Sunday, March 30, 2014

Celebrity Game Night

Here are some games to review vocabulary and practise speaking.

1. Celebrity Fusion  

A picture is shown which is a combination of pictures of two celebrities who have the same first name. The first team to name the two celebrities wins a point. 

Adaptations for the classroom

 •    As you probably won’t be able to construct a combined picture, just show two separate pictures. That’s still challenging enough for most students.

•    The similarity doesn’t have to be in the name. Show pictures of Orlando Bloom and Shakira, and students have to guess that they were both born in 1977.

•    The pictures don’t have to be celebrities. Show a picture of an apple and an orange, and students have to say they’re both types of fruit.

•    Find suitable pictures and either print them or make a slideshow to display on the IWB.

 2. Pantomime 

Each team is given a category such as “Greek comedies 1950 – 1960” or “Best Pictures at the Oscars”. The first team member is then shown a card with a name – in this example, the title of a Greek comedy – and has to mime the title. Team-mates have to guess the title, and the person who guesses each one takes the next turn. If they’re unable to guess, they can pass. Teams score one point for each title they’re able to guess within 90 seconds. When the first team finishes, the second team plays. 
Adaptations for the classroom 

•    Choose topics that students will be able to name in English; “Best Pictures at the Oscars” is a good topic, while “Greek comedies 1950 – 1960” obviously isn’t. 

•    Consider allowing more time, as 90 seconds probably isn’t enough for all the members of a team to get a turn. 


•    Having decided on the topics for each round, you need to make cards showing the specific title that each student has to mime.

•    Make sure you have a large clock or stopwatch

3. Smash the Buzzer


All players from both teams participate at the same time. The presenter specifies a category, and then lists items that might belong in that category.  Most of the items don’t belong, but when the presenter names an item that actually does belong in the category, the first player to hit the buzzer gets two points and the right to eliminate an opponent. If wrong, they are eliminated, and the opponent gets the points. The game continues until all the members of one team are eliminated. In this example, the category is “American Musicals”. 

Adaptations for the classroom 

•    Choose topics that students will be able to name in English; “American Musicals”, “wind instruments” or “card games” are all possible topics for advanced classes, but may be too difficult. “Islands of the Cyclades” is a good topic for intermediate level, as it familiarizes students with the English versions of the names of some Greek islands. For lower level classes, topics can be any sets of vocabulary items they have learnt, such as “fruit” or “means of transport”. 

•    To provide more focused practice, particularly for lower levels, list words that do belong in the category, and have students buzz when they hear a word that doesn’t fit. 


•    The only preparation needed is to decide on the topics, and the list of words for each topic.

•    Unless your classroom is equipped with buzzers, think of an alternative.

4. Celebrity Name Game


One player is shown the names of a series of celebrities and gives clues to one team-mate so (s)he can guess who it is. Each time the team-mate guesses correctly who is being described, the team wins a point and they move on to the next celebrity. They do as many as possible in 90 seconds. 

Adaptations for the classroom 

•    In the original design of the game, only one student gets speaking practice, and only one student guesses, so instead get all the members of both teams involved in the guessing. Whoever guesses a word describes the next word.

•    This game can be used for any type of vocabulary items. Use it to review the words that students learnt in the previous lesson. 


•    All you need is a list of words. These can be flashed up on the IWB or printed on slips of paper.

 Peter Beech -

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Madness of Multiple Choice

“Rather than encouraging children to think for themselves and elaborate an answer, multiple choice simply proposes two or three answers that the child must then choose between. This means, of course, that children learn that there is a ‘right answer’ that someone else knows, and that their own constructions are discouraged. The key to success is figuring out what someone else wants to hear, rather than attempting an authentic solution oneself.” 

Darian Leader, What is Madness?, pages 4 – 5

 Multiple choice questions are widely used in exams to increase reliability. As long as the items are written carefully, judging the answers as correct or incorrect is purely objective, unlike the grading of essays, which tends to be highly subjective. This format also facilitates marking, which can be done by computer. However, reliability is achieved at the expense of validity, as the scores achieved on multiple choice tests often have little correlation with the abilities of the students.

Multiple choice questions also have an insidious effect on teaching enquiring young minds. Too often, the types of activities we use in the classroom are determined by the format of the exams for which our students are preparing. The washback effect isn’t always entirely negative, and of course students should be familiar with the demands of the tasks before they take high-stakes exams. But testing students doesn’t teach them – “ just weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it”.

The multiple choice format is the prime example of testing techniques which we should avoid in our teaching. As Leader points out, multiple choice questions discourage children from thinking for themselves, whereas it should be our primary goal as educators to encourage independent critical thinking. 

The idea that every question has a ready-made answer is symptomatic of the industrialization of education. In fact “multiple choice” is actually about restricting choice, paralleling Henry Ford’s declaration that "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black." True or False questions impose a black or white framework, denying the existence of the fifty shades of grey in between.

Our aim as language teachers is to promote communication, and asking good questions is an important part of this. In classroom interaction, closed questions may sometimes be useful for eliciting short, focused responses, but open questions will be more successful in stimulating our learners’ language production. Display questions like “What is the past simple of ‘go’?” may be used to check knowledge but referential questions like “Where did you go after school yesterday?” can do so equally effectively while also developing our learners’ communicative competence.

 Peter Beech -

Friday, March 21, 2014

Elementary speaking and listening activity

This is another activity designed to integrate speaking with listening. Although most listening comprehension activities used in the language classroom are based on recordings, most of the listening we do in real life is in face-to-face interaction which combines listening with speaking.
This activity was used in a fifty-minute lesson taught by a trainee teacher in her first meeting with an elementary level class of eight children aged nine to ten. 

In comparison with the intermediate level lesson, this one was much simpler. Instead of an extensive listening passage, students were presented with a series of PowerPoint slides, each showing one short statement about the teacher accompanied by a picture.

The statements introduced the new teacher using simple vocabulary which students had already met in previous lessons.

At this stage of the lesson, which provided the model for the main activity, students were able to read the statements as well as listening to them. 

The students’ task was to guess which of the statements were true and which were false. This ensured that the children were engaged in understanding and responding to the statements.

In order to help them guess, some of the statements were obviously false. An alternative would be to present all the true facts first, then ask students to remember rather than just guessing.

The ten statements were also written on large cards which remained on display for students to use as a model when creating their own sentences.

As the teacher showed each slide, two teams of students took it in turns to guess whether the sentence was true or false, and won a point for each correct guess.

Presenting the activity as a competition enhances students’ interest and motivation, while working in teams of four also reduces the pressure on individuals who lack confidence.

After the presentation by the teacher, students were told to write similar statements about themselves, some of which should be false. They were given time to prepare these so each person in turn would be able to speak confidently and without hesitation.

As the learners had the model sentences to refer to, they were easily able to create similar sentences about themselves. The number of sentences can be varied according to the time available, the number of students in the class, and their level of ability.

In this class, the students already knew each other quite well, but they were still able to come up with some statements that their classmates were unsure about.

This activity would work particularly well at the beginning of the year with a new class in which the learners haven’t yet got to know each other. It’s much more interesting to talk about themselves and each other than some fictional characters in their coursebooks.

 Peter Beech -

Friday, March 14, 2014

Free flights offer


We are offering free flights from London to Athens for the April 28 - May 23 TEFL course in Corinth. The offer is valid for enrollments made by 31 March and must be claimed at the time of enrolling. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

If it's not rough, it isn't fun

Many teachers, particularly in the first years of our career, rely heavily on coursebooks in the belief that these provide a useful and accurate guide to the language that our learners need. Coursebooks bring many undisputed benefits to the language classroom, and most of their drawbacks can be overcome by judicious adaptation and supplementation, as we have discussed in these previous articles.

However, one of the more intractable problems is that the language in coursebooks is often inauthentic. In order to avoid commercial risks, publishers tend to present the same language areas in the same ways, so that different coursebooks often have an astonishing degree of similarly in their content.  This also means that we tend to be presented with an overly simplified view of language, focusing purely on form while ignoring the ways that language is actually used in context.

One example is the way short answers such as “No, it isn’t” are presented with no reference to their function or pragmatic effect, which “could often, in conversational settings, result in learners coming across as brusque, if not downright rude” (Stranks 2003: 332). Stranks provides some interesting ideas for activities to teach these structures in more appropriate ways in this article.

Instead of teaching what’s useful, we teach what’s easy, in the same way that the drunk looking for his lost keys searches where there’s plenty of light while knowing that’s not where he dropped them.  

A striking example of this selectivity is that coursebooks always present the contracted form “it isn’t” rather than “it’s not”, even though both alternatives are commonly used, often by the same speaker and even in the same sentence: 

Just because it isn't happening here, doesn't mean it's not happening 1

Yaeger-Dror (2002), in an article available here, provides an interesting corpus-based survey of the factors that seem to influence the frequency of use of each form in various contexts. While this detailed sociolinguistic analysis may be of little direct relevance to our classroom practice, it clearly establishes the point that both forms are used with great frequency. 

Our aim as language teachers is to enable our learners to communicate effectively. The authors and publishers of coursebooks, and the teachers who use them, have a responsibility to look at how language is actually used in the real world and bring that language into the classroom.

Everything will be OK in the end. If it's not OK, it isn't the end.


Stranks, J. Materials for the Teaching of Grammar in Tomlinson, B. (Ed.). 2003. Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum

Yaeger-Dror, M. It’s not or isn’t it? Using large corpora to determine the influences on contraction strategies. Language Variation and Change, 14 (2002), 79–118.

 Peter Beech -

Authentic speaking and listening activity

This is a great activity as it integrates speaking with an authentic listening task, which is excellent preparation for the combination of listening and speaking that students are likely to need in real life. The version here is a ninety-minute lesson taught by two trainee teachers in their first meeting with an intermediate class of ten young teenagers.

In preparation, each of the teachers made brief notes about herself, including her past, her present activities, and plans for the future. The notes were used as a basis for semi-spontaneous talks which were recorded using the voice recorder on a phone. It was decided to use recordings rather than live talks as this made it easier to be consistent in case students needed to hear the talks twice. At the end of each talk, the interviewer asked three questions, which were explicitly linked to aspects of their lives that the interviewees had already mentioned. 

After making the sound recordings, each teacher created a worksheet for the listening comprehension activity. In one case, this was a series of open questions, in the other it was a gap-fill activity. Although the language in the recordings was not artificially simplified, the activities were designed to be appropriate to the level of the class.

At the beginning of the lesson, students were given the first handout, and instructed to answer the questions as they listened. After listening to the recording, the students were given the opportunity to ask questions about anything they were unsure of, and then the answers to the listening comprehension activity were checked. A similar procedure was then followed for the second listening activity. This took about thirty minutes.

Students were then given five minutes to make notes in preparation to give similar talks about themselves. They were told that they must listen carefully to their classmates so that after each talk, each student would ask the speaker one question linked to something in the talk. The actual talks each lasted around half a minute, but together with the questions and answers, the time was around five minutes for each student, a total of fifty minutes.

This is a very flexible activity, which can easily be adapted to higher or lower levels. The talks by the teachers should be as spontaneous and authentic as possible, with the tasks on the worksheets designed according to the level of the students. It’s important to get all the students to ask each of their classmates questions in order to ensure that they remain focused on the listening.

 Peter Beech -

Saturday, March 8, 2014

TEFL Greece trainee feedback

"The course was intensive and at times demanding. I enjoyed it thoroughly though. I have learnt a lot. The teaching practice provided a real life setting and my experience here has exceeded my expectations."

Poppy Micheloudakis

"It has been an intensive course, very challenging and it has definitely brought light into my life judging from the perspective of learning how to become a teacher. The trainer has been very supportive. If I had the chance, I would do it again."

Diana Dragan

"My experience here was grand. I learnt a lot about grammar, vocabulary and fun ways to apply it in lessons. Lots of help with lesson preparation was appreciated. The way grammar was taught was fun and memorable."

Mary Maurer

"It was a nice first experience in the position of the teacher. I was able to see how things work on the other side of the lesson, how lessons are created and planned and was reminded of all the grammar."

Ioanna Mavragani