Posts Tagged ‘lesson plans’

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.




Some of my students are great conversationalists who thrive talking to new interesting people, but for others having to maintain a conversation with someone they don’t know that well is a truly daunting task. I personally am more of a quiet type, and I deeply sympathize with people who have this problem. I remember, when I first started out teaching, being positively terrified by meeting some of my students on the underground: inexplicably, having chatted with them effortlessly in class, I completely froze and didn’t know what to say the moment we stepped out of the classroom.

When it comes to intercultural communication, the issues of shyness and not knowing how to break the ice or fill the awkward pauses may be additionally complicated by the fact that different cultures might expect different behaviour during the conversation. For example, in her IATEFL presentation on The Pragmatics of successful business communication, Chia Suan Chong gave a very interesting example of how politeness and the wish not to interrupt may be interpreted as lack of interest:

Allyson: You won’t believe what happened to me today!
Jun Sook stares at her and doesn’t say a word.
Allyson: Right, if you’re not interested, then I’m not going to tell you!
Jun Sook: Huh?

Russians make another good example: we use back-channeling (i.e. small noises and comments that show you’re listening and interested, like ‘Mmm?’ and ‘Interesting’) a lot less than English or American people, and a typical reaction when some of my students notices the question ‘Really?’ in a transcript is to giggle and ask, ‘How come she doesn’t believe him?’ We also have quite different body language, so a lot of my students avoid making eye contact, and hardly use any gestures when they speak.

A few weeks ago a team of engineers at my company needed to entertain a customer (something that they normally don’t do) and I needed to teach a short course designed to help them brush up their English and conversation skills. Here’s one of the lesson plans that was part of the course. It is designed to help learners maintain conversations more easily by

  1. asking a range of follow-up questions more skillfully and
  2. using some ‘active listening’ techniques, namely, showing interest verbally (through short interjections and comments) and non-verbally, through eye contact and body language.

Levels: B1/B2
Length: 90 minutes

  • an editable Worksheet
  • a projector or a laptop to show the video
  • a deck of cards (you’ll need around 8 cards for each student – printed out cards will do)

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

Teacher’s notes

Task 1. S/s discuss in pairs for 3-5 minutes. Brief feedback.
Task 2. The purpose of tasks 2 and 3 is for the students to notice the differences between the way they show interest / encourage the other speaker to continue and the way Americans do that.
For task 2, split s/s into groups of three or four. Two people in each group are talking (Task 2), the remaining students are analyzing their conversation (Secret task on last page). Allow 2 minutes for Student As to read the task, then let Students B and C talk for 3-4 minutes.
Task 3. Elicit from Student As what they were looking out for and board the questions. Conduct brief feedback, then focus the class on the first three questions: (1) How do they use their hands? (2) Do they make any eye contact? (3) How do they show that they’re listening? Explain that you’re going to watch a short video of two IT professionals discussing their work. Explain that the topic is quite technical and that the students’ task is to ignore what the speakers are saying and concentrate on questions (1), (2) and (3). Play the video.


Suggested answers:
(1) How do they use their hands?
They use hands a lot to illustrate what they’re saying

(2) Do they make any eye contact?
 They make eye contact occasionally, but they don’t look each other in the eye for more than a few seconds.

(3) How do they show that they’re listening?
Non-verbally (they’re sitting half-facing each other and they nod a lot)
Verbally (they use ‘small noises’ (Huh-huh), make short comments (Right), and at one point ‘echo’ by reformulating a key word (3:28: ‘They’re still on the same visit’/’The same session’).

Play the video again, this time stopping after each example of back-channeling and asking the students to repeat it.

Task 2′. Get the students to repeat the same task in new pairs – this time nobody is doing the secret task and the objective is to (1) use more interesting gestures while you’re speaking and (2) show interest by body language, small noises and short comments. 

Task 4. The aim of tasks 4 and 5 is to extend the students’ repertoire of short comments used to show interest and to give them controlled practice coming up with follow-up questions. Refer the class to Task 4 and ask them to sort the reactions. Conduct brief feedback.
Follow-up: Elicit answers to the following questions:
1. What word makes follow-up sound more friendly/conversational? (So).
2. What words make comments work more natural/conversational? (So, then).
3. What is the structure of the comments? (Short reaction, e.g. ‘Really?’/’Yeah’/’Exactly’ + a longer comment).


One- or two-word comments / echoing key words. Follow-up questions Comments that work as follow-up questions Comments about yourself
5 years?Interesting.
Right.Was it?
Really? What was that like?Why did you decide to leave your start-up?
So, were you working on the same project back then?So when exactly did you start with this?
So you know the company pretty well then.

So you have been working here for quite a long time now.

Really? That’s interesting because…

Yeah, I had a similar experience. I ….

Exactly. I think…

Refer the class to Task 5 and ask to come up with more short comments / follow-up questions and comments (do the first line together, then allow the students to work in pairs).

Task 6. Distribute cards to students and put them in new pairs. Explain that in this task they’ll chat about the questions and they’ll need to use the cards to know how to react: by showing interest using body language, by asking follow-up questions, by making comments that serve as questions or by making comments to share something about themselves.

Task 7. Either as a follow-up or for homework, get the students categorize the questions in Task 6 and come up with more questions. Use those questions for another revision/communication activity next time.

For homework, share the links to the following two resources:
Quora thread Meeting New People: What is the best way to start an engaging conversation with a stranger?
Lifehacker thread What’s Your Best Ice Breaker When Meeting Someone New?

Ask the students to read them, choose their favourite tips and share them, either in the next lesson or on your facebook group/blog, if the group has one.


Update. I was very happy to hear that this post got shortlisted for Teaching English – British Council blog award. If you decide to vote for it (in which case, THANK YOU! :)), let them know by ‘liking’ the post on their facebook page: .

Levels: B1+/B2
Length: 90 minutes
Course type: Business English

Materials: Worksheet  (also see the Update with a more elaborate version two lines below)
If you don’t have Microsoft word, download the worksheet from Slideshare:

Update: My colleague Anastasiya Chernetskaya and I have created a longer worksheet which would probably take 120 minutes to cover, or would need a 30-45 minute revision slot during the following lesson. Apart from expressions for saying ‘no’, this worksheet also contains a useful framework for structuring a refusal so that it doesn’t cause offence, and written practice.

  1. Warmer (page 1-2) 10 mins
    Lead in by asking the students: have you heard of Quora? Tell them that that’s a question-and-answer service where you can ask any question and get replies from people ‘in the know’ (interesting replies get upvoted). For example, if you ask a question about the International Space Station, chances are you’ll get a reply from an engineer who designed it. Questions are grouped by areas of interest (e.g. jobs, professional areas, learning languages, etc).Pairs s/s up, hand out page 1 to Student As and page 2 to Student Bs (folded so that they can’t see the text). S/s read the Quora question in the speech bubble and then discuss questions 1-2. Then they read their texts, retell them to each other and discuss.Follow-up question: do you generally find it easy to say ‘no’?
  2. Task 1. 3-5 mins
    Get the students to brainstorm requests and board them. S/s discuss in pairs how they’d feel about the requests on the board and how they’d reply.
  3. Task 2. 10 mins
    My students came up with:
    Business Analyst: [I’m on holiday for the next two weeks. If something comes up, could you contact the customer directly?]
    The customer: [That’s not exactly what we want. Could you change this functionality? No, we can’t pay for that.]
    The TL: We need someone to work on site. Could you go?
    The PM: Your project is over budget. You’ll have to take an unpaid vacation.
    Other team members. Could you help me RIGHT NOW?
    The receptionist: Could you help me to carry some boxes from the ground floor to the HR’s office?
  4. Task 3. 10 mins
    Ask the s/s to cover the expressions. S/s fill the gaps with their best guesses for 1 minute and then uncover the expressions / fill the gaps. During class feedback, discuss both suggested answers and the students’ initial ideas.
  5. Task 4. 10 mins
    Use the second table to work on pronunciation (mark linking, chunks, etc).
    Get students to compare in pairs orally (pronouncing linked sentences and listening to each other).
    Suggested answers (linking):

    1 Sorry, I’ll be away_on [business/holiday] [then/when you need me].
    2 Listen, I’m_afraid_I don’t have_a lot_of time_at_the moment.
    3 I’d love to help, but I’m really snowed_under_at_the moment. Can this wait?
    4 It may be a bit problematic. The thing_is, I’m_up to my neck_in these reports. Have you tried Peter?
    5 Try me again when_[I’ve finished the report / I’m back from holiday].
    6 I suppose I could look_intowit.

    . For better connected speech and natural stress patterns, work on chunking (there’s a great blog post about this on Olga Samsonova’s blog:

  6. Task 5. 20 mins
    If you don’t have dice, get s/s to roll dice on their mobile phones using
     For more controlled practice, start this out as a written activity: the s/s bombard each other very short (one-line) emails with requests from various roles and reply explaining why they can’t do what they’ve been asked to do right now. Here’s a great worksheet that my colleague Anastasiya Chernetskaya created: written practice. Here’s a great three-line template for saying ‘no’ that would be ideal for this activity.
  7. Follow-up [an activity by Mario Rinvolucri] 10 mins
    While the students are playing, listen in and write (on slips of paper) 5-10 examples of good sentences that you hear from them and 5-10 examples of sentences with mistakes (preferably, focusing on language associated with saying ‘no’ to requests). After the activity, distribute the slips. Allocate two areas on a table: ‘Perfect English’ and ‘Could-be-better English’. Get the s/s to put their cards on the table. Then comment on each card (where ‘Perfect English’ cards were put on the wrong side, use this as an opportunity to encourage students that their English is better than they might think; when there’s a mistake, either comment yourself or invite the group to correct.)perfect_english
    I’ve tried this activity a lot of times, and it normally produces a lot of happy chuckles (and often there’s someone who wants to take the cards home). Students really like to see that some of what they’ve said is Perfect English!
    Tip: take a picture before and after feedback and share the pics with the s/s so that they can revise.
  8. [If time] After mistake correction, s/s could repeat the activity in new pairs.
  9. Follow-up / homework (for IT English / Business English) How to say ‘no’ to feature requests for software products, and to customer requests in general? Check out this excellent reply on Quora which comes with an email template: (also, the free e-book of Business email templates linked to at the end of the post is one not to miss). Looks useful even for learners not involved in IT: with other lines of business, elicit customer requests that might have to be refused, and then get the students to look through the article and discuss which tips are applicable to their setting and how the remaining tips could be adapted.

Here are two lesson plans based on a fragment of an interview with Anderson Cooper, a journalist, in which he talks about how he chose his profession (the story starts at 13m16s and ends at 16m20s).

Lesson 1. 

Levels: B1+ up to C1

Length: 90 minutes

Lesson type: listening

Materials: Worksheet (docx)/ Worksheet (pdf), Teacher’s notes (docx)/ Teacher’s notes (pdf)

This is a primarily listening lesson in which the students will practice their decoding skills.

In tasks 1-3 the students warm up and listen for gist; in task 4 they get a chance to notice some of the features of connected speech that make understanding native speaker speech challenging (there’s an outline of these difficulties, with audio samples from the interview, at the end of this post); in task 6 they get used to the way some high frequency words and expressions are pronounced; in task 8 they listen to part of the interview line by line, which allows them to continue practicing decoding while primarily concentrating on the meaning (open the interview on youtube and use the interactive transcript to play the interview line by line). Finally, they listen to another part of the interview (in this part Anderson Cooper talks about who he would invite to a dinner party if he could invite any five people, living, deceased, or fictional), share what they caught and assess the progress they’ve made understanding this speaker (the story begins at 24:42 and ends at 26:43 – look for ‘dinner’ in the interactive transcript’).

If time permits, the students can share their own answers to the questions Anderson Cooper replied to.

Lesson 2. 

Levels: B1

Length: 90 minutes

Activities: listening, fluency (analyzing linkers for storytelling, telling the story of how you chose your profession)

Materials: Worksheet (docx) / Worksheet (pdf)

An outline of the lesson: In tasks 1-3 the students warm up and listen for gist; in tasks 4 and 5 the students focus on linkers used for storytelling, first listening and filling the gaps (open the interview on youtube and use the interactive transcript to play the interview line by line) and then sorting the linkers according to their meaning.

Finally, the students plan their own stories and share them in pairs.

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).

  1. Elision and glottal stops (didn for ‘didn’t’, wanne to for ‘wanted to’,  etc)
  2. frequent chunks with ‘and’ (and then, and so etc)
  3. shortened adverbs: (probly  for probably; definitely)

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: don[‘t], want[ed], li[ke],  etc

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

I wan[t]e[d]_to feel fulfilled and I wan[t]e[d]_to see the world. And I didn[‘t] wanna be in a grey office in a grey cubicle and a grey sui[t].

Listen to some examples in isolation:

  • negatives 

didn’t [wanna be in a grey office])

Another example: You kids today, you don’t know.

don’t know in isolation:

  • ‘ed’ ending followed by a ‘t’ sound:

wanted to [feel fulfilled]

Another example: cause most people are too scared to go

Listen to scared to in isolation:

2. Frequent chunks with ‘and’

and then I travelled around in South East Asia on my own

Listen to and then in isolation:

and then I sold that story

Listen to and then in isolation:

I wanted to feel fulfilled and I wanted to see the world. And I didn’t wanna be in a grey office in a grey cubicle and a grey sui[t].

Listen to and I in isolation:

3. Shortened adverbs

  •  probably

I was probably the only eight-year old who was really into Eric Sevareid.

Listen to probably in isolation:

I know I was probably supposed to answer like, the Pope or something.

Listen to probably in isolation:

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!

Have your (otherwise pretty advanced) students ever complained that they don’t understand authentic speech, like films or native speakers they meet in the street? If so, read on.

In the attempt to help my in-company students better understand their British and American colleagues and customers, I’ve been teaching a 30 hour long listening course that is based on recent research into what vital modes of listening training are absent from most contemporary coursebooks. I’m quite happy with the outcomes of the course (the students show evident progress and the feedback I’m getting is very positive).

In this post I’ll

So far I’ve taught 13 ninety-minute lessons out of 15 in the course I’m currently running. In the first one I introduced the students to some of the reasons why listening is problematic (summarizing them in one phrase, students need intensive practice decoding features of connected speech; you can find out more in this post and in the book by John Field linked to there). In the subsequent 12 lessons we targeted a range of accents, including American, Canadian, Australian, Scottish and non-native speaker (Israeli). Last a Friday we did Indian accent, which my students and managers have been begging me to target ever since I joined the company last December. I’ll write up all those lesson plans and publish them in this blog later on. All of these lessons (apart from the introductory one) follow the following pattern.

A generic listening lesson plan. 

Levels. I teach each lesson in three different groups (their levels are B1+/B2, B2/C1 and B2+/C1), and I’ve also used some of the materials in a strong pre-intermediate group (they’re finishing the course, so they are around B1), but the pre-intermediate students did struggle.

Lesson length: 90 minutes


  • Find an interview that has subtitles (pick and choose from the links in this post) and is appropriate for your students (that is, does not contain topics you don’t want mentioned in class – though I’m pretty relaxed about that and actually find stories shared in authentic interviews a welcome break from distilled/PARSNIPSed coursebook audios.
  • Go through the transcript and locate a couple of general interest questions and interesting answers (two 3-minute extracts will do).
  • Print out the transcripts for those extracts (one copy for each student in class).
  • Alternatively, come back to my blog in a couple of weeks – I’ll write up my lesson plans that I’ve created for the course by then – and use my plans and materials.
  • If your interview is not on, install the (free) tool described at the end of this post

Materials: A print-out of the transcript for each student. For lower levels, a gapped transcript of the first part of the interview.

Procedure. The course that I’m teaching specifically targets listening skills, so there are no discussion tasks (I did use some in the first couple of lessons but they really don’t fit this format) and I hardly teach any vocabulary. Nevertheless, classes are generally lively, because the students do get plenty of opportunities to share what they’ve heard and scaffold each other, and there’s also usually lots of banter (and moaning!) about the peculiarities of accents that we’re working on.  Apart from the first class, which was a general introduction into listening decoding difficulties, the remaining classes are completely independent of each other (also, there were some students who joined the group a few weeks into the course and they’re working fine, so the first introductory class doesn’t seem to be that crucial).

As I mentioned above, in general, I structure each lesson in this course around an unabridged interview. A generic lesson is structured like this:

0. Pre-listening. Sometimes I start off with some kind of prediction / activating schemata tasks, and sometimes we just delve straight into listening.

1. Gist & initial diagnostics (~10 minutes). The students watch an extract from the interview (normally, a reply to one question, which generally lasts around 3 minutes. I try to go through the interview before the lesson and pick some genuinely interesting stories). Having watched the extract, the students share what they’ve heard in pairs or groups or three (3 mins). 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 (they normally say something like ‘I caught around 60% – 70% – 90% percent).

2. Transcription & diagnostics (~25 minutes)

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 extract they’ve just listened to line by line, transcribing it.
  • At the end of the stage, the student listen to the part they’ve 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.

The goal of this stage of the lesson is to identify the features of connected speech that make this particular speaker challenging for this particular group (check out this text for a great overview of features of connected speech with examples).

The students listen to each phrase a couple of times (make sure the phrases you’re playing are not too long and so can be held in memory), transcribe them and then share with the teacher what they caught. The teacher writes up their versions on the board and, whenever some common English word poses difficulties because its pronunciation differs from the dictionary form, asks the students to listen again and say how the word sounded in the audio (in my experience, when their attention is directed towards the pronunciation of an individual words, students normally find it easy to hear what sounds are dropped and they readily supply that e.g. ‘that’ was pronounced without the final ‘t’ / ‘was’ was pronounced like ‘wz’, and so on).  On a specially designated part of the board,  the teacher builds up a list of frequent English words and expressions exhibiting features of connected speech that the students failed to catch, grouping them  . Midway through the lesson the board looks something like this:


Variations. At lower levels (B1/B1+) and/or at the beginning of the course, I analyzed the audio before the lesson, identified the most prominent features of connected speech in the speaker’s accent and produced a gapped transcript, gapping out frequent words and expressions that exhibited those features, in order to support the students and direct their attention to these listening difficulties. Even with the support of the text, it took the students around 30 minutes to work through and make sense of features of connected speech in ~20-30 seconds of video.

With B2+ groups and with the weaker groups towards the last third of the course,  I’ve started to ask the students to transcribe without any support (and also to ‘transcribe’ orally in pairs, only stopping to write something down when it becomes evident that a particular phrase is unclear for the majority of the students and they need to hear it more than twice to reproduce and to get feedback on what they hear (as opposed to what the speaker is saying).  At the moment my groups get through around 2 or 2.5 minutes of video, transcribing them this way.

3. Intensive training with specific words and expressions (working intensively on decoding difficulties) – 20 minutes. 

Teacher says that s/he is going to play several phrases with some of the expressions that are difficult to catch. She

  • directs the group to one of the words/expressions collected during the previous stage (e.g. ‘was like‘)
  • asks the class to remind him/her what the expression should sound like in fast speech (/wzlaɪ’/)
  • asks them to listen to just one line and catch just that word/expression (‘listen and catch just /wzlaɪ’/).
  • those students who have caught it, should try and catch the words around the expression (do board the task!)

See below for details on how to find and play the bits of the video that contain a specific expression.

Each time, the teacher plays 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).

In my experience, it takes 5-8 lines for students to start catching the word/expression (when I see that the students won’t need much more practice, I start counting lines down – I’m going to play just 4 more instances of this word; 3 more instances etc so that stronger students don’t get frustrated.

Normally in one lesson we go through three to five problematic words / features of connected speech in this way.

Features of connected speech that frequently come up:

  • Disappearing /t/ and /d/ at the end of the word (that -> tha’); this also happens with other plosive consonants, that is /p/, /b/, /k/ (like -> li’)
  • Disappearing initial /h/ in words like ‘her’, ‘him’, ‘his’, ‘have’, etc (e.g. ‘makeim pay’)
  • ‘Under-pronounced’ functional words (was -> wz; there’s -> thz; used to -> usta; should -> shd; can -> cn)
  • Reduced diphthongs, e.g. our, out sound like ‘ar’, ‘ut’; I’ll/I’m sound like ‘ul’, ‘um’.
  • Some adverbs get hugely reduced (notably, probably -> probly, actually -> ashly)
  • In some accents vowels get replaced, e.g. BrE speakers often pronounce u in pub as oo in books   
  • If you need to train your learners to understand features of a particular accent, check if there’s a Wikipedia page about that accent (non-Native Speaker accents are also dealt with in Learner English by Michael Swan).

Potential pitfalls:

  • I’ve found that if there are more than one words that exhibit the same feature (e.g. ‘her’, ‘him’, ‘his’, ‘have’), it’s still a good idea to first let the students train with the same word (say, her), then with another (him), and only then ask them to catch one of these four. 
  • Some instances of these words will actually be quite clear and close to dictionary forms. You can prepare by anticipating what words will need to be targeted, listening to the corresponding lines before the lesson and choosing which ones to play; however, I find this a bit counterproductive – after all, if the word is clear, you can just acknowledge that and move on to the next line

4. Listening line by line (working on meaning building) – 20-25 minutes

Hand out transcripts and ask the students to cover them (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 the process.

Normally we go through around a page of transcript in this way.


  • Once the students feel more or less comfortable catching a sentence (probably second, third or third time I try out this task), I tell them that I’m going to gradually increase the length of extract, playing two sentences, then three sentences etc.
  • Around the middle of the course, when I start playing really long extracts (3-4 sentences or more, up to half a page of transcript), I encourage the students to visualize everything they hear. This is an issue that comes up quite a lot in research on language acquisition and material development: learners of second languages tend to underuse visualisation when listening in comparison to when they use their first language, falling back on purely verbal processing or even translation, and need training and encouragement to visualize (see, e.g. Chapter 1, Materials Evaluation by Brian Tomlinson in Developing Materials for Language Learning). Stories told in interviews are usually quite visual and lend themselves well to that task. Before instructing the students to visualize, I warm them up by asking them to imagine a rose and asking them what it looks like and where it is; then asking them to add a cat to the picture and share visual details of the picture with their partner; then eliciting a few more objects from the group, each time asking the students to add these objects to their mental ‘pictures’ and sharing with their partner. When we do the ‘visualized’ version of the listening task, I ask the students to not merely report what they’ve caught to their partner, but also report the visual details too (e.g. if the speaker mentions an interview they did, I encourage them to ask/share what the room was like, what the interviewee was wearing, etc).

Potential pitfalls.

If the listening material is too difficult for the level, this task might get quite frustrating (e.g., pre-intermediate learners are likely to get challenged by this procedure), but most interviews are OK for B1+. Films in an unfamiliar accent, on the other hand, might be quite challenging even for a B2+/C1 group.

5. Watching same extract again + listening to another extract (evaluating progress) – 10 minutes

This stage is pretty straightforward: the teacher switches the projector on, the students watch the entire extract again – having worked with it, they will understand more or less every word. After that, I let them watch another bit of the interview (and share in pairs what they caught) – to let them evaluate their progress.

6. Reviewing what has been done & setting the homework – 5 minutes.

Ask the students to mentally go through what features of connected speech they’d focused on in the lesson; encourage them to remember specific examples; having thought for a minute, the students share in pairs.

Set the homework. I normally ask the students to do more of everything we did in class:

  • Listen to more instances of problematic words
  • Go through another part of transcript ‘line by line’ (the students could do that with the listening extract they did at the previous stage)
  • Watch the remainder of the interview
  • I encourage the students to alternate between ‘close’ listening (stopping after every few sentences and reviewing the transcript) and listening for pleasure.

Why unabridged interviews? 

As I mentioned above, I mainly structure the lesson around an unabridged interview.

The reason I use unabridged materials (as opposed to coursebook listening) is, firstly, that they are closer to the kind of listening the students will have to do outside class. My own (rather unusual) experience of learning the language highlighted the need to use authentic listening in class all too well: by the time I’d reached C2 level I’d never been to an English speaking country and I’d watched no more than 10 or so films in English. All my exposure to spoken English was either in class, talking with non-native speakers or through numerous coursebook audios and audiobooks. So, it was after I passed a C2 level exam (CPE) that I started watching films in English and realized that I couldn’t understand much. My in company students report a similar problem: they have no trouble understanding coursebook audios even in advanced coursebooks, and yet they complain that talking with English speaking customers on skype in the first month of a new project is very challenging.

The reasons I use interviews and not, say, films or trailers are

  1. The feeling of progress. The fact that there is only one speaker means that the features of accent that the students need to get used to are consistent and, in my experience, ninety minutes are enough to get used to and feel progress understanding even the most challenging speakers. I’ve tried working with films and series, but somehow it invariably felt a lot less satisfying.
  2. Interviews are inherently chunked into 3-5 minute extracts (in contrast to, say, TED lectures), so there’s a nice feeling that we’ve watched something complete.
  3. Interviews that I use mostly last around an hour, which means that, first, there are usually plenty of instances of problematic words and expressions (e.g. if it turns out that the students don’t catch something like ‘there’s’ or ‘used to’, chances are that this expression will be reused a few times); secondly, this means that the students who want to continue working on this accent have plenty of material to work with at home. I must say that those students who did work with videos at home have showed remarkable progress over the course of three months – and it not only shows in their greatly improved listening skills, but is also evident in their overall better command of English).


As follows from the procedure outlined above, you’ll need to somehow rapidly locate and play those parts of the video that contain a specific word. I use two tools to do that: one is built into youtube and another Aegisub, a subtitle editor.

Youtube. I work with videos that have closed captions (automatic captions are no good, but some channels have human-produced transcripts – see the links). If a youtube video has closed captions, you can look through the whole transcript, position the video on any line (so, you can easily replay any line any number of times). Also, you can search for a specific word or expressions in the transcript (and play just those lines that contain that word/expression), which makes youtube an ideal tool to give the students practice in catching some common English words.

Here are a few screen shots showing how to use transcripts on youtube.
1. To open the transcript, click on ‘More’ under the video, then click on ‘Transcript’:



2. Check that the subtitles were produced by a human transcriber: automatic captions contain too many mistakes, so they’re impossible to work with .


3. Use search built-in in your browser (normally, Ctrl + F) to search in the transcript; click on the line that contains the word to position the video on that line.


4. In order to find videos with captions on youtube, you can use a filter:


Those videos that have captions are tagged ‘CC’:

youtube_6searchCCPluses of youtube: no need to download anything before the lesson; no need to worry about copyright: if the video has standard youtube licence, you can play it in class;

Minuses of youtube: you can only play the whole line of text, so if the students are having trouble catching just one words, you can’t play that word in isolation; also, obviously, if you’ve got bad internet connection, you’ll have trouble playing the video in class; finally, only a very limited number of youtube videos have transcripts; ads that it displays can be a bit inappropriate.


As an alternative to using an online video, you can work in the same way with a video stored on your computer using Aegisub subtitle editor. You can use it with any video you’ve got subtitles for (e.g. a film), but I normally download interviews and subtitles from youtube, using these two services: and (first time you use them, the site might ask you to install Java). Check out this video tutorial if you’re having trouble downloading the videos.

Again, you can probably easily find a tutorial for working with Aegisub on youtube, but here are the essentials:

1. Open the subtitle (.srt) file with Aegisub. After that, open the corresponding video file:


2. Once you’ve loaded the video, just like with youtube, you can position the video on any line by double-clicking that line, and then play the video from that point:


The black-and-blue strip on the right allows you to select and play any bit of the file. I use it when the students are failing to catch a word or two, to play that word in isolation.


3.  Like with youtube, you can search through the transcript to locate samples of words/expressions your students have failed to catch. Even more, you can use so-called ‘regular expressions’, which allow you to look for more than one expression at once.

| means ‘or’
* means ‘repeat this many times


  • if you type in there(‘s| is| are) you’ll find all instances of there’s, there is and there are (because you are looking for there followed by ‘s or is or are);
  • if you type in (What|When|How|Why|Who) (do|does) (you|I|he|she|it), you’ll find a variety of questions in present simple, e.g. ‘How do you..’ or ‘Why does she’…;  (because you’re looking by one of the question words followed by do or does, followed by one of the pronouns)
  • if you type in (What|When|How|Why|Who) ( are|’re| is| ‘s| am|’m) [a-z]*ingyou’ll find questions in present continuous, because you’re looking for one of the question words followed by a form of ‘to be’ followed by a combination of letters ([a-z]* means ‘any number of letters in the range from a-z) that ends in ing.If you want to use this feature and need more help, look through the Basic Concepts section of the Wikipedia article on regular expressions.

Links. I’ve found quite a few youtube channels that have accurate subtitles. There a videos in a variety of genres, accents and lengths. Check out this post – it will be updated as I find more good links.

What’s next in the series?

Next I will post actual materials and lesson plans I’ve used during the course (Update: the lesson on an Australian accent is already available). If you follow the generic plan outlined above, you basically can teach a lesson using any interview and you don’t really need to develop any materials. I’ll still write my lesson plans up, though – first because locating videos that are ‘interesting’ accent-wise and thus suitable for stronger students is quite challenging (I sometimes go through a couple dozen before I land on one that seems suitable); secondly, because I’ve read the transcripts and located interesting stories in those materials; and thirdly because reading through those lesson plans will probably give people who read them a good idea of what features of connected speech tend to come up a lot – and hence are worth looking out for.

St. Valentine’s day is approaching so here’s a lesson plan on the topic of love and friendship. Students warm up by playing a word game (stages 4-5) that

  • encourages them to think deeper about what they read into a range of concepts related to love and friendship and
  • pushes them to recall vocabulary on these topics

The lesson ends in a discussion activity (stage 6).

Level: B1-C1
Length: 30-60 min (depending on whether you do the discussion activity)
Focus: speaking (a conversation class)
Materials: Worksheet

Stage One. Tell the students that you’re going to show them several photos and that you found all of these photos with one search on Google. Ask them to guess the search term. Board all their suggestions. (My search term was ‘St. Valentine’s day’, but anything topic-related will do.)
(Collage produced using

[Optional] If the students came up with the topic of St. Valentine’s day and it seems to be relevant, ask them, ‘What other words do you associate with this topic?’ (board all suggestions, positive ones alongside negative ones, e.g. ‘commercialized’).

Say ‘I’m thinking of one of these pictures. I’ll tell you my associations – guess which picture I’m thinking about (this is the picture of three hands).

  • unity
  • support
  • friendship
  • vow (for a B2-C1 class)

Get the students to quiz each other in new pairs: one person chooses a picture and says their associations, the second guesses which picture is being described; listen in an board some of the students’ associations. FB: By this point there should be more than 20-30 words on the board (some possible associations: stained glass/ saint/ candies/ newborn/ aisle/ unity/ loyalty/ smooch/ swans/ merchandise). Refer the s/s to the board and ask them which words can be associated with more than one picture. 

Stage Two.

Tell the students that you’re going to play an extract from a song. Tell them that the title of this song is an emotion and that their task is to guess the title. Play one or two times without the video (black out the projector by pressing B); when the s/s understand that the title is ‘love’ either cirle it if it’s already on the board or  board it. Say: the title is spelled incorrectly now. How to spell it right? Play one more time if necessary (the singer says how he interprets each letter in the word ‘love’, so it should be spelled L.O.V.E.)

Stage Three. Board and ask the student to copy the following 4 lines (alternatively, print them out beforehand)
L ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ look at me
O ______ ______ ______ only one ______ ______
V ______ ‘very very ______’
E ______ ‘even more ______ ______ ______ ______ ______’
Ask them to try and remember what goes into the gaps; and then play the first line and ask them to predict what should be in the second line; play the rest of the extract. Say that you’re going to interpret the rest of the words on the board in the same way. At this point, add full stops in some of the words in a different colour.

Stage Four. Say that you’re going to give the students an example: that you’re thinking of a word and that you’re going to give them letters from that word in random order but that you’ll say how you interpret each letter. The students should try and guess the word before all letters have been revealed (allow 30 seconds thinking time after giving each letter & its interpretation – use a timer. If the class guesses the word (‘smile’) earlier than all letters have been revealed, encourage them to come up with associations for the remaining letters.

L is for ‘universal language
S is for the way it can start a friendship
E is for emotion and positive energy that you share // add ‘encouragement’ with advanced students
M is for mouth
I is for intrigue, inspiration and interaction

Tell the students that now they are going to challenge each other in the same way. Ask them to work in pairs or groups of 3 and choose more words from the ones listed on the board. Their objective is to find associations they both share and, if they come up with more than one association for the same letter, they should discuss which association is more interesting. Allow 10 minutes – or more if the discussion is lively.

You could play the song while they’re working.

Stage Five. Students play the guessing game – either as a whole group/ in groups consisting of two pairs from stage five / in new pairs.

Stage Six.
Project/print out questions for students to discuss. Ask each person to pick 4-5 questions. Optionally, after some of the pairs have finished, regroup the students.

    • What do you look for in friends? Do all your friends have something in common or are some of them very different from others?
    • Do you think your friends who don’t know each other would get along? Why/why not?
      Tell your partner about two friends who you think wouldn’t get along/would get along especially well.
    • What was your best friendship? Are you still friends with him or her? What is your first memory of that person? What is your happiest memory of that person?
    • What qualities do you admire in other people?
    • What behavior of others hurts you most? When you have upset someone by your actions, what do you try to do?
    • Who are the best/the most inspiring/ the most unlikely couples/friends you know?
    • What’s your attitude towards Valentine’s Day?
      Do you think it makes single people feel lonely?
      Do you think Valentine’s Day is too commercial or consumerist?
    • Do you remember giving someone a very heartfelt gift? Who did you give it to? Why did you feel so strongly about this gift?
    • Have you received any gifts that you still keep and would be very upset to lose? Who and when gave them to you?

Monitor to collect instances of topic-related language that could be corrected/upgraded; content feedback; language feedback.

(some of these questions were taken from & &

If you’re short of time, you can skip Stage 1 and prepare words for stage five yourself. Cut them up into unique slips if you want to conduct stage six as a whole-class activity, or print a list for each pair (two different lists in total) if you’d like to re-group the students.
Here are some suggested words:
Pair A:

Pair B

Pair A:

Pair B:

Links to the photos used in the collage above:


I’ve taught English for over 4 years now, and I’ve only recently worked up the courage to teach my students the phonemic chart. Here’s why I did that:

  • I wanted to enable my students to learn vocabulary autonomously. Some researchers, e.g. Paul Nation, argue that for high frequency words (top 1000/2000/3000 words) the best strategy is to learn them in a decontextualized way using translation and the keyword technique based on visual associations, and then get the feel for these words through exposure. I’ve experimented with the keyword technique learning German and it worked for me, so I decided to teach it to my students. However, it would be useless if they were unable to get the pronunciation right. While there are talking dictionaries online (e.g., in my my opinion there’s still a case for teaching the students the phonemic script. The main reason is that it might be tricky to actually hear the sounds if you’ve already got an idea of how the word should be pronounced. In my case this was actually ridiculous – I’m not a native speaker of English and I learnt that ‘chocolate’ and ‘different’ are not actually pronounced as /ˈtʃɒkələt/ and /ˈdɪfərənt/ from Cutting Edge coursebook while teaching an elementary group of students. Another example is the /eə/ diphthong in words like ‘pair’ and ‘where’, and the final syllable in ‘considered’. I remember the moment when I first saw the phonemic transcription of these words. That moment was a revelation. I’d always felt that I must be pronouncing them incorrectly, because they didn’t ‘feel right’ in the mouth. The most striking thing about seeing  the transcription was seeing the number of sounds. Before that, I’d always tried to say something like /peɪr/, /we/ and /kɔ:nsɪderet/, and when I heard them I didn’t notice the way there were pronounced – or maybe I did notice but didn’t trust my ear. Another important reason why it’s worth spending some time teaching the students the script is that most students won’t bother going to the talking dictionary so unless they have a record of how the words are pronounced will end up learning the wrong pronunciation. By the way, if you have a list of words for the students to memorize in an Excel file, it’s very easy to produce a list of phonemic transcriptions in a matter of seconds using this excellent resource:
  • With my B2 teenage learners, I needed them to learn the chart so that they could develop listening skills by learning the language to formulate what it is they’re hearing before looking at the transcript/subtitles, and in this way build up an understanding of their individual listening weaknesses – more about that in a separate post.

This was the why, and here’s the how.


Level: any, but with A1-A2 it helps if you speak the students’ L1
Length: 50-90 minutes (lower levels need more time to learn to pronounce the sounds)


  • A phonemic chart 
  • A set of 36 cards for each students (each A4 sheet can be cut into 16 biz card-sized cards)
  • A print-out of the table with associations (below) to remind you which associations to suggest to students
  • Optionally, a print-out of words written in the phonemic script for Stage 4
  • Optionally, texts written in the phonemic script for homework.

This procedure for memorizing the symbols was modified from the procedure I learnt in Advance club in St. Petersburg during a 2-day workshop on memory development. The trainer, an exceptionally inspirational educator Nickolay Yagodkin taught us to read the Korean alphabet in around 30 minutes using letter-word associations, and it was an incredibly joyful and gratifying experience.

Here are the key things to remember in this lesson

  • The focus of this post is helping the students learn the symbols. However, you’ll need to teach the students how to pronounce the sounds (especially the vowels) before teaching the symbols; I use the procedure from an amazing workshop by Adrian Underhill (see the video below)
  • it’s best not to assume that some consonant sounds, like /k/, are ‘trivial’ – the students will have all kinds of misconceptions about the phonemic chart, e.g. they will assume that there’s a /c/ sound in ‘cow’ or that /j/ sounds like the first sound in ‘jeans’. So it’s better to treat the whole chart in a systematic way and teach even those sounds that seem ‘obvious’; also, in some languages that use the Latin alphabet the letters are pronounced differently (e.g. ‘r’ is pronounced as /h/ in Portuguese).
  • to learn that many symbols in one go, it’s a good idea to use mnemonics
  • you’ll need to make sure that the students learn the symbols in batches of around 12 symbols. They will need the chance to revise each batch and then practice reading simple words for a bit before going on to the next batch. I personally start with vowels and then provide the students with lists of words to practice on, like /pʊl/ /pɔ:l/ /pɜ:l/, which I know they’ll be able to read even though we haven’t practiced these consonants yet. I’ve only got experience with Russian students, but it might be that the lists of ‘safe’ consonants may depend on the students’ L1. 

Here’s the procedure.

  • Stage 1. Teach the students to pronounce the vowels
    As I mentioned above, I use Adrian Underhill’s procedure. By the way, all videos of his workshops that I’ve seen online were remarkable and uplifting, and this one is no exception. Actually, it is such a treat that it’s worth watching even if you’re not going to teach anyone the phonemic chart. Do check it out.

    Some notes that I took of ideas I personally found particularly valuable:
    1. The vowel part of the phonemic chart is actually a picture of a human mouth: the number of the row shows how open the jaws are, the number of the column shows the position of the tongue + the shape of the lips
    2. Before watching this video, I used to explain how to produce the problematic sounds ‘from scratch’. However, it’s much easier to help a student who’s mispronouncing a sound if you can figure out how they should adjust the current position of their tongue/jaws/etc in their mouth. In order to do this, mimic the sound they’re producing, then pronounce the ‘right’ sound – play with the two sounds to figure out what the physical differences are
    3. In a similar manner, some troublesome sounds are easier to explain starting from an ‘easy’ sound that’s ‘close’ in the mouth (e.g. /r/ can be explained through /l/; /ŋ/ can be explained through /k/ – ask the students to pronounce /k/ and feel where the root of the mouth is; after that ask them to prepare the mouth to pronounce /k/ but pronounce /n/ – an ŋ will come out; /k/ is also useful when explaining the position of the tongue in /ɒ/ – get the s/s to practice with ‘cot’ and ‘cut’). But as I mentioned before, there’s much more in the video than these ideas, so do check it out.
    Another useful technique that I learnt from Anne Thompson, my Delta Module 2 tutor, is to use your hands to illustrate for the student how to adjust their articulators: show the roof of the mouth with you left hand and show them how to adjust their tongue with your right hand:


  • Stage 2. Teach the students the symbols using mnemonics.
    The idea is visualize each symbol as part of an image – a word that contains this symbol. For example, ʌ looks like an umbrella or a cup turned upside down.
    There are two important rules here.
    1. It’s vitally important that the students do visualize the association and not just try to memorize the associated word. This really is the key element of this technique, because there are much more neurons involved in visualization than in any other type of processing and thus it’s actually possible to memorize hundreds of images in one sitting. So while they won’t be able to remember 32 ‘symbol + word’ pairs  by the end of the lesson, the studnets will be able to remember 32 images containing the symbols – and thus, the symbols themselves.
    2. As you work on each symbol, the students put the symbol (and only the symbol) on one side of a small card and the word on the other side. ImageAsk the students not to draw their associations (and try not to draw anything on the board). Visual memory will kick in much more powerfully if the students visualize the images for themselves. Using L1 might be a good idea at this stage with lower levels, because there’s quite a lot of teacher talk involved, and using the students’ L1 you can encourage the students to add detail to the images (‘an old dusty bottle in a pirate’s chest’ will work much better than ‘a bottle’ here). I provide ideas for associations below – these are the words that we used with my groups, but actually it might be better to ask the class for the words – this will make sure that the vocabulary is right for their level. The only difficulty that might arise is that you might not be able to instantly come up with visual associations for each symbol, but if this happens you can always fall back one the ideas you prepared beforehand.
  • i: Imagine a piece of cheese with i:-shaped holes ɪ If you circle it, it becomes a pig’s snout
    ʊ Turn it upside down and it becomes two legs, each one with a foot u: A moon. The dots are two stars.
    e an egg ə this is a picture of a relaxed half-open mouth saying this sound!
    a flamingo
    ɜ: bird
    third (ɜ: looks like 3)
    ɔ: A very unhappy smiley face which is Lord of the rings who’s lost the ring.
    æ an apple ʌ An umbrella
    A cup
    ɑ: a tongue
    a bulging arm? 
    ɒ A hot frying pan
    p a pen
    a pillowa page in a booka price tag?
    b A bottle
    A bag
    t Complete it to an upside town number ‘2’
    time (two hands of a clock)
    to type (with a finger)
    a talon
    (with a spade)a dalek! 😀
    f Complete it to a 4
    The index finger
    v vote
    θ A thumb or a theatre (the rod is the stage)
    or this could be the picture of the mouth when it’s saying θ
    ð A pointing finger: ‘this’
    A leather bag
    m moustache
    n draw letter nine over it
    ŋ a long ‘n’ h A house (with a chimney)
    ʧ A chair turned upside down
    A chicken?
    ʤ A jar of jam (ʒ is the jar, and d is a spoon to eat it with)
    k Add an oval at the top and it becomes a key
    A cow (with horns)
    g  glasses
    s Complete it to a six
    A snake
    z Zorro
    a zip
    ʃ The heel of a shoe ʒ A television (TV-set) with an antenna
    l a leg r a piece of rope
    the stalk of a rose
    w a wave
    add a femail head -> a wife
    add two heads – twins
    or maybe windscreen wipers?
    j A bottle of jogurt (the dot is the cap)
  • Stage 3
    The students revise the 12 cards they’ve just written. They start with the words and try to remember the symbol. Having revised all 12 cards, they revise in the opposite direction: from the symbol to the word. Repeat this 3 times.
    Board words for the next stage while they’re revising (unless you’ve got print outs) – fast finishers can go on to stage 4.
  • Stage 4 – board or print out some transcriptions for the students to read, e.g.
    aɪ ɪər iːt et tiː tɔɪ eɪt ˈtuː ɪt teəz
    teɪk tʊk keɪk kʌt kʊk ˈkɪk tɪk keə kaʊ kiː kæt kɒt
    puːl pəʊl pɔːl piːl pɪl pæl paɪl peɪl pəʊl pɜːl
    [option 1] S/s read phonemic transcriptions individually while T circulates and helps. After that, in pairs, one student reads one word and the second guesses which one this was.
    [option 2] Work as a whole class. Each time, allow 5 seconds thinking time and then either signal with your hands that you want the whole group to pronounce the word or nominate someone.
  • Stage 5 – Repeat the procedure for another 12  sounds; provide more reading practice
    (This could be turned into a game: challenge the students to brainstorm words that contain 2-4 specific consonants (e.g. only p and l) and any vowels; each student writes down the phonemic transcriptions; after 5 minutes regroups the pairs – the students in each pair challenge each other to decipher the transcriptions).
  • Stage 6 – Repeat the procedure for the remaining symbols.
    For Homework:
  • Ask the students to revise the cards for four days. This won’t take them longer than 5 minutes a day, and yet this is essential because this is the way memory works. Quiz them in the next class.
  • If you have something like a group blog, you could share links to these resources:
    An interactive phonemic chart:
    Videos for each sound (the can look closely at the mouth + repeat words after the speaker)
  • Print out these texts written in the phonemic script for the students to practice.
  • Here are some more web resources that I found, but most of them were above the level of my false beginner students.
  • Also, you could organize a tongue twister competition using Voxopop is a free tool that allows you to create ‘discussion threads’ – students can record messages and add them to the thread. As the site shows the duration of each message, it’s easy to set a competition: the student with the shortest message that contains no mistakes is the winner!
    Here’s what a discussion looks like: Discussion » The story of three free fleas. And here are some tongue twisters to practice problematic sound pairs:

Please feel free to comment! All suggestions how to improve this lesson /ideas for additional games or activities for homework and links to resources are highly appreciated – as always.

Levels: Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate
Time: 50 to 90 minutes (depending on how much time you allocate to discussions)

Materials: Worksheet.docx / Worksheet.pdf

Comment: I really like the video used in this lesson, as it’s fun and a bit quirky, and also because it exposes students to a range of accents. Students of intermediate and upper intermediate level generally find it quite easy to do the gist task and identify the resolutions, but have to really push themselves to catch the details and thus appreciate the presenter’s reactions (the worksheet does help there), so there are generally quite a few laughs during the ‘listening for detail’ stage. The discussion at the end feels good and natural and has worked both with adults and with teens.


1. Project this photo or refer the students to the worksheet:
Ask ‘what do these pictures have in common‘? Th s/s brainstorm ideas in pairs; if they don’t come up with ‘New Year’s Resolutions’, you can play hangman to get the topic onto the board; check the meaning of ‘resolutions’.

2. Tell the class that these photos come from an article about the most common resolutions people make. Ask the s/s to formulate what resolutions these pictures represent and board the students’ suggestions (highlight any lexical gaps that become evident), then refer the students to task 2; the s/s work individually; conduct feedback (with a stronger group, fold the worksheet so that at first the s/s are challenged to supply the verbs themselves, then work with the wordle and then during the class feedback stage discuss all the lexical choices they’ve made).

3. Tell the class that they’re going to watch a video in which people who live in New York get asked about their New Year’s Resolutions for 2013. Refer them to task 3.

For the first watch, ask the s/s to write down the resolutions that they can catch (this is important, as they’ll need this list of resolutions later for the discussion stage). They discuss what they caught in pairs.

4.  Ask the s/s to listen again, write down the resolutions they missed during the first listen and decide whether the people in the video consider the resolutions to be realistic or unrealistic (stop the recording after every resolution and discuss); if the students can’t catch what the speakers are saying, ask them to listen out for one of the expressions at the top of the page.

5. Ask the s/s, in new pairs, to look through the lists of resolutions that they wrote during the previous stages and discuss

  • which of those things they’d like to happen next year
  • what they can do in order to achieve this

For class feedback, students could share the best tips.

6. The s/s fill the gaps in these discussion questions (Task 6)
After that, students nominate the questions that they’d like to discuss and discuss them in new pairs.

(Questions adapted from

For homework, s/s could read the article that the photos came from and look for lexical fields relating to each resolution !

A transcript for the video is available at the end of the worksheet.

Here’s a lesson plan to teach students of Intermediate level onwards some informal spoken expressions.

The lesson is based on the pilot episode of Futurama.

Materials & preparation:

  • Futurama season 1 episode 1 and the equipment to play it in class
  • (optionally) some prizes for the students who cope with the main task
  • A print-out of the subtitles with information where you’ll need to pause the video
  • A print out of Task 1, Answers to Task 1 for each student (careful – unless your students know Russian you’ll need to adapt it! The task is to match English expressions with their Russian equivalents. You’ll either need to translate the expressions into your language or provide explanations in English. If you do, please share the file in the comments!)
  • (optionally) File Dictogloss for stage 9
  • If you want to do a revision session, print out and cut up a set of expressions and one dialogue opening for each pair of students

Time: approximately 80 minutes + optionally 20-40 minutes at a later date to revise the expressions

Lesson plan

Stage 1 Lead-in – to introduce the idea of formal and informal registers

Ask the students in what contexts they use English/ will use it in  future. Hopefully they’ll come up with both formal and informal contexts. Ask them how their English will change in those contexts (e.g. elicit ‘I’ll contact you’ and ‘I’ll get in touch with you/I’ll drop you a line.’) Say that the lesson is going to focus on more informal language.

Stage 2 Tell students a few characters’ names (e.g. Leela, Dr. Solberg, a robot, Fry) and elicit that you’re going to watch an episode of Futurama.

Stage 3 Say that the main character, Fry, isn’t enjoying his life.

Set the following questions:

What year is it?

What does Fry do?

What bad things happen to Fry in this short extract?

Play the first 2 minutes, elicit the answers. At least for the first … stages, don’t switch on the subtitles.

Stage 4 Hand out Task1

Students match the expressions with translations/explanations, then check in pairs. Before you hand out the answers, ask them

  • which expressions are very informal
  • which ones are offensive
  • which one is quite formal

Hand out the answers.

Stage 5 Tell s/s that one of the expressions was not in the episode and that at the end of the lesson they will need to hazard a guess which one it was. I teach at a secondary school, so at the end of the lesson s/s handed in slips with an expression and the ones who got it right got an A. Alternatively, you can come up with some prizes.

Stage 6 Students rewatch the first 2 minutes to see which of the expressions have already come up. After that, they continue to watch up to the line

00:03:49,840 –> 00:03:52,360

Cool, just like in Star Trek. Ow!

Stage 7 Explain that you’re going to stop the recording and the students will need to supply the next line out of the list of expressions that you handed out during stage 4. As you react to s/s’ suggestions, highlight which ones are possible in the context and which ones probably aren’t, but don’t say if the answer’s right. It’s a good idea push s/s to look for alternatives even after the correct answer has been supplied.

For this stage, it’s crucial that the subtitles are switched off.

Stage 8 For a while, students just watch ticking off the expressions – or you could set some comprehention question, e.g.:

Why does Fry get into the booth?

Stage 9 Dictogloss The aim of this activity is to highlight some features of informal speech, e.g. the abundance of adverbs like ‘really’, ‘just’, etc. It will also help s/s to incorporate some of the new expressions.

Set a comprehenstion question:

You’re going to watch a conversation between Leela and her employer. What does he want her to do?

Play the video from

00:09:30,360 –>

This is unacceptable,

up to

Life is good.

conduct feedback.

Now tell the students that they’re going to watch this dialogue again, after which they’ll work in pair to reconstruct the dialogue from memory.  While they watch, they’re allowed to write down up to 6 words. Allow up to 5 minutes for reconstruction (make sure each pair actually writes the dialogue down). After that, either project the file Dictogloss and elicit what’s wrong/missing or have a pair to write their dialogue up on the board for the class to edit. You’ll probably need to replay the video again for s/s to pick up all the missing bits.

Stage 10

Basically, from this moment on, s/s just watch the episode and tick off the remaining expressions. With my groups, we watched about 5 minutes without subtitles and then switched them on.

Stage 11 SpeakingAt the end, each student hands in the slips with the expression they think wasn’t in the episode. The ones who got it right are rewarded. There’ll probably be a lot of incorrect answers – read them out from s/s’ slips and ask the group to describe the moment from the episode when the expression was used (either as a class or in pairs + front-class feedback).

(Optional) Stage 12 Discussion

  • Do you agree that being forced to do the job you’re best at is ‘tough’?
  • What profession would you probably be assigned?
  • Is there anything that you do extremely well but hate doing?


For homework, I assigned watching several minutes of the episode and correcting all the mistakes in the srt file.

Alternatively, students can write a summary of the plot using as many of the new expressions as they can.


Revision session

Hand out dialogue openings and sets of expressions. S/s spread out the slips face up.

Ask s/s to continue the dialogue, using at least one expression on a slip in each line. As they say an expression, they place it under the opening, building up a dialogue skeleton. The objective is to use at least 10.

After they’ve finished, they dry run the dialogue again and finally each pair acts their dialogue out and the group votes which one was the best and which pair managed to use the expressions most naturally.

Note. I’ve tried this activity twice. The first time it was a complete flop and the second time it really worked (with a weaker group!), so I can say with certainty that you really have to make sure that students don’t just read out the slips but actually speak using the expressions on them.

Demonstrate the idea using a contrived partial dialogue (sth like ‘broke’ ‘Are you having me on?’). Pairs can compete in coming up with the most natural short dialogue incorporating these two expressions, before proceding with the main task.


I’d love to hear how this lesson went! Please drop me a line – what worked? What didn’t? What bits did you change? Hope to hear from you!