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Teaching Tips 63

From Your Valentine


It only comes once every four years so it's worth a lesson based around it. It's Leap Year & the extra day is on 29th of this month.

If you'd like to work out if a year is a leap year or not, or find leap years between certain dates, click here for a quick calculation.

Here are a few ideas for a lesson:

1. Begin with the problem to introduce the theme of 'Leap Years' - on the board - pairwork >> feedback - anyone have a birthday on 29th Feb? Know anyone? What do they do about birthdays - would you do?

If Ben was born in 1960, but has only had 10 birthdays on his birth day, how could he be 44 in the year 2004?

2. Elicit how we work out if a year is a leap year or not. Put the following headings on the board & students discuss what the article might say about them.

Which years are leap years?
Why are leap years needed?

Is there a perfect calendar?

3. Students either read quickly for the general idea - to see if their ideas come up in the article, or read in detail to discover the answers to the questions - give appropriate time limits for each approach. As it is a dense text, maybe the latter might be more appropriate. Or you could give a series of years & the students have to work out which are leap years from the information about the calculations in the text. Students compare ideas, help each other out >> feedback.


What is a leap year?
A leap year is a year with one extra day inserted into February, the leap year is 366 days with 29 days in February as opposed to the normal 28 days. (There are a few past exceptions to this)

Which years are leap years?
In the Gregorian calendar, which is the calendar used by most modern countries, the following rules decides which years are leap years:
Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year.
But every year divisible by 100 is NOT a leap year
Unless the year is also divisible by 400, then it is still a leap year.
This means that year 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500 are NOT leap years, while year 2000 and 2400 are leap years.
This actually means year 2000 is kind of special, as it is the first time the third rule is used in many parts of the world.

In the old Julian Calendar, there was only one rule: Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year. This calendar was used before the Gregorian calendar was adopted.

Why are leap years needed?

Short answer:
Leap years are needed so that the calendar is in alignment with the earth's motion around the sun.

Long answer:
The mean time between two successive vernal equinoxes is called a tropical year, and it is about 365.2422 days long. This means that it takes 365.2422 days for the earth to make one revolution around the sun (the time is takes to orbit the sun).

Using a calendar with 365 days would result in an error of 0.2422 days or almost 6 hours per year. After 100 years, this calendar would be more than 24 days ahead of the seasons (tropical year), which is not a desirable situation. It is desirable to align the calendar with the seasons, and make the difference as small as possible.

By adding leap years approximately every 4th year, this difference between the calendar and the seasons can be reduced significantly, and the calendar will follow the seasons much more closely than without leap years.

(One day is here used in the sense of "mean solar day", which is the mean time between two transits of the sun across the meridian of the observer.)

Is there a perfect calendar?
None of the calendars used today are perfect, they go wrong by seconds, minutes, hours or days every year. To make a calendar even better, new leap year rules have to be introduced, complicating the calculation of the calendar even more. The currently used Gregorian calendar may need some modification a few thousand years ahead. A tropical year is approximately 365.242199 days, but it varies from year to year, because of influence by the other planets.

Name of calendar
Average year
error introduced
Gregorian calendar
AD 1582
365.2425 days
27 secs (1 day every 3236 years)
Julian calendar
45 BC
365.25 days
11 mins (1 day every 128 years)
365-day calendar
365 days
6 hours (1 day every 4 years)
Lunar calendar
12-13 moon-months

A calendar like the Julian Calendar (with every 4th year as a leap year) was first introduced by king Ptolemy III, Egypt in 238 BC.
In ancient times, it was very usual to have lunar (moon) calendars, with 12 and/or 13 months every year. To align the calendar with the seasons the 13th month was inserted as a "leap month" every 2-3 years.

Note: Many other calendars have been and are still used throughout the world.

(With permission from )

4. Elicit any leap year traditions the students may know about. The following reading could be cut up into paragraphs, handed out & the students put it into a logical order >> feedback discussing why the order chosen. Then on to further comprehension if needed - for lower levels. Then on to a discussion of the content - any similarities in students' countries.

2004 is a Leap Year!

Leap Year was the traditional time that women could propose marriage. In many of today's cultures, it is ok for a woman to propose marriage to a man. Society doesn't look down on such women. However, that hasn't always been the case. When the rules of courtship were stricter, women were only allowed to pop the question on one day every four years. That day was February 29th.

It is believed this tradition was started in 5th century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose. So, according to legend, St. Patrick said the yearning females could propose on this one day in February during the Leap Year.

According to English law, February 29th was ignored and had no legal status. Folks assumed that traditions would also have no status on that day. It was also reasoned that since the leap year day existed to fix a problem in the calendar, it could also be used to fix an old and unjust custom that only let men propose marriage.

The first documentation of this practice dates back to 1288, when Scotland passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage to the man of their choice in that year. They also made it law that any man who declined a proposal in a Leap Year must pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

In the United States, some people have referred to this date as Sadie Hawkins Day, with women being given the right to run after unmarried men to propose. Sadie Hawkins was a female character in the Al Capp cartoon strip "Li'l Abner." Many communities celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day in November.

There is a Greek superstition that claims couples have bad luck if they marry during a leap year. Apparently one in five engaged couples in Greece will avoid planning their wedding during a leap year.

(With permission from )

5. A follow up might be a roleplay with a Greek couple - see the roles below:
a. you would like to get married with b. but it is leap year & you are quite superstitious & feel it would be bad luck to get married this year.
b. you thought you were going to get married with a. this year but now s/he has decided to wait until next year, saying it is bad luck to get married in a leap year. You think it is rubbish & an excuse as you feel a. might be having second thoughts. Have it out with him/her!

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This week's Tip is a continuation of the Tip 'More that meets the eye' which looked at using pictures & the spot the difference activity as a way of practising contrastive stress. Here are a few more ideas:

1. Roleplay - checking information:
A: you are checking the details on a form :
name: Mrs Jane Benders
address: 23 London Lane, Cardiff, Wales
Phone number: 914627289
E-mail address:

B: you are Mrs Paula Wenders & you live at 22 London Road, Glasgow in Scotland. Your phone number is 914727388 & your e-mail address is

2. Match the sentence with the continuation

He went to the cinema with Ben, ....
He went to the theatre with Ben, ....
He went to the cinema with Josh, ...

not the cinema.
not with Ben
not with Josh.

3. Work out the question to the given sentences.

He saw Josh there last week. (Who/When/Where ...)
Ben played the piece a bit fast. (How/Who/What ...)

4. After a listening task, find examples of contrastive stress, highlight them & stds read aloud.

5. Correct the teacher - as an on-going 'game' with the group, after have looked at contrastive stress, occassionally throw out a wrong observation/fact about the students etc - & the group picks you up & correct. Works well with teenagers.

6. Contradict me - from 'Pronunciation Games' - Mark Hancock (CUP) - one student reads out a card with a false general knowledge fact & partner corrects with correct stress eg. A: Madrid is the capital of France. B: Don't you mean that Madrid is the capital of Spain. If OK, responder keeps the card & the winner is the one to collect the most number of cards.

7. Drama integration - give out one part to each student of matching parts of dialogues, each pair of lines containing a contrast/correction. They memorise their line & then just saying them they find their partners & then work out the scene, practise acting it out & then act it out in front of the class. Example two-line dialogues: That's my beer you're drinking. No,
it's my beer.

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From Your Valentine
Valentine's Day



Valentine's Day is on the 14th so this week's Tip brings together some ideas & links to help you out with those Valentine's lessons.

From a past newsletter, here are some ideas on romance:

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

- Debate on V day - commercialism v romance.

- Who to send a V card to - personal/the famous.

- The above could be extended to stds 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 fam. woman (met) name of fam. 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.

- Romantic films - stds 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, 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 & stds 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 stds 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.

- 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 .

- Role-play 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!

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

- Discussions on: British v stds 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 & stds write answers/ give half stds 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 counsellor. Advice language e.g..: It might be an idea to. Why don't you .?, etc.

-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 .

- All You Need Is .a song - songs & more songs.

Ideas above from the Feb 2000 Newsletter


Other ideas on the site:

A Love Story lesson plan

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

Chocolate lesson plan


Here's a text about the origins of Valentine's Day, from - Valentine cakes & recipe on the site


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, stds 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 VDay. Then give out choices for students to discuss & choose possible stories. e.g. Valentine's Day comes from the romantic character in Shakespear's play 'Much Ado About Valentine' ...
  • put key words on the board & students try to predict the story.
  • 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 preceeding 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?

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