David Ellis is an English teacher based in Japan who has been teaching English in the United States and Japan for over 20 years. He has written and published a wonderful eBook for teaching and learning English called Travel English for Busy Travelers.
Best of all – it’s absolutely free! Now, it isn’t everyday that such an interesting and useful teaching resource appears on our desk, so make sure you download your copy today!
Free download (epub, mobi/Kindle, pdf , etc.) of Travel English for Busy Travelers eBook on Smashwords:
By the way, if you have any questions, you can contact David on Twitter: @DavidLS1
David Ellis, author of Travel English for Busy Travelers
I caught up with David recently and asked him about the book:
What is the background to the book?
“As an English language teacher, I often ask myself how I can help my students become self-sufficient learners. Many of my students in Japan are overly dependent on their teachers and feel they don’t know how to study independently. I decided to write an eBook that my students and other students around the world could easily use for self-study. Travel English for Busy Travelers is a beginner’s level eBook focusing on conversation practice, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension that’s full of self-study exercises with answer keys.
Why did you write your eBook?
“I have co-written several reading textbooks that have been used in Japanese universities. Recently, I have been teaching more and more English conversation classes, so I wanted to write a conversation textbook. However, I didn’t want to write a general conversation textbook. Out of all the classes I teach, I enjoy teaching travel English the most, so I decided to write an eBook that I could use in my travel English classes.
Why did you make the eBook free?
“First of all, I wanted the book to be free to download for my students to help them become more independent learners. Second, I hope to attract a larger readership. I hope that more people will download a free eBook. I’ve done some writing for free magazines and university newspapers. I have enjoyed sharing my writing and curriculum with my students and friends this way. It’s interesting to get e-mail about the eBook from foreign countries. Usually, the sender of the e-mail is asking when the second level eBook will be released.
What are your publishing plans for the future?
“My teaching workload is getting busier, so it’s difficult to find time to finish the second book this year. I almost have the first half of the second book finished, so I will try to release a level 2A eBook by the end of this year. I hope to finish the second half of the next book sometime next year. I would also like to rerelease some chapters from my older reading textbooks that are going out of print. In Japan, most English textbooks have a rather short shelf life.
What are the most popular parts of the book?
“My favourite parts of the eBook are the reading passages on important topics for international travelers. Readers find the dialogues, the Appendix section on “Textese” (texting language), and YouTube videos to be especially helpful. Audio for the eBook is available on my YouTube channel: Travel English for Busy Travelers eBook – on YouTube
What other type of work do you do?
“I have proofread over ten books for vintage fashion writer and photographer Rin Tanaka. Rin has written some very successful vintage fashion books such as Harley Davidson: Book of Fashions, Schott: 100 Years of an American Original, XLarge: True OG Streetwear, and Wesco: Boots that Stand the Gaff.”
Thanks David! We really appreciate you sharing your eBook for free!
Match the football idioms below with their literal meanings:
1. the Beautiful Game
2. it’s a funny old game
3. to be a game of two halves
4. a potential banana skin
5. to be honest
6. to play the ball, not the man
7. to be over the moon
8. to be as sick as a parrot
9. to be on a winning streak
10. at the end of the day
11. to go down to the wire
12. to be a big ask
13. to be held to a draw
14. by the skin of your teeth
15. to be a two-horse race
16. to play your heart out
17. to give 110%
18. to be strong on paper
19. to throw in the towel
20. back of the net!
a) to feel very disappointed
b) to be a competition between two teams or groups only
d) to win several times in a row
e) more can happen later
f) the outcome is decided at the last moment
g) to be forced to end a competition with equal points
h) to quit
i) don’t make contact with another player
j) unpredictable things can happen
k) narrowly; only just
m) to compete with a lot of passion
n) to be a good idea in theory
o) in my opinion
p) an opportunity for something to go wrong
r) to try as hard as you possibly can
s) to feel very happy
t) to be a difficult thing to ask somebody to do
This week I based some of my lessons on the game called ‘What’s In The Bag…?’ (Click here.) I adapted this rather simple idea to make it into a competitive team game that could fill a 45-minute lesson.
I had been thinking about doing this activity with my students for a while, but earlier in the week I had impulsively bought a large blue plastic bucket for garden use (clippings and so on) and it occurred to me that this would be the ideal receptacle for this game.
So it became ‘What’s in my bucket?’ rather than ‘What’s in my bag?’ There had to be a way to keep the contents of the bucket secret as students dipped their hands in, so I covered it with a 120l bin bag (see picture above).
The language aims were:
to be able to discuss and describe everyday items
to practise using descriptive language
to have fun with English
bucket / bag
something to cover it with, e.g. a blanket or a bin bag
a spare bin bag in case SS (students) destroy or damage the original (they did!)
one or more sets of x (e.g. 10) interesting everyday items for SS to guess. I had three different sets which I could use in different lessons (see picture below). You could vary the number of items to fill the time you have
30 different everyday items that I could separate into three sets
Procedure for a 45 min. class:
As SS entered the class they could see ‘What’s in my bucket?’ on the board and the large bucket in a big blue bin bag standing on a table in the middle of the room. SS became a tiny bit interested in what the lesson was going to be.
After doing the register, I asked SS to work in groups of 3 (or 4 if necessary). The aim was to have 4 or 5 groups max. in each class. SS thought of a team name and I wrote them on the board. This was a fun way to identify the teams. Rather than ‘Team 1’, ‘Team 2’, etc. we had ‘Racing Team’ or ‘Damek’s Carrots’!
Warmer: I asked them straight out: ‘What’s in my bucket?’ SS had to guess cold, without feeling inside the bucket. If anybody had been able to guess cold they would have scored points. Again, the aim was to arouse interest in the activity – and, if I’m being honest, pad out the lesson content a bit.
I gave the SS the instructions: each group had one minute to feel inside the bucket and try to guess the ten items in there. I used a timer on my phone. SS could take it in turns, but it had to be one at a time. ‘You can’t look! No looking!’ (Of course, some did. In the case of some SS I had to hold the bag as a sleeve so that they couldn’t lift it up and see in.)
SS wrote items that they had identified on the board (under their team name – see picture below) – in English. (SS were allowed to use dictionaries and the internet to check words they didn’t know.) If one team had guessed an item, another team couldn’t claim the same item. SS had to be fairly specific, so for example in the case of the toy polar bear the word ‘TOY’ or ‘ANIMAL’ was not accepted by me, while ‘PLASTIC BEAR’ was. With higher-level groups I made them be even more specific: ‘Yes, it’s a battery, but what kind?’ SS feels in the bucket again: ‘AAA?’ ‘Yes, that’s right! But what colour is it?’ Seriously, you could give bonus points for correct guesses to questions like this.
Each group had a turn. After one round there were several items written on the board, under various team names. I said which were correct. After the second round (60 seconds each) the SS had maybe been able to correctly guess seven or eight items between them. Time-permitting we played a third and final time, but with only 30 seconds per group. If at the end they hadn’t guessed all ten items I gave clues and tried to elicit what they were until the SS guessed them. Or just told them, if we were in a hurry. With a few groups I helped them by removing the guessed items one by one (and eliciting their names from the whole class) to leave the last two or three items, making them easier to identify.
How the board looked at the end of a lesson. There were four teams: Shoulder, Rabbits, Nie wiem (‘I don’t know’), and Sebamobile
With one higher-level group I was able to use two sets of ten items in the 45-minute lesson, because they were so fast. It was necessary to have more than one set of items prepared, partly for this reason and also in the case of SS stealing or throwing the items. (One class inevitably did this!)
If you have time, you could ask SS to pick some items to put in the bucket for you to guess. Of course, don’t look when they are doing this! One of my classes did this and I had to guess the items, but I felt it was a bit boring for the SS and the focus was all on me, which I wanted to discourage.
It was really interesting that the hardest part of the game for the SS was not guessing the items, but finding the correct name for those everyday things. I had chosen things that we see around the home all the time, but don’t necessarily know in the target language (English). One example was the word ‘coaster’. In Polish this is ‘podstawka’ which basically means ‘stand’. In Polish this single word can mean one of half a dozen or more different items, so the SS came up with various names when they felt this item: ‘tea tablet’, ‘tea pad’, ‘tea stand’, ‘tea saucer’, ‘tea tray’… all of these words are served by the same word ‘podstawka’, while in English we have many different words, including ‘coaster’.
The SS were intrigued by the initial concept: ‘What’s in my bucket?’ I was able to use theatricality, e.g. showing a squeamish face as I gingerly delved into the bucket. Some SS remarked that there could be a snake in there. I hope it was a fun and unusual lesson that will be memorable for my SS, who are so often used to sitting still for 45 minutes reading the course book in class. (Not in my classes, I’m happy to say.)
It was really nice to see teamwork within the groups of three. Most of them naturally – without being told by me – adopted the dynamic of one feeling and speaking, one checking the translation, and one writing on the board.
There had to be a group who didn’t take the activity in the spirit in which it was given; I knew that they wouldn’t, but I wanted to try it with them anyway and see what would happen. So we got chaos:
stealing the items, keeping them, even after the lesson into the following break
hiding the items
drawing ‘rude’ pictures on the board
tearing the bin bag to make a hole so they could see in
throwing items around
pulling the ring pull off the can of sweetcorn, then near the end of the lesson, when they felt hungry, trying to open the can by smashing it on the corner of a desk. They now owe me one can of sweetcorn!
And yet this class were still able to guess six out of ten of the items. In hindsight, should I have played this game with them?
In terms of the language goals it’s debatable how much English the SS learned from doing this activity. It wasn’t really a communicative activity and SS used Polish throughout, apart from to say/write the names of the items. There was no presentation element, unlike the previous few weeks’ lessons. However, it was undoubtedly fun for each group. Next week we will have to work harder on speaking in class.
So this happened to me on Monday. It was the last lesson of the day and I’d already enjoyed success with my ‘wonderful and imaginative’ lesson plan (my review) five times – including with a couple of difficult groups – and I was looking forward to winding down with the same lesson plan with a high-level group who are usually personable and intelligent people.
I took the register – about eight students were in attendance. It was too hot in the room; the blinds were down and the windows open to allow a meagre wisp of cool air to enter when it chose. I stood in front of the class and introduced the topic: ‘We’re going to discuss social networks!’
I was astonished to hear a chorus of ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’s from the students. Again, I repeat, my lesson plan involved starting with discussion in pairs about social networks. Not a grammar exercise. Not a review of present perfect, or – heaven forbid – future perfect. Not a spelling test, or a written composition ‘na ocena’ – ‘for a mark’. No, discuss social networks in pairs. I had chosen a topic that I knew my students (aged 14-15) were not only interested in, but absolute experts in. They didn’t know but my secret weapon for the second half of the 45-minute lesson was a Kahoot quiz where they were to answer true/false questions about social networks on their (normally forbidden) mobile phones.
So what do you do when the students reject your (fun) lesson plan out of hand at the beginning of the lesson? ‘We want to go home!’
‘OK, but you can’t go home.’
‘We have to do the lesson.’
‘OK, but this will be fun. Let’s try it.’
I persuaded them to discuss the simplified version of this set of questions, that I had written on the board. Then I led group feedback. IMHO it was interesting and they were more engaged and made some intelligent comment about social networks. (Although they refused to believe that they are, in fact, only ‘free’ with air quotes, as opposed to free without air quotes.)
Again – a chorus of NOOOOOOOOOs. What part of my sentence provoked this reaction from the heart – from the belly – ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’ Was it the word ‘quiz’? Did they associate it with ‘test’ and ‘exam’? Did they still not believe, after months of evidence working together, that I only wanted to engage them with interesting and relevant content? I hurriedly put the quiz up on the whiteboard via the projector and asked them to get their phones out and log in with the Kahoot PIN. This kind of quiz is really fun because it’s interactive – you watch the quiz unfold on the big screen and participate by pressing the answer on your phone. I think it’s cool. My other groups had enjoyed it…
The real knockout blow for me came when the students were entering their screen name or nickname for the quiz. This appears on the big screen and everyone can see it, so there is plenty of potential for writing ‘naughty’ nicknames and getting a bit group laugh. In this case they didn’t use swear words (as other groups had done previously) but one student chose the nickname ‘chcę do domu’ – which means ‘I want to go home.’ Like a child in a pre-school or first class of primary school: ‘I want to go home.’
We did the quiz – all twenty questions – but the wind had been knocked out of my sails and I left the school after the lesson feeling a little sad.
How do you engage students who have rejected your lesson plan out of hand before they know what it is, because they want a ‘fun’ lesson – when actually your lesson plan IS the ‘fun’ lesson? (This is the key question for me, but it was too long to be the title of this post!)
How do you engage students who want to go home? ‘Wolny lekcja!’ – ‘free lesson!’ they chorused. They wanted to be allowed to sit and do nothing but chat in Polish for the last lesson of the day. I couldn’t allow that, but then I realised that maybe other teachers do. Can it be true? Perhaps they baulked at having to use thinking and speaking skills when they would have found it easier to answer a reading comprehension in the course book – which I’m briefed not to use in lessons. Did they think I would be a soft touch because my lessons ARE usually more fun and communicative – or because I’m a naïve foreigner? – so they thought they’d try their luck with getting a ‘free’ lesson?
In this blog post I don’t have the answers, just questions, so if you have any tips for how to deal with or avoid the NOOOOOOOOO!s I would be more than grateful!
This week most of my groups have worked with the topic of planning a holiday on another planet.
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.
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.
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?
Give SS a clearly defined task with several objectives to fulfil, on a topic that is of interest to them.
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!
SS show what they have done to T and the rest of the class.
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 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!
Since last Thursday I’ve been teaching cartoon story lessons with my groups. You may want to try this lesson with your classes, so here’s what we did. If you do try it, please do let me know how it goes down!
I asked the SS (students) to work in pairs and take out their notebooks and pens. I drew a three-panel cartoon strip on the whiteboard (as in the image above). I deliberately chose something simple, with some drama (the “shocked” character in the middle) and some action (the character leaving). The SS were intrigued – to varying degrees! I drew the speech bubbles and asked the SS to think of the story and write the dialogue for the four speech bubbles. I encouraged them to consider:
the expressions of the characters and what emotions they signified
After a few lessons I banned the students from using the topic of romance/love/relationships for their dialogues. Some SS asked “Why?” and I said, “Because it’s too easy.” The comic strip is rather leading in that direction. Many SS from the first groups used relationship tropes – as in “I’m leaving you…!” or “I’m pregnant! And it’s yours…!” – so when the SS had to think of something else they had to work harder, e.g. making the relationship between the characters daughter/father, brother/sister, student/teacher, customer/shop assistant, and so on, rather than romantic partners. This worked much better.
SS worked in pairs or, exceptionally, threes. After about ten minutes each pair came to the front to read out – or act out – their dialogues. (This was the presentation part.) Then I introduced the second exercise of the 45-minute lesson: I drew a series of three blank panels on the board and asked the SS to draw their own comic strip, with dialogue, and with a given topic – in the example above, Crime.
The SS had until the end of the lesson to complete this work. I monitored and checked the pairs (and threes) and collected in the work to mark it. The picture below, by Ola and Ania and reproduced here with their kind permission, was one of the best examples of SS’s work, from a class of 15 year-olds. In this case I had given the SS keywords to include in their comic, rather than a topic.
Continue the story with further panels…
Write the next part of the story…
Use the same comic strip, but change the dialogue.
Use the same dialogue, but change the pictures.
I used this lesson with almost all of my eighteen groups this week, and it evolved over the course of the week. I had started off using an A4 handout with a much longer comic strip, which the SS had to complete and then present to the class. The strip in my picture above was, to begin with, just the warmer. Over time, I realised that 45 minutes wasn’t enough time to do everything and we were getting bogged down in spelling and grammar with the longer comic strip. My job is to get them talking, after all, not writing in class.
The concept of the lesson – writing and drawing comic strips – was engaging for most of the SS, even some of those who had been harder to engage in previous lessons, which was a nice surprise. It was a fun lesson with each group.
Neither you the teacher nor the SS need to be able to draw well to pull off this lesson. The goal is to get the SS speaking and doing the presentations. The artwork does not have to be pro standard! (See my example with stick people, above.)
It was great to do a lesson without any photocopying – once I’d ditched the original idea for the lesson. The lesson was easy to deliver, with no preparation and minimal resources: just a board and pens or chalk. The resulting work was easy to mark and give feedback on.
We were also able to explore topics like using humour in the cartoons and using our imaginations.
Some of the pairs tried to pass off very short dialogues, along the lines of “Hi!” “What?” “Don’t leave!” “Bye!” I didn’t accept these and asked them to redo it. A few of the pairs didn’t feel like producing anything.
Some students complained about their lack of creativity. One very bright fourteen year-old guy, with a good level of English, said: “But I’m not creative! What would you do?” I replied: “I would try my best.” The problem was that he was not prepared to try. In the end, he refused to do the activity, so he ended up with some extra written homework.
There’s a danger that this lesson becomes about writing skills and grammar/vocabulary, with dictionaries out in full force, when what I wanted most of all was to hear the SS speak.
There are still significant (I think) issues with the SS using L1 during the preparations stages and not listening to each other’s presentations. I got fed up with saying “OK! Listen, please!” before each presentation.
Some of the SS’s work was a bit, well, boring. Their story might be: “Let’s go to the shop.” “OK. I need to buy some bread.” At the shop: they buy the bread. Result: “Let’s have a sandwich!” “OK!” I encouraged them to include drama or humour in their stories by inserting a problem into the situation: “Let’s go to the shop.” “OK. I need to buy some bread.” At the shop: “Hey! The shopkeeper has overcharged us!” Or, at the shop: “Oh no! The shopkeeper is a dolphin!” … and so on.