Talk at ETAS AGM in January 2014

IMG_4845

Attending a conference can be a truly overwhelming experience. But attending a conference and giving a talk there as well simply blows one’s mind. A couple of days after the event, once the dust has settled exposing a clearer scenery, certain realizations hit home.

Wise men don’t preach, they ask questions. I attended Jeremy Harmer’s plenary speech and one of his talks as well. And in both cases I was amused by how, instead of telling other teachers how teaching goes, he would bemuse us with questions, doubts, open-ended and long echoing assumptions. He was always wondering, always questioning and looking out at his audience encouraging us to inquire as well. It was a really refreshing approach. But it was truly soothing as well. Because there are no ready made and final answers out there. Teaching is learning and it is never complete. Just when you think you’ve got it, the thread slips out of your hand and off you go to search it again.

Even if a pending talk can spoil some of the fun of listening to other presenters, it also makes you more alert, more analytical and definitely a more attentive listener. The message you are about to share makes you compare and contrast, it encourages you to look for ideas, suggestions and definitely for useful quotes to use in your own talk. Or as Byron Wien said about reading Have a point of view before you start a book or article and see if what you think is confirmed or refuted by the author.  If you do that, you will read faster and comprehend more.

I dreaded having to present during the last session. It seemed I was at a disadvantage. How wonderful it would be to get it over and done with before relaxing in other talks. However, the last session turned out to be a real advantage. When I arrived at the conference on Saturday morning, I felt rather lonely. I remembered some faces, I recalled a name or two, but there was no one I felt like striking up a discussion with immediately. The idea of giving a talk seemed more daunting than ever. But then we had workshops to meet people, coffee breaks, apéro and a lively supper, so by Sunday I had all these incredibly wonderful people coming to wish me all the best of luck. Walking into the classroom I even had a couple of familiar faces to give me the encouraging smiles. So let me use the occasion here and praise the ELT professionals. They are the most supportive, friendly and kind folk out there!

Not to talk about Kowalski, who was diligently doing his duty and cheering me on 🙂

IMG_4846

As a response to some of the attendees request and believing that several of my blog readers would benefit from the talk as well, here’s the summary of my presentation.

Capture d’écran 2014-01-28 à 16.53.24

After having been a member of ETAS (English Teachers Association of Switzerland) and attended many of its conferences and workshops, it seemed time was ripe for me to pitch in and share my own experience. As struggling with very mixed level classes is my daily bread, and coming up with plausible strategies to manage the mess an ever-present challenge, I decided to dedicate my first talk to working in, for and with a class of very mixed level students.

I skipped theory and jumped right into the action giving an overview of all the various tasks and techniques I use in my classes.

First I looked into reading and how to exploit the same text with different levels. Depending whether you want to use the SB and avoid photocopying or bring in your own material, here are some of my ideas (hugely inspired by many educators from all over the world):

Working with books

  • let faster students (in my case, more advanced level students) come up with a couple of comprehension questions they can then ask the whole class
  • In case you make the questions, project them on the screen / write on the board starting with easier ones and putting  trickier ones in the end (the ones that would push more advanced students). Once a student has finished reading direct their attention to the questions and let them begin work on that. Lower level students might not get till the harder questions, but it’s fine. They will have covered the essential questions!
  • Depending on the text, you could ask faster students to work with vocabulary in depth. For instance, they could use monolingual dictionaries to write dictionary definitions into their vocabulary notebooks (making them practise really good English!)

Capture d’écran 2014-01-28 à 16.53.39

When you bring in your own material that can be cut up, jumbled up, spiced up, you could do one of the following:

  • Give more advanced students a gapped text instead of the complete version
  • Hand out jumbled paragraphs they have to put in order thus working on linking ideas!
  • You  might want to divide the paragraphs between students (lower levels should get shorter and maybe also fewer paragraphs) and then they should read and report back! OR – maybe they should create a certain vocabulary bank and then share with their neighbor.

I also talked about vocabulary work and listening with the main idea always being that lower level students should get more scaffolding than more advanced level students.

One of the key strategies for mixed level groups (well, any group really, I guess) is to vary as much as possible. There are so many different levels to attend to that all kinds of group compositions should be played around with.

Sometimes working in mixed level groups proves the most advantageous. More advanced students could be the scaffolding for lower levels. Once the work’s been prepared, you can remove the scaffolding, i.e. break the group up and ask every students to work on their own.

  • Capture d’écran 2014-01-28 à 16.54.05

Although in one of my older posts I made a rather assertive statement about how not to work in sections, I have since then changed my mind quite a bit. One of the driving forces, a source of motivation was the incredible Naomi Epstein, who answered my call for help and shared some of her ideas and classroom management strategies. I have used work in sections several times now, and I must confess it is always a pleasurable experience.Capture d’écran 2014-01-28 à 16.54.17

The lesson plan the above poster summarizes is here.

Helping our students become autonomous learners should be on every teacher’s agenda, and even more so when it comes to mixed-level classes. It is inevitable to frustrate some of the students in a lesson. It is either too difficult and fast or way too easy and slow moving. There is, however, no better occasion to choose one’s pace or level than when students work on their own. This is why work outside the classroom should get special attention as well.

I have proposed the following to my students:
Capture d’écran 2014-01-28 à 16.58.15

Expression of the week is an ongoing project where every week a new student brings in an expression (s)he has heard, read and introduces it to the classmates.

During the conference I got another idea as well … Do let me know what you think of i! More advanced students have the tendency to relax too much during the lessons and thus miss the learning opportunities always present. One of possible sources of learning is teacher talk. So I was thinking of asking my students to pay special attention to teacher talk and jot down any words or expressions they like / want to learn and then share at the end of the lesson.

And here are the main points to bear in mind when teaching a very mixed-level class:
Capture d’écran 2014-01-28 à 16.58.22The ideas shared in this talk are tiny drops in the vast ocean. And even though, just for a couple of minutes right after the talk was over, I felt a sense of accomplishment, I am still at the bottom of the high mountain of mixed level classes. There are days when it frustrates and discourages me. It seems that no matter what I do, I will never be satisfied nor manage my groups in an absolutely satisfactory way.  But as the wise men say … teaching is learning and it never seizes.

And let’s ask another question 😉

Advertisements

Students turned into journalists

Curiosity is like a message board. You have your eyes, your ears, all your senses open and every new discovery is a sticky-note pinned onto the wall. Most of the time it looks like  a motley collection of random thoughts, links, quotes, books, songs, videos, impressions. But at times, right notes stick out like dots. All you need to do is link the dots and you’ve got a new idea. Almost all of my classroom projects are born this way. It cannot be a forced creation, it is always an end product of slow maturation.

Sticky note 1 – Roughly a  year ago I stumbled on this fun and truly inspirational blog http://burningquestionnaire.wordpress.com. I loved the interviews and found the questions whimsical. They were questions I would have loved to answer myself. I had a fleeting thought of using this questionnaire in my own class but discarded the idea almost immediately. I feared it was too difficult, too abundant in structures and language we hadn’t covered with my students yet. I couldn’t see it fitting into the programme. But the sticky-note was there, on the board!

Sticky note 2 – A couple of months ago our school headmaster, who also happens to be an incredibly inspirational person, sent me a link to this website http://the-talks.com. He was wondering whether I could use it in my lessons in one way or another. I spend hours enjoying the wonderful interviews, taking immense pleasure in the language and the thoughts expressed through it. It was a real treat!  Sticky-note was on the board!

Sticky note 3 – One year ago I joined the amazing, ever-inspirational, supportive, wise community of English language educators. I began to read thought-provoking articles and blog-posts, I had my eyes opened to innumerable ideas, controversies, trends, beliefs. But above all, I began seeing my own teaching, my own beliefs, my own fears and doubts in a completely new light. What had previously felt like the only good idea, the correct basis for a solid teaching practice, started showing cracks, then had parts chipped off and finally crumbled into non-existence. It wasn’t scary! It was thrilling! Among these strong ideas was my belief that I was in control of my students’ learning. I had very much taken the sole responsibility for their learning. I tortured myself believing that I had to be up to making them fluent in English through the means I and only I presented them with. Thus, coming back to the interviews, I deduced they weren’t able to work with them as I hadn’t provided them with all the right tools yet.

Fortunately, I was able to rid myself of this obstinate and oh-how-painful principle. I relaxed, took a more playful approach to projects (and their outcomes!), but most of all, I realized that teaching and learning don’t go hand in hand. Or as so many wise teachers have said, It’s not because a teacher TEACHES something that a learner will LEARN this. When and to what extent learning takes place is not something a teacher can control. We can, however, inspire, propose interesting tasks, create favorable atmosphere and be there to guide and help when necessary.

At the end of the first semester I had two one and a half hour unplanned lessons to use for any project I felt like doing. And that’s when I linked the dots and came up with an interview project for my students. Initially, I was a tiny bit scared they might not like the idea, or rather, they might protest because of the workload included. But I am happy to say all my fears vanished into thin air the moment I saw my students’ eyes light up when asked who they would like to interview. They were in! They had had their curiosity, their excitement buds tickled and the project took off.

Here’s what we did

Lesson 1

First I showed a possible interview opening on the screen. It went like this:

Singing, dancing, weight-lifting actor Hugh Jackman on coffee, his biggest fears and wearing skirts to school

(From http://www.time.com/10questions)

I asked the students where they could see something like this and what its purpose was.

Next I showed two more possible openings. Here they are:

Rachel Khoo, 33, of BBC2’s The Little Paris Kitchen, was born in Croydon to a Malaysian-Chinese father and Austrian mother. She studied art and design, but after working in fashion, followed her heart to Paris to learn patisserie. Following the success of The Little Paris Kitchen, this year, Rachel travelled through France finding the best dishes…

(From a British women’s magazine Prima)

There’s no mistaking that Amanda Holden is in the room. The actress and TV star has such an infectious laughter and great sense of humor that she soon has everyone at the shoot giggling.

(From another British magazine Good Housekeeping)

We discussed how the three openings differed, and I asked them to choose one of the three types when writing their interview. Next on the menu was Tips for Writing Good Interviews. I had browsed through various sites and come up with a list of good tips concerning the best suitable location for the interview, which questions to avoid, how to make the person feel at ease etc. I gave different tips to neighbors. They had to read theirs, take notes and then report their ideas to their neighbor. Once finished, I asked them to read their neighbor’s versions to check whether they got the truth and only the truth 🙂 I also wrote the main points on the board for a general round-up.

The last part of the lesson was reading several interviews. I had made copies of different interviews and students could choose what to read. All the interviews were taken from this site: http://the-talks.com

The classroom fell into deep silence as students devoured the words. I was dumbfounded! They do love to read! Just give them stuff they find interesting.

At the end of the lesson students had to tell me who they were going to interview. Their homework was to write down the questions and do the interview. They had one week for that. I encouraged them to use recorders during the talk!

Lesson 2

They had to come to the next lesson with the notes and the recording on their phone (plus earbuds!) The last lesson was writing. They had the whole lesson to write the final interview using the notes and / or the recording. And they did! Again, I was amazed to see how well they can work if the task feels important and personal to them. I was available for help and guidance.

End note

I started correcting their works this morning and I haven’t stopped smiling the whole day. Here are some extracts from their interview openings ( I changed the names):

Nancy is a seventeen year old young woman who has already written four novels. Meet the young writer with a lot of imagination!

Gregory is sitting outside, smoking a cigarette. He’s wearing my grandfather’s old shirt and a pair of mountain shoes. He looks so simple and it’s been a long time since I last saw him looking in my eyes with such a warm smile.

Mary has just turned 17. I have known her since she was a baby and we have always lived in the same street. Mary has an expensive but tremendous passion.

A café in the town centre. Tracy looks happy. She’s smiling. Nothing suggests she used to suffer from bulimia.

I will correct all the interviews and then ask my students to type the corrected versions on computer. On one hand, I want them to re-write the interviews going through the errors and (hopefully) learning from them. On the other hand, I wish them to keep beautiful versions of their work. They definitely deserve that.

Right, back to corrections. It can be fun too!

nothing should get in the way of a good story

Have you ever asked your students what they do when waiting for their flight in an airport? When you have, I bet the majority would tell you how they love observing people. Right!?

Sometimes, when walking in the streets, I look at the passers-by and think how they all come from very different and incredible stories. They are characters from thousands of tales and what I can see in the street is simply a microscopic glance into a book that will very likely stay shut for me.

Human beings are the most curious and exciting source of tales. Everyone, no matter how insignificant they consider themselves to be, can tell tales which would leave us awestruck, incredulous, entertained, aghast. Their tales can teach us, warn us, inspire us. So to open this treasure chest of experiences, all we need to do is listen to people, ask questions and BE CURIOUS.

When I discovered Humans of New York I instantly knew this was one of the treasure chests. This blog is a collection of pictures and stories of the motley crew of humans you might meet in the Big Apple. It seemed that “meeting” these ordinary or the most extraordinary people would be an inspiring thing for my students. Wanting to know about these humans would push them to use their existing language but also learn new vocabulary. And as these people couldn’t suddenly simply materialize in our classroom, the students also had to use their imagination when guessing these people’s lives and thoughts. So here’s what we did.

It was the first lesson after the long summer break. I had the same groups as the previous year, so it was a good time to brush up on their English, rekindle the class dynamics and restart the learning process by proposing something inspiring.

To begin with I showed a picture of a homeless guy in New York on the screen. He looked absolutely in peace with himself and the world. He was sitting on a folding chair, reading a book and in front of him, on the pavement, there was a doormat which said WELCOME. I told my students that holidays are perfect times to meet new people and make friends. I said that we were going to meet someone today too. And there he was, the guy in NY. I asked the students to look at him and then write down their first impressions. (Imagine you see this guy in the street, what goes through your head)

After two minutes of writing, they had to share their ideas with their neighbor followed by a general feedback and vocabulary questions. We got quite many new (forgotten) words on the board.

After that I asked the students to write on a sheet of paper four questions they would like to ask from the guy. Then I collected the questions.

The next step was getting to know more people, but this time different couples. Every student got a picture of a curious couple. (and there are tons of those on the site) I asked them to write down their impressions once again. However, this time they had to think of some guiding questions (who are they, why are they there, what did they do before etc) I also asked my students to write for four minutes without stopping. If they couldn’t find the word in English, I asked them to write the French equivalent. (It was important to catch their ideas, their thoughts and impressions!)

While they were working on that, I quickly corrected their questions. Mostly the usual missing auxiliaries, prepositions at the beginning of the questions etc.

After the “stream of consciousness” writing, they had time to reread and work with their dictionaries. I walked amongst the students and helped with any language questions they had. There was no time limit. How long you let an activity go on always depends on your students. Once you feel most of the students have stopped, that’s when it’s the best moment to ask everyone to finish the sentence they are writing. After the editing part they had to show their picture to the neighbour and share their thoughts.

Then we looked at the questions. I gave the corrected versions back to the students and then had a class discussion. I wrote the most common mistakes on the board and highlighted the usual pitfalls.

Now came the last part which included corresponding with other students. Every student had to write five questions they would like to ask from the couple. Then I took the pictures and the questions and swapped these with other pics and questions. Now the students had a new picture and five questions. They had to imagine being these people in the picture and answer (in writing) the five questions. I emphasized there were no right or wrong answers, what counted was their imagination and creativity.

Once the answers got written down I gave them together with the pics back to the initial owners, so they could read the answers. There was A LOT of laughter in the class!

As these kind of tasks are open ended, they suit well to mixed level classes. The weaker students have time to work with the dictionaries and produce what they are able to (no pressure!) Whereas the more advanced students can push their own limits. Okay, I admit, they don’t necessarily do that of their own accord. But that’s when your encouraging remarks are welcome.

It’s also an activity that is exciting for the students, it arouses their curiosity. And nothing’s more fruitful to language learning than curiosity!

I used this lesson plan in four different  classes and it worked each time.

there’s a book in all of us

I love writing! I love the challenge of catching my fleeting thoughts into a lexical net. Once I have helped the random emotions, hunches, fears, sentiments materialize by giving them shapes on paper / screen several things ensue. Firstly, I calm down. I calm down because the mayhem of thoughts in my head has been mitigated. It’s as if the school bell has just rung channeling the bustling and chaotic crowd into disciplined rows of paired pupils. Secondly, getting the often vague and shapeless sentiments into words, gives them clarity. I myself arrive at a better understanding of my own feelings. But writing, expressing myself through words, has also a much more serious and professional value for me. Especially in this space here. Making the effort of getting the often  complicated and nuanced ideas across to my readers in English gives my language learning an incredible boost and motivation. Of course, I cannot but make mistakes sometimes. And I hope you will not feel offended as readers by that. And anyway if we, the teachers, don’t make mistakes, how can we encourage our students to make them?!

One of my wonderful mentors once said that we teach who we are. For me writing is an essential part of my being. I get itchy fingers after too long a pause. I get restless and grumpy if I cannot touch the keyboard or my good old pencil. So it must come as no surprise that my students are in for a serious amount of writing once they join my classes. This year, for instance, all of my hundred or so students have to keep a diary. Don’t ask me where I take the time to read and comment on them all.

To get my students into even more writing, I have used the help of some great people and wonderful sources very recently. Firstly, let me mention a great blog brimmed with ideas for interesting and challenging lessons. One of Rachael’s last posts was a rich list of writing activities all worth trying out.

I had also one extremely inspiring workshop only last weekend when I attended the annual conference of a wonderful association called ETAS. The workshop was given by Elsbeth Mäder, and in this workshop she invited us to do a lot of creative writing, which we so diligently did, a great group as we were 😉 I loved Elsbeth’s ideas so much that I used them a couple of days later with my own students. The lesson was a success and that’s why I decided to share it with you (with the kind approval of Elsbeth). I have made some adaptions to the initial workshop activity to better meet the needs of this particular class of mine.

This writing activity can boost vocabulary and writing skills at any level from A1 upwards. This activity is on one hand, useful because it generates so much language. And on the other hand very amusing and motivating as students create something of their own which is then noticed and valued by the others.

So here’s the lesson plan. First I ask the students to clean the desks and only leave a sheet of paper, a pen and a dictionary. This kind of introduction is usually extremely effective as students feel something special is about to happen. Then I asked the students to write ONE word on the sheet. Just one, any word, in fact!

Then they give their sheet to their right hand neighbour. Students read the words on the sheet and add one more word to this sheet. So for instance you might get word pairs like sun – mountains, apple – worm, happy – miserable etc.

Then they give their sheets once again to their neighbours (again the ones on the right so that the words written by the students don’t come back to them) Now the students have to write a sentence where the two words on the sheet are used. At this point I introduce what I call creative flow … I tell my students to write and if they cannot recall a word in English they can put it down in French. What is important from that moment onward is to get their “fleeting” ideas onto the paper. After the first writing I give them a minute or two to look up the missing words in their dictionaries. Once the sentence is ready students read them out. (I had a class of 10 older teenagers and it was the first time with this group that everyone really listened to the other students!)

Now I ask the students to imagine that this sentence comes from a book. I ask them to imagine who the main character of this book could be. And then I ask them to write a description of this character in some three to four sentences. Then, once again, students read out their descriptions. We got a motley crew of quite real and very fairy tale like characters from miserable and obese guys to a penguin princess! After the character description I asked the students to imagine a place connected to this character and write a description of it. Once again, the classroom was filled with the soothing sound of pens running across the sheets. I guess if I hadn’t stopped them they would still be writing 😉 After writing and follow-up language correction students read their descriptions again.

The last part was a dialogue. I asked them to imagine another character and then write the dialogue between their main character and someone else. By this stage, students seemed to inhabit their own imaginary worlds and dialogues came rushing from their pens.

Once everyone had read their dialogues, time was up. As a follow-up students were asked to write clean versions of their chapters for next week’s lesson. I encouraged them to look up any words that they were not happy with and be their own critical editors.

From my students assiduous writing and attentive listening to their fellow classmates I could only draw one conclusion – the activity was a success.

From single words ten imaginary worlds were created.

Let’s talk about role plays!

Some eleven years ago, when I had freshly arrived in Switzerland and possessed a range of French vocabulary containing exactly 1 word, my first worry was to enroll in a language course as quickly as possible. I was lucky to find a great summer course run by Lausanne University on their campus. And I was even luckier to find myself in a great group with an extremely talented and dynamic teacher. The course ran for a month and it was so motivating and intensive that by the end of the course I was capable of understanding a little of what was going on around me and even contributing to it in my small ways. I cannot recall everything we did in that course, yet some activities were so powerful (emotionally and pedagogically) it’s as if I did them only yesterday. One of them was an all morning activity by the end of which all the students were eagerly chatting away to one other in whatever French they had in their command. I remember the exhilarating atmosphere in the class, the laughter, the total and utter participation of everyone. And, most of all, the empowering feeling that we were finally able to COMMUNICATE in this incredibly beautiful yet difficult language!

So what was this magic task we were asked to participate in? It was a role play. But not a simple read-your-part-and-act-it-out role play. That would probably have been a little intimidating for many of us at that particular point. We needed a prop, a facilitator to help us out. So we created our own hand puppets 🙂 In fact, I remember that the lesson started with the teacher emptying two big bags in the middle of the classroom creating heaps of yarn, fabric, stickers, felt balls etc.

I have carried this memory with me ever since knowing it will prove useful sooner or later. So when a week ago I was looking for lesson ideas for a class that needs some shaking up, the puppets suddenly jumped onto the radar.

I wanted my students to speak.  And I wanted them to use as much of the previously learned vocabulary as possible. I also knew that rushing through an activity is a waste of everyone’s time, so it was important for me to create layers of smaller tasks around the core task so that many skills and loads of language would be practiced.

So here are the ingredients:

  • a class of 16 older teenagers
  • a lesson of one hour and a half
  • the topic – airport and plane vocabulary

We had looked at the vocabulary the week before and they also had to do some homework on the said topic. Now it was time to take them to the next level and give them opportunities to use the new vocabulary in context. DSC_0265

Accompanied by general surprise and intrigued looks I emptied my small bag onto the desk revealing sticks and little cotton balls. I then proceeded calmly to make my own little stick figure, still accompanied by general surprise and intrigued looks. Once my figure was ready I showed it to the class and told them to copy me. I asked them to imagine a character, old, young, pretty, funny, man, woman etc and then draw the face of this character on the cotton ball. Once they had done the drawing, I handed them small passenger profile cards where they had to develop their new imaginary character a little further. On the profile card they had to fill in the following:

  • NAME
  • AGE
  • NATIONALITY
  • OCCUPATION
  • DESTINATION
  • PURPOSE OF YOUR FLIGHT (why are you travelling to this destination)

Once their characters were more “detailed” I asked them to introduce their stick figures to their neighbours.

DSC_0267Before moving on to the core task, we quickly revised the language for requests and responses. This intermediary reading and gap filling activity helped to calm the class down, as the making of and introducing the figures had created an extremely lively yet a little too excited class 😉

Then came the role play. Every student received a role play card and dialogues were then acted out between the characters.

While the students were talking to their sticks 😉 I suddenly had a new idea. There was so much language produced, so much real interaction going on that I felt it was such a waste to leave it there. Once the students had finished I asked them to take out their smartphones. We rearranged the classroom so that some of the students stayed in pairs while others joined them as cameramen (and women, of course) I asked them to re-do the dialogues only this time their characters (an not them! a detail I find very important!) would be filmed and their dialogue recorded. Somehow, the idea of being filmed, added a touch of discipline to the task. And not only, the dialogues tended to be longer this time.  Once the recording had been finished, students could listen to their own dialogues…

As it was a spontaneous move and something I had never done in classroom before, this tiny twist at the end of the task gave me important food for thought. I have to admit that it didn’t work out perfectly well. There were some setbacks and several shortcomings but because of students’ positive feedback I am more than willing to repeat a similar activity. Next time I go for it, this is what I should definitely bear in mind:

  • when recording the dialogues, the small groups have to move as far away from each other as possible
  • students have to try and avoid any loud and unnecessary shouts and shrieks as this intervenes with the recording of the dialogues
  • once the dialogues are over, time should be devoted to language analysis (which I didn’t have)

The last point is extremely important as it makes the whole activity more constructive and helps students to progress. I imagine there are several things that could be done in that stage. One that struck me as I was listening tot he students was filling the gaps i.e. during the dialogues students were often looking for words or expressions to communicate something. When they were unable to get the word they needed, they simply moved on. Now, during the analysis stage they could focus on these moments of doubt and word searching and take the time to find the language they needed.

Do you have any other ideas? What else could they do as a follow-up to their acting out the dialogues stage in order to analyze their language?

And then on a more general note: what are your great tips for role plays?

drilling irregular verbs …

… can be so much fun!

Two weeks ago the ELT chat on Twitter was dedicated to the topic of learner generated content. (the summary of the chat is here) Even though I couldn’t participate in the chat, reading the summary gave me loads of ideas and woke some dormant lesson plans I had carefully stored in my brain department called “dormant lesson plans”.

I had got to the stage with my students were ignoring the existence of irregular verbs in the English language was no more an option. They had to take the plunge and drill these forms into their brains like permanent tattoos. So here’s what I had:

  • a lesson of one hour and a half
  • 20 (more or less) motivated students ranging from A1 to A2 (plus three B1 students)
  • confidence that they will lend themselves willingly for another learning experience I had on the menu

To put together the lesson I used various sources adapting their content to this particular class and to my own whims 😉 And this is what happened.

As a warm-up activity, I showed past simple forms of 13 irregular verbs on the screen and asked students to read and memorize them during one minute. After the image had been turned off, students had to write down as many verbs as they could remember. Maximum was 9 verbs one of the stronger students could recall. They then could see the image again and complete their list followed by adding the infinitive and past participle forms plus the translations into French. Once this noticing and becoming aware task had been completed I asked them to drill these 13 verbs for a short while in pairs.

Activity nr 1: I asked students to form groups of 4, handed them 12 small cards and asked the group to write the infinitive of an irregular verb on each card. They could pick any verb from the list of irregular verbs that needs to be memorized by the end of the school year. The twelve cards were then handed to another group, who had to read them and make sure they knew the past simple of the verbs as well as their meaning. The cards were then shuffled and put face down into a pile in the middle of the desk. One of the students took the first card and made the first sentence of a story starting ‘Yesterday I … ‘ The next student picked a new card, repeated what had already been said and added his / her sentence. In the end the students had a story with twelve sentences each containing the past simple form of an irregular verb. And what’s more, they had been repeating the same irregular verbs quite a lot by then. While the students were putting together their stories I monitored the activity. I helped with any language questions, made some corrections, encouraged groups that were struggling, but mostly enjoyed seeing them so involved and enthusiastic. Given the motley group and random order of verbs they had to use to create their stories, the final outcomes had really twisted logic to them but I was so happy to see how creative the students can be.

IMG_1944Activity nr 2: Once the oral chain practice was over, I asked each group to write their story down leaving out the irregular verbs. The gapped stories together with the twelve cards were then given back to the group who had produced the cards in the first place. They now had to complete the story of their fellow classmates using the verbs. This part of the lesson caused a lot laughter as students were reading and deciphering the bizarre stories of other groups. Once the stories had been completed, each group could once again get back their story and check how well others had understood it.

Activity nr 3: To finish the lesson students had 5 minutes to drill the 12 verbs on the cards their group held. I asked each student to take their turn and go through all the verbs reciting the three forms. The other three students had to correct and memorize at the same time. As you might guess, the fourth student didn’t need much correcting 😉

When I told my students to stop and go to their lunch break, they had hard time believing the time was already up. Their faces beamed and there was so much positive energy in the class I could have hugged them all. From their feedback forms I could read the following:

  • Today’s lesson was so dynamic!
  • Today’s lesson was fun!
  • It was great to see everybody so involved!
  • I learned 12 new irregular verbs with no effort today!  (This is my personal favourite 🙂

How do you make students swallow the bitter pill of irregular verbs? I would love to hear your ideas!

Sources I used to put together my lesson:

Ur, P. (2009). Grammar Practice Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

http://www.onestopenglish.com/community/lesson-share/pdf-content/grammar/grammar-past-tense-practice-with-hilarity-lesson-plan/154490.article