All posts by jenniferteacher



I know just about everyone has played telephone before, but sometimes you forget about the games you played as child, or don’t think of how familiar games can be repurposed for ESL. Telephone is a fun way to get students to listen carefully and make logical guesses to fill in any gaps.

To play, line your students up in two or more rows (teams) starting from the front and going to the back. The student at the front of each team is given a sentence.

You need to consider the level of the students carefully when choosing your sentence– make sure the lead students can all understand it really easily. It can work well to take something that you’ve been studying from the textbook and adjust it slightly. They whisper the sentence

The lead students whisper the sentence one time to the next student in their line. That student whispers it to the person in front of them, etc. The last person to hear the sentence must correctly state what they have heard. The team with the closest phrase is the winner.

You may need to explicitly forbid students from using their L1. It is usually pretty obvious if someone has translated along the way, because the ending sentence has the same meaning as the original but uses synonyms.

You can either give each group the same sentence or use different ones. I like to take the team leaders into the hall, give each a different sentence and allow them the chance to have it repeated before we begin. Then, the students return together and the game begins.

Keep the teams to about 8-10 students or fewer in order to increase speaking time. Remember that students will only say one sentence each per round. Remind students that even if they didn’t hear the sentence clearly, they need to make their best guess and tell something to the next person instead of nothing.

2 Truths and a Lie

two truths border
When I first started teaching, I had never even heard of two truths and a lie. Crazy, right? Now, it is a staple in my classroom, because it is no prep, requires no materials, and gets students talking and listening.

I either run it as a whole class activity in small classes, or we play in groups of 4-6 in a bigger class. My general rule of thumb is that it takes around 3-4 minutes per student without follow-up questions. However, if you allow 2-3 minutes for students to quiz the speaker for more information, it takes about 6-7 minutes per student.
This is a useful activity not only for practicing the speaking sub-skills of initiating a conversation and responding to something in a questioning/ doubtful way but also for practicing “always/ usually/ sometimes/ never” or “can/ can’t” and “I’ve.” For example, if you allow question time, students will have to say something like, “You can make/play/do _____? I don’t believe you! Tell me _____.”

If you haven’t played it before, it’s an easy game. Students begin by writing three sentences, one of which is false. They read their sentences to their group and the other students guess the false one. Higher level classes can ask three questions, or question the person for a pre-determined amount of time (2-3 minutes) to determine the false one. Each student gets a turn to play. A correct guess gets one point. If no one guesses a student’s lie, that student can get a point, too, if you like. The lower the students’ level, the fewer rules you should have, though.

You can do this as a single activity in one class, or you can also do it over a series of days as a warmer to begin class or a filler at the end. This is a great first-day ice breaker if your students haven’t met before.

Before you have students write their sentences, give them a few examples of good sentences and bad sentences. You may even want to write them on the board. “Good” sentences include ones about hobbies or experiences they have had– information that they can elaborate on in answer to the other students’ questions. “Bad” sentences would be ones that have no other details for students to discover through questioning, such as, “I was born at X Hospital.”

Time each turn to keep the game moving. At the end, you can finish up by asking which students were able to trick their classmates, who was the best at picking the lies, etc.

Five Ways to Use Would You Rather?

5 Ways to use

You may be familiar with Would You Rather? as a silly party game, but it doubles as a super-fun class discussion starter. You can buy ready-made decks, but they aren’t ESL specific. I make my own cards, but you can just make a list of questions or wing it without materials if you can think of choices on the spot.

You can play in class in a few different ways.

Would You Rather...?
Would You Rather…?
  1. Give the class a single prompt and have them discuss their choice with a partner or small group. Then, bring all of the groups together and poll to see the most popular response.
  2. Give each student a different prompt and have students mingle, taking turns discussing their prompt with several different partners. Give each pair 1-2 minutes to discuss before having them find new partners. Since you can easily vary the length of the activity, this is a good activity if you unexpectedly have time. For example, if students get back early from a field trip, or finish testing early.
  3. Have students create their own prompts to discuss.
  4. Have students work in pairs or teams and alternate defending their opposing choices, debate-style. They should respond to their counterpart’s arguments as well as provide additional reasons for their choice.
  5. Combine Would You Rather? with a lesson on conditionals. Have students imagine their choice were real: “If I had horns, I would. . .” Have them discuss with a partner or small group or write a  paragraph about it.

Would You Rather? always goes down well, and the grosser the prompt, the more likely my too-cool-for-school boys are to get involved in the conversation. (Think: Would you rather drink your own urine or a stranger’s vomit?)

If you play Would You Rather?, what are some prompts you use?

Using Task Cards for Small Group or Pair Work

Irregular Verbs Simple Past Task Cards 1-6
Irregular Verbs Simple Past Task Cards 1-6


Task cards are one of the most versatile group activities you can do. The beauty of them is that you can reuse them over and over for different activities.

Here are just a few ways I like to use them with small groups. Give each table, group, or pair a deck of task cards, and:

  1. Have students draw cards and quiz one another.
  2. Have students work together to complete them cooperatively.
  3. Use them as draw cards for a game board– land on a square, answer a task card.
  4. Create different “stations” around the class, so each table is completing a different set of task cards. Give a time limit (about 5-10 minutes, depending on the number of cards and difficulty, etc.), then have students rotate. This is a great activity for an end-of-unit/ book/ semester review before a comprehensive test, or if you only have one deck, but you want to work in small groups.

Task cards are excellent for multi-level classes. Group students according to their level, and give them different decks of task cards. For example, lower level students can complete multiple choice tasks while higher level students fill in the blanks.

If you have a group of students far above or below the rest of the class, they can work on something completely different, but more appropriate to their level. I’ve had classes with returnees mixed with phonics students and task cards gave me the chance to attend to both groups’ needs. It’s also great for keeping everyone engaged while you go from group to group.

Task Cards for Individual Work

Christmas Part of Speech Review Task Cards 1-4
Christmas Part of Speech Review Task Cards 1-4

Task cards get used in group work most often in my class, but they are perfectly suited to individual use. You can always direct early finishers to a set of task cards to work on. Just keep your collection sorted by grade or book, and let your students know to choose a deck from their area and just get to work. Your more advanced students can self-study with higher level cards. At the other end of the spectrum, lower level students can get remedial practice. If you keep the file of answer sheets handy, they will always know what they have already done.

If your school wants students to get to work as soon as they walk in the classroom, you can use task cards as a bell ringer activity. Either choose a random card and write the task on the white board or have each student draw a card from the deck as they enter the room. The task can be anything from a writing prompt for a quick write to a card (or cards) related to the previous lesson as a review.

Task Cards in the ESL Classroom

ABC Task Cards 1-6
ABC Task Cards 1-6

You may be asking, “What are task cards?” and the simple answer is they are cards with tasks (activities or questions) on them. Typically, a card will have a single task for the student to complete. For example, complete a sentence, circle a noun, respond to a journal prompt, or pretty much anything else you might create a worksheet to practice. In fact, task cards are a great reusable replacement for worksheets.

Since worksheets require wide line spacing to give students room to write, the number of items which can fit on a page is limited. You are left choosing between less practice or more pages. However, with task cards, you simply create a larger deck to provide more practice. With only one item per card, students are less likely to feel overwhelmed by the total amount of work they will be doing. And think of all the trees you’ll save.

Students can work on a single card, a few cards, or an entire deck, depending on the time you have and the specifics of the lesson. Whether you have an extra few minutes at the end of a lesson or an activity took half the expected time, you can grab some task cards and keep your class working productively. The same deck of cards can be used over and over, in different ways, to recycle material.

WordPress for Luddites


Stupidity has a knack of getting in its way.
Stupid is as stupid does.

I’ve wanted to build a website for years. Years. Unfortunately, my tech skills lag far behind my ambitions. So much so, that I bought a domain and webhosting three years ago, but never built the site. I paid $750 for a video course to walk me through the process, but ended up feeling more overwhelmed once I realized just how much I didn’t know.

So, for three years, I’ve had the goal of creating a website and the knowledge that I’d wasted right about $1000 dollars (the course, web hosting, and a premium theme) hanging over me. A few weeks ago, an opportunity arose on Facebook to test pilot a WordPress video course for free! With a deadline! Free is my favorite price and a deadline is necessary to defeat my inner procrastinator.

With about 8 hours to spare, I finished my website. The theme subscription I paid top dollar for had lapsed, but I was able to build my website a full two months before the hosting subscription ends. Did I mention it was dead easy? It was. It could be that the creator of the course I took was able to put things into bite-sized pieces without fluff to distract (bore) me, or it could be that the other course wanted to make things complicated in order to justify her price.

In any case, I have a website. This one! It’s clearly still a work in progress, but at least it exists now. As I always tell my students, you can’t improve something that doesn’t yet exist, so get it on paper, then make it better.


Walking the wall around Girona.
Walking the wall around Girona.

Father’s Day saw us in Teesside putting out 101 fires for the family whilst we were supposed to be packing for Spain. Eventually, we got everything sorted convinced everyone they would survive a few days without us, and we made our way to Newcastle Airport.

When we last stayed overnight at the airport, it was the Doubletree, which was incredibly disappointing, because they were out of cookies when we arrived and the next delivery (What?! For those prices, one can reasonably expect fresh-baked.) was after we checked out. This time, we stayed at the much less posh Britannia. With lower prices come lower expectations, but we really weren’t expecting a bunk bed to be jammed up against our bed, creating a prison vibe with its safety bars. I’m all for making the most of a small space, but I also like to walk around a room, rather than sidle around or climb over furniture.

On our way in, we had seen the restaurant roped off section of the lobby, and decided to take our chances at the gas station. A wise choice, I suspect. Also, I got to hear the guy in front of me ask for jah-la-pee-nos on his sub. It’s the little things in life.

We had a 6:30AM flight. Fortunately, Newcastle Airport is much easier to deal with than Manchester, and Jet2 had sufficient staff working to keep everything moving smoothly. When we arrived in Spain, it was even better—there was no passport control or customs, just baggage claim and out the door. EU FTW!

Inside Girona Cathedral
Inside Girona Cathedral
Girona Cathedral
Girona Cathedral

Craig had made detailed plans, as usual, for maximum enjoyment of our time. However, he made one small error. He thought Girona was a five-hour drive from Malaga airport, but it was actually more like seven hours. It’s a nice drive, so I didn’t mind, but I did feel bad for him, since we couldn’t share the driving.

We had booked an apartment in Montjuic with a terrace, but when we arrived, we were put on the ground floor, and our apartment was missing some things. So, we were moved (to another ground floor apartment) and over the next twelve hours, he brought us a fridge (with someone’s Coke still in it) and a washing machine (still wet from use). The guy was very friendly, and when we would go out in the morning, he would already be at work and he’d still be at it when we got home each evening, but the apartments really weren’t ready to be let out.

Fortunately, we didn’t go to Girona for the apartment. We went there for a soccer final. Which was sold out. We drove to the stadium early on the day to get tickets and when we found someone who looked like they could direct us to the ticket office, he just started laughing.

On to Plan B: hiking. We drove to Montseny Natural Park and hiked a bit of the GR 5. It was poorly marked in parts, and we got lost and ended up walking along the road to get back to the car.

With a map like this, how could we get lost?
With a map like this, how could we get lost?
With right way/ wrong way signs, how could we get lost?
With right way/ wrong way signs, how could we get lost?
Eek! A snake!
Eek! A snake!
Smiling through the pain.
Smiling through the pain.

The next day, we drove to Baza where we stayed in a cave. It was in a “neighborhood” of natural caves, but this one was clearly purpose built. Fine by me. We had a wood-burning stove inside and a built-in grill outside, so we grilled every evening and then had a fire inside.

This cave isn't ready for guests yet.
This cave isn’t ready for guests yet.
The cave hotel came with a dog.
The cave hotel came with a dog.

I would have been perfectly happy to laze around the cave. It was cool inside, and there were chairs to lounge in around the pool. The owners had a very friendly Alsatian who had a rock game he like to play: I would kick the rock and he would chase it. If I took too long, he would pick it up and drop it at my feet. He also made it clear that it was a kicking game, not a throwing game. I kind of wanted to take him home with us.

The dog teaching me to play his rock game.
The dog teaching me to play his rock game.

Lazing around isn’t on Craig’s to do list. So, we drove to Granada for a second division soccer match. We were able to find the stadium with the help of our phones (thanks Blue Dot!). The club shop sold us two tickets for €10 each. We later read in the paper that there was a two-for-one offer. 😛

Since we were in Granada, there was only one way to while away the afternoon until match time: tapas. We wandered from pub to pub having a Diet Coke at each. Apparently, in these times of austerity, that doesn’t rate a free tapa. Only two of the four pubs gave us a snack. They were delicious and filled us (me) up, so I shouldn’t complain. One was a pork loin open-faced sandwich and the other was chicken fried whole baby squid. Sounds yuck, tastes yum.

On our final full day in Spain, we drove to the nearby Baza National Park for a short hike. When we arrived, the information center was closed, so we found a circular path, and set off.

It was an easy walk and the path, leading to a lookout point, was well marked. However, it was very sunny and too hot for Craig, so despite only walking 4-5km, we didn’t look for another path when we got back to the starting point.

Instead, we drove 14km into Baza and just wandered around town (after a refreshing Diet Coke with extra ice). The buildings in the old town are lovely. As a bonus, the town’s small size pretty well insured we couldn’t get too lost. Unfortunately, all the shops close from 2-5PM, and we arrived at 1:45. So, after we strolled around for a while, we headed back to the caves and grilled up some lamb for dinner. A relaxing end to a relaxing week.

BSP From the Sea to the Land Beyond

This is Peveril Castle. All of it. And you have to climb a massive hill to get there.
This is Peveril Castle. All of it. And you have to climb a massive hill to get there.

Three nights out could normally tide us over for months, but fate conspired to keep us out late three nights in a row, in three different cities. After two nights of Ian Hunter, it was time for something a little more low key: British Sea Power.

They were performing a live soundtrack to the documentary From the Sea to the Land Beyond at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. From Craig’s description, it would be instrumental versions of older songs with beach scenery playing onscreen.

That is what it was, but it was really good. The director (editor?) went through decades of archive footage and pieced together a cohesive film showing everything from kids playing at the beach to WWII training. The live music complemented the swooping/ soaring visuals nicely. And of course, there were plenty of clips which would be good conversation starters in class. I’ll just keep that in my back pocket for… someday.

On the way, we stopped for a quick look at Peveril Castle overlooking Castleton (and pretty much the rest of the Peak District). It wasn’t much, as castles go, but has a lovely view. There is also far more information about the history of the castle and its former inhabitants than a lot of the castles we’ve visited.

On a clear day...
On a clear day…

On this particular afternoon, we were stopped by some geography students. I thought I was being very helpful, giving detailed, considered answers. Craig told me I was holding them up and then pointed out groups of kids here and there copying each other’s forms. Live and learn.


Back-to-Back Ian Hunter

Ian Hunter Leamington Spa 14 June 2013
Ian Hunter Leamington Spa 14 June 2013

Ian Hunter is getting on, so any show could be his last, really. With that in mind, we did something that seemed a bit more in keeping with being a Belieber or Directioner (yes, I can thank my teaching career for knowing those terms, and who they are referring to)– we went to back-to-back Ian Hunter shows, despite them being in two totally different places. 

He was getting ready for the Isle of Wight Festival, which may have a more inspired name, but I can’t be bothered to Google it. I can tell you that you have to take a ferry to get there, and sometimes the weather is terrible, even by English standards. I wasn’t too interested in that, but a couple of days in scenic towns seemed alright, so off we went.

First stop: Holmfirth, best known as the setting of Last of the Summer Wine, which Craig assures me was good in the early years. I’ll take his word for it, as it really hasn’t stood the test of time. We stayed at a little pub on the side of a stream, which despite being as least as picturesque as that sounds, we managed to not take any photos. 

No old men sliding down the hill in washtubs, but still pretty good.
No old men sliding down the hills in washtubs, but still pretty good.

As we walked to the town center for the show, we took about fifty photos of the landscape and the horses which seemed to be the pet of choice in the area. That, or the farmers had tiny farms with one horse each.

We arrived early enough to claim center balcony seats with no one in front of us. Billy Bragg likes to joke that no one goes to hear him sing. Ian Hunter could give him a run for his money in that regard, but it was a good show. He played all his hits (or at least all the songs that I knew) and no crap. Morrissey, are you listening?

Ian Hunter Holmfirth 13 June 2013
Ian Hunter Holmfirth 13 June 2013

The next morning, we were actually in pretty good condition, and decided to hike from Magdale to Deer Hill Reservoir. In our usual way, we started off by walking two miles in the wrong direction. Sorted out by the magical iPhone blue dot, we managed to walk three miles in the correct direction before it started raining. Plan B: have a snack in Sid’s Cafe and catch a bus back to our car. 

Where's Ivy?
Where’s Ivy?

Plan B successfully accomplished, we hit the road for Leamington Spa and Ian Hunter. We got to the show early, but not early enough to grab one of the few tables, but we managed to sit in the VIP section. Eventually, everyone who didn’t have a pass got kicked out except for us. There were only a handful of “VIPs”, and we were off to the side, and they left us alone. I guess Craig looks like he could be a VIP…

The show was good, but since it was for all intents and purposes a rehearsal, it was largely the same as the previous night’s setlist. Fortunately, it was a good setlist. As seems to be par for the course, he didn’t include the song I wanted to hear. Once again, he singed off with All the Young Dudes and Goodnight, Irene and we were off to bed with an early start for Sheffield (City on the Move!) planned.