Writing Cards – Christmas Cards for ESOL, ESL and EFL



Can’t be bothered to read the post – Click here for the lesson on Writing Cards


Sending cards is an enourmous business in the UK and the USA with the average person spending way too much time and money on them. There’s also a lot of social pressure to send and receive them especially at Christmas time. Who hasn’t been presented with a card for someone who is leaving the office, sick or getting married, and thought ‘I don’t know what to write!’?

It’s also pretty difficult for ESOL/EFL and second language English learners to write them to. I used this lesson with a group of pre-intermediate learners.

Here are the lesson stages

1. Ask the students to tell you when they last recieved a card of any description. Write a list of the cards they tell you about on the board. It might look something like this. Anniversary, wedding, congratulations, birthday, valentines, get well soon, sorry, condolences…

2. Pass out the sheet and have the students correct the mistakes then match the card messages to the people they are for.

3. Now ask students to write their own messages in response to the prompts. You could ask them to work in pairs or alone and could check the answers by getting to write on the board.

4. There are some really good electronic greetings cards on the net. You might like to show these to your students if you have an interactive whiteboad or projector.


Simle Box

Improve your IELTS and TOEFL reading: One article a day. No excuses.

The Olympics in Brazil made me think about training. Sorry if this sounds a bit angry!

Your brian is a muscle.

You need to train it.

The reading section of the IELTS exam is the hardest section because you need to be well trained at reading and have a huge vocabulary.

Here’s the training.

Choose the first article from the fantastic Guardian Weekly, an international broadsheet.  https://www.theguardian.com/weekly


One article a day. No excuses.

If you have a study partner. Get them to read it to and then TALK ABOUT it.

Read it in less than ten minutes.

Do not check all the words in the dictionary BUT if you feel there is an important word you should know then please do CHECK.

Do it everyday. No excuses.

but it’s boring…I have other work to do…I’m hungry…it’s late…I have to have some fun sometimes.

Success is your choice.

Please let me know how you get on!

For more help with your IELTS reading. Try Richard L King’s book.


Reported Speech – a quick ppt to show your intermediate ESOL/EFL students

Here’s another one from the vaults, a good introduction or warmer for your ESOL or EFL class on reported speech.

Click here to download the ppt: reported_speech_arrange_the_sentences

There’s not much to say as it’s pretty straightforward. The first slide gets students to arrange the words into meaningful reported speech sentences (some of them have more than one possible answer). Once students have done this, get them to write the sentences down as they would be in direct speech as well.

The next ten slides all have pictures of people saying things that students can report back. Have them shout out the answers at you, write them down or even work with a partner or group to get them perfectly correct.

Here’s the ppt again https://chrisspeck.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/reported_speech_arrange_the_sentences.ppt


Talking heads – role play with masks – for teenagers and young adults


Ok, so this is a bit off the wall but it is a quite a good laugh if you have a young class or students who have a sense of humour. This is a simple role-play class using masks of famous people.

How to run the class

The biggest part of getting this class to run successfully is how well you sell it to your students. It is a kind of drama activity and yes, it is a bit wet, but, your students will only think that if you don’t sell it to them correctly.

Say and think this :Make no bones about it, speaking and using English language creatively are absolute cornerstones of learning a language and by delivering this class you are doing your job well and the students are learning.

Don’t say or think this: this class is a bit of messing about where we all get to make up stupid dialogues and laugh at each other.

Put students into groups of three and give them a copy of the masks from here: https://chrisspeck.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/masks-of-famous-and-interesting-people.docx. You can ask students to cut them out or stick them on cardboard if they’re a little younger. If you can laminte them it will make them a little more durable. You can also cut out their eyes if you want, but you don’t need to.

Tell your students they have ten minutes to make a dialogue, they are going to hold the masks in front of their faces and  then speak as the famous or interesting person. They can use all of them, or just three of them, they can change their character at any time. They can use any subject they want as long as it’s not rude or offensive.

It all depends on you if you want them to write their dialogue down or just try to remember it. I get them to try and remember it and ad lib.

Write these three headings on the board and explain them to the class before they start:

Introduction: There needs to be a starting point, the characters can tell us where they are and what they are doing. Where are they? In the forest, at home, in their office? Tell us.

Conflict: There needs to be something that the characters have to come up against, they need some conflict to make the dialogue interesting. This could be against each other or something else. Are they at war? What problem do they have to solve? Do they have a problem with each other?

Resolution: Finally, whatever problem they have, there has to be a resolution. It has to finish and come to an end.

Now ask students to work together on their dialogue. Some groups won’t be able to do this because they are not creative enough, you have to circulate and help them. Offer any ideas you come up with and encourage them. This is a crucial stage and if you don’t help them a little bit, the results won’t be great.

When students have made their dialogue, ask them to perform them for the rest of the class. If this is too hard, ask them to perfom it for another group.


I tried to pick people that my students would know but you could use any face you like. Just go to www.googleimages.com and search for ‘famous person’s name mask’ and you’ll find loads of faces that might be more relevant to your students.

Further ideas

You could video them doing this and stick on www.youtube.com .

You could use themes that you want them to develop. You could ask them to make a patient going to see the doctor role-play or a shopping role-play or anything that fits in with what you’re studying.

Teaching English using anecdotes – some ideas


An anecdote (to quote OALD) is a ‘a short, interesting or amusing story about a real person or event’. They are a great way of learning English, they are fun, entertaining and whether you are listeing to them or telling them, they offer a real chance to practise language.

There are loads of ways you can use them in your class. First you need a good source of stories you can use.  Everybody has their own life stories and funny things that have happened to them, but, as a teacher you might not like to share what happened to you when you were fifteen or that blunder you made at a friend’s wedding.

I’ve pasted a nice one at the bottom of this blog post which I took from the fabulous ELC study zone. Here are three good places to get your anecdotes:

1. The local library. You’ll find something if you look!

2. One Stop English has a whole section of anecdotes based around the classroom. Don’t bother googling for stories, you’ll just end up reading a lot of rubbish.

3. Get yourself a nice anecdote book from Amazon. I’ve pasted a few examples below

Anecdote Books

How to use anecdotes in the classroom.

1. Anecdote homework. Tell students a good, long anecdote (like the carpet fitter below) in your own words and explain to students that for homework, they have to find an anecdote to share with their partner in the next session. Explain that students won’t have to tell the whole class (but they can if they want to) and will only have to tell their story to a partner. Also, remind them that anecdotes don’t have to be true.

2. Anecdote reading and telling. Find two good anecdotes and print them out.  Put your students into pairs and pass one the first story and the second to the other. Ask the students to read the anecdotes and understand what they mean. When both students have finished, ask them to turn over their anecdotes so they can’t read them. Now students have to tell the anecdotes to each other from memory.

3. Finish the anecdote. Find a nice story and cut off the ending. You could use the one at the bottom of the blog. Get your students to read it and guess the ending.

Eddie the Carpet fitter (taken from ELC study zone )

Eddie was a carpet fitter, and he hated it. For ten years he had spent his days sitting, squatting, kneeling or crawling on floors, in houses, offices, shops, factories and restaurants. Ten years of his life, cutting and fitting carpets for other people to walk on, without even seeing them. When his work was done, no-one ever appreciated it. No- one ever said “Oh, that’s a beautiful job, the carpet fits so neatly.” They just walked all over it. Eddie was sick of it.

He was especially sick of it on this hot, humid day in August, as he worked to put the finishing touches to today’s job. He was just cutting and fixing the last edge on a huge red carpet which he had fitted in the living room of Mrs. Vanbrugh’s house. Rich Mrs. Vanbrugh, who changed her carpets every year, and always bought the best. Rich Mrs. Vanbrugh, who had never even given him a cup of tea all day, and who made him go outside when he wanted to smoke. Ah well, it was four o’clock and he had nearly finished. At least he would be able to get home early today. He began to day-dream about the weekend, about the Saturday football game he always played for the local team, where he was known as “Ed the Head” for his skill in heading goals from corner kicks.

Eddie sat back and sighed. The job was done, and it was time for a last cigarette. He began tapping the pockets of his overalls, looking for the new packet of Marlboro he had bought that morning. They were not there.

It was as he swung around to look in his toolbox for the cigarettes that Eddie saw the lump. Right in the middle of the brand new bright red carpet, there was a lump. A very visible lump. A lump the size of — the size of a packet of cigarettes.

“Blast!” said Eddie angrily. “I’ve done it again! I’ve left the cigarettes under the blasted carpet!”

He had done this once before, and taking up and refitting the carpet had taken him two hours. Eddie was determined that he was not going to spend another two hours in this house. He decided to get rid of the lump another way. It would mean wasting a good packet of cigarettes, nearly full, but anything was better than taking up the whole carpet and fitting it again. He turned to his toolbox for a large hammer.

Holding the hammer, Eddie approached the lump in the carpet. He didn’t want to damage the carpet itself, so he took a block of wood and placed it on top of the lump. Then he began to beat the block of wood as hard as he could. He kept beating, hoping Mrs. Vanbrugh wouldn’t hear the noise and come to see what he was doing. It would be difficult to explain why he was hammering the middle of her beautiful new carpet.

After three or four minutes, the lump was beginning to flatten out. Eddie imagined the cigarette box breaking up, and the crushed cigarettes spreading out under the carpet. Soon, he judged that the lump was almost invisible. Clearing up his tools, he began to move the furniture back into the living room, and he was careful to place one of the coffee tables over the place where the lump had been, just to make sure that no-one would see the spot where his cigarettes had been lost. Finally, the job was finished, and he called Mrs. Vanbrugh from the dining room to inspect his work.

   “Young man,” she began, as he climbed into the cab of his van, laying his toolbox on the passenger seat beside him, “while you were working today, you didn’t by any chance see any sign of Armand, did you? Armand is my parakeet. A beautiful bird, just beautiful, such colors in his feathers… I let him out of his cage, you see, this morning, and he’s disappeared. He likes to walk around the house, and he’s so good, he usually just comes back to his cage after an hour or so and gets right in. Only today he didn’t come back. He’s never done such a thing before, it’s most peculiar…”
“No, madam, I haven’t seen him anywhere,” said Eddie, as he reached to start the van.
And saw his packet of Marlboro cigarettes on the dashboard, where he had left it at lunchtime….
And remembered the lump in the carpet….
And realised what the lump was….
And remembered the hammering….
And began to feel rather sick….

MDH 1994 — from a common urban legend

Online reading tasks – How e-learning can save paper – no kidding

My English language students need to read a lot – fact, and I often want them to read something quickly which they can discard when they finish. What I don’t want to do however is photocopy the same thing for each student only to have them read it once and then file it away neatly never to be seen again.(or more likely, thrown it in the bin.)

Here’s where technology can help.

Armed with their smartphones that can access the internet students can read a wide range of material quickly and without wasting resources. (except maybe their monthly bandwith allowance)

Online Reading Tasks
I put my students into pairs and gave them the urls below. I then told them to go away and use their smartphones or any device that could access the internet to read the three stories and come up with three endings …each ending being a single sentence or even just a word.

Story 1 – Joe and the tigers


Write your ending to the story in one sentence here:


Story 2 – Joe and the hairdresser


Write your ending to the story in one sentence here:


Story 3 – The workman and the beggar


Write your ending to the story in one sentence here:


Suggested answers

A good ending for story one – ‘I know, it works really well.”

A good ending for story two – ‘I’m the one who has to look at it all day.’

A good ending for story three – ‘No’.

Further thoughts

When are we going to see ‘electronic paper’? By this I mean a cheap, simple device that can use either a wi-fi or USB connection to show written content to students. I don’t mean a set of expenisve laptops (or even a computer) or a trendy handheld device,I mean a cheap bit of plastic that will show words and pictures, that can be thrown around and used over and over and over again to show documents. Think of the amount of money that could be saved on paper. You’d never need to print exams, worksheets or home made books, or stories, or timetables

…actually, if students already have a smartphone then they’ve got this already.

The zombie lesson – reading and discussion lesson for Halloween

Thanks to the unofficial Stanford Blog for this image

Can’t be bothered to read the blog?  I wouldn’t bother either, here’s the worksheet:  https://chrisspeck.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/the-zombie-lesson.doc

I quite like zombie films and most of my pre-intermediate and intermediate students do as well. Here is a three part Zombie lesson to get them talking and reading about the most popular undead monster in modern culture.

Pre- reading. – You can dictate these questions or cut them up and ask students to read them together

Reading – You could dictate a few comprehension questions about this or blank out a few of the words to make it a gap fill exercise.

Discussion – ask students in pairs to make their own zombie apocalypse plan outlining what they and their partner would do to survive the zombies. I put a few sentences students could finish but they could write anything. Help them out by giving them some ideas. What would they do if there really was a zombie threat? Would they go to the supermarket to get food, the DIY store to get weapons? Where would they go long term? How would they really survive?

****WARNING**** I wouldn’t do this lesson with students who aren’t familiar with the Zombie genre, younger students or students who wouldn’t like this kind of thing.

Here’s the worksheet again https://chrisspeck.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/the-zombie-lesson.doc

Let me know if this lesson worked or not.

More of the same from: www.englishlanguagespacestation.com