Archive for May, 2010

EFL Jenga:

When the other teachers in the staff room saw my carrying a Jenga around, they raised sceptical eyebrows about the validity of the game in the classroom. But I quickly explained that it can be a really useful and fun game to play, especially with teens.

If you haven’t played Jenga, here is the cliffnotes version:

It’s a tower made up of three blocks, topped by three blocks perpendicular to them, and the layers continue like this for about 15 layers. You then take it in turns to push out the blocks (only one hand!) and place the blocks on top of the tower to make it as tall as possible without the tower falling over!

The EFL version is exactly the same, but each block has a question on it. My Jenga is for an intermediate group, and only really focuses on speaking practise. It has tasks on the bricks, such as “Describe your favourite film” or “introduce yourself”, but also more grammatical ones, such as past simple forms of irregular verbs and listing adjectives, adverbs, and vocabulary lists on a topic (food, crime etc.) You can, of course, make the questions harder for your level… Maybe questions about politics, culture, or more complex grammar points.

You keep going until the tower falls over, then move on to a different game.


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I did a great game today with my students.


I came into the classroom looking a bit concerned and very serious. I told the students that I had just been told something very serious. There had been a robbery in the school last night and several computers were stolen. This raised a few concerned “really?” remarks.

I told them that the police had two suspects, and the worst thing of all was that it was two students in my class! I then names two students in my class (it’s good to pick stronger students who are confident and able to speak infront of their classmates, or the exercise could fall flat on its face). At this point they realise that I’m joking but are happy to play along.

I then take the two suspects to one side of the class room and give them their role cards. It outlines that they didn’t steal the computers, but they are going to have to lie about what they were doing as they were at their friend’s bar until 1am, despite the fact that it should have closed at 11pm. If the police find out about this, their friend will lose his business! The bar is next to the school, and a witness saw them walking back home from that direction, so it looks pretty suspicious.

The suspects’ alibi is that they went to the gym, then to the bar, the to a restaurant, before going home at 1am. Drawing a map is useful, which has the school and bar on one side of the house, and the gym and restaurant on the other.

The police have a role card which states the suspects’ alibis and also the statement from the witness. Point out that it is strange that the suspects were seen walking from the school (bar) evn though they claim to have been at the restaurant.

The police now have to come up with about 25 questions to find out the truth! Remember to ask about detail (what did they eat? see? talk about? how did they pay? what were they wearing? did they meet anyone? etc) They should hold back information, such as the witness statement, until the right moment to try and catch the suspects out.

Meanwhile, the suspects have to work together to get their story straight! If there are more than three differences in their stories, they will both be going to prison! They must not tell the police about their friend’s bar!

Split the police in two groups, and give them one suspect to question, then once they have finished the interview (15-20 mins?), swap the suspects over, but don’t let them talk.

Then get the students to discuss the anomolies, and decide if they are going to send them to jail. Then get the suspects to reveal the truth.

This exercise is really well received, and brings the students out of their shells. It made every laugh and get involved and they said that they really enjoyed it!

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My next stop in the exercise book was Optimist v Pessimist. I wasn’t too keen on the way the book presented it, so I wanted to find my own way.

I found that showing the students a clip on Monty Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life”, was an interesting way of broaching the subject. We discussed how each person should be feeling, and how they felt really.

Monthy Python\’s \”Always Look on the Bright Side of Life\

I gave the students a script of what they were singing, otherwise, I think we would have struggled!

They seemed to enjoy it, and it got the point across!

The lesson was followed by being an optimist and a pessimist. They were given a series of scenarios (“I’m taking my driving test today”, “My team are playing football this weekend”, “We are getting married”, etc) and they had to respond as an optimist (“Good luck, I’m sure you’ll pass/ win/ be very happy/ etc”) and as a pessimist (“You’ll fail/ lose/ get divorced/ etc”).

I think the thing they liked the most was the practicality of the language they were using.

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Reading Workshop

I had had enough of the book, and was working through it too quickly anyway, so I had to come up with a few ideas.

I decided to do some reading workshops, and I wanted to make it as student centred as possible, and get them working together.

I also felt that I needed to give the students something that would really push them, as I worried the lessons from the book were sometimes too easy.

I took two reading texts from http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/, one on chocolate/diet, and one on alcohol (binge drinking). I used the exercises given at the website, but had to make some of them slightly easier.

I made a 3 or 4 page pack for each student, which included the text and the questions. I split them into two groups (I had already organised the groups so I could have some weak students with the stronger ones, and separate those who would take over the lesson) and set them to work.

I was really pleased with how it went. It tok them the whole lesson to do all the exercises (true/false, synomyms, discussion points etc.) and there was a lot of discussion which I felt also benefitted them, as they were talking about real life issues. Had they finished half way through, I had made enough copies for them to swap texts and do the other one.

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Any Questions?

A week after I finished my CELTA, I was employed at the school were I had done the training to provide some cover work. I was given half a time table, so as not to enduce a nervous breakdown by Tuesday lunchtime. I had three classes, a speaking class, a reading/writing/listening class and a general English class.

The first week, fresh from my CELTA course, I spent hours planning the lessons. I am pleased to say, however, that, by the second week, I had greatly reduced my planning to a few post-it notes and some ticking of the book!

I had a large number of Korean students in my general English class, who were very quiet and often reluctant to speak. A very shy French boy, and a very domineering Italian man. Getting the balance right with talking time and monitoring was somewhat of a challenge but by the end of my time there, I think I had done pretty well.

In my reading/writing/ listening class, I had a very moody Swiss boy who was into heavy metal and rifles! I was a bit nervous at having a potential serial killer in my class room, so I mainly just left him to it! You should have seen how animated he was though when I got them to right about there favourite sport! He wrote a whole essay on shooting and wanted to share it with the whole class! I don’t think I ever saw him that sociable the whole time I was there!

It’s like they say about driving…. Once you pass your test, is when you really learn how to drive.

The following posts will be a few ideas which I used when I didn’t want to rely on the text book too much… Let me know what you think.

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Next stop. CELTA!

After my interview, I was presented with a piece of paper which I had to “carefully read through, check you understand all the points, and sign at the bottom to say you agree”.

It basically stated that I had been told (repeatedly) about the stressful nature of the intensive 4 week CELTA course and I was still a willing participant. I was of sound mind and was fit and healthy enough to undertake the course.


There were 19 of us on day one. We only lost one the whole way through, which we were told was an achievement. On the previous course, three people had dropped out in the first week.

The four weeks which followed were filled with tears and tantrums, alcohol, laughs, lies, short fuses, alcohol, lesson plans, inappropriate gifts from students (the less said about those, the better), inuendo, jokes, (did I mention alcohol?), cammaraderie, friendships and fall outs.

They were the most interesting, intense, pragmatic and draining four weeks of my life. Theory classes in the morning were swiftly followed by teaching a class of willing guinea-pigs in the afternoons which in turn were followed with evenings of planning and assingments.

Sleep and a social life were things of the past.

But I loved every minute of it.

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I always said that I never wanted to be a teacher. I would laugh when someone suggested it… “Why leave school to go back?” I would ask.

But then I went to India. I can remember the day like it was yesterday. I was in Mysore, in central India. It was the day after I had called my mum, in tears, sobbing down the phone, “I think he’s going to die”. My boyfriend was unconsicous and had spent the last half and hour vomiting, but today was as right as rain and had no idea of the ordeal he had put me through!

 We were walking down the road and I felt a tugging at my dress. It was a young girl, probably about 6 or 7 years old. She was gesturing for me to give her money. She moved her hand from infront of her, to her mouth; the international sign for “please give me food, I’m hungry.” Even though we had been in India for a couple of weeks now, and we had seen this everyday, there was something about this girl which broke my heart. At that moment, I realised that she would probably always be begging, and the only thing she knew for a fact, was that white tourists had money. She might never leave the city and would never experience my country in the way that I was experiencing hers.

It all sounds very melodramatic, but in that instant, it was like a lightbulb had lit above my head and I thought, “The only way she can change her life is through education! That’s it! I will be a teacher!”

And so my TEFL journey began…

10 months later, we arrived in Quito, Ecuador, eager to get to the school to start teaching the kids. We arrived at 1pm to meet with the headmisstress. We sat down in her office and she said:

“You are here to teach the children English?”


“Can you juggle?”

Silence. Did she just say ‘can you juggle?’? Maybe my Spanish isn’t as good as I thought it was… I mimed juggling, and she nodded. No, I couldn’t juggle.

“Can you sing? Dance? Do circus tricks?” (I really wish I was making this up!)

No, we couldn’t do any of the above. Were we in the right place?

“It’s just, I need someone to entertain the kids for a few hours.”

This should have been the first alarm bells to tell us to get the hell out of there, but we stayed, and were promptly thrown into a room full of 20 six-year-olds and told to “get on with it”.

Two days later, in the playground, one child ran up to me shouting “Teacher, teacher, that man on the other side of the fence has a knife, and the other man has a gun!” It turned out that a mesh wire fence separated us from the outdoor holding pen of one of the prisons in Quito.

A week later, we were gone.

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