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Learner Autonomy and Teacher Wellbeing: Flip Your Classroom and Achieve More by Doing Less

in Professional Development/Teaching

This article explores the journey a teacher may embark on to support learner autonomy. It also looks at the challenges and benefits this entails for both the teacher and the learner.

In an earlier article for ELTABB, we focused on how language coaching can support students in a way that provides empowerment and true motivation.

This time, we’re taking a look at the benefits of language coaching to the teacher/learner dynamic.

Rethinking the Teacher-Learner Relationship

As teachers, we tend to feel as if we are underachieving if we do not put 120% effort into planning, designing, implementing, checking, testing, and discussing.

On the other hand, incorrectly calibrated and oftentimes needless work will just increase frustration and demotivate the learner. The issue here is the insistent focus on ourselves: our planning, our implementation, our checking.

But what about learner planning, learner implementation, and learner checking?

How about working just the amount needed to help learners reach their goals and allowing them to take ownership of their learning process?

By keeping in mind coaching guru Tony Robbins’ words, “Energy flows where attention goes,” you can learn to direct this flow to concentrate on what is truly necessary. This leads to less fretful preparation for the teacher and heightened learner autonomy.

Research Says…

The above coincides with research in the field of learning. In fact, a workplace learning report from LinkedIn suggests that:

Over 40% of Gen Z and millennial learners and 33% of Gen X and boomer learners prefer self-directed learning experiences, or opportunities to craft their own learning goals and choose the learning content that helps achieve them.1

Language coaching is intended to make time for understanding your learners’ language learning goals and how to best reach them. It’s about figuring out steps towards becoming a more effective learner and communicator.

As you engage in coaching-style activities and conversations, you will notice that learner engagement grows. Consequently, it will be easier for you to come up with motivating activities, as learners are already focused and ready to learn.

The Learning/Teaching Matrix

In order to find out more about learner autonomy in the classroom, take a look at this matrix.

©2020 Gabriella Kovács ACC

If we rethink the roles that we as teachers have traditionally been assigned—or have assigned ourselves—we might start redesigning the basic components of our classes.

To highlight a few:

  • Decision-making processes (top-down vs. collaborative)
  • Classroom language (instruction vs. questions/statements)
  • Processes (pre-planned vs. on the spot)
  • Creativity (low vs. high)
  • Correction work (controlled vs. open)
  • Strategies to overcome challenges (few vs. many)
  • Materials usage (excessive vs.  moderate)
  • Rewards and success focus (macro vs. micro)

Colour Zones in Teaching

With a coaching mindset, your lessons will mostly tend to be in the green, occasionally yellow and blue zones. More traditional approaches to teaching will primarily be in the red zone, with occasional excursions into the yellow and blue zones.

The ‘greener’ your teaching becomes, the more it will lead to:

  • Collaboration in partnership settings
  • Diverse thinking
  • Multiple pathways to reach goals
  • Exploration of a wider set of skills and competencies
  • Stronger awareness of learning strategies
  • Promotion of learner strengths and successes
  • Clearly defined goals and clear communication

Small Tweaks, Big Gains

What we have found out so far points towards learner empowerment, increasing flexibility, and resilience—and we must surely agree that in these turbulent times we can all do with a larger dose of these.

Coaching can help here because it is largely based on asking the right questions.

This leads to opening up conversations instead of instructing—paying attention with curiosity rather than with the intention to lead. In turn, learner autonomy will develop and flourish, breeding teacher and learner wellbeing that’s built on a high level of trust.

Focusing on micro-skills and rewarding on a small scale will create a safe learning environment.

However, if we fail to support learners when facing their weaknesses and blocks, these will persist and resurface as low motivation, boredom, and poor language learning skills. Working towards large-scale goals and celebrating only major successes will keep learners with lower self-esteem caught up in negative self-talk and believing they are not good enough.

Focusing on subskills and micro-skills and rewarding them on a small scale will create a safe learning environment. As they say, it’s about “progress, not perfection.” These small tweaks to teaching can all increase self-esteem for learners, which in turn leads to the motivation to make progress and learn more.

5 Practical Steps to Increase Learner Autonomy

Now that we know more about learner autonomy in theory, how can teachers and educators create a learning environment that enhances learner autonomy?

1. Use the 80/20 Rule

80% teacher silence enables 80% learner talking/thinking time. 20% teacher talking time is sufficient, no matter the language level.

Activity: Record yourself during a lesson and roughly add up your talking time. Do one thing differently to increase your learners’ active class participation time.

Reflection: What did you change? What changed?

2. Welcome Silence

Appreciate silence in class as thinking time not to be reduced in favour of “doing things.” Thinking is when your learners are creating connections, bridging earlier and new ideas, knowledge, and skills. The most valuable time in coaching is when the client is discovering, exploring, and figuring out how to proceed.

Activity: Count to 10 before you ask your next question, give your next instruction. Also, count to 10 after asking/instructing.

Reflection: How did things change? What reactions ensued?

3. Offer Guidance where Needed

Make sure you guide the reflective process at the ends of activities, lessons, courses with 2-3 very simple questions/activities.

Activity: Use a multi-sensory approach:

  • How did this feel?
  • What did you notice?
  • What new thoughts do you have now?
  • How does this sound to you?

(Naturally do not ask all at once, but choose the appropriate question after an activity, at the end of the lesson or a complete course.)

Reflection: Did their answers surprise you? How did these questions and the answers make you see, feel, and think about your class?

4. Flip the Classroom

Learners will be more motivated and feel more involved if, instead of telling them what to do (strongly instructing), you open up space and ask them which of 2-3 things they would like to move forward with during the lesson.

By giving choices, you build responsibility. As they begin to own the decision-making process, they will become more aware of the reasons underlying the choices they make.

By giving choices, you build responsibility.

Activity: Divide your learners into two groups. While Group 1 writes down the questions that they would ask as a teacher from the class before an exercise (e.g. “p. 42/ex. 4”), Group 2 writes down the instructions that they would give to the class as a teacher before that exercise.

Reflection: How do the different types of messages make the learners react and why? Which do they appreciate more and why?

5. Focus on Resources

Focus on the skill sets and techniques learners use when learning. Call attention to and ask about these strategies. This way learners become more aware and autonomous, and you can encourage them to be open to new learning-related ideas from each other.

Activity: Create a strengths/positivity wall. Ask learners to write down what they see as a learning-related strength or positive learning habit in the person sitting next to them. Put these on the wall (or whiteboard in Zoom).

Reflection: What one word describes this activity for you? And for your learners?

Adopt a Coaching Approach in Your Classes!

Have these ideas sparked your interest in more activities of this sort? Do you wish to unlock your learners’ potential? Gain clarity and structure to support a language coaching approach in your classes and trainings.
If you think this could be the missing piece in your language teaching puzzle – take the first step and visit our website.

https://internationallanguagecoaching.com/training-courses

Courses start each season, from foundation to advanced levels. Also, check out our ILCA YouTube* channel for insights.

*ILCA is the International Language Coaching Association.

References

1. https://learning.linkedin.com/resources/workplace-learning-report

 

Spice up Your Online Teaching: 12 Savvy Tips for Better Remote Lessons

in Professional Development/Teaching

While most of us are experienced remote teachers by now, there is always room for improvement and fine-tuning. Here are twelve tips to help you step up your game when teaching English online.

1. Look at the camera

It’s tempting to look at the screen while teaching online because that’s where we see our students. Don’t give in to the urge. If you look directly at the camera, your client will feel that you are looking into their eyes and be more involved. You can move the inset video to just under the camera because then you’re actually looking at the student (or nearer to them). You can also use books to prop up your laptop and bring the camera to eye level.

2. Get a standing desk or a leg rest

Teaching online changes your routine in some ways.

Sitting is the new smoking!

Mainly, it means that you may be glued to a chair for extended periods of time. That’s a problem in itself, because, as we know, sitting is the new smoking! It’s therefore advisable to get yourself a standing desk and just teach standing up. You can also just place a stool on your desk for an improvised standing desk. Alternatively, a leg rest will allow you to stretch your knees discreetly every now and then. Your muscles will thank you!

3. Choose a neutral background

There’s hardly anything worse than a distracting background when you teach (well, apart from a persistent hiccup maybe). You can work around this by using a plain piece of cloth as your background. Alternatively, you can buy a professional green screen and place it behind you. A third alternative is using a virtual background in Zoom. Just click the little arrow next to the video icon and pick the “virtual background” option. You can upload your own photos for the purpose. Just be aware that the background may shift and flicker when you move, so you might have to do some trial-and-error regarding the images you use.

4. Adjust your way of speaking

When teaching online, you might experience technical issues or sound problems, such as acoustic delay or breathing sounds. To facilitate listening, it’s best to speak more slowly than usual and with more pauses. Also, mute your participants while you speak and generally interrupt less than you normally would.

5. Get a good headset/mic

This is a no-brainer, but it still gets a mention here because it can fix a lot of your problems. If your headset reminds you of the tin can telephone you had when you were little, now’s the time to get a new one.

On the other hand, some integrated microphone are surprisingly good, so you might try ditching your headset for better audio quality first.

6. Manage your online classroom

In any classroom, online or not, there are some students who enjoy being in the focus and others who don’t. As an online tutor, try to target the ones that seem a bit lost without putting them on the spot. When you single out a person to engage them in your lesson, you can mute the rest of the group.

Also, be aware that some people may switch off their cameras because they feel more comfortable that way. You can use the group chat to encourage shy students to share questions and comments.

Online tools like Answergarden or Padlet are great for sparking your students’ interest. You can find out more about engaging tools for teaching English online here.

7. Provide visual input

Online learning is a very visual experience, and variety is key if you want to engage your students. You can share your screen to show slides or have your students write on the virtual whiteboard (in Zoom, enable the “annotate” function for this).

If you have a Pro account, you can also create live polls to liven things up and fuel discussion. For a quick recap of some of its helpful functions, check out this Zoom tutorial.

8. Use breakout rooms

You probably do this already: another way to add variety to your lessons is to have group work sessions, just as you would in a regular classroom. To split larger groups into smaller ones, Zoom offers breakout rooms. This tutorial will show you how it works.

9. Share handouts and files

The days of physical handouts are gone, so cloud storage services are the way to go.

Google Drive makes it easy to share files via links – the only catch is that you will need a Google account for this if you don’t have one already (and then there’s the data protection thingy…). However, it’s still one of the most efficient and popular ways to share documents, also because you can actually work on Google Docs simultaneously with the students.

Apart from that, the group chat may be helpful here for sharing links and smaller bits of information.

10. Be prepared

This is another no-brainer, but one that’s easy to forget. Before you start teaching online, make sure you have a pen, paper and water handy – you don’t want to have to fiddle around for any of these while answering questions. It’s also a good way to prepare and sort yourself out before a lesson.

11. Have a break (or two)

Allow for enough breaks from screen time. Sitting in front of a computer for hours on end is demanding, especially for young learners. Slip in a bathroom or tea break every now and then before everyone gets antsy.

12. Practise with other teachers

If you feel you need guinea-pigs to hone your online teaching skills, why not offer your colleagues a sample lesson? They may have some valuable feedback for you and learn from the way you teach as well. Plus, you can take turns, so everyone gets to be the teacher and student.

If you don’t know who to ask, no worries! Just join some social media groups for teachers and post a friendly request. You should be able to find like-minded people in no time.

Bonus tip: try this alternative to Zoom

Zoom is great, but the free version comes with a 40-minute-cap for group events (one-on-ones are not affected). After this, your conference call will be cut short and you will have to set up a new session.

BigBlueButton is a completely free, open-source alternative that offers all the features Zoom does, without limitations. Many universities and schools already use it. It may be a tad more complicated to set up, but it should be absolutely worth it.

Happy remote teaching!

For more tips for teaching English online, check out this article on the digital classroom.

Learning Languages Effectively and Joyfully: Q and A with a Polyglot

in Teaching

Language coach Miri Mikeska helps other language enthusiasts become polyglots like himself. Let’s see what he has to say about functional learning habits and why he gave up his career job to become a travelling teacher.

Hi Miri, it’s great to have you here on the ELTABB Journal! Let’s start right away with the first question.

What motivated you to become a polyglot, and when did you start learning languages?

Miri: I’ve always admired people who lived abroad and could speak more than one language. They were heroes to me. However, having luckily passed my A-levels in English and German at high school, I became very busy with my future career plans—studying in the UK, getting an interesting job at BMW in Munich and starting my own business afterward. 

Four years ago I came back to languages while travelling for almost a year. I had no better strategy than learning key phrases when watching films and talking to people. I met many people, and this was just an amazing time I had. My motivation was high, but the learning process was truly spontaneous and simple. 

How many languages do you speak? Are you equally fluent in all of them?

Miri: I do speak 11 languages and I am not equally fluent in all of them. Not at the same time. It is a constant process of learning, forgetting and refreshing. There is a nice quote:

A foreign language is like a frail, delicate muscle. If you do not use it, it weakens. Jhumpa Lahiri

I am usually fluent in the seven languages that I speak regularly. I am at the stage when learning a new language seems easier than maintaining the languages I already know.

Once learnt well and practised, the language is not possible to really forget. Even my grandma remembers some poems in a foreign language from elementary school. What we lose quickly is the ability of so-called ‘active recall’. I am sure you know what I mean. It is when you can understand but cannot talk. It is useful to know some strategies of how to refresh the language just before you need it.

What do you think are the biggest mistakes language learners make when starting to learn a new language?

Miri: We are taught to be perfectionists and as a result, we are afraid to make mistakes so we avoid talking in a new language from the early beginning. We postpone speaking and learn more and more theory without actually practising. Nobody has learnt sports or dancing by only learning the theory. Why do we believe it could work for languages? Furthermore, many of us tend to be highly conservative in terms of learning habits. 

According to a Eurobarometer survey, in many European countries, up to 80-90% of learners have failed to learn languages at school. But still, it is difficult for us to admit it and change some of our old learning habits for new ones, proven by neuroscience as well as both polyglots and memory athletes.

What would you say to someone who wants or needs to learn a new language but may not have a lot of time or energy to invest?

Miri: I would ask a few simple questions: 

  1. What level, skills and vocabulary do you really need and until when? Make it lean. Learn less overall, but focus on what is most important with more repetition and practice. Write down an action plan for 30, 60, 90 days.
  2. Can you find 15-30 min in your schedule to learn (almost) every day in the upcoming 3-6 months? Start with a few minutes daily and make it a durable habit—a part of your life—but in a way that you will not give up, feeling unhappy and overwhelmed.
  3. What makes you happy in your life? Do you love travelling, films, theatre, music, sports or just getting a beer with a couple of fun people after work? Connect all these to your learning experience. You will see the magic!
  4. Can you find people to learn, practise with and keep you motivated in the long term? An active social life, study groups, tandems, meet-ups, couchsurfing, social media…language is all about communication. Learning languages without practising is like learning dancing without dancing. Start with mimicking and repeating out loud, speaking to yourself, then engaging in short conversations online and offline. Prepare phrases in advance. Speak regularly.

Analog or digital learning: which do you think works better and why?

Miri: At the beginning, it is crucial to listen to the sounds of the new language with many repetitions in order to adapt your ears. Any analog tools—texts, textbooks and books—will be almost useless unless one can listen to it at the same time. The technique is called audio-assisted reading and it works great. 

On my way to B1-B2 level, I use YouTube lessons a lot for the same reasons—to hear the pronunciation of native speakers. On YouTube, I can easily search for dialogues and phrases which are exactly relevant to my interests and learning goals. 

I could not learn as fast as I do without digital content, flashcards and dictionaries. At the same time, I handwrite some of my notes or when using another magic—the keyword technique. Handwriting promotes memory recall better than typing. Some drawing helps too.

But if one decides to achieve C1-C2 level, it will not be possible without extensive reading. To sum up, it is important to know when to choose digital and analog learning. Doing both is a winning combination for me. 

In your workshops, you focus on brain-friendly learning. Can you tell us more about that?

Miri: When I researched the neuroscience behind the learning strategies of the best polyglots and memory athletes, the game for me changed completely. Language learning is a constant process that takes at least a few months even for experienced learners. It can be effective only when it goes hand-in-hand with our predispositions. 

That is why I focus on the best 5+1 proven neuroscience techniques which take advantage of the strengths of the human brain, unlike many traditional ways of learning. By using them, my students become fluent in a language in 3-6 months—similar to what an average polyglot is able to do.

Before becoming a language coach, you worked for big companies like Bosch and BMW. Why did you change careers, and what is your mission?

Miri: My childhood dream came true at BMW; it was nice to be part of a big family. Generally, if I can learn what I love, I am happy. Once I feel it is time to make a change to learn something new, it is important to step out, choose the less comfortable path and make a change to continue my self-development.

I am fascinated by the human brain, and I love to talk to people from all over the world and prove that the impossible is easily possible—that everyone can be fluent in 3-6 months. I also like to be flexible and able to travel a lot.

That is exactly what I combine through language coaching. I can make many people happy and meet my needs.

What do you think are the greatest benefits of speaking multiple languages? Do you think that polyglots make the world a better place?

Miri: The world becomes one. It is a life-changing and enlightening experience: a way to learn deeply the truth about human beings. To understand who we are. 

Nelson Mandela said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” 🙂

The interview was conducted by Sandra Roggenkamp.

Hyperpolyglot Miri Mikeska helps Berliners become fluent by using modern learning methods and neuroscientific techniques. He says that everyone can learn languages fast if willing to adapt to the new, brain-friendly habits. His dream is to remove myths about language learning.

All at Sea in the Classroom? 5 Ways to Save your Lesson when Things go Wrong

in Teaching

You came away from your ELTABB workshop last Saturday feeling enthused and inspired – it’s given you lots of new ideas to try out in the classroom. You’ve worked hard to prepare some innovative and exciting activities for your students. You even secretly feel that you could be the next Scott Thornbury…

Fast forward to Monday. You begin teaching the lesson but start to have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you continue. Your students look at you blankly – they’re not responding. You sense some irritation. You suddenly realise that your lesson plan isn’t working. It’s time to press the stop button.

Let’s be honest – we’ve all been there. It’s probably not your fault. You don’t know what your students have been going through prior to your lesson. Have they had a bad morning? A problem with their boss? A stressful meeting? Perhaps they are adults who don’t have a choice to be there or not.

Sometimes you just have to read the room and react accordingly – and that usually means a spontaneous change of plan.

So, what do you do next?

Here are my suggestions for what to do when your lesson goes wrong (all these activities can be used online):

1. Books

Two books I always carry around with me are Five-Minute Activities by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright and Five-Minute Activities for Business English by Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton. They’re great to dip into if you’re looking for a warmer or to fill in time at the end of the lesson. You can develop the activities so that they last longer than five minutes.

Sample activity: ‘I would like to be a giraffe’. Write down the following words on the board:

giraffe/dog/cat/lion

Each student decides which of these they would prefer to be and tells their neighbour why.

2. Have a Plan B that contrasts with your Plan A

Sometimes I’ve prepared a speaking lesson and the students don’t want to talk. In this situation I’ve used the Guardian articles and Business Spotlight articles from www.onestopenglish.com (currently free until 30 June 2020).

At other times I’ve prepared a worksheet and the students are not interested in it. As an alternative, I’ve used questions from www.eslconversationquestions.com

I also recommend the books by Larry Pitts.

3. A critical thinking activity

Pick a topic – for example, 30 places to visit in Berlin. Ask the students for ideas for the list. Write them on the board, and then give them a series of questions to discuss: What are the three most important places to visit? What about three places to avoid? How about the three most suitable places for a teenager, a student of architecture, someone interested in history, and so on?

A very good introduction as to how to structure a critical thinking task can be found here:

Ensure that your students explain why they’ve made their choices. I’m sure you can think of many more questions to ask.

4. Grammar Auction

Students are given a list of grammar sentences and then bid for the correct ones. Tip: use grammar mistakes made by students in recent classes.

This article explains how to prepare a grammar auction:

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/grammar-auction

I have a notebook where I keep a record of mistakes made by my students in recent classes. This gives me the opportunity to tailor the auction so that it can also be used as a means of revision.

5. Noughts and Crosses

An extension of ‘taboo’ – students get a nought or a cross when they correctly guess a word. Tip: ask the students to write the words down on cards before the game starts. A full description of the game can be found here:

Tic Tac Toe

I would suggest that you use it to revise vocabulary. Again, use your notebook to refer to new words learned in recent lessons – or you can ask the students to write down the words you’ve taught them on cards. You can then place the cards face down on a table – students can choose a card from the middle, top right, etc.

If you are reading this and have any more ideas, then please feel free to write the next post about five more activities you can do. I look forward to reading it!

Workshop Review: “Be a Flamingo in a Flock of Pigeons” – Creative Teaching with Antonia Clare

in Teaching

Today has been a day of Cs – from the ‘Mini C’ of personal creativity to the ‘Big C’ of creative genius and beyond to a greater, shadowy C that had been lurking just out of sight but that today had its first tangible impact on our lives – the Corona Virus.

It was the day of the ELTABB AGM in the afternoon, following a morning workshop by Antonia Clare – writer, trainer and co-author of Total English and Speakout.

It was also this workshop that had been affected by the virus. Every introduction was punctuated by a peculiar half-dance, as participants wondered at the appropriateness of shaking hands. Having recently returned from a trip to northern Italy (to where the virus has spread), Antonia found herself in self-imposed quarantine in the UK, unable to join us in person.

Doubtless, there was much hair-pulling and screaming behind-the-scenes. But the ELTABB organisers and Antonia had arranged a video-conferencing solution. This was accomplished with calm panache and totally devoid of technical difficulties. (I will leave it to the reader to insert a computer-virus pun).

The solution provided us with our first lesson in creativity: It is not all about art and poetry – it is also about adapting to the unforeseen and being able to think on one’s feet.

Inspiration and the ‘internal syllabus’

Entitled “Be a Flamingo in a Flock of Pigeons” the aim of the workshop was to help English-language teachers understand the benefits of creativity. Not only for making lessons that are memorable but as a crucial aspect of language acquisition itself.

Starting with the maxim that ‘inspiration is everywhere’, we quickly grasped the advantges of allowing such inspiration into our lessons. Learners acquire language best when confronted with the unusual presented on a scaffolding of what they already know.

(This is something I can attest to. A number of my friends complained about Duolingo making them learn “Der Bär trägt seinen Hut”. In doing so they used the tricky masculine accusative possessive perfectly).

Each learner also has their own ‘internal syllabus’ – whatever they want to learn for their personal lives. When creativity is encouraged, they are able to tailor their learning to this syllabus, and lessons become more worthwhile.

Activity time: combining language with physical and visual elements

By enhancing her talk with numerous creative activities, Antonia showed herself to be quite the flamingo. She was able to keep a Saturday-morning audience engaged and ensured that the lessons we learned would be remembered for a long time to come.

For ‘stress statues’ we had to stand in lines, either crouched or upright depending on the stress patterns of particular words.

Language arising from the all-to-common “How was your week?” question (notorious for eliciting nothing but silence from shy teenagers) can be better produced by showing stock photos of hands or feet and asking questions such as “How does this person feel?”, “What have they done today?”, “Do they have any regrets?”

Such activities reminded us that stories are easier to remember than facts – a narrative will be clearer in a learner’s memory than a series of dry facts.

Involving emotions through such stories is just one reason to be creative; creativity also introduces higher-order thinking to the classroom. It helps students to use their language in a practical sense to create meaning and helps us as teachers stand out – to be the iconic flamingos.

However, there can be barriers to such creativity in the classroom: from a lack of time to environmental obstacles (such as a lack of equipment) or cultural mores.

The workshop finished with team brainstorming and sharing of methods to overcome such problems, and a reminder of how we can nurture creativity – such as by focussing our syllabuses on skills and capabilities rather than technical content.

Activities from the workshop – suitable for classroom use

All the activities come from the forthcoming book The Creative Teacher’s Compendium: An A-Z of creative activities for the language classroom by Antonia Clare and Alan Marsh (Pavilion ELT).

Stress statues

Groups of up to five people line up. They each represent a syllable in a word and must then crouch or stand up depending on whether their syllable is stressed or unstressed. Example: de-CI-sive = crouch, stand, crouch. This can help learners with phonetics, and also gets them moving, breaking up their desk-time and introducing variation to the lesson.

A favourite possession

Students each draw their favourite possession, then show their picture to others. The others must guess what the possession is and what makes it a treasure. This gets learners ‘thinking around’ a topic, starts conversations, and elicits more language than a simple description.

Hands and feet

A collection of photographs of hands and feet are shown on the board. The learners must consider a series of questions about this person, from the simple – “How old are they?”, “How was their day?” – to the more complex or personal – “What do they regret?”.

This uses language similar to that learners would use when talking about themselves. Students are more likely to feel comfortable talking about a ‘character’ than about themselves. As a consequence, more personal topics that might otherwise be unsuitable can be broached.

The game can continue with students having to introduce their chosen person to each other as though at a party. Their partner then has to guess which pair of hands and feet they are referring to. This places the language into conversation, giving the exercise a practical element.

Strangers on a train

Similar to the hands and feet activity, students must roleplay being strangers who meet on a train and start talking after one spills coffee over the other.

Again, this uses characters, allowing the students to feel more comfortable talking about topics that they may not normally want to talk about, or which they find more interesting (“I just got out of prison for killing somebody.” / “I work for NASA”).

If the teacher wishes to practise select vocabulary or encourage competition, then an alternative variant can be used – giving each student a card with a word or phrase that they must work into their conversation.

Yes or No game

Learners have to answer a series of questions without using the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Example questions included “Do you like ice cream?”, “Have you ever lost your temper in public?” and, of course, “Are you ready to start the game?”.

This is both surprisingly easy to do, and surprisingly easy to fail if you don’t pay attention. It also encourages students to use longer sentences and use a variety of affirmations and denials.

(The Irish language has no words for yes and no, and I once heard an Irish speaker responding to a series of questions in English. It felt frustratingly like they were playing this game very well!)

Five things in my kitchen

Each learner writes down five things that somebody would find in their kitchen. They must then choose one and think about how it is similar to themselves, explaining the reasons to their partner.

This turns a fairly dry vocab exercise into an imaginative (and tricky) story-telling game.

Have fun being the flamingo in a flock of pigeons! (Standing on one leg from time to time is highly recommended but entirely optional.)

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