Posts Tagged ‘Intermediate’

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):

This blog has been quiet for a while, because life really got in the way.

I spent the bulk of spring finishing my Delta Module 3 assignment (the mammoth of a text had over 200 pages of appendices by the time I sent it off to Cambridge), and then three weeks ago I had a wonderful baby daughter, who’s been amusing and occupying me ever since.

This post is a bit of a diary entry, actually. Normally I don’t create any materials when I’m not teaching, but this post will be an exception. Right now I’m doing an iTDi course on Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. It’s been a very enjoyable experience so far (and a nice change from the stress and toll of Delta), and I thought I’d make a note of some of the things that I’ve learnt on the course and post some of my assignments here.

My biggest takeaway from the first life session was the idea to bring together the materials writing principles that I adhere to and use this list as a checklist to proofread the worksheets that I create. When I started writing down the principles, they were an incoherent mess, but after a while some logic emerged:

Materials should

  • have clear aims that are authentic (real-world outcomes that the learners desire to achieve);
  • focus on language points/sub-skills that are key to achieving the aims (as opposed to ‘shoe-horning’ pre-chosen language points with no regard for discourse). To achieve that, they should be informed by insight into language in authentic use, e.g. be researched through a corpus or use authentic texts, and insight into performance of competent speakers);
  • stimulate genuine communication/authentic use of language, empowering the learners to get across the meanings they want to get across and, more generally, achieve the outcomes they want to achieve.

Materials should

  • be informed by insight into language acquisition;
  • cater for the learners’ learning needs (e.g. stimulate and sustain interest, stimulate motivation e.g. by providing the learners with the opportunity to notice the gap between their performance and target performance; be cognitively engaging; elicit emotional response; be aesthetically pleasing; build the learners’ confidence; promote learner autonomy);
  • provide the learners with sufficient support through a well-designed sequence of tasks, e.g. focusing on Meaning/Form/Pronunciation of language or targeting specific sub-skills (this also means that they should not be overloaded: LESS is MORE);
  • provide opportunities for feedback.

The assignment for the first week was to create a worksheet based on a very short authentic text. I chose this 40-second video:

Lesson Overview
Level: B1

Video: (from Google Developers Youtube channel);
Learner type: Business English or General English/Teens.
Time: 60-75 minutes 
Lesson aim: the learners will improve their ability to understand a British accent and get practice talking about what they love about their job and/or hobby.

The course has a thriving Google Plus community where course participants share their material writing assignments, leave feedback and share tips, and for me this has been a great opportunity to hear suggestions how to improve the listening worksheets that I have been creating – something that has never really happened with materials posted on this blog – and I found the feedback from the course participants and Katherine immensely valuable.

Here’s the summary of the feedback that I got so far:

  • For key elements of the lesson, don’t rely on the Teacher’s notes and the teacher. Most of my lesson plans have an element of decoding work, but up to now I never actually wrote any information about the features of connected speech in the worksheet explicitly, leaving it for the teacher to cover. This is bound to be confusing for the learners, so in this worksheet I summarized the key points in an information box.
  • Teacher’s notes: first, explore teacher’s books and look for good instructions to steal. Second, choose a style of presentation and stick to it, e.g. how will the Keys be highlighted? Will I use bullet points or paragraphs of text to present longer procedures? Third, use simpler language both in the teacher’s notes and in the instructions (one way to do that is to run them through a vocabulary profiler, aiming for A2 vocabulary).

So, here’s the resulting worksheet. I would be thrilled to hear any other tips how it could be improved. Any thoughts?


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.

It’s summer and it seems that this blog has gone into a light mode. 🙂 Here’s another short game that we enjoyed playing with a pre-intermediate group a few days ago in order to revise some grammar (past and present simple, future for plans and hopes, second conditional).

Level: strong Pre-Intermediate (for End-of-Course revision) or Intermediate (B1).
 10 minutes for the warmer, 20-30 minutes for the game.
Materials: One class set of quotes for the warmer, a board game for each pair (Worksheet page 1), a grammar task for each student (Worksheet page 2), playing cards (ideally, at least 12 cards – 3 cards of each suite – for each pair). If you teach Business English, check out this version of the worksheet.



Print out a set of quotes (if there are more than eight students, print two sets). Display the quotes around the classroom. Ask the students to get up, look around, pick a quote that they like and get back to their seat with their quote. (Circulate and be prepared to give a bit of help with some of the vocabulary.) Get the students to share their quotes in groups of three, reading them out and explaining why they like them – also invite them to share as a whole group. Finally, ask the students whose quote is about the past. The present? The future? A dream?

First, the students revise questions for past, present simple, future (will or going to for distant plans) and hypothetical questions (Worksheet page 2). After that, hand out, to each pair

  • the board (Worksheet page 1),
  • a counter (e.g. a coin) and
  • playing cards (ideally, at least 12 cards – 3 cards of each suit – to each pair).

The students place the counter at the bottom of the ladder. Each turn, a student whose turn it is to ask a question moves one step up the ladder, draws a card and asks their partner a question of the corresponding type. Encourage the students to ask follow-up questions and chat for a few minutes before moving on to the next question.


The idea behind this game comes from an activity in Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, and the inspiration comes from Anna Zernova, who mentioned the activity during one of our chats about teaching.

The grid for the board comes from a fantastic post on turning tests into games by Svetlana Kandybovich and Tekhnologic.

Finally, I’m very grateful to Adi Rajan for the idea to use playing cards, and to my colleague Eleonora Popova for the beautiful England-styled pack of cards she gave me.

Happy teaching everyone – and enjoy your summer, if it’s summer where you are! 🙂

What I want to share in this post happened quite a while ago. It wasn’t anything new in terms of teaching methodology and I’m sure a lot of people reading this post will recognize what they do in the classroom. But nevertheless, the experience keeps popping up in my head and I wanted to share it, because it was one of the most positive experiences in my early years of teaching.

This happened when I was teaching in a secondary school. At some point, when my first ever group reached strong B1 level, I bought lots of graded readers, brought the better half of my personal library of English books to the school and launched an extensive reading programme, asking the students to read graded readers and unabridged books three or four times a year. As a follow-up to each round of reading, we did various activities, ranging from book fairs to informal chats, but one thing that stayed the same was that I asked the students to give the book they’d read a rating and write a short review. Another thing that stayed the same was that the majority of students hated writing those reviews.

I was taking British Council Learning Technologies for the Classroom course at the time, and so we started experimenting with some (pretty basic) technology and ended up with an approach to writing which was a whole lot more enjoyable and productive.


1. Creating the sense of audience
The first step was to migrate all writing to the class group on a social network. Instead of asking the students to hand in the reviews in handwritten form, I started creating a dedicated thread where all reviews were to be posted before the deadline (the evening before a lesson). This gave the students a sense of audience and made the activity a lot more authentic. We used a social media site (a Russian analogue of Facebook) because all students had accounts there, but as far as I know, many teachers use other free alternatives, e.g.

2. Immediate feedback
Since I now got all the reviews before the lesson, I could print them out, mark them in the morning, and then in class the students worked in pairs to edit their contributions on the group page. Apart from the satisfaction of getting feedback immediately after submitting their piece of writing, there were a number of added benefits:

  • This gave the students a good reason to submit their work on time, and in general the proportion of students who did writing assignments increased as a result. Also, in my experience with teens, the very fact that everyone in the group can see who has submitted homework encourages students to do it.
  • Since I was working with a print-out, I felt at liberty to mark the students’ work more extensively without the fear of ruining it – I now not only used error correction codes to hint at mistakes, but also highlighted all nice turns of phrase that I liked in the students’ writing – so the feedback they received looked a lot more positive.
  • Editing itself became a lot easier – no need to rewrite anything and there were no teacher’s comments in the final draft.

3. Autonomous vocabulary learning

One more important tweak was using amazon reviews as a source of language. We did this using scrible – a wonderful tool that allows the user to save any html page to an online library and then annotate it, changing font sizes, highlighting and adding notes:

A typical assignment looked like this:

_) read a book and give it a rating
a) find a book in a similar genre (google ‘top detective novels’, for instance)
b) read reviews on amazon that give that book the same rating
c) highlight relevant expressions with scrible, _save the page_ and create a permalink to share it
d) write your review using these expressions and _underscoring_ them. Post the review along with the permalink here.

In general, amazon reviews are very well written and are a pleasure to read, and the whole group ended up hunting down some great expressions. Those students who chose to use those expressions (around 75%) were able to use them very aptly in their writing. Here are a couple of samples of my students’ work (big thanks to Ivan Syrovoiskii and Danila Borovkov for allowing me to share them here):

The annotated page:
The review:

On the prowl for something interesting, I happened on Bram Stocker’s Dracula. And when I took an abridged book I actually expected that it wouldl be shortened and generally quite tame in comparison to the original. But what struck me was how they’d oversimplified the whole plot.
I guess almost everyone basicly knows the story – it starts with Jonathan Harker’s arrival to the castle of Count Dracula, the very powerful vampire who’s intimidating the whole of Transylvania. But this edition was so shortened that the whole story of how Jonathan, Arthur and Professor Van Helsing struggled to locate and destroy their nemesis turned just in several pages and the life of vampires which original plot concerns – into several plotlines written in simple English.
In general, I want to say that while I was reading this book I was imbued with the notion that I’m reading just a summary of the original Dracula. On reflection, I reckon I need to add that it might be good as a book for studying English, and it should be treated just as a textbook, without looking at plot.
My overall impression is that if you want to read something interesting – read the original book or don’t read Dracula at all – but don’t bother with abridged books, especially with intermediate level.

The annotated page:
The review:

First of all I have to thank Graham Poll for sharing “Seeing Red” with us. It’s very interesting and a times funny read for people who know something about football and you just can’t put it down.
Every day there are some news about players and managers in the media, but nothing about referees. “Seeing Red” allows you to look behind the scenes of refereeing and to look inside the game.This book shows how young boy, linesman in his father’s match, became the best, world popular referee. I’m sure you will find out something new about referees’ regime, training and how refereeing affects privacy. It also includes many details about famous football players and managers, such as John Terry or David Beckhem or David Moyes. With this book you can participate in famous football matches in many tournaments like World Cup, Premier League or Champions League. After reading I understand how much pressure referees are under, how difficult this thankless but absolutely necessary job is and I have gained a whole bunch of respect for them.

Later on we used all the scrible pages produced by the students to analyze the overall structure of a typical review and put together a google document with useful expressions for talking about characters, plot, the author and so on (a great thing about google documents is that a lot of people can edit the same document simultaneously, so the students worked in pairs, each pair researching a particular aspect of essay writing across everybody’s scribble pages).

While I’m at it, here are some ideas what other genres this approach could be used for:

Closing remarks 

As I said at the beginning of this post, a lot of what we ended up doing is standard practice in many language teaching classrooms. However, I still really wanted to share the experience, because for me and my class those tweaks made a lot of difference at the time. They transformed writing assignments from a frustrating chore that the students used to moan about to something that felt good and was a lot more authentic and enjoyable.

And on that note, I must ask: What were some rewarding, happy experiences in your early years of teaching? 

Thanks for reading!

A couple of days ago I came across a video that could be used as a nice springboard for an ice-breaking activity at the beginning of a course.

Levels: strong Intermediate / Upper-Intermediate

Lesson type:

  • [option 1] students watch a video and do an ice breaker activity; length: 30 minutes
  • [option 2] students watch a video, explore ways in which they can react naturally while making small talk, and then do an ice breaker activity; length: 60 minutes

Materials: Option 1 is a materials-free lesson – you’ll only 5 slips of paper for each pair of students in class; for option 2, print out the first two pages of the worksheet:

Procedure: Project the following image, elicit what this is called (a ball pit) and ask the students if they’ve ever been in one.

  1. Tell the group that they’re going to watch a video about people sitting in a ball pit discussing some questions. First time the students watch the video, ask them to note down the questions (after they’ve watched the video, let the students check in pairs, then go through the questions together, replaying and boarding them; the questions are at 0:43, 1:13, 1:53, 2:23, 3:00 and 3:44); second time they listen, the students take notes about the replies people give (s/s compare in pairs / brief class feedback).
  2. [Optional] Do tasks 2 and 3 in the worksheet to explore the way people show their reactions – both verbally and through body language
  3. [option 1] S/s simply discuss the questions from the video in pairs.
    [option 2] Assign each of the questions on the board to a pair of students and ask them to write it on a slip of paper. Ask each pair to brainstorm 3-4 more questions that would be good for a ball pit and write their questions on separate slips of paper. Alternatively, print out and cut up some ice-breaker questions beforehand, e.g. from here or here . Collect and redistribute the slips. The students mingle, talking about the questions they’ve got on their slips. Each time two students have discussed the questions on their slips, they swap the slips.

This is part of a series of posts on teaching listening comprehension. In the previous post I outlined the procedure that I’ve been using in my listening lessons.

I ‘landed’ on this procedure back in March when, halfway through another listening course, which I was really struggling with, I came to class with an authentic interview, a transcript and only a vague  idea for how I wanted to work with them. There was only one student in class, I supported him as best I could and at the end of the class he said he felt that he’d achieved great progress over those 90 minutes. So I reused the procedure again and again and eventually ended up using it as the basis for a whole new listening course (which I’ve really enjoyed teaching, as the students’ progress and the feedback I’ve been getting are just great).

Here’s that initial lesson that worked – I’ve taught it 3 more times since then. The lesson is based around this video:

Levels: B2/C1 (B1+ students who feel the need to understand Australian accent will cope with this lesson too)

Length: 90 minutes

Lesson type: listening

Materials: Worksheet

In this post you’ll find

  • an outline of the features of connected speech which make this video challenging for language learners, along with
  • suggestions for how to explain these features to your learners
  • a listening lesson plan. In this lesson the students will get a chance to notice these features of connected speech and get used to the way they ‘distort’ some high-frequency words
  • the accompanying  worksheet

Features of connected speech

This section outlines the most prominent features of connected speech in this speaker’s accent (all audio samples exemplifying the feature come from the video). As I said above, I’ve taught this lesson four times, at a variety of levels, and I’ve invariably found that these were the features that consistently make it difficult even for C1 students to catch some very high frequency words and expressions (e.g. ‘like’ or ‘and then’).

  1. Elision and glottal stops (tha’ for ‘that’, u’ for ‘up’, las for ‘last’, etc)
  2. ‘weak’ form of ‘was’: /wz/
  3. shortened adverbs: (ash  for actually, orignlly  for originally, etc)
  4. frequent chunks (was like, and then, sort of, etc)
  5. ‘Tongue gymnastics’  (s + j gets replaced with sh + j; z + j, with zh + j)

1. Elision and glottal stops

NB If for some reason the audio samples here are not displayed, you’ll find all of them on my audioboo page.

p/k/t /d (so-called plosive consonants) disappearing or getting almost inaudible at the end of words: qui[te], u[p], li[ke], las[t], jus[t], etc

The following extract from the video contains quite a few examples of this feature:

0:16 As part of the tour grou[p] you go along an[d] they offer you extra
0:19 activities a[t] each differen[t] location.
0:20 Tha[t] was one tha[t] popp ed_up an[d]_I though[t], “Why no[t]?”

Here you can listen to individual words in isolation:

tour group

an[d]_they offer you


a[t] each differen[t] location

tha[t] (in ‘that was one’)


ed_up (in ‘popped up’)


tha[t] was one tha[t] popped_u[p]



Why not?

an[d]_I_thought[t] why_no[t]

Explaining this feature to students:

I ask the students to pronounce the word ‘that’, and then say it again but not release the air at the end. Then they repeat the same with ‘up’ and with ‘like’.

2.  ‘weak’ form of ‘was’ : /wz/

originally I was

3. Adverbs

Some frequently used adverbs get shortened: ash (actually), orignlly (originally), etc

originally I was

and actually looked over the edge

Listen to ‘actually’ in isolation:

4. Frequent chunks

Highly frequent chunks pronounced as one word, very fast and somewhat differently from their dictionary form:

  • I was like‘ for reporting thoughts pronounced ‘uwzli[ke]’;
  • and then‘ (pronounced ‘[a]nthen’)
  • ‘soft of’

He’s like, ‘Right, have you got any last words?’

I was like, ‘Bubbles are going this way, follow the bubbles.’

I was like, ‘Who would be calling me from Canberra?’

and then (when you)

you sort of

your brain sort of flicks

5.  Tongue gymnastics (juncture)

When followed by /j/, /s/ and /z/ can be replaced with sh and zh: this year -> thish year; cause you -> cauzh you, etc

as_you go off

cause you’re going really quickly

As_you run out of oxygen

Explaining this feature to the students:

I ask the students to say ‘as’ and ask them where their tongue touches the roof at ‘s’ (near the teeth)I demonstrate the position of the tongue with my hands, like this:

2014-01-07 21.32.27

After that, I ask them to say ‘you’ and ask them where the tongue touches the roof at ‘y’ (closer to the throat). I demonstrate the position of the tongue with my hands and then show with my hands the transition from s to y, which looks like a jump – like some kind of ‘gymnastics’. I say that it’s difficult to do this sort of gymnastics when you’re speaking fast and demonstrate with my hands the ‘midway’ position of the tongue, where zh and sh are pronounced.

503840111_e3b8a10f17_z (1)

Lesson plan


  • if you want to play the video on your computer, you’ll need to download tbe video and the subtitles from youtube and install Aegisub
  • you don’t need to read anything other then this post to teach this lesson, but if you need support downloading the video, using the interactive transcript on youtube and/or Aegisub, or if you’d like to adapt this procedure to use it with a different video, check out this post in which I explain in detail how to do this

Procedure (task numbers refer to the corresponding tasks in the worksheet):

Stage:  Warm-up (Task 1)

Tell the students that they’re going to work on their listening skills in this lesson and that they’re going to watch an interview with a student. Ask them to brainstorm the topics she might talk about (my students normally suggest: studying, parties, relationships, travel, etc).

Stage: pre-teaching vocabulary (Tasks 2 – 4)

Project the following word cloud or refer the students to Task 2 in the worksheet; tell the students that this word cloud was produced from the transcript of the interview and that the words that were used more times are bigger. Ask the students to look at the word cloud and guess which of the topics they’d predicted will come up in the interview. Reply to any queries about vocabulary.

  • Vocabulary that is very useful for understanding the interview and so worth clarifying (Task 3): cord (a thick rope); be stuck (can’t be moved); snap (break into pieces); yank on something (pull something sharply); bubbles


Stage: Gist & initial diagnostics (~10 minutes) (Task 5)

With stronger groups (B1+ and higher), I play the video twice: first time without showing the video; the second time, with the video.

The students watch the interview and discuss in pairs what they caught. I listen in and then conduct brief feedback (3 mins), establishing the main facts and the main points the students are still uncertain about, but without spending too much time, without correcting anything the students have misheard or letting the students listen for the second time. I also ask the students how challenging they found the speaker (all my students, even those ad Advanced level, found this speaker very challenging).

Stage: Transcribing & diagnostics (~25 minutes) (Task 6)

The following several stages are done without the projector – the students won’t need the video, which would only be distracting.

  • Students listen to the first part of the interview line by line, filling in gaps in the transcript
  • At the end of the stage, the students listen to the part that they have just transcribed again, just to overview what they’ve done and experience understanding the speaker. This ministage takes little time but it’s crucial for the students’ motivation and sense of progress.

Use either Aegisub or the interactive transcript on youtube to replay the lines.

Aegisub (

Aegisub (

Youtube interactive transcript

Youtube interactive transcript

Varying the level of challenge

The worksheet for lower level students (B1/B1+) indicates where and how many words are missing, whereas the worksheet for more advanced students (B2/B2+) does not. C1 students can be asked to transcribe the extract without the support of a gapped text.

The task for B1/B1+ students The task for B2/C1 students The transcript
0:02I’d __________ finished uni. 0:02I’d finished uni. 0:02I’d just finished uni.
0:03__________ I __________ __________  __________ going to Europe __________ __________  I remembered __________ __________ __________ cold over there so decided 0:03I going to Europe I remembered cold over there so decided 0:03Originally I was looking at going to Europe and then I remembered that it’s actually cold over there so I decided
0:07__________ __________ somewhere __________ __________ __________. I started off in Egypt – so I spent two weeks 0:07somewhere. I started off in Egypt – so I spent two weeks 0:07I’d head somewhere a bit warmer. I started off in Egypt – so I spent two weeks

Giving feedback

The goals of this stage are

  • for the teacher to identify what features of connected speech really do pose difficulty for the students in the group and to collect some highly frequently used words that students in the group fail to catch
  • for the students to (a) discover that some very high frequency English words are difficult to catch (b) to hear how these words are really pronounced in fast speech and gain an insight into why this happens

Therefore, it’s very important to

  • make sure that everyone in the groups says what they caught and not just the strongest listeners in the group. I normally remind the students that we’re diagnosing their listening difficulties at this stage and insist that I want to board every single version of what’s in the gap
  • whenever the students fail to catch some words/chunks that are distorted due to the features of connected speech outlined above, play the line again, elicit how these words/chunks sound, explain why the word undergoes those changes
  • to help the students to make sense of various features of connected speech, set aside a section of the board to build up a list of words that get distorted in a similar way . Halfway through this stage my board looks something like this:

NB Don’t forget to play this part of the video again before going on to the next stage (Task 7)! 

Stage:  Intensive training with specific words and expressions (20 minutes) (Task 8)

Say that you’re going to play more examples of the problematic expressions collected on the board.

Here are the features of connected speech and corresponding examples that I focus on working on this video (play only examples that come up after 0:49, because the earlier examples will have come up during the transcription stage):

  •  glottal stop/elision
    Word/expression: just (pronounced ‘js’) – 3 lines; that (pronounced ‘tha[t]’); what; out (often pronounced ‘ut’); it (this one is very challenging so only do it with a strong group
  • weak ‘was’ + chunks
    was like (after that I also play a few examples of ‘like’ without ‘was’); I was
  • frequent chunks
    and then
  • reduced adverbs
  • /z/ sound replaced with zh:
    as you, cause you (3 samples)

Work with each feature of connected speech in the following way:

  • pick a word/chunk that exemplifies the feature – ideally it should be one of the words collected at the previous stage (e.g. to focus on the weak was, you could choose was like)
  • direct the group to this word on the board
  • ask the class to remind him/her what the expression should sound like in fast speech (/wzlaɪ’/)
  • ask them to listen to just one line that contains this word/chunk and catch just that word/expression (‘listen and catch just /wzlaɪ’/). Use the interactive transcript feature on youtube or Aegisub if you’re playing the video locally to find and play the relevant lines (again, see this post if you’re not sure how to do that).
  • those students who have caught it, should try and catch the words around the expression (do board the task!)

Each time, I play the line two or three times, making sure that everyone in the group has caught the expression. If someone says they haven’t, I normally

  • react to that enthusiastically (Cool, that’s the reply I was expecting!) to encourage weaker students to signal their difficulties
  • help the students who haven’t caught the expression by, e.g., playing the line again, stopping it right before the word, saying it the way the speaker is going to say it and then playing the word (alternatively, you can play the word in isolation – again, see below for details how to do that

After that, I encourage the stronger students to supply what’s around the expression (sometimes new features of connected speech get identify and immediately make it to the corresponding part of the boards).

Stage: Transcribing (Task 9)

Do one more short transcribing task to allow the students to use the skills trained in the previous stage.

StageListening line by line, listening for the meaning – 15 minutes (Task 10)

Ask the students to cover the transcript (I hand out colour paper :)). The students practice listening to a sentence or more from the text once and trying to understand the meaning. Stress that their task here is not to transcribe word for word / remember the sentence verbatim but to catch the meaning.

The students listen to the sentence once and, in pairs, discuss what they caught (I usually assign them letters – student A and student B – and ask them to take turns to report what they’ve heard, to encourage weaker students to pull their weight). Through that the students scaffold each other and you get a chance to assess how much they understood.

No feedback is necessary here – after the students have talked about what they caught for 20 seconds or so, tell them that they are about to hear the sentence again. Ask them not to discuss it this time (although in my experience some pairs will) but instead to read the line right after they’ve heard it, underlining everything they didn’t catch.

After that, ask them to play the line again in their head (Prepare to listen to it again and understand it without looking at the text). Before playing one more time, remind the students that you want them to listen without reading.

Repeat with the next line. If the students find the task too easy, play longer stretches (two lines, then three lines at a time).

Stage: Watching the same extract again (Task 11) 

This stage is pretty straightforward: switch the projector on and let the students watch the entire extract again – having worked with the video, they will understand more or less every word.

Stage: Revision – 5 minutes (Task 12)

Ask the students to mentally go through what they did in the lesson, what features of connected speech they’d focused on and what else they learnt (any new insight into what makes listening difficult? new vocabulary? strategies for developing listening skills?); encourage them to remember specific examples; having thought for a minute, the students share in pairs.


If you use these materials, please let me know how it went! As always, I’ll also be very grateful to hear any suggestions how to improve this lesson.


Wondering what to read next? Check out this list of links to youtube channels in a variety of genres that have subtitled videos – you can use any of those videos to give listening lessons similar to the one described in this post, with minimal preparation (I recommend using interviews and not films or other video types, though). By the way, I’m still looking for more youtube channels to add to my list, so if you know of some channels that have subtitled videos, please do share!

Levels: B1 and higher (some activities are suitable for pre-intermediate students)
Type of course: General English/Business English; some activities suitable for IELTS students
Length: Depending on what activities you choose – altogether, there’s material for around two 90-minute classes.
Materials: all activities and pictures are  available in a Microsoft Word document (shared under attribution sharealike licence, so feel free to adapt them); you’ll need a projector to project the infographic.

This is a language point that I decided to introduce at all levels I’m teaching this semester: the elementary group studied it at the same time as they studied comparatives (adding a modifier seemed like a very teachable point, and now, two weeks later, they are actually using the modifiers very confidently! I also noticed that at least some of the times they say something like ‘more cheaper’ they actually mean a lot cheaper, so seeing that they’re trying to convey this meaning anyway, why not teach it immediately?) My Upper-Intermediate+ group, on the other hand, was still not using any modifiers with comparatives, as the warm-up activity below revealed.

Comparatives Edited (8)

I like presenting the four ways to compare (-er/more/less/exceptions) with ‘circles’ – the visual ‘mnemonics’ is that the circles do not intersect, so you never use two ways at the same time, and thus ‘less cheaper’ or ‘more better’ is not allowed.

Stage one: Intro. In order to introduce this grammar point to B1 groups and higher, I asked my students whether they’d ever bough a gadget to replace an older one (e.g. a smart phone to replace a mobile phone) and asked them to chat about

  • in what ways the new gadget was different and
  • whether the old one was still better in some respects.

I listened in and boarded some comparative structures they’d used – some examples that came up were ‘longer battery life’, ‘more durable’, etc. I then told my students that they weren’t using a bit of language I’d hoped to hear, showed them the first part of the infographic above and asked them what information is present in the pictures but missing from the sentences (How much more expensive?); I then elicited a few examples of how to modify the sentence to say how much more expensive the present was (my students came up with ‘much’ and ‘a (little) bit); I boarded the remaining adverbs, i.e. a lot, somewhat, way, and asked them to rank the adverbs (with my Upper-Intermediate group, we also focused on infinitely, marginally and far). I then pointed out the samples of  their language on the board in which they didn’t qualify the comparatives.

Stage Two. Focus on form. After that, in order to encourage the students to study the infographic closely, I handed out sentences with typical mistakes for them to correct (page 2 of the .docx worksheet) – show only the middle part of the infographic at this stage, hiding the examples.

Level: Elementary/pre-intermediateSome of these sentences contain mistakes. Find and correct them.

  1. I find shopping online lot more convenient.
  2. I like this laptop a lot less.
  3. My new laptop has more better design.
  4. This trip lasts two weeks more longer then that one.
  5. The box of chocolates costs 50 per cent less.
  6. This trip is more cheaper.
  7. My day just got a lot better!
  8. My new phone is a bit easier to use then my old phone.
Key:   1 a lot more convenient
2. OK
3. Has better design
4. two weeks longer than5. OK
6. is cheaper
7. OK
8. than
Level: Intermediate/Upper-IntermediateSome of these sentences contain mistakes. Find and correct them.

  1. I find shopping online a way more convenient.
  2. Men generally find easier to read maps.
  3. I like this laptop a lot less.
  4. This trip lasts two weeks more longer then that one.
  5. The box of chocolates costs 50 per cent less.
  6. My day just got a lot better!
 1. way more2. find it easier3. OK4. longer than5. OK6. OK

Having checked the answers, we used the correct sentences to model/drill sentence stress and intonation.

Stage 3. Refined production After that, the students went back to their conversations about gadgets (in new pairs), to find out how much longer the battery life was/how much more durable the new gadget was and so on.

We then briefly revised the rules how the comparative forms of adjectives are formed (alternatively, you could cut up a worksheet with adjectives – there are some in the .docx file – for the students to sort them into four groups) and went on to play a couple of games.

Further stages – games (pick and choose). 

Game 1 (drill) – adapted from Intermediate Communication Games by Jill Hadfield, Pearson P T R (2000) – worked like a spell in all groups!
Course type: any
Levels: Pre-Intermediate – Upper-Intermediate
: a set of cut-up cards for each pair/group of 3 (download a .pdf file from here or use the corresponding pages from the word document linked to at the beginning of the post); ideally, a dice for each pair
Time: 15-25 minutes

Every player takes 6 cards. The first player places one card on the desk and ‘boasts’ (‘my robot is very smart‘). After that, each turn players place one of their cards on the board, comparing the new object to the previous one (e.g. ‘my cat is way friendlier than your robot‘) and then takes one more card from the stack.

Rules: (a) They have to use a modifier – I drew 6 facets of a dice on the board, each one with a corresponding modifier, and each time a player boasted, they had to roll the dice to determine what modifier should be used
(b) Adjectives can’t be reused

Image courtesy: my colleague Eleonora Popova, who's a white board magician. =)

Image courtesy: my colleague Eleonora Popova, who’s a white board magician. =)

Variation 1: players draw the cards directly from the stack and have to find a way to compare the last two objects
Variation 2: each turn, each player in the pair puts one of their cards on the desk; after that each player comments in what way their object is better than the other player’s object

Game 2 A board game in which students share opinions on a range of topics

Target structure:
find [sth] [modifier] [comparative] (I find it a lot easier to… than to …)

Levels: Pre-Intermediate – Upper-Intermediate

Course type: General English or Business English (can be used with exam students, but does not replicate exam format)

Materials: a board with adjectives, for Variation 1 a cut-up set of discussion propts (see below)

Time: 30-40 minutes (more time with higher level students, as they launch into discussions, especially if discussion prompts are used)

Rules: The students work in pairs. Each turn, a player throws a coin (heads = one step forward, tails = two steps forward) and states a true opinion using a modified comparative form of the adjective on the field (possibly giving a reason – again, a dice could determine the number of reasons); their partner either agrees or disagrees (providing reasons) and/or asks follow-up questions – again, this could be decided by a roll of a dice. I made two board games for this game, one for pre-intermediate students, another for higher levels.

Board game Comparatives More difficultBoard game Comparatives Easier (2)Example: I find it a lot less stressful to get to work by car than to use public transport, because I really dislike the underground. There are just too many people on the train in the morning. What about you?

Alternatively, the students can ask questions instead of stating their opinions (see Variation 1).

Setting the game up: 

It’s better to give the students patterns for questions and answers (I boarded a jumbled question and a jumbled answer and asked the students to unjumble them).  In a pre-intemediate group, it’s better just to teach the statements (I find it + modifier + comparative to … than to…), whereas higher levels will cope with questions too.

  • Board one scrambled question (examples here are for ‘would’):
    would what you to be find easier so working in a big team in a small team or?Allow students to unscramble individually and then check in pairs, elicit and board the correct question:
    So what would you find to be [easier], working in a big team or in a small team? 
  • Board the sentence frame under the unscrambled question:
    So what would you find to be
     [comparative structure], verb-ing or verb-ing?)
    (alternatively, make a few mistakes in the frame and ask the students to correct them)
  • Elicit and board a reply (first the structure, but then elicit the reason – I put ‘because’ on the board and circled it in red (Sample reply: I’d find it a lot easier to work in a small company because you always know who is doing what. )
  • Again, board the frame under the replyI’d find it [a comparative structure] to [verb] [than to verb] because..)

Game 2 Variation 1. A board game in which students talk about topics given on discussion prompts

Materials: one of the above boards, cut-up discussion questions (either General English or Business English – see below).

The players shuffle the cut-up discussion prompts and take 6 promtps each.  Having landed on a field, a player asks their partner a question using an adjective on the field and one of their cards (e.g. What would you find to be easier, working in a big company or in a small company?)

Non-cut alternative: Each pair gets the sheet with discussion prompts. Having landed on a field, a player picks a question that fits the adjective (possibly, crossing it over).

Discussion prompts for General English:


Business English:


Game 3 Students talk about topics given on discussion prompts using a wider range of adjectives provided on cards; the game is played in pairs or in groups of three.

Course type: General English, Business English or IELTS

Level: Intermediate and higher


  • cut-up adjectives; an uncut worksheet with adjectives for each student

Time: up to 60 minutes as there are a lot of discussion questions


  • check that the students know all the adjectives: hand out an uncut copy to each student and set a few simple tasks, e.g.
    >>> tick all adjectives you know; check with your partner – is there something you don’t know and they do? class feedback
    >>> in pairs, for each adjective brainstorm two people, things, places or activities that fit  this adjective (e.g. elicit examples for useful, e.g. reading news every day). Rules: 1) ask the pair to write their examples down 2) if they can’t come up with two examples in 10 seconds, they should move on (why not tell them you’re going to snap your fingers every 10 seconds?) 3) at the end of the activity, group the students into groups of four so that they ask the other pair for ideas for the examples they couldn’t come up with 4) finish with a group game in which one pair gives their examples and the group guesses the adjective
    >>> focus on grammar: the students go through the table and count how many comparatives in each row are formed with ‘er’ and not with ‘more’
  • The game. The students deal the adjectives (6-8 per player). Each turn, one student picks two questions, chooses one (discarding the other) and asks the other players which alternative they’d prefer (Would you rather [verb] or [verb]). All players in the group discuss the question using as many of their adjectives as they can. These are adjectives that are often used with the structure ‘I find it [modifier] [comparative], so they are fairly easy to use in this activity.

Adjectives for intermediate learners:


Adjectives for advanced learners (edit the Microsoft Word file to choose only those you’d like to focus on – alternatively, let the students choose!):



As a follow-up, the students could pick a few of these questions and discuss them in new pairs/groups – this time without being forced to use any specific adjectives/structures. They could also choose a few cards and write about them for homework.

As I said at the start of the post, if you’d like to adapt these games, here’s a Microsoft Office document with all materials. Also, I’d be grateful if you let me know if you’ve got any suggestions how to improve this, ideas how to extend these activities or if you find typos.