Celebrities at your service

Today I’m going to be blogging about an activity that I had a chance to share with the whole team of EPAM language instructors yesterday. Also my fellow-teachers were sharing their activities and one day I would be happy to share them too. Some are just amazing and worth trying out just after reading. Here we go now.

Yours truly is starting the overview with the activity she shared.

It was a lesson with my Upper-Intermediates, and we were focusing on speaking about social plans with key expressions like ‘Have you got anything planned for the weekend? Or what are you gonna do tonight? Anything nice planned for the weekend? And things like that.

Firstly, I asked students to work with a partner and share their plans. Secondly, I handed out cards with celebrities, some of the them you can see on the slide, and asked them to play a role of a person on the card and perform on behalf of this celebrity. My students had to talk about plans for the weekend for Angelina Jolie and Homer Simpson and this activity turned out to be extremely engaging. Students had to imagine things they  had never had a chance to talk about in the classroom before.

The next time I tried this activity out with my Pre-Intermediate students and asked them to share how they spent their weekend. Again, they had to play a role of a person from the card. It was fun!

Could you share in comments, have you ever used such an idea to use cards with celebrities in your English classroom? Thank you 🙂

Thanks for stopping by!

Ways of conducting metacognitive feedback


Source: http://www.uc.rnu.tn/formdev/formulaire/pers.jpg

It is very important to wrap up a lesson in a right and effective way. I should admit, many moons ago I was a teacher who in the end of the lesson just waved good-bye and was happy to end up a lesson with it. I had never been thinking about anything special and much more interesting for my students¸ though I’d always understood its importance and value.

Metacognitive feedback stage is a stage when the lesson is actually finished and a teacher asks his students about the results of the lesson. Was it interesting for them to participate? Was the material interesting or boring? Was there something they would like to change or improve? There are lots of questions, and my very first post on this blog was about using post-it ® notes for Metacognitive Feedback. It happened because my experience allowed me to write and to share with others, and that means that I’d been trying many ways of doing it before. Today I’m going to collect all thoughts and ideas on this topic in one post. I hope it will be useful somehow. All tips are supposed to be used at the end of the lesson. All the information the teacher takes from students he can use to reflect on his practice and a lesson itself, also he can plan his future lessons and have a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses of his students.

The following ideas reflect my own practice and also practical ideas of my Spanish colleagues and authors of Spanish textbooks where self-evaluation is an important part of the lesson and should never be underestimated.

  1. Teacher asks students to write down 5-10 new words and combinations they learnt at the lesson.
  1. Teacher asks students to complete a small questionnaire with only one question:

This lesson was:

a) very rapid

b) boring

c) interesting

d) easy

e) difficult

  1. Teacher asks students to classify different types of exercises they did at the lesson and say which of them they found interesting / boring / favourite / difficult / thought-provoking. Exercises could be classified, for instance, as filling the gaps, answering questions, talking in pairs, looking out for some specific information in the text, listening, reading, etc. Teacher helps students to classify them.
  1. After classifying all exercises students can label them with one-two descriptions: the most interesting, the most confusing, the most productive, the most boring.
  1. Also as one of the alternatives of revision, students are asked to write 3-5 new words (verbs, collocations) from previous unit, or units.
  1. T asks students to analyze their further English practice. They can answer the question: what sort of things are you going to use for better learning? Students are offered some answers, like in a questionnaire, for instance: I have to write much more; I have to do much more grammar; I have to listen to TV programs, podcasts, radio, etc.; I have to read more and others.
  1. A nice idea for revision. Students are given worksheets with a table and complete it:
I’ve revised… I’ve understood…. I have to pay much more attention to…. Other comments
  1. Also there are several ways of self-evaluation for students. They are given a questionnaire and tick answers closer to them:
I have to improve… a)   My speech

b)  My written speech

c)   My listening comprehension

d)  My reading comprehension

I’m evaluating my process of studying… a)    I’m satisfied

b)   I’m content

c)    I have to improve my skills

d)   There are lots of things that I don’t understand

  1. Teacher asks students to write answers to these questions: a) What have we done at the lesson? ; b) I’ve had difficulties with___________; c) I’ve improved my skills ____________.
  2. Teacher asks students to answer the questions: which difficulties have you faced whereas studying this unit? (the answers possible are: difficulties with grammar, with reading, with listening and others.
  3. Teacher asks students to answer about new words or word combinations. What was the most difficult word to memorize? The easiest?
  4. In modern coursebooks there are a great amount of really informative texts. Teacher is supposed to ask his students about the text: what interesting information have you found out? What surprised you most? Which facts do you find most interesting?
  5. It is a nice idea for students to reflect, what kind of tasks they did on their own and which in groups of with a partner. Teacher can ask students about it. After that students can answer the question: was in easier for you to work on your own or in a group? Also as an alternative, Teacher can ask students to categorize exercises that are easier to do with a partner and that are easier to do alone.
  6. Teacher asks students to track the difference between two languages when they study grammar. Students try to find similarities and differences in two tenses, in ways of forming new words and in other grammar phenomena.
  7. When a class encounters with a text, after reading Teacher can ask his students: what kind of text do you like read most? The answers possible are: literary, newspaper article, letters, official documents, scientific texts and others. By gathering feedback from students Teacher can prepare more interesting texts for them.

Personally I’ve tried only quite a few of these activities with my students. The point is that there are lots of ways and while lesson planning I look at my notes and try to pick something that possibly will be helpful for my students after the lesson. And try it. My personal tip for teachers is to pick one every new lesson. Firstly, it’ll help you to have more feedback from your students, and secondly, it’ll help to reflect, to analyze your lesson, to prepare for the new one.

A teacher is free in his choice of conducting this stage both with using notes or just letting students discuss lesson outcome in pairs. The thing is that after that stage students become more aware of why they attend lessons and more confident as well, they learn to analyze and the teacher is a person who helps them.

Thanks for stopping by!

Virtual Dice in the classroom

After Teachers’ Training for EPAM English instructors back in September 2014 I became aware of how to use dice and games with dice in the classroom. That was one of the most attractive ways of drilling vocabulary or grammar, or just use it for a lesson starter or for a warmer (along with a board game). Just because of people who showed how it had worked for them, I started using it in my classroom, both for Business and for General English. I guess, there’s no use in explaining how to make use of rolling dice. Moreover, I know that some teachers use it every single day. It turned out that I am no longer an exception to this fact.


Yesterday with two Elementary students we were learning ‘Free Time and ways of spending it’. I elicited possible ideas, and after that we were having an enormous list of things to do. How to make students drill and how to encourage them to use as many phrases as possible? My favourite dice was at hand, as usual. Moreover, I found a nice site with virtual dice, including a possibility to roll up to 6 dices. The task was to roll the dice just by pushing the button, count numbers and use this or that phrase from the list.

Students were happy to play a game, it made our lesson funny and interesting.

Isn’t that a thing we, teachers, all are striving for?

And yes, a link to Virtual Dice, just in case you need it.

Thanks for stopping by!

‘I like’ and ‘I dislike’

     One idea I have used today with Intermediate students. They were supposed to make up sentences with what they like and dislike about their jobs. I am a teacher from Russia, and my native language is Russian, so my Russian students take phrases ‘I like’ and ‘I dislike’ for granted and I completely understand it. These phrases are like ‘Our Father’ for them, something that was learned years ago, and something that they do not like to change or even think about it.

I told students that it’s high time to enlarge their vocabulary and forget about boring words.

I elicited different phrases which could help and I heard ‘love’ and ‘hate’. Not bad. Then I showed them a table:

I like I dislike
I love ______________ I hate ___________
I enjoy_____________ I can’t stand _________
I’m into _____________ I loathe ____________
I am fond of ___________ ______ drives me crazy
I am passionate about ___ ______ is not my thing
I am interested in ______ _____ is not my cup of tea
I am a fan of ______ I am sick of _______

I gave my students some time to look through and then let them ask questions.

Then students were working in pairs and listed actions they do at work (including coffee-breaks, answering telephone calls, checking e-mails, and so on). I gave them a pile of ‘I like’ and ‘I dislike’ cards for each students and they were supposed to use as many cards as possible to talk about their favourite and unloved actions. This activity took about 15 minutes.

Here is a picture of what they wrote in pairs:


 I loved this idea very much. I will try this idea out with other groups.

Three ideas for extracurricular events

English teachers from different locations working for EPAM Russia including me are soon  going to take part in the webinar organized by curriculum managers. The point is to collect ideas and activities for English clubs, English days, cinema clubs, etc. My today’s post is about activities I have tried with my students so far. For the upcoming webinar I am going to be writing about three most successful events that worked for our students: English Day, Skype Status Activity (I wrote about it here) and Poetry day.
So, English Day… Some background information. I’ve been working for EPAM for more than two years; my responsibilities include organizing Business English classes for employees who are mostly programmers and business analysts. Of course, as all students, they are not strangers to something new. Thus, with the help of our HR manager Natalya Syvorotkina we worked out the idea of the day and announced it just the week before so that students could get prepared. Also we announced the program of the day. So, English Day, July 2013.

1.    The main idea was to create the atmosphere where everybody could speak only English. It was not so simple for some of employees, because at that time they just started having English classes at work, but there were students with higher levels who created this atmosphere and helped others. By the way, those who did not want to speak English that day were supposed to bring sweets and to ‘pay’ for the possibility to speak Russian. (One employee brought neither more that less a kilo of sweets and gave to me, though I should admit it was a joke, and everybody wanted to speak English, of course. Although we got kilos of sweets and biscuits that day… ). What I would have done differently: I would have probably asked weaker employees to prepare cards with functional phrases. In this case it would have been a lot more easier for them.

2.    There was no dress-code that day simply just because we had not thought about it and had not included it in the announcement. But one employee was wearing a real Scottish kilt, and that was a very astonishing idea for each of us! What I would have done differently: No doubt, a kilt is so difficult to get in Russia, and it is not obligatory to wear it, of course. I would have asked employees to think about dress-code. What would you advise?

3.    The day began with watching funny videos. The room with the screen installed was not so big and some people were standing, not sitting. Nevertheless, we spent about 30 minutes watching. I chose several viral videos related to the English language, funny advertisements, some videos from Jimmy Kimmel’s TV show, videos with funny accents. They were not shown with an educational aim, they were meant to start the day in a relaxing way. What I would have done differently: some videos were difficult for weaker students. I would have separated them into groups and chose videos suitable for their level. Also I did not include discussion session. But still I am not sure whether it is necessary to discuss funny videos or not.

4.    The bigger part of the day was called ‘The English Quiz Party’. I had prepared different entertaining and engaging tasks. They were divided into 2 teams. They played grammar ‘Noughts and Crosses’, matched English proverbs with their Russian equivalents and matched cards with names of famous people with their inventions or ideas they were related to. What I would have done differently: I would have been more aware of teams and their leaders, I would have chosen them myself. I would have asked teams to create the name for it, or even names for every teammate. Here I still need some ideas of what to do with teams, how to engage them as much as possible.

English day 1

5.    The next part of the day was ‘Five O’Clock tea’. First of all, I showed a presentation about English Sandwiches, and later on I held a culinary workshop for preparing these sandwiches with cucumbers and ham. I had prepared a pile of disordered cards with recipe steps. I asked students to put them in order and then, in accordance with the steps, to begin cutting, peeling, spreading bread with butter, etc. Of course, all sandwiches were then eaten by participants. What I would have done differently: perhaps, it was the only part of the day I was happy with. All students felt confident during that workshop and while cooking.

English day cooking

6.    The final part was English songs session. I am fond of playing the guitar and brought it from home to play some English songs. We chose different songs, like ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles (very popular song among English teachers from Russia), ‘Let it Be’, also by the Beatles, ‘Living Next Door to Alice’ by Smokie, ‘We Are the Champions’ by Queen and others. We had printed lyrics and gave to students to sing together with me. It was amazing! Of course, not everybody was engaged, but seems that those who liked singing were enjoying that part very much! What I would have done differently: I would have prepared karaoke, or firstly, I would have asked students to fill in the gaps in lyrics. Nevertheless, it was the part I was enjoying too.

English day guitar

At the end all employees were given lollipops. What I would have done differently: I would have thought about more valuable presents for students. It is a matter of discussion.

My aim is to have English Week with students with lots of different activities, including quizzes, cinema club, speaking club, perhaps, acting some plays with students, that is why I am looking forward to getting some ideas from other teachers and sharing mine. It has been already agreed upon with the Director and HR manager, in summer at the latest we’re going to hold English Week.

Thanks for reading! If you have any ideas and things to share, please share in comments. I am really looking to reading them.

P.S. One of the following posts will be devoted to Poetry Day. Stay tuned!

My favourite ways to raise students’ interest

One of the most wonderful and desirable things in teaching students a foreign language is that while teaching you always have an opportunity to get to know something new as well. That is why it is a very worth-while skill to encourage your students to know more. I use the following ideas to raise students’ interest.

1.    Associagram (or ‘Spidergram’). It is one of the ways I usually call ‘cheap but good’. Whenever I am full of ideas of creating it with my students, or if I have no ideas at all, spidergram is always at service. Once it happened with me, when I was teaching topic ‘Travel’ for Business English students. It appeared that I was not quite aware of the target vocabulary myself, because I had not experienced a lot of air travel, just for example. And spidergram was a nice chance for me to elicit vocabulary and to pre-test students.


2.    Quotation. With regards to my previous posts, you can guess it is the most popular way to do whatever I am supposed to. Quotations are authentic, they involve new words, they serve as a good way to start a lesson, or, to wrap up a lesson as well, and if I need to teach a topic I sometimes provide students with a quotation. It can be a whole one, or a part of it, and students need to guess about the remaining part. At any rate, it is one of the simplest ways of raising students’ interest.

Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.
Robert H. Schuller

I chose this quotation when teaching ‘Decision Making’ for Business English students. After showing the whole quotation I let students discuss it and then we were ready to move on.

3.    A picture or a set of pictures. There are many apps which help you to create a photo collage. I very often use them to create collages and to show students. In doing so I can ask them to predict the topic of our lesson (or the aim, for instance). This happened with topic “Entertainment”. I prepared a collage with 4 places of interest which could be nice to visit in our native town Sergiev Posad and showed it to students (1. Urban Museum. 2. Russian-style restaurant. 3. Museum of Toys. 4. Saint Sergius Trinity Monastery). I was asking questions like: what can you see on this pictures? How are these places related to each other? If you were a visitor, which place would you go to? Which place would you recommend?


4.    Questions. Not so long ago I prepared a material about Easter in the UK and we discussed it with my General English students. To raise students’ interest I asked a few questions about Easter, about its symbols and traditions, about our country’s traditions of celebrating it. After that we moved on to reading and speaking about this holiday.

What are you favourite ways of raising interest? I would be happy to read yours.

Thank you for reading!

Ideas I have recently used

At work I usually write my teaching reflections in Reflective Diary, where I try to put all the new ideas and tips from other teachers that I used in my classroom. With this post I would like to share ideas which I have recently used.
1.    Lesson starter “So you said…”. Students are divided into pairs, and they are indicated student A and student B. I often try this starter on Monday to let students talk about their week-end. The task is the following. Student A takes about a minute or a bit more to talk about his weekend. Student B is supposed to listen attentively, but he is not allowed to take notes, he is to listen and to memorize. When student A finishes his speech, student B says: so you said… and he tries to recall student A’s story. Then they change roles. Feedback: ask students to share how this activity went for them. I usually ask which words they used, their own or words of their partners.
2.    Regrouping students. I remember my teaching practice days when I was sure that something new is always better than repeating and recalling the same things. I have changed my philosophy and now from time to time I regroup students (in general, they  talk in pairs) and make them do the same activity, but with another partner. Feedback: today I asked my B1 students about this practice of regrouping, they told me that it was a good practice to talk again, and to watch their words floating and make not so many mistakes as during the first time.
3.    Idioms and proverbs as a lesson starter. I love idioms very much! Students and colleagues who I work with and members of my family as well know how I like to introduce my feelings and thoughts using set-expressions in Russian. As for idioms in the ESL classroom, I believe we need to create helpful and appropriate materials to drill them and to make students use them in their everyday speech. Last week I used proverbs: a) Time is money. b) Love is blind. c) Ignorance is bliss. d) Better late than never. e) Easy come, easy go. f) Haste makes waste. I wrote these proverbs with gaps and elicited possible endings from students. After that I asked to explain each proverb into ‘understandable English’. Then students worked on their own and created a short story to explain and to introduce a proverb they liked most. Feedback: students’ feedback turned out to be positive, though I believe that using proverbs in everyday English is a matter of scientific exploration, and not every student is eager to use idioms, just because there is sometimes no appropriate atmosphere for that.
4.    Evaluation worksheets. In particular, upon completion of the unit, I create evaluation worksheet and use it with students to help them to reflect on new vocabulary, grammar structures and key expressions for communication skills. This time I created my own evaluation worksheet with A1-A2 students on topic “Schedule” (Business Result, Oxford). What do I usually include in these worksheets? In general, the worksheets consist of tasks from the unit, I simply can change them a little. The idea is the following. You handout them to students, it takes them from 7 to 10 minutes to fulfill all the tasks, then students work in pairs and check their answers in pairs. After that I usually give them feedback and correct mistakes if necessary. This task helps them to be ready for a progress test or for a revision game. Feedback: students are always positive about this worksheet just because it is helpful and useful. I ask them to collect these worksheets, because they become nice visuals.

When and how do you usually reflect on new ideas and tips? Please, share in comments.

Thank you for reading!

How to start a lesson

I have been teaching English for about 12 years. Talking about my experience, there has never been anything more important than to be prepared for the very beginning of the lesson. Teachers and instructors which I had a chance to know and to work with, never underestimated this part of the lesson and tried to make it more interesting, more effective and more fruitful. But it depends, of course. Let me speak about my experience and the ways I always start my lessons. My ideas are in no way related to any textbook and also it does not matter which level you teach, because these ideas are quite adaptable to any level.

  1. Greetings. For so much time so far I have been using simple ‘How are you?’ to begin the lesson. Can you guess, what I could hear? When I heard “There’s nothing to boast of” I was delighted, but usually I could hear only “I’m fine”. I found a way of drilling asking and answering the first questions in the classroom. I prepared a set of cards for students, the first was called “How To Greet” and the second was “How To Respond”. I put these two piles of cards in front of the students and asked them to practice each word with a partner. Then I usually regroupped my students and they could try to use as many word expressions as possible and to respond as well.
  2. News. On Mondays I usually have classes in the very morning. Sometimes it is difficult for my students to begin speaking English straight away after entering the classroom. So every week I ask my students to prepare a couple of news they read or watched on TV the day before and to be ready to share with their partners. It usually takes them 3-5 minutes, and that is enough for the quick start and after this activity I am pretty sure they are willing to speak and read English.
  3. Quotation. It is a nice idea to start a lesson with a quotation. It can be related to the topic in the textbook you are currently teaching, or if your students are of a stronger level, you can provide them with a quotation related to politics or current situation in the world. The thing is that you do not reveal the whole phrase to students at the very beginning. I usually use a projector or a board to write a quotation with gaps and I usually write words to fill in the gaps randomly to allow students to think for a while, and in doing so, they will read a quotation they were supposed to guess. As a follow-up activity students are free to discuss it in pairs or in groups.

Currently I am still on the look-out for ideas and activities to start a lesson. Please, share yours in comments!

Pajamas Library


Source: http://www.actualorganics.com/a-good-nights-sleep/reading-in-bed/

Modern students do not like to read. They are too busy liking photos in Facebook and instagramming. Some of them don’t read at all, not in their mother language, not in English. At least in my teaching practice I encountered such students, to tell the truth. But every teacher knows and realizes that reading is one of the most important parts of the language from the point of view of knowing new vocabulary, new ways of saying different things and express new ideas. How to make students read more?

This idea seems to me very amazing for using it with your students. I have recently heard one story about Israeli children, living in Tel-Aviv having so called Pajamas Library Program at schools. What is the essence of the program? Government-paid, this program turns out to be the most popular among pupils and their children. How to make children read more books? The same questions I am always asking when I am giving classes to adults. I guess, this idea was created for such teachers as me to help them to encourage students to read more. Now I would like to tell you how it works.

  1. The first thing you should decide as a teacher is what book you are going to read with students. My tip is to read classical English literature: short stories, humor stories by famous authors. Sometimes there are books for students with exercises, or you can create exercises yourself. In my English classroom I usually use “Select Readings”. It is a series of books meant for different levels. They are stuffed with lots of practice: pre-reading and post-reading tasks, ideas for communication, written tasks (essays, letters, presentations, etc.) and more tasks created for development of English skills. As soon as you personally choose the book, move on to the next step.
  2. You tell your students about a special program called “Pajamas Library”, and now you are going to realize this program in your classroom.
  3. Make sure your students understand ideas of this program. It depends on your specific needs and purposes of your group. If they do not read at all, except what is provided for them in the regular textbook, I would recommend to start reading once a week. If you have classes twice a week, in the framework of this program you should spend the whole lesson discussing the short story you have chosen.
  4. Imagine, tomorrow you are having a regular class. You give your students a story and tell them to read it just before going to bed the day before the class. That’s Pajamas Library! Also tell your students you are going to discuss their story the next day.
  5. During the lesson you come with materials and exercises and you do them together.
  6. Make sure your students give you feedback about the story and about the program itself. It can be conducted in a written form, you can make it with the help of using post-it notes, you can simply ask them to share in pairs and write down their ideas and suggestions.

It is supposed that during the lesson your students have a nice opportunity to talk, to discuss, to find new ideas and skills for writing essays, for instance. What’s next? After you are given a feedback from students, you continue suggest new stories for students and conduct such lessons, and ask for a feedback each time. Try at least 5 classes in the framework of the program. After that you can analyze and reflect on the program and decide whether to continue realizing it or not. I would be very happy if you write your ideas and suggestion in comments.

Hope to hear from you soon!