10 beginning and ending emails classroom photocopiables

New page on the most important part of emailing in English, and the point I probably spend most classroom time on, now I’ve realised how pointless (if fun) it is to spend much class time on First Conditional and Past Continuous games:

Opening and closing emails materials page

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A great warmer for managers who have to cover classes

This is based on an activity which managers in a chain of school that I work for love passing onto teachers in teacher training workshops. In order to repay the favour, I’ve adapted it to be more suitable for said Directors of Studies when they have to rush out to cover a teacher who is “sick” (or even a “teacher” who is “sick”).

The manager writes the ten statements below on the board and the students guess which are true, preferably after asking questions to get more details of each thing (during which time the DoS should continue lying if it is one of the untrue ones). The ten statements to write up are:

  1. I don’t believe your teacher is really sick
  2. I’m going to interrogate you later to try and confirm my suspicions that your teacher is an alcoholic
  3. I’m going to make your teacher suffer for making me cover this lesson
  4. I’m going to make him/ her suffer even more for not telling me how bad your English is before I prepared this class
  5. I’ve come to despise all English teachers since I’ve had to manage them
  6. What makes me hate them more is that I wanted to carry on teaching myself but my wife made me apply to be a manager
  7. I applied to be a manager because I hated teaching
  8. I applied to be a manager because I was such a terrible teacher
  9. Actually I wanted to be a poet but my poetry blog has got me nothing but abusive comments
  10. I’m sure one of the abusive commenters is your teacher

Come to think of it, at least 7 of those might be true for most people who try this game, so might need a little tweaking. Any other ideas?

Inspired (?) by a conversation with Tokyo Fox. More sensible bluffing games here and more TEFL silliness here.

Posted in Teaching English as a Foreign Language | Tagged | Leave a comment

31 EFL bluffing/ lying games (TEFLtastic Classics Part 23)


Q&A Lying games

Photocopiable worksheets

Present Simple cultural customs bluffing game

Relative clauses slang call my bluff

Job interviews Have you ever bluffing game

Past Continuous bluffing card game

Present Perfect Continuous say yes bluff

Past Simple Liar game

Regret dice bluffing game (Unreal Past with I wish and If only)

Meeting people and describing your company bluffing game

Xmas traditions passives bluff

Real or pretend functions review bluffing game

Free time sentence completion bluff

Modals personalised sentence completion bluffing game

Past Continuous and Used to bluff

Next weekend bluff

Rules and regulations bluff

Anecdotes bluff

Academic Word List call my bluff

Helping people past tenses bluff

Proverbs call my bluff

Money idioms call my bluff

Weekends and the news extended speaking bluff

Lying game and discussion on lying

Fresher week academic vocabulary bluff game

Describing Xmas foods bluff game

Headlines vocabulary sharing personal experiences bluffing game

Economics vocabulary sharing personal experiences bluffing game

Social Science vocabulary sharing personal experiences bluffing game

Types of news needs analysis and sharing personal experiences bluffing game

And many more to come.

Posted in Teaching English as a Foreign Language | Tagged | 1 Comment

New EFL negotiating games article and worksheets page

21 ideas in the article and 15 worksheets, including one I really should mention in my TEFLtastic classics series of posts where students can win a negotiation by accepting the easy jobs and fobbing off the longer one on their partner:

Negotiating games/ worksheets page

New worksheet up on their today, and should be another five or six soon.

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“The data is” or “The data are”?

I got asked this question twice in the same week as I heard both the British presenter and Australian guest on the fab statistics podcast More or Less agree with my prefered form just as I was beginning to doubt myself on it. Like with IELTS Writing Part One conclusions, after having researched it a bit to find out, I have both a strong opinion and an open mind about this controversial question.

First of all, it cannot be denied that “data” comes from the plural of the word “datum”, meaning “data” was historically plural. Therefore if you are perhaps a computer engineer who still uses the word “datum”, then you maybe have my special permission to say or write “The data are” if you really must. However if for you, like for the rest of us, “datum” is basically a disappeared word, “data” is uncountable, making “The data is” the only sensible form.

Here are some other reasons why:

- Nobody says or writes “three data”, meaning it has become uncountable

- “Information” is uncountable in English, so it kind of makes sense for “data” to be too

- Like most uncountable nouns, you can add “a piece of” to make the countable expression “a piece of data”

- Like many uncountable nouns, there are countable equivalents if you really want to add a number or “a”, making the relationship between “The data is” and “The statistics/ figures/ numbers are” the same as that between the uncountable “My advice is” and “My recommendations are”

If you Google this question, you’ll find that Wall Street Journal and The Economist basically agree with me while the APA style guide is just as confident about it but in the opposite way.

Posted in countable and uncountable nouns | 1 Comment

Does IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 need a conclusion?

Opinions on this vary a lot. I have a quite strong and clear point of view on it, but not being an IELTS examiner I still have enough doubt about it that I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts.

First of all, IELTS Academic Writing Task 1  must not finish with an actual “conclusion“. A conclusion is something meaning “therefore” leading logically on from the evidence given in the body of an essay such as choosing the better of two options, but in IELTS Academic Writing Part One you should only select, summarise and compare. No opinions or speculation are acceptable in Task 1 (unlike Task 2), so there can not be any kind of conclusion.

If there is a final paragraph after the body, that would have to be a summary. As that is often what students mean when they ask if a conclusion is needed, the question then becomes “Is a final summary paragraph needed?” This is where opinions are split, but my personal position is a clear “No – introduction, two main paragraphs, then just stop”. Here are my main reasons why:

- The whole essay is supposed to be selecting and summarising. If you have done that successfully in the introduction and body, it doesn’t make much sense to end with the summary of a summary.

- If you’re going to briefly summarise the overall trends etc, it makes much more sense to do that as a single sentence in the introduction (as would usually be the case in real academic writing).

- The closest thing to this kind of writing in real academic writing is a description in a (much) longer essay under a graph or similar, in which case the next paragraph would be the kind of interpretation that you must avoid in this IELTS task. Students should therefore think of it as part of a much longer essay and just stop.

- A good summary should give the same information as the body (not new information) in different words and in a way that makes reading it worthwhile. This is almost impossible to do well, especially as students will have already been trying to avoid repeating words from the task and from earlier in their essay in the introduction and body.

- A tip that really helps with IELTS Writing generally is to avoid one-sentence paragraphs.  It’s almost impossible to write a two- or three-sentence final summary paragraph in Task 1.

- The time and words used to write a summary are almost always better used on the introduction and body.

- Fewer than 5% of student attempts to write a final paragraph after body that I receive are acceptable. All the rest would lead to a lower mark than avoiding one would have.

Here are some other views on the topic from two of the few IELTS sites I would recommend:

IELTS Writing Task 1: overview not conclusion on ielts-simon.com

Academic Task 1 – conclusions on dc-ielts

And your views are?

Posted in IELTS Writing | 3 Comments

How to remember the spelling of definitely

A student recently refused to believe me when I corrected his spelling of “definately” and then he had a minor breakdown when his iPhone confirmed that he’d been spelling it wrongly for the last five years or so. He didn’t seem convinced either by the method that I use to remember the spelling, which is to sound it out as “de fin ite ly”, pronouncing the problem syllable as “ait”, to rhyme with “fight”. I then suddenly realised that it starts the same way as the much easier to remember word “definition”, which seemed to be an “aha” moment to the last few doubters/ panickers. We’ll see in their next IELTS essays if it actually worked…

Posted in Typical spelling mistakes | 5 Comments

TEFL in the news August 2014

Most recent stories top:

Dope smoking TEFLers arrested in Korea (Korea Times)

17 years TEFLing in Taiwan – what the hell do I do now? (Guardian)

Malawi adopts English medium schooling (Al Jazeera)

VSO/ British Council to send first foreign teacher trainers to Myanmar (VSO website)

Demos say 700,000 affected by cuts to ESOL funding in UK (Huffington Post)

Posted in Teaching English as a Foreign Language | Tagged | Leave a comment

Getting students to use more complex functional language

An expanded version of an article of mine just published in English Teaching Professional magazine as Keep Moving On Part One – available here on TEFLtastic for free!

One of the best language learning tips that I have used and passed on is to stop using something as soon as you know how to do so well, and move onto something else. For example, as soon as you can use the equivalent of “In my opinion” or “Can I have…?” in the language that you are studying, you should push yourself to try out “In my honest opinion” or “Is there a… that I can have?”, until you are also comfortable with that new form and so ready to move on again. This should work as well for functional language like those two examples as it does for grammar and vocabulary, but for some reason many students seem to really get stuck on forms like “I think…” and “I don’t like…” however well other parts of their language progress. The same issue also exists in lessons on functional language, with students slipping back into the basic “I think you should…” and “Why don’t you…?” phrases that they already knew before the class the minute that their attention drifts from the language to completing the final task – something that gets even worse when they are trying to win a communication game.

You could think of this issue as a rational subconscious response by students to language that seems to do something that they already can do and so has little communicative use for them. This can perhaps be seen as similar to the way grammar points with little communicative function like third person S tend to be late acquired. One response to the issue of students getting stuck on the same old basic functional language forms is therefore to give them more complex language that does actually serve a different function. For example, you could teach the difference between asking for permission and requests rather than just giving more and more requests forms, or in a lesson on saying sorry include phrases which are not actually apologising like “I’m sorry to hear about your trouble”. This is also a justification for teaching different levels of formality, especially if you emphasize the chance of actual misunderstanding if you say “Sit down, will you?” to your boss or “I was wondering if you could speak a little more quietly” to your best friend. You will then need to set up communicative situations such as roleplays in which those nuances in meaning or formality are important.

That emphasize on more complex language that also serves different functions is probably the best response of all to the problem of students not progressing beyond basic functional language. Other possible responses include:

- Emphasise that English speakers don’t like repeating, meaning that you can’t say “Nice to meet you” to everyone you meet or sign off absolutely all your emails with “Best regards”, instead often needing some variety of forms even for exactly the same function and level of formality

- Point out that a basic phrase that they keep using is fine, but a bit Elementary for a class of this level

- Ask them to choose a certain number, e.g. five, phrases that are new to them and they are going to try to use (inside and/ or outside class)

- Ban basic phrases like “In my opinion,…” from the classroom or from a particular activity

- Show them easy ways to extend the language that they use, e.g. adding “really” to make “I really think…” and “I don’t really agree”

- Do lots of controlled practice of the new phrases before any freer practice, including trying again after they have had time to absorb the language, e.g. next week after some homework on the phrases

- Demand complex phrases in classroom communication from the very first lesson, e.g. only allowing “Could you…?” in classroom requests like “…write it on the board, please?”

- Tests in which students get bonus points for higher-level language

The simplest way of getting students to think about more complex functional language from the presentation stage is to get them to make phrases longer, e.g. adding words to make “I think” and “In my opinion” longer, starting with their own ideas. They can then be given the suggested words “honest”, “humble”, “really” and “’m not sure but” to add to the right phrases. You can also do this the other way round, giving them the key words first and getting them to add them to any phrases that they already know.

A version of this which is more difficult to set up but works well is the teacher finding at least ten phrases which can have bits added to the middle such as “Could (possibly) lend me your dictionary?” Put these phrases into a three-column table in a wordprocessing program such as Word with the removable bits in the middle column, then photocopy and cut them up into cards. Students are given just the left and right column cards to match up the basic phrases (e.g. “I’d be” with “grateful if you could help me with this.”), then are given the middle words (e.g. “very/ extremely”) to try to add. An example of this game for requests phrases like these is newly available here http://tefltastic.wordpress.com/worksheets/functions/requests-offers/longer-requests-game/ and there are more examples and further explanation of this game here http://tefltastic.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/longer-phrases-games/.

These slips of paper can also be used in the practice stage, with the cards dealt out and students trying to use phrases with those words in them during a speaking activity in order to be able to discard the cards. The person who has the fewest cards at the end of the game is the winner.

Exactly the same game can also be played with just the key words which you want them to practise on the slips of paper, e.g. cards with “accept”, “afraid”, “apologies”, “apologise”, “excuse”, “fault”, “forgive”, “regret” and “sorry” on for giving bad news. There is a new version of this game here http://tefltastic.wordpress.com/worksheets/functions/apologies/apologies-key-words-game/ and a further explanation with more photocopiable versions here http://tefltastic.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/key-words-games/.

The third option is to just give them cards with the names of the different but related functions that you have presented written on them, e.g. “interrupting”, “politely rejecting interruption”, “allowing the other person to continue”, etc for turn taking, as in this set of worksheets http://tefltastic.wordpress.com/worksheets/functions/interrupting/turn-taking-functions-card-game/

For this last activity to produce more complex language, you’ll need to have at least four or five of each card and be strict about not letting them use the “banned” simple phrases nor repeat any phrases which have already been used.

If you want students to concentrate even more on the language that they are using and its appropriateness during the games above, you could suggest that they listen carefully to each other and reject any phrases that:

  • are not appropriate
  • don’t match the card that their partner has discarded
  • have already been used in that speaking activity
  • or were banned by the teacher for being too basic.

Making sure phrases are rejected is easier to do with a third person who monitors and makes sure that the phrases are new, correct, and used appropriately. You can also change the games mentioned in this article a little to reflect the monitor’s role, for example with that person taking the cards from in front of the two people speaking as they use them correctly, or that person having all the cards and giving them to people as they use them correctly (meaning the person with most cards at the end wins). A monitor can also be used without the cards, for example noting down and/ or giving points for every new phrase that is used.

Another idea for using of a monitor is during the first stage of a TTT (Test Teach Test) or TBL (Task-based Learning) approach. One person in each group monitors the people in their group for a range of different functions (e.g. both strong and weak agreement), not repeating, and being suitably polite. The whole group can then brainstorm language to do those things better. This activity is also possible in pairs, with students giving themselves points for how well they did those things (e.g. “spoke 50% each”) and then brainstorming language to do so better next time.

A really nice game for the politeness point is a Politeness Competition. Students compete to say more and more polite versions of basic or rude sentences like “Do you have time to talk?” and “Oy!” The same thing can also be done with students being asked to produce longer and longer sentences, with that variation causing even more amusement as the sentences get more and more extreme.

More games for getting more ambitious language from your students coming soonish in Part Two in ETP magazine, and then of course here gratis. If you can’t wait that long, more articles on this topic and literally hundreds more on all things TEFL including some other free ones of mine from ETP here.

Posted in Apologies, English Teaching Professional, Functional language, interrupting, Requests, TEFL games | Leave a comment

How to really teach imperatives

Back in the bad old days of New Cambridge English Course and its like, most courses had a completely pointless unit teaching students to say “Turn off the lights” and “Don’t touch the paint”. That is now limited to the Technical English textbooks where it belongs, but that unfortunately leaves other students in need of being told when NOT to use the imperative. That mainly means teaching that in English (unlike Spanish, Japanese, etc, etc), imperative plus “please” is NEVER a request. Such simple don’ts don’t really work, however, so I’ve recently switched to telling them that imperatives are all right when you are offering (“Please go ahead”, “Please take a seat”, etc) but usually should be converted to a request when they are orders/ commands/ instructions (“(Please) drink”, “(Please) sit down”, etc). In fact, it can be useful to get students to divide real life examples of imperatives into commands and offers, probably also converting most of that imperatives into requests.

Here are two worksheets on the topic for realistic proper and probably wrong uses of imperatives:

Please + infinitive for offers and commands in presentations

Please + imperative for offers and commands in emails

Other useful things to tell students when covering this point:

- “Please” doesn’t change the meaning of the phrase that you put it with, so “Please shut up” is still a command, “Please make yourself at home” is still an offer, and “Can I have… please?” is still a request

- The differences between a command (“Please don’t smoke in here”) and a request (“Can I smoke in here?”) is that a request can at least theoretically be rejected

- You can use the language of requests for polite commands, but you can’t use the language of commands for requests, so if in doubt use “Could you (possibly)…?” etc

- “Would you…?” is also a command, but “Would you mind…?” can be a request, especially in the form “Would you mind if I…?”

- Request emails end with “Thanks (in advance)/ Cheers” or simply “I’m looking forward to hearing from you (soon)”. Emails with commands/ orders/ instructions can also end with “Thank you for your cooperation”.

Posted in Requests | Leave a comment