Archive for the ‘Lessons and activities’ Category



Here’s a quick activity that might be great for the festive season. It comes from a lecture by Matt Abrahams, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who teaches strategic communication.

In this activity, the learners work in pairs. They give each other imaginary boxes with gifts. They don’t say what’s in the box. The person who got the gift ‘opens’ the box, looks inside and says what they see. They should say the first thing that comes to mind. Then the gift giver should improvise to explain why they thought the gift receiver needed this gift.

This is the video extract in which Matt Abrahams explains the activity: (26:00 till 29:00)

You could get your learners to watch the video or, if you’re pressed for time or if your learners would find a three minute authentic extract difficult to follow, explain the activity yourself.

I’ve also written an editable worksheet to go with the activity and a Slideshare pdf document if you don’t have Microsoft Word:


temporal-distance-917364_960_720When faced with a difficult question, especially in a stressful situation like a job interview or a product presentation, some learners of English tend to fall silent and fail to let the other person know that they’re thinking.This might be especially problematic if the conversation takes place over the phone or Skype, i.e. when the person they’re talking to can’t see them and doesn’t know how to interpret their silence. Here’s a short lesson that I designed to help my learners deal with this problem.

Lesson Overview
Level: B1 – B2
Learner type: Business English or General English/Teens.
Time: 30-45 minutes
Target expressions:
Target language.PNGMaterials: a Microsoft Word worksheet (you can download a .pdf file from Slideshare below):


Very happy to win this month’s onestopenglish Lesson Share competition! I wanted to take part in this competition for ages, but only got the guts to send in a worksheet when I was doing the iTDi course on Creating ELT Materials (I wrote about the course back in June). The lesson is on work-related emailing, so if you teach this topic, you can check it out on their website.

Ever since I read the great Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field, the book on developing listening skills, I became quite passionate about the need to consistently help learners cope with high frequency grammar structures in authentic speech, incorporating authentic listening work into grammar work. In the previous lesson on this blog the focus was on the way modals are pronounced.

In this new video-based lesson based on an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio, the learners practice their speaking, grammar for story-telling and again practice listening decoding, focusing on target grammar.

More specifically, the learners

  • [listening: gist] listen to scary stories that happened to Leonardo Dicaprio;
  • [grammar] explore the ways Present Perfect, Past Simple and Continuous are used in stories (Present Perfect typically comes at the beginning of the story to describe or ask about general life experience; Past Simple is used to describe a sequence of events; Past Continuous, for background information);
  • [listening: decoding skills] notice the way these tenses sound in authentic speech (some sounds get dropped from the verbs and linkers, which might make this grammar problematic for listeners);
  • [speaking] tell each other stories about the scariest/funniest/saddest things that have happened to them;
  • [spoken grammar, optional] explore using Present Simple/Continuous in stories to achieve a dramatic effect and using ‘He goes’ to report what someone said.

Videos used in the lesson:

Story 1 (Tasks 1 – 8)

Story 2 (Optional task 10)

Level: Intermediate/Upper-Intermediate (B1/B2)

Time: 90-120 minutes


  • an editable Microsoft Word worksheet (docx). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download the .pdf file from Slideshare:
  • [for listening decoding work] A power point presentation (zip) where the words problematic for listeners are isolated, so that the learners can really hear what sounds are dropped. To play the audios, unpack the archive.



One of the questions that my learners (who are IT people) are very likely to be asked during interviews and promotion reviews is ‘Tell us about your favourite technology’. But, whatever their profession, Business English learners need to learn to speak fluently and persuasively when presenting the advantages of products, tools and options.

Here’s a ‘geeky’ lesson plan in which the learners

  • watch a video of a developer talking about the features of his favourite browser (activities: gist listening, listening decoding skills)
  • analyze linkers used for listing ideas
  • briefly revise modal verbs (could, (don’t) have to)
  • talk about their favourite tools, apps and technologies

It worked very well with my learners, who spent more than fifteen minutes discussing the relative merits of file managers and development environments. For learners who are less geeky, I included a range of other websites and apps to talk about, e.g. social networks, messengers and and to-do list apps.

Level: Intermediate (B1)

Time: 90 minutes

Materials: an editable Microsoft Word worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you could download the .pdf file from Slideshare:

Today I’m sharing a lesson based on four video snippets with Google employees describing their career paths and how they got to Google. Although this topic is covered extensively in every Business English course, I wanted to give my group (which is a very strong Pre-Intermediate group about to finish the course) exposure to authentic speech, and this material seemed both interesting linguistically and not too challenging. The learners revise past simple and present perfect (time adverbials used with those tenses), practice listening decoding skills (listening to verbs in past simple and present perfect), focus on vocabulary to talk about educational background and career paths, and finish the lesson by speaking about their own career paths.

I must admit I was very unsure that the learners would cope well with the listening tasks, because my previous attempts to introduce (tiny bits of) authentic listening in that group had caused a lot of frustration. But this time they did all right. Apart from Task 2, all they needed to do was to discriminate between Past Simple and Present Perfect – the ‘secret reason’ for the task was to get them to notice how Past Simple is pronounced (very often it sounds very close to Present Simple, as the ending /t/ is barely pronounced, which might be confusing for the learners). NB For the tasks in which the students listen to sentences one by one to check their answers, it’s better to open the videos on youtube and use the interactive transcript feature to replay sentences.

One thing that I noticed while working on this worksheet that I had never noticed before was that speakers tend to use vague language with periods of time (‘a little over a year ago’, ‘for about four and a half years’, ‘for a bit’ – other examples that didn’t make it into the worksheet were ‘for quite a number of years’, ‘for close to six years’). This definitely sounds a lot more natural, but I’d never thought to teach this little trick to my students who were preparing for exams.

Anyway, here’s the worksheet – let me know if you use it or if you see how it could be improved.


Level: Intermediate (B1)
Time: 90 minutes
Materials: a worksheet (feel free to edit and adapt).

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download a .pdf file from Slideshare:

Extract 1:

Extract 2:

Extract 3:

Extract 4:

NB These videos come from Google Developers Youtube channel.


In this post I’m sharing a video-based lesson on Performance reviews that I taught today. It’s based on a fragment from a QA session by career analyst Dan Pink, who you might have heard of, as his TED talk on The puzzle of motivation features among top 10 most watched TED talks.

Levels: B1+ up to B2

Length: 90 minutes

Activities: the s/s watch an authentic video on alternatives to traditional performance reviews, develop their listening skills by focusing on features of connected speech, learn vocabulary from the video and finish the lesson with a discussion

Materials: an editable worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download a .pdf from Slideshare:

Features of connected speech

In one of the listening activities in this lesson the learners transcribe several sentences from  the video. Here are some common English words and expressions that my students found problematic, due to the fact that they sound quite different from their dictionary form.


  1. Elision of /ʊ/ from the diphthong //  (e.g. ‘out’ and ‘how’ sound more like ‘ut’ and ‘har’)
  2. Weak form of ‘are you’ and ‘you are’ (you are /ju ɑː/ -> /jə /)
  3. Elision of ‘t’ and ‘d’ the end of words (either disappear e.g. don’t_ask, or get replaced with a glottal stop, as the air isn’t released, e.g. it)
  4. Frequent chunks: at_the/at the end of the month; and_then
  5. r_vowel linking (e.g. more_among)


1. Elision of /ʊ/ from /aʊ/

set out /ˈaʊt/ your goals

set out /ˈaʊt/

set them out /ˈaʊt/

of how /ˈhaʊ/ you’re doing

how /ˈhaʊ/ you’re

maybe think about /ə.baʊt/ this

2. Weak form of ‘are you’ and ‘you are’

you are /ju ɑː/ >> /jə /

of how you’re /jə / doing

are you /ə ju/ > /(ə)jə/

where are you /weər(ə)/ making progress

are you making

where are you /weər(ə)/ falling behind

3. Elision of /d/ /t/ (or replacement with glottal stop)

and_meet monthly

and say

Elision of /t/ in negative forms: question that we don’t ask

don’t ask


Elision of /t/ in negative forms: I didn’t quite make those

but I’ll have it with a peer

have it with

4. Frequent chunks (at_the, and_then, etc)

At_the beginning of a/the month

and_then at_the end_of_a month


5 r_vowel

more_among /mɔː.ˈmʌŋ /

or I /ɔː ˈraɪ / will have it with two peers

or I /ɔː ˈraɪ /

More about teaching listening on this blog:

My presentation at IATEFL 2015 (my top teaching tips for teaching listening decoding skills) / A post with screen shots explaining how to use interactive transcripts on youtube and Aegisub to teach decoding skills / Listening lessons (American and Australian accents)

Here’s another simple activity for practicing small talk. The students watch a video in which a communication coach recommends asking more concrete questions that invite people to tell stories and then go on to do just that – tell short simple stories.

Levels: B1+-B2 Time: 45-60 mins Procedure:

  1. Brainstorm 6 places where you students might make small talk in the next several weeks (e.g. ”in the office kitchen’, ‘over lunch’, ‘on a business trip’, ‘when someone visits their office’, ‘at the beginning of a skype meeting’, etc).
  2. For each location brainstorm 2-3 ‘small talk’ questions that they might ask.
  3. [Listening] Tell the students that they’re going to watch a 2 minute video with communication advice. Play the first sentence and check the meaning of ‘Curiosity’. Then play the rest of the video: the s/s watch for gist, share what they caught in pairs and what they’re still not sure about. Elicit questions from the s/s about the bits they didn’t understand (e.g. ‘What did he say about the bus?’). Play the video again, stopping after every 20-30 seconds for the students to summarize the points (it’s better to use the interactive transcript on youtube for this activity; if you don’t know how to do this, you’ll find instructions in this post – scroll till you see screenshots of youtube).
  4. Get the students to transcribe the three questions that the speaker gave to exemplify his point: 32:05 What do you think about San Francisco these days? (this question is too abstract) 32:14 What’s your morning like? What’s your morning routine? 32:39 How did you get to this party tonight?
  5. Get the students to reformulate some of the questions that they brainstormed during Stage 2 (or add some more).
  6. Finally, in new pairs, the students roleplay conversations (a pair rolls a dice to determine which of the six locations to pick, role-plays a three-minute conversation, then one of the students in each pair stands up and moves to another student).

For a quick related filler, in a later lesson, it might be useful to revisit the natural responses to ‘How are you?’ (a question that doesn’t imply any news sharing) and the alternatives that actually do invite the listener to share (e.g. ‘What have you been up to lately?’):

  1. Write ‘How are you?’ on the board. Elicit and board (1) alternative ways to greet and (2) possible responses. Next, ask what questions could be asked to invite the person you’re talking to to share news.
  2. Play the video. The s/s note down an alternative to ‘How are you?’, two responses that people give and the two questions used to elicit longer responses. (Replay them using the interactive transcript on youtube if needed).
    0:34 Jarek, how are you doing today?
    0:36 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: Doing good. How are you?
    0:37 JJ BEHRENS: Pretty good.
    0:37 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: So you’ve been quite busy lately. I haven’t seen you around. What have you been up to, JJ?
    0:42 JJ BEHRENS: Well, I was talking to my wife. And she says, you’re not a real developer. You just play one on TV. And so I figured I should do something about that. And so I started releasing the backlog of Open Source projects that I have.
    0:55 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: Cool. So tell me more. What have you released lately?
    0:57 JJ BEHRENS: So I released three projects….
  3. The s/s mingle and chat, sharing their news and practicing the new alternatives and responses to ‘How are you?’ and the question ‘What have you been up to?’

This post is different from what I normally do, because it’s a variation of a lesson that has already been posted to this blog.

A couple of months ago I posted a lesson on Keeping a conversation going. The lesson was part of a short course for IT professionals on entertaining a customer and it worked really well helping the learners to come up with ideas while making small talk and raised their awareness of strategies for active listening (body language, backchanneling, reformulation and so on). One problem was that the video used in the lesson was very technical, so it wasn’t really suitable for learners outside the world of IT. It was also very short and featured only a very limited range of examples. As a result, my students were still struggling with the pronunciation of backchannels by the end of the lesson, ‘overpronouncing’ them. This week I needed to teach that topic again, so I adapted the worksheet, using a video that can be interesting for non-IT people, and is packed to the brim with examples for the learners to analyze.

I’m very sorry for the overlap, but it seems like I still find spoken language, and ‘active listenership’ in particular, too much of a teaching challenge to let it go. This feature of language has always been challenging for my students, and at the moment I don’t have on my shelf any resource books on speaking based on authentic listening extracts, or at least recordings that don’t scream ‘recording studio’. For instance, there’s the fantastic Handbook of Spoken Grammar, but the audios there don’t sound that natural. (I’m sure there must be some great resource packs, and I know there have been some great coursebooks like Touchstone, but I’m limited to BE coursebooks, so I would be very grateful for pointers to resource books or materials that can be used stand-alone).

Just two years ago, when I was doing my Delta Module 2, I was craving to at least get some transcripts of authentic, unscripted interaction, and so I was buying up books that contained transcripts of authentic interviews (Exploring Spoken English, one amazing book where those transcripts are also painstakingly analyzed, can be bought second hand for a penny – and amazon also allows one to flip through its pages).  Now, just two years later, there’s no need to buy up books to get transcripts: hundreds of hours of transcribed interviews are available on Youtube, mostly on Google channels. So for now I’m creating my own materials, for what they’re worth.

Levels: B1/B2
Length: 90 minutes

  • an editable Worksheet
  • a projector or a laptop to show the video
  • a deck of cards (if you don’t have cards, print them out and cut them up from the last page of the worksheet)

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download the .pdf from Slideshare:

The video:

The extracts for the speech analysis task (Task 6):

Extract 1 (11:23-11:46). Small ‘I’m listening’ words:

BRIAN GRADY: And you know, we don’t try to be pushy, but, you know, we want to expose and make things easier for people to do. [Sure, sure] Made With Android is about finding people outside of Google, doing things that nobody expected them to do with a phone. [Right] And.. so we found out that there’s a lot of people– there’s a community out there. People that, because of the extensibility of the Android operating system, [Sure. Sure.] are able to make incredible…

Extract 2 (11:46 – 11:50). Echoing.

applications that do crazy things, like

LAURENCE MORONEY: Like flying a weather balloon.

BRIAN GRADY: Flying a weather balloon, or opening

Extract  3 (11:48 – 12:01). Small ‘I’m listening’ words, echoing, reformulating and building on what the speaker said

BRIAN GRADY: Flying a weather balloon, or opening your apartment door when you’re at the top of the stairs and your bags are full of groceries. [Yeah!] I don’t know how you do that. Your hands are full of– but anyway. There’s things like that.

LAURENCE MORONEY: The things that people will think of that we can’t think of, right?

Extract 4 (12:38 – 13:07) Small ‘I’m listening’ words, reformulating and building on what the speaker said

BRIAN GRADY: Yes. We want non-commercial applications that are about fun, [OK] or hobby lifestyle kind of stuff, [Right] new connecting new things that people hadn’t connected. We want it to be an open source project. [Right] And we want to be able to, not only entertain people and inspire people with the video, but also provide them with the code, [OK] the applications, and maybe they’ll go out and do something else with it.

LAURENCE MORONEY: So somebody can pick this and run with it for themselves. [Yeah] Like I could actually go and get a weather balloon myself, now, and start doing what these folks do.

Extract 5 (13:07 – 13:17). Small ‘I’m listening’ words, echoing key words, short emotional comment (It’s cool), laughter.

BRIAN GRADY: You go to casadeballoon dot club, [OK] which is this group’s website.

LAURENCE MORONEY: I love the ‘dot club.’

BRIAN GRADY: Dot club. [It’s cool] I like the ‘casadeballon’. [laughter] But anyway,

Extract 6 (13:46 – 13:50) Emphatic agreement.

LAURENCE MORONEY:  I guess, the more exotic the locale, the better?

BRIAN GRADY: Absolutely.

Extract 7 (13:56 – 13:59) Echoing, emphatic agreement.

LAURENCE MORONEY: OK. I’m more a Tahiti guy myself.
BRIAN GRADY: Well, I hear

Acknowledgement. The role play for Task 2 was suggested by my colleague Anastasiya Chernetskaya – thank you Anastasiya, it’s simply ideal here!

In this post I’m sharing an Excel template that takes a list of questions and answers, chooses twenty random questions from the list and produces a printable grid that can be cut up into separate two-sided cards (with questions on one side and answers at the back). I create cards using both my own sets of questions and sets exported from Quizlet, and use these cards with board games (e.g. Snakes and Ladders or Tic-Tac-Toe) – you’ll find instructions how to export cards from Quizlet and a list of suitable games in the second part of the post, along with some links to board templates.

I got the idea a few weeks ago as I was reading a great post by Tekhnologic about a tool that he created: over the course of the year, he accumulates discussion questions in an Excel file, and his tool chooses 9 random questions from the list and arranges them into a 3×3 Tic-Tac-Toe grid, for the students to discuss and play. Reading that post, I realized that I needed something very similar to revise language feedback that I type up for my students. I got the Excel document created by Tekhnologic to produce the cards, by playing a bit with his formulas, so now it takes me about five minutes to create, print and cut-up cards for a revision game. Thank you Tekhnologic!! 

Preparing the cards using the Excel template. 

If you have a long list of questions and want to revise some of them, use this Excel file: randomiser template.

Alternatively, if you have a small set of up to 20 questions and want the students to revise them all, use the 20 cards template

Here’s how to create the cards:

  1. Create the questions: open the ‘Question database’ tab. Insert or type your questions and answers. Your questions and answers will be automatically copied into the tabs Question grid and Answer grid.Questions
  2. Print the cards:
    First, print the tab Questions grid using the following settings: Print active sheets + Landscape orientation + Normal margins (Left: 0.7”, Right: 0.7”) + Fit Sheet on one page.
    Settings1Second, insert the printout back into the printer and print Answer grid with the same settings. Voilà!
    NB It should also be possible to Select both grids and print them using the following setting: Print on Both sides (Flip pages on short edge) . However, unfortunately about 50% of times it gets printed on two separate sheets (this seems to be a known issue with Excel).

Randomizing the grid
If you press F9, the file will generate another random set of cards. This will delete the previous board, so don’t press F9 until you’ve printed both the question and the answer grids.

Creating a pdf worksheet . If you want to share your worksheet, you can use a pdf printer and print your grids into a pdf file that can be printed without any hassle with the settings.

Games to play

Below are some games that can be played with a set of Question/Answer cards, some widely known and some that I only learnt about while on my hunt for games.

No adaptation is required for any of the games – simply print out the board and a set of Questions/Answer cards and you’re done. At the start of each turn, a player picks a card with a question. If they answer incorrectly, they miss the turn and the card goes back into the stack.

A tip: if you’re creating a randomized set for revision, you can create different versions for different pairs (by pressing F9, as explained above). This way the students can share the cards that have been played with fast finishers.

1. Dots and boxes 

The number of players: 2

Rules: The goal of the game is to win more squares than your opponent. Players draw lines on a grid, and the player that ‘completes’ the square wins it.

Links: check out this beautiful free template.

2. Tic Tac Toe


The number of players: 2 (or two teams of two for the adaptation).

Probably everybody knows the rules: this is a paper-and-pencil game for two players, X and O, who take turns marking the spaces in a 3×3 grid. The player who succeeds in placing three of their marks in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row wins the game. There is a nice adaptation that takes a lot more time to play: players play on a 7×7 grid, trying to place five marks in a horizontal, vertical, diagonal row or a cross.

Links: Check out this blog for some great free templates: 

3. Hex/Blockbusters


The number of players: 2

Rules: These games are played on a hexagonal grid of any shape. Each player is given a colour. Players take turns colouring a single cell within the overall playing board. The goal for each player is to form a connected path of their own stones linking the opposing sides of the board marked by their colors, before their opponent connects his or her sides in a similar fashion.

Links: Download a powerpoint template created by Adam Simpson (Blockbusters), this template (Blockbusters), this template (a hexagonal grid for three players), or search for ‘Blockbusters template’ or ‘Hexagonal grid’ in Google images.

4. Battleships


The number of players: 2

Links: This is another oldie – see the rules and a board on Wikipedia or download a board from here.

5. Ludo


The number of players: 2-4.

Links: See the rules and a board on Wikipedia (you’ll need a colour printer to print this one out).

6. Snakes and ladders


The number of players: 2-4


  • Each group will need a dice and counters.
  • If the student lands on a square with a snake’s head, they slide down to its tail.
  • If the student lands on any other square, they have to pick a card and answer it correctly (if they make a mistake, they return to the square from which they started the turn). If they land on a square at the foot of a ladder and answer the question correctly, they climb the ladder.

Links: You can print the board from British Council website (registration required), from here or you can find boards using Google image search. There’s also a variation called Chutes and Ladders (download a template from here).

7. Game of the Goose


The number of players: 2-4.

This game is somewhat similar to Snakes and Ladders: landing on a goose allows the player to move again by the same distance (see Wikipedia for the rules).

Links: Ursula Dubosarsky wrote a novel for children, The Game of the Goose (Penguin Australia 2000), in which three children find an old copy of the Game of the Goose in a Salvation Army store, and have magically transforming adventures while playing it.The site about the book features a beautiful .pdf board 

8. Other board games

Finally, simply use a blank board template – a simple Google Image search returns lots of sites. I personally really liked this page.

Am I missing any great games? Please share in the comments

Material for the cards: language feedback and Quizlet

As I said, I have mainly been using these games to revise language feedback. Each group has an .xlsx document shared with them via a cloud service (dropbox). Here is what it looks like:


However, the source of questions that is probably a lot more relevant to teachers out there is Quizlet – a site that features a huge number of flashcard sets (Google search ‘quizlet fce transformation‘ alone returns no fewer than 2370 results).

These flashcards can be exported and inserted into Excel in a couple of clicks.

First, open the set in Quizlet, click on More and choose Export:


The site will open the following window. Click ‘Select all’ and copy the data:


Finally, open a copy of the template and insert the data. Quizlet changes the order (storing first the answers and then the questions), so you’ll have to paste the data into some other columns, and then copy the second column into the ‘Questions’ column , and the first one into the ‘Answers’ column. You’re done!


The games shared here have spiced up my classes and saved me a lot of time. I hope you’ll find them useful too. Let me know what you think!