranges from 1-to 6 students. 15 minutes before the lesson starts, you get an email with a notification reminding you about the class and information about the number of students who signed up for this class. In two of my group lessons, I had two students who registered and in both, only one of them showed up. In the other two, only one student booked the class. One of the ‘group’ students told me that in the 13 lessons that he attended, he had a partner in only one of them.

The idea of these group lessons is for students to follow a 30-hour course with 30 different tutors. Therefore, you aren’t allowed to bring any new material to class. You can personalise and modify it, depending on your teaching style. I decided to follow the material. If the students were a little bit less chatty, I managed to do more vocabulary revision before the main part of the lesson. The lessons are 55 minutes long, and Preply offers more than enough materials to fill that time. You are also expected to finish the class with error corrections and help students find their homework and pre-lesson task for the next lesson. Yes, students are expected to complete a pre-lesson task, so they should come in ready and aware of the topic. Here is an example lesson plan I followed during my first group lesson on Preply.

TimeProcedure
5 mins1. Welcome the students and introduce yourself.
2. Get to know each other:
– How long have you been on Preply?
– Do you have any questions about the pre-lesson task?
– What task was difficult/easy?
3. Topic related questions:
– When did you last travel by plane?
– Where did you go?
4. Present the lesson objectives.
5. Present the lesson structure.
5 mins1. Warm-up:
– Describe the picture (a family waiting at an airport).
– Answer the questions: Where are they? Where were they going? What are they doing? What has happened? How do they feel?
5 mins1. Pre-teach / Revise vocabulary: read an airport announcement and fill in the gaps with the missing words (reschedule, depart, cancelled, announcement, delayed).
2. Explain any new vocabulary.
3. Elicit the difference between delayed and cancelled.
4 mins1. Set the listening: A woman waiting at the gate when she hears an announcement.
2. Give some time to read and understand the questions.
3. Listen to the recording and answer the questions.
4. Check and discuss the answers.
4 mins1. Pronunciation: Elicit the difference between the word stress -teen and -ty in numbers.
2. Model and drill pronunciation.
5 mins1. Set the listening: The woman’s flight was cancelled.
2. Give some time to read and understand the questions.
3. Listen to the recording and write the answers to the questions.
4. Check and discuss the answers.
5 mins1. Teach – grammar: cause and effect.
– When do we use why?
– How is because different from because of?
because of = due to + a noun
because (conjunction) + a clause
2. Grammar practice: fill in the gaps with because / because of / due to.
7 mins1. Review the use of why / because / because of / due to.
2. Controlled practice: Ask and answer questions about flying using new grammar.
3. Model the activity: write a question starting with why and ask the student to give you the answer.
4. The student writes in the chat three questions starting with why. Discuss the answers.
7 mins1. Set the roleplay: Student A works for an airline. Student B is a passenger. A flight was cancelled. Talk on the phone and discuss the reason why the flight was cancelled, reschedule the flight and ask about any vouchers.
2. Swap roles.
8 mins1. Error correction.
2. Reflect on your class experience – ask for a rating (1-5).
– How well can you understand an airport announcement?
– How well can you use because / because of / due to?
– What vocabulary can you add to your flashcards?
3. Discuss what needs to be done next (repeat the class, sign up for the next lesson, do the post-lesson task).
An example 55 mins lesson plan for A2 level (The flight has been delayed)

This lesson plan is very different from what I offer to my 1:1 students, but I stick to the rules and follow the materials as necessary. I noticed that the material provided by Preply is more than enough to have a successful 55 minutes long lesson. In the case of finishing a bit too early, at the end of each presentation, there are 3 or 4 more slides with extra activities, so there is no need to panic.

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Once the lesson ends, you get an email with autoconfirmation of the class and get paid right away. After each class, you can leave feedback about each student, comment on their attendance and suggest their level. I believe that students have to do something very similar after each class and rate their tutor. My first “group” student told me that he would put me in the top 3 of all the Preply tutors he had up to this point, so I believe that so far I’m doing well!

Group lessons are a great way of making extra cash in your free time. I’ll definitely continue signing up for them while I’m waiting for new students. As Preply works on commissions, you still need to have private students to increase teaching hours and decrease the commission rate (group lessons don’t count, unfortunately). Another benefit is frequent cancellations and, of course, ready-to-go lesson plans. You can also keep signing up for the same lessons over and over again, which will decrease your preparation time to a bare minimum. The main disadvantage is that there are more tutors than lessons available, so you need to be quick to book your spot!

Do you teach on Preply? What do you think about the group lessons?

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?

School gardens competition – A2 Reading Part 2

Spring is my favourite season, and it’s finally here! As I was thinking about a perfect lesson plan for this moment, I went through exam papers and found a reading task on school gardens competitions. I thought that this topic was ideal for this moment. It can be used to refresh garden, fruit and vegetable vocabulary, while simultaneously teaching KEY for Schools candidates how to successfully answer Reading Part 2.

I realised that I’ve been too focused on my B1 PET students and postponed all the activities for other levels, especially A2 KEY. I always enjoy going through free and readily available activities and using them in my lessons as a part of official Cambridge exam preparation. It shows that the sky is the limit, and you don’t need to pay a lot to prepare engaging and high-quality lessons.

This class focuses on understanding the Reading Part 2 exam task and using existing knowledge of vocabulary to correctly match the answers. It is a very similar task to the ones that you can find on any other higher-level Cambridge exams. You can download this task (and many others) by clicking the link Sample Papers for A2 Key for Schools. You can find this lesson plan and any additional worksheets at the end of the post.

This lesson plan can be a follow-up after a garden and vegetable vocabulary lesson or as a vocabulary reinforcement.

Start the class with a quick vocabulary revision and/or introduction that will be needed to know to complete the exam task. Divide the students into groups and play Taboo with the words vegetable, flower, insect, butterfly, carrot, potatoes, wall and to grow. You can also use more garden-related words if you have time. Once students guess all the words, put the Taboo cards on the board and ask what they all have in common. For example, Where can you find them? Where can you do these activities? The answer is, of course, a garden.

Show three pictures of gardens and ask students to describe what they can see. Ask students which of these three gardens is the best and explain why. Vote on the best garden. Proceed by handing out Reading Part 2 texts School gardens competition. You can find them by downloading Sample Papers for A2 Key for Schools, pages 4 and 5. Students read the three descriptions and match them to the pictures. Since you have already started this class by going over vocabulary, the texts shouldn’t cause too many problems.

Now that your students are already familiar with the texts, explain the rules of the exam task. Students read seven questions, followed by three texts. They need to match the questions with the text that best answers each one. If it’s the first time doing this type of activity, go over each question and underline any key information. Students work individually and look for the answers to the questions in the text. Before checking the answers, you can put students into pairs to compare the answers. Discuss the answers as a group, and make sure to find justification for each in the text.

It’s time for your students to enter their school gardens into a competition. Give each student some time to draw and write a paragraph about their gardens. Finish the class by presenting their projects and voting (anonymously?) on the best school garden. Make sure to display those gardens on your classroom wall for everyone to see!

Click below to download the lesson plan, pictures of gardens and the garden taboo.

How long does one minute feel like? – B1 Speaking Part 2

Funny thing how we perceive time. When we have fun, one minute disappears in a blink of an eye. In a stressful situation, say a speaking exam, one minute seems to last forever. That’s how our students feel when they enter the exam hall and speak on their own. It’s good to practise speaking for one minute and get to experience what one minute feels like. It’s also good to know how to fill this one minute, so it ends sooner than we expected.

In my teaching career, I have had the opportunity to meet two types of students – those who love and those who hate speaking activities. Regardless of their stand on this matter, it’s important to teach students how to speak naturally in the most unnatural situation – the speaking exam.

In B1 speaking part 2, students speak alone for about one minute about a picture. Inform them that if they finish before their time is up, they will have to endure awkward silence until the end of the time. Therefore, they need to think of something to say about the stock pictures.

Before you even start teaching speaking exam strategies, you should always try to help students understand what they are being assessed on. Inform them that speaking assessment is divided into four parts grammar and vocabulary, discourse management, pronunciation and interactive communication. Speaking Part 2 is an individual task, so students are marked on everything except for interactive communication.

I always told my B1 students that if they don’t know what to talk about and they still have some time left, they should speculate about what they think is happening and give reasons for it. For example, if you see a group of people, elicit and explain their emotions. If the picture was taken outdoors, describe the weather and the season. If it’s a group of tourists, guess the country! However, I was never quite sure how to help them remember all those things. A week ago, I attended a webinar Top tips for exam success and beyond: Ask us anything about A2 Key and B1 Preliminary, and one part, in particular, grabbed my attention.

The speaking circle, as seen above, gives students ideas of what they could talk about during the speaking assessment. It’s divided into eight sections, people, words, feelings, actions, sounds, numbers, sight and nature. Give students an example picture that they would typically be asked to describe in the exam. I chose a picture from B1 Preliminary for Schools – Handbook for teachers for exams from 2020, which is available to download for free from the Cambridge Official website. Ask students to look at the picture and think of three possible questions that would fall under each category. You can find my example below.

People: Who are they making a cake for? What is their relationship? Whose birthday is it?

Actions: What are they doing? How do you make a cake? What do they need to do after they finish baking?

Feelings: Why are the girls smiling? Are they enjoying making a cake? What the person who the cake is for is going to feel like?

Numbers: How many people are there? How long does it take to make a cake? How many ingredients do they need?

Sounds: What sounds can you hear at home? What sounds can you hear in the kitchen? Is it loud or quiet?

Words: What are they reading? What is the name of this cake? What other files are there on the tablet?

Sight: What can you see in the background? How could you describe the kitchen? What can you see on the tablet?

Nature: What is the weather like? What time of the day is it? Is it hot or cold?

As I was completing this task, I realised that some of the answers came to me more easily than others. It’d probably change depending on the picture and where its location. However, these eight categories would definitely help me prepare my answer and speak for one full minute.

I think the best way to score high in this part is to combine the answers to these questions and talk about them in a logical order. For me the most effective way of describing pictures is as follows:

  • General description:  In one/two sentences say what and who you can see and what they are doing in your opinion. Mention where the people are.

In the picture, I can see two girls making a cake in the kitchen. They look alike, so they are probably sisters.

  • People: Talk about their actions and possible reasoning behind it. Speculate about their relationship and feelings. Briefly describe their physical appearance and clothes.

The girl with longer hair, who is wearing a patterned dress, is cracking some eggs and adding them to flour. The other girl, who has got shorter and curly hair and is wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, is helping her by reading the recipe from the tablet. They seem to be having a lot of fun doing this activity together because they are smiling. I think that they may be preparing a birthday cake for someone in their family. They seem to be recreating the recipe they are following. I think that the cake must be quite easy to make, as they don’t have that many ingredients on the table. Except for flour and a few eggs, they also have a jar of sugar on the table.

  • Background: In case there is some time left, focus on the background. If possible, talk about the weather and seasons. Just because it is a picture, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get into speaking about sounds that they may be experiencing.

As I mentioned before, they are in the kitchen. The kitchen is quite big and light. I can see some cupboards, a cooker, and of course an oven behind them. Everything seems to be very well organised, so they will probably have to clean the kitchen well once they finish. The place appears to be very calm, so I don’t think that it is very noisy. Maybe they are listening to some music while making the cake.

I think that following the topics in the circle is beneficial for students as it helps them structure their answers and concentrate on the grammar and vocabulary part of the assessment. It also helps with understanding that they can talk about anything that they can see in the picture while giving possible reasons for each answer. My biggest issue is with getting the feeling of one minute. This can be achieved through regular training exercises, but remind them that as long as they talk until being stopped by the interlocutor, they should be fine.

I like to supplement any speaking activities by showing the actual speaking exam. I chose this picture, as it is being described in a video recorded at an actual B1 Preliminary for Schools Speaking Test. You may want to show this video before to further understand each part of the speaking exam and get students used to the exam setting. You can also ask them to watch the video and write down any mistakes they heard. During feedback, you can elicit different ways of improving these answers.

I’m glad that I attended the webinar on Top Tips for the Cambridge Exam as it really ensured me that I understand the speaking assessment and also gave me plenty of ideas of how to improve my classes by introducing new and effective activities. Click the link to check the whole webinar for yourself. Hopefully, you will find something inspiring there!

Linking words of purpose, result and reason – B1 Speaking Part 3

Linking words are one of the main causes of headaches for English language learners. Students often feel unsure of their meanings and their use in sentences. That’s why when one of my newest students asked me to have a class on connectors, I took on this challenge. I divided linking words into several groups: reason, result, purpose, contrast and addition. Today I would like to focus on linkers of reason, result and purpose and their use in Speaking Part 3.

In my opinion, students often struggle with linking words for one main reason – they change their meanings depending on the context. Therefore, it’s quite hard to get the feeling of what they are. That’s why I decided not to rush it and show a variety of example sentences that use those structures. At the same time, I wanted to show that linking words are frequently used in the Cambridge exam, not only in writing but also in speaking. After all, in Speaking Part 3, students need to go over a set of options and provide a reason and hypothetical result for each one. So having a wide range of linking words can work in their favour.

You can download the lesson plan and the worksheet for free at the end of the post.

The class starts by writing a sentence with three possible endings (as seen below). Students name functions of each sentence, reason, result or purpose and justify their choices. They should be already familiar with the definitions of each function but may get a bit confused by them – especially with reason and purpose since they often tend to overlap. If you want to make this difference quite clear, you can elicit that purpose often answers the question of why. To further clarify the meaning of these functions, students match them with their definitions.

In order to prove to your students that they already have this knowledge, ask them to combine the sentences using linking words. You can also use this part of the class as a test to see how much help you need to offer and how much teaching you need to do!

I focused on eight different linking words of reason (because, as, since, because of + noun), purpose (in order to / to + infinitive) and result (so, therefore). Show your students the beginning of sentences and ask to match them with appropriate endings. Elicit the function of each sentence and divide the words in bold into correct categories. Finish this part by analysing the use of these linking words. It’s a good habit to start eliciting the structure that follows each word and explaining their usual position in the sentence. If necessary, translate these words to students’ L1. I normally stay away from using L1 in class, but I find it particularly beneficial when it comes to linkers.

Practise using these eight linkers by filling the gaps with one of them. Make sure that students know that more than one answer is correct, as some of these words mean the same in this context. I also added a freer activity, in which students finish the beginning of sentences with appropriate endings (a clause, a noun or an infinitive).

Since I wanted to ensure that students understand the importance and practicality of linking words and phrases, I combined them with speaking part 3, which can be downloaded for free from Sample Papers for B1 Preliminary. You can adapt this activity to any speaking part 3 exam task – including the ones you paid for!

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Present your students with a typical speaking part 3 exam task (as seen below) and ask about the purpose of the man wanting to find a new free time activity (He needs a new activity in order to relax.) Since we already know the purpose of each activity, students work in pairs and think of possible reasons for doing them and their hypothetical results. I included one example to further explain this point. At the end of the task, collect students’ ideas and write them on the board. You can also encourage them to think of reasons why some of these free-time activities are bad for this young man!

Finish the class by completing the speaking part 3 exam task in pairs. Provide feedback to every student. As students have already thought of many different reasons and possible results of each action, this activity should be a piece of cake!

B1 – Pronunciation maze – /d/ and /t/

On Thursday, 24th February 2022, I attended a Cambridge webinar for teachers on Developing Speaking Skills for B1 Preliminary and B2 First for Schools with a focus on pronunciation. In this one hour session, the trainers showed many pronunciation exercises that may help our students in the speaking part of the exam. This webinar coincided with one of my 1:1 B1 Preliminary classes on Past Simple regular verbs, which motivated me to create this lesson plan.

Whenever I teach Past Simple and regular verbs, I always spend a good chunk of class ensuring that my students pronounce -ed verbs confidently. The pronunciation of /ɪd/ doesn’t usually cause many problems, as it is quite easy to remember the rule and hear the difference. The confusion appears when differentiating between /t/ and /d/. The difference is minimal and usually doesn’t impede the understanding. However, one of the activities shown during the webinar, called the pronunciation maze, can be used to practise pronunciation and help students with the identification of verbs ending with /d/ and /t/ sounds.

The class can be a part of grammar explanation or can be a stand-alone lesson. In my opinion, it would be best to use it as a separate class. In this way, it serves as a revision of regular tenses in Past Simple. You can download the lesson plan, the worksheet, the list of celebrities and the maze game for free at the end of the post.

Start the class by playing the celebrity weekend. Say that you are someone famous and students need to guess who by asking questions in the Past Simple. Answer by talking about your weekend as this celebrity. You can make this into a game and allow students to work in groups. Make sure that students use correct question word order. You may want to write down some of them on the board. The first group to guess the person wins! I learnt about this activity a while back, but recently got reminded of it again when watching Charlie’s lessons video – Speaking Activities Volume 3.

Now it’s your students’ turn! Each student gets a different famous person (or thinks of one on their own!) and answers questions which you can find on the Worksheet – Celebrity weekend. Monitor the activity and correct any mistakes. Make sure that students use the correct forms of regular and irregular verbs in the Past Simple. Once everyone finishes, students read the answers and the others must guess who the famous people are.

Ask students to go over the questions and their answers and ask them to underline all the regular past verbs. Write them down on the board and make sure that you have a wide range that covers all pronunciations of -ed – /t/, /d/ and /ɪd/. Once you have them all written down, model and drill the pronunciation. Elicit that -ed can be pronounced in three ways. Draw a table on the board with three columns, each designated for one way of pronouncing. Students work in pairs and divide the verbs into three columns.

Check the answers and explain the rules behind -ed pronunciation. The pronunciation /ɪd/ of -ed is easy to understand and hear. Say that all regular verbs ending with the t or d sound in their infinitive forms are pronounced as /ɪd/ in the Past Simple.

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The problems begin when explaining the difference between /t/ and /d/. Say that /t/ sound is reserved for verbs ending in unvoiced sound. In the webinar, it was explained that we can visualise it by placing a piece of paper in front of our mouths and saying a word ending in an unvoiced sound, for example, stop, look, wash, kiss. The paper moves as the air come out of our mouth when saying these words. When saying the words ending in voiced sounds, the air does not come out in the same way. Instead, you can tell your students to place two fingers on their throats and feel the vibrations that occur when saying these sounds, for example, cleaned, damaged, loved, offered.

Now that students understand the rules, ask them to pronounce the words written in the table, making sure that they pay attention to the correct pronunciation, especially of /d/ and /t/. To reinforce the pronunciation, you can play a game shown to us during the webinar. Present students with a maze made of words in their regular past forms. Students need to leave the maze by following the /t/ or /d/ sounds. You can download both at the end of the post!

The webinar on Developing Speaking Skills for B1 Preliminary and B2 First for Schools was great and I’m very happy that I attended it. I can’t wait for more webinars and would advise being on the lookout for them, as they can help or at least refresh your memory and remind you of some activities that otherwise you might have forgotten about.

Click the links below to download all the files needed to complete this lesson plan!

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.

Starters – Listening Part 4 – FRUIT!

Language exams can be taken at pretty much any age possible – very young learners included! There are many opinions for and against examining children. Some people believe that we need to prepare to take exams early on, and get ready for the adult world, filled with examinations, courses and certificates. Others believe that children shouldn’t be subjected to this type of stress and all YL education should be done through playtime and games. In my opinion, we should have the best of both worlds, and the Starters Cambridge exam proves that it’s possible to test the language level of young learners while keeping it light and fun.

Before I moved onto the digital world of teaching and started focusing on teenagers and adults, I used to teach (very) young learners in person. My groups were divided into Cambridge levels – Starters, Movers and Flyers. At the end of every trimester, I had to deliver a personalised assessment of each student, all of it supported by their final score for the Cambridge mock exam. Based on their final results, I decided which student could take the official Cambridge exam and move to a higher-level group.

For this reason, we used Cambridge exam preparation coursebooks (Fun for Starters) and Cambridge past papers. The exams are simple and relatively fun, for example, there are anagrams in the reading exam and lots of colouring in the listening exam. My favourite part of the Starters exam is Listening Part 4. I always enjoyed my students at the highest concentration levels, looking for the right colours as if their lives depended on it!

I have been working on exam-style vocabulary worksheets for Starters for some time now. When I saw free Starters Practice Papers 2 with a perfect Listening Part 4 activity, I decided to finally use my worksheets and prepare an exam preparation lesson plan for VYL.

Head to the end of the post to get a free set of worksheets focusing on fruit, or go to my TpT store to get the full version, including sixteen words related to fruit and vegetables.

Download the fruit flashcards, print them out, and if possible, laminate them! Hide the fruit flashcards/realia around the classroom. Tell students that there are eight fruits hidden in the room. Students walk around and find them. As they give them back to you, ask them to repeat their names after you. Ask them to sit down and repeat the new vocabulary after you. Finish by showing the flashcards for a split second. Students say the fruit they think they saw. Then, place flashcards on the floor and say the name of the fruit. Students race to touch the correct flashcard. You can change instructions to touch the fruit of a particular colour.

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Time for a settler. Hand out anagram worksheets. Students order the letters and write the names of fruits. You can put the flashcards on the board to help them with the spelling and the letter shape. Follow this activity by completing a picture dictionary. Students cut out the pictures of fruit and stick them on top of the corresponding names. It’s also a good activity to practise reading aloud.

It’s time to prepare students for the listening part of the lesson. Give each student five coloured pineapples (green, purple, orange, blue, red). If you have more time, you can ask students to colour them instead. Say the colour of the pineapple and ask students to put them in different places, for example, Put the orange pineapple under the table. This exercise should serve as a revision of colours, prepositions of place and prepare students to follow instructions correctly.

Students come back to their places. Hand out the Cambridge Starters Listening Part 4. Before you start the task, ask them to name all the fruits that they can see. Count all the pineapples and elicit where they are. You can also ask them about the colour of the pineapple on the clock. Students take out their coloured pencils. Play the recording and give them time to colour the pineapples as instructed by the recording. Check and correct the answers.

Finish by asking students to stand in line. Stand in front of your students, facing them. Show the flashcards of fruit and repeat their names. Ask if students like that fruit or not. If they do, they run to the right, if not, they run to the left. Clean the working stations and give some time to pack the backpacks. Before leaving the classroom, show a flashcard to each student and elicit vocabulary. If the answer is correct, they can leave.

If you enjoyed my idea for the listening part 4 lesson, click the files below to get your copies. If you want the full version, or worksheets focusing on another vocabulary (body parts, domestic animals, wild animals and food), go to my TpT store.

Click below to get the full versions of the full version of the worksheets for Starters (Fruit and Vegetables).

5 ways of keeping private students

Ever since I started working with private students, I quickly realized that this is what I’m good at, and as a result, I love doing it. I think that it’s safe to say that I think about my students a lot. I always think about new lesson ideas and plan classes that will benefit them the most. However, once the prepaid classes come to an end, I start to sweat just a tiny bit – what if they quit, and it’s the last time I see them?

Teaching adults and teenagers was always something that I really enjoyed. Now that I work online and the majority of my classes are 1:1, I get to be a bit pickier and teach what I want and how I want to. There are some disadvantages to this situation, which I’ve talked about before in The flakiness of adult students. To be frank, there are more advantages and with the right approach, it’s possible to avoid any issues. In the beginning, I had some hiccups here and there, which were necessary and served me as a lesson. Now I understand 1:1 teaching a bit more. That’s why I thought of five ways in which you can ensure your students don’t disappear from one day to another.

Write down any important information

I’m aware of how creepy it sounds. However, in my opinion, this is possibly the most important piece of information. I came to this realization about a week ago while making small talk with one of my students. She’d mentioned to me before very personal and important news. The truth be told, I’d forgotten about it and only remembered it when I saw her in class. Naturally, I asked about her well-being and noticed that her mood shifted for the better (luckily). I could tell that she appreciated my concern and liked that I checked up on her.

This was my starting point on taking short notes on each of my students. Before, all my notes focused on language-related issues, ways of improving and important dates. Now, each file contains a little note on their birthdays, likes and dislikes, hobbies, family members and some past experiences. I do this with the intention of using it in one of my future lessons. It shows that I listen, care about them and their lives. The notes are there only to help me remember and make sure that I don’t confuse one student with another. Plus, who doesn’t like when a relatively random person remembers and wishes them on their birthdays!

Personalised classes

Once I gather information on their interests, it’s much easier to plan and prepare engaging lessons. There are times when I mind my own business when I stumble upon something that I think one of my students would enjoy, and try to use it next time in my class. Of course, it’s much more difficult to do that when working at an academy or with a larger group of students, when you have a syllabus to follow and all the topics are rather broad. In the case of 1:1 lessons, you can go over general topics, or you can go deep into a rabbit hole and explore any niche possible.

For my aspiring actress student, the lessons tend to be centred around pop culture, musicals, psychology and expressing oneself. For my digital marketer student, I like to prepare lessons on social media, attracting customers and marketing psychology. For my future fisherman, we focus on technical language and environmental impacts of fishing in Spain. It takes more effort to prepare these lessons, but I enjoy learning new things and stepping away (at least for a little bit) from the exam preparation. The most important thing is that I like when they like my lessons.

Be understanding, empathetic and approachable

Even though it’s good to have some kind of insurance and introduce a cancellation policy, it’s also important to be understanding. Private students choose your classes because they may have an irregular schedule and for this reason can’t attend group lessons. Currently, I’ve got three students who need to tell me their availability at the end of each class. At first, I was hesitant, but I got the hang of it now. We always manage to find the day and time that best fits our schedules. They are also more than welcome to message me in case of emergency or if they feel like taking a day off and prefer to postpone a class.

I can’t remember how many times I got a message to postpone the lesson by an hour or a few days, because of a delivery, spontaneous trip or mental health day. It may seem like a hassle, but the truth is, it’s not a big deal. Things happen and I know that if I’m understanding, they’ll be understanding if one day something happens to me. It doesn’t happen often, but there were a few occasions in which I needed to move the class to some other day or even teach on Saturday (or Sunday!). I’m not a big fan of working at the weekends, but it doesn’t bother me too much, now that I work for myself.

Similarly, I don’t get angry if someone cancels English lessons because of personal reasons. People tend to overexplain and make sure that I know that it’s them, not me. I never expect any explanation. If they have a bad personal situation, struggle financially, or just lost motivation – that’s ok! Cancelling English lessons, shouldn’t stress you out.

Be knowledgeable

I always prepare for all of my lessons. If there is a topic that I feel a bit unsure of, I research it and practise it myself first. I read all the texts beforehand and think about the parts that may be difficult. This shows that I put effort into the lessons, and don’t just show up to the class empty-handed.

At the same time, if there’s something that I didn’t predict, I admit it and come back to it next class. I do it in this way because I don’t want to sound and look unprofessional in front of my students. They always appreciate honesty and understand that it’s impossible to know everything. It has happened to me quite recently. I overestimated my C1 level student knowledge and prepared a very basic explanation because I assumed that she knows it. My assumption was based on observation and the fact that she has used this type of structure before. When it came to grammar practice, she got lost and I simply ran out of time to get into it. So the next class was all about this, from start to finish. I apologized for my mistake, and that time we did it properly. There were no hard feelings towards the end and she was thankful, for planning this class while thinking about her and her needs.

Open up to your students

I always welcome my students to open up to me and talk about themselves and their lives (only if they want). Similarly, I include some of my information in classes, too. I tell them about my experience, travels, friendships, relationships (A bad date)… Anything to make the classes more realistic and make them feel that they’re using the language naturally. I love the feeling when they forget that they speak English and just talk. For example, for my B1 level students, I’ve prepared a lesson on prepositions of time, in which I talk about my trip to Singapore. I share my story and normally answer follow-up questions about the trip. I think it’s so much better than a dry textbook story about an imaginary person. It also engages and makes them want to share their pictures and stories with me.

I don’t think that it’s possible to be a perfect teacher. So far, I was able to convince all of my students to stay with me after the trial lessons. Unfortunately, I know that there will be a time when I find someone who doesn’t want to work with me, or who will resign after a few lessons. Until that day comes, I’m not going to think about it. For the time being, I’m going to focus on my current students and help them reach their language goals to the best of my abilities.

How do you make sure that your students are happy and want to stay with you?