Lesson Plan: What Does It Mean To Live Your Life To The Fullest?

As a voracious reader, I absolutely LOVE working with texts; maybe I can even say that I tend to prioritise texts in the classroom over audio and video materials. I guess the reason for this is that I grew up reading books and almost didn’t use to watch TV at all. Even now, I’d rather read an article than watch a video, and oh my, I absolutely can’t focus on podcasts for longer than several minutes and am always in need of transcripts. Obviously, if someone decides to look through my lesson library, they’ll find tons of text-based lessons – no wonder, right? In our latest ELT Lesson Jam, I decided to share one of them because I just can’t keep it to myself! 😀

This lesson is based on an authentic text (or rather four short authentic texts) and includes a vocabulary focus, a reflection part and a meaningful discussion. What’s more, it’s rather flexible, and the framework it uses can be adapted to any other lessons that use an authentic text.
Basically, when I teach a text-based lesson, I spend most of the time helping students analyse the text and understand the nuances. With each student it’s different; I let them take the lead and decide where this text exploration (that’s what I call it) brings us. This helps my students process the text better and kind of own it (if you know what I mean).

Lesson Details

Level: B2-C1 (you could give it a try with B1+ but you might need to make some adjustments)

Format: 121 (online) but can be adjusted to groups

Duration: two 1-hour lessons / three 45-minute lessons / one 1.5-hour lesson / one 2-hour lesson

Materials: lesson slides, reading, and vocabulary worksheet

Procedure:

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Lesson Plan: Zoom across an Icelandic glacier

Since I moved my teaching entirely online, I have been experimenting with different online tools and websites to see if I can find something to use on a regular basis. Wordwall (great but most of my students said they needed a printable copy to revise at home), Baamboozle (love it!), WheelDecide (one of my most used tools), Jamboard (kind of a free alternative to Wordwall), Padlet (good for webinars)… And obviously, I have also tried various resources that provide lesson plans and online exercises based on authentic videos – a great way to save time on adapting YouTube videos if you are a very busy teacher (which I sometimes am).

This lesson is based on one of the videos I found on the Sensations English website. What I especially like about this resource is that each video comes in 5 levels and can therefore be used with many students at once as long as you differentiate the tasks. I used it with my B1+ student (I went for the B2 version of the video to add a bit of a challenge) and it turned out to be a really nice and engaging lesson, so I hope your students enjoy it too if you decide to give it a go.

Level: B1+-B2

Length: 60-80 minutes

Framework: Integrated skills lesson (vocabulary, listening, speaking)

Mode: 121/online (but can be adapted to groups/offline)

Materials: these slides, this video

Procedure:

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5 Awesome Tools for Audio & Video Editing

As someone who teaches pronunciation on a regular basis and prefers to do it with authentic materials, I have to edit tons of audio and video files. So here’s my selection of the best tools you can use for editing audio and video.

AUDIO

1. Audio Cutter

There are many online tools similar to this one, but mp3-cut.net is my ultimate favourite. It allows to trim your audio as precisely as possible by adjusting the start and end time manually. Pay attention to the last number: it’s deciseconds, guys, and it’s amazing. You can also fade in or fade out your audio. Finally, you can change the speed, volume and pitch of the audio. For more advanced users, there’s an equalizer function, too.

2. Audio Joiner

This tool is provided by the same platform as the previous one and has similar functionality. Before joining the audio files, you can trim them if necessary as well as fade in / out or crossfade them. Another good thing is that you can choose the format for your output audio file.

If you need more format choices, you can use this audio joiner tool instead but keep in mind that it doesn’t have the trimming function.

3. Voice Recorder

There’re various options available here. I know many teachers use Vocaroo, and it’s a good one with basic functions like retry recording, remove background noise and auto-adjust volume.

This voice recorder has a nice add-on: you can trim your recording if, for example, there’s a long pause at the beginning.

However, if you want to have some fun, go for this one. It allows you to modify your voice to sound like a man (if you’re a woman), a robot, or even a space squirrel.

VIDEO

4. Video Trimmer

If you already have a video and need to trim it, this is the best tool you can find. The functionality is impressive (for a basic user, of course): manual input for start and end time; rotation, speed and volume change; and other functions like cropping and looping your video.

Another great way to use this tool is when you do decoding practice with your students. By adjusting start and end time, you can play and re-play precise bits for your students to listen to be it just one word or a whole phrase (I found it wat easier to use than Aegisub).

5. Add Subtitles to Your Video

Now, this is something I’ve discovered recently, and it’s a real gem. Before, I used to add subtitles manually using a .txt file and time coding (to get precise timings, I was using Tool #4). I then reformatted the .txt file into the .srt one and added it to the video using a corresponding function in the video player. However, this tool allows you to do this much faster. It’s pretty intuitive: you type the phrases in the boxes on the right and then adjust the timing for each box at the bottom. Easy-peasy!

That’s it. I hope this info helps! These tools have made my lesson preparation easier and I can’t see why they can’t do the same for you 🙂

Lesson Plan: What’s in Your Kitchen? TPR for Adult Learners

As someone who has been teaching (young) adults at a mostly intermediate level in strict settings from Day 1 of my teaching career, I haven’t had a chance to incorporate TPR into my lessons until last week. Everything I knew about TPR was served under the YL sauce and, therefore, I deemed this approach redundant.

While having the recipe lesson, my student realised that her knowledge of kitchen-related vocabulary was not as good as she would like it to be so we decided to devote our next lesson to filling this gap. I turned to the Internet in search of some inspiration but wasn’t excited about numerous gap-fills and other typical tasks offered for adult learners. Lesson plans designed for YLs seemed way more engaging and I thought that I could give it a go. This lesson was a pure experiment, and it turned out to be one of the best lessons we’ve had so far.

Focus: Vocabulary
Level: A2-B1
Duration: 60 minutes
Learning objectives – by the end of the lesson, student(s) will have:
– been introduced to a range of most common kitchenware-related vocabulary
– practised using new vocabulary in speaking / writing by giving orders to the teacher / fellow students
Setting: online, you and your student(s) should be sitting in your kitchens; could be taught face-to-face if you don’t mind bringing a whole suitcase of kitchenware to work
Materials: These slides and a whole kitchen of realia
Procedure:

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Lesson Plan: A Cooking Recipe

It’s a vocabulary and TBL lesson based on this authentic blog post: Super Creamy Vegan Mushroom Sauce Pasta. Originally, it was designed for a 121 lesson, but it can be easily adapted to a group one. It’s good for any student(s), but especially for those who LOVE cooking 🙂

Level: B1+ and higher
Objectives: to introduce a set of useful lexical items for reading (and understanding) and writing cooking recipes; to provide practice in writing cooking recipes
The ultimate goal: to write and publish a cooking recipe of student’s choice
Duration: 1.5-2 hours
Materials: The Recipe, Gap-fill
Procedure:

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Lesson Plan: Travel Guide – What to Do in…

This is a lesson plan based on this blog post: https://whatoliviadid.com/2016/09/how-to-spend-48-hours-in-copenhagen/.

Skills: Reading, FL, speaking

Level: B1-B2

Learning objectives – by the end of the lesson, students will have:

  • been introduced to a range of functional exponents to make travelling recommendations;
  • practised using these exponents in speaking/writing by making recommendations on what to see and do in a city they have visited in the past.

Duration: 60 minutes

Materials: This article, this vocabulary match task, and these slides.

Notes: Can be used with both groups and individual students

Lesson Procedure

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My Top-10 Resources for Teaching Pronunciation Physically and Visually

I am a strong advocate of the physical approach to pronunciation teaching. I mean, how can you pronounce a sound if you have no idea about what’s involved in the process? Articulation comes first, and only then it is followed by imitation. So if you want to teach pronunciation physically and visually, here is the list of 10 invaluable resources for you to use:

  1. Introduction to Articulatory Phonetics: Vowels and Consonants.
    These are two short but informative videos aimed at teachers and linguistics students that give you insight into how vowels and consonants are articulated.
  2. Seeing Speech
    This is a product of collaboration between researchers at six Scottish universities, including my alma mater, Edinburgh University. The sounds on this website are visualised in three different ways: MRI, ultrasound, and animation. This is a great tool to use in class.
  3. SPAN: Speech Production and Articulation Knowledge Group
    This is a project similar to the one above. Some differences are: MRI only; separate words and sentences are recorded as well.
  4. Tools for Clear Speech and Sounds of Speech
    These are two different resources for animated versions of English IPA sounds. Both of them are using American English, which means that some vowel sounds are missing though.
  5. Interactive Pronunciation Animations
    This one is good for introducing the sounds of British English to young learners. Funny cartoons contextualise each sound and make it memorable.
  6. English Club’s Learn English Pronunciation
    This page offers a range of resources, from an interactive phonemic chart to various pronunciation games, that will keep your students engaged.
  7. The Sounds of English
    This is basically a ready-made British English pronunciation course on YouTube. Not a single sound is missing! What I like the most about these pronunciation videos is that they focus on contrasting sounds and minimal pairs as well. Can be used both in class and at home.
  8. Pronuncian.com
    Good for practising minimal pairs and getting ready-to-use lessons on American English pronunciation.
  9. Youglish.com
    This is an amazing website that lets you listen to the pronunciation of whole sentences, not just single words. You can search for any phrase, e.g. a famous movie quote or just some common everyday expression, and listen to all possible pronunciations. Other resources you can use for this purpose are TubeQuizard and Playphrase.me (the second one is limited to three phrases per search).
  10. Tongue Twister Database
    I personally think that tongue twisters are a great way of practising pronunciation, from single sounds to the features of connected speech to stress and rhythm. This is probably the biggest tongue twister database out there.
  11. BONUS! A 15-minute morning pronunciation practice with the amazing Hadar Shemesh. As someone who is taking singing classes and studied drama and acting (for a short while though), I know that your vocal apparatus needs to be warmed up before you can use it fully. This video introduces a range of exercises for the muscles involved in speech articulation. A tip from me: don’t resist yawning – it’s unavoidable!

Know any other useful resources? Give me a shout, and I’ll add them to the list 🙂
Have a question? Get in touch, and I’ll help you out 🙂

Banana? Banana!

This is a lesson plan I presented during the last ELT Lesson Jam, organised by Myles Klynhout, Rachel Tsateri and me.

Intonation. One of the trickiest aspects of pronunciation to master. Yet, so much depends on it. Even the simplest, the most innocent words, pronounced with a certain intonation, can sound rude and even threatening. So, how to raise awareness and provide our students with an opportunity to practice intonation?

Banana!

What I do is I say the word ‘banana’ in different ways – neutral (flat tone), unsure (rise), surprised (fall-rise), and irritated. Students have to identify the emotion involved in each different case. I then ask them to say the word using these emotions. After that, I offer them to brainstorm other emotions and try saying ‘banana’ using them (e.g. ‘enthusiastic’, ‘bored’, ‘surprised’, ‘relieved’, etc.). They then work in pairs saying the word ‘banana’ and trying to guess the emotion.

Step 2 is a role-play (image 1). Each pair of students gets a scenario. They have to role-play it, but they can only use the word ‘banana’ (they can use this word as many times as they wish). They have some time to rehearse (you can monitor and help out). After that, each pair has to perform their role-play in front of the class, and the listeners have to guess what is going on (roughly). The student whose guess is the closest to the original scenario gets a point. The student with the highest score wins (you can give some award to them).

Step 2. Role-play

Step 3 is real-life dialogues. Student A asks a question, and student B replies with different intonations. Student A has to guess how student B feels. You can rearrange the pairs ad conduct this activity one more time.

Step 3. Real-life dialogues

Step 4 is, obviously, a freer practice. Students share some short stories about moments when they experienced strong emotions. They have to use intonation as an instrument to make their stories as vivid as possible.

So You Wanna Do Delta Module 3?

I started Module 3 nine months after I sat Module 1 exam. Same as before, I took a course with the Distance Delta. Academic writing is not among my strengths so I needed a lot of guidance and feedback.

The course was organised in chunks, and there was a deadline for submitting each part (approximately 2 weeks for each part, apart from Part 2 because it requires some extra time to collect the data you will need for Parts 3 and 4). We also had a couple of weeks to work on the final draft after receiving the tutor’s feedback.

Some things I realised while working on my EA and which might be useful for those who are going to start Module 3:

  • Before running thorough needs analysis for Part 2, do a short preliminary one. This will give you some ideas about what your future focus might be and what sources you need to look for before you actually start working on your EA. As a restul, you will save some time.
  • When working on appendices, create a separate file with the list of appendices you are going to have. Group appendices according to the parts they belong to, e.g. 1a-…, 2a-…, 3a-… Apart from the title, add a short description in brackets (in case you forget what the appendix includes). Keep editing the list on the way. This will help you organise your Document 2 and not lose any appendices on the way (which is likely to happen if you have over 30 of them, and it’s a pretty common number for Document 2; I had 39).
  • Appendices to include in Document 1: 1) course syllabus and lesson plans; 2) collated needs analysis (NA) and diagnostic tests (DT) results
    Appendices to include in Document 2: 1) samples of NA questionnaires; 2) sample of completed NA questionnaires from one of the students; 3) DT tasks; 4) samples of completed DT tasks from one of the students (transcripts for speaking DT); 5) all materials used in each lesson; 6) all assessment forms; 7) all course evaluation questionnaires; 8) anything else you wish to include, e.g. charts and diagrams you refer to in the main body of your EA.
  • Learn how Word works. In particular, how to create heading styles and auto-generated contents. This will save A LOT OF time. To display the styles, press Ctrl+Shift+Alt+S. Apply them to the headings – without this, you will not be able to create auto-generated contents. To create them, go to References -> Table of contents -> choose your preferred style.
  • Do all the necessary formatting BEFORE you start typing into the document. The standard is 2.5 cm margins (all sides), font size 12. Everything else is up to you, but I’d suggest having line spacing slightly bigger than 1 (it makes it easier for the reader, i.e. the assessor).
  • If you have problems with placing both footers and page numbers at the bottom (I did), place page numbers at the top – it’s much easier to do and not against the rules.
  • Have multiple copies of your EA in case something happens to your PC or if you decide to work on it using a different PC. I know it’s pretty basic advice, but you’ll be surprised to know how many people fail to arrange extra copies and end up regretting not having done this.

Don’t be afraid to get a deferral if you feel you don’t have enough time to refine your EA. You don’t have to submit it in December even if you started your course in September. I was working full-time while writing my EA and literally had no time to finish it before the deadline. I still did all the writing but did not prepare lesson plans, just the course proposal. I then took a break from writing and came back to it in spring. This gave me an opportunity to introduce all the necessary changes (according to my tutor’s feedback), attach all the lesson plans, and submit the EA in June. As a result, I got Pass with Merit, which is more than enough for me considering how many difficulties I always have when it comes to academic writing.

And as always, a link to the treasure box where you will find:

  • Module 3 Handbook;
  • Examiner reports;
  • Some sample assignments (free public access, no laws violated);
  • And a little extra.

If you wish to have a look at my assignment, feel free to contact me (but remember Cambridge does not tolerate plagiarism).

To assess, or not to assess, that is the question indeed

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with assessment.
When I was a student in Russia, I knew that it was all about scores and rankings. At university, I realised that assessment can be different and can be aimed at measuring how good you are at providing supportive arguments and structuring your assignment. However, neither in Russia nor in the UK, it was about me as a person. In Russia, schools are doing everything possible and impossible to have as few F students as they can. In the UK, the university failed to take into consideration my background and those difficulties I had to face as an international student for whom English was a second language and who was educated in a totally different environment where different criteria were cherished.
No wonder that when I became a teacher myself, assessment became my nightmare and a constant source of anxiety.

How to measure effort? Creativity? Engagement?
How to come up with criteria that will provide you with reliable data?
How to make sure each and every student in my class will be able to complete the assignment without saying that it was too easy or too difficult but just challenging enough?

Stakeholders want numbers and pie charts demonstrating that their investments have paid off. Academic managers want proof that they made the right choice when they decided to hire you. At the end of the day, assessment becomes a tool that is used to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. Some might say that if a teacher is effective, their students make progress. True. But your effectiveness should not be the main concern when assessing students.

In most cases, what assessment lacks is the focus on learners.

As a learner myself, I know one thing: motivated or not, too harsh on yourself or not, you always know exactly how you’re doing. You know if you haven’t been studying hard enough. You know if you have tried your best. You know when you have finally mastered some structure or topic. You know what structures or topics you still have to master.

When I assess my students, I always turn to their expertise. Who, but them, know how they have been doing all that time and what, if something, has stopped them from achieving more? I don’t grade. Grades are meaningless unless there are very specific, detailed and objective criteria – which is hardly attainable. Instead, I ask my students how they feel about their learning process. Do they think they have made any progress? What do they think they should still work on and how could they do it? If they love grades then which one would they give themselves and why?

Of course, I take notes and make comments. Of course, I do not eliminate myself from the process completely. Students need our feedback, our encouragement.

Whenever I do some progress check, I always tell my students: this is not for me, this is for you. For you to evaluate your progress and see your strengths and weaknesses. For you to reconsider your learning route. Learning is by nature a solitary activity. You can have a teacher and classmates, but your learning journey is yours only and no one else’s. And it’s totally up to you where it brings you.