Be Kind, Unwind

banish the ywanIt’s 5.30pm on a Friday afternoon, and you sense that your adult learners are beginning to give in to their urge to hibernate. 

Topping off a working week with a 2 hour English lesson can be tough. An hour earlier, you introduced them to the present perfect tense and they were less than thrilled to make its acquaintance. You practised the grammar then practised some more.

You don’t really want to bombard them by moving on to the next stage in the present perfect journey, but you have 30 minutes of lesson time left. So, what can you do?

Here are some unwinding activities for those sleepy moments at the end of a class.

Listen to a Podcast

Listening to a podcast gives the students a break from talking, and because they have to tune in to a new speaker, they become more concentrated. Quiz them generally on their comprehension of the podcast, bearing in mind that the purpose is not to grill them. Lead on by discussing their thoughts on the subject matter.

Try BBC 6 Minute English for topical talks at intermediate level.

Discuss a photograph

Each week The Guardian posts a selection of thought-provoking images on its website. Have the students describe the photos and give their opinions on the news stories they represent.

Play taboo

Wake students up with a fun game of taboo. Just ensure that the vocabulary is pitched at the right level. For lower levels, allow them to use some of the forbidden words in their explanations. Click for free printable taboo cards.

Watch a movie trailer

Watch an English trailer for an upcoming movie. Ask about their impressions of the movie and their predictions for the plot.

Give a vocabulary quiz

Give each group member a piece of paper with 3 or 4 of the new words from the lesson.

They must explain the word until the others guess it correctly. As an alternative, have them draw a picture that represents the word. You can also have fun with vocabulary by using games like hangman or anagrams.

Listen to a song

Many learners of English are familiar with Anglophone music, but ask them the words to their favourite Stones song and they’re likely to struggle, or give you a hilarious misheard lyric (in France, Queen’s I want to break free sometimes becomes I want to take frites). Lyricstraining is a fantastic interactive tool that helps you to improve your comprehension skills with music. The aim is to complete the song lyrics while watching a music video. You can select a difficulty level and pause the clip whenever you like so this activity would be suitable for most levels. For more ideas on how to use lyricstraining in the classroom, visit Tatiana Gomez’s post.

What are your preferred wind-down activities? Leave a comment to share your tips and ideas.


Teaching with TED: 5 Video Lessons

TED meaghan

Meaghan Ramsey: Why thinking you’re ugly is bad for you

I’m sure you’ll agree that is a fantastic resource-bank for teachers.

There are hundreds of thought-provoking talks to choose from and the optional subtitles mean you can introduce TED at intermediate stage, or perhaps even earlier depending on the tenacity of your learners.

Here are five of my favourite TED talk lesson plans for business English students.

1. Meaghan Ramsey: Why thinking you’re ugly is bad for you

Meaghan Ramsey’s inspiring talk deals with body confidence, and the pressure on girls and women to conform to a body ideal. In her very effective presentation, Meaghan demonstrates a range of techniques that learners can adopt for their own public-speaking.

Lead-in: Show learners the image of Beyoncé which was apparently photoshopped to make her appear slimmer. In their opinion is there too much pressure on women to look a certain way? Where does this pressure come from? Are only women concerned or does this issue affect men too?

Video: Give learners a copy of the presentation techniques  worksheet and check learners understand the language. They must write an example of each technique Meaghan demonstrates during her talk.

Discussion: Review the content of the video and reflect on Meaghan’s message. According to Meaghan, what steps should we take to boost self-esteem? Do you have any other ideas to tackle this problem?

Feedback: Check through the presentation techniques activity. Discuss the effects of each and whether learners have used any of them when public-speaking.

Production: Students prepare a short presentation on a cause of their choice (for example: the environment, a conflict, the economy in their country, a change they would like to make at work/in their community). They should use some of the techniques discussed in the previous exercise.

2. Alastair Parvin: Architecture for the people by the people

Alastair Parvin presents his start-up, Wikihouse, in this talk on the power of the sharing economy.

Lead-in: Show learners this image and ask if they understand what is meant by ‘Sharing is the new buying’. Ask if they have ever participated in the sharing economy by using services like car-sharing or couch-surfing.

Video: Give students a copy of the worksheet in order to facilitate note-taking during the talk.

Discussion: Analyse Alastair’s concept for self-assembly homes. Discuss the risks and opportunities.

Production: Ask learners to think of ways that their company (or school) could benefit from the sharing economy.

3. Hamish Jolly: Shark-deterrent wetsuit

This TED talk is about product design and problem-solving. This works particularly well with my students who work in product development.

Lead-in: Ask students the question ‘How do we protect surfers from shark attacks?’. Think of as many different solutions as possible.

Video: Watch the video and then discuss the advantages and possible risks of the wetsuit.

PowerPoint Activity: Ask learners if they know of any other products inspired by nature (introduce the term biomimicry). In the PowerPoint quiz learners look at images of animals to guess the product they inspired. Afterwards, read the information sheet to learn more about the development of each product.

4. Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen

This video is about using the voice effectively during presentations. Ideally this lesson would follow a class on presentation structure and language.

Warmer: Give students a piece of paper with the classic sentence ‘I did not say you stole my red hat’. Each person must stress a different word in the sentence. Discuss how the different stresses alter the meaning of the sentence.

Lead-in: Elicit presentation dos and don’ts from learners.

Video: Learners note down the different vocal techniques demonstrated in the video. After the video, discuss the following questions: What effect do the different techniques have? Do they use these techniques in their own presentations?

Practice: Students read a short text aloud, using some of the techniques featured in the video. Newspaper comment articles are suitable for this exercise.

Production: Students prepare a presentation on a professional project using the techniques in the video.

5. Avi Reichental: What’s next in 3D printing?

3D printing is a tech buzzword at the moment. In his talk, Avi Reichental introduces us to the future possibilities of 3D printing as the technology develops. Note that Avi has quite a strong accent so some students may require the subtitles.

Lead-in: Use the technology image sheet to prompt discussion about advances in technology over the last 10 years. Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each device or service and ask students to rank them in order of usefulness.

Video: Learners watch the video and note down the different uses of 3D printing that Avi explores.

Discussion: Which of the uses of 3D printing did they find the most advantageous and why? How could 3D printing change their lives at home and at work?

So there you have just a few of the endless ways you can use TED talks as part of a stimulating lesson.  Do you teach with TED? Leave a comment to let me know which videos you use and how.

Business Meetings

Here is an activity I designed for a ‘meetings in English’ workshop held at a retail company’s headquarters.

The purpose of the workshop was to practise the skills and language learners need to participate effectively in a meeting.

Lesson time: 1.5 hours

Level: Intermediate

RESOURCE: Meeting Expressions

Meetings Role-play

Warmer: To start I showed the video Conference call in real life by Tripp and Tyler. As a group we discussed the different problems the meeting participants experienced and related them to our own experiences.

Presentation: Next, I wrote up the following headings on the board: presenting your idea, agreeing, disagreeing, interrupting.

I then elicited expressions for these different functions. When ideas ran dry I gave participants a copy of the ‘Meeting Expressions’ sheet and checked the language with them.

Practice: As participants were from different departments (accounting, merchandising, marketing) I decided to start with a general role-play:

To thank the employees for their hard work, the CEO has given the staff committee 10,000 to spend

1. Decide how you want to spend the money and make notes about your arguments.

Some ideas: language lessons, team-building events (bowling, restaurant etc.), gym memberships, help with childcare costs, improve the canteen…

The workshop was aimed at employees who do not have regular English lessons so I anticipated that participants might be a little shy.

Adi Rajan resolved the problem of limited participation by giving learners function cards to use during a discussion exercise. Inspired by Adi’s idea, I gave each participant four cards to use at least once during the discussion: Q (question) P (present your idea) I (interrupt) D (disagree). This worked very well, and meant that learners were more inclined to interrupt and disagree without feeling judged by their colleagues.

Production: I introduced another scenario, this time one that was more relevant to the reality of the company.

The subject of the second meeting was ‘How can we improve customer service in our stores’.

Participants used the language acquired in the previous exercise to argue for their idea and reach a final decision.

Lesson Plan: Making Predictions with Back to the Future II

It’s the beginning of a new year and time to speculate about the months to come.

Here is a lesson plan on making predictions; it includes a fun news report on Back to the Future II’s vision of 2015.

Level: Intermediate +

RESOURCE: EFL Tower lesson plan- Predictions Back_to_the_Future_Part_II

Warmer: Ask learners about their personal and professional goals for the coming year.

Show the video news report about Back to the Future II:

Ask learners to note down the different technologies the film predicts. Discuss whether the predictions were right or wrong.

Practice: Give learners a copy of the predictions worksheet.

In the first exercise, learners sort prediction expressions into three categories: likely, possible and unlikely.

Check that the learners understand the vocabulary and how to use the expressions in a sentence.

Production: Learners use the new language to give their opinion on different predictions.

Extension/ homework task: Learners make predictions about their company, personal life and the world in 2015.

The Unnecessary Vocabulary Problem

OK, I hold my hands up, I admit it. I overload my students with vocabulary.

Pictgooseberry2ure the scene. It’s an hour into a 2 hour long lesson on negotiating in English, and the conversation suddenly takes an unusual turn.

The word ‘gooseberry’ inexplicably crops up. I’m not going to write that down am I? It’s not in the slightest related to negotiations or the workplace…

But it is a lovely word and what if the student ever wants to make a gooseberry pie (using an English recipe) and can’t identify the fruit? What if he ever wants to describe an uncomfortable ‘three’s-a-crowd’ situation?

So I write it down. At the end of the lesson the vocabulary sheet is dotted with miscellaneous words like this, and the student must revise them all for next lesson.

The following week the learner remembers gooseberry but he doesn’t recall some of the important expressions like ‘to drive a hard bargain’. I think we might have a problem here.

So what should I do? Should I divide my vocabulary lists into ‘general/ professional’ columns and tell the learner to focus on the latter, or should I omit general vocabulary entirely?

I’d love to hear your advice on my vocabulary problem, especially if you also work in the business English domain.

My EFL Love Affair with PowerPoint

When planning lessons I always ask myself if it’s necessary to bombard the learner with mstack-of-papersultiple worksheets.

Too much paper can cause:

A) the adult learner to feel like they’re at school.

B) a fluffy little jungle creature to lose its treetop home.

Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic. There’s no harm in using a couple of worksheets in your lessons, but why not consider an alternative way of delivering that information?

Enter, PowerPoint. Substituting a paper-based exercise for a slideshow activity can give your lesson a boost and recapture the learners’ attention.

Here are a few of the ways I use PowerPoint in the classroom.


At its simplest, PowerPoint is a fantastic way to display images for discussion, especially if like me you don’t have access to a colour printer.

For example, to stimulate conversation about technological advancements over the past decade, I show a slideshow where photographs of different gadgets and devices appear. Learners identify the different technologies then rank them in order of usefulness, discussing the pros and cons as they go.

Comparatives/ superlatives

Photographs are also handy when practising a grammar point. I made a very simple slideshow for comparatives and superlatives. Each slide contains photographs on a different theme (foods, animals, countries). Learners then have to form sentences comparing the images.

RESOURCE: comparing photos PowerPoint

Grammar Quiz

Distance your students from test territory by presenting a grammar exercise on PowerPoint. Once the learner has answered the questions animate the answer to appear.

Bad day lesson plan

Level: Elementary/ pre-intermediate

Aim: In this interactive lesson, learners practise the past simple and its negative form.

RESOURCE: bad day PowerPoint

1. A photograph shows a happy woman who had a good day. Elicit reasons from the learners, ensuring that they are using the past simple correctly. For example ‘She won the lottery’.

If yours are not a creative bunch move on to the gap-fill exercise. Learners have to find the correct verb to fit the gap. If they struggle finding a verb click to give them some options.

2. A second photograph shows a woman who had a bad day. As before, elicit some reasons, ensuring the learners use ‘didn’t + verb infinitive’ correctly. Continue with a similar gap-fill exercise.

3. Ask the learners if they had a good or bad day yesterday and why.

Make / do / take

These verbs cause a lot of confusion for our learners here in France, I suppose because their verb ‘faire’ does the job of both make and do.

Here is a little quiz I made to practise make/do/take. I designed this for elementary/ pre-intermediate groups but have found that it can also work well as revision for higher levels.

Different photographs are displayed (e.g. make the bed, do the shopping, take a shower) and the learner must describe the action using the correct verb. For a double dose of grammar fun, incorporate the tense you are currently working on. Maybe these actions happened yesterday, or are happening right now, or are going to happen at the weekend.

RESOURCE: make do take PowerPoint quiz

 Idiomatic Expressions

Teaching idioms is tricky. Unless you have very advanced students, the chances are your learners won’t be familiar with the expressions you want to look at. This could easily lead to a dull situation with the teacher dictating the answers in scholarly fashion.

I think my idioms quiz is one way to get around this. During  a lesson on project management I introduce related expressions through the use of images. For example, I show a cartoon of a jogger and the sentence ‘it’s__________ smoothly’. I tell the learner to say what they see in the image to find the answer. If they need an extra clue, another click displays multiple choice options.

At the end of the quiz I ask learners to relate these idioms to their own experiences. How is their project going? Have they encountered any major hurdles? Have they ever hit a brick wall with a project?

RESOURCE: project idioms PowerPoint

I hope you like the ideas in this post. I’d love to know how you use PowerPoint in the classroom. You can leave me a comment by clicking the link at the top of the post.