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Top Posts & Pages
- 135 typical IELTS Speaking Part One questions
- Second, third and mixed conditionals discussion questions
- First conditional games, worksheets, stories and songs
- IELTS Speaking games/ worksheets
- Passive voice games, worksheets and poem
- Past perfect games/ worksheets
- Can/ Can't games, worksheets, stories and songs
- IELTS Speaking Part Two on education
- IELTS Speaking Part One questions tense review
- Travel and tourism games/ worksheets
alexcase on Useful language for Zoom … alexcase on Disappearing text memory games… alexcase on Disappearing text memory games… alexcase on 48 trivia quizzes for EFL stud… Richard Mullins on Don’t do the CELTA
I came up with the first of these as part of my trivia quizzes boom, and used it to make this narrative tenses board game. Students work their way around a board game by guessing numbers. On each square they start with six points and lose one point for each wrong guess as they try to say how many of something there is, how much of something there was, how long something has lasted, etc. After each guess, their partner gives them hints like “(The real number is) much higher/ slightly longer/ quite a lot more often”. After they have guessed the exact number, they move one square for each point they had left when they guessed the number correctly, e.g. three squares if their fourth guess was correct. This board game could be used as fun variation on any of my numbers pairwork guessing games.
A more flexible version of this is for students to give each other multiple choice options and for the person whose turn it is to get one point for each option which is still left when they get the right answer. For example, one student could say “I have BLANK comics”, and give the four options “a”, “two”, “some” and “a lot of”. If their partner takes three turns to guess that the correct answer is “some”, they can move two squares (because there were two options left when they guessed correctly), but if they guess correctly first time, they can move four squares. This can work with personalised options, with factual answers such as trivia, or simple language tasks like guessing the right prepositions to make phrasal verbs. Although I haven’t made one of these yet, it’s probably my favourite variation as students always eventually guess correctly and move at least one square each time. Am planning to do a Use of English Part One version of this soon if I have time.
Thirdly, either of these can also work without any hints, with students just having (say) six chances to guess something right, then moving squares according to the same scheme:
First guess right = move six squares
Second guess right = move five squares
Third guess right = move four squares
Updated 27 July 2021
The best thing you can teach students about almost any language point is how to ask and answer the kinds of questions related to that language which people really ask each other. However, doing just this more than a couple of times can get a bit dull and mean that the questions don’t really stick in students’ minds. One way around that is to give students a mix of those typical real-life small talk questions and ones that have the same language but we rarely or never actually ask each other (perhaps include the ridiculous questions that were put in the textbook without the intention of being taboo like “How often do you have a bath?”)
Nice activities with these kinds of good and taboo questions include students:
- only asking and answering the good questions (rejecting all others with “I’d rather not say”, etc)
- trying to choose the easiest and most normal questions, with the person who chose the one that they agree is least taboo being able to ask their choice each time and the other person having to answer
- getting a point for each question that they answer or reject in a polite way with a phrase which is at least slightly different from previous rejections (e.g. “I’d rather keep that to myself” if someone has already said “I’d rather not say”)
- asking a question and then flipping a coin to see if they can ask it to someone else (heads) or have to answer it themselves (tails) (the previous TEFLtastic Classic Ask and Tell)
- flipping a coin to decide if the next question should be an easy common everyday one (heads) or a very personal one (tails), with the latter having to be answered if they can’t think of a new phrase to politely reject the question
- flipping a coin after they hear the question to see if they should answer or not, and then discussing what their real reaction would be
- getting more points if their partner asks them a taboo question, and even more points if they actually answer it
- classifying the questions by how taboo they are, then choosing which rank of question they want next, with more points for trickier topics
- classifying the questions by how taboo they are, then choosing which rank of question they will get next with a coin (heads = easy common question, tails = taboo question)
- classifying the questions by how taboo they are, then choosing which rank of question they will get next with a dice (1 = very easy question even with strangers, 2 = less common with strangers but okay with acquaintances, etc)
Most of these activities should also help make students more aware of what kinds of questions are good and bad to ask, and can lead nicely onto taboo topics more generally.
And here are some I made earlier, organised by language point:
Good and taboo questions to practise grammar
Good and taboo questions to practise tenses
Good and taboo questions to practise present tenses
Good and taboo Present Continuous questions – COMING SOON
Good and taboo questions to practise past tenses
Good and taboo Past Continuous questions – COMING SOON
Good and taboo Present Perfect Simple and Continuous questions – COMING SOON
Good and taboo questions to practise question formation
Good and bad subject questions (including taboo topics discussion)
Good and taboo questions for other grammar points
Good and taboo questions on can for ability – COMING SOON
Good and taboo irregular plurals questions – COMING SOON
Good and taboo have and have got questions – COMING SOON
It should also be possible with vocabulary-based topics, especially with subjects that are sometimes good for small talk but can sometimes be sensitive like:
- good and taboo questions about family
- good and taboo questions about work
- good and taboo questions about health
- good and taboo questions about free time
(not coming soon)
48 more endlessly adaptable activities that almost always work here.
It’s the long “Golden Week” break here in Japan, so have had time to do my approximately once yearly look at the links on TEFLtastic.
Was pleasantly surprised to see that since this time last year only one or two blogs had disappeared, very few had become inactive, and quite a few inactive ones had become active again. You can see which are which by looking at those categories in the sidebar. If you are inspired by this to join those who are suddenly activating their blogs again or know of newer blogs for TEFLers which I’ve missed, please leave a comment below and I’ll do a further update before this time next year.
Newest ones that I haven’t mentioned before top of each section.
New TEFL e-book
New TEFL articles spring 2021
New TEFL photocopiables spring 2021
Gradable and extreme adjectives guessing game (with modals of deduction)
Be used to and get used to sentence completion games (bluffing, things in common and guessing game)
For a lot of English language teachers, the mere thought of teaching a so-called “controversial” discussion topic in class is enough to send them scampering out of the classroom faster than you can say “productive skills”. If you’re one of those teachers, you’re certainly not wrong to assume that teaching these types of topics to a group of mixed age and nationality students is going to require a bit of prudence. Indeed, if we were to follow some of the lesson ideas that can be found online about teaching controversial topics, then we can guarantee you will find yourself in some deep pedagogical waters.
A quick Google will provide you with a multitude of pages providing long lists of debate topics and little else in the way of lesson planning and preparation. I will not forget my shock at coming across a photocopiable worksheet book in a language school I once worked at, that suggested getting students to discuss questions like, “Does it matter if your teacher or doctor is gay?”, “Would you feel uncomfortable if you sat next to a transsexual [sic]?”, “Does torture happen in your country? Is it always wrong?” or, “What would you do if someone with HIV moved in next door to you?”
Whilst I admit there were days when the ‘print-off-and-go’ element of that book at times tempted me (especially on busy teaching days), I just couldn’t bring myself to use it – how could I guarantee that my students didn’t have direct experience with these topics and wouldn’t find them distressing to talk about in such a way? I believe we have a duty of care to our students, and the ESL classroom should not be a place that causes emotional harm.
Let’s not also forget that we are dealing with people with limited linguistic capabilities, so to throw one of these topics at them with no forethought could create an incredibly frustrating, perhaps upsetting and very disempowering learning experience. Not to mention the tears you will inevitably shed when the lesson erupts into chaos.
All that being said, using controversial topics in the classroom, when done in the right way, can create engaging and fun lessons and generate wonderfully stimulating language-learning opportunities for the students.
Most ESL students are eager to express their opinions about real life issues in English and it is our job as teachers to prepare them for the big bad world out there. Teaching these topics can also allow the class to get to know each other better and bond in a really meaningful way. It’s amazing to see quieter students come out of their shells, lose their inhibitions and express their opinions on something that they feel passionate about. I love seeing a student leave one of my lessons with a real sense of satisfaction at having overcome a big hurdle in their language-learning journey. And of course all positive learning experiences do students the world of good… since, when it comes to language learning, confidence building is 90% of the work!
The trick? Preparation!
Sure, that might be the trick for almost anything we do in this line of work, but bear with me. If you follow these tips you can be sure to avoid any classroom nightmares, develop your confidence as a teacher and ensure your controversial lesson runs as smoothly and effectively as possible.
1. Resist the urge to teach “vanilla” topics.
I know it’s tempting to go with the “for or against: smartphones” debate questions but you’re unlikely to inspire your students to really engage with the lesson.
Be brave, and remember, you got this!
2. Planning is key.
There are a number of things you can do to prepare a good lesson on controversial topics.
This includes researching the related vocabulary that you need to teach the students for them to be able to discuss the topic, preparing some key phrases and model sentences for them to learn then use whilst discussing the topic, as well as reviewing all third-party material that you plan to use to check that it is in-line with the direction you want to take the lesson.
When deciding on what language you want to introduce to the class, include language that enables respectful communication. You can bring your students’ attention back to this if, during the discussion phase of the lesson, they begin to diverge from this.
3. Don’t assume that the students in your class do not have first-hand experience of the subject matter you are teaching.
There is no such thing as an objective topic.
Teachers often make the mistake of assuming that because a talking point is to them little more than that, it is the same for the students too. The ESL classroom is an amalgamation of people from all sorts of walks of life and it is an extension of wider society. So chances are at least some of the students in the class will have first-hand experience with the subject at hand.
This is an especially important consideration for teachers working with refugees and who plan on covering topics related to war, conflict, global disasters or racist and imperialist governmental policies.
We are responsible for our students’ wellbeing and the last thing we would want is for a student to leave our class feeling emotionally triggered, anxious, or re-traumatised. This is not to say these topics can’t be addressed in the classroom, but they need to be done in a sensitive and conscientious way.
Which leads me on to the next tip…
4. Avoid tackling controversial topics with students you don’t know.
If you plan on using controversial topics in your classroom, it’s a good idea to have gotten to know your students beforehand and found out a little about their personal backgrounds and experiences. Doing the groundwork in creating a safer space within the classroom will do wonders in making students feel comfortable about potentially talking about topics that may be very personal.
Of course this will also have the benefit of you having a good idea of which topics your students are interested in and can get passionate about.
5. Give ample time for the topic.
Controversial topics should not be brought into the classroom simply as a 10-minute warmer exercise. Give students ample time to prepare for the task, to learn the appropriate vocabulary and phrases and then finally to express their opinions with their classmates.
6. Use case studies.
Make sure your lesson has a clear focus and avoid simple “for/against” debates. Using case studies (like, for example, news articles, opinion pieces or blog posts) to introduce the topic to the class means students get to learn the associated vocabulary, grammar and phrases within a real life context.
There’s also less chance that the discussion will veer off into a debate about something else entirely.
7. Keep debates to smaller groups.
Rather than arranging a large “for/against” classroom debate, keep discussions to smaller groups (or even pairs), depending on the confidence-levels in the class. We know what it’s like when bigger personalities dominate a discussion; so smaller groups give the less-confident students a chance to contribute too.
Try to go around the class and facilitate as much as possible, helping the quieter or less able students where possible.
If you do decide to go for a traditional debate with the entire class, establish some clear ground rules first regarding respectful communication.
8. Express your opinion/position where appropriate.
This is a controversial one, but it is my belief that a teacher doesn’t always necessarily have to remain impartial in these types of lessons. Students will inevitably be curious about what you think about a topic and expressing your opinion will allow you to model the language (and respectful communication style) that you want the class to use. In my experience it also helps build a relationship of trust with your students.
HOWEVER – and this is a really important point one – this is not your moment to shine! Your job is to facilitate the students’ learning and to develop their skills and confidence, not to persuade them of your opinions. Maximise student talking time by being curious about students’ opinions, asking them questions and inviting them to elaborate on their views.
9. Be sensitive to how students are feeling.
Being conscious of how students may be feeling is always a good idea when teaching topics that may be contentious. Keep an eye out for students who look disengaged, and be encouraging without being forceful.
10. Be strict about students sticking to English.
This is where the real challenge comes in for a lot of students. It’s natural for them to want – if the opportunity is there – to revert back to a language they feel more comfortable in when talking about topics that they feel really passionate about. But this is also the crucial point where students can really challenge themselves and take their language skills to the next level.
This is also where being strict about this in general (and encouraging students to speak to each other in English during the break, too) will come in handy!
11. Have fun!
Don’t forget to enjoy it. If done right, you might just produce your best lesson yet!
By Alice from Hot Take English
Hot Take English provides free English learning resources for students and teachers who are interested in activism, politics and social justice. Learn English with topics that you care about!
New article and worksheets up on this brand new page on how to talk about being and becoming accustomed to things:
Stuff on that plus the past form “I used to” coming there soon too.
My latest magnus opus provides over 300 pages of stimulating intensive practice of IELTS Academic Writing language, planning techniques and editing of typical mistakes:
As usual, buying a copy not only gives you stacks of thoroughly classroom tested and polished up materials at just a penny a page, but also makes my wife slightly more understanding about me spending my time on writing and so makes the next stack of materials much more likely. If I can sell enough of this and my other e-books to be able to turn down some cover lessons, will get back to work on half-finished ones on negotiations, tenses, grammar, functional language, technical English, etc, etc. Votes for which one next below please.
Am presently writing lots of new articles and worksheets on a, an, the, some, any, much, etc, but realised that I already had enough on indefinite articles to make it worth them having a page of their own:
A and an games/ worksheets– NEW PAGE
Many updates on all three of those pages coming soon.