Category Archives: Listening

FREE Video Class! Why Learn English with Music?

FREE Video Class! Why Learn English with Music?

Wondering how and why we should learn English with music? Watch this great video from Next Step English to get some invaluable tips!

You can view all of their videos here.

Further study:

Teaching Blog: How do you Escape from a Desert Island?

Teaching Blog: How do you Escape from a Desert Island?

Last week my students crash-landed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and swam for their lives from sharks until they reached a desert island. As luck would have it, a (watertight) container washed up on the shore beside them. It contained fifteen useful items from the plane (see picture below):

Teaching Blog: Could You Survive on a Desert Island?

Laminated page with the fifteen items

knife
mirror
mobile phone
tent
rope
newspapers
sun lotion
fishing net
chocolate
axe
magnifying glass
toilet paper
compass
drinking water
map

Each group had to select six items and explain why they had chosen them over the other items. They also had to say what happened to them at the end of their story, i.e. escape, get rescued, make a new life on the island, or…

Well, that was the setup for the lesson! (They didn’t really crash-land in the Pacific Ocean. If they had, I’m sure our lessons would have been cancelled.) This was my take on the classic team-building problem-solving game.

Procedure for a 45 min. class: (14-15 year olds):

  1. I set the scene in as dramatic a way as possible (involving plane noises, explosions, and swooping hand gestures), then outlined the task, as above.
  2. I gave each group a laminated page with the items on (see above). We checked they knew what they all were and the name of each item.
  3. I explained that there were no right or wrong answers, but they had to justify their choices. I stressed: ‘It’s YOUR story. The island and what happens is up to you. Use your imaginations.’
  4. I explained that their basic aims were: FIRST – escape from the island; SECOND – survive.
  5. SS (students) were allowed to use dictionaries and phone translators, as usual.
  6. After the register and setup (10 mins), and preparation time (15 mins), it was time for the presentations (20 mins). Each group went to the front and presented their choices and their story. I asked questions, e.g. ‘Why this?’ / ‘Why not that?’ and so on. I asked SS about unusual items they had chosen, e.g. the mobile phone or the chocolate, which were both not popular choices. I also asked about life on the island: ‘Have you met any other people on the Island? Can you describe what you can see? How do you feel? What happens…?’ and so on.

Various attempts at putting a brief version of the instructions on the board:

Teaching Blog: Could You Survive on a Desert Island?

Board instructions 1

Teaching Blog: Could You Survive on a Desert Island?

Board instructions 2

Teaching Blog: Could You Survive on a Desert Island?

Board instructions 3

Extension ideas:

  • SS could add drawings and sound effects, if there is time.
  • Role play key moments in the story.
  • Make and edit a film with phone video recorders.
  • Create a competitive version where you assign a value to each item – from low to high – and SS get points for their choices. The ones with the most points win. This would need a rejig of items to make it more difficult – more useful items and fewer low-value items.

There is lots of scope for using creative skills. The lesson could easily have lasted 90 minutes.

Homework:

  • SS write up a diary with x entries, e.g. Day 1, Day 2, Day 8, and Day X (the day their story comes to a head).

What worked?

  • It was another topic that engaged the SS from the outset, and a fairly simple activity compared with previous presentation tasks. The lesson plan worked like a charm and the planning and preparation time that I put in at the weekend paid off big-time. The lesson time flew by but it was really important to keep strict timing so that we could hear everybody’s presentation. On a couple of occasions we ran out of time and I had to hear the last presentation during the break-time.
  • It was a manageable task with an interesting theme that allowed for SS’s use of imagination, for example, one group imagined ‘cannibals’, another an island full of women, while one student wanted to cut the twelve plastic bottles in half and hang them upside down to (somehow) collect the moisture from the air.
  • It was a nice easy class for me to manage. I did the introduction, then SS worked in pairs or threes and I could monitor casually; then we had the presentations; then the lesson was over.
  • I could use the Q&A element as a filler by asking more questions, or ask fewer questions, depending on how the time was going. So, if there were still ten minutes of lesson to go but only two more presentations, I would ask both groups more questions to fill the time.
  • We had fun with the Polish word for axe, which is siekiera, and pronounced almost the same as the name of the popular singer Shakira.
  • It was interesting to see what each group had chosen, and what they valued. I was surprised that the water was so popular, because it could only be used once. There were only six litres, so a three-strong team would only get two litres each. Still, many groups valued it above items such as the tent, and thought they would get some use out of the plastic bottles too (as above), e.g. as containers; for catching fish/insects; for making a raft with floats, and so on.
  • We had a few discussions about boiling seawater. I didn’t think it was possible and it forced me to look it up online and discover that it would be possible to distil it by boiling it and collecting the condensation. However, I don’t think the SS had the right tools to be able to do this – pans, glasses, cups, and so on. Still, it was a moot point!
  • For those who tried to escape by raft or boat I challenged them – do you think you would get far by raft or boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? It would depend on the location. As I had said, it was their story, so some SS managed it because they imagined their island to be fairly close to Hawaii. I thought their best chance of escape would have been to use the mirror and signal for help; there were bound to be helicopters and planes out searching for survivors. Some SS groups preferred to stay on the island and many thought death would be their outcome: ‘We all died’ came the fairly defeatist statement from some groups. Of all the possible outcomes… However, a few SS realised that if they died on the island, or were eaten by sharks, they wouldn’t have to invent much of a story. One group of three guys began their story: ‘We found a knife and killed Kacper for meat, because we were tired of hearing about Martyna [his ex-girlfriend]! Then we killed each other.’ Me: ‘How did you do that?’
  • However, this lesson provided a breakthrough in terms of the problem of getting the SS to speak English during the lessons. As I got used to doing the lesson plan (13 times over the course of one week!) I realised that the longer I sat with the groups while they were preparing, the more they would have to speak English; also, the longer time I allowed for presentations, the longer I could do the Q&A sessions, where again SS had to speak to me in English. As the lessons went on I allowed less time for setup and prep and much longer for the presentations. This really felt like a significant breakthrough, and it is something I will do again in the future.

Challenges

  • If I did this lesson plan again, I would definitely rethink the items. There are too many ‘weak’ items, like the chocolate, the sun lotion, the toilet paper, the newspapers, and the mobile phone, so many groups ended up choosing more or less the same six most useful items, i.e. the knife, axe, net, rope, magnifying glass, and water. There need to be mainly strong items to choose from, so there is more variety and more deliberation/explaining to do. That’s something to improve the activity for next time, but it didn’t spoil the lessons.
  • Early on I realised I had to explain what some of the items were. The mirror was mistaken for a frame a few times, and one group thought the newspapers were towels!
  • In the initial lessons, SS read out short stories, with a list of items usually at the beginning. I decided to ask them questions to try to break up the prepared answers and get some spontaneous answers. This ended up working really well.
  • There is a gap in the narrative / break in the logic, which none of the SS mentioned or seemed bothered about: why, if the washed-up container had fifteen items in it, did they have to choose only six. The task relies on selection, but why only six things from fifteen?! Nobody asked! Why were these fifteen items together in the container anyway? I remembered the mnemonic: KISS (keep it simple, stupid!). But it began to bother me. I didn’t find a suitable narrative. It would have to be that another person – from the plane or from the island – was limiting the number of items to six. Thankfully it didn’t matter! The SS accepted the activity for what it was and ran with it.
  • This lesson was a hard sell at 8am on a Thursday morning! It didn’t help when three students walked in late at intervals as I was trying to go through the setup…

Overall this week’s lessons were really fun. Being able to do this lesson plan with thirteen of my eighteen groups was really rewarding. The lesson plan was solid but it definitely improved as we went along, and can be improved in the future.

As a postscript, during one of the final lessons with this plan I finally realised that the term ‘desert island’ might have given all the groups the wrong impression! In Polish ‘desert’ is pustynia – like the Sahara Desert – while deserted is ‘opustoszały’ (abandoned/desolate). One student asked me in the penultimate lesson – ‘Is the island just desert?’ ‘No,’ I explained. ‘Desert island really means deserted island. The island can be big, with trees and lakes. It’s up to you. It’s about your imagination!’ I could have kicked myself: how I had potentially made it harder and more confusing for them because of the language barrier, and by assuming they know what the cultural concept of a ‘desert island’ is. What I had in my head was apparently completely different to what they might have been imagining. More planning required!

## Please let me know if you try this lesson and how it goes! Click here to contact me. ##

Teaching Blog: 3018 - Holiday on another Planet

Teaching Blog: 3018 – Holiday on another Planet

Teaching Blog - Holiday on another PlanetThis week most of my groups have worked with the topic of planning a holiday on another planet.

Procedure:

I projected the instructions above on the board (or wrote it on the whiteboard, depending on the classroom I was in) and informed students to take out their notebooks and pens and work in groups of three. I informed them that they would have to do a spoken presentation, with all students speaking, which would be assessed.

I told them: “The year is 3018!” I made a kind of swishing noise and waved my arms for a while. “You’re in the future!” I clarified. Generally the students laughed. They settled into their task.

Each 45 minute lesson split roughly into thirds, with 15 mins to do the register and set up the activity, 15 mins for SS (students) to prepare their presentations, then 15 minutes for the presentations. As they prepared I operated some sound effects on an app called myNoise (iOS / Google Play), which I played on my phone through a (hidden) Bluetooth mini speaker. The ‘Warp Speed’ sound effects were great – bleeps and whooshes and pulses that you might hear in a spaceship (or on another planet) – as far as I know, anyway!

I had fun by starting the sounds off low and then increasing the volume, to see how many SS – and who – would notice. When they looked up, I reduced the volume again or denied that there was any noise. Some SS were more aware than others. I feel it helped to set the ambience of a future-themed lesson about space travel.

About 15 minutes before the end of each lesson, the SS gave their presentations in groups and we clapped each group. I was pleased by how much imagination was shown and how much they had been able to achieve in just around 15 minutes prep time.

Extension ideas:

I did this lesson with ten of my groups and sometimes, due to the lower number of SS in a group, we had time for extension activities:

  • After a presentation: I asked the group some additional questions about what they had just said, e.g. ‘What colour was the alien? Describe him. Was it a him? How could you tell?!’ etc.
  • After we had heard all the presentations: if there was time, I switched on the sound effect of the spaceship/space noises again and asked the SS to close their eyes. I asked the group questions, e.g. what can you see? Where are you? What is happening? and so on. A little bit of a drama game.

What worked?

  • The sound effects app was quite amusing for me. I’m not sure all the SS appreciated it – or how many of them even noticed it above their (work-related) noise! When SS did notice the weird noises or ask about it, I pretended not to have heard it.
  • I’m not sure why, but lower-level groups seemed to respond better to this activity – with greater enthusiasm and more imagination. Maybe they didn’t overthink it, unlike some of the higher-level groups.
  • I asked them to work in groups of 3, in order to break up some established pairs and force them to work with different people. Some SS begged me to work in groups of 4, so I asked them why I didn’t allow it: ‘Because students will talk in pairs,’ said one person. Exactly, and if they work in groups of 4 there will be sure to be at least one, and probably two, students doing nothing, while the other two work.
  • SS learned new vocabulary, including ‘adventure’, ‘aliens’, and ‘dangerous’.
  • I noticed that some groups of 3 achieved more than others in the meagre 15 minutes that I allotted. Some presentations were fabulous, with really detailed scenarios, while others were more perfunctory, e.g. ‘On the way home there was a battle. The end.’ I guess this is to be expected in terms of differentiation, although some SS worked harder than others, in my opinion.
  • It was great, as always, to watch the SS working contentedly on the task – the ‘happy hum’.
  • This lesson structure is still working well: setup > preparation > presentation (see previous Teaching Blog posts). What is the lesson plan (above) in a nutshell?
  1. Give SS a clearly defined task with several objectives to fulfil, on a topic that is of interest to them.
  2. Give them a fair amount of time to work together in pairs or groups to prepare their response. Offer help and assistance as required, but let them get on with it. In English, as far as possible!
  3. SS show what they have done to T and the rest of the class.
  4. HW optional.
  • The content has to be interesting to them. When I planned this week’s topic last weekend I was originally going to ask them to talk about a normal holiday. Then I was playing with the new app and I noticed the space sounds and realised that a holiday in space would be so much more fun – and good for the imagination! Serendipity at work.
  • I enjoyed imagining the future along with the SS. They conjured up a time when intergalactic space flight is not only possible, but absolutely commonplace; when aliens and humans co-exist and intermarry on earth and on other planets, like Mars, Mercury, and their own made-up planets (e.g. ‘Unique Planet’ and ‘Princess Planet’, where some SS went to find out about the beauty effect of magic coconuts); when space travel can involve a ‘space tram’, ‘magic carpet’, ‘flying car’, or ‘a bike in the sky on the Milky Way’; when spaceships can break down, but be fixed; when humans can go on a rescue mission to the sun – which is being robbed of its heat by a dastardly heat-absorbing alien race… It takes just 15 minutes to get all these scenarios – and more – out of SS who are by no means at a high level in English. Bravo! I salute them. I smiled, I laughed, and I played weird sound effects.
  • I think that having the instructions on the board for SS to refer to at any time while preparing was a big help. It meant I didn’t have to keep reminding them of what to do. It was clear, once we had gone through it at the beginning. This time I included an image to help to stimulate the imagination.
  • Other positives: group work; variety of focus; not teacher-led lesson, but teacher-controlled; low teacher talking time; after doing this kind of lesson a few times the SS know more what is expected of them; SS take responsibility for their work and their marks; at the end of one of the lessons one student seemed genuinely surprised that it had gone so quickly (a great sign of engagement!): ‘Juz koniec?!’ (in Polish) = ‘It’s finished?!’

Challenges:

Challenges that are familiar from previous weeks with this lesson outline:

  • Getting SS to do the preparation stage in English is difficult – even with the highest level groups.
  • SS listening to each other during the presentations – this is getting a bit better.
  • Limitations of time – 45 mins to start, work on, and complete the activity, with no rollover to next lesson. I have to be very strict on the clock.
  • I’m concerned – as a teacher – that there is still little or no time for grammar correction, e.g. one group wrote: ‘My friend meet a very preaty girl, and now they have one kid.’ and ‘Adventures – Swimming with Delphin.’ (In Polish ‘dolphin’ is ‘delfin’.) Should I take in the work and mark it at home, then return it with written feedback? How helpful would that be? In the next lesson we don’t have time to return to the previous week’s lesson, because there is a new epic to be created. Focus on speaking becomes focus on writing and grammar? My job is to get them talking, but what about accuracy? Is this a speaking activity or a writing/grammar one? Can we have speaking and presentations without writing and grammar? Without writing, yes, but without grammar, no!

Image: https://pixabay.com/

BRAND NEW Infographic! How to Look and Sound More Confident

How to Look and Sound More Confident (FREE Infographic)

If you have a spoken presentation or exam coming up, you may want to read our latest infographic, which gives some great tips for improving your confidence and feeling great while speaking in public!

Click here to find out more!

 

Teaching Blog: Meet the Conditional Family

Teaching Blog: Meet the Conditional Family

I invented the idea of imagining the four English conditionals as a family while working at a language school in Poland. I hit upon the idea of making each conditional one member of the family. The aim was to make learning the conditionals less abstract – and easier to understand – by showing the nature of each one, and so suggesting the kind of situations that students could use them in.

First conditional is the mum – practical and conscientious, busily focused on the short-term future of her family; second conditional is the teenage daughter – dreaming about the future and considering the best options in terms of studying, finding a boyfriend, getting a job, moving out of her parents’ home, and so on; third conditional is the middle-aged dad – dour and with his head in the past, thinking about what could have been if… if he’d made better decisions somewhere down the line, like if he had married Doreen – his first crush; finally, zero conditional is their young son, who is obsessed with learning new facts and with his reality in the here and now: ‘If I fall off my bike it really hurts!’

The five worksheets that resulted from these lessons with the Conditional Family represent a set of materials that I’m really pleased with. It was one of those cases when the end product was just how I had imagined it at the beginning of the project. You can download the worksheets below – they come complete with answer pages. There is also a podcast from around the same period (below), which may give some useful tips on teaching conditionals.

I guess I modelled the Conditional Family on the standard nuclear family: mum, dad, teenage daughter, boy. I gave them names for the worksheets. I took inspiration from my wife for Ferne Conditional (1st). She is certainly somebody who is very much focused on the here and now and the immediate future. She tries to organise everybody and she knows what is going on and when it should start and how long – exactly – it should last; on the other hand, it is impossible trying to talk to her about booking a holiday for six months’ time! I’m more like Herb Conditional (3rd) – thinking about the past and wondering what if… what if I had got that French A’Level? What if the teachers hadn’t kept going on strike at such a critical moment in my education? Becca (2nd) and Nero (zero) are a bit more stereotypical. You might find the whole family stereotypical – in which case you are welcome to create your own characters based on the conditionals. I suppose that from The Simpsons to Family Guy, via Modern Family and (in the UK) My Family we are used to the family stereotypes, and hopefully they help to make the point about each conditional in a way that a boring grammar lesson wouldn’t.

If you are really cool you could introduce Ferne’s older brother – uncle to the kids  – who is called Mick, and talk about the often baffling to students topic of Mick’s Conditionals – or, I should say, mixed conditionals. You know, the one where the first clause is past (e.g. past perfect from 3rd) and the second is would + infinitive (from 2nd). Something in the past affects the present or future. For example:

If I had remembered to bring the tickets we would be watching the play by now.

Why not get your students to design and draw a comic strip or create a role play / film using the conditional characters and their various situations? You could give a prize for the best one!

Here is the free stuff – hope you enjoy it! If you do, why not make my day by leaving me a message on Facebook and liking my page – and please don’t forget to tell your friends about PurlandTraining.com. Thanks. 🙂

Free podcast (MP3, 30 MB) – Get to Know… the Conditional Family:

Free worksheets (PDF):

Note: to download a PDF file, click the downward arrow at the bottom of each file

Get to Know… the Conditional Family 1

Get to Know... the Conditional Family 1

Get to Know… the Conditional Family 2

Get to Know... the Conditional Family 2

Get to Know… the Conditional Family 3

Get to Know... the Conditional Family 3

Get to Know… the Conditional Family 4

Get to Know... the Conditional Family 4

Get to Know… the Conditional Family – Your Ideas

Get to Know... the Conditional Family - Your Ideas
Learn English in 30 Minutes - ALL the English Basics You Need

NEW Video Lesson! Learn English in 30 Minutes – ALL the English Basics You Need

This is a great video if you want to learn the basics of the English language in just 30 minutes!

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Thanks to Alisha at EnglishClass101.com! Check out their website here and find them on social media:

NEW Podcast! The Schwa Sound

NEW Podcast! The Schwa Sound

Learn about the schwa sound in English:

Download link: 52. The Schwa Sound in English (MP3 12 MB)

What is the schwa sound in English? With Matt Purland. Listen to the podcast and follow the text here:
The image shows the schwa sound as sound waves (stereo) captured by Audacity software.
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Learn Days, Months, and Seasons

NEW! FREE Podcast – Learn Days, Months, and Seasons – with Matt Purland

Learn Days, Months, and Seasons – with Matt Purland.

In this podcast we learn the vocabulary for days, months, and seasons, and practise the correct pronunciation.

Click here to read the lesson notes and exercises.

Listen and download the free MP3 lesson: Days, Months, and Seasons (5 MB, Google Drive)

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