ONCE UPON A TIME – A LESSON PLAN

esl gamesHi everyone! I´m so sorry I wasn’t able to get together with you for Sunday Best last weekend but I was preparing something really special for you. In fact, it will be the focus of this week’s Sunday Best, if I can hold my tongue until then that is!

Today I want to share an incredible game and lesson plan with you which I created for my young students but that has actually been an incredibly big hit with adults as well.

In this game I call ‘Once Upon a Time’, students become storytellers, not of someone else’s stories but of their own. Students will be presented with three sets of story sticks, the green sticks represent the place where their story will take place, the blue will be their main character(s) and the red (my personal favorite) will be the central problem of the plot or a problem their main character must endure or overcome. Using games in the classroom

You can download my set of story sticks here and print them on card paper, or you can certainly edit the document or make your own. Making them on popsicle sticks by hand is even more fun, but if you’re pressed for time this is a faster option. Here are the steps to set up this activity in class:

1) As a warmer I like to ask students about some famous stories they might know or ask them to recap one we have worked in class. I use the one they choose to elicit who the main character is, where the story takes place and what the main problem or challenge is. That way, they’ve come up with examples themselves to serve as inspiration.

2) Ask each student to select one story stick of each color. In the first two or three rounds I always let them read through all the sticks and choose the one they like the best. In the next rounds I have them choose them at random (the funniest and craziest stories will come up at this point). Of course if you’re teaching a large class it might be best to do this at random from the beginning, students might take a long time choosing at the rest of the students might get restless.

3) Give students a few minutes to think about their story.

4) Students take turns telling their stories.

5) Awards ceremony: After a very creative lesson like this where students have worked really hard I always like to have a little awards ceremony. Click here to download my award envelopes. Inside I write what the prize is. In my case this usually includes earning one or two star stickers (I use a sticker system in my classes), being able to choose the extra activity or game next class, stickers, being able to choose and animated short to watch or the next song we will sing in class. These may vary depending on the type of class you have, so I’ve left the envelopes blank so that you can adapt them. If you find them to be too small, you can always select the figures and make them larger. Storytelling

My categories include:

– Creativity

– Best Character

– Best storytelling (pronunciation and fluency)

– Best grammar

– Best use of vocabulary

– Best behavior (and this includes their behavior while telling the story as well as their behavior while listening to their classmates stories).

I have to tell you, I have a big box of games and activities for my young students, but no other game has provided as much concentration, interest and good behavior as this one. Phrasal verb UNO comes in second in this department. It’s also great for you to check students’ progress and see what areas need a little more review or focus.storytelling game

I hope you enjoy it! Ask me any questions or leave me some comments in the section below. If you try this out and have some incredible stories (it’s amazing what their little minds can come up with), please share them in the comments as well!

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PENNY LANE – A LESSON PLAN

Using Beatles song in your lessosIt’s been a few weeks since I posted a lesson plan (remember I also share tons of resources for teaching in the Creative Teaching section of the blog). In today’s plan I incorporate music, grammar, listening, and reading comprehension into a really fun lesson  for kids. You can even make it an arts and crafts project at the end of the lesson and practice speaking skills while you’re creating a classroom poster.

The whole lesson usually takes me about 1 hour (an hour and a half to 2 hours if you’re doing the project at the end) but you can of course adapt it. So far the kids have loved this activity, especially making the project at the end of the lesson, it’s like the cherry on the cake! What song am I talking about? None other than the beautiful Penny Lane by The Beatles. I will outline the different activities you can do in class and in the order I usually do them, but feel free to cut, paste and change things if needed. I’m also adding a paragraph at the end with optional add ons in case you want to do some follow up activities or make this lesson a little bit longer.

Lesson name: Grammar from a song: Penny Lane

Use: Suitable for children of all ages and adaptable to different levels (Elementary + … ).

Language systems and skills practiced in this lesson: Grammar, Vocabulary, Listening, Speaking and Reading.

Timetable fit: This is a great practice lesson after you have taught the present simple tense and the present continuous tense and wish to practice when it is appropriate to use one over the other (present simple vs. continuous).

Part 1: Speaking/ Grammar/ Listening

1. I like to begin this lesson by talking about music and musical styles. Practice speaking with the students by having them talk to each other about their favorite bands and artists and then get everyone together and elicit some examples. If you’re teaching a private lesson simply do this with your student and have a conversation about their musical preferences. Another option is to elicit musical styles and write them on the board (e.g. rock, classical, jazz, opera, country, dance, folk… you’ll be surprised with all the musical styles they come up with!).

2. I’m a Beatles fan so I like to say that now I want to tell them about one of my favorite bands. I don’t tell them the name but I briefly play an excerpt of the song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (which has such an iconic start to the song). If they can’t guess it, I then show them any of the hundreds of videos of the band playing the song that you can find on youtube. If they didn’t guess before they will imediately recognize the four figures in black and white tilting their heads sideways. Once they’ve guessed the name of the band I elicit from some of the students if they’ve heard their music before. They get very excited talking about how their parents love this music and even the very young ones will want to tell you the story of John Lennon’s death (this always shocks me!).

3. I then tell them that we are going to practice the grammar we’ve been seeing in class with one of the band’s most famous songs.

4. Give students the following handout of the lyrics of Penny Lane with a gapfill (download it by clicking here) (page 1). Tell them that they have to write the correct form of the verb in brackets in either the present simple tense or the present continuous tense and to be aware of the change of the verb in the third person singular. This will take them some time, it’s a song, so as we know the grammar isn’t always the way they’ve seen it in class, but they learn so much from this exercise that it’s completely worth the effort.

5. Walk around and help students that might be having problems with the exercise. Have students check the answers with a partner.

6. Feedback: The great thing about this exercise is that feedback or answer check is done by the student’s themselves through a listening practice. They get to listen to the song and correct their lyrics themselves! You will also have to play this several times especially for lower level students. Have them check with their partner again (if you’re working with a group). You can purchase the song on it’s own for practically nothing on iTunes and also find it on Spotify or your favorite music subscription app. Please don’t download illegally! It will cost you next to nothing and you’ll have it forever.

7. Give them the second page of the handout with the complete lyrics for them to check their final answers.

8. By this time, students will be begging to sing the song, and of course they deserve it after such hard work! I like to use this video Karaoke style but simply listening to the song with their complete lyrics is just fine and the quality of the music will be even better (the Karaoke version keeps their eyes up and engaged which is why I like to use this video sometimes). Sing the song two or three times with them. This will also help with connected speech and children love to sing it!

Part 2: Reading / Comprehension of the song/ Vocabulary

1. Now it’s time to help students understand what this song is about and go over new vocabulary in context.

Option 1 for lower level students: I use a beautiful illustration you can find in the following book: The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics, edited by Alan Aldridge (sorry I can’t share the illustration for Copyright reasons, but the book is truly wonderful if you want to look for it). You can also do a Google image search by typing: illustration of the song Penny Lane. Divide the class into smaller groups and give each of them a copy of the illustration and have them identify the different verses of the song with the images you see in the picture. For example, have them point to the picture and say this is the barber showing photographs, this is the pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray. Get the class to come back together and elicit what each of the things are by pointing at the picture. Here you will practice vocabulary, speaking and reading comprehension.

Option 2 for higher level students: This requires a bit more prep time by the teacher. Find magazine cutouts of the vocabulary used in the song and have the students make a collage to show the meaning of the song. Google images or google clipart will help you as well.

Part 3: Project-Arts and Crafts/ Speaking

1. You will need scissors, a glue stick, poster board, markers, your illustration of the song (or collage if you did option 2) and the lyrics to the song (I like to use the version they did themselves). Get students into small groups and have them place their collage or illustration in the center. Have them cut up the lyrics and place each piece next to the appropriate pictures in the center. They can do crazy looking arrows to show you what each part of the song refers to. Have them write things they know about the Beatles, the name of the band members and the song (you can even have some pictures or cutouts of the band that students can choose from and add to their poster). Encourage creativity and freedom to add what they want to in this part of the lesson. Encourage speaking in English while they do the activity and help them with language used in arts and crafts and making a project as a team. In classes where it is appropriate, I like to play soft Beatles music in the background. They love this!

2. Display their artwork proudly! You can even make a little art show and invite other teachers or students to come see their work.

3. If you have an extra couple of minutes, sing the song again. I can’t tell you how much students love this final singing of Penny Lane and how loud and excited they will sing it after they used all their creativity to work on the song.

Possible follow up lessons or add ons:

– Find a picture of the actual Penny Lane street in Liverpool (through Google images) and give them a text with facts about this street and the inspiration behind the song with some comprehension or True and False questions. Have a brief speaking practice at the end asking them if this was the way they imagined this street to be. Ask them if anyone has ever been to the UK or seen it in person.

– Add additional readings or listenings about The Beatles, always accompanied with a task to guide them through the activity.

– Add this song to your class music repertoire and sing it from time to time. Students will learn it by heart very quickly and this will be incredibly motivating for them.

– There are many illustrations of the lyrics of this song, find the book I recommended above or have some fun browsing Google Images and choose your favorite (you can also make your own if you like to draw!). You can use it time and time again.

– Enjoy this fun and musical lesson!

Please ask me any questions you might have about this lesson and don’t forget to share if you’ve enjoyed this post! Let me know how the lesson went in the comments below, ask me any questions or add some suggestions or ideas. Have fun!

LESSON PLANNING IN THE PARK

Creative teachingOne of the great things about being a teacher is that now I can work anywhere, including my favorite spot in the park. Students see you for an hour maybe two and think that’s all there is to it, but any teacher can tell you that for every hour taught, there’s many more in the planning. Especially in your first years as a teacher! When it comes to my time to plan lessons, I love being outside.

Yesterday Nala and I sat next to the stream and she chased after ducks while I planned a lesson on weather and global warming. A lesson on what?! Yes, I’m still an ESL teacher (English as a second language) not an Earth sciences teacher, but the days of standing in front of the board explaining verb tenses for hours and hours are long gone, at least in my eyes.

The students and colleagues that have watched me teach can tell you one thing, my classes aren’t your normal run-of-the-mill English classes. We’ve gotten used to such a traditional way of learning and teaching, but now I’m always so happy with the enormous smiles I get from students when I teach adverbial phrases with an “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode, or the lesson I was planning yesterday in the park about global warming and weather, with segments from movies like “Twister” and “An Inconvenient Truth”. Shouldn’t creativity in teaching be the norm and not the exception? Not only for students! I can tell you I have so much fun planning these lessons and waiting to see what my students’ reaction will be. It’s not all decoration by the way, you can turn a funny scene from “Airplane” and transform it into a listening practice by simply adding some pre-listening tasks. Use comedians and music to teach subtext and inferred meaning. Not to mention vocabulary and grammar, Alanis Morissette’s ‘Hand in My pocket‘ has more adjectives in it than any course book I’ve ever taught with! I can also tell you that the tv show “Friends” has just about every single lesson intro or warmer you can possibly think of. It’s a simple way to engage students a bit more and make the lesson and its contents more memorable. Not to mention a really positive way of getting students to practice listening and especially get used to the speed in which the words are said in a normal conversation.

This is the way I learned in school, I was one of those lucky ones to have “magicians” as teachers when I was growing up, but I’ll cover that in a different post soon. Some of the lessons, books, stories and subjects I learned in this way have never left my mind, and it’s not because of any memory super power of mine  (I have quite the opposite actually!), it’s because of the way these subjects were being taught.

I can’t wait to have our Creative Teaching section ready for you guys, I simply need a few extra hours to take some fun photos I want to include, and it will be ready. In this section you’ll find great links and ideas so you can take your teaching to a more creative place. Your students will love you for it.

I’m off for today to teach a lesson on the possessive with old family photos (yes, baby pictures included! yikes!). Wish me luck!

Did you have any unusual and creative experiences as a student? Please share your stories with all of us in the comments! We’d love to hear from you!

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