Monday, 23 November 2015

2 Simple Ice-breakers To Start A Lesson

Last week I tried out two new ice-breakers at the very beginning of the lesson, and it worked well in both Elementary groups. To make long story short, here they are:

1) Alphabet Race. Write all the alphabet letters in a list form. Divide students into 2-3 teams. Set the timer for 2-3-5 minutes. The task can vary:
- write 1 word starting with each letter of the alphabet
- write two words starting with each letter of the alphabet: one adj. and one noun - I used this one
- write adjecives (verbs/noun) starting with each letter of the alphabet
- write words connected with topic "____" starting with each letter of the alphabet
When checking as a whole class activity, give plus for every correctly written word. The winner is the group who got the most number of pluses.

2) Word Chain: Level Advanced.

  • Divide students into 2-3 teams.
  • Give each team a had-out with the following grid:

_______     __________________   _____________
_______     __________________   _____________
_______     __________________   _____________

  • Explain the rules. Words in this task should be written as in a word chain: last letter of a previous word becomes the first letter of the following.
  • Exmaple: chair (noun) -- round (5-letter word) -- dangerous (adj.) -- stairs (nouns) -- etc. Set the timer for 3-5-7 minutes.
  • Check as a whole class activity and award pluses/stars for every correctly written word. The winner is the team with the biggest score.

Hope your kids will enjoy it as well :)
Have a great lesson ;)

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Learning Pyramid

One of the reasons why I love my job is in people that work for Unium. And it's not only about how friendly, positive, ready to help and open they are. It's also about how eager they always are to develop. How intelligent and broad-minded, well-educated and curious they are. Coming with all different backgrounds they will never stop surprising you.
And thanks to one of the colleagues I accidentally met in a coffee room last morning, I found out about the Learning Pyramid. She gave us couple hints about what it is so that we can dig that topic dipper on our own afterwards. Thanks go to her for that as well. So today while reading articles on David Kolb's Experiential Learning Model (in later posts about that), I also conducted a small research on the Learning Pyramid.

Basically, what it shows is the percentage of knowledge acquired through different activities. Those activities can be classified as Passive and Participatory Teaching Methods, the latter being the most effective, of course.

I knew there was a saying that goes something like "If you want to learn something, start teaching it", but I never knew it was actually supported by research. To add more, lectures turn out to be the most ineffective method. You just look at the percentage difference between lectures and group discussions!

For some people, of course, lectures can be a fine way to learn information as well - if you are an audial who has mastered the skill of successful note-taking and who has an inner-motivation goal and is extremely interested in the topic, the percentage will probably go up by 10-20 points. I'm pretty sure, however, that it will never reach the 50% benchmark.

Another picture that I found in the Net and want to share with you puts the Bloom's Taxonomy next to the Learning Pyramid. My next post will be devoted to the Bloom's Taxonomy in particular, so for now I'll just leave it here for you to analyse and sort of match. They don't correlate completely of course, and are focused on quite different topics. The idea of putting them together seemed to me to be appealing nevertheless.

P.S. What would be really interesting is to combine teaching methods and the Pyramid together (maybe plus the Taxonomy as well) and see which are supposed to lead to better results. Anybody interested in doing that? :)

Monday, 19 October 2015

Broaden Your Students' Boarders

At some point (usually in the middle of semester) I start giving out tasks to prepare a presentation at home and deliver it in front of the class at the lesson. It's individual work, no teams or pairs. The speaker chooses the means himself - PowerPoint, posters, blackboard, etc. or nothing at all.
And this semester I have got a group of really great 5-6 graders - they are super capable, willing and skillful. However, obviously, not skillful enough to deliver first-class presentations in English and speak freely for more than 15-20 seconds.

Yet I gave them the first presentation assignment last Saturday. In case you are not familiar with the foreign language level of kids at this age, I'm throwing in a picture. The huge dog illustrating all the skills you've got to have to deliver a presentation and the chihua-hua illustrating the set of skills they posses. Truly.
Now add the nervousness of public speaking (that would be those ears drooping over the little cuttie on the pic) and you'll probably come to the conclusion that it's not the best idea. I wasn't all that sure about it either. The bar should be high, yes. But not too high.

I asked one hero (really, I can call him that now) - Danya - to prepare a presentation on anything he wants: his lovely cat, favourite sport, hobby, favourite food, etc., and he chose to share one of his passions. Which is... Magic Tricks!
Can you believe that?
Trust me, I believed in him and thought he would handle speaking English in front of his classmates. I didn't expect a jaw-dropping performance, however.

Not only did he make a PowerPoint presentation, but also brought some "equipment" and showed us about 10 magic tricks right on the spot.. In English!
You could see his hands shaking, him trying to formulate ideas in English correctly and one would think Gosh, that's overwhelming. Nevertheless he dealt with anxiety just fine and made a great performance. I feel so proud of him! (although there is nothing I helped him with really) And also so glad that I decided to give that task after all.

And this post, I hope, will serve as a reminder to other teachers and myself too that kids are capable of lots of things indeed. We shouldn't limit their creativity and development zone by being afraid of failure or not believing in them. Well, definitely one cannot be successful all the time, and bumps will come along the road, here and there. But you'll never learn (and what is more important - broaden) your borders till you try.
And being a teacher I feel responsible for showing a child where his current benchmarks are and how to broaden them.

So dear colleagues, here is what I want to tell you:

Broaden your students' boarders ;)

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Motivation and Reward Systems to Implement

Not only has the new school year started, but it’s already been two weeks, which means two lessons with each group for me. And I’ve been really eager to start posting at least once a week in summer, but procrastination and lack of self-pushing didn’t let me do that.

In short, I was lucky to be a part of two camps – one two-week regular camp, where my colleague-partner and I were leaders of the youngest team and where I taught English 3 hours a day. I doubt I will describe this experience in detail as it’s not concerned with teaching English that much, it concerns working with kids though and therefore I might mention that time period here and there. What I really want to say about that camp is that I was genuinely happy. Every day of it. I loved all of my kids and felt truly overjoyed about the whole process.

The second camp was only 5-day long and was completely devoted to English. 4 teams and 4 team leaders, 8 teachers, our great boss and English every second of the camp = English Incubator. I was a teacher of project-management lessons, so it was kind of CLIL even. I will definitely devote a post to the English Incubator itself some time later. No doubt I loved every moment of it as well.
But that’s enough of “How I spent my summer”. I’d love to share something more up to date with you.

This semester I have 3 groups (3-4 graders, 5-6 graders and Intermediate) on Saturdays and 2 Elementary groups on Sundays. And I decided I should test two motivation approaches and see how each of them works.

1) English Journey Passport
I’ll start out by describing the approach I have with Saturday groups. I managed to create and English Journey Passport (here is the link for you to download the whole set). And here are some pages for you to take a preview look at.
The concept itself: every lesson we travel to a new place in England, Scotland or Wales. We go from South to North, learning a bit about each city we visit. When child visits a city = attends a lesson, he/she receives a new page for his Passport.

Page #2 – Student info page + space for drawing personal coat of arms or group’s coat of arms if you decide to spend time on creating one

Page #3 – motivational quote (can be any number actually, I’m planning to give it to students right in the middle of the course)
Page #last – brick wall where I’ll post coats of arms of the cities for every lesson that student attended
City Pages:
Students fill in
·        - the date
·        - name of the city
·        - an activity he/she liked most/least at the lesson; some impression of the lesson
·        - new words
Teacher fills in
·        - homework battery bar (color the number of slots according to the completion and accuracy level of h/w done)
·        - lesson activity slot (I give stickers which say great/good/try harder/you can do much better; actually any way to note how active student was at the lesson would do. You can have just three colors - active green, so-so yellow and passive red – and fill the circle with the appropriate)
·        - special achievements (to praise any distinguishing activity, e.g. “wrote the most creative story”, “made no mistakes in listening tasks”, “won in a vocab game”)
·        - new words (so it’s either you gluing a list of words students are supposed to learn from the lesson or them writing 5-10-15 new words they learned at the lesson).

I also have my personal info (mobile phone and e-mail) at the bottom of the page, near the envelope picture so that students and parents can contact me in case of any questions. You can adjust the pages to your personal needs using any visual redactor. To create the pages I used an awesome free web-site

2) As for the Sunday groups, I’m implementing something I have already tried before, and which I learned about from a great colleague of mine – Ksenia ( Each student made/drew/printed out his/her own image on a small piece of paper. And every lesson I stick them to the board chart at level “1”. Being active and giving answers at the lesson, students gain points and move up the chart. Those who reach 10 get a small prize at the end of the lesson (stickers or sweets).
Furthermore, I keep the record of all the points gained by each student at every lesson. And I will sum up all the personal results at the lesson 16 and reward the student who earned the most points with some cool stuff (some educational and fun stuff, I haven’t decided on that yet:))

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Learning French flashmob

A lot of people around have been talking and writing about podcasts. Every resourse/blog on personal development topic says at least a few words about podcasts and audio books - sources of information that I have been denying for several reasons. But the joy of using them has finally found me and I can't wait to share one particular podcast that I have been trying out for the last week or so.

A short paragraph on how I came to it first though. I wanted to spend the time I usually waste in subway or on the bus somehow usefully. And on average I have about 15 minutes a day to spend on such an activity - to learn something new. Now, I;ve tried taking up Frnch several times but it never went any further than saying hello, goodbye and 5-10 verbs. So I thought I should try out French podcasts or something like that. And after 2-3 days of listening through several French teaching channels I discovered Coffee Break French on iTunes. These are 15-20 minutes lessons, and there are four seasons of 40 lessons each.

Being a teacher, it's very interesting for me to try a new approach - a way I never used to study something before. Audio-lingual method is completely new to me as to a student, and I am not an audial at all I must say. So the more interesting this experiment is.

Everyday I listen to an episode of the podcast (sometimes two episodes a day, but only if I'm in the mood) and that's all. I'm very interested about where it can take me and how much I can achieve listening to some French speech (well with English explanations, of course) for 15 minutes a day. I have 10th of June as my milestone - it will be 30 days since I started listening to the podcast - and I'm planning to revise everything on that day.

Besides that I also have Mr.Petrov's lessons on my plan. He uses grammar-translation method as a base, but he's become very popular in Russia and has his own TV show where he teaches different languages using his technique. His students aim at achieving simple speaking level by the end of 16 lessons. These lessons usually cover present, past and future tenses of the language, main 50-60 verbs and some basic topics like introducing yourself.

I want to combine these two ways of learning French and see what happens. Mr.Petrov's course is going to be just supplementary for me, I'm not going to plan any schedule like lesson a day. Whenevr I feel like I want to do more French and have 40 spare inutes, I'll start watching, but mainly my experiment is going to be focused on audio-lingual approach.

Bonne journee, mon amis! :)

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Speaking Club on American Culture

So I've been progressing with my Speaking Club project. Thanks to my methodists' support, we are going to have the first and second meetings repeated and I'm also about to start writing the third plan. At this point I want to share with you the second meeting plan which was devoted to American culture! We had a native speaker joining us, thanks to one of my colleagues, and were able to make it even more fun for the kids. Here is the link to the plan, I uploaded it to, which I use myself very often - I would love to get your feedback in the form of comments or a heart (on busyteacher) or like through any other social media.

I also want to share with you one of the ways wee used to divide students into groups.This cute cards with pizza slices on them will help you to divide your class into three (or two if you eliminate one of the pizza types) groups quickly and in a fun way. Afterwards you can also ask to create a name for their pizzas and add some extra and unique ingredient to it -

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

3 Games for English Young Learners

Last autumn we had a seminar at Unium, devoted to playing games at our English lessons. It was organised by one of the teachers - she arranged everything, shared some of the games herself and it turned out to be a great event, like any gathering at Unium to be exact. Truly, I'm not exaggerating or something, I just really love my company and absolutely objectively - people who work there are great.

So today I got the video recording of the master-classes that our teachers gave at this seminar, and I thought I should share mine. At was aimed at young learners students and I provided three games, two of which are vocabulary drilling exercises and one is a speaking practise.

I hope it will be useful and I would really appreciate comments on whether you liked it or not and why. It's 9 minutes long, and here is the link in case the Blogger player doesn't work - :)

Friday, 8 May 2015

Primary Colours Week

I have so many things to write about and I haven't written anything for so long!
Let me start with something that has just recently ended. We had a Primary Colours Week at Unium and it was awesome!

When I was in America, I remembered a Crazy Socks Day at school as something great that we don't have and as something that would make school life more fun and enjoyable. I always ask this question - why not have all different sorts of fun while studying if it doesnt' interfere with the actual learning process but what is more contributes to it?!

Teachers Crew on the Violet Day
And having special days seems to be one of those fun things. So at the second Speaking Club meeting (a bit later about that) we came across the topic of these special days and I offered our students to come with ideas of their own special day or rather a special week as we are not a usual school and our schedule is different. So while just one day wouldn't work for us, a week would suit perfectly. Students were encouraged to send their ideas to me by e-mail. After a week I created a poll to vote for the best idea (got three ideas from them but still it's an achievement, I think, since it was for the first time). And the idea of Primary Colours Week when everybody wears clothes of the colour assigned to a particular day won. So we went from red Monday down to violet Sunday following the rainbow order and it was awesome!

Kids that had me as a substitute teacher on the Blue Day
Since I have lessons only on Saturday and Sunday I was preparing for indigo and violet, but at some point suddenly a substitution came around and I went to one of our centres on Friday and brought every blue accessory I had with me and made the girls wear it and take a photo =))

It was so much fun! I'm sharing with you photos of my groups, not all of them followed the colour rules despite my request but still it was great and quite team building.

My Elementary group

So this upcoming Sunday we are going to reward the girl whose idea of Primary Colours Week was implemented and we have also made a competition for the most active educational centre and yesterday all the winners were chosen and now their prizes are on the way as well! :)

me, my student and two colleagues - Indigo Day
I'm glad that this idea came to my and my colleague's mind as we were writing the plan for the second meeting! I hope we will be able to do something like that next semester as well! I also think it will be fun to make some kind of quest/flashmob in summer so that the kids satay tuned over the brake.

Do you have any special days at school? Please share, I'd love to hear about your experience!

Monday, 20 April 2015

How To Turn Your Lesson Into a Quest in 15 Minutes

Today I decided to add more fun to our usual small competitions and unite all the exercises under one topic. We had an Adventure Islands Quest. You can see our route on the right. As you see, it takes not more then just a picture on the board.
As we were doing it I thought that I could have made a paper boat so that it would travel for real. That would have added some interactivity, you now.
This quest can be planned in advance and have some special points, tasks and so on or can be included into your lesson without any special preparation.

When to use it at the lesson:
1) As a HW-check activity if you had at least 3-4 exercises. Plus you can always add some extra practice to the topics assigned for HW and here you go - already about 6 exercises, which is good number for any quest.

2) As a New Topic journey. You can arrange the stages in accordance with grammar-vocab-use of english-listening-writing-.. scheme. Or plan the stages as introduction-let's come up with the rule-drilling-freer practice-etc.

3) As an activity that will go through the whole lesson. In this case a more profound background story is probably required, so that it unites different parts of the lesson. Or you can just have stages (e.g. HW-check, new material, practice) and substages at each of the major stage.

How you can prepare such an activity in 15 minutes before the lesson:

1) Choose a topic. The easiest way is to go with some journey - islands, space, town, country, etc.

2) Count how many exercises you have in your plan today (or how many HW exercises you have if you decide to make it as a HW-check activity).

3) Draw stages in accordance with the number of the exercises (e.g. 5 HW exercises mean 5 islands). Set some ultimate goal at the last stage - find a treasure, rescue your friend, catch a thieve, collect all the puzzle pieces to make a picture, etc.

(optional - 4) Draw some extra stuff/characters/surroundings/etc. It will take you not more than 60 seconds, but will add significantly to the atmosphere.

(quite optional - 5) Take a magnet and put it at the first stage to mark the beginning. Move the magnet as your group conquers the quest.

6) Copy all the exercises from the textbook and cut them out so that they look like some cards (it takes about 3-4 mins, but kids will love them more than just regular Open textbook page blah-blah exercise blah-blah).

(optional - 7) You can also stick these cards to the stages so that kids can come up to the board and grab them - the more they move the better.

It's as simple as that! I tried these Adventure Islads with both teenager Elementary and Young Learner's groups and it worked just great!
I hoppe your kids will love it too=)
Wish you fun and effective lessons ;)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Waking Up With The Sun

Good morning to everyone!

Sun is hiding behind the building. But it's there.
And it's the most important thing :)
I want to share something beautiful with you today. It's been 6th day now (with one failure in the middle) that I'm waking up with the sunrise. It sounds really crazy to me! Such an owl, a sleep-in person I am! I have always had troubles with waking up in general. And now I feel like I'm a bird that wakes up with the Sun and flatters with smile and joy.

All this became possible thanks to two awesome young ladies :)
We decided to do a marathon and wake up with the sunrise every morning for 40 days in a row. As we wake up and watch the Sun going up we do some special physical exercises, more like stretching or gymnastics I should say.. I don't know for sure though if the word gymnastics in English has the same second connotation.
If we fail to keep the promise, we are to buy flowers for our mums :)
And another great routine that we've established is taking photos to show each other the sunset at our places.
And this is when it comes to smth beautiful to share with you. Today's sky was amazing. And inspiring.

These are the flowers I bought
for the day I failed to wake up in time
I am grateful for the fact that I have our sunrise team. And well I've been trying to write this post for three days now, and since then I've had two more failing days due to being seek and conscious understanding that that day I needed more sleep. And here is the thing - although I failed, I know that I can do it. I can move on and proceed. If I was doing it alone, I doubt I would have strength and motivation to continue after having skipped two days. But now I know that the girls are waiting for me, and tomorrow I will post a new sunrise photo to our chat :)

Besides that, I am determined to start walking in the morning. See that picture with the Sun hidden behind the building? I am gonna get moving and find a place to watch the Sun rising for real. I've taken one unsuccessful attempt already :D it was cloudy that day and 10 minutes after I went out it started to rain. But! It was a great walk nevertheless - fresh air, empty streets, I even found this nice piece of art between some houses, which was really nice, like a discovery =)
When you see such a sky
in the morning,
you just can't help smiling
and feeling awesome =)

I really enjoy our marathon and now I even know that I'm strong enough to keep up with it. I'm sure I will write an enthusiastic feedback when it's over.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Reading as an Integral Part of Education Process

Last Friday I had a wonderful day attending an annual conference on reading and literacy issues held by Reading Association of Russia ( It was a fruitful experience as I got to learn a lot of theoretical and practical info, which I am going to share with you :)

Information and statistics

First of all, some interesting facts which were mentioned in young scientists' reports contest:
- girls read more than boys;
- top-3 popular books among children of 12-17 years old in Russia:
1) Harry Potter
2) Hobbit
3) Twilight
-1/3 of primary schoolers in Russia read 60% of info from screen.
-48% of teenagers prefer paper books
-modern parents are more concerned about children's reading than generation before
-fewer people join libraries comparing to statics of 2005
-the reading intensity has grown, that is children read more books in one month now

I also put down a name of book which is probably worth reading - "Библиопсихология. Библиопедагогика. Библиотерапия" (Bibliopsychology. Bibliopedagogy. Bibliotherapy). I was lucky enough to meet the authors and listen to their short presentation of the book and it sounds like a profound study.

Practical tips

Second part of the event was devoted to workshops, where reports on different topics were presented. One was supposed to stick to one workshop section and listen to the reports grouped under the same topic. Some participants however found it more useful to cruise around and attend several sections. So did I, and having listened to the report on mindless reading which nowadays is widely spread not only among children with disorders (who usually tend to have these difficulties due to improper brain function or disabilities). Mindless reading implies reading without understanding the sense of the text/sentence, without paying attention to details.
Two women, who I started to admire after their speech as it was truly great in terms of usefulness and ideas presented, suggested some tasks for primary and pre- schoolers to prevent mindless reading. These exercises however can be successfully used in ESL/EFL classroom

1) Read and assume
Students are given a short piece of text. The information is not given directly. Students need to draw a picture in accordance with the text, adding details that are based on logical assumptions.
Text: it's the 1st of September (p.s. for readers from other countries - it's an official first day of school all over Russia). The sun is shining. Children are hurrying up to school.
What your students should come to:
- it's the 1st of September, therefore it's autumn. So some trees are probably yellow. Sun is shining - not many clouds in the sky. Maybe some paddles on the ground.
2) Hypothesising
You give text piece by piece (sentence by sentence) and students need to give predictions after each piece of info. Text should give ability to change hypothesis with each next piece.
What season is it?
It's windy. (can be any season)
It's snowing. (can be autumn, winter, spring. BUT: here children are likely to conclude that it's winter. Discuss this together)
The grass is green. (can be autumn, spring)
Snowdrops are coming out (spring)

Then I had a chance to attend a workshop where teachers shared their techniques of creative writing and reading. Here are the ideas that can be put into practice:
1) Every story has 4 major parts:

  • Each story can focus mainly on one of the parts. So we can try writing one story 4 times shifting the focus each time
  • When writing first stories, it's wise to focus on one part at a time. For example, one week is devoted to the development of characters, next - to the setting, and so on

2) Writing while reading a book tasks:

  • Story inside a story: ask children to write a one-page story to put inside the story they are reading. It can highlight some particular moment in a character's past or explain some of the actions
  • Small changes lead to important consequences: ask students to retell (or rewrite if you are a cruel teacher :D) the story changing/eliminating one of the events or characters
  • Changing the structure: stories may have different structure, For example, they can be told as a flashback of events from the past or have a circular structure. Ask your students to retell the story changing its structure

3) There are 5 types of conflicts which a story may have:
Man vs. Man
Man vs. Society
Man vs. Self
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Digital World (that's rather new one)

  • You can ask students to add one conflict to the story you are reading and imagine what would change
  • You can start creative writing activities by writing a short story with one particular type of conflict in focus (usually good stories have several of them)

4) There are 6 main types of character:
Round (usually main character)

  • You can ask your students to imagine what the story you are reading would be like with a different type of character
  • You can classify all the characters in the story and find similar and contradictory features

5) One of the greatest reading activities is mindmapping of course. Any info presented in graphs, schemes or pictures is more interesting and more likely to stay in memory. I'll be writing a post focusing on mind maps a bit later (soon I hope), and I plan to make it useful and informative, so for now I'll just mention mind maps as one of good strategies to work with texts.

To end with, here are some important points that I have come to through my personal experience:

  • As you see, all the reading and writing strategies are quite interchangeable, and all the reading tasks can be given as writing activities with an aim to create one's own story and therefore develop imagination and writing skills.
Even Mickey is writing ;)
  • It's essential for writing activities to start writing at the lesson. Write at least first 5 sentences at the lesson, together, so that your students don't have to start with a blank list staring at them and frightening them.
  • Comments on written work are crucial to students' motivation, self-esteem and effectiveness. Write at least 2-3 sentences about each essay/story/composition so that your children feel that their work has been carefully read through, their efforts are appreciated and progress is noticed.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Assigning creative tasks wisely

Being a real fan of communicative and project-based approaches I often find myself writing a lesson plan that leads to writing and presenting a poster/idea/concept, etc. Judging by my experience with such tasks and tasks on creative essays, students nowadays are struggling with coming up with ideas and something new. Well, to some extent it's just the matter of their age - boys of 11-15 years old tend to find everything connected with killing, blood and stuff funny. Ask them What would you do if a friend betrayed you? and you will get Kill him! as an answer. It's not that they are cruel or smth, no. It's just that they think it's chucklesome and usually laugh saying that. Other than this bloody topic, it's almost impossible to get some creativity from them. That's mostly about boys though. And it's not a universal rule, just a tendency.

So lately I've been thinking on how to spur their creativity, ability to think out of the box, come up with something new and break through their own borders.

And all that led me to some conclusions and suggestions about how to organise children's project work, which I'd love to share.

1) Keep language in focus. Ensure that eduactional goals are reached: if you want your students to use some particular vocabulary in their presentation speech there are two ways to do that:
- make it a requirement to use 5-10-15 phrases from some particular unit. When evaluating the presentation count how many they used and let it be one of the criteria of your final project assessment (with students being aware of it beforehand of course). However it may add some artificiality to their speech.
- set some very precise questions that should be covered in the presentation and which are unlikely to be answered without the vocab you want to train. These way the language will come to students' minds naturally, however there are no guarantees that they will use the lexis you have in mind. Although if your lesson is structured correctly and the project stage comes after a large number of activities with the vocab in focus, learners are more likely to reach the goal of using new words and expressions.

2) Too wide choice leads to no choiceGiving freedom in terms of subject of the task is good only for students who have sound experience in creative tasks. For students who are just starting to work with them wide field is confusing and, to add more, it even impedes the process of creation, as a learner has no idea what to write or even think about. Too wide choice leads to no choice.
That's why you need to set the topic and give the task as clearly as possible.

To illustrate this idea I can give you examples of projects:

1) what life in old times used to be like? - bad topic
2) what was it like to live in the 19th century? - better
3) what social life did people in the 19th century in France have? - good

The best thing is to provide your students with aspects that can/should/must be covered. As a task it should look like that:

What new home appliance will be invented by 2030?
-what will it do
-it's size
-it's price
-who will invent it
-how will it look
-will it have several modifications
-who will use it most

Give a narrow topic. Set very precise task. Give simple and clear instructions.

3) Collective brainstorming. Before getting into small groups or starting to work on one's own have a 3-5 minutes brainstorming session where students can suggest their ideas in a whole class activity. It will kill two (even more though) birds with one stone:

- shy students will see that any idea can be supported and has a right to live;
- shy students will get more engaged as everybody will be speaking their mind;
- students who cannot come up with anything will be able to choose from the topics suggested and not just sit and blink when time for project development comes;
- students will be able to look at the problem from different perspectives and see that ideas and points of view differ;
- even one word can stimulate smb's thinking process. Combination of ideas that one had in his head and another said out loud can give birth to some new brilliant thoughts.

4) Start together. Give or elicit from students possible ways of starting the writing/presentation.
What can we begin with?
What questions can we answer first?
What phrases can we use to start the speech?

All this will give the atmosphere of mutual engagement + drive the process from a dead-lock.

Wish you inspiration, fun and best of luck at your lessons! :))

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Imitation Game

Yesterday I had pleasure to watch a rather smashing hit - The Imitation Game. To start right away - here are the ways I'm going to use it:
1) grab some new vocab for myself ^_^. And since I recently suggested a scheme for vocab learning, I should probably show it in action
So these are the words that turned out to be new for me


2) look for pieces to use at the lessons, since Cumberbatch is a popular pal.

3) Besides using particular scenes to show vocab or grammar usage, this movie can serve a good lead-in to the military topic. Since the 70th anniversary of Victory over Nazism is approaching, it will be nice to commemorate the event at the lesson in an interesting and new way.

4) Since movie is pierced with puzzles, codes and other enigma ;) it can serve as an inspiration/theme to a lesson-long quest (maybe for some final lesson) or the concept of puzzle solving can be implemented into a part of a lesson on its own.
- Previously I wrote about a crossword app - the post is here. It can become one of the puzzles.
- Then you can create a double puzzlehere
- or a word scramble using wonderfull BusyTeacher service - here.
- Another mystery to challenge your students - deciphering (this one though has little academic purposes, more just for fun or to set the mood).
- You can also use letter gaps, such as: r_l_e_ed, _mb_ _a_se_.

I'll share my worksheets as soon as I prepare such a lesson ;)
Have a very productive weekend! And let your heart be filled with joy =)

Monday, 23 March 2015

How to motivate your students to do homework

Here is a tip I came across in the net I don't remember how long ago. And this semester I decided to try it out with my 5-6 graders. And as you can see from the photo, the thing is working! All the exercises for homework (including written assignments such as essays) are handed in in time and always! Now, the price I'll have to pay is the following :) - when the number hits ten, I'm gonna throw a pizza party for them. And since I'm a bit too soft teacher sometimes, there is gonna be ice-cream too :D Kids love it! Every lesson, in the very beginning, I hang this poster on the board and after I'm done walking from student to student to check if the homework is done, we all count the numbers together and then I write it in the square. idea just stroke me..I should let kids do that! Why am I writing the number? Really! I should have students - each week a new one - write the number on the board! It will make them feel more responsible for the whole process of getting scores for homework + the feeling of achievement.
Great! I'll definitely ask one of the students to write number 7 this Sunday ;)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Vocabulary Learning Strategy

You might be aware of this strategy, however I want to share this little tip with you since I find this strategy to be particularly useful when studying new vocabulary at higher levels

The idea is that you create such scheme and provide two examples, synonyms and defintions for a word (these are the most important parts). Origins may help you memorize the meaning if you are familiar with Latin (lots of words come from it) and transcription...well how are you gonna read the language with thousand exceptions? :)

I used this strategy for my Reading Conference lesson so that's why you can see "Use in context (the book)". For general English lessons you can replace that with Use in context (everyday life), for example.

Hope it will be useful! Enjoy! :)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Speaking Club Ideas + Making Crosswords

As I have promised, I'm providing my plan for a Speaking Club meeting. The first we held was devoted to the topic of city life, or life in Moscow to be particular.
Despite it may seem a bit dull, such topic I mean, the approach and the way we presented the material proved itself successfull and kids loved it!

To set the scene, there were 12 students of Pre-Int and Int level. There were two of us, teachers, and one more teacher who worked with the third group when we were filming videos.

Here is a Busy Teacher link, where you can download it, enjoy -
P.S. At the end of the post there is a short review on a crossword app ;)
Interaction pattern
Supplementary materials/Time
Whole group
Hello, everybody! I’m really glad to see you all here! Today we are going to talk a lot. Please feel free to ask any question at any time, make yourself comfortable.
Please turn off your mobile phones and put them away so that we don’t get interrupted. And tell me, how do you think what is the only rule that we are going to have today?
Come to conclusion that the only rule is to speak English

5 min
Changing groups of 3-4-5 people
Let’s imagine that we went to a café. And it’s like speed dating, where you have to change your companions. At first when we come in there are tables for three people. So when I say Start I want you to unite into groups of 3 and you will have about a minute and a half to learn each other’s names, to learn each other’s hobbies and find something that all three of you have in common. When I say Switch, it means that now you need to unite into groups of four, changing all of your partners. And again you will have about 2 minutes to learn each other’s names, hobbies and find something in common.
Then again into new groups of three or into groups of five.
Poster about info
1)      Name
2)      Hobby
3)      Smth that all of you have in common

10 min
Whole group
Let’s stand in one circle. Okay. Now I want you to tell me the name of the person on your left, his/her hobby and something that you have in common.
A toy or a ball
5 min
Whole group
Great! Thank you everybody a lot! Now when we’ve got to know each other a bit let’s get straight to business! Let’s get to the topic of our today’s meeting. Do you know a game, where you are shown four pictures and you need to guess the word?
Show some examples. Let students guess.
Good! Now let’s try to guess today’s topic. River, golden domes, traffic jam, Dolgoruky monument or picture – Moscow.
So today we are going to discuss Moscow’s most beautiful places, problems that we have in our city and develop some ideas about what to improve and implement, ….. (put the agenda list on the board, read directly from it)
Printed 4pics1word cards

7 min

Agenda list
Whole group
Now I want to show you some pictures that describe city life. Tell me what factors of city life do these pics represent.
Teacher puts up a picture, elicits a corresponding words from students, writes the word on the board under the picture. Afterwards we can divide them into pros and cons together with the students and discuss it a bit.
City life pictures

5 min
2 groups. Each group sits in a circle and shares ideas on the topics suggested
Good! Let’s discuss some points that make a city a comfortable place to live in. What should we have in Moscow so that it’s comfortable, beautiful, attractive for tourists? – write these three words on the board and make students brainstorm quickly, let them shout out their answers.

Now let’s divide into 2 groups and focus more on advantages!

How to divide into 2 groups: cards with Moscow sights and sights from other places around the world. Those who get cards with Moscow sights unite in one group. Other cities’ sights – 2nd group.

Now let’s imagine that we are two groups of designers and architects who have been invited to Moscow to improve it, to provide new concepts.
One group comes from Great Britain (provide students with GB flag and maybe some other GB attributes) and another comes from France (the same).

In your groups now you need to come up with 3 ideas/projects that can be implemented in Moscow. You will discuss it in your groups with a teacher. You need to write down your ideas on the paper that I’ll give you. You will have 10 minutes to do that task.

One teacher per one group to guide and monitor the discussion. Questions suggested to stimulate the topic:
·         How often do we use internet nowdays? Do we have enough wifi access points? Should there be more? Where should they be? Should they be free?
·         Is our city clean? What can be done to make it cleaner? Do we recycle in Moscow? Should we stimulate, encourage recycling? What good does it bring? Where should be recycling bins put? How should they look in order to attract attention? How should we advertise recycling? How to implement recycling systems into houses, not only on the streets?
·         Is Moscow a green city? What makes a city green? What are the most beautiful parks in Moscow? What types of parks do you know? What types of parks should be where and why in Moscow? What programs, campaigns can we introduce in order to make the city greener?
·         What about cultural life in Moscow? Do we have enough celebrations, concerts, fairs and so on? Should we advertise them more? How should we advertise them, through what channels? What annual or monthly or quarterly events in Moscow would you implement? What museums would you like to have in our city? What funny/interesting museums do you know in Moscow/have visited/want to visit?
·         How should a city look at night? How does Moscow look at night? Should there be more lighting?
·         Are you satisfied with public transport in Moscow? How should it work? Should we have more ground transport? If yes, then what types of transport are the best – buses, trolleys, marshrutkas, trams? How can we improve our subway? What do you think of stations in modern style? What do you think of old stations like Ploschad revolyutsii, Mayakovskay? New stations – in what style should we build them? Or, maybe, we shouldn’t care about design and spend no money on eat on order to save it for something more important?
While discussing the topic, the groups need to keep track of their ideas and write them down
5min explanation+ 10mins activity

Write key topics:
Attractive for tourists

Cards for grouping

Countries’ attributes

On screen:
*3 ideas
*what will make our city
-attractive for tourists

A3 papers and markers to write down ideas in groups

5min explanation+10mins activity

Maybe: pictures of subway stations, museums to encourage the conversation
Whole group
Now you are going to present your ideas.

Two teachers - are the Moscow government (provide some attributes as well) and they are going to decide whose project to implement. Students need to compete and advertise their ideas in the best way.

Each idea should be presented by two speakers. Right now you have 5 minutes to decide who is going to present which idea and you also can write down key points of your speech. You will have 2 minutes to present each idea.

These cards (teachers provide every student with a card) have some vocabulary that will help you to deliver your idea. If you use these words in your presentations, you will get extra points.
We will judge your projects by the following criteria: refer students to the slide.

Students prepare their speeches.
At the same time teachers arrange the classroom so that there is their Judges desk, space for presenters and room for audience. When 5 mins are up students come up front in turns and present ideas (1st team couple – 2nd team couple – 1st team couple – 2nd....)

Maybe: before speaking each group is given extra challenge. For example, use this or that word during your presentations, make some gesture with your hands so that it fits your speech, etc.

Judges do the scoring while teams deliver speeches.
After everyone is done, groups post their A3s with ideas on the board.
Then when all points are counted and while announcing the results, teachers give feedback on each idea and besides writing the scores next to ideas, they also give badges and glue them to the A3s:
The most unusual idea
The most practical idea
The best presentation


At the end we as well can provide students with web-links to Moscow government site, where they can suggest their ideas by themselves in their free time.

Now, dear designers, we can have a tea break and rest a little bit before moving on to the next part of our very important discussion today!
2 min explanation+5 min preparation+15 min presentations+5 mins feedback

Cards with vocab

Slide with criteria:
-Usage of the linking words and expressions (one expression=1 point)
-Usability (практичность, реальность применения на практике)
-Timing (not less than 1.5 minutes but not more than 2 mins)
-extra challenge (+5 points)
TOTAL FIRST PART TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes

Let’s enjoy some tea and sweets
Turn the music on
5 min
Whole group
OK, the second part is going to be devoted to the problems that our city has. What is problem number one in Moscow? Put idea on the board.
Discuss it. Break each problem into 3-4 clear points.
What is second largest problem?
Moscow problems:
1)      Traffic/bad roads/parking
2)      Old damaging houses, expensive real estate
3)      Environmental problems
4)      Immigrants
5)      High prices
6)      Homeless and panhandlers
Let’s choose three problems that are the most interesting for you by voting. Now let’s divide into three even groups. How to divide into 3 groups: cards of three colours – yellow, red and green.
Each group needs to pick one problem (cards).

You are political parties running for an election campaign now. In order to be chosen by voters, you need to make your advertising campaign video.
Let’s watch one of the examples of such videos. While watching I want you to focus on the structure of the video. Tell me, what parts does this video consist of?
10 min
Whole group
Let’s discuss now, what should a good advertising campaign video have?

You should come up with a plan more or less like that:
1)      State and illustrate the problem
2)      Say that we (as a party) can deal with it because we are:…….
3)      How we will deal with it
4)      A call to action and party’s motto

Give and discuss briefly some motto examples. Hand out vocabulary lists with words useful for their video. Tell them that they have 20 mins to plan and film their video. Teachers are ready to help them at any stage.
Set the timer for 20 mins.
Vocab lists
5 min
3 groups
Students make their videos, teachers monitor and help out
20 min

TOTAL TWO PARTS: 1 hour 55 minutes

BREAK. Students chatting, teachers downloading videos to the computer, preparing the election process
10 min
3 groups
Now we are going to watch each of your videos. Please be attentive. After the video each group is allowed to ask one question about the video, party or campaign.

Teachers may provide short feedback on each video at the end
5+5+5 min
3 groups
Each student now needs to vote for one of the parties. They cannot vote for their own party. They vote by writing the number of the party on their colour cards and putting them into the poll
Yellow – party 1
Red – party 2
Green – party 3
Poll box

3-5 min
While one teacher is figuring out who won the election, second teacher asks students to fill in the feedback list (about the meeting in general).

E.g. 1-2 topics that he/she would like to discuss next time
What could have been done better at this meeting
Evaluate the meeting judging by: fun (1-5 points), interesting (1-5), comfortable atmosphere (1-5), how useful were the materials provided beforehand (1-5), etc.
Feedback list

5 min
Whole class
Check points on the Agenda list as done. Give each student to pick a card with a summing up question (most interesting activity, new word, some question on the topic, etc.)

TOTAL TIME: 2 hours 35-40 minutes
Question cards

5-10 min
And one more thing I'd like to share today is an application that helps to create crosswords for your students. It's name is Eclipse Crossword. 

Here is the link to the website - - where you can download it, it's free and easy to install.
Here is how its interface looks:

As you see, you can provide clues for the words, make different word lists and then use those wordlists to create a crossword. It's as simple as that :)

Can't wait to use it on my students these weekends bugaga!