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Teaching Tips 166

Storming Down
Expressions of logic
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Storming Down

Brainstorming is used a lot in our lessons as a way of seeing what the students know, their passive knowledge, as well as sinking them into the theme or area we want to look at. From the initial brainstorming we can then build on what they come out with to consolidate & expand. This follows the ‘get, rather than give’ maxim of a student-centred approach.

A slight variation on this is to start with a general storming & then narrow down by giving the students some narrower categories to work with. For example the students are brainstorming the vocab of ‘sports’, so after a few minutes put the categories of ‘sport’, ‘place’, ‘equipment’ on the board for them to then storm within these. This could then be followed with a worksheet being given out for the students to complete.
The same for grammar. For modals, students storm what they know about them & then after a couple of minutes provide 'can’t, may, might, could, must', & they only concentrate on these, & then after a few more minutes, provide the meanings your want to look at eg. present & past deduction, narrowing down in each successive stage.
All the time monitor what they are coming out with so that you can react appropriately in the feedback & subsequent stages. You might realise that the students know a lot more that you had given them credit for & the review you had planned would bore them so vary it & move on to the practice tasks quicker.

A similar idea could be applied to helping students complete tasks. for example, a straightforward gap fill, a series of sentences in which there is a gap in each sentence to complete, could begin with the students doing this individually & then in pairs & after a time, put the verbs in a jumbled order on the board for the students to choose from. So begin with the broad task to see how they get on & then provide a help if you see they are struggling with the task.  This is similar in idea to having the tapescripts handy in case the students find a listening text challenging.

Here's more on brainstorming from past Tips:

I came across a link to '100 Online Brainstorming Tools to Help You Think Outside the Box' ( which reminded me of a past Tip on brainstorming.

The Collins English Dictionary gives a definition of 'brainstorm' n. as:

1. a severe outburst of excitement, often as the result of a transitory disturbance of cerebral activity.

2. Brit. informal. a sudden mental aberration.

For this reason, some suggest not using the term 'brainstorm'. It has been suggested that 'brain (or mind) showers' might be more appropriate.

Brainstorming is a very useful activity in both teaching & training. The definition given of 'brainstorming' n. is:

- intensive discussion to solve problems or generate ideas.

This is more like it although still I'm not sure of the 'discussion' bit. It can be an individual activity, can't it?

Apparently brainstorming originating in 1941 with Alex Osborn, an advertising executive, who was looking for more creativity. He used the term 'think up', which later became 'brainstorming', as "a conference technique by which a group attempts to find a solution for a specific problem by amassing all the ideas spontaneously by its members". He formulated several rules to be followed by the group;

• No criticism of ideas

• Go for large quantities of ideas

• Build on each other's ideas

• Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas

When these were kept to a lot more ideas were created & within these he found more original ideas were coming out.

It is a very useful technique in our teaching & a healthy habit to encourage in our students. As you can see from the four 'rules' above it is also a very good technique for developing & consolidating group dynamics. Here are a few occasions when it might be used:

• pre-lesson brainstorming - tell your students what will be covered in the next lesson - this could be from the timetable you give out every two weeks - & they can then brainstorm what they can before they come to class. The readier they are the quicker you can get on & the more you will be able to cover. Tell your students that they'll be getting more for their money!

• to introduce a theme - get the students to throw out all the words they can think of to do with that area. The problem with this is that not everyone will know all the vocab & might want it clarifying which would take much longer. Just tell them that you'll be looking at the vocab through the theme & the aim here is to just sink into the area. You could get the stds to write all the vocab they know on the board - again they run into the same unknown vocab problem.

• pre-reading or listening - like the theme, get the stds to brainstorm all they know about the topic of the text they are about to read or listen. They could do this silently for 30 seconds, in pairs or as a group, depending on your aim. Same roles could storm together before splitting up into different roleplays.

• pre-roleplay - this is preparation time before a roleplay - they storm how they are going to act & what they are going to say.

• language presentations benefit from a storm at the beginning so that the new can be linked into the known. For example, a quick storm of ways of expressing the future before going on to look at the future perfect with an intermediate group.

• with process writing, brainstorming fits into the 'generating ideas' stage.

• problem solving activities to develop speaking & listening skills can be brainstorming sessions in themselves.

• mind mapping is an excellent way of storming ideas on paper, as well as a recording process.

Tony Buzan was the first to talk of mind maps. Here is a procedure for '7 Steps to Making a Mind Map' - use it with your students to help them make their own mind maps.

1. Start in the CENTRE of a blank page turned sideways. Why? Because starting in the centre gives your Brain freedom to spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.
2. Use an IMAGE or PICTURE for your central idea. Why? Because an image is worth a thousand words and helps you use your Imagination. A central image is more interesting, keeps you focussed, helps you concentrate, and gives your Brain more of a buzz!
3. Use COLOURS throughout. Why? Because colours are as exciting to your Brain as are images. Colour adds extra vibrancy and life to your Mind Map, adds tremendous energy to your Creative Thinking, and is fun!
4. CONNECT your MAIN BRANCHES to the central image and connect your second- and third-level branches to the first and second levels, etc. Why? Because your Brain works by association. It likes to link two (or three, or four) things together. If you connect the branches, you will understand and remember a lot more easily.
5. Make your branches CURVED rather than straight-lined. Why? Because having nothing but straight lines is boring to your Brain.
6. Use ONE KEY WORD PER LINE. Why Because single key words give your Mind Map more power and flexibility.
7. Use IMAGES throughout. Why Because each image, like the central image, is also worth a thousand words. So if you have only 10 images in your Mind Map, it's already the equal of 10,000 words of notes! - There are lots of sample mind maps to print off to show your students.

While they do their mind maps have some coloured pens available for them to use. When your students have one each, stick them on the walls around the classroom for all to wander round to view & comment on.

Creating Your First Mind Map - another procedure to follow.

Mind map

Tony Buzan: Brain play - the never-ending story - an interview.

To try out Tony Buzan's excellent mindmapping software - would make an excellent Xmas present:

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of logic

This week's Tip comes from Rolf Palmberg, from Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, Finland, a regular contributor to the artilces section of the site. This time it's a short article titles 'Making logical-mathematical EFL learners talk'*

Introduction and aim

We are not all the same. According to Howard Gardner, creator of the Multiple Intelligences (MI) Theory, we all have personal intelligence profiles that consist of combinations of different intelligence types, i.e. verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical-rhythmic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, naturalist, and, possibly, existentialist intelligence (Gardner 1983, 1993, 1999). An important message of the MI Theory is this: if education is to work as effectively as possible, teachers should take into account their learners' MI profiles rather than ignore them (Gardner 1983, 1993).

The purpose of this paper is to describe four communicative activities that are particularly attractive to logical-mathematical language learners. Such learners, according to Gardner's MI Theory, are particularly fond of logical reasoning and numbers. They enjoy activities that involve word puzzles, problem solving and critical thinking, completing brain teasers, finding patterns, categorising and classifying words and objects, sequencing information, and asking 'why' questions (Gardner 1993, 1999; Berman 2002; Christison 2005; Puchta & Rinvolucri 2005; Palmberg 2010).


Revise the numbers from 1 to 21. Next, ask the learners to work in pairs and tell them that each learner must add either one or two numbers to an accumulating list of numbers starting from 1. The one who is forced to say 21 has lost. This activity (taken from Palmberg 2007; 2009) provides young learners (and beginners of any age) with a motivating reason for reciting numbers.

A typical dialogue can go like this:

Learner A: One,
Learner B: two, three,
Learner A: four, five,
Learner B: six, seven,
Learner A: eight,
Learner B: nine, ten,
Learner A: eleven, twelve,
Learner B: thirteen,
Learner A: fourteen, fifteen,
Learner B: sixteen, seventeen,
Learner A: eighteen,
Learner B: nineteen, twenty,
Learner A: twenty-one.

After of couple of goes some of the learners will most probably have figured out how they can (almost) always beat their partner. Can you?


Tell the learners that you are going to give some background facts about a specific event, and that their task is to provide the full context of the event by asking "Yes" or "No" questions. Make a point of emphasising that they must listen carefully to your answers, since you might also say: "Irrelevant" (or, with younger learners, "It doesn't matter"). If, for example, someone asks if the man (in the example below) is old, the answer is "irrelevant". If a learner asks a Wh-question (Who, What, Where, Why, Which, When or How) you must ask him or her to rephrase the question so that you can give a "Yes" or "No" answer.

Here is a modified version of a lateral thinking puzzle presented on Rinkwork's "Brain Food" website:

A man is trying to sleep. He takes the phone and calls 345. A voice says "Hello." The man says "Thank you" and puts the receiver down. Now he can sleep. Why?

He is a guest at a hotel and someone in the neighbouring room was snoring. By waking the person up he made the snoring stop.

Finish your example (you may have to help the learners a little bit to make them understand the idea). Next, divide the learners into groups of three. Give one of the learners in each group a piece of paper containing a lateral thinking puzzle, and ask him or her to read out the background information to his or her group and then be ready to answer questions. The "Brain Food" website has more than fifty puzzles of various levels of difficulty to choose among, but be warned, some of them are rather morbid.

(For a variation on this see the Tip 'Building up a narrative':


Revise the relevant vocabulary. Next, divide the learners into pairs and give each pair a piece of paper containing these twelve sentences taken from Romijn and Seely (1981):

[ ] Eat the toast
[ ] Plug in the toaster
[ ] Push the lever down
[ ] Put some jam on the toast
[ ] Put the bread in the toaster
[ ] Put the toast on a plate
[ ] Spread some butter on the toast
[ ] Spread the jam around with a knife
[ ] Take out a slice of bread
[ ] Take out the toast from the toaster
[ ] Wait for a little while
[ ] Watch the butter melt

Ask the learners to read through the sentences and arrange them in a (chrono)logical order. Tell them to indicate the correct order by filling in the figures 1-12 in the brackets: "1" for the activity that comes first, "2" for the one that comes next, and so on.

When the learners have agreed on the correct order, ask them to look at the sentences as they are listed on the handout and, taking turns, tell each other why the first sentence ("Eat the toast") must or cannot come before the second one ("Plug in the toaster"); why the second one must or cannot come before the third one ("Push the lever down"), and so on. (For more inspiration along these lines, consult the "Practice" section of a website entitled "Multiple Intelligences for Adult Literacy and Education", maintained by Literacyworks.)

(See also the past Tip 'Action':


Prepare yourself for the activity by writing short sentences (so-called "mystery sentences") such as:

- "I don't like strawberries."
- "My new shoes got wet yesterday."
- "Action films are the best."

Give each student a slip of paper (each containing a unique sentence) and tell them to walk around in the classroom and talk to as many classmates as possible about a topic suggested by the teacher. Their task is to engage in any on-going conversation (or start one of their own) while trying to include their personal mystery sentence as naturally as possible at an appropriate place. Ask them to make notes of all mystery sentences they think they've spotted.

After ten minutes or so, stop the activity and let the students decide who managed most successfully to include his or her mystery sentence without being spotted.

(For a variation see also the past tip 'Strangers on a train':

Berman, M. (2002). A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing.
Christison, M. A. (2005). Multiple Intelligences and Language Learning. A Guidebook of Theory, Activities, Inventories, and Resources. San Fransisco: Alta Books.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences. The theory in practice. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Reframed. Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.
Literacyworks. "Multiple Intelligences for Adult Literacy and Education".
Palmberg, R. (2007). "Twenty-one reasons for counting." IATEFL Voices 194 (p 12).
Palmberg, R. (2009). Activities and exercises for logical-mathematical learners of English. Karperö: Palmsoft Publications.
Palmberg, R. (2010). Basic Multiple Intelligences for EFL Teachers. Karperö: Palmsoft Publications.
Puchta, H. & M. Rinvolucri (2005). Multiple Intelligences in EFL. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press & Esslingen: Helbling Languages.
Rinkworks. "Brain Food".
Romijn, E. & C. Seely (1981). Live Action English. Book 2. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

*This is a paper version of a workshop held at the 7th International AzETA Conference in Baku, November 2010.

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It's Buy Nothing Day again - 26th November in the US, the day after Thanksgiving called Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Internationally it is on Saturday November 27th.

A way into this would be to use advertising as the vehicle for a lesson. There's a YouTube video, 'Analyzing Techniques of Advertising', that looks at four advertising techniques together with examples:
The techniques are weasel words, different or unique, endorsements & scientific or statistical. There are many other techniques such as using humour, appeal to fear, appeal to authority etc...

Here's a brief video lesson procedure:

1. Show an interesting advert & elicit reactions > elicit interesting ads they have seen on TV.

2. Elicit some techniques advertisers use > put them into pairs to storm some more > feedback.

3. Set up the video viewing of 'Analyzing Techniques of Advertising' - students tick off the techniques mentioned.

4. Students view > compare their ideas in pairs > feedback & also elicit what they thought of the ads used.

5. Play a series of adverts & students identify the techniques used. Here are some amusing adverts:
Compare The Meerkat / Compare the Market:
John West Salmon Advert - Bear Fight:
Cadbury's Gorilla Advert:
You will find lots by doing a search on YouTube for 'creative adverts' or 'funny adverts'. Careful about suitability of content & language level.

6. Students then design their own adverts using the techniques discussed - this could be with a poster product.

7. Pin up the posters around the room & the students wander round discussing them & deciding on the top three.

8. Feedback on the posters.

Here are few more links to follow up & exploit:
Advertising Tip - Human Billboards:
Spoof ads:
The Good Consumer:
Lily Allen song 'The Fear':
Advertiser v Consumer:
Derren Brown - Subliminal Advertising:

Buy Nothing Day - Adbusters:
Wikipedia page about Buy Nothing Day:
International Buy Nothing Day:

Buy Nothing Day videos:
YouTube search for BND:

Black Friday 2008: Recession - people shopping!

Here are links to lots of lesson plans & ideas from past years to check out, all applicable now as they were when they came out:

BND lesson plan:
But Nothing Day 2008
BND 2006:
BND 2005:
BND 2004:
BND 2003:
BND 2002:
Buy Nothing Christmas - 'Happy holidays' Tip:

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