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Teaching Tips 168

Compelling Valentine's Day
Year of the Rabbit
English as a lingua franca

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day

I recently received a copy of 'Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics' by Eric Roth, a Weekly Tip subscriber who thought the book might be useful to other subscribers. It consists of 45 sections, each a common classroom topic eg. Eating & Drinking, Talking about Movies & Crime & Punishment & each unit is made up of a series of discussion questions, a short vocabulary task, a few proverbs, more questions & a list of quotations. The book is suited to intermediate students & up, useful to have on hand to help in the lesson planning process. You can have a look inside the book at Amazon:
'Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics' by Eric Roth & Toni Aberson

As Valentine's Day is nearly here the material in the unit on Dating
would be useful to incorporate within the theme.
The slushy film 'Valentine's Day' is out & you can use a variety of scenes from the movie from this link:

The storyline from says:

'More than a dozen Angelenos navigate Valentine's Day from early morning until midnight. Three couples awake together, but each relationship will sputter; are any worth saving? A grade-school boy wants flowers for his first true love; two high school seniors plan first-time sex at noon; a TV sports reporter gets the assignment to find romance in LA; a star quarterback contemplates his future; two strangers meet on a plane; grandparents, together for years, face a crisis; and, an "I Hate Valentine's Day" dinner beckons the lonely and the lied to. Can Cupid finish his work by midnight?'

A nice task would be to play the different scenes & ask the students to match them with one of the scenarios & then discussions could be on how the scenarios develop.

No matter what kind of group & students you have there's an angle of Valentine's Day that you can use as a focus for a lesson or two to stimulate language use, develop skills & introduce & practice language. The angle you choose ranges from traditional romance through to the commercialisation of the Day. Here are a few ideas:

A Love Story lesson plan

Love & money are in the air Valentine's Day lesson plan
Chocolate lesson plan

- Students design a series of tips for lovers on Valentine's Day.

- Short mystery stories, with a touch of romance connected to Valentine's Day can be found at

- Check out videos on YouTube - e.g.:

- Debate on Valentine's Day - commercialism v romance.

- Who to send a Valentine's card to - personal/the famous.

- The above could be extended to students deciding what presents the famous people give each other, where they go to eat, what they eat, what they say to each other (reported speech) etc. Or the game 'Consequences' - name of famous woman (met) name of famous male (at) place ..(he said to her).. (& she said to him) . (& the consequence was) .- each piece of information is written on a paper which is folded over each time obscuring all that came before so that at the end when all is written it is unfolded & read out - lots of fun.

- Anti-Valentine's Day campaign - discuss reasons & plan a campaign > Buy Nothing Valentine's Day - what could you do without spending any money?.

- Romantic films - students make a list of the top ten romantic films e.g.. Love Story, Casablanca, An Affair To Remember, The Piano, Brief Encounter, DR Zhivago, Now Voyager, Four Weddings & A Funeral, Gone With The Wind, When Harry Met Sally ...

- Lexical set: like, fancy, love at first sight, chat up, ask out, go out with, get on well, fall/be in love, 'go steady', live together, get engaged, get married, have children, go off, split up, get divorced ..rather heterosexual so change to suit.

- Heart to Heart/Lonely Hearts ads, the more diverse the ads the better - first decide which sex is advertising for which sex in each - they could put a M-F code next to each ad & then compare ideas before general feedback - Then onto some scan reading; you ask a question e.g. who is looking for a red head & students quickly look & when found answer put hand in air & when half group got hands up ask one for the answer & locate for those that didn't find it. Could do this with about ten questions. Could then get them to see if any of the advertisers could be matched up or do the students like the sound of any of them - write their own ads or for others in the group.....

- Language of physical & character description could be related to Blind Dates which could be in the form of a letter describing self, where to meet, etc..

- Language of chatting up - could come from a tape of mini conversations & then pull out the different language being used >> practice with mini-roleplays. Useful & lots of fun for a youngish group. Nerd pickup lines:

- Speed dating - check out the Tip at:

- The BBC has some very good material on 'love':

- Language of invitations.....could combine with a What's On Guide to use for scan reading & the language of preferences before going onto invitation role-plays, maybe on the phone which then involves telephone language.

- Romeo & Juliet - resources:

- Roleplay about parental disapproval - Mum, Dad, brother & girl who is going out with older boy. Dad is dead against it, Mum too but is more delicate, brother sides with sister & girl determined to carry on seeing boyfriend - do battle!

- Roleplay - couple, with one forgetting VDay.

- Marriage: vocab - bride, groom, vows, reception etc.

- Discussions on: British v students country wedding traditions compare/civil v church weddings/sex before marriage/alternative weddings/gay weddings/debate: live together v marriage/4 Weddings & A Funeral - the reception speech is very exploitable & enjoyable for higher levels - could lead on to a writing task.

- Problem page - there are many ways to use these e.g.. give out problem & students write answers/ give half students problems & other half advice & they write the opposite & after the written problem is read out to see if it matches they read out new written advice/ match up half a dozen short letters with the advice given leading on to a discussion of whether the advice given was the appropriate & if not any better.. role-plays from these: writer with friend, couple with marriage guidance counselor. Advice language e.g..: It might be an idea to. Why don't you .?, etc.

- General reading on the current Valentine's Day - search in Google News for current stories.

- Hypothetical relationship situations - 2nd conditional practice - What would you do if ..all related to romance.

- The 'Couples' activity in 'Discussions That Work' by Penny Ur (CUP) works very well (well worth checking out if you haven't already!).

- Divorce - discussion on associated topics e.g.. stay together for sake of children v split up - Life after marriage / sex before marriage/life as a single person.

- Love poems: eg: Love's Philosophy - by Shelley:

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever,
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one another's being mingle;--
Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven,
If it disdain'd its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;--
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

This would lend itself to being cut up, every line or every two lines, & the students put into a logical order. A glossary of synonyms for the difficult old-fashioned words would be necessary. And then on to a comparison with the original & a discussion of the content. A follow up could be writing a few more pairs of nature-related lines.

- Love quotes - eg:
'I love you - those three words have my life in them.' by Alexandrea to Nicholas III
'The courses of true love never did run smooth.' by William Shakespeare
'There is only one happiness in life: to love and be loved.' by George Sand

- All You Need Is - a song, songs & more songs. For a huge list of romantic song lyrics:


Here's a text about the origins of Valentine's Day:

5th Century, Rome

Mid February was traditionally the time of the Lupercian festival, an ode to the God of fertility and a celebration of sensual pleasure, a time to meet and court a prospective mate. In AD 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagan festival. But he was clever to replace it with a similar celebration, although one deemed morally suitable. He needed a "lovers" saint to replace the pagan deity Lupercus.

The martyred Bishop Valentine was chosen as the patron saint of the new festival.

Saint Valentine had been beheaded for helping young lovers marry against the wishes of the mad emperor Claudius. Before execution, Valentine himself had fallen in love with his jailer's daughter. He signed his final note to her, "From Your Valentine", a phrase that has lasted through the centuries.

Pope Gelasius didn't get everything he wanted. The pagan festival died out, it is true, but he had further hoped people would emulate the lives of saints. Instead they latched onto the more romantic aspect of Saint Valentine's religious life. While not immediately as popular as the more passionate pagan festival, eventually the concept of celebrating true love became known as Valentine's Day.

Ideas on using this text:

- as a straightforward dictation task - read through first, students listen. Dictate each tone unit, repeating if the students want. Read again for all to check. Give out the text & students self-correct.

- elicit if anyone knows the origins of Valentine's Day. Then give out choices for students to discuss & choose possible stories. e.g. Valentine's Day comes from the romantic character in Shakespeare's play 'Much Ado About Valentine'.

- put key words on the board & students try to predict the story, then read to verify.

- cut up the text into the paragraphs & students put in order.

- give out the first two paragraphs cut up, line by line, & students order the text. Then use the third paragraph as a dictogloss activity - read the text at normal speed & students take notes - the stressed words. Then together they reconstruct the paragraph from their notes. It's not necessary for it to be the same as the text so long as it is a coherent paragraph that fits with the preceding two paragraphs. Then give out the last paragraph to read & see if their own paragraphs fit in.

- could follow up with the letter from Valentine to his lover before he was beheaded (!) - could be fun(!).

- discussion on any current festivals they would like to replace - with what?


Valentine's Day page at Wikipedia:'s_Day
Love at Wikipedia:
Lots of links from the Kids Domain:
History Channel Valentine history:
Valentine's Day clip art:
Yahooligans links page:
Virtual chocolate site:
Cadbury's Chocolates site:
Hershey's site:
Exploring chocolate:
How chocolate works:

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Year of the Rabbit

The Chinese New Year begins on Thursday with the Year of the Rabbit. If you were born in 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987 or 1999 then this is your year - the Year of the Rabbit.

There's a lesson plan on the site at:

The plan begins with some fortune cookie sayings & then goes on with a reading text about the origins & customs of the New Year. And to follow on there is another reading about the Chinese calendar & astrological signs. Lots of interesting integrated skills.


China is generally agreed to be the next superpower to lead the world. There is an interesting, albeit lengthy, about this in the Independent:

The China syndrome: Year of the rabbit
As another Chinese New Year dawns this week, Jonathan Fenby assesses the world's second-biggest economic power - and charts the risks ahead.


At the end of the article is a bullet point list of recent Chinese history which would make for a springboard into a discussion on China.

A greater leap forward

1949 Mao Zedong leads Communists to victory over the nationalists after the 20-year Chinese civil war.

1958 The "Great Leap Forward" economic plan is introduced by Chairman Mao, leading to an unsuccessful collectivised farming industry which causes the deaths by starvation of millions due to poor harvests. It is abandoned after two years.

1966 Mao's "Cultural Revolution" begins, bringing wide-reaching change to the country's social, political and economic environment.

1977 Mao's death leads to a political battle for the succession among the "gang of four". Each is arrested for crimes against the state, however, and the former leader is replaced by Deng Xiaoping a year later.

1978 Party leaders conclude Mao's centrally planned economy has failed and undertake a programme of gradual but fundamental reform.

1989 Demonstrations in Tiananmen Square lead to 200 civilian deaths. Sanctions are imposed amid international outcry.

2003 Current President, Hu Jintao, is chosen to lead China, replacing Jiang Zemin.

2010 China surpasses Japan to become the world's second largest economy, behind the US.


There are also lots of videos on the Chinese New Year on the net. Here's a short, straightforward informative video - US-based:

Also lots of info at Wikipedia:

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jigsaw people

English as a lingua

If you are teaching in a non-English speaking country, who are your students most likely to be speaking to in the future? It has been suggested that, at most, one in four English speakers are native speakers, so the chances of our students communicating with other non-native speakers is far higher.

Non-native speakers are much more tolerant of each other than the native speaker & they also understand each other better. This is due to the kind of English they use - known as English as an international language or English as a lingua franca. The study of this non-native English speech shows a less accurate model of English. For example, the 's' in the third person singular present tense is regularly omitted with no effect on the communication.

It has been suggested that we teachers should be taking this into account in our teaching. It would have implications in all aspects of our syllabus. By concentrating on this 'reduced' language we can then accelerate the learning process. The next time you are with non-natives speaking English to each other, listen in & see if you can hear some of these features.

It is argued that we might be doing our students a disservice by simplifying what we teach as, if they do sometimes need to communicate with the native speaker, then they will be at a disadvantage as they are not communicating in a generally accepted manner. This can be seen as a 'dumbing down'. Perhaps we shouldn't be making this decision, perhaps we should leave it to the student to decide which language to learn. And the language involved is not seen as finite but a base on which to build. So the learner doesn't simply stop when they reach a certain level, they should be encouraged to develop as far as they can. This type of English is the starting point.

Maybe we will soon find coursebooks focusing on the non-native speaker communication, just as they are now more mother tongue specific.

To investigate this area, check out Jennifer Jenkins' books:

English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity - Jennifer Jenkins (OUP)

World Englishes: A Resource Book for Students - Jennifer Jenkins (Routledge)

The Phonology of English as an International Language: New Models, New Norms, New Goals - Jennifer Jenkins (OUP)

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