Category Archives: Lesson Ideas

The Envelope Game – Topic – Jobs

Preparation: for this task you need an envelope for each student and small pieces of paper


Brainstorm jobs that the students know or have heard of.  Try to get as many as possible written up on the board.  Encourage the students to come up with unusual examples.

Distribute the envelopes and the pieces of paper and ask the students to write their name on the envelope.  They then pass the envelope to the person on their right.

Each learner thinks about the ideal job for the person named on the envelope they have received, based on what they know about the person or what they feel they would be good at doing.  They write it on a piece of paper, put it into the envelope and pass it on to the next person.

The next person also decides which job would be good for the person whose envelope they have received – without looking inside – and writes the job on a piece of paper, adding it to the first one.

Continue in this way till the envelopes return to their original owners. (If the class is large you can divide students into two groups).

The owners of the envelopes then open them and look at the suggested jobs.  They categorise them into groups: jobs they would like to have, jobs they might like to try and jobs they wouldn’t want to do.

The students all tell the class which jobs were suggested for them, and which ones they would like or wouldn’t like to do.  They can also be encouraged to give reasons and also ask other students to offer reasons for their suggestions.

Finally, you can ask the students to write about their ideal job: why would they like that job? Why do they think they would be good at it? 

Taken from: ELT Professional (May 2013) original idea created by Majorie Rosenberg

Teaching the future in the past

  • I was going to call you, but I couldn’t find a phone.
  • I meant/intended to call you, but I couldn’t find a phone.
  • Originally, I was leaving at 7pm, but because of fog I only left at 11pm
  • In the above sentences the future is intended but doesn’t occur.
  • Concept Questions: Did I intend to call you? (Yes).  Did I actually call you? (No).  Why not? (I couldn’t find a phone)
  • Or: When did I expect to leave? (7am).  When did I actually leave? (At 11).  Why was I delayed? (Because of fog)
  • She was born in 1926 as Norma Jean Baker, and would later become Marilyn Monroe.
  • Originally an unknown model, she was to become a 20th century icon.
  • The above sentences show that the future event is not intended/planned, but occurs nevertheless – sometimes this may give the impression of the event being destined to happen.
  • Concept questions: Was she famous when she was born? (No). Was she expected to become famous? (No).  But, did she become famous later? (Yes)
  • My itinerary said that my flight was to leave/would leave at 7am
  • The above sentence is essentially indirect speech, reporting a future form.
  • Concept questions:  When did I expect to leave? (7am).  When did I actually leave? (Don’t know, could have been at 7am or later or before).
  • Form:
  • The past form of going to (do) refers to the intended future, and the but clause explains why this didn’t happen as intended. (I was going to call you but.…)
  • Some past simple+infinitive constructions also express future in the past. (I meant to call you but…)
  • would represents the past version of will (and would later become)
  • The past of be+infinitive (was/were to do) expresses future in the past (she was to become..)
  • reported future – is to becomes was to, will becomes would (flight was to /would leave…..)
  • The past continuous is also used to express and intended/arranged future. Again the but clause explains why it didn’t happen. (originally I was leaving at 7pm but…..)

Suggested activities to practise the structure:

Excuses, Excuses: In open class, brainstorm a list of household chores (eg the ironing, the washing, hoovering etc).  Then put the learners into pairs.  They take it in turns to choose a chore (e.g. ‘you said you were going to do the ironing’) and reply with an excuse (e.g. ‘I was going to do it but there was a power failure).  For more practice, repeat in a different context (at school, at the office, in a restaurant etc).

It didn’t happen: Make a 6×6 grid on the board and write prompts into each square (e.g. Christina/look for new job/last year). Split the class into two teams.  Throw a die twice to determine the square (the first throw is for across, the second is for down).  Team A has to make a sentence from the corresponding prompt (e.g. Wasn’t Christina going to look for a new job last year?) and Team B has to explain why this didn’t happen (e.g. well, she was going to but then she got a pay rise.)  Then the teams swap roles.  If the same square is hit again later in the activity, Team B should try to think of another explanantion.

Famous Lives: Go to and choose a few famous people that everyone will know.  You will need to note some key events in their lives with dates.  Make a bio-card of these notes for each personality alongside a photo of the famous person.  Give three bio-cards to each group of learners, who then expand the notes into mini-biographies of their personalities using would and was to be/become/win/star etc.  then each group can present their famous lives to the whole class.

Chain Story: Make groups of 4 learners.  Give each group one or two starting sentences (e.g. last Sunday I decided to study all day.  I was going to get up early but….) Student A has to complete the first prompt and hand over a new prompt using was going to /intended to/meant to to Student B who completes it and hands over to Student  C etc.  Try to get the story to go around in a circle at least twice.  Then compare the stories from each group.

Thank you teacher John Potts, Zurich

Mixed Conditionals


Course materials usually teach that conditional sentences consist of two clauses – a MAIN (CONDITIONAL) clause containing a verb in a form with WILL or WOULD and a SUBORDINATE clause introduced by IF. Generally, the two clauses are separated by a comma if we begin with the IF clause.  We don’t use a comma when we begin with the conditional clause.

In casual conversation if is hardly pronounced and the vowel disappears entirely.  A phrase like if I were you is pronounced /faɪwəjuː/

This is when the time in the IF clause is different to time of the result.

PAST                                    PRESENT

If I had studied harder,   /    I would be at university
If he had been to  Cyprus, / he would’ve  known they drive on the left

PAST                                                       FUTURE

If I had got that job,                     /          I’d be starting tomorrow
If I had been born in England,   /         I wouldn’t have to go to the embassy
If she had saved some money,   /         She’d be joining us on the trip

PRESENT                                             PAST

If I spoke German,  /                               I would have gone to work in Berlin
If I lived in England,     /                         I would’ve gone to the Olympics
If I was a gardener,      /                          I would’ve bought a garden


Complete the following sentences with a future or present result:

If I had won the lottery, ……………………………………………….

If I had studied harder, ……………………………………………….

If I had learnt Spanish, ………………………………………………..

If I had been born in a different country, ………………………………….

Complete with a present result:

If I lived in Russia, …………………………………………

If I was taller, ……………………………………………….

If I was prettier, …………………………………………….

If I could cook, ………………………………………………

Write the following phrases onto flashcards and distribute them around the class.  Get the students to finish off their phrases with present or future results:

If Stalin hadn’t ruled Russia………………………

If I hadn’t learnt English…………………………..

If the Second World war hadn’t happened…………………….

If electricity hadn’t been discovered……………………………..

If the internet hadn’t been invented…………………………….

Choose an appropriate video clip from you tube (i.e. Mr Bean driving on the roof of his car or Mr Bean at the swimming pool).  Get the students to watch the video.  Each then has to write out the first part of a conditional sentence, either in the past or present eg:If Mr Bean was clever, If he wasn’t scared of heights, If he hadn’t gone to the swimming pool, if the lifeguard hadn’t stopped him etcThe other students then have to complete the sentences with mixed conditional phrases, so if the first part of the sentence is in the present tense, the second part needs to be in the past and vice versa.

Cool Speech is cool

In my continuing teacher development I have tried, not always successfully, to become familiar with the myriad of online applications promoting SLA from interactive self access sites to the endless variety of websites that we can access for ideas.  I have always been a bit wary of technology in the classroom (always putting myself firmly in the land of the luddites).  However, I am determined not to be defeated by progress and after attending an IATEFL PronSig event came across a great IPAD app that I have used lots of times.  The app is called ‘Cool Speech’ and was created by Richard Cauldwell.   As it is an IPAD app (and I have no idea how I could link this up to an IWB for example) I have only used it in one-to-one lessons as the small IPAD screen negates its use in a large classroom. At the conference I attended there was a particular emphasis on receptive pronunciation activities as opposed to productive pronunciation and I think that this app is ideal for providing good examples of authentic speech spoken spontaneously, with good listening exercises for learners of an intermediate level and above.

The last time I used this app in a lesson was with a French student of B2 level who said that wanted to practise his pronunciation. As he often misunderstood me (as he was unfamiliar with my northern accent) I thought that he would also benefit from a couple of lessons using the Cool Speech App as there is also an emphasis on comprehension. The student had the option of choosing a character who he wanted to listen to (there are 8 options) and then he listened to that character responding briefly to a question.  In itself this activity is no different to any listening activity available on a CD or tape, however the follow up tasks in which the learner can ‘explore’ each sentence is, I think quite unique. For example,  the character’s spoken response is then broken down into chunks providing tasks on different parts of the speech ie: word stress, prominent and non-prominent syllables, rthythm and intonation etc. It explores the elements of speech in more detail than any other listening activity that I have done in the past and gives the learner the opportunity to really listen to, and practise different components of the sentence at a comfortable speed. (The sentences in the listening tasks can be slowed down or speeded up by the learner). There is also a section on the individual vowel and consonant sounds within a sentence that can be repeated as many times as required by the learner. I think that the French learner I used this app with really enjoyed the exercises on the app and found them quite challenging even though he considered himself a competent speaker. Finally, another advantage of this app is that it can be used autonomously by the learner for further practice outside of the classroom.

Reflection app for PC : Show your iPad on your IWB screen



Shark Attack

This is a nice activity that I  picked up from fellow student T….from her edublog ‘Reflections from the whiteboard’, thank you T.

 Firstly, ask students to draw the picture below – you could do this as a picture dictation, or project the picture and ask them to copy it.  You can see me in the picture too (I’m eating an ice cream!).
Students also draw themselves in the picture and then do a mingle activity to add more detail to their picture.  For lower levels, this could be, “What are you doing?”  or for higher levels, “What were you doing when the shark attacked?”  Students draw their classmates onto the picture and can then compare drawings, write a news report or report back to the class in whole group feedback.
This is a highly adaptable activity as by changing the original picture, you could use it for a variety of different topics and grammar points, e.g…
Students also draw themselves in the picture and then do a mingle activity to add more detail to their picture.  For lower levels, this could be, “What are you doing?”  or for higher levels, “What were you doing when the shark attacked?”  Students draw their classmates onto the picture and can then compare drawings, write a news report or report back to the class in whole group feedback.
This is a highly adaptable activity as by changing the original picture, you could use it for a variety of different topics and grammar points, e.g…
  • Students draw the playground and pictures of what they can do (What can you do?  I can play tennis.)
  • Students drawa house and after the mingle activity, the teacher could say that someone was murdered in the living room, leading to modals of speculation (It can’t have been Tom – he was playing football in the garden.)
  • Studentscould draw an object in a classroom to practise prepositions (The ruler is under the chair.)
  • And many more…

Spelling of suffixes and the pronunciation of the schwa


Start by dividing class into pairs or small groups.

Stage 1: Write the following list (or similiar) on the board, or give it as a handout to each group. (The best way to compile a list might be to follow-on from previous work, like a reading comprehension task which has included some of the suffixes).

  • List 1: wonder, suspect, manage, detect, write, interpret, home, success, instruct, protect, harm, pronounce, demonstrate, discuss, admire, survive, beauty, correct, communicate, politics, buy, thought, infect….
  • List 2: -er, -or, -ian, -ful, -ation, -tion, -icion, – ent, -less, -ion

Students work together to try to add suffixes from list 2 to the words on list 1.  Some might be quite easy while others will prove challenging; some involve a change in spelling (e.g. pronounce/pronunciation).

Groups and pairs then compare answers with the whole class.  Teacher should make sure that all ss have the opportunity to write down the correct answers in their notebooks.

Stage 2: As the students to mark the primary stresses on the words they have made, elicit a couple of examples from the class to make sure that everyone has the right idea, for example:  wonderful  detection

Stage 3: After the students have had time to discuss their answers, and after they have been checked, ask ss to  mark all the incidences of the /ə/.  It is useful to elicit a few examples and perhaps drill the sound chorally a few times to make sure that all students understand the nature of the exercise.  Get the ss to say the words aloud or to each other if they are not sure.  Having compared their answers elicit the answers the group (or invite ss to come to the board and mark the incidences of the
/ə/.  Then draw the ss attention to the fact that most (but not all) incidences of the /ə/ fall on the suffixes and that all of the suffixes contain one example of the schwa sound.  The lexical work in this type of activity can also be tied in with work on word stress as the /ə/ will always be part of the unstressed syllable.

Learner Training Ideas – Adverbs

Verbs tell of something being done;
To read, count, sing, laugh, jump or run.
Adverbs tell us how the verbs are done: i.e. slowly, quickly, loudly, well etc.

Ideas for learning outside the classroom….
1. Pick out ten words from the list which you do not know and look up their meanings in a dictionary. Copy the words and definitions into your books.
2. Some of the words in the list have very similar meanings. E.g. rapidly and swiftly. See how many matching pairs of adverbs you can find. Copy the pairs into your books. Underline the most interesting and original adverb.
3. Select ten adverbs. Change them back into adjectives. List ten of your own adjectives. Turn them into adverbs. Use the ‘ly ending’ spelling rules to help you. Check your spellings in a dictionary.
4. Any verb you use could have an adverb. E.g. She got up energetically. The car braked sharply.  The moon shone brightly. Think of how to expand on your writing/speaking using adverbs.
5. Occasionally, you could start a sentence with an adverb. This will add variety to your sentence openings and structures. Write ten sentences starting with an adverb. E.g. Slowly, ….

Other adverbs……what do they mean?? How can you use them in your speaking/writing?

Tragically, … Mysteriously, … Luckily, …tightly calmly apprehensively politely warily slyly angrily firmly sadly idly suspiciously jauntily furtively awkwardly cunningly cautiously furiously
relentlessly dejectedly swiftly morosely shiftily sheepishly gracefully anxiously carefully slyly guiltily obviously deftly rapidly nervously nimbly nonchalantly stealthily craftily placidly grimly wickedly cruelly eagerly stubbornly daintily clumsily sedately gently frantically jocularly sternly jovially viciously truthfully meanly sharply restlessly menacingly urgently maliciously valiantly fiercely
boldly joyfully monstrously desperately bravely luckily mysteriously tragically hurriedly willingly falsely crazily lovingly bashfully threateningly eloquently peculiarly regrettably seriously obliviously merrily admittedly suddenly obstinately devilishly faithfully drolly haughtily grimly gutsily gradually graciously edgily ecstatically devotedly lazily morosely proudly arrogantly feebly

The following is a useful way to divide adverbs:

  • MANNER: carefully, slowly
  • FREQUENCY: always, often, never, occasionally
  • TIME AND PLACE: now, here, there
  • RELATIVE TIME: already, recently, soon
  • DEGREE: extremely, rather, very, deeply
  • QUANTITY: a lot, a little, a few, some
  • FOCUSING: even, also, only, particularly
  • ATTITUDE MARKERS: apparently, fortunately,

Focusing adverbs and attitude markers can also be classifed as discourse markers

Most adverbs are formed by adding ‘ly’ to an adjective but not all…… but remember to check the spelling rules on ‘ly’ endings.

Adverb Poems
Slowly the tide creeps up the sand,
Slowly the shadows cross the land.
Slowly the cart-horse pulls his mile,
Slowly the old man mounts his stile.
Slowly the hands move round the clock,
Slowly the dew dries on the dock.
Slow is the snail – but slowest of all
The green moss spreads on the old brick wall.
James Reeves

Writing ideas…..

Write a similar poem. Either choose an adverb yourself or use one from this list: quietly, gently, softly, lightly, swiftly, brightly, loudly.
Before you begin, collect your ideas together by drawing a spider diagram for the word you have chosen.

Collect pictures and photographs that you can use to illustrate your adverb poem.

Dictogloss to teach WOULD for past habits.


Focus:                         Using a dictogloss to teach would for past habits

Level:                         Upper Intermediate

To practice would in its past habitual tense using a spoken text.

Step 1.  Teacher sets the theme by introducing the topic i.e. of summer holidays.  Tell the students about how I used to spend my summer holidays when I was a child.  Tell students that you want them to listen and, as soon as I have finished, write down any words, phrases or sentences that you can remember.  Then tell them the following:

‘When I was a child we used to go camping every summer.  We’d choose a different place each year, and we’d drive around until we found a beach we liked.  Then we’d pitch our tent, as near as possible to the beach.  We’d usually spend most of the time on the beach or exploring the country round about.  We never went to the same beach twice. ‘

Step 2.  Students individually write down as much as they can recall, whether it be individual words or groups of words.  The teacher then tells the class, working in pairs or groups of 3, to compare with each other what they have noted down and to try and reconstruct the text.

Step 3.  The students write their reconstructed versions of the text and then one student writes up the completed text on one half of the whiteboard, incorporating the suggestions of everyone.  Teacher does not intervene, unless to answer relatively minor questions about vocabulary and spelling.

Step 4. The teacher then writes the correct text next to the students effort on the whiteboard and asks them to identify any differences between the two texts.  Usually they are quick to notice differences in word order and the substitution of used to for usually.  They are slower to notice the four contracted forms of would (we’d choose, we’d drive etc).  Teacher should challenge students to explain what these represent  – most students will hazard a guess that they are examples of past perfect, or the 2nd conditional.  At that point teacher gently rejects these explanations and briefly explains the use of would to express past habits.  **

Step 5 Students write their own texts, of a similar length and style about their own childhood holidays, which they then exchange and discuss.

**We sometimes use would (rather like used to) when talking about habitual past behaviour:

  • Every weekday my father would come home from work at 6pm and watch TV.
  • Every summer we’d go to the seaside.
  • Sometimes she’d phone me in the middle of the night.
  • We would always argue. We could never agree.

 Lesson taken from: How to teach grammar (Scott Thornbury, Pearson)


Polite Language Practice

Clare's ELT Compendium


1) Get students to read “Would you be so kind” or a similar text (best done at home) & to make a note of key phrases. The text “Would you be so kind?” can be found here:

2) In class, brainstorm the phrases they can remember and discuss which are interchangeable, e.g.:
Could you please / Would you be able to please / I’d be grateful if you could…
I’m afraid that  / I’m sorry, but / We regret that..
Sorry to / I apologise for …

3) Also discuss various ways of showing distance to make utterances more polite, e.g.:
past tenses = I was wondering, I wanted to ask..
Maybe / Perhaps,
‘seems’ (e.g. “there seems to be a problem”)
conditionals – would / could (instead of will/want or can)

 4) See how many ways your students know of saying “please” and “thank…

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Cutting down Texts

Forming new grammatical sentences by eliminating words or phrases from the original:

Procedure: Take a short text of up to about 30 words (it can be from your coursebook), and write it up on the board. Students suggest any section of one, two or three words that can be cut out, while still leaving a grammatically acceptable – though possibly silly sounding – text.  Sections are eliminated as long as it’s possible to do so.

For example:

The princess was awakened by the kiss of a handsome prince

The princess was awakened by the kiss of a prince

The princess was awakened by a prince

The princess was awakened

The princess


Variation: The students then try to reconstruct the original text.

Penny Ur – 5 minute activities