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Teaching Tips 194

Love Is In The Air
Year of the Snake

Valentine's Day

Love Is In The Air

As an addition to last week's Tip on the Chinese New Year, there's an interesting article for your business English classes at:

This reports a Hong Kong brokerage firm's predictions for financial success in this Year of the Snake.

For last week's Tip:


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

The Guardian ran an article on fourteen short articles on first dates - lots of interesting, useful reading, speaking & language material - choose the articles to suit.

- 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:
History Channel Valentine history:
Valentine's Day clip art:
Virtual chocolate site:
Cadbury's Chocolates site:
Hershey's site:
Exploring chocolate:

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year of the snake
Year of the Snake

It is the Chinese New Year on the 10th February, the start of the Year of the Snake.

'Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. In China, it is also known as the 'Spring Festival', the literal translation of the modern Chinese name. Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally ran from Chinese New Year's Day itself, the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month. The evening preceding Chinese New Year's Day is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, the Chinese New Year is often referred to as the "Lunar New Year".'

There is a lesson plan about the Chinese New Year on the site. First there is a lead in with a discussion about some fortune cookie sayings. Then there is a general article about the Chinese New Year, followed by an introduction to the Chinese calendar where students find out which animal represents their birth year. Then they read & discuss an interpretation of their animal characteristics.

Plan at:
Materials at:

Activity Village has lots of excellent materials for the younger learner:
Some nice Chinese zodiac posters, lots of adjectives to play with:
Stories from China:

The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

Many people have wondered over the years how it was that the rat, the smallest of all the creatures, was given the honour of having the first year of the Chinese Zodiac named after him. This is the story I have heard.

A very long time ago, the Jade Emperor, who ruled the heavens of China, sent a message to all the animals asking them to come together so that he could give each of them a year, which would make it easier for the people of China to keep track of time. The cat and the rat were good friends and decided to travel to meet the Jade Emperor together.

When it came time to leave, however, the cat was taking a nap. The rat, realising that he would have to use all his cunning to be noticed by the Jade Emperor, left his friend sleeping, and set off on his own. This is why there is no year named after the cat, and also why cats have hated rats ever since.

When the rat arrived, the Jade Emperor welcomed him and the other animals and told them that they should all take part in a swimming race. Once again, the rat realised that he would have to be very clever if he wanted to win the race. He found the largest, strongest animal, which was the ox, and pleaded with him to let him ride on its head. The ox was kind and strong, and agreed that they would swim across together. The rat travelled safely across the river on the ox's back, but, just before they reached the other side, climbed over the ox's head, jumped onto land, and reached the finish line first. The rat had proved its cunning, and the Jade Emperor named the first year after the rat and the second year after the ox.

Apart from a straightforward reading text, this might be suitable to cut up, every three lines, & logically order, use as a live listening or use as a dictation, a traditional one or a running dictation (see: Running around - ) - for both younger learners & adults.

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Last week I was teaching an upper intermediate group & we were on the theme of 'technology' & the term 'help desk' was coming up so I thought it would make a fun aside to use a short related video in class. 'Medieval helpdesk' is in Norwegian with English subtitles, & is a monk receiving help from a technician on how to use his first book, having used scrolls before this, all similar to getting help with a computer. Here's the link

It is funny, showing typical behaviour with new 'technology'. I thought the students would find it funny & although they did, I felt it was a bit of a flop. I was not expecting them to read the subtitles, which they would understand although they are a little too small to read, but I thought the visuals would be sufficient to get a positive response from them. It fell a little flat.

This kind of thing happens all the time & we learn from the experience & plan better next time. It is possible to use videos like this as very short asides to the lesson but they do have to be crystal clear for them to be of value. Viewing the video again I decided that next time this particular video needed more build up & exploitation. Here's what I plan to do next time:

1. Play the first part to establish it is the helpdesk & that a book is being explained.

2. Handout the text of the video - see below - but cut up every couple of lines or so. The students put the text in order, providing practice with the logical sequencing of discourse. Careful how you cut up the text, making sure that it is possible to order correctly - try it out on another teacher or yourself before giving it to the students.

3. The students view the video all the way through & check their script ordering as they go along, maybe stopping halfway for all to keep up with looking at the script, changing orders & viewing the video.

4. Get a response from the students - did they enjoy it, does it remind them of learning anything new etc...

5. Students in pairs practice the script, taking a role each. It might be worth having an open pair, across the class, first & correct pronunciation. Then as they practise in pairs get around & correct pronunciation. They could also read the English script along with the video with the sound turned down. Encourage them to continue the conversation any way they wish.

6. The students then think of a process that they can tell their partner, they act as in the video, one from the helpdesk & the other without any ideas on how it works. They might choose how to drive a car, start up a computer, how to use a cash machine etc... Afterwards choose a couple to act out in front of the class. take notes for feedback on language afterwards.

Clearly this will take much longer that originally planned but will hopefully be more successful & worthwhile. As with everything in class, especially a crammed exam course, it is a trade off between getting through things & veering off on tangents to provide extra interest & fun.

Here are the English subtitles:

BA = Brother Ansgar
HD = Helpdesk

HD: Hello? Are you Brother Ansgar?
BA: Ah, yes, hello.
HD: What's the matter?
BA: Well, it's this thing. Would you like to sit down?
HD: Thanks.
BA: I haven't been able to do anything the whole morning because of this.
HD: I see. Well, I'm sorry. We're introducing this new system and everybody wants help immediately. you can't use it?
BA: Right. It has just been laying here.
HD: Have you tried to open it?
BA: Open it? If it's that simple I wouldn't have called the helpdesk, would I? Would you like a cup of hot water?
HD: No thanks. This will be done quickly. Let me see. You do it like this. And now you've started.
BA: Yeah. I made it that far myself. But then it stopped because I was afraid some of the text would disappear. So I was afraid to go on.
HD: Ok. Well you see. In this thing there are saved several hundred pages of text. So to proceed you just grab one sheet of paper and turn it over like this.
BA: Aha! But if I want to go back?
HD: Then you just turn the page back by holding the paper here... And then you're back to where you were.
BA: Ok so it ends here... and then it continues here! That's great. But when I finish, what do I do then?
HD: Then you just fold the cover like this. Now it's closed and everything's saved inside it.
BA: So you're sure I won't lose any of the text?
HD: No, no. everything is safe, unless you set fire to the whole thing. Which isn't very likely.
BA: When you're used to paper rolls it takes some time to convert to turn the pages of a --beek.
HD: Book. But then everything's ok?
BA: Yeah, just one last thing. Let's run through it once before you leave. I open it like this. And then I... how do you say?
HD: Turn the page.
BA: I turn the page back and forth. And when I'm finished I just close it. Nice. Thank you.
HD: Great. Bye.
BA: Hey wait. I can't believe it... it's like this again. I can't open it. I can't open it.
HD: You're doing it with the wrong side up.
BA: What do you mean 'wrong'?
HD: You have to open it from the other side.
BA: So it does matter which way you open it?
HD: Yes, you have to open it from this side.
BA: I see.
HD: Have you read the manual?
BA: Manual?
HD: Yeah. It comes with this guide for users. Here it is.
BA: But this has the same problem. i can't seem to open it.
HD: Oh. We hadn't thought about that.

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