Practicing making questions with Past, Present, Future Simple using biographies of famous people

This is a simple activity if you want your students to practice making questions (or other activities that use the same tenses) in Past, Present, and Future tenses. There are 2 notions behind this activity:

  1. Tenses are usually taught separately and in isolation from each other. Inspired by Bloom’s Taxonomy, I was trying to apply an activity where students could make comparison between tenses. In this case because they have learned Present Simple, Past Simple, and Future Simple, thus this activity was created.
  2. After reading about Whole Language approach in language teaching and the importance of using authentic instead of artificial (read: textbook like) materials, I was intrigued to use more authentic materials in my class. The biography used here is an example.

Few notes before you do this activity:

  1. Make sure students have already learned about the 3 tenses and done some other necessary activities to practice them.
  2. Choose biography of a famous person who is still alive, because you need your students to also make predictions about the biographee’s life in the future to practice Future Simple Tense.
  3. You can choose to use biography in form of text, video, or the combination of the 2 where different types of skills are in practice.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I used Bill Gates’ (mini) biography from’s YouTube channel.
  2. Before viewing the video, students were divided into pairs.
  3. Students watched the biography, twice (more if you like).
  4. Each pair was instructed to make 3 questions using Past Simple, basically making questions about Bill Gates’ past.
  5. Before the next task, members of the group were swapped.
  6. Each pair was then instructed to make another 3 questions, this time using Present Simple, asking about Bill Gates’ current life.
  7. Members of the group were again swapped.
  8. Each pair for the last time was instructed to make 3 questions using Future Simple, making predictions about Bill Gates’ future.

At the end of the question making, you can ask students to either correct other groups’ questions or answer them. Here are some questions my students made, with few additions from me:

Past Simple Tense:

  1. Where was Bill Gates born?
  2. When did he found Microsoft?
  3. Did he drop out of school?

Present Simple Tense

  1. What does he do now?
  2. What is the name of his foundation?
  3. Is he a creative person?

Future Simple Tense

  1. What will Bill Gates do in 2014?
  2. Who will replace his position?
  3. Will he go bankrupt?

I hope this is useful for you. Don’t forget: like, share, comment. 🙂


Teaching “Will vs. Going to” with YouTube videos

It was only recently that I started making ‘contact’ with YouTube in terms of English Language Teaching (ELT). You can read my first experience in using YouTube here. Drawn by the successful attempt, I decided to give YouTube another try. This time with other grammar points: Will vs. Going to (Future Simple Tense). The activity consisted of 2 parts and used 4 videos: the first 3 videos were used as the explanatory videos for “Will vs. Going to” and the last video for writing (productive skill) practice using the 2 grammar points.

The steps are as below:

1. Students watch the first video about the use of ‘will’. The video contains some funny scenes so my students were quite entertained. You can choose to pause and play as the video contains several conversations and scenes. The video can also be used for other types of activities (listening, fill in the gaps, summary writing, etc.).

2. Worksheet is given to students and teacher explains a little bit about the use of ‘will’. Students are given time to do the worksheet while teacher guides, but only the ‘will’ part (the left-hand side). Download the worksheet that I made and used here Will vs. Going to Worksheet.

3. Students continue watching the second video about the use of ‘going to’. The form of this video is almost the same with the first one: it contains several conversations and scenes. It’s funny too.

4. After watching the second video, teacher explains about the use of ‘going to’ a little bit and students are asked to continue doing the second part of the worksheet (the ‘going to’ part). Again, teacher’s guide and assistance in students’ completing the worksheet is essential.

5. After finishing with ‘will’ and ‘going to’ in the worksheet, teacher prompts the question: “So what’s the difference between will and going to?” Students try to answer the question and teacher confirms it (explanation can be found in the worksheet). Third video is played.

6. After gaining understanding about the difference of ‘will’ and ‘going to’, students are asked to practice using the grammar units — again, with a YouTube video. I was trying to find a short video or movie about how the future will look like, but ended up with this video “What Will Clothes Look Like in the Future?” about the future of clothes. It is quite interesting and my students also found it quite amusing (so did I!).

7. So what’s the instruction for the practice? Students watch the very short documentary twice (or as many as you like depending on students’ level), then in pairs they have to write a summary about the documentary using ‘will’ and going to’. The aim of this practice is so students can make predictions about the future using ‘will’ and ‘going to’. Sentences should start with ‘will’ and ‘going to’ like these:

  1. There will …
  2. There is going to …
  3. The clothes will …
  4. The clothes are going to …

Here’s an example made by a group.

Students' work: Will vs. Going to

Students’ work: Will vs. Going to

Well, that’s all. I hope you find this blogpost useful. If you have comments or suggestions, or perhaps other brilliant ideas to teach grammar, feel free to drop me a comment. Thank you. 🙂

Practicing the imperative and modal auxiliaries with The White Stripes’ We’re Going to be Friends

Do you know this song?

I didn’t know this song until after I desperately asked for some suggestions on songs I could use to teach on my Twitter and a friend suggested me this. At the same time I was teaching the imperative and modal auxiliaries to my business English students. After watching the suggested video (the real music video from the band looks far more depressing than this one here) and reading the lyrics, I found the two grammar points were used a number of times.

Since the activity uses song as its media, the practice eventually incorporates listening as part of the grammar practice. Listening, just like reading, is considered to be an important input in the process of second language learning. Besides that, my other aim of using the song is to also show my students that grammar is not a separable unit or entity in a language. We can find it in speech and utterance, even songs. Hopefully this can motivate them to pay more attention to grammar.

The procedure of the practice involves listening, fill in the gaps activity, and followed by grammar and short writing practice. All of these activities are done individually but at the end of the listening activity they are allowed to discuss their findings. Because the topic of this song is about school, I believe school teachers can definitely use this song too. Here’s how I did the practice and other aspects about it.

Steps I applied during the practice

  1. Students watch the music video. This is done to entice students and let them grasp the context of the song.
  2. Worksheets are given to students. You can download the worksheet I made and used here We’re Going to be Friends Lyrics Worksheet.
  3. The music video is played 3 times while students are listening to the song and filling the gaps in the worksheet.
  4. Time to check students’ work! Students discuss and read (or sing) the lyrics aloud. There are many ways we can do to check students’ work. We can ask different students to read or sing the lyrics aloud one verse at a time, they read aloud or sing together, etc.
  5. By the fourth time they listened to the song, they could sing it. So we decided to sing together as the closing activity before we went to the next tasks: grammar and writing.
  6. Students do the grammar task in group or individually, then complete the activity by doing the writing task individually.

Why this activity is good

  1. According to Dr. Krashen, lowering stress means achieving more learning. Listening to songs can certainly make students feel more relaxed in classroom and help them enjoy the learning process.
  2. Choosing songs with the right tempo is also important. As their first listening activity, this song really suited my students well.
  3. Students can practice grammar from things that are familiar to them and their world — songs. It is hoped that they will be able to apply the practice on their own time.

Tips on using songs for grammar practice

  1. Choose songs that are appropriate to your students’ level, the tempo and difficulty level of the lyrics.
  2. Find songs in which the lyrics contain grammar points you are going to practice. It takes time but it’s worth it.
  3. Beware of lyrics and music videos that contain explicit content. Same concern I mentioned some time ago in my previous post.

So, what do you think about using songs to practice grammar? Are you interested in applying the same or similar activity in your class? Or do you have other ideas? Let me know by leaving your comments. 🙂

Pages you can use as additional handouts for pre-activity:

The imperative

Modal Verbs

Dear students, this is what your homework really means to you

I was so embarrassed… To have given a speech in front of my class. But it was a speech I had to give.

Last week, a student from my business English class complained about me giving too much homework. I have to say this is a typical issue in adult classes. I understand they have lots on their plates: work, family, spouse (husband/ wife), kids, other stuff in other places, etc. In the past, what I usually did was let them get away with it. I would usually just give in to the idea that they should not be given any homework. But not today. Not again. So, what was the homework actually about?

I asked them to do pair work to present a topic on English tenses. Each group was assigned to prepare and present one tense based on the number they got. I mentioned about this assignment on this blog a little bit here. The presentation did not have to be perfect (probably only according to my point of view). I let them find their own materials and make the presentation outside class, and they did not have to prepare any handout. The supervision was done at the presentation.

When you teach at school, it’s easier to give your students homework. However, when you teach a group of adults, they will have all the reasons not to do it. Usually the higher their position is in the company, the more reasons they have to avoid doing it. To some extent, some adult students also think (probably because they are used to other people do the work for them?), that the success of their learning relies solely on what their teacher can make of them.

For all we know, as an English teacher, this kind of mindset is a bit… misleading. I believe, just like the Chinese proverb, teachers open door but students must enter by themselves. They have to be actively involved in and responsible for their own learning. And so with a smile and a bit of wrinkles on my forehead, I replied:

“English is not a content subject where you can read a book one night and suddenly speak English the next day. One needs to constantly keep in contact with the language. We only have two times 90 minutes a week. Do you really think that your English will improve in just 3 hours a week? I personally think as an English teacher, no, it won’t. That’s why I’m giving you homework. The homework functions as a bridge. The bridge to connect the time you learn in class and outside class. So you will not forget that you are learning English when you’re not here.

This is not the first time I teach adult class, and I’ve seen many classes I taught did not give significant change in my students’ English. And I don’t want that to happen. Again. Especially to this class. I learned my lesson. Do you want this class to be effective? Do you want your learning to be successful? Well, I’m sorry that I have to break the truth: there’s no shortcut to success. You have to do the hard work. If you have a particular goal, I’m pretty certain you will somehow do anything possible to reach that goal. And I hope that’s what you do in this English class.

And so about the homework? That’s all for you, not for me.”

Do you think I am doing the right thing? Do you think that some tough love is necessary in teaching? Let me hear your thoughts. 🙂

Memahami dan menyiasati les privat

One-on-one session at Bidadari Cliffside Estate, Sawangan, Nusa Dua.

Banyak orang mengetahui jasa les privat bahasa Inggris yang saya tawarkan lewat internet (iklan atas nama pribadi) ataupun via Active English. Mereka yang menelpon rata-rata adalah kaum pekerja atau orang dewasa dengan jadwal pekerjaan atau kegiatan yang padat. Beberapa ada juga orangtua dari kategori yang sama, namun alih-alih ingin “mengkursuskan” dirinya sendiri, mereka ingin mencari guru les untuk anak-anaknya. Saya punya beberapa murid yang telah bersama saya selama jangka waktu yang cukup lama. Antara saya dan mereka (atau orang tua mereka) sepertinya telah terjalin suatu kesepakatan, yang pada akhirnya membuat mereka nyaman dengan proses les privat yang sedang mereka jalani. Mereka memahami esensi dari les privat itu sendiri.

Namun tak jarang, banyak miskonsepsi tentang apa sebenarnya les privat itu dan bagaimana mekanismenya. Memang sepele, tapi seringkali kekurangpahaman inilah yang menyebabkan banyak orang mengurungkan niatnya untuk memulai les privat, atau beberapa di antaranya yang sedang menjalani les privat menemui beberapa kendala yang akhirnya membuat mereka mengakhiri proses belajar yang sebenarnya bisa memberi banyak manfaat bagi mereka hanya jika mereka mengetahui caranya. Ini beberapa alasan umum mengapa kita memilih mengikuti les privat daripada kelas kursus umum dan karakteristik les privat pada umumnya:

1) Jadwal bebas. Sewaktu saya mengajar di lembaga kursus yang menawarkan kelas umum (massal), ada kecenderungan peserta kelas bisnis (Business English Class) yang mempunyai jadwal kerja yang padat untuk bolos atau melewatkan pertemuannya pada saat mereka sibuk dengan pekerjaan. Hal ini sangat disayangkan mengingat datang atau tidak datang, mereka akan tetap membayar penuh kursus yang mereka ikuti. Ditambah lagi, beberapa tempat kursus mengharuskan persentase kehadiran sebagai syarat boleh mengikuti tes akhir untuk mendapatkan sertifikat. Kelas yang terlewatkan juga tidak akan mungkin diganti dengan kelas pengganti (make up class). Sebaliknya, jika orang-orang tadi mengambil les privat, mereka bisa mengatur jadwal sesuai dengan waktu lowong mereka (berbeda dengan kelas umum yang mengambil dari suara terbanyak). Kalaupun ada pembatalan kelas, make up class masih bisa dilakukan.

2) Materi sesuai kebutuhan peserta. Jika peserta menginginkan belajar bahasa Inggris secara umum, adalah aman untuk mengikuti kelas umum di sebuah lembaga kursus. Tapi bagaimana jika mereka menginginkan sesuatu yang spesifik? Katakanlah seorang peserta adalah seorang Front Office Manager di sebuah hotel berbintang yang ingin memperdalam bahasa Inggris yang berhubungan dengan pekerjaannya saja. Di sinilah kelebihan les privat daripada kelas umum. Seorang peserta les privat bisa meminta guru les untuk memberi materi yang spesifik atau hanya yang diminta si peserta saja. Ketelitian peserta dalam memilih guru les juga bisa menjadi kunci sukses les privat yang dia ikuti. Apakah guru les dia memiliki pengalaman mengajar di bidang yang spesifik yang dia butuhkan? Ini tentu akan menjadi nilai tambah yang menguntungkan peserta.

3) Lebih fokus. Kembali ke pengalaman mengajar saya di lembaga kursus, ada suatu kejadian yang waktu itu cukup mengagetkan saya sebagai seorang guru. Suatu kali saat saya mengajar di kelas, seorang murid yang bosan tertangkap sedang menonton video porno di telepon genggamnya. Setelah diselidiki, ternyata murid ini berada di level yang lebih tinggi dari rata-rata murid lain, dan karena itu merasa kelas itu membosankan. Dalam kelas kelompok, adalah kode etik seorang guru untuk menitikberatkan pada murid yang terlemah, karena mereka yang memerlukan lebih banyak bantuan daripada yang terlihat sudah bisa. Jika dalam satu kelas terdapat beberapa murid dengan tingkat level yang tidak seimbang, kelas akan menjadi sedikit “berantakan” dan “korban”nya bukan hanya yang terkuat, tapi juga yang terlemah.

Pengalaman lain selama mengajar privat adalah beberapa orang merasa entah kurang percaya diri atau kesepian, sewaktu mereka mendaftar les privat, mereka merasa ingin ditemani dan lebih baik les berdua dengan temannya. Apakah ini berhasil? Sangat bergantung dari level kedua peserta. Les yang terdiri dari lebih dari satu orang saya sebut “semi-privat”. Jika peserta les semi-privat berada di level yang sama, misal sama-sama Elementary, maka kemungkinan les akan berjalan lancar. Yang menjadi masalah adalah ketika peserta (biasanya dua) dari level yang berbeda. Jelas akan ada ketimpangan. Yang kuat akan menunggu yang lemah sebelum beranjak ke materi berikutnya. Sebagai guru, fokus saya adalah tentu saja membantu yang lemah. Kejadian seperti ini sudah beberapa kali saya alami sendiri.

Maka dari itu ada alasan ketika kita mendaftar kursus di lembaga kursus, kita mengikuti placement test dengan tujuan agar ditempatkan di kelas yang sesuai dengan level kita bersama orang-orang di level yang sama. Jika mengikuti les privat, secara otomatis peserta bisa menghindari masalah “tunggu-tungguan” yang saya jelaskan tadi. Dalam les privat yang hanya terdiri dari satu murid saja, guru akan mengarahkan kelas dengan kecepatan sesuai dengan kemampuan satu orang murid saja. Satu hal lagi, perlu diingat bahwa tujuan dan sasaran les privat berbeda dengan kelas umum. Jadi, mengharapkan kelas akan ramai seperti kelas umum bisa jadi adalah pemikiran yang “keliru”. Dalam les privat, kemungkinan yang terjadi adalah murid yang bercanda dan bersenang-senang dengan guru, bukan sesama murid lain.

4) Hasil lebih optimal. Dengan penjelasan di beberapa poin tadi, sepertinya Anda sudah bisa langsung memahami yang saya maksud. Jika peserta berorientasi pada kemajuan dan peningkatan kemampuan bahasa Inggrisnya secara signifikan, les privat adalah pilihan yang tepat. Peserta tidak akan melewatkan kelas yang sudah dibayarnya dengan sia-sia, hanya akan memfokuskan diri pada hal-hal yang ia butuhkan secara spesifik, dan bisa lebih berkonsentrasi penuh dalam proses belajar. Ketiga hal ini akan secara otomatis menghasilkan hasil belajar yang lebih optimal. Bagi peserta dengan level tinggi, mereka akan bisa belajar dengan kecepatan yang diinginkan. Sementara bagi peserta dengan level lebih rendah, mereka akan dituntun sesuai dengan kecepatan yang mereka butuhkan.

Tak luput dari pandangan saya adalah satu miskonsepsi umum tentang les privat yang perlu diluruskan. Dengan segala “keunggulan” les privat yang disebutkan di atas (yang sayangnya belum diketahui banyak orang), banyak yang mempertanyakan kenapa biaya les privat cenderung lebih mahal daripada kelas biasa. Penjelasannya cukup sederhana. Di kelas biasa, biaya operasional satu kelas ditanggung oleh banyak peserta, katakanlah oleh minimal 6 orang. Sementara dalam les privat, biaya operasional satu kelas ditanggung hanya seorang diri. Cukup masuk akal? Walaupun begitu, saat ini banyak orang atau lembaga yang menawarkan jasa les privat dengan harga beragam yang bisa peserta pilih. Tapi percayalah, dengan les privat, uang yang dikeluarkan sepadan dengan hasilnya.