How I use the BBC News Headlines to enhance listening

Via Scoop.itInspiration for tired EFL Teachers

This is something that I’ve been doing for a while and I find that instead of ‘testing’ my students’ listening ability, which most listening exercises you find in course books seem to do, this tru…

Free Friday Webinars by American TESOL – LiveBinder

Via Scoop.itInspiration for tired EFL Teachers
If you are looking for lots of great ideas for Christmas lessons this is the slideshow for you with a wealth of info and links.  Click on the second tab “Holidays” for the slideshow.  These are the links to all the American TESOL Free Friday Webinars at 4pm EST,…

Christmas is approaching

Autumn colours I love autumn. I love the rich reds, oranges and browns and the carpets of leaves that furnish the pavements and provide such an amazing contrast to the black tree skeletons and the skies. Most of all, however, I love the beginning of the Christmas period with freshly lit street decorations and that feeling of expectation of good things to come. So… that’s why this year, I’ve decided to celebrate advent.

I’m not the only one either, and, in fact, I was motivated initially by Macmillan’s lovely Advent Calendar Greeting card which I was so impressed with that I decided to try to make my own using Powerpoint. This is the result:

Just click on a day to go to the activity

This is basically the first slide in the presentation and you click on the date to go to the activities.

Today, for instancThis is where the number 4 on the Advent Calendar takes youe is the 4th December, so clicking on the number 4 will take you to the page you can see in the picture below “Christmas  Landscapes”

When you want to go back to the calendar simply click on the star in the bottom righthand corner.

How to use it

There are as many ways of using this calendar as there are teachers, I’m sure but here are two simple suggestions:

1) Christmassy Warmer

Use it at the start of a lesson as a warmer.

Simply get a student to click on the calendar and then use the text as you would any text, focusing on vocabulary, the text itself, of as a springboard for discussion. This could be a quick discussion or could lead to other activities such as writing. It’s really up to you and your learners.

2) Competition

Here is an idea for a competition which departs somewhat from the traditional calendar idea but is fun anyway:

1) Divide the class into teams

2) each team pics a number out of a hat (prepare 24 numbers in advance on cards, slips of paper etc.)

3) The team answers the question and the rest of the class gives the answer a vote from 0-5. (Don’t tell them why they are voting at this stage)

4) When each team has had the chance to “play” once or twice, count up the votes and the winners are the ones with the highest score.

(In my class I have a real advent calendar at this stage and the winners get the chocolate.)

So here is the calendar:

Powerpoint Advent 2011

(ON some versions of Powerpoint not all the photos load so here is a PDF alternative (unfortunately this one doesn’t have the animations)

Advent 2011

These are just quick suggestions which I am sure can be adapted to suit all needs. I’s be really happy to hear from you if you use the calendar and come up with other ways of using it in class. If you would like to see some more Christmas activities just follow this link to the fun and games page on my wiki, and scroll down until you come to Christmas.

Merry Christmas

From Sharon and Haggis the cat

#ELTCHAT Summary for November 30th 2011 How to Improve Speaking Skills using Critical Thinking (CT) without Spoon feeding.

Am I just feeling stressed?

#ELTCHAT Summary for November 30th 2011

How to Improve Speaking Skills using Critical Thinking (CT) without Spoon feeding.

Hi everyone,
I’ve been trying to keep up with the fast flying tweets on #eltchat recently, despite rather too much work. This is the group that meets on Twitter on Wednesdays to discuss the topics we vote to discuss (all related to teaching). Each discussion is followed by a summary like this one, which are stored at the above #eltchat site, so that there is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of ideas, insights and resources there for any elt teacher. If you would like to take part just download a programme like Tweetdeck and do a search for #eltchat on Wednesday at 12.00 noon or 9.00pm (UK times) and join in the fun :-).

Do you communicate or do you parrot?


This week’s discussion of critical thinking kicked off with a request for a definition of CT (critical thinking). There then followed quite a few references to parrots (Largely my fault as I was in a rebellious mood, I’m afraid :-() but underlying this is actually something quite serious: Critical thinking leads to logical thought and communication of well thought out ideas that are not simply “parrotting” someone elses’s words and ideas. The wikipedia definition was a good one:

Critical thinking is the process or method of thinking that questions assumptions shared by @cerirhianon

Some noteworthy ideas were:

@Shaunwilden Critical thinking – the ability to interact with a subject, & question & debate its foundations with considered ideas. I guess questioning assumptions/norms /givens – not being spoonfed are key factors.

@shaznosel: CT – maybe to encourage SS to elaborate, be flexible, original,creative and to think for themselves..diff between us and parrots??

@hartle reading between the lines and then discussion everyone’s different destinations

@sandymillin: CT – encouraging students to explore and play around with ideas, rather than accepting them without question

So, basically we are asking students to think for themselves, question things and become more independent (less spoonfeeding)

We also discussed the difference between CT and Creative thinking. I personally said that I think you need a certain amount of creativity to be able to think outside the box, and therefore to be able to think critically:

@Marisa_C Very diferent to creative thinking -perhaps we shld draw distinction here? Critical thinking may be more logical & analytical (but then in reply to my ideas she added)
Agreed, critical thinking is related to analysis, creative thinking to ideas.

@cerirhianon RT @hartle: #eltchat treat stds like other adults. Listen to them and really talk to them… > works for kids too 🙂


Critical thought can take us in unexpected directions

We then moved on to consider ways in which we encourae CT in our classrooms and whether this is a good thing or not. Most of us thought that is was a good thing as getting students to think for themselves and communicate intelligent will produce fairly natural language use as a type of by-product, but there were a few reservations. People were worried that learners might ask why they were doing “this” and not concentrating on “new language” etc. These are legitimate concerns and were discussed quite thoroughly.

Some noteworthy ideas were:

@shaznosel I think it begins by having high expectations of our Ss. Ask the questions that they haven’t been asked before.

@hartle say opposite opinions to encourge them to prove their point of view

Some people were asking how using CT skills differs from “normal” speaking activities, and the general opinion was that the skills of speaking are the same ones but the thought befind what people say differs so that there is more brainstorminsg, debate, preparation before activities, rather than just “diving straight in to the speaking activity”

@e_d_driscoll certainly some Ss feel this sort of thing is a waste of time- how is it diff from any other free speaking practice?

@MrChrisjWilson I think interest in topic makes a difference. If you don’t care then why bother to think critically?

@cerirhiannon: might be helpful to share some specific activities and evaluate them for CT ?

@EnglishOutThere  #ELTChat true..maybe let them research at home a topic and then bring ideas to class??
@hartle Speaking skills improve as natural by product of engaged discussion, + LA and feedback

@ElindaGjondedaj RT @Marisa_C: @e_d_driscoll Another good question – should ELT Ts act as educators or just as language dispensers?

This discussion continued but in the end there was a general concensus that encouraging students to think critically would lead to better communication skills.

The mask you choose is the identity you adopt


At this stage of the evening the ideas really started to flow in thick and fast, and it was hard to keep up with everything: so much creativity :-). So, here is a list of the types of activity that we use:

  1. @Marisa_C Simulations and Case studies…alibi games, problem solving, improvise from pics, build on each others ideas
  2. @cerirhianon ask high school ss to  think (but really think) about the relevance of their education system as prep for real world @sanymillin @cerirhiannon great example Ceri. So this perhaps requires collection of data from other countries, analysis of diff views
  3. @aggaridodiez Strategies such as talk to partners allow students to have opportunities to develop such critical thinking, even at survival levels
  4. @eflresource Ethical dilemmas can be a good way in, too – esp.  removed from religious points of view and esp. if they have comic overtones
  5. @Marisa_C Decision making activities which involve evaluation – e,g. candidates for a specific job brief Ss must choose. There used to be an excellent section in Management Magazine callse Dilemma & Decision – i have tons of great lessons from those
  6. @shaznosel critical thinking with lots of a pic which is unusual and speculate why/how /what etc @hartle replied: Ads gd for this too.
  7. @annabooklover I have a game which wasn’t meant for ELT use, called SCRUPLES. Canadian people may know it. Great fun for older students @Marisa_C replied to this: Great game – an ELT version of it in T’s Guide In HEadway Advanced OUP
  8. @cerirhianon read texts about students’ culture written by outsiders – ss as experts criticise and correct the misrepresentations @Marisa_C replied: ss as experts criticise7correct the misrepresentations @eflresource added: Yes, and also science/tech developments – life elsewhere; aliens view of us; etc
  9. @theteacherjames Use fiction/movies/tv as a way of promoting the disc. of opinions. Lots of useful lang can come from this eg disagreeing politely.
  10. @ElindaGjondedaj using breaking news (see link to the website I added below for more on this.
  11. @Marisa_C Games from the Philosopher’s Magazine (See link below, which I have added. I hope it’s the right publication, but even if it isn’t it looks interesting and could well be used in class.)
  12. @Marisa_C: Read news items and rewrtite them from own country’s local viewpoint . Engage with literary text – always a great springboard for critical discussions.
  13. @NikkiFortova @Shaunwilden information gap activities, debates, dictogloss , for example, can be good collaborative tasks And from @Nikkifortova: … our Ss are intelligent, thinking human beings – challenge them with tasks that require higher level thinking
  14. @theteacherjames Compare two opinion pieces from newspapers of opposite views Which is right?
  15. @antoniaclare dictation sentences, but sts need to change the content to be true for themselves, then compare, include controversial opinion. Or…Watch documentary, then Imagine you’re making documentary about this topic, what view will you represent, why etc?
  16. @hartle doing opposites activity.  Dictate something like  “Poverty leads to crime” & ask for opposite. Discuss in grps
  17. @cerirhianon ask ss to debate subjects from the opposite position to their own ( e.g. boys argue that girls are stronger)
  18. @Wiktor Good 4 low levels:”alien interview” -pretend U R an alien, ask ss to explain / define things clearly – annoying & effective as hell….Also: an alien comes to earth, does (insert bad things) but they’re normal in his culture. Shld we punish him?

There was a little aside about questions with “no right answer” which was interesting. Some said their students were frustrated by this type of question, but others felt that they help students to be more engaged. In any case the ideas (as you can see) flew fast and furious and hopefully will be very usfeul to all of us. #eltchat has done it once again, going from strength to strength!

References and links:

Definitions of CT: by @cerirhianon and @EnglishOutThere slideshow shared by @Marisa_C

Ideas and Lesson Plans good lesson plan by @cerirhianon pre discussion work designed to foster crticial thinking prior to discussion posted by @hartle “Information is beautiful” to simulate thought and discussion, posted by @cerirhianon podcast showing “small successes” of some students after working on FB and Skype activities, posted by @EnglishOutThere Every Picture Tells a Story on #eltpics (Look for user of this name on Flickr) posted as a prompt for discussion activities by @sandymillin Lateral thinking puzzles posted by @Wiktor_K The Breaking News website with great lesson plans posted by @hartle The Philosopher’s Magazine posted by @hartle Useful stories to make students think, posted by @eflresource A great site with deceptively simple questions that lead to discussion, posted by @Shaunwilden