Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dreams (Goals)

 There are so many fun, interactive activities you can do with dreams but I felt it best to not only have students discuss their own but also integrate technology, music and other media.

Since my current school has very long lesson blocks, I incorporated my lesson on dreams (goals) with a lesson on actual dreams (as in the ones you have when you sleep). I actually started the class asking the students what the word dream means and once they produced both ideas, I began the lesson with the sleeping kind. This lesson plan can be found in another post. Concluding that lesson, which was relatively lighthearted and required students to share and interpret dreams, we returned to the second definition: goals, desires and wishes. I actually began this part of the lesson the idiomatic phrase, "kick the bucket" and asked the students to guess its meaning.(By the way, just before this, I had students recall prior knowledge and asked the students which idiomatic phrases they already know).

Bucket List Film Discussion

I then showed The Bucket List film trailer to the students. Afterward, I asked them general comprehension questions about the characters, setting and plot. I also asked them to predict what happens. An interesting discussion that came from the trailer spurred from a statement in the trailer that cited a study in which people were asked if they wanted to know the exact date of their death. As morbid as it may sound, my students had a great time debating this, explaining why they would or would not want to know and what they would do if they did.

There are so many inspiration videos out there but I feel like this one fits: It is about doing what you love. Here's the link:

Nelly Furtado Song Gap-Fill and Discussion

Continuing with the Bucket List theme, we also did a song activity and discussion. This could be done as both a cloze or just a general activity. The song used was "Bucket List" by Nelly Furtado. Although some of the lyrics are at times a bit rushed and difficult to understand, the students enjoyed listening and talking about it afterward. In addition to doing a traditional gap-fill activity, the students were also asked to answer questions that related to themes from the song and situations in their real lives. One especially effective question asked students if they would do as the singer says and give up their dreams for love. Students were very enthusiastic about this question and spoke about it for quite some time.

Bucket List Writing Activity:

I actually created my own worksheet for this one and, again, if you'd like a copy of it, please feel free to message me. It basically reviewed the meaning of "kick the bucket" and "bucket list", gave examples and provided space for students to write their own. As strange as it may sound, students were much more willing to open up and write about their bucket lists after I gave them some examples from my own personal list. Of course, the example's weren't incredibly personal but it in a way broke the ice and got the ball rolling. After students completed their top five (or ten depending on how much time you would like to allot to the activity) , students could volunteer and share some of the dreams on their lists. This activity could be easily expanded and turned into a writing assignment. Students could be asked to choose one activity from their lists and write a paragraph (or however many you'd like) about why they'd like to do that and how they will accomplish it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Greed and Money

Money can be very interesting, relevant and fun topics for students. Personally, I also just believe that it is also just really important for our students to discuss these issues to look at greater ones such as greed, materialism,  etc. 

The Film English Blog has yet another great short film on this and as always a ton a resources. Here's the link: 

 It also has a step-by-step lesson plan for teachers on the topic as well as discussion questions and common proverbs about money that are also fun for students to learn and debate about. For example:

Film English contributor Keiran Donaghy provides the following phrases along with a list of discussion questions. :

1. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
2. Money makes the world go around.
3. Money is the root of all evil.
4. Money is power.
5. Money can’t buy you happiness.
6. The money’s burning a hole in his pocket.
7. That’s money down the drain.
8. She spends money like water.
9. She’s rolling in money.
10. She’s made of money.

For some other discussion questions, see:

Song Comparison/Analysis/Discussion 

There are lots of songs out there but I found the most effective were Jessie J's 'Pricetag' and Pink Floyd's 'Money'. These two musically and lyrically are very different and the students had a great time. These  present two different points and I asked the students to answer  questions about them one at a time. Below are examples of the questions:

  • What does the singer believe about money?
  • Is it important to him or her? 
  • Pick a line that represents his or her opinion? 
  • Do you agree with him or her? Why or why not? 
  • Write four lines to the rest of the song in the mind-set of the singer. 
After listening to both songs and answering the questions we then compared and contrasted the songs and discussed which we related to the most.

 For bigger classes I would suggest using more songs and small groups, giving each group a different set of lyrics to read, analyze and answer questions about.

Also, if you'd like to get students talking and using conditionals you can ask them what they would do if they won the lottery or if they had a million dollars. 

For lottery activities look at this website, another fantastic resource with video and questions:

For song ideas you can use  'If I Had a Million Dollars' by Barenaked Ladies or 'Billionare' by Travie McCoy

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Valentine's Day

 This year I thought it would be fun to discuss different manifestations of love since, after all, it comes in so many forms! So,  in class we discussed friendship, family and romantic love. Across the three central themes I attempted to incorporate multimedia, discussion, listening and writing.

Valentine's Day Brainstorming

I began by writing 'February 14th' on the board and asked students why the date is important. Together students said, 'Sevgililer Günü' (Valentine's Day in Turkish) and I praised them, saying (in English), 'That's right! Valentine's Day'.

 I then asked them:

-How do they celebrate? What do they do?
-Who celebrates?
-Why do people celebrate?

(Each question is followed by follow up questions that I didn't put in the post. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like a complete list of discussion questions).

What is love?? (and not the 90s song)

After asking general questions about Valentine's Day, including if students think it is an important holiday and why they like or dislike the day (they loved answering the latter) , I went back to the word love, which at this point should already be written on the board. Emphasizing the word, I circled it. I then asked the students to spend 10 minutes writing their own definition of the word by completing the sentence, 'Love is.....'

This activity was so simple and yet so telling! Students who even at times are reluctant to participate took out their dictionaries to look up new, unfamiliar words and continued to write their ideas. After the allotted time was finished we shared our sentences and discussed them together.  Below are some of my favorites:

 love is.... everything
 love is..... the reason for living
 love is.... a chemical reaction
 love is.... foolish
 love is.... my mother

Popcorn Activity (Love version)

This activity probably goes by a bunch of different names but I learned it as the Popcorn Activity. In this, I gave each student one piece of paper with one question about love and relationships on it.  Students then answered the questions anonymously, writing their answers on the paper, crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it to the front of the front of the classroom. (I could have used an empty bin or a bag but had forgotten to bring it to school and this worked just as well).  They then were asked to get out of their seats and pick a new paper with a new question. At this point in the year the students were still a bit shy and hesitant to talk about their own personal feelings about the topics so I found this activity incredibly effective. I also saw that the students really enjoyed the activity, especially the moment at the end, after four rounds of getting new questions, when we read the answers aloud and discussed them. Again, if you'd like a list of the questions I used please feel free to contact me.

Paperman Video and Activity

If you've read some of my other posts you have probably realized that I absolutely adore Kieran Donaghy's 'Film-English' website. Even though I don't use 100% of the activities,  there are some really great resources on there. Looking at it, I stumbled upon 'The Paperman', a fantastic digital short from Disney. The students loved watching it but what was even more fun for them was the activity we did next. After discussing some general comprehension questions(including if the students believe in love at first sight), I then paired the students and split the silent film into 4 parts: when the two first meet, when he sees her in the building across from his, when he sees her leaving the building and realizes he may never get another chance to meet her, and finally when they meet again at the train station. We then watched it again, stopping at the end of each part and the pairs were asked to write original dialogue for the scene. They had so much fun with this, especially when they were asked to act it out after. 

My classes are incredibly long (four hours to be exact) so if you have shorter classes you could chose just two of the activities to do with your class. In our case, after yet another break we then segued into the next activity.

 Optional Extension of the Paperman Activity

The Film-English website provides two similar videos which you could ask the students to compare to the Paperman. Here is one: Post-It Love   Then again, there are a number of other videos with similar themes.  For example, I  picked a music video by Koladine called 'All I Want'. It is a popular song and is similar in the sense that the main character works in an office, is attracted to a woman immediately and does something extraordinary that gets her attention. At the same time there are many more differences than similarities. I don't know in the end if the video was perfectly compatible but it did bring out some very interesting discussion in my students. Some said that the scenerio of love was more realistic, which was 'deeper' love and which would last. They debated whether or not the female character was superficial and what they would do if they met someone who was very nice but also very attractive. Could they still fall in love? Finally, they also talked about the 'good guys' and 'bad guys' in the video.  Overall,  although the higher level students were able to excel in this activity and generally enjoyed it more,  almost all of them enjoyed the song and video. Note: It is a huge buzzkill, so if you do end up watching it, be aware that it is a bit sad and edgy.  If I do it again, I don't think I'll include it and probably won't put the videos back to back, but it's always an idea.


 Other great videos

Again on Film-English, three great videos about love. The first being without words, the second being for much more advanced students, longer and scientific and the last being also for an upper-intermediate level but perfect for a creative writing activity on the question, 'what is love?' 

Bruno Mars Song Cloze and Vocabulary Activity

Talking about Valentine's Day we actually devoted a good chunk of the class to friendship since students seemed more comfortable and more familiar with the topic. To complete our discussion on good friends, we listened toe the song 'Count on Me' by Bruno Mars. Mars is a popular contemporary artist and in the past I have used his songs as cloze activities such as 'It Will Rain' to practice future tense. This song is also quite catchy and not only talks about friendship but also uses  good phrasal verbs.  So, I created a worksheet for this song (a gap-fill) and also included a part on the various new vocabulary and phrasal verbs within the song. All in all it went very well and the students even asked if we could sing it all together 'Karaoke style' after class.


 Update: One more video!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Blog Spotlight- Chestnut ESL


DESCRIPTION:  I love this blog! I know I always say that about every online source I post about but this really is a great site. Chestnut ESL has a diverse array of materials on important social/political/economic and environmental issues. I really believe that teaching is not just about grammar rules or speaking exercises but it's about much more. Chestnut ESL really helps teachers achieve this greater purpose by using rich, timely and important issues to not only get students talking in English but also to get them thinking!

Monday, January 14, 2013


For a truly silly reference to Thanksgiving, you can show your students this viral video: "It's Thanksgiving" by Nichole Westbrook. It is notoriously disliked by many internet users and I have to admit, my students were really torn about it and either hated it or loved it. Either way, I showed it at the beginning of the next class to make the students laugh and refresh their memories on holiday vocabulary.
The History Channel's "I Bet You Didn't Know..."' Thanksgiving special!
This is one of many great videos from the History channel but be careful because they can be a bit boring. I had my students use this and another History Channel video (free from its website) as listening comprehension activities. From here we discussed different holidays in which families and friends get together to eat a special meal. We also discussed other cultural aspects such as football, parades and pumpkin pie!

Speaking about special foods, I found two funny videos.

 This is Mr. Bean attempting to cook a turkey for Christmas. Not Thanksgiving but still a funny video with a turkey.


This video has the exact same theme but is shorter and includes more dialogue. It is Joey from the show Friends and his attempt to play a practical joke on his friend Chandler for Thanksgiving. Either one or the other should be used since they are so similar.
Finally, I put this video at the end of our class on Thanksgiving. I feel like we could have done much more with it but it was nevertheless VERY effective. Whereas the history and cultural aspects of Thanksgiving were more difficult for the students to relate to, The Giving Tree led to an incredibly rich, emotional and descriptive discussion about "being thankful". Students were able to reinforce new vocabulary and debate about the aspects of the video and how it relates to their own belief systems on giving and receiving. Before class ended I asked students to write a journal entry on what they are thankful for. Again, they had lots to say and many were still writing when the class officially ended. Next time, I plan to teach much less about the history and traditions and will focus much more on activities and readings such as the Giving Tree,which the students, no matter their prior knowledge of Thanksgiving, can relate to.


100th Page View!

I am glad to announce we have reached our 100th page view!!

Many thanks to all those who have contributed to this blog!

There are many more posts to come! :)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Happy Halloween!

There are so many things you could do with Halloween. It's not only a chance to discuss American culture but it is also a way to incorporate fun and creative projects, readings and media.

I have seen a lot of worksheets floating around the Internet about Halloween, which is fine, but I personally try to limit my use of them and use videos and activities instead.

In terms of videos, the History Channel has some really great ones. I love "Bet You Didn't Know: Halloween" and " Haunted History of Halloween". They both are a little over two minutes, have Greta visuals and a lot of interesting information. I did a KWL activity with my students asking them before what they knew, what they learned in the video and what they wanted to know. We also had a small discussion.

This is Halloween

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a fun film to watch and not just for children. I used the song, "This is Halloween" in my class and asked my students, according to the video, what is Halloween?

Here's the link:

We had just finished clothing at the time so I has students design costumes from the clothing they had at home. This was a fun exercise to see who could come up with the most creative costume without actually buying one. Beforehand I gave them some example of DIY costumes including a How To video.

The Velvet Ribbon
This is a classic scary story and perfect for Halloween. It is also quite short and simple, making it accessible for all levels and ages (with scaffolding as needed). There also are many different versions, for more or less advanced classes. I used An McGovern's version with my beginner English class this semester and it worked really well! Here is the text, which I found from

by Ann McGovern 

Once there was a man who fell in love with a beautiful girl. And before
the next full moon rose in the sky, they were wed.
To please her husband, the young wife wore a different gown each night.
Sometimes she was dressed in yellow; other nights she wore red or blue
or white. And she always wore a black velvet ribbon around her slender
Day and night she wore that ribbon, and it was not long before her
husband's curiosity got the better of him.
"Why do you always wear that ribbon?" he asked.
She smiled a strange smile and said not a word.
At last her husband got angry. And one night he shouted at his bride.
"Take that ribbon off! I'm tired of looking at it."
You will be sorry if I do," she replied, "so I won't." Every morning at
breakfast, the husband ordered his wife to remove the black velvet
ribbon from around her neck. Every night at dinner he told her the same
But every morning at breakfast and every night at dinner, all his wife
would say was, "You'll be sorry if I do. So I won't."
A week had passed. The husband no longer looked into his wife's eyes. He
could only stare at that black velvet ribbon around her neck.
One night as his wife lay sleeping, he tiptoed to her sewing basket. He
took out a pair of scissors.
Quickly and quietly, careful not to awaken her, he bent over his wife's
SNIP! went the scissors, and the velvet ribbon fell to the floor
SNAP! off came her head. It rolled over the floor in the moonlight,
wailing tearfully:

There also is audio, which I also had my students listen to as they read along. Since it's short, we were able to go through the words they were unfamiliar with and read it a few times over with out it becoming too tedious

Here is the link to the video which is only audio:

The Raven

Edgar Allen Poe's famous short story, The Raven, is also a personal favorite but is much more difficult and unlike the other short story, requires a higher level.  Despite this, there are some great resources out there.

Below is a link to the full text, broken in two vignettes with vocabulary word definitions and explanations. Very good, I believe, if you're going to read it with your students.

Here is a fun "interpretation" done by the Simpsons.

Here is Part 1 of a very well made short film which depicts The Raven.

Also, if you'd like to make an extended study of the short story, Edgar Allen Poe and his other short stories, definitely visit this website that has a ton of resources:

Pumpkin Carving

I think this one is self explanatory. We did this at our school Halloween party. On another occasion I had younger students and we instead painted the pumpkins, which was also really fun for them and got everyone in the Halloween spirit!

Superstitions Around the World

An interesting cultural aspect that can be tied to Halloween is  Superstition. I had a big talk with my students about American superstitions and asked them to think of a list of superstitions from their countries. Then, we looked into one and found the origin of it. Very interesting!