Using emoticons in literature class

This year I’m very excited to be teaching English literature to a couple of classes of 16-18 year olds. For my first lesson I need to check what books they studied last year, and more importantly which ones they remember studying.

So here’s what we’ll be doing, firstly we’ll set up a WhatsApp group which will be handy for sharing work and assignments etc. Then we’ll be sharing the books we’ve read over the holidays and the ones they studied last year in class.

Here’s a couple I reread this summer, answers and your own ideas in the comments box below please!



Check out this site to see if you recognise the first lines of some famous novels.

Posted in LeLe, Literature | 3 Comments

Revision games

This board game can be used at any level for any subject,

Just write up topics in the colours used on the board,

And when students land on the square they ask a question or speak for two minutes on a subject of the same colour.

For some reason, the minute a dice is involved it’s playing, not working!

There’s loads of activities for revision in 100 activities for Fast Finishers too!

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Being a teacher means…

Recently I asked my students to give an oral presentation on the job of their choice. I was surprised to see how many chose to talk about teaching, but in retrospect it’s probably the job they see the most of and therefore feel they know the best – and so probably thought they had less preparation to do!

Apart from all the stuff about working 8am to 4pm and having weekends and holidays off, and being well-paid (where did that idea come from??!) they said some things that made me stop to think… Continue reading

Posted in Blethering, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Teaching Up – what I learnt about teaching in Pilates class

Photo credit: Robert Bejil Productions via / CC BY

The first thing I learnt was that I am the stiffest, most un-supple person in the world – it’s amazing I can bend at all.

The second thing I learnt brought to mind something Carol Tomlinson refers to as TEACHING UP in Assessment & Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom. Echoing Demand High “teaching up” is how Carol refers to what we should be aiming for in our teaching. She says, rather than aiming low and easy, we should plan work that would challenge our most able students, and then work at providing the necessary scaffolding to enable all students to work and learn successfully. Continue reading

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Learning is connecting

Photo via

Eureka! Ever since I started teaching I’d been secretly hoping to find the holy grail – the answer to the most important question ever, and no, not 42!

I always felt that if I could discover what learning actually was I could maybe condense it into a brief mantra, or handy swallow-size pill for my students – and especially for myself.

Well, while reading the very interesting (so far!) Assessment & Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom, it came to me, drumroll please… Continue reading

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“The less you do, the less mistakes you can make” – In Praise of Mistakes & Errors: more thoughts from #IATEFL2017

This is just a short post rant to share with you something Andrew Wright said during his workshop at the IP & SEN SIG Pre-conference day at IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow.

Andrew talked about a boy who having only written a couple of lines for a presentation in class, explained his reasoning with the quote in the title.

For me this represents the mentality many of my students have or are in the process of developing, but more importantly and worryingly it represents the ethos of my country’s education system, and also that of many of my colleagues.

When did we become a race of people scared to take risks? Is this how fire was discovered? Is this how the lightbulb and internet were developed?

When a baby learns to walk does he fall down a couple of times and then decide “this isn’t for me”?

Let us instead praise and celebrate errors, for they are the path to knowledge.

However it’s not just enough to talk the talk, it’s equally important – and more difficult – to share our mistakes with our students, we can’t pretend to be perfect and get all defensive when we get something wrong and expect our students to take risks in the classroom.

Let’s be brave, tell students when you’ve brought the wrong book, or made a mistake on a test or worksheet (play spot the error!). Share stories with them of that cake you made with salt instead of sugar – or is that only me?!

Posted in Blethering, Conferences | 1 Comment

It’s about sharing stories: Thoughts from #IATEFL2017

The first year I went to IATEFL (Harrogate 2014) I went to as many talks and workshops as I could fit into a day then dashed backed to the B&B to write a whole pile of blogposts, 7 or 8 in total and I was only there two full days!

This year however it has taken me a while to gather my thoughts and I’ve chosen to write about themes that have come up, rather than workshop reviews. This is because so many ideas have overlapped, reminding me of Diane Freeman’s excellent plenary at TESOL France on fractals.

One of the first themes to develop from IATEFL 2017 was story telling.

As newsletter editor I am proud to be a (n acting) member of the IP & SEN SIG committee (online elections coming soon! – watch this space!) and was very excited to be part of our first ever SIG pre-conference event on Monday 3rd April. This day was filled with wonderful moments, but my highlight was Andrew Wright’s plenary. Andrew talked about his daughter, Alex.

Andrew said something that touched me to the core, this is what our SIG is all about:

“We can’t speak for everyone, we’re trying to help but all we can do is share stories”

For me this is what it is all about, describing his daughter Alex as “autistic” is about as useful as describing her as a brunette, or English, or a bookworm; a very thin start but completely one-faceted and superficial.

Andrew described story telling as “sharing experiences”, “creating and adding layers to relationships that are forming and reforming in the classroom”. This image reminded me of this:

During the trip to Glasgow I re-read Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, if you haven’t read it, do so now, fantastic – better than Harry Potter! If you have, then do you know there’s another book in the series coming out in October?! Anyway, my attention was caught by the moment Lyra persuades the harpies to show everyone how to get out of the land of the dead by telling them stories. To escape you have to lead a full and exciting life and then tell the harpies true stories – a brilliant life philosophy as far as I’m concerned!

Since my return I’ve started reading a book that Sarah Mercer recommended during her plenary called Better Conversations.  Sarah’s plenary will probably get a post all of its own as I think she’s just fab! In the meantime this book has made me reflect on my conversations, not only with peers but with students of course. The Better Conversation beliefs are the following:

I see conversation partners as equals

I want to hear what others have to say

I believe people should have autonomy

I don’t judge others

Conversation should be back and forth

Conversation should be life-giving

That’s all sharing stories isn’t it?

Then of course there’s all the great people I met in Glasgow and the stories we shared.

I’ve always thought of telling stories as “doing the Gruffalo” with a primary class, but I’ve learnt that as a language teacher the most powerful thing we can do is enable our learners to tell their stories.


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Powerful (and fun) learning



End of term exams and revision are upon us again and it’s a challenge to find new, interesting ways to  help the students revise.

This time I gave each student a particular grammar point or topic to prepare in order to teach the class in the following lesson.

Not only did they say that it really helped them revise their subject in depth but it also helped me reflect on my own teaching as I watched them present various subjects to their classmates.

Images & Drawing – One student asked the others to draw various objects to revise prepositions, a fun twist on picasso dictation.

Students up to the board – I always worry that this is a waste of time, but they enjoyed it and it made the lesson more animated.

Writing on the Board -I realised how boring it is waiting for someone to write examples on the board!

Names on the board – They really enjoyed having their own names on the board, in examples or when winning points!

Remember Names! – I think I’m pretty good at this, but one student did mention how a colleague always got their name wrong, and I could tell it annoyed her!

Not only did the students learn quite a bit during the lesson, but I did too!

There’s a ton more revision activities in 100 activities for Fast Finishers!

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The Restaurant scene with a twist

It can get a bit repetitive, at least for the teacher, to re-enact restaurant scenes every time we do a chapter on food, so to brighten up the lesson a bit…

I bring in some realia which the students love;


The other way to add an extra spark is by changing the instructions slightly.

As this time we did this chapter in February I added a twist, the students worked in groups of four, the task was the following:

“You have invited someone you fancy to a restaurant on St Valentines’ day, and he/she has turned up with their mum, write and perform a dialogue between the three characters and the waiter.”

Other twists include your teacher is invited by the head of school, you invite your teacher to try and bribe them to improve your marks, you win a competition and get to spend an evening at a restaurant with the star of your choice, etc.

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Story telling preparation for Cambridge YL exams

My students often find the story-telling in part 3 of the flyers and part 2 of the movers speaking exam very challenging.

I think the main problem comes from the fact that they feel they should be able to express exactly what they want to say in English, and of course they can’t.

Some of them also worry they won’t tell the “right” story.

To practice we look at lots of story cards, we imagine as many possible scenarios as possible and brainstorm vocabulary and sometimes phrases on the board, to provide scaffolding for weaker students.

Then we practice telling and re-telling the story.


As you can see the students line up facing each other, they take it in turns telling the story, the stronger student can act as a model for his friend. Then one line moves one place left and the end student joins the other end of the line, and we start again.

This way everyone can practice, it’s not too repetitive as it’s with a different person. For stronger students I give challenges such as “add five adjectives”.

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