Monthly Archives: December 2011

Two Truths and a Lie: Simple, Fun, and a Great Way to Work on Question Forms #Dogme, #ELT

I have both Norwegian and United States citizenship. I have run 2 marathons , both in 4 hours. I have lived and worked in 5 countries.

One of these sentences is not true. Which one do you think it is?

Does this game sound familiar? Many of you have probably played Two Truths and a Lie before, but how many have played it with your students?

Last week, after 5 consecutive lessons of working hard on BE topics with one group of students, I decided that everyone needed to have a little fun.  So, instead of opening the lesson with a speaking framework about their jobs or a video about the latest mobile phone, I decided that we should play Two Truths and a Lie. It worked like a charm and my students (full -grown adults!) didn’t want to stop playing.  After we finally finished the game and started to move on to the next exercise, my students kept talking about why it was such a fun game:

“It is so hard to know which sentence is a lie!”

“You can see who is a good liar and who isn’t.  Philippe, wow, you’re a good liar!”

“It’s a great way learn about our passions. I never knew that Alain collects antique pens.”

“I’m going to play it with my colleagues during our coffee break this afternoon!”

It was a real success and after we finished playing, using questions from the game, I was able to transition smoothly into a form-focus activity.  I wrote questions like “Alain, for how many time do you collect pens?”  and “In what country did you born?” on the board and got the Ss to correct them. Then I got students to do an exercise from Macmillan’s Business Grammar Builder on the placement of ‘verb + preposition’ combinations in questions.

So, how can you use this game in your lessons? Most readers are surely familiar with the game, but there are a lot of different ways to play it.  Here’s the procedure that I used:

  1. Explain the title of the game to the Ss and that it will be a fun way to learn more about each other.
  2. Give students 5 minutes to write down their 2 truths and 1 lie. The T should also write down 3 sentences.
  3.  The T puts his/her 3 sentences up on the board. The Ss then ask the T questions about the 3 sentences, trying to throw the teacher off and find out which one of them is lie.
  4.  The Ss cannot just guess, they have to ask as many questions as they can. If they think they know, they have to try to explain to the other students why they think one of the sentences is a lie.
  5. Once the Ss have decided which sentence they think is a lie, the T can reveal the answer.
  6. If the class is small enough (fewer than 6 students) you can continue working as a whole group and move on to the first student. If you’ve got a larger group, it’s best to split them up into groups of 3 or 4.
  7. The Ss repeat the question/answer process until the all students have revealed their lies. During the exchanges, the teacher should circulate and write down the questions students ask, listening carefully for recurrent mistakes.
  8. Based on the mistakes and language gaps heard during the exchanges, the T should then do a 15-30 min form-focus activity and possible assign homework to address the problem areas that came up.

So, that’s how you can adapt this game to the classroom. Now, which of my sentences do you think is a lie?


T is for text-based curriculum

On his blog, Scott Thornbury recently wrote about a very interesting approach to language teaching, “text-based curriculums”: curriculums based around one book, one magazine or series of books. In my experience, this approach is especially appropriate for ESP courses.

In fact, in my English for Telecommunications course I take a similar approach. Every class my students and I watch part of a webinar from about an important trend or topic in the telecom business. While it is not a ‘text’ per se, it is similar to a text-based’ curriculum in that we are focusing one form of communication (i.e.powerpoint presentations) about one field (i.e. telecommunications).

We only spend about 30mins a week doing this, but it allows us to study key telecom language while also learning language for presentations.
So, while text-based learning should be used in good measure and only when context permits, it can be great way to enhance an ESP curriculum.

An A-Z of ELT

Nigel Davies, who runs a school in El Prat de Llobregat, near Barcelona, wrote to me last week:

I’m doing an experimental kind of class here at the school, which, if you have time I would like to hear your thoughts on.

It’s a post CAE class mixed bag of wannabe one day proficiencies and other advanced students. I didn’t want to do an exam-based course, and couldn’t find a suitable high level general texbook, so someone suggested doing some Engl Lit, maybe one of the classics, which was a possibility, but not for a whole course, so I settled on one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. Do you know his work? I chose ‘Outliers’ a study of how people become successful, as it has lots of stories of different people in different situations to back up his central thesis, and there was lots of extra material on internet, both spoken…

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#ELT and #Teaching Techniques: Spice up your Lessons using Post-it Notes!

I'm not the only one who loves these things

Ok, let’s try a short activity. I’d like you to make a list of classroom equipment and materials that are essential parts of your lessons. Ok, take 1 minute and make a list. Ready? Go.

So, what did you include? A flipchart? A whiteboard? A laptop, maybe? Photocopies of your favorite exercises? An ipod? A smartphone?  All of these were on my list. But another ‘must-have’ has recently made it almost to the top of that list: Post-It notes. I don’t mean just one pack; I mean multiple packs, different color packs, all shapes and sizes.

About 6 months ago, I read “The Business English Teacher” (Delta Publishing) by Debbie Barton, Jennifer Burkart and Caireen Sever. Post-It notes are a central part in a number of the lesson frameworks they suggest. This inspired me to start using Post-Its more frequently in my lessons. Then,  seeing how much my students were enjoying them, I started using them more and more until they had earned their permanent place in my briefcase, right next to my white board markers, and grammar book.

Not a lesson goes by where I don’t use them for something.  They  have now replaced sheets of paper in almost every exercise I do. There is just so much more you can do with them; you can move them around, stick them on the wall (or your forehead), mix them up, organize them by color, make them into paper airplanes.  They can jazz up dictations, dialogue writing, storytelling, vocabulary drilling, translation exercises and even just warm-up discussion activities.

Below I’d like to share a few exercises that have been a hit with my small groups of Business English students and hopefully will infect you with the Post-It note fever and get you thinking about how you can shake up your teaching with these sticky little sheets of awesomeness.

The Post-It Dictation

Aim: Form-focus. Listening for details. Spelling.


– Any text or dialogue with key language that you’d like your students to remember

– Post-It notes – preferably a different color for each student


1)      Proceed as you normally would for a dictation, except instead of having the students write on sheets of paper, have them write on Post-Its.  Every complete phrases or sentences of 5 to 10 words students should start a new Post-It. For example:

  1. Post-It 1: Have you looked at the minutes from last meeting?
  2. Post-It 2: No, not yet. I’ll get on it right away.

Continue until the end of the dictation (I would recommend 5 to 10 post-it’s worth).

2)      Then once everyone has finished the dictation, ask one student to put their Post-Its up on one of the classroom walls, in a vertical line, in the order they were written. Then have the other students put their post-its up next to the first student’s, following the same order.  The students should remain standing near their post-its.

3)      Correct the dictation. I do this by having the students walk along the wall and take down any post-its they think are incorrect. I then go through and make the ‘final cut’, handing any incorrect post-its back to the students and asking them to correct them.


–          If the sentences you used for the dictation are functional phrases that can be used in discussions, meeting or telephone situations, have them keep their post-its and allow them to use the Post-Its like playing cards during the next role play. When they feel that a certain expression would be appropriate in the role play, they place their ‘phrase card’ on the table and use the expression.

Post-It Ranking Activity

Aim:  Getting to know each other. Discussion. Fluency practice. Pushing students’ vocabulary and speaking ability. Superlatives. Professional  vocabulary.

Material:  Post-It notes. Two different colors. Let’s say yellow and pink.


1)      Divide the class in 2 groups. They don’t have to get up or sit in a group, necessarily. Distribute 5 yellow Post-Its to each student in one half of the class and 5 pink Post-Its to the other half.

2)      Ask the students to put one task that they have to do as part of their job in a typical week on each Post-It. For example,  if they work in IT, one Post-It could be “keep track of traffic on intranet and report to  manager”  and another could be “go to meetings with suppliers” and another something simple like “check and respond to email”.

3)      Once they’ve written down 5 things they do in a typical week, have the Ss with yellow Post-Its rank them from most to least important, and the Ss with the pink Post-Its from most to least time consuming.

4)      Pair them up with someone who has a different color Post-It  and have them explain their ranking.  Make sure to specify that the student that is listening, should be actively listening,  asking questions, reacting, etc. The teacher should circulate and help with vocabulary and note down any mistakes or interesting words/expressions that the whole class might find useful.

5)      Optional: Depending on the number of students you have you can have one, two or all of the students then explain their ranking to the whole class.

6)      During the activity a lot of interesting vocabulary and errors should have come up organically in the conversation. Go over these language points on the board.


The Post-It Note Silent Dialogue

Aim : Reviewing key business phrases  in telephone or one-to-one meeting situations or as a creative writing activity.

Materials: Post-It notes


1)      Put the students into pairs.

2)      Choose a role play situation that you think is important for your students write the details of the situation on the board or on slips of paper.  Try to make it as close to their reality as possible. For example:

  1. Your supplier sent the wrong number of ‘thing-a-ma-jigs’ (you pick the product depending on context).  Call them, explain the problem and decide on how the problem will be rectified.

You can either choose one situation for all the pairs, or you can give a different situation to each pair. It is important that the information be detailed enough so that it seems realistic, but vague enough that they don’t know necessarily what the other person is going to say. Allow their imaginations to fill in the details. For example, if you added, “The supplier says that they are low on that particular product and will ship the remainder of the order next week”, that is too much detail. If there is too much detail then there is no point to writing the dialogue because they already basically know the outcome.

3)      The Ss then have a ‘silent dialogue’ on the post-it notes. Every line of the dialogue should be on a new Post-It. For example,

Post-It 1: Hello, PTS Office Supplies

Post-it 2: Yes, hello. This is Eric Halvorsen calling from TESOL FRANCE. Could I speak to John Smith?

4)      As the students are writing their dialogues, the T should be circulating with a pack of different color Post-Its. If the teacher notices that there is some sort of unnatural transition in the conversation , the T simply places a Post-It between the two Post-Its that are unnatural, signaling to the student that they need to add something here. The T can also place a Post-It next to a S’s Post-It if when they notice a major mistake. This signals to the student that they need to re-write that particular part of the dialogue.

5)      Once the Ss have finished  and the T has provided feedback through the different colored Post-Its, the Ss can then divide up the Post-Its, each S taking their own and perform their dialogue for the class using the Post-Its to help them remember their lines.


In all of these activities the Post-Its allow the Ss to play with the language and their ideas in a way

that wouldn’t be possible on a blank sheet of paper.  It also allows the T to provide feedback in different ways, by putting the Post-Its on the wall or by using different colors.  The possibilities are endless! If you have any other ideas for how Post-Its can be used in the classroom I love to hear from you.

#Reflective Practice and #ELT: Beliefs, Attitudes and Teaching Behavior

Try answering the following questions:

–       What are your beliefs about teaching?

–       What are your attitudes towards teaching?

–       How do these beliefs and attitudes influence your classroom behavior?

Not easy, huh?

One of the assignments that I completed for my MA TEFL was to answer the above questions: analyze my teaching beliefs and attitudes and how these affect my teaching behavior. I remember finding this essay topic particularly interesting at the time and thoroughly enjoying the reflection process it involved. I have since tried to continue to reflect on my beliefs, attitudes and teaching behavior (BATB) in a similar way from time to time. As a teacher, it’s a healthy thing to do.  Below, I’d like to share some of the main points from my essay and hopefully get your own reflective juices flowing!

What are Beliefs, Attitudes and Teaching Behavior ?

Beliefs are the base of a teacher’s conceptual framework and include the teacher’s theories about language, language learning, and education in general. Beliefs are what Richards and Rogers (1996) might call the approach of a teacher’s personal methodology. They are complex and as Richards and Lockhart (1996) underline, they originate from a number of sources and experiences. For example, a teacher’s personality, past learning and teaching experiences, culture, education and training are all sources of beliefs. Richards and Lockhart identify five main categories of beliefs:

1) beliefs about English

2) beliefs about teaching

3) beliefs about learning

4) beliefs about the program and the curriculum

5) beliefs about teaching as a profession.

Beliefs are important because they directly influence a teacher’s attitudes towards teaching and learning activities in the classroom (Basturkmen, et al., 2004). These attitudes, then in turn, often influence teaching behavior: they are where teaching behavior and beliefs meet. However, the transformation from attitude to teaching behavior does not always come to fruition. Indeed, different beliefs and attitudes may contradict each other or contextual constraints might call for certain teaching behaviors that go against the teacher’s beliefs and attitudes.

In sum, beliefs can be defined as what one thinks about learning and teaching, attitudes as what one thinks about certain practices in relation to those beliefs, and teaching behavior as what one actually does in the classroom.

How have my beliefs, attitudes and Teaching behavior changed since I began my teaching career?

In my essay I focused only on three categories where the changes in my BATB have been most profound: beliefs about learning, teaching and the curriculum.

Changes in my beliefs and attitudes about learning and  resulting  changes  in Teaching Behavior

Over the past years, the way I view the process of language learning has evolved considerably. When I began teaching, my belief was that language learning was essentially a question of breaking a language down into its individual parts, and studying each part, piece by piece in an orderly fashion. One simply needed to accumulate the various entities of a language in a building block fashion (Rutherford, 1987 cited in Willis, D. 1997: 84). My belief was that if broken down into language structures that were simple enough, and if taught the right way, a learner could internalize and begin using a target structure by the end of a lesson. To this end, I believed grammar structures should be taught in the following order: a clear presentation, controlled oral exercises, semi-controlled exercises and finally a communicative activity that would incite the students to use the target structure. My attitude was that, when done in a relaxed and interesting classroom atmosphere and paired with periods of conversation, this approach, known as the Presentation, Practice, Production (PPP) approach (Willis, J. and Dave Willis, 1996), was the best way to learn a language. Not only did I believe in this approach, I also put it into practice in almost all of my grammar classes

Today, the activities used in my lessons are more diverse. One of the central reasons for this is a change in my beliefs about how languages are learned. From seeing language learning as an exercise in breaking language down and building it all back up again inside the mind, I now believe that this approach should also be mixed with consciousness-raising (CR) and Task-Based (TB) activities. This change in my fundamental beliefs about language learning was sparked by my readings of the material in the Second Language Acquisition (SLA) course of my MA. The debate in this module about the advantages and disadvantages of the PPP approach not only made me call my practice into question, it incited deeper reflection on how languages are really learned. I came to believe that if learning a language is like building a house brick by brick, then in addition to teachers presenting language bricks, students must also learn to dig around in the clay and see if they can make a brick for themselves. Furthermore, just as bricks need time to dry in the sun, language structures need time to solidify in the mind. Learners should not be made to feel that they must be able to use a structure right away.

In terms of teaching behavior, this change in beliefs has induced me use more diverse types of activities when focusing on forms. I have not abandoned PPP-inspired exercises altogether, because I believe it has a number of merits in my context; I simply no longer see this approach as the only valid way to teach. For example, one of the principal ways I help students to learn language forms or vocabulary is through CR and TB activities. I either make these activities myself based on authentic materials, or I use business English coursebooks that propose these types of activities. However, for the moment I only use a few styles of CR and TB activities and I would like to improve on this by expanding my repertoire in this area.

Another way that my beliefs about learning have changed is that meaning has become absolutely central to my approach. My old practices were based on behaviorist theories that focused on repetition from a model. My belief was that if students are coaxed into using a structure often enough, they will eventually learn it and be able to use it spontaneously. While I still believe that this is part of learning to communicate in a language, I also believe that struggling to produce and understand meaningful language is necessary in order to reach full communicative competence. This change stemmed from reflection on the work of authors such as Dave and Jane Willis (1996), and Jim Scrivener (1996) and the material from the SLA module. In the past, what was said took a back seat to how it was being said. Now, it is the opposite. Communicating a real message that comes from the student, must come before simply displaying use of a target structure. A well structured sentence that is absent of all meaning to the student who utters it is not communicating anything. It is parroting, or what Dave Willis (1996) calls conformity..

The consequence on my teaching behavior has been that, while I still use repetition and drilling in some cases, I now focus primarily on meaningful exchanges about topics which are important to them, supported by written feedback and correction. Although I used to have similar exchanges in the past, I only considered them a relaxing aside for the student, a break. Indeed, when I did it too much, I felt like I was not teaching and quickly came back to more ‘structured’ exercises. Meaningful exchange that was not focused on practicing a language form simply did not fit into my beliefs about learning, so I avoided it, even though it felt natural to me and the students liked it. Additionally, I also use speaking tasks and meaning-focused (rather than structure-focused) information gap activities.

The final change in this category has been the addition of learner autonomy as a central tenant of my beliefs about learning. Whereas before I thought students could simply follow the steps put forth by the teacher, I now consider that students must also autonomously seek out learning opportunities. All of the course material from my MA about learner training, the good language learners, and learning strategies helped me realize what my classroom experience had already been hinting at: promoting learning autonomy promotes learning. Work from authors such as G. Ellis and B. Sinclair (1989), N. Anderson (2005), H.D. Brown (2001) and O.Malley and Chamot (1990) were also central to this change. As a result, I now try to encourage learner autonomy in the classroom in three ways. First I give students a list of materials that they can use for self study, including a list of places to find podcasts, videos and articles. Second, I have created a new needs analysis, entitled the learner/teacher contract. which involves the learner in setting goals, choosing material and topics for the class.

Finally, I give the students assignments and do in-class activities that help them discover new ways of learning English. However, as mentioned above, one is not always able to translate one’s beliefs into actual classroom behavior. Learner autonomy is one area where this is particularly true because my students are all extremely busy.

Changes  in  my  beliefs  and  attitudes about teaching and resulting changes in teaching behavior

Larsen-Freeman (2001) once stated that a good metaphor for teaching can sustain a teacher throughout their career. Since the beginning of my career, I have seen my self role in the classroom as a guide and/or coach. Although actual metaphor I have used has not changed, my understanding of my role has evolved in two ways. First, while I have always felt that students needed specific language learning goals, I now feel that to be successful, part of the responsibility for the achievement of these goals must lie with the student as well as the teacher. They must be empowered and encouraged not only to be led, but to lead. As a guide or a coach, a teacher must encourage students show the way as much as they are shown the way. In practice, this has led me to actively promote learner autonomy through the specific practices mentioned above.

Second, I feel that coaches must be able to adapt their coaching methods to individual trainees. I have therefore abandoned ideology and made an effort to diversify my methods. Now, I believe that above all, teachers must listen to their students and focus on their learning, rather than on getting though a method. In other words, rather than being able to apply one method perfectly, a good teacher must be knowledgeable in a number of methods and be able to use the right combination of methods according to the goals, needs, interests and linguistic weaknesses of each student.  All methods had something to offer.

In practice, this means that I now rely on a much more diversified repertoire of teaching activities.

Changes in my beliefs and attitudes about the curriculum and resulting changes in teaching behavior

Probably the most salient difference between the courses I teach now and those that I taught in the beginning of my career is the depth and frequency of consultation with the student. I used believe that the teacher should be alone at the helm of the course. I now believe that the curriculum must be a product of teacher student consultation. Although I did do needs analyses in the past, they provided minimal information about student goals. Rather, I focused mainly on when the student uses the language, for what and with whom, as well as how the student perceived strengths and weaknesses in English. I then devised objectives for the course on my own.

I now believe this needs analysis leaves out extremely important information for a truly learner-centered course. As mentioned above, I now discuss the direction of the class through a ‘learner/teacher contract.’  This new document guides the student and the teacher through a discussion of the student’s goals (short-term and long-term), the choice of materials including work-related materials the student can bring, and types of in-class and out-of-class activities. This new needs analysis helps to prepare the learner to share responsibility for the direction the course takes. This consultative atmosphere is encouraged throughout the class, both through frequent discussion about the direction of the class and questionnaires.

So, ready to give it a shot? I’d be very interested to hear how your BATBs have changed over your career. Leave a comment!


Basturkmen, H. et al (2004) Teacher’s Stated Beliefs about Incidental Focus
on Form and Their Classroom Practices Applied Linguistics 25/2: 243-272

Larsen-Freeman, D. 2001. The joy of watching others learn. An interview with Diane Larsen- Freeman by William P. Ancker. [Online].English TeachingForum online. F:\ELT Management\Module 5 Essay\Internet Sources Assignment 5\English Teaching Forum Online  Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.mht (Acessed on 7 December 2008)

Richards, J. and CharlesLockhart (1996) Reflective Teaching in Second Language
Classrooms. Cambridge University Press

Richards, J.C. and Theodore S. Rogers (2001, 2nd Edition) Approaches and Methods in
Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press.

Willis, D. (1997) Second Language Acquisition Centre for English Language Studies.
University of Birmingham

Willis, J. and Dave Willis, Eds. Challenge and Change in Language Teaching.
Macmillan Heinemann.