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 Bio.com’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. 🙂

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Practicing Past Simple Tense with Ladder Race (Game) and Story Writing

Just like my other blogposts under the tag teaching ideas, in this blogpost I am sharing activities that I used in my class for other English teachers to use and be inspired from. If you are reading this and interested in applying the activities described here, you are free to do so with customization and other changes based on your own needs.

There are two activities that I did described in this blogpost to practice Past Simple Tense. Please note that material presentation for Past Simple Tense had already been done before conducting these activities.

1. Ladder Race (game)

Perhaps you’ve heard about this game before, perhaps you haven’t. I tried to find a blog or website that gives description about the game but there was none. So let me explain it in case you don’t know.

Illustration of Ladder Race (game)

Illustration of Ladder Race (game)

  1. What you need: a board (white or black).
  2. Divide the class into 2 groups, let’s say Group A and Group B.
  3. Draw a ladder-like table like shown in the image above, together with numbers, 1 to 10, from bottom to top. The numbers represent the words each group has to race to write on the board.
  4. Start the game by writing the first word based on the category you play. In this case our focus was practicing Past Simple Tense, so the category was Verb 2 or Past Simple of the verb.
  5. Members from each group have to continue writing the second, third, fourth, etc. word by using the last letter from the previous word. For example, the first word is MET, so the next team member has to write a word that begins with the letter “T”. In the image, Group A wrote TOOK, Group B wrote TOLD.
  6. Both groups can’t use the same words. Group discussion is allowed. The first group to finish completing the ladder (1-10) wins.

2. Story Writing

The story writing is still done in groups. Each group, within a limited time frame, has to create a short story with all the 10 words that they have gathered in the first activity, the Ladder Race game. The story has to make sense and each group can decide the theme and topic to whatever they feel suitable with the vocabulary they have.

However, words that have been written by the groups are swapped before they begin the story writing. For example, words that are written by Group A will be given to Group B, vice versa. So each group must use words from the opponent team. Here’s a short story made by my students (Group B) using words from Group A. I found the story quite interesting and funny. They have surely done a good job.

Students' work in story writing using the Past Simple

Students’ work in story writing using the Past Simple

I hope this blogpost is useful. Leave your comment, like, or share. 🙂

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

7 reasons why you and your students will love LyricsTraining

Have you tried LyricsTraining? I have and I loved it. And so my students.

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A small group of students played LyricsTraining (we used TV as the screen)

I bet many of us (English teachers) have tried this method (and your students once in a while would ask you to do that too): teach English through (English) songs by asking them to listen to a song and fill in the gaps of the song’s lyrics. Most of the time we prepared the song, lyrics, and worksheet by ourselves (yep, browsed, copy-pasted, edited, and printed it). With LyricsTraining, you do not need to do all that. Just prepare your computer and internet, and you’re ready to go.

Here’s 7 reasons why you and your students will love LyricsTraining:

  1. The website provides the latest songs and lyrics, things your students (or maybe yourself if you love (pop) music!) would love. You can search for your (or your students’) favorite songs, singers, bands, or lyrics in the Search box on top of the site.
  2. Songs and lyrics are categorized into 3 levels of difficulty: Easy, Medium, Hard. It makes it easier for students to choose what level they want to play. I guess lyrics levels are made based on the song tempo and vocabulary in the lyrics. The faster the tempo and the more advanced the vocabulary, the higher the level is.
  3. Aside from point 2, there are also 3 game modes you can choose for each song: Beginner, Intermediate, Expert. In Beginner mode, players only need to fill in 10% of the blanks, while in Intermediate they have to fill in 25% of the blanks. Expert mode means players have to fill in all the lyrics by themselves (no clues given).
  4. Just like karaoke, scores are provided at the end of the game. How do we get high scores? Type as fast as you can and choose the highest level and mode! This feature is great if you want to make students compete against each other.
  5. Here’s another interesting feature of this site. If you stop and can’t listen to the lyrics, the lyrics bar (the green highlight with arrows pointing down) will also stop and wait for you!
  6. Also, if you’re stuck and want to give up, you can choose to skip a word by pressing the Tab button on your keyboard. For more shortcuts you can click ‘Help’ at the bottom right of the video.
  7. Don’t feel like typing the lyrics? Go for a karaoke instead! Choose ‘Karaoke’ when you open a video and you can watch it with its full lyrics. You and your students can sing the song together.

Skills practiced and tips for maximizing LyricsTraining:

  1. Students can practice listening in a more challenging way.
  2. They can also practice (or test?) their vocabulary.
  3. Besides listening and vocabulary, we can also use LyricsTraining to teach grammar, idiomatic expressions, and slang. Before we play a song, it’s much better to prepare points students are about to practice in the song, choose the right song to do that, and prepare a follow-up activity afterwards. It gives them a sense of purpose and the practice will be more efficient and systematic.
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P!nk’s Raise Your Glass – as innocent as the song might be, it does contain some ‘bad’ words you don’t want your students to pick up

Some cautions!

However, though, I have some concerns and teachers need to be cautious before using LyricsTraining in their class, especially because of these reasons:

  1. Be very careful in choosing songs. Many of them use inappropriate language that might not be suitable for younger learners (or in fact, all learners). Other issue is although the lyrics might not be blatantly inappropriate, some (or many?) contain sexual implication.
  2. Even if the lyrics are fine, you still need to check the music videos, especially if they contain sexual imagery and nudity.

Well, I hope this post is useful. Ready to sing along? Happy playing!

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Finally, my first Prezi!

I am currently teaching a 4 month course of business English at a travel company and have this idea of asking my students to present English tenses and other grammar points in front of the class, instead of having me doing that (a little bit tricky? No. I believe many have done that, and the idea of flipped classroom that has been a hype lately has inspired me in doing this).

But first, before I ask them to prepare their own presentations, I have to make one myself as an example (only as an example – sometimes it’s difficult to ask students [especially Indonesians] to make or create something without an example. So before they ask me to give an example and I come unprepared, I’m making one for them now). Since the topic of their first presentation session is tenses, I will have to start with the first tense: the Present Simple Tense. Here it is the Prezi I made, a very simple presentation and you can make ones that are more complicated.

If you’re having trouble viewing this presentation, you can also view it on Prezi site here The Present Simple Tense.

My impressions on Prezi:

  1. It’s fun.
  2. Very easy to make.
  3. Very visual and attractive – think about increasing your students’ attention span.
  4. Very simple and clean.
  5. Although it needs internet connection, it doesn’t really require large bandwidth to view.
  6. Downloading portable Prezi is not recommendable as it takes years (not literally) – applies in Indonesia with regular modem-based internet access only.

I’m assuming that many people (read: my business English students) haven’t tried Prezi, so there are 2 main tasks that I will have to do. The first would be to guide my students’ presentations on tenses. The second would be to guide them on using Prezi.

If you’re interested in using Prezi and haven’t tried it yet, feel free to sign up here Prezi Sign Up.

Using text message (sms) as homework assignment in an ESP class

Maximizing potential with minimum resource.

Around two months ago I had my first meeting for an English for Specific Purpose (ESP) class that was specifically made for cashiers and shop attendants at a supermarket in Kuta, Badung. This surely wasn’t my first ESP class. That’s why I was partly worried that I would make the same mistake I did before with my other classes. I’ve been teaching English for the past five years and ESP has been one of the most frequent types of class I teach. Before deciding in using text message as homework assignment, I’d like to share my initial thoughts on previous mistakes I made:

My ESP students are of course mostly adults with very little (if not zero) exposure to English. Part of the problem why employers send them to an English class is because of this lack of exposure, but at the same time being enrolled in the class does not solve the problem. Why? Because they are engaged with English ONLY when they are in the classroom, in which only three times a week, 90 minutes for each meeting – that, if they’re lucky. Most of the time they prefer working than being in my English class thus making it to the 90 minutes a week can be considered an achievement.

Since I’m a believer (not Belieber, mind you) in the notion that language is acquired, not learned, then if I continued this practice (to have students only learn while they are in the classroom) I would contradict my own belief. I thought I had to find a way where students can at least be aware that unless they take control over their own learning and be actively involved in it, they can achieve the expected outcome. Thus: homework, something that reminds them of the English class they are taking, at home. However, the problem with traditional homework is that oftentimes it is boring and time consuming.

My original plan was: to ‘move’ the class to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, after a very short survey, I found out that none of them were active users of both (only one is familiar with Facebook, but not an active user). It was my failure to realize that students’ social and economic background also plays an important role to this condition. Having this fact, I quickly figured out an alternative: text message, since all of them have mobile phones (these days no doubt it is more like a necessity than luxury).

So here’s how I did my text message homework assignment, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Skills practiced through the assignment:

  1. Writing,
  2. Spelling and grammar/ accuracy,
  3. Vocabulary,
  4. Familiarity with common English expressions.

When it was done:

The homework was given on the second meeting (on Friday), coinciding with the beginning of the end of the week. I thought this would be a good reminder of the English class, at home, during the weekend. Students were free to choose to send the text message either on Saturday or Sunday. The task was checked and discussed in the next meeting, at the beginning of the next week (on Monday).

What the students were asked to do:

They were asked to send a simple text message to me (their teacher), saying “selamat berakhir pekan” (weekend greetings). I did not elicit how to say it in English nor what should they say. I only wrote the Indonesian phrase above on the board. My purpose was to let them initiate their own thoughts. They were free, tho, to ask their friends, relatives, or anyone, or find help in books or on the internet.

What the results were:

Out of total 11 students, 10 did their homework: 7 sent it to me on Saturday, 3 on Sunday. Here are the texts (with no editing):

  1. “happy lastweek mrs mino…. from ngurah”
  2. “Good Afternoon, Miss NENO. Happy last weekend for today. From KADEK SRI PURNAMA”
  3. “good afternoon ms. neno,,, it’s my homework, happy weekend ms. neno. thank’s before. from: sriwasih”
  4. “Happy weekend” [Mrs. Budani]
  5. “Hai,, good evening mrs neno, happy weekend,have a nice holiday for tomorrow.. thanks for teach me, you^re awesome, thanks so much, yulia purnamasari”
  6. “Have a nice weekend,to mrs neno,from suli.See you”
  7.  ”She you weken ms.Neno” [Tri]
  8. “happy weekend miss neno.” [Erna]
  9. “Morning miss neno. . . Happy niCe weekend. . .” [Selvi]
  10. “good morning Ms NENO,this nengah adi,have a nice weekend”

What I did in the next meeting:

The text message assignment was a good instrument to introduce them to these topics:

  1. Greetings,
  2. Titles and how to address people,
  3. How to actually say “selamat berakhir pekan” in English and other related expressions,
  4. Farewell,
  5. The correct spelling and pronunciation of all the above.

These five were the main topics, but I also touched a little on capitalization and punctuation (but didn’t over-emphasize them, since I realized their focus was more on the communicative function of the language). All the above points are useful for their everyday speaking practice at work, with both customers and coworkers. Teaching materials they can relate to is important in an ESP and/ or adult class. Please note that during the discussion of their homework, I wasn’t being judgmental in any way in order to show them they were allowed to make mistakes and obliged to learn from them.

What I learned from this activity:

This is definitely one of my favorite activities that I will continue using and modifying for my future classes. Like any other class activity, it has some advantages and disadvantages. I will start with the disadvantages.

The shortfalls:

  1. Skills practiced were limited to only writing and grammar,
  2. Text message character limit (up to only 160 characters) limited students to do longer task,
  3. Teachers should have lots of ideas for topic (repetition can lead to boredom).

The positive sides:

  1. It was a good tool to measure students’ basic knowledge,
  2. The task could fill the gap between the class and their everyday life – that learning does not take place only in the classroom,
  3. It was a good way to introduce topics that were presented in the next meeting,
  4. The task was time efficient, considerably cheap, and fun.

I could say that this assignment was a part of my experiment in making my class more engaging and effective. I would be very happy to receive any comment or input on any aspect of this experiment from you. Thank you and I hope you can find it useful.

Photo credit: mobighar.com.