For teachers, it's that time of year again when the holidays are almost over and thoughts inevitably (if somewhat reluctantly!) turn back to teaching. Students too will be joining new classes, or even new schools. Many teachers will already have a selection tried and tested activities to help them get to know their new students, but if you're looking for something a bit different, check out Walton Burns' 50 Activities for the First Day of School, which may be the only collection of first day activities that is specifically targeted at ELT teachers. You'll find a lot of 'icebreakers' and warm-up activities, but also fun ways to introduce the rules, or do creative needs analysis. The book includes clear instructions and a lot of variations, so it's suitable for both novice and more experienced teachers. See here for a list of contents and some sample activities.
VERDICT A mix of old classics and new ideas make this a very useful collection of activities, which will provide plenty of ideas and inspiration for teachers wondering how to approach that all-important first class.
TIP Check out Walton's website, where you can find lots of other useful resources.
Good news! My Animated English collection* is the Christmas Number Oneon iTunes U! So to celebrate this momentous achievement, here's a special animated video I made featuring some Christmas cracker jokes.
CHRISTMAS CRACKERS One of the great British Christmas traditions is Christmas crackers. The Christmas crackers that are used today are short cardboard tubes wrapped in colourful paper. There is normally a cracker next to each plate on the Christmas dinner table. When the crackers are pulled - with a bang! - a colourful party hat, a toy or gift and a festive joke falls out! The party hats look like crowns and it is thought that they symbolise the crowns that might have been worn by the Wise Men. Crackers are famous for their very bad jokes! Read more >>
*The Animated English videos are also available on YouTube, but without the other course materials (transcript, glossary, crossword ...)
OVERVIEW Knoword is a fast-paced word game that helps boost vocabulary, spelling, speed of thought, as well as increasing analytical, observational and typing skills. When you start a new game you'll be given a definition, the first letter of the word it's referring to, and 1 minute to solve the problem. Guess the correct word and you'll move on to the next puzzle. If you don't know the answer, simply press the "X"-shaped skip button. Every correct answer earns 20 points, and every skipped question loses you 10.
COMMENTS This game is seriously addictive, fun to play, and unlike a lot of similar games and apps which test SAT vocabulary and the like, the words and definitions are not too obscure. A particularly nice touch is the way the system uses colours to show whether you've typed a right or wrong letter, although it's frustrating not to get the answer to the word you're trying to find when you finally run out of time. There's no app, but the game works fine on an iPad as long as you're in portrait mode. You can choose which level to play at (Novice, Hotshot, or Wizard), but I do think learners below post-intermediate level would find the game challenging, even at the Novice level.
LESSON IDEA If you've got a videoprojector in the classroom, you could play Knoword as a team game with the whole class.
This two-minute video features some of the 50,000 new words which have been added to the latest edition of the Collins English Dictionary (read my review here). How many of the words do you know? You can find some definitions here and here. You can look the rest up in the online version of the Collins Dictionary.
TEACHING IDEA Call My Bluff is a popular British TV game show that goes back to the 1960s. Two teams of three celebrity contestants take it in turn to provide three definitions of an obscure word, only one of which is correct. The other team then has to guess which is the correct definition, the other two being "bluffs". This would work very well as a classroom activity with more advanced learners using the new words from the Collins Dictionary. Give each team with one or more of these cardswith a 'new word'. Then get the teams to come up with two 'fake' definitions for each word, and you're ready to play the game. See here for a more detailed lesson plan, and here to watch a complete episode of Call My Bluff from 2004.
VOCABULARY The Mail's headline features a play on words. If you tiptoe somewhere, you walk there very quietly without putting your heels on the floor when you walk. But tiptoe can also be used figuratively with the sense of doing something warily or very carefully. • However, the limited losses in Asia were likely to encourage European players to tip toe back into the market after heavy selling the day before.
Google proved it has a sense of humour with an early April Fool’s Day joke that puts the fun back into map reading. The technology giant released its latest feat – a version of Google Maps for the ‘long neglected’ Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The game features old school pixelated graphics, synonymous with the original games consoles. Read more >>
I was looking for an online version of Hangman to play in class with my students, and came across www.hangman.com, which was perfect for two main reasons. First, you can create your own word lists (or choose from a list of topics) . And second, it looks super on a video projector screen. Great for practising the alphabet, or as a fun lesson starter.
COMMENT Click here to see the answer to the game above.
Andy Martin sent me an email telling me about Rolls off the Tongue, a new cartoon idioms blog where you have to guess the English idiomatic expression being illustrated. See if you can guess this one (click here for answer):
As this picture from Lifehacker's article Seven DIY iPad Stands for Six Bucks or Less shows, cats do have their uses (though ours seems to spend most of its time figuring out how to get us to feed it—or sleeping). Anyway, it occured to me that a fun idea for a lesson would be to show students the cat pic and ask them to come up with some more whacky uses for a cat. They could even take photos. Of course, it should be stressed that cats should not be mistreated in any way, shape, or form.
If you're still not fed up with hearing about April Fool's Day, The Guardian News Blog has a round up of the best (and worst) hoaxes from this year and previous years. The Daily Telegraph has a collection of April Fool PR stories. Social Media news blog Mashable presents its choice of the 'Funniest April Fools Jokes', while TechCrunch has a 'Definitive List'. Finally, BBC News Magazine has '10 stories that could be April Fools... but aren't'.
by little-known Los Angeles band OK Go featuring a four-minute chain reaction of household objects crashing into one another has become a YouTube hit, attracting more than 8.9m views in just three weeks. You can read about how the video was created in this article from The Times.
FOOTNOTE Rube Goldberg, or Heath Robinson, devices appear to be universally popular. In Germany they are called “what happens nexts”, in Turkey “crabbys”, named after a professor who said they should move sideways like some crustaceans. In Japan they are chindogu, or incredible machines.
LESSON IDEA Students design their own Rube Goldberg machine (or Heath Robinson contraption) on paperboard or OHP and present it to the class. See examples here and here.
VOCABULARY If something is upside down, it has been turned around so that the part that is usually lowest is above the part that is usually highest. • No-one realized that the painting had been hung upside down.
Wikipedia is a fantastic resource, but some of the entries can be rather long and sometimes tell us more than we need to know. Enter Ten Word Wiki. TWW is an "encyclopedia for the ADD generation" in which every entry uses up just ten words—no more, no less. Oh, and unlike Wikipedia, TWW has a sense of humour. Here are a few definitions:
• France: Nice and warm and pretty, but full of French people.
(Ouch!) • English (people): Likes: Soccer – Dislikes: Foreigners. Invented English, but can’t speak it.
(ditto) • Twitter: A virtual social network service with tweets posted by twits.
• People: Other living creatures you should make babies with. Except cousins. • Amy Winehouse: Singer told to go to rehab. Maybe should
have gone. • Dogs: Not cats. Stupid. The
internet is not made of them. • The iPad: Essentially a giant $500 iPod
Touch. No Flash, no porn. • Albert Einstein: Biggest super geniusof all time. But it's all relative. • Toyota: Manufacturer of cars that run forever... because they can't stop.
LESSON IDEAS 1. Get your students to come up with 10-word definitions for whatever (or whomever) takes their fancy. 2. Give students a list of TWW definitions, and see if they can guess the headword.
Above Cartoon by Peter Steiner. The
New Yorker, July 5, 1993 issue (Vol.69, no. 20) page