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Teaching Tips 100

Reusable Speaking
Coursebook partner
Planning Ahead


A mark of a good speaking activity is the ability to use it again & again. The activity 'Train Compartment' in the Tip 'Strangers on a train' is reusable.

Another speaking activity is 'Hard Bargaining' from 'Advanced Communication Games' by Jill Hadfield (Nelson). The book is a collection of photocopiable speaking activities designed for largish groups.

'Hard Bargaining' asks the students to barter. Each has a card & they have to negotiate with the other students to get what they need. An example card might be 'You have but don't need 10 sheep' & then 'You need 4 pigs'& each student has different things in each section. Here the focus is on animals but a simple change to the cards can produce a lexical set that has been introduced that week for example. The students could be bartering with anything & reviewing whatever vocabulary you wish.

Another activity which can be reused is 'Moaning Minnies'. I think it is from the same book although it could be from the Intermediate Communication Games. Here the students have either positive or negative cards & they have to mingle to find the person who has the opposite feeling for the three things that they have. For example,

You are feeling depressed about three things:
Your mother-in-law is coming to stay.
You are moving house.
Your husband/wife has a new job.

You are feeling happy at the moment because:
Your mother-in-law is coming to stay.
You are moving house.
Your husband/wife has a new job.

When they have found each other they have to persuade each other to change their moods about their three points. Lots of interesting discussion ensues.

To reuse this activity, all you need do is change the points & think of two or three points for half the number of students in the group. You are happy/depressed because the G8 are meeting, it's raining, Italy have won the World Cup, you've got a holiday next week etc... Again you can easily bring in recently introduced language to practise.

These are just two examples of activities that with a small change can be used again & again. So the next time you find yourself wasting a lot of time looking for a speaking activity think about what you have already used & you will more than likely have what you need. And when a speaking activity has gone really well, hang on to it for future modification.

To see the Elementary & Intermediate Communication Games at Amazon:
'Intermediate Communication Games' by Jill Hadfield (Nelson).
'Elementary Communication Games' by Jill Hadfield (Nelson).

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Last week we looked at considerations for course planning in the Tip 'Planning Ahead:
This week we continue the topic & turn to putting all those considerations into a timetable/coherent scheme of work.

I have always been very wary of coursebooks, having begun my teaching by working from a structural syllabus, having to plan from almost scratch to provide communicative lessons. Coming to coursebooks later on, I found them hard to use as I was using someone else's ideas on how to go about teaching but I'm sure it was a good thing for me & helped me to develop my own ideas even more. The vast majority of teachers use coursebooks so they obviously have a lot going for them. Written by experienced teachers, we hope, they provide a readymade structure & materials which save us an enormous amount of planning time.

It is probably a good idea to assume that the coursebook does not cater to your students needs. If you begin on this premise then you have a better chance of using the coursebook to the full. A mismatch between the coursebook & the students' language & skills needs, expectations, interests, learning styles etc are clearly going to be present. Happily there will also be many occasions when the two, the student & the coursebook, go hand in hand, but to assume they do so all the time is asking for trouble. This way you control the coursebook & not the other way round.

The next step is the timetabling one. The past Tip 'Timetabling' gives a procedure for this.
Timetabling is essential is you want to provide a balanced course. It enables you to reflect on the course & helps you to supplement the coursebook.

When reviewing your timetable to see that you are providing a balance, if you have trouble seeing the wood from the trees, on deciding what the main aim of an activity really is, a way of helping with this is to have a lots of cards a major area written on each of them - speaking, listening, reading, writing, grammar, vocab, function, discourse, pronunciation - & place them on the timetable over the different activities. This will enable you to see at a glance if you are creating a balance.

This would make a useful focus for an in-service seminar. Have several timetables available & ask your teachers to put the cards on top & decide if there is a balance, & if not, what would need including & leaving out.

It is also well worth involving the students in the planning process by consulting them on both the lessons & the coursebook. Looking through the next few units together can be illuminating & help you focus your planning more. The students can tell you which topics, language areas & materials they would like or not like to look at.

And it is also very worthwhile discussing your course & schemes of work with your colleagues. Everyone has a different way of doing things & interesting ideas are sure to come up.

A few past Tips concerned with lesson planning:
Lesson beginnings:
Lesson endings:
Ordered themes:
Lesson shapes:
Planning ahead:

For an interesting book on 'designing sequences of work for the
language classroom', do check out 'Planning Lessons & Courses' by
Tessa Woodward (CUP).
From From

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Planning ahead

Planning Ahead

In the northern hemisphere, quite a lot of summer intensive courses will be starting up on Monday & teachers will be busy planning their timetables. In an attempt to provide as relevant a course as possible, we need to consider the following:

* Practical stuff - length & intensity of the course, classroom situation, aids available etc..

* What level are the students & how does the school know this? Is this from the students' application forms or have they been tested? What did the test include - all four skills, grammar etc? Are you able to see the tests.

* What do the students need English for? Why are they attending this course?

* Personal stuff - Do the students need English for similar reasons & will their target situations be similar? Age, nationality, mother tongue, proficiency in other languages, country/city of origin, occupation, learning background, language learning background, hobbies & interests etc.

* Will it be a monolingual or a mixed-nationality group? How can the class makeup be exploited to the students' benefit?

* What materials are available, a prescribed coursebook or use of a variety of materials or a mix of both? What does the school expect you to cover by the end of the course?

* What skills & language & content might be covered? Would a task-based approach be suitable or does the situation demand a more traditional approach?

* How 'intensive' is the course? Quite a lot of summer intensive courses tend to be a little more relaxed than year-long courses as the students are on holiday & there is a holiday atmosphere. A balance between progress & fun might need to be found.

* Are there any 'unmovables' to take into account - time each week in the self-access centre, computer room, tutorials etc?

* Is the English course tied in with other modules such as English in the morning & sports/sightseeing in the afternoon? Is there a way of linking the two through the content in the morning?

* If situated in an English-speaking country, where are the students staying & is pastoral guidance part of the job?

* What level are the students? Low level students would need more functional language so that they are able to operate efficiently outside of the classroom. Higher level students may need more skills-based accuracy work, helping them to become more sophisticated communicators.

* How will the students be evaluated at the end of the course? Will they be given a test? What kind & who writes it?

If the time is taken & the above accounted for, a clear, varied & balanced course can be planned which takes the day-to-day stress off the teacher, making it an enjoyable experience for all.

If you are interested in course planning do check out the excellent 'Teachers as Course Developers' - Kathleen Graves, ed. Cambridge Language Education Series (CUP). The above points are loosely based on the seven 'framework components' found in the book. Graves begins by talking about the framework then uses this to examine six teachers & their courses.
To buy the book from To buy the book from

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