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Teaching Tips 66

Sounds intriguing
Scribbling away
May Day Transitions

Sounds Intriguing

While mulling over what to put in the Tip this week I was looking at 'Their Circular Life - An exploration About Human Behaviour' This is a site that shows 24 hours of life from a camera at five different Italian scenes. You are given a circular control to move through the 24 hours & each scene also comes with audio for the different sounds in the cycle. Lovely site, well worth checking out.

This then took me to a listening idea in 'Listening' by Goodith White (OUP) - an excellent book full of practical listening skill ideas. The activity is called 'Sounds of my Day' (no. 2.3) in which students are asked to make a sound diary of a typical day. This could be a short period such as the morning before going out. All bring their taped diaries to class & exchange them so that at home they listen & work out what is happening. In the next lesson they report their ideas to the original recorder to see if they were right. Alternatively in class they could swap tapes around in small groups to find any similarities & differences, with lots of speaking practice.

This then led me to a book I used to use a lot called 'Sounds Intriguing' by Maley & Duff (CUP) which contains a sequences of sounds on tape. The students have to figure out what's going on. For example Sequence 1 has the following sounds:

Water (lapping) - humming - water (gushing) pause -
humming - silence - water lapping - sudden shout

For each Sequence the teacher's book gives possible lines of questioning, suggestions for oral work, suggestions for writing, vocabulary & finally possible interpretations.

So what to do with sequences of sound? Here are a few aims:

  • For specific language practice:
    - To practise the language of present/past deduction - it could /must /might be.....
    - To practise the language of sequencing - first there's a man..., then he..., & after that he...
    - To practise the language of negotiation - dis/agreeing, giving opinions etc...
  • To give freer speaking practice.
  • To introduce lexical areas - the sounds & words connected to the sounds on the tape.
  • To provide content for a writing task - a story, a short script, a report, a letter - of explanation, apology..., a poem etc...
  • To provide content for speaking tasks - story & anecdote telling, reporting....
  • To introduce a topic.

You could ask the students to write a series down a series of sounds, swap them & work out a story that connects the different sounds. Or with what they have at hand, tape a series of sounds for use by others in the class.

If you don't have access to Sounds Intriguing, it is very easy to tape a sequence of sounds yourself. It's also a good idea to hand over the tape machine to the students for them to replay when necessary. An imaginative way of promoting speaking & writing. Try it out.

And then I was thinking about exploiting the 24 hour cycle from Their Circular Life in class..........


Listening (Resource Books for Teachers) Goodith White (OUP)

To buy this book at

To buy this book at

Sounds Intriguing Alan Maley, Alan Duff (CUP)

To buy this book at

To buy this book at


The 12th May is Limerick Day, the birthday of Edward Lear. Last year we had a Tip about limericks, 'There once was an English teacher..'.

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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 useable 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.


World Red Cross Day is May 8

Lots of info & texts to plan an interesting lesson, or two, around:

World Red Cross Day falls each year on the birthday of Henry Dunant, the Swiss citizen who founded the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in 1863. Since the time that Dunant first conceived of the idea of the Red Cross, the Movement has grown to become the largest international humanitarian aid organization in the world.

History of World Red Cross Day

International Committee of the Red Cross
From 12 June to 4 July, Europe's premier football championship being held in Portugal will be dedicated to one of the ICRC's most important campaigns. Four leading referees are acting as ambassadors for "Protect Children In War" which will focus on reuniting children with their families, assisting them in their physical and psychological recovery, meeting their basic needs and campaigning against the use of child soldiers.

I'd rather shoot a goal
"Protect children in war!" Outdoor campaign.

Protect Children in War

List of links to different countries' Red Cross sites
If teaching a monolingual group, choose a short extract for translation

American Red Cross site

British Red Cross

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May Day
Haymarket five

This week we have a brief look at transitions within a lesson plus a few links for May Day-related lessons.

A lesson may have several stages to it & there are transitions from one stage or activity to another. Some ways of making a transition could be:

  • Stopping the lesson & stating the aims of the next activity before proceeding.
  • Changing the direction so that the current stage simply flows into the next.
  • Students rearrange their seating, grouping & interactional positions.

The real difference is how obvious the change is. From a teacher's point of view we might think that the more seamless the transition the better. The more the lesson links & flows, the better.

However, this is not necessarily the case for students. Apparently, the more experienced teacher does, in fact, make transitions clear so that the students can see where they are & where they are going. Sometimes the flow can work so well that the students might miss the point of the stage i.e. the language introduction. The argument is that the clearer the transition, the clearer the student is going to be.

Do you agree? Any other ways of making transitions? Let us know what you think on the Forums.


Among the different topics you could choose to coincide with May Day are the following:

  • the addition of 10 new member states to the European Community on May 1st.
  • the celebration of Labour Day in most of the world, coinciding with the Haymarket tragedy.
  • the pagan origins of May Day
  • Morris dancing around the May Pole
  • Scott Fitzgerald's short story ' May Day'

Here are some links & excerpts that I have found:

Labor Day / May Day - The observation of Labor Day on the first Monday in September is usually attributed to the Knights of Labor who held their first parade on September 5, 1882. But far more important is the Haymarket Riot/Massacre of 1886. There are several interpretations of what occurred, and monuments have been constructed to both the demonstrators and the police. A reasonable summary is that the labor organizers were peacefully demonstrating for an eight hour day, an anarchist threw a bomb in to the crowd, which killed a policeman, the police killed several demonstrators and some policemen, the powers that be arrested the labor leaders.

The Haymarket Martyrs - The Martyrs' Monument by sculptor, Albert Weinert, takes its inspiration from "La Marseillaise", the national anthem of France. It was a favorite of Albert Parsons and he sang it in his cell just prior to his trip to the gallows. A laurel wreath is placed on the brow of the fallen hero, as the figure of Justice advances, resolutely toward the future.
The story of the Haymarket Martyrs, and their monument in Forest Home Cemetery, begins at a convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in 1884. The Federation (the predecessor to the American Federation of Labor) called for a great movement to win the 8-hour workday, which would climax on May 1, 1886.
The plan was to spend two years urging all American employers to adopt a standard 8-hour day, instead of the 10 to 12, even up to 16-hour days that were prevalent. After May 1 of 1886, all workers not yet on an 8-hour schedule, were to cease work in a nation-wide strike until their employer would meet the demand.

'Welcome to the party - and EU shells out 6m euros to prove it Brussels has laid on concerts and fireworks displays to celebrate the arrival of 10 new members.The European Union is not an organisation to do things by halves, particularly when it comes to a celebration. This time Europe will party like it's 1999. Or more precisely 1 May, 2004.',6903,1194306,00.html

'The Pagan Origins of May Day - Mayday was a rite of passage custom that marked an important seasonal transition in the year. Putting a maypole up involved taking a growing tree from the wood, and bringing it to the village to mark the oncoming season of the summer. Mayday used to be a period of great sexual licence. People would go off into the woods to collect their trees and green boughs, but once there, would enter into all sorts of temporary sexual liaisons which society did not normally accept.'

'What is Morris Dancing? - Morris dancing is a form of ritual folkdance which comes from the Cotswold region in western England, between Oxford and the Welsh border. It is ritual as opposed to social dance, that is, it is danced with purposes beyond fun, although it also fun.'

'"May Day," Fitzgerald's first great novelette--published during his first year as a professional writer--appeared in July 1920. Fitzgerald presumably sold it directly to Smart Set editors H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan without offering it to The Saturday Evening Post, or any other magazine, because the material was too strong or realistic for the slicks. "May Day" was the most successful work inspired by Fitzgerald's temporary interest in the school of naturalistic or deterministic fiction. Although it was read by the people Fitzgerald wanted to reach, The Smart Set paid him only $200 for this masterpiece.'
"May Day" drew upon Fitzgerald's feelings of failure during the spring of 1919 when he was working for a New York advertising agency. He provided this comment when the story was collected in Tales of the Jazz Age (1922): "This somewhat unpleasant tale, published as a novelette in the "Smart Set" in July, 1920, relates a series of events which took place in the spring of the previous year. Each of the three events made a great impression upon me. In life they were unrelated, except by the general hysteria of that spring which inaugurated the Age of Jazz, but in my story I have tried, unsuccessfully I fear, to weave them into a pattern---a pattern which would give the effect of those months in New York as they appeared to at least one member of what was then the younger generation." - to download the story

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