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Teaching Tips 130

Scribbling away
Tour de France
Thank You


Scribbling away

It is a fairly standard procedure to take a couple of notes when listening in to some freer speaking activity in class & then give the students feedback on a few areas that they had problems with. This could be through putting on the board three sentences said well & three that need correcting & getting the students to decide on the incorrect & sort them out & then you give them a pat on the back for the good utterances. Typically the errors would be things that when the see they can easily correct themselves.

Is this really enough though? What about those other stages in the lesson where the students were discussing different things: brainstorming, working out rules, comparing answers etc.. These activities are just as important & possibly more so if the class is not in an English-speaking country as the classroom might well be the only place they speak English, making the classroom language the most relevant language for their immediate needs. There's an awful lot of language that students need to function well in class which can continually be refined & developed, and then it is all usable in other contexts outside of class.

There's also the selective picking up of mistakes by the teacher that can be doubtful at times. We tend to become immune to certain mistakes if we teach a nationality for long enough, living in the students' country. Perhaps it might be best to take notes at regular intervals, when you are free to do so, of anything that was said & analyse it all later on at your leisure. This distancing allows you to time to think of alternatives that might be useful, rather than going with the first thing that comes into your head.

A notebook for each group is a good idea. You can see how the group & individuals are getting on by looking back through your notes. And this information can then be fed into future timetables & lesson plans as you really deal with their immediate needs. And then how do you organise your notes? - more on this in a future Tip.

From the students' point of view it also looks good to have the teacher taking notes on what they say. They feel that they are being noticed & the speaking they are doing monitored at all times, maximising the time available in class. Feedback & a relevant course are a couple of the main things they are paying for after all.

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Tour de France

The Tour de France, probably one of the most demanding sporting events, is on at the moment, 5th - 27th July, so it would be appropriate to look at it in class. For those who do not know much about it there is a reading that explains the different stages, jerseys & teams. Have a look at the BBC article:

Tour de France 2008

It's the biggest annual sporting event in the world and what's more it's free to watch. And it starts in Brest in Brittany, France on Saturday 5 July
But for most Britons, the Tour de France remains a mystery.
No longer. Here's a beginner's guide to cycling's showpiece.

A leisurely 3,500 km (or 2,175 mile) bike ride around France and neighbouring countries. That's roughly the distance from London to Cairo or Tel Aviv and an incredible 15m people line the route.

As many as 180 riders will set off from Brest to Plumelec in 20 teams, but many will have dropped out by the time the race finishes on the Champs Elysee in Paris on 27 July.

By then, the survivors will have taken part in 21 gruelling stages with only two rest days to nurse their aching limbs.

They will average a staggering 40km/h (25 mph) over the course, often riding much, much faster than that.

No. There are three different types of stage, all with its own particular challenges.

Flat: Most of the race takes place on "flat" roads. This doesn't mean they are without undulation (in fact, they often include climbs that would terrify a club cyclist). But they invariably feature most of the competitors riding together in a big "peloton" (or pack) for 200km (or 125 miles) and can end in one of two ways: with a breakaway victory by an individual or small group; or, typically with a hair-raising bunch sprint.

Neither of these scenarios have much of an impact on the overall standings of the race because breakaways are always chased down by the peloton if they contain serious contenders and bunch sprints result in all or most of the field being given the same time for a stage. But victory or a high place does generate small time bonuses, contributing towards other Tour awards and allowing riders to pay back their sponsors with much-desired TV time.

Individual time trial: Every man against the clock. These are shorter stages of around 50 km (as opposed to 150-250 km). But lots of time is won and lost as Tour challenges flourish or falter. The last-placed rider starts first, followed two minutes later by the next highest, and this carries on until the race leader starts. Many Tours also feature a team time trial, where the clock stops on the fifth of nine riders to cross the finish line. But this is not the case in 2008.

Mountain: Most Tours are won in the mountains. And mountains come in all shapes and sizes, with climbs rated four, three, two, one or "hors" category, the latter being the most steep. Climbing from sea level to 2,000m (sometimes more than once in a day), separates the men from the boys and one bad day can cost huge chunks of lost time. So real contenders have to be able to hang with specialist climbers going up and everyone must hang on for dear life on the way down. Hill-top finishes often break apart the field most because they leave no time for anyone to catch up lost time on a descent.

The biggest prize in cycling is a yellow jersey in Paris. This signifies overall victory in the Tour de France, an honour won seven times by Lance Armstrong and five by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. There are also smaller awards to be won, each denoted by a different coloured jersey to help spectators spot the category leaders.

Yellow: This is the jersey everyone wants. If you are in it, you are the overall race leader on aggregate time since the start of the Tour. It often changes backs a few times, particularly during the early flat stages of a Tour. But it normally finds its final resting place after a time trial or a gruelling hill-top finish in the Alps or Pyrenees. Tour champions are often good at climbing, sprinting and time trialling.

Green: The sprinter's prize goes to the most consistent stage finisher and is normally worn by one of the big powerhouses of the field. With a sliding scale of points available to the first finishers on any day, contenders for this jersey bunch at the front of the peloton for dangerous sprints on flat stages. They just try to survive the mountains.

Polka dot (red and white): Conversely, King of the Mountains contenders live for the climbs. They tend to be slimmer in build and bounce up slopes to pick up the points on offer to the first riders over every hill.

White: This goes to the best placed young (under-26) rider in the general classification.

Rainbow: This is not up for grabs in the Tour, but can be seen on the back of the World Road Race champion (if he's not wearing yellow, of course). Country champions also have the right to wear national instead of team colours.

In addition, there are three related awards available, one of them of dubious distinction:

Combativity: The cyclist who is deemed to have put in the bravest show on a stage wins the right to wear a white-on-red race number (as opposed to black-on-white).

Lanterne Rouge: This is the mocking moniker for the last-placed man in the overall classification, named after the red light shown on trains to mark the rearmost carriage. This man is often found towards the tail of the field, which is a risky spot. On any day, if a rider falls too far off the pace, he can be swept up by the "Broom wagon" and out of the Tour.

Team: There are 20 teams. After every stage, the times of the first three riders across the line from each team are added up and counted. The team with the lowest aggregate time in Paris wins the award.

You bet they do. The Tour de France is an individual event in the sense that every man pushes his own pedals to get around the course. But champions like Armstrong are quick to pay tribute to their support riders.

Team members who are not in the frame for major awards - or "domestiques" - do the donkey work that enables their leader to thrive, or sometimes simply to survive.

This may mean fetching and carrying water and supplies from the team car. It may mean providing a small slipstream (not permitted in an individual time trial) by spending a lot of time at the front of the peloton. Or it could even mean turning around and cycling back down a mountain to fetch a stricken colleague and pace him back into contention.

A contender stripped of all of his team-mates in a breakaway or a mountain climb is very vulnerable.

Just a bit. Many experts rate it the toughest of all major sporting events and participants burn up to 10,000 calories per day in their pursuit of glory.

Riding a Tour de France is out of reach for all but the elite, winning it is strictly for super humans (Indurain's heart was believed to be 50% bigger than average). And even riding a stage is far too much for some.

But for the determined club cyclist, training for and riding a Tour de France stage is the thing of sporting dreams.

Failing that though, simply watch "le grand" spectacle from your own living room. Or from the streets of France. And prepare to be amazed.

Clearly this is a text for the more advanced student, & it also quite long, so it may well need editing for particular groups, either by omitting bits &/or rewriting sections.

A nice lead in would be a ranking activity. Put a list of sports on the board & ask the students in small groups to rank them in order of challenge, difficulty, interest, popularity...Sports could include: cycling, football, triathlon, marathon, swimming, horse riding, tennis, golf, table tennis.
In the feedback veer the discussion on to cycling & then on to the Tour de France.

To begin, see how much your students know about the Tour. Put them into pairs or small groups to discuss. Then feedback & collate all the information.
You might supply them with the following lexis, all from the article:

cycling, bike ride, riding, club cyclists, riders, dropped out, survivors, rest days, course, stages, flat, climb, breakaway, peloton, sponsors, individual time trial, leader, team, mountain, steep, climbing, contenders, hill-top, winners' jerseys, yellow, category leader, green, polka dot, white, rainbow, combativity, lanterne rouge, 20 teams, times, aggregate, champions, support riders,donkey work, slipstream, pace, toughest, 10.000 calories, spectacle

They could refer to the vocab to make their discussions richer.
For the informed group, the reading could then be used to see if there is any more information in the text.
For the group that does not know much about the Tour, you could make it more manageable by setting up a jigsaw activity. Assign each heading to different small groups & together with a comprehension task, they read & get as much information as they can. Then a member for each group gets together to exchange information.

From the article above, here are two extra pieces of information. Students could read & look up any unknown words in a dictionary, & then explain to each other.

10: Fewest number of Tour finishers - in 1919
34: Most stage wins - by Eddy Merckx
41.654: Fastest race average in km/h - by Lance Armstrong in 2005 (above right)
118,000: Total calories burned by Tour finisher (equivalent to 26 Mars Bars per day)

Peloton: "Herd" or pack
Domestiques: "Servants" or team helpers
Grimpeur: Climber
Maillot Jaune: Yellow jersey
Voiture balai: Broom wagon - rounds up stragglers and boots them out of the race

A few links from many:
Tour official site:
Tour de France - Tour History:

Wikipedia Tour:
Live tracker of the Tour:
It would be nice for them to see the highlights of a day of the Tour in English. There are audio & video reports at:

As a side issue, you could move into sport & drugs, there's been quite a lot of controversy in the Tour in recent years about the use of drugs to enhance performance.

For the group that's interested in the Tour, you could follow it in class, discussing the stages since the last class, the next stages, & what might happen.

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Thank you






A shortish tip this week, all about saying 'thank you'.

We've already had a Tip called 'Thank You'. This was about a competition about writing & punctuating thank you letters. Do check it out as it can provide lots of fun practice.

At the end of courses it is customary for all concerned to thank each other, the teacher to the students, the students to the teacher &, not so common, the students to each other. Here are a few ideas for round off with a few thank yous:

- a nice drama task is for all to mingle, shake hands or give a kiss on the cheek & say thank you. All could then compliment each other as well about things they have noticed about them during the course, about something that happened during the course, or about something they are good at eg. grammar, listening skills etc...

- simply an oral thank you from you when rounding off the course.

- give each other presents. In the absence of real presents all could write on slips of paper the name of the present they would like to give that student. So all receive a present from their classmates & teacher. After looking at them they could then tell the class which
present they found the most imaginative, relevant etc..

- everyone swaps email addresses & sends thank you messages to all.

- set up a space online - a forum, a space on Moodle & all meet there after the course & you set up a thank you task.

- at the same time as the thank you, all could talk or write for everyone 'I hope you'll ......' based on what each student has disclosed on the course.

- in the same vein 'I really liked the way you......' on a slip of paper to each other.

It is an important part of rounding off a course & deserves a bit of attention & time. You want your students to go away feeling that it has been a very rewarding experience & one they would like to repeat.
Of course this is in no way intended to provoke your students to shower you with bottles of wine & boxes of chocolates - but if they want to.....(!).

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