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Teaching Tips 76

Best Websites
Keeping them busy
The spirit of Christmas?

Best Websites

The Weekly Teaching Tip this week is internet-based. have chosen ten websites in ten different categories as 2004 best website winners. Here they are:

The Yahoo! finds of the year 2004 winners

Weird and Wonderful: Ugliest Cars in Britain

Educational: Your Amazing Brain

Community: Timebank

Pets and Animals:

Soapbox: Eggbaconchipsandbeans

Celebrity: Bill Bailey

Hidden Gems: Derelict London

Innovative: Turning the pages

Entertainment: Weebl's Stuff

Travel: World Wide Panorama

(On last visiting the above sites, due to being on the Yahoo list one of them had exceeded their bandwidth i.e. it wasn't available. If this is still the case, go back later on.)

Yahoo is asking the visitor to vote on one overall winner. This is lovely material for our students, assuming that they have access to the internet either inside the class or at home/work.

There is an article from the Guardian below about the awards which could be used as a reading with intermediate & up, or with the lower group you could paraphrase the content & give some listening skills practice.

The main idea is that the students visit the sites, take notes on each using the simple website fact finding sheet below (change to suit) & then come together to discuss the pros & cons of each site, why they might have won in their particular category & why they might or might not win overall.

To begin, elicit the students' most visited websites & then their favourite websites, drawing out what makes them different from the rest. You might want to collectively collate a list of things that make up a 'good' website - possibly do a bit of research on this beforehand on the net. Then on to the article & theme of the web visiting. Don't forget to tell them the purpose of the website viewing before they begin.

If they do the task in class, get them into pairs/threes in front of each monitor to encourage discussion. If homework, they could do some predictive work beforehand in class - what do they expect the sites will be like etc..

While they do the task, be insistent that they fill in the a task sheet for each site, as this will make the discussions much more productive. After discussing & debating the different sites, the students then vote on the best site. They could also vote on the Yahoo site, they have until the 17th January. Then, when the results are published on Yahoo, you return to this & compare the class & the site results.

It would work either in class or students gathering their information for homework, but the former would provoke much more interesting talk as they would be discussing the sites whilst viewing them. Lots of speaking practice all round.

At each of the different stages there are opportunities for lots of language reviews or introductions so they can carry out the tasks as effectively as possible, as well as developing their skills.

Website fact finding sheet

While viewing the websites, take notes on each under the following headings:

Name of site:







You could make the last four sections into a 1-10 scale, although when they come to compare, it might end up limiting the discussions to numbers rather than opinions!,12597,1385153,00.html

Pick of the web, from brains to badgers

Bobbie Johnson - Friday January 7, 2005 - The Guardian

At first glance, the combination of Leonardo da Vinci, sign language and dancing badgers may seem like the plot of a Dan Brown novel gone awry. But they now have a lot more in common, thanks to the internet search engine Yahoo!, which yesterday announced its pick of the year's best websites.

The company's picks for 2004 include an online tour of London's abandoned buildings, a gorilla who can speak sign language and the site of the surreal comedian Bill Bailey, with a section on his beard.

A panel of judges sifted through hundreds of nominees to come up with 10 finalists. Salim Mitha, director of Yahoo Search UK and Europe, said the range of winners showed the internet was continuing to grow. "It's about identifying the original things that you can find: sites that not everyone knows about, but should."

The victor in the entertainment category was, featuring cult animations of eggs, pies and badgers by Jonti Picking. Since starting his site five years ago, Mr Picking has landed lucrative advertising work. "It's nice to be recognised every now and again - I never imagined I'd win anything."

Other winners include Your Amazing Brain, which offers games to demonstrate the capabilities of the mind, and Timebank, which provides volunteering opportunities. Ugliest Cars in Britain showcases vehicles such as the Citroen 2CV, "modelled on a boating accident that occurred in Cherbourg in 1923".

On Russell Davies's site,, he says all he wants is for other people to join him in taking photos of traditional cafes.

"Most of the books on classic cafes focus on London, but there are great places in Aberystwyth, Uttoxeter and Cromer. It would be great if other people could join in and say, 'There's this great place in Macclesfield ... '"

The animator Joel Veitch, who won a contract with Channel 4 after getting a Yahoo award for two years ago, said the prize was well worth having.

"It's certainly better than a lot of the industry awards that take themselves too seriously.

"One of the best things, career-wise, is being able to have people call you 'our award-winning director'."

Mr Davies said he would like the chance to turn his obsession with cafes into something more tangible, but his heart was still set on sharing his hobby on the internet.

"If someone offered me a book deal obviously I'd bite their hands of, but I'd like to do something about the places with funny day-glo stars and idiosyncratic spelling."

Web users have until January 17 to vote for their favourite site of the 10.

Previous winners include Eddie Izzard and Aardman Animations, the Oscar-winning animation studio behind Wallace and Gromit.

As with a lot of the Tips, we hope that this gives ideas that can be used & extended with other materials. The amount of material on the net is enormous & if you & your students are lucky enough to have access, it is a waste not to exploit it.

You may have noticed the mentions we have made to the online course hosting using a programme called Moodle. This activity is really easy to set up & carry out with Moodle. For more information:

For a very comprehensive site about web quests, among quite a few, is:

Keeping them busy

The length of the Christmas holidays varies from country to country but inevitably there is a break in the course & for a lot of students the exposure to English can drop to nothing. So how can we encourage our students to keep studying during the break? A couple of ideas:

From the course & coursebook:

  • give out a progress test to be done over the break.
  • ask the students to write a progress test, in preparation for the first lessons back, each other exchanging their tests. Give them ideas on the type of questions they should use & the units they need to cover.
  • ask students to identify five areas they would like to review again. Check that they are reasonable choices & then point them to materials to help them in their review - grammar books, workbook...
  • ask the students to preview the next three units in the coursebook, noting down the interesting topics, the uninteresting ones, the new language areas & the areas they feel OK on etc.. This then prepares for the negotiation of the next term's work.
  • ask the students to keep a learner diary over the holiday. The write about the work they have done, the problems they had & anything else - all in English. If they don't mind you seeing them, take them in at the beginning of term to comment & direct.


  • ask the students to find two English newspaper articles that they think the class would find interesting. They write some comprehension questions & look up five unknown words from the article in the dictionary. They bring these to class & you can use them at regular intervals in class. Helps you out with your planning & preparation time!
  • the same could be done with a song & the lyrics.
  • ask the students to prepare some questions about national & international happenings in 2004. They bring their questions along for a 2004 quiz at the beginning of next term. If they have access to the internet at home all the better.
  • if they are going to the cinema over the holidays, ask them to write a review of each film they see. You could even all meet to go to the cinema! They bring in their reviews, read each others, discuss whether they dis/agree with the reviews & they vote on the most popular films etc..
  • exchange email addresses so all can keep in touch. You could also set a task, assign email buddies etc...
  • you could post in our Student Contacts Forum for email pals for your students.
  • if you have the times of specific films, radio programmes in English... encourage all to listen or view & complete a follow up written task.
  • if you & your students are in an English speaking country, there are lots of mini-project possibilities, especially with regard to how Xmas is celebrated & comparisons to their own countries etc...

The ideas supplement the normal homework tasks that you might give & as they can be interesting, they are also motivating. Whatever you ask them to do, try to be enthusiastic about it yourself, & if you have time, include yourself in the tasks. Anything that is going to maintain continuity to their learning & encourage autonomy has got to be a good thing.

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Xmas present
The spirit of Christmas?

Christmas is nearly upon us & time for the festive Xmas lessons. On the site you can find activities & plans:

Xmas lesson plan

Xmas activities 1

Xmas activities 2

Beat the Cheats & some Xmas links

Lesson ideas

Do you remember Buy Nothing Day a couple of weeks ago? Well now's the time for Buy Nothing Christmas & the website & material for lessons can be found at:

Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace & goodwill & the theme does make for interesting discussions in class. Below there is a questionnaire about generosity & the Xmas season. The idea is that the students do the questionnaire & then they formulate the results in pairs by allocating the scores (1-3) for each question. They then write up a short profile for three bands of scores & then score each others & give out the appropriate profile.

Have you got the spirit of Christmas?

1. A colleague tells you that by working late on Christmas Eve you could let her get away to visit her disabled mother in another town. She has a reputation for being a bit of a shirker & you have no means of checking her story. Do you:

a. Agree to do so because she might just be telling the truth?
b. Agree because you haven't got the nerve to refuse her?
c. Tell her you're sorry but you too have an urgent appointment?

2. Your neighbour is a bad-tempered bore, who lives on his own & has no relatives. Do you:

a. Invite him round for Christmas dinner?
b. Invite him round for a quick drink?
c. Ignore him & tell yourself you're a hypocrite if you do otherwise?

3. Carol singers arrive at your front door. Do you:

a. Open the door & stand there wearing a Yuletide smile?
b. Appear just before they leave & give them too much money to salve your conscience?
c. Switch the lights off when you hear them coming & pretend to be out?

4. As a business Christmas present you receive a really good bottle of brandy. Do you:

a. Share it with your colleagues?
b. Tell yourself they would appreciate it & buy them a drink to make yourself feel better?
c. Pass it on as a Christmas present to an influential business acquaintance?

5. Every year you set aside a sum for Christmas charities. Is it:

a. Big enough to make you sacrifice something you really want?
b. Big enough to cut the value of your presents to others?
c. A token gesture?

6. The shops have closed on Christmas Eve & your partner realises s/he hasn't bought you anything. Do you:

a. Make a joke of it - & mean it?
b. Extract the maximum amount from her/his discomfort?
c. Fly off the handle?

7. Do you go to church at Christmas because...

a. You're a regular churchgoer anyway?
b. You're not normally a churchgoer but you feel the occasion demands some gesture of spiritual gratitude?
c. It's the done thing?

8. To which of the following can you truthfully answer yes?

a. Have you ever had an underprivileged child to stay at Christmas?
b. Thought about it but somehow never got round to it?
c. Never had it occur to you?

9. Christmas cards. When it comes to deciding who's on the list, do you:

a. Send them to all of your friends regardless of whether you received any cards from them last year?
b. Strike out anyone who didn't send you a card last year?
c. Tell yourself that the whole thing is an absurd custom & send none at all?

10. Late on Christmas Eve there's a knock at the door. A dishevelled couple stand there. They're quite respectable looking, but obviously very poor, & the girl is heavily pregnant. They tell you that they can find nowhere to stay & ask if you can put them up for the night. They'll pay what they can. Do you:

a. Invite them in, give them something to eat & make room for them somehow?
b. Invite them in for a cup of tea while you phone the local social services for them?
c. Say sorry, there's no room, you can't help them, & gently, firmly close the door?

Compare your answers with another student & work out what the scores should be - 1 = the best answer & 3 = the worst answer. Then write up three profiles of the scores;

for people who get 1-10
You are the sort of person...

for people who get 10-20
You are the sort of person who...

for people who get 20-30
you are the sort of person...

Xmas trees

A possible procedure:

1. Put 'The spirit of Christmas' on the board & elicit what it is. Brainstorm all related vocabulary. You might need to pre-teach some of the language in the questionnaire here - a shirker, a carol singer, a token gesture, to fly off the handle,

2. Give out the questionnaires & students do them individually.

3. Pair students up & they compare answers.

4. The pairs then give each questions a score, deciding which answer should get 3 points - the answer that fits the spirit of Christmas, 2 points for the next & 1 point for the least generous/appropriate answer. This should provoke an interesting discussion. You might want to think about the language needed here & briefly introduce a few exponents beforehand.

5. The pairs then write up the three profiles - see the end of the material above. Encourage the students to produce a paragraph or two.

6. Pairs then swap questionnaires & they score each others' & then hand over the profile they have written that matches the score.

7. A general class discussion about the spirit of Christmas could then take place.

If the questions in the questionnaire might be a bit difficult for your students to relate to then change them to suit. The questions are actually taken for an ancient magazine questionnaire & I have no idea where it came from.

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