My Favourite Present Perfect Game

Us teachers are a creative bunch. We have games to practice vocabulary, to practice spelling, to practice present continuous or past simple. One of my favourite games to use in the classroom however is ‘I have never’.

It can be used with pre-teens, teenagers or adults, for freer practice (or review of) present perfect simple. Works best with small classes (under 10 students) although it could potentially be played in smaller groups within a larger class.

Materials: paperclips, counters (or, if you’re feeling really nice, sweets) – 5 per student

Sit the students in a group or circle. Distribute the paperclips (or other tokens) to the students. Tell the students that they need to win as many paperclips as possible – if they have zero, they are out of the game. The winner is the person with the most paperclips.

Demonstrate by saying a (true!) sentence about you**, starting ‘I have never…’ (eg. I have never visited America). Ask each of the students in turn ‘Have you ever visited America?’* Those students who answer ‘yes’ must give you one of their paperclips.

The turn then passes to the next student – who says an ‘I have never…’ sentence, and then (hopefully!) receives paperclips.

The game continues until either one student has lost all their paperclips, in which case the winner is the person with the most paperclips, or until multiple students are out and it is clear that one is the winner!

*The question can be left out after the initial example – students tend to quickly understand that if they have done the action they need to hand over a paperclip. Alternatively this stage can be kept if you want to provide further practice of the question form.

**If you are joining in the game and speak little to none of the students’ L1, a good tactic is to start introducing sentences like ‘I have never read a book in [L1]’, ‘I have never watched a film in [L1]’ – most or all of the students losing a paperclip on one round tends to really fire up the competition!


New things I’ve tried this month…

easter bunny

Happy Easter to everyone – this weekend I have been enjoying the first few days of spring, eaten my first Easter egg in five years, and enjoyed a much-needed few days of rest from my students! It’s also approaching the end of March, and so I wanted to round up the new things I’ve tried in the world of English language teaching this month.

Becoming more tech-savvy.

The environments in which I did my teacher training and where I worked for the first few years of my teaching career gave me something of an excuse to avoid technology in the classroom. As I had minimal opportunities to use technology in the classroom, I often avoided using it when thinking about teaching outside the classroom as well. Since working at IH Prague I’ve finally been able to get my head around interactive whiteboards etc – and this month has marked my first steps into exploring the online ELT community. I can already tell that blogging and engaging with the ELT community on twitter has opened up a wealth of ideas and resources which I previously hadn’t accessed – pretty cool!


I don’t want to sound too much like a broken record, as I’m well aware that my previous post was also about #ELTchat. However, I’m excited for this week’s conversation, and would definitely recommend joining to anyone who wants a new way to explore professional development. It’s like sitting a group of teachers down in your staffroom (including some really knowledgeable ones) and sharing ideas without the formality of a training workshop, but also without the interruptions of teaching, anecdotes about students, or staffroom politics.

ELT Teacher 2 Writer

My colleague, Kylie Malinowska, shared a Facebook group by this organisation earlier this month, and it got me pretty excited. I currently have ‘How to Write Worksheets’ rapidly approaching the topic of my ‘to read’ list, so expect to see a review here sometime soon.

I hope you’ve had a peaceful Easter, wherever you are!

21st Century Skills for Teacher Trainers #ELTchat

For most of the last week I’ve been in suspense. On Thursday I discovered #ELTchat, and then had to wait patiently until Wednesday in order to be able to participate. For those who don’t know, #ELTchat is a weekly online discussion for ELT professionals all over the world, held via twitter. Yesterday we spoke about the skills teacher trainers need to have in the 21st Century. I’m not a teacher trainer (yet!) but it was still interesting to chat to some other teachers/teacher trainers and find out what they think.


We started our chat by discussing the role of technology in teaching and in teacher training. Almost everyone agreed that the 21st century teacher trainer should be comfortable with the use of technology, and encourage their trainees to use it too. 

  • Digital literacy- an ability to integrate technology, not just use it, and to know when a pen and paper works too! (@EilidhSingh)
  • I think the first thing that comes to mind to me is the rise of online training – have done a couple of online CPD courses (@thebestticher)
  • So handling input in different ways including learning the tech is key these days (@Marisa_C)
  • I think being comfortable with tech is a necessity (@SueAnnan)
  • Tech is not to be feared, it should be under any T educator’s belt as another means to any end necessary (@ManosSY)
  • Different skills needed for example to be a moderator on an online forum rather than an in-person trainer (@thebestticher)
  • E-moderation still not ‘normalised’ not part of trainer training courses (@Marisa_C)
  • When I was doing TT the Ts didn’t want online, they wanted face-to-face. Hope things are evolving (@GlenysHanson)
  • Some people still prefer the face-to-face – some are OK with non contact courses – it’s changing yes (@Marisa_C)
  • one huge advantage of tech though is that you get to access a much wider range of ideas/people/experiences – like this for example! (@thebestticher)
  • So a key 21st cent skill for trainers is to be early adopters of tech and highly connected (@Marisa_C)
  • I see it as their job to model connectivism and pedagogically sound use of tech in class (@Marisa_C)
  • thr shud b a purpose of using tech. Tech 4 d sake of tech is meaningless. (@SarhandiSuhail)
  • tech is another tool – educators have to be proactive – even tho terrified themselves, they must encourage other teachers to use it (@ManosSY)


Different students, different teachers

We briefly discussed changing ELT markets, and whether or not this should have an impact on how teachers are trained/what they are trained to do. (This is something I’d love to explore further!)

  • Are 21st C students the same? Notice more business/specialised, more YL, less GE (even over last 5 yrs) (@thebestticher) (@SueAnnan)
  • So should our training reflect more specialised areas (rather than CELTA just training to teach GE)? (@thebestticher)
  • I think people are more able to use Google for a lot of general stuff and webpages to help. ESP/YL less so. (@getgreatenglish)
  • I think the main focus  in 21st C is on how to use different strategies in teaching (@betbet_i)


21st Century Skills

We also touched upon the idea of how ’21st century skills’ are usually defined within pedagogy, and @Marisa_C shared this interesting diagramSeveral people suggested that both CPD and networking/connectivity should be seen as vital skills for teachers in the 21st century, and so these should be encouraged by teacher trainers. 

  • Wonder if maybe we should be training teachers to teach ‘life skills’ as well as English then! (@thebestticher)
  • in a sense i find myself doing that when i say “blog, connect, go on twitter, etc (@Marisa_C)
  • important in encouraging teachers to continue their own prof development as well as teaching their students. (@thebestticher)
  • Once trained, that is not the end of Ts development. We need to foster a wish for CPD too (@SueAnnan)
  • Certainly the connection is important. It is no longer a good idea to be an island (@SueAnnan)


Some skills still relevant

Overall, we came to the conclusion that whilst some elements of teaching (and teacher training) have evolved, many elements remain the same. The role of the teacher trainer is still to provide rich and varied input, offer practical experience, and to allow their trainees the space to develop their own style and understanding of teaching – but in the 21st century we have access to new means and methods of achieving these things.

  • V still do wt teachers hv done all time, just wd diff tools NOW (@SarhandiSuhail)
  • practical experience and helping trainees find their own understanding is important too (@SueAnnan)
  • I believe that general sound pedagogical principles should not be lost to us (@Marisa_C)
  • Trainers need to practise what they preach – even at celta level this is in the heart of the trainer’s toolkit (@Marisa_C)
  • I think it’s important that trainers still teach as well – goes with practising what they preach (@thebestticher)
  • I think we have to allow teachers room to find their own style too (@SueAnnan)
  • I do believe in providing rich and varied input in a variety of ways & using diff media – is my role (@Marisa_C)


I really enjoyed being able to participate in #ELTchat, and although it wasn’t a topic on which I can profess to be hugely knowledgeable, it was wonderful to speak to other ELT professionals and to learn from others in the English teaching world. For those who are interested, the full transcript for our conversation can be found here and more information can be found on the #ELTchat blog. The next #ELTchat will take place on Wednesday 30th March at 9pm GMT.

*EDIT: The time for the next #ELTchat is being reviewed, please check the blog/twitter hashtag for the time!


Adapting the Coursebook for Dummies (and the Not-So-Dumb)

(This post is adapted from a seminar I led at IH Moscow in 2015)


Startup Stock Photos
Startup Stock Photos

Coursebooks can be great. They provide a clear framework for study, allow English teaching and learning to be standardised across classes, schools and countries, and mean that you always have some idea of what to do on Monday morning. The only problem is that much as coursebooks are written for students, they’re never written for your students. Sometimes they’re too hard, sometimes they’re too easy, and sometimes they’re just plain boring – or they use themes or topics that for a multitude of reasons you’d just rather avoid. And so we adapt. The question is, how?

  • A dictionary, a teddy bear, a toy spider.
  • The song ‘Five Years’ Time’ by Noah and the Whale.
  • A timeline of students’ imagined future lives.

These are all ways I have presented language points when adapting the coursebook. Can you guess which grammar structures? Answers at the bottom of this post.

1. Look at the book!            

What structure or vocabulary do I need to teach? What usage?

It sounds obvious, but if you’ve decided to adapt the coursebook, check exactly what it is that you’re meant to be teaching first. You might prepare a beautiful lesson on using ‘will’ for future predictions, but if the coursebook is teaching its usage for making a decision, there’s a problem. If your students need to take tests that are associated with the coursebook, it’s also wise to check the test content. The boring reading task you decide to scrap completely may contain vocabulary they need to know for the test.

2. Does the book presentation work?

In some ways? Not at all?

At times you look at a page in the coursebook and it all seems like a recipe for disaster. The topic, the grammar presentation, the practice exercises are completely wrong for your class. Often, though, some of it can be salvaged. Can your students still complete the practice exercises in the coursebook following a different presentation? Can you use the book presentation but replace the practice exercises with ones that are more appropriate for your class? Respect your time and sanity, and don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

3. What are the challenges within my class?

Lack of focus? Mixed ages/ability? Bored teens? Low vocabulary?

It follows that if you are going to adapt something, you first need to think about why. Realia, images or a practical task might help students who tend to lack focus to concentrate more. Providing a choice of reading text might help students of different ages or abilities. Considering students’ interests or deliberately being subversive might engage bored teens, or providing a simpler practice activity might make a task more achievable for students with low vocabulary.

4. In what way do I want to adapt?

Why do I want to adapt part 2, if you will. 

Do I want to:

Make it more memorable

Make it easier for students to understand

Help students see how the language is really used in daily life

Focus on a particular area I know my students will find difficult

5. What is the best way to achieve step 4?

(bearing in mind steps 1-3)

Helpful suggestions for lower levels:

Try to present as much visually as possible. If you prepare your own grammar presentation, consider the language used in explanation. Instructions need to be as clear as possible. 


  • Props : to introduce vocabulary, to teach comparatives and superlatives, to teach passives, to teach verbs of motion, to teach prepositions, to practice adjectives…
  • Pictures
  • A song

Helpful suggestions for higher levels:

It’s harder to use visuals conventionally with higher levels as there are more complex grammatical structures and vocabulary tends to be more abstract. 


  • A short text (eg. the opening of a novel, a paragraph of a short story, a leaflet or recipe)
  • A song
  • Something the students can contribute content to themselves (eg. A timeline of their lives for mixed tenses, perfect tenses etc, pictionary for modals of deduction, a list of predictions, a diary page, pictures – what are they thinking/feeling/doing?)


And there it is: adapting the coursebook for dummies (and the not-so-dumb, since you’ve decided to adapt in the first place. I hope some of this is helpful!


* Dictionary, teddy bear, toy spider = teaching comparatives and superlatives to a group of low Pre-intermediate 10-13 year olds.

‘Five Years’ Time’ = teaching future continuous to Upper Intermediate adults.

Timeline = teaching future perfect and continous to Advanced teenagers.



5 Ways to Improve Your Students’ Spelling

Spelling is a bit of a personal bug-bear for me… it’s not something I’m naturally great at, but as such I tend to focus on it and double check it in my own writing. I found that my Russian students, faced with an entirely different script, tended to spend a lot of their early English lessons learning the alphabet and the sounds made by the different letters, whilst my Czech students, with roughly the same alphabet plus a few accented characters, have largely overlooked this. As a result, I get lots of ‘Mondej’ and ‘čis’ (Monday and cheese respectively  – rendered as they would be if spelt phonetically using the Czech alphabet). Spelling is, to put it bluntly, a problem.

Here are five different ways I encourage my students to learn and to practice spelling in class.


Undoubtedly the gem of spelling practice as far as I’m concerned is a little game called ‘Pacman’. No prep, no materials, and students love it.

  • Stand students so that they are spread out around the room with a fair amount of space between them.
  • Call out a word for the students to spell. If a student knows how to spell the word they put their hand up and call ‘me!’
  • Choose the first student who answers to spell the word (you can also sneakily nominate someone who isn’t participating or paying attention). If the student spells the word correctly, they can take a step towards another student.
  • When a student is close enough to touch another student, the ‘touchee’ is out.
  • The game is played as sudden death – each student only has one attempt to spell the word and any mistakes mean the attempt to spell passes to another player. The final student standing is the winner. (Students who are out can help the teacher to select words to spell).

Spelling Secret Codes

For this activity you need several print outs of a ‘secret code’ – a good example can be downloaded for free here: Secret Code Spelling . I tell my students not to write on them and then collect them in at the end of the activity, so it can be used on multiple occasions or with different classes.

  • Write a word on the board using the secret code as an example; I often write ‘Hello’ or my name. Show the students a copy of the secret code and give them 1 minute to find out the word – write the letters under the symbols on the board as they deciper each letter.
  • Divide the students into pairs (or small groups as desired). Give each group a copy of the code, a blank piece of (scrap) paper, and a copy of the coursebook/the words you want them to practice spelling.
  • Ask each group to choose x number of words (4-6 works well) and write the words in the secret code. They must not show or tell the other group(s) which words they have chosen.
  • After all the groups have written their words, take away the coursebooks and swap over the written coded words. The students race to decipher the other group’s words.

Chain Spell

Again, this is not an idea I can take credit for – it comes from a booklet called ‘Crazy Animals and Other Activities for Teaching English to Young Learners’ published by the British Council. It’s pretty stirring and so should be used with care and appropriate settling activities!

  • Divide students into two teams. Each team has a pen and stands in a line infront of the board.
  • Say a word, and the students must write this word on the board. However, each student may only write one letter at a time before passing the pen to the next student.
  • Students can correct their teammates’ mistakes, but the ‘one letter’ rule still applies. If they change an incorrect letter it counts as their turn and they must pass the pen on to the next student.
  • The first team to spell the word correctly earns one point for their team. The team with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
  • The original description of the game (I have paraphrased here) says that it should be played using a total of six words – I’ve found this to be a good number. It can be tempting to extend it, but using more words either results in the students losing interest, or getting overly excited; either way it weakens the activity.

Anagram Jumble

I designed this activity for a class of mine who are quite weak, and who needed to become familiar with the format of the Cambridge YLE Starters exam. It requires more prep time than the previous activities, but could be used in revision or exam practice.

  • Before the activity prepare handouts with pictures of the vocabulary and anagram envelopes – envelopes or small plastic bags containing letter cards for each word. Arrange the envelopes around the room to create different work stations.
  • Divide the students into pairs (or small groups as desired). Give each team a handout showing pictures of the words they will need to find. The worksheet I prepared for clothes vocabulary can be found here: Anagram Pictures. (Optional: if your students are weak you can check they know what the pictures are at this stage).
  • Gather all the students around one anagram work station. Nominate one student to open the envelope, then encourage the students to work together to move the cards around and find the word. All the teams can then refer to their worksheet, find what picture the word refers to, and write the word in the space on their worksheet. Stress that after they have found the word they should mix up the letters again, otherwise they are helping the other groups!
  • The students then work in their pairs/groups and race each other to solve all the anagrams.

Spelling tests

They may not be cool, fashionable or student-centred, but I have to admit to being a fan of the humble spelling test. Giving the students a list of ten words to go home and learn for the end of the week/the following lesson etc makes learning spellings a manageable (and thus achievable) task, and gives a meaningful result for both students and teacher. Most importantly, it highlights to students that spelling *is* important, and demands that at least every so often they do focus on it.

Taking ten minutes out of a lesson to ask students to write the numbers 1-10, dictating ten words, and getting the students to peer mark is simple, takes minimal prep time, but is still effective.

And finally, a reminder that no matter how hard you try, students will always find a way…

I’d love to hear from you if you try any of these out and have any feedback, or if you have any other tricks and tips you use in class. 

Putting Away Childish Things: A reflection on teaching adults

teaching children adults

For my first few years in EFL teaching, I taught the inevitable mixed bag of kids, teens and adults. This year, however, I am officially a teacher of ‘Young Learners’, and the opportunity to take that step in my development was one of my reasons for moving to IH Prague. This week, however, the elementary school where I normally work has been on spring break, meaning adult subs. Lots of adult subs.

My fears that I am no longer cut out to be a teacher of adults were confirmed in my first cover class, when I accidentally referred to my assembled students as ‘boys and girls’; thankfully it did get easier during the course of the week! Here are my thoughts on the differences between teaching adults and young learners.

  • Sometimes kids are just better at learning! 

It may well be simply because of what they are used to, but I find that my kids come to their English lessons ready to learn, expecting to learn, and knowing that for that to happen they need to be involved in the process. Some of the adults I’ve taught this week have pretty much just shown up in the classroom, expecting teaching to be ‘done to them’.

  • Kids are spectacular time-wasters.

After about three adult lessons I realised why however much I’d planned, we always seemed to finish 5-10 minutes early. Those extra minutes are spread across my YL lessons, as it takes everyone longer than expected to sit down, or one student can’t find a pen, or someone has to eagerly tell us about their new toy or upcoming birthday party. I tend to take those little moments of chatter, or where classroom management becomes the focus rather than language teaching, for granted – but when they’re not there I realise I miss them.

  • In teaching kids, you’re not just teaching a language, you’re teaching about being a person. 

In my one lone YL class this week we had to pause our lesson for a discussion on why ‘We don’t laugh at people when they get things wrong’. In teaching YLs I am priviledged to teach not only English, but also how to interact with others, how to share, how to deal with success and disappointment… the list goes on. My adult students are already fundamentally who they are. Hopefully my teaching will enable them to be more educated about different cultures (and in the process hopefully we all become more tolerant and open-minded as a result), but it isn’t going to make them a different, better or nicer person. At times I question whether or not my kids will actually learn how to treat each other in the way that they would like to be treated – but then I remember that every little lesson adds up, and I don’t have to do it all myself.

  • Adults realise their teacher exists outside of the classroom.

One of the most enjoyable littlies I’ve ever taught informed me solemnly, one lesson, that I lived under the table in my classroom. I find that it tends to be only as teens that YLs develop any kind of interest in, or understanding of their teacher being a person, as opposed to a teacher. The adults I’ve taught this week, on the other hand, have all quizzed me at great length about my career, my experiences of living in Prague, and my experiences of teaching Czech vs. Russian students.

  • Some adults can be downright rude!

In my lessons I expect a certain degree of respect and classroom-appropriate behaviour. This week I have had students play on their mobile phones, openly text during class, completely ignore my instructions to stop an activity/stop talking, and start packing up five minutes before the end of the lesson. My kids can behave better than that, so why does it seem quite so difficult for adults?!

I thought I was going to hate teaching adults this week, and am pleasantly surprised that instead I found it an enjoyable experience. I haven’t forgotten how to teach them, and teaching them is more ‘different’ than it is ‘better’ or ‘worse’. Saying that, I’ll be glad to get back to my kids classes next week…

Do you have a favourite age group to teach? I’d love to hear your thoughts, either in an email or in the comments. 

Broccoli Ice-cream

broccoli icecream 2I loved the song ‘Broccoli ice-cream’ from the very beginning. As a teacher it’s one of those horrible, irritating earworms that you find yourself absent-mindedly singing some days after using it in class. However my littlies loved it: it appealed to their love of the gross and the ridiculous, was fun, catchy, and got them practising and producing English.

So, without further ado, here is my lesson plan for Broccoli ice-cream – a creative listening and singing lesson for beginner level 5-7 year olds.

Aims:  To revise food vocabulary (group receptive and productive practice), to introduce and/or practice the structure ‘Do you like…?’ and short answers ‘Yes, I do’ and ‘No, I don’t’. 


Time: 45 mins


  • Sit in a circle with the students. Show the students flashcards showing the food vocabulary in the song and elicit what the pictures are.
  • Put the flashcards in the centre of the circle so that all students can clearly see. Ask the students to point to the foods they hear . Play the song and model pointing for the first item.
  • Play the song again and sing along with the students – use (exaggerated!) gestures and facial expressions to reinforce the meaning of ‘Yes, I do!’ and ‘No, I don’t! Yucky!’ and encourage students to do the same. They normally love this bit!
  • Stand up with the students and get them to sit down at their tables. Show them a new example of a ‘silly’ food item (you can draw this on paper in advance, or quickly draw it on the board now – don’t worry, it does not need to be artistic!) and ask them what it is (eg. sandwich yoghurt). Ask students ‘Do you like (sandwich yoghurt)?’ and elicit answers from some of them.
  • Hand out  a blank piece of paper to each student and ask them to draw their own ‘silly food’ – normally they are really enthusiastic about this and need little encouragement or prompting! Monitor and ask them questions as they are drawing to make things a little more communicative: what is it, what colour is it, do you like it, etc. When most of the students have nearly finished count down to signal the end of the drawing stage of the activity.
  • Nominate each student in turn – ask them to show the rest of the class their picture, and say what it is.
  • Now sing the song again with the students, but this time using their own pictures and ideas. Begin the song with your example picture (sandwich yoghurt), then point to each student in turn to hold up their picture as the class sings about their food item.
  • Finish the activity with a round of applause and praise for everyone!


What are your favourite songs to use when teaching?

Thanks must go to the wonderful team at Super Simple Learning for producing the song used in this lesson plan. You can find their website, including this song and flashcards to accompany it, here: Their materials are fantastic and they have saved my and my colleagues’ backs numerous times when we’ve been looking for a song to use in class!