“Art is all around us”.

My today’s post is a lesson plan built around Netherlandish Proverbs (Nederlandse Spreekwoorden), a 1559 painting with literal illustrations of 200 Dutch proverbs and idioms by the Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, offering an engaging way of working with art and language.

Level: B2+.

Step 1.

Tell your students that these are pieces/details of the 1559 painting by the Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel. Have them study and describe what they see. (Click the following link to download the ppt. for the classroom netherlandish-proverbs). Based on the details, get them sharing ideas what this painting might depict.


Language focus: seems to/looks like; modal verbs of deduction

Show the whole painting and ask the students to find the details on the painting.

*Students can zoom in on particular scenes of the painting in the Google Art Project here.


Ask the students if they have seen this painting before. What does it depict? Which scenes do they find particularly interesting?

Language focus: in the foreground/background; in the middle/center; at the top/bottom; on the left/right; behind/in front of.

Step 2.

Play the video and ask the students to note down what the four pieces mean.


Click the following link to download the worksheet – handout.

Language focus:


Get the students to pick a piece they find interesting and find what stands behind in the Expressions Featured in the Painting here. Have the students describe the scene and their impressions (use the worksheet as a scaffold).

Step 3. 

Ask your students to think of proverbs/sayings in their language that describe human behaviour (or get them to pick a few scenes from the painting and compare the sayings in their language) and their equivalents in English (iDiom Corner may be handy). Hand out post-it notes and ask the students to draw the proverb/saying they chose and put all their post-its together – their Topsy-Turvy World is ready.

Happy teaching!

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Image: Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for more ideas? Check The Best Resources For Using Art As A Way To Teach & Learn English from Larry Ferlazzo.



My today’s post continues the series of posts on crafts and low-cost ideas for the classroom (See CREATIVE LOW-COST TEACHING/LEARNING AIDS to learn how to make low-cost flip cards, small books, vocabulary organizers, puppets and game fields out of a sheet of paper).

Today we will try to make a reusable alternative for cut-and-paste worksheets. You will not need to print out worksheets for kids, and they will need neither scissors nor glue.


You will need 3 water cups (make sure they’re transparent) and a permanent black marker (or several coloured markers).

Take the first cup and draw a face, or a face with a body.


Now take the second cup, stack it onto the first one and draw trousers with shoes. Rotate the cup and draw shorts, or trousers, or skirts on the cup.


Take the third cup, stack it onto the second cup and add shirts or t-shirts.


The three cups will be enough to play. Get learners to rotate the cups, dress up and describe their stickmen.

You can also use a fourth cup to add different hair styles. Stack the fourth cup onto the third cup and draw different hair styles.


And the fifth cup can be used for accessories.


Now the cups are ready to play.

Get kids to rotate the cups, dress up and describe their stickmen.


  • Use wet napkins to remove permanent marker from the cup.
  • Instead of a stickman, get kids to create different monsters.

Happy teaching!

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Images: Special thanks go to my daughter Pauline for the cups and creative ideas.



Recent research suggests that boredom might have many benefits, including increased creativity. A researcher from the University of Central Lancashire carried out the following experiment. She split students into two groups and had one group carry out a humdrum task of copying phone numbers from a phone book and then asked both groups to come up with as many creative uses for two plastic cups as possible…Do you have any doubts as to who got their creative juices flowing at the speed of light?

What the researcher calls an ‘experiment’ is everyday classroom experience for many teachers. Whenever our students get bored, their creativity levels go through the roof, and they come up with a million creative uses for their pens, pencils, books, classmates, the floor and the ceiling in the classroom. However, we’d never plan a boring task. Never. It’s the topic, which is boring.

Asserting that we have boring topics (texts, language aspects, etc.) to teach is probably the best excuse for our students’ low level of interest and engagement, and, ultimately, performance. I’ve heard it many times, coming from a horde of experienced teachers (usually added with ‘o tempora, o mores, these modern kids, they just don’t care anymore!) and young teachers who are fired up with enthusiasm but have fewer strategies to draw from.

There’s a well-known mantra in teaching – “explore your students’ interests”. This, however, doesn’t mean that their interests should define the topics we introduce. This defines the first step in my NO-JOKE GUIDE: HOW TO BE A BORING TEACHER

Step 1. Wave good-bye to Shakespeare, poetry, art, spacecrafts, secret lives of butterflies, etc. and focus entirely on the topics your students are interested in at the moment. It’s ‘Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen’ly easy.

Welcome to the world of Pepe the Frog, teachers!


Potential risks and opportunities: becoming a ‘Yo Audrey’ teacher

John Dewey wrote that interest operates by a process of “catch” and “hold”. First, we catch someone’s interest, and then we should try to maintain it.

To make sure your students don’t ‘catch’ it right away, keep a stiff upper lip and repeat to them again and again that

Step 2. It’s a dull topic (I know, right?) but you have to learn it because a) it’s in the course book; b) it’s in the test; c) it’s in the curriculum; d) your school insists on it; e) any other no-choice option.

No choice coupled with teachers’ beliefs (or previous learning traces) might be a winning combination. This managed to create quite an off-putting image of grammar, evoking associations of something that can be either “right” or “wrong”.

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The approach required to catch someone’s interest is different from the one that is required to hold it. If your students still show a spark of interest (despite Step 1 and Step 2 actions),

Step 3. Overcomplicate it

The research of Paul Silvia suggests that to be interesting, the subject matter must be novel and comprehensible. That means introducing either entirely new things or novel aspects of familiar things and calibrating their complexity so that these things are neither too hard nor too easy to understand. The minute people feel unable to comprehend them and master the challenges that they pose, they lose interest.

giphy (3).gif

If you find it hard to overcomplicate your topic, resort to the opposite

Step 4. Oversimplify it

Keeping up one’s interest requires some challenging activities. Give them an easy path to the feeling that they understand something when what they understand is not complete, and they will spiral downward into the abyss of boredom.


Step 5. Avoid variety 

Stick to your course book. Follow it religiously, page after page. The minute you use something that may build in surprises, be it a worksheet you designed or a new game you’d like to try, you lose it all. They get interested.

Step 6. All work and no fun  

Review your topic/course book thoroughly to eliminate any element of fun  (jokes, games, etc.) and, for heaven’s sake, wipe the smile off your face – we mean hard work here.

Step 7. Talk too much

It’s your stage. It’s your time. Talking too much is especially effective in getting their eyes glaze over. The more verbose you are, the less attentive your students will be.

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Step 8. No personal relevance

People remember and get curious about things that move them. Make sure you use nothing they might relate to or nothing that might move them – no images, no music, no videos, and

Step 9. No motion

Get them to sit up straight and still “in time of books”. Try to avoid using activities that involve moving around the classroom; use “pair up and ask questions” instead of an opinion poll or gallery walk. To strengthen the effect, make sure the questions have no personal relevance to your students.

Step 10. No enthusiasm

Some studies suggest that teacher’s enthusiasm has a significant influence on student engagement in the classroom. The more enthusiastic and dynamic teachers are, the more engaged students become, behaviorally, cognitively and emotionally. Enthusiastic teachers rub off their enthusiasm on students, so if you want your students to be bored, let yourself be crushed by boredom.

There are no boring topics, there are boring ________. 

It’s your choice.


Image: woodleywonderworks,, Creative Commons



English spelling might seem very illogical but it

can be learnt




thought, though.

Only about 12% of words in English are spelt the way they sound. With 26 letters, there are around 44 sounds (this is not precise as different accents produce different sounds) and several hundred ways to write those sounds. As a result, many learners (especially learners whose first language is phonetic, i.e. what you see is what you say) struggle with their spelling of English words.

There have been many attempts to “fix” the language and make words easier to spell (See the initiative of the English Spelling Society in the UK, proposing spellings like “wensday”, “crum”, “cof”, “distres” and “milenium”). But before they “kik the ‘c’ out of the sirkle and the ‘ph’ out of the telefones”, we’ll have to think of ways to make our learners’ life a little bit easier.

Spelling has much to do with how we remember things. One of the ways to help learners recall some tricky words is to use mnemonic strategies.

Mnemonics (/nəˈmɒniks/) are short devices (sayings, poems, etc) used to remember complex ideas.

Here are a few activities that you may try with your students to introduce them to mnemonics and improve their spelling.


Dictate the following words to your students (B1-B2):

1) Wednesday

2) Rhythm

3) Separate

4) Currants (berries)

5) Quiet

6) Because

7) Necessary

8) Accommodation

9) Said (as in “he said something”)

10) Hear (as in “I don’t hear you”)

11) Caught

12) Ghost

Ask them to share their lists with their partners and try and spot any mistakes.


Ask your students to guess the day:


(Answer: Wednesday)

Get your students to check the spelling of the words you dictated in Step 1 using the following mnemonics:


This will work more effectively if your students create their own mnemonics.


Have you students think of tricky words for spelling (they surely have their ‘most favourite words ever’) (or introduce a few words that are often misspelled by your students) and create their own mnemonics for these words.

E.g. Here are a few mnemonics from my students:

“career” – car and beer

“habit” – a habit is not a rabbit

“island” – is land

“lose” – uh-oh, I’ve lost an ‘o’

I would love to hear your students’ mnemonics!

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Check out Luke’s English Podcast to learn more about mnemonics, memory training and learning English here.

(Image: John Lillis,, creative commons)

Battleships: A PowerPoint adaptation

On Wednesday, I presented the project I’m currently leading at the British Council Teaching for Success Online Conference. [Take a look at the British Council Teaching English conference page where you can find fantastic talks by speakers from around the world and panel discussions taking place between Wednesday 5 October and Sunday 9 October 2016].

– What is the best way to develop professionally?
– Get connected and collaborate with other teachers. If we help each other, and share our ideas and things we do in our classrooms, we can all make great gains.

This post by Tekhnologic is an excellent example of the value added of sharing knowledge and ideas with other teachers. Some time ago, I shared Battleship for irregular verbs and here’s how Tekhnologic improved it and made it even better by adding a tech version to it.


The other day I was reading this post by Svetlana Kandybovich. The post was a list of the 10 most popular games from ELT-CATION, and one of the games on that list was Battleships.

I was looking at the game and thinking that not only had it been awhile since I last made a PowerPoint game, but Battleships would be relatively easy to make in PowerPoint.

So, I turned on my computer and started designing.

This is what I produced:


A single slide with letters on the vertical axis, numbers on the horizontal axis and the interior of slide is able to contain 35 words. The words don’t have to be unique vocabulary items; the board can contain duplicates.

Beneath the words are hidden ships that your students have to locate.

Take a look at this tutorial video to see how to use the template. The board used in the…

View original post 895 more words



“Life is more fun if you play games.”

Roald Dahl

Today is the first day of another 365-day journey of ELT-CATION around the sun, so I thought it would be a good idea to list the top 10 most liked games posted on ELT-CATION by now. They are low-cost, learning rich and work really well in the classroom.

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spacebattleshipThe players take turns to make a shot at the opponent, by calling out the coordinates of a square. The opponent responds with the verb in the square. The player should give its second or third form (or both) to learn whether it’s a “hit” if it hits a ship or a “miss” if it misses. If every square of a ship gets shot, that ship is sunk.

Materials needed: grids (or 1 sheet of paper per student)

Read more here.

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spaceImage 3The aim of the game is to climb the ladder. The first player picks up a card from the pile and reads it to the other player. If the player gives the right answer, he/she moves one rung up and puts his/her name initial on the rung. Then this player picks up a card and reads the task for the first player. If the player fails to give the right answer, he/she stays on the same rung and puts his/her name initial on the same rung again. The winner is the one who manages to climb the ladder faster. The game can be used to introduce a game element for any assignment, incl. tests.

Materials needed: a sheet of paper per 2 players

Read more here.

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spaceScanGet students to make a 4×4 grid, fill it in with answers to your/their questions (Get the students to rotate their grids, and answer the second question, and so on, until all the grids have been filled in with answers). Students mingle as a whole class and ask each other questions (decide on the number of questions they may ask – e.g. ‘one question per person only’) and cross out the square in the grid if the answer is the same. To win, they must cross off a horizontal/ vertical/ diagonal line of four and shout bingo.

Materials needed: 1 A4 sheet of paper per student.

Read more here.

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spacegrid4It’s a very simple game, where the player is placed in a maze and has to find a treasure chest and find a way out. This game is designed for playing in pairs. The a-Maze-ing Game is based on a ‘board maze’ principle. This game can be used as a learning tool for grammar or vocabulary and help revise prepositions of place and direction.

Materials needed: 1 A4 sheet of paper per student.

Read more here.

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space2016-02-24 20.34.54Pair up students and ask them to draw a grid (6×4 grid; with 4 spaces ‘your c
hoice’) to play the game. In order to place a mark X or O, the players should make a sentence about themselves or somebody they know in the corresponding tense form. They may choose any square they wish to place their marks (X or O) in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row. The players are not allowed to put their marks in the same square so they have no option but to use different tense forms. The player who succeeds in placing three/four of their marks in a row wins the game.
Materials needed: grids (Grid 1/Grid 2), or 1 A4 sheet of paper per student

spaceRead more here.

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spaceThe Football Game - Hand drawnTekhnologic and ELT-Cation have worked together to show you how to ‘get the ball rolling’ and use this game in the classroom. The game is very versatile and you can use questions based on vocabulary, grammar, idioms, culture or a mixture of different questions. In fact, use any questions you can think of.

Materials needed: an A4 sheet of paper, a coin, or a ppt game template (click here to download it)

Read more here.

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3110894392_257fd9328a_oThis is a collection of Google-based games that you can play with your students to the end of better learning (and increased engagement): Guess the Google Search, Google or Gavin, Googlefight, Image Search and Guess the Doodle. These games require little preparation and are very easy to arrange.

Materials/resources needed: mobile phones, Wi-Fi

Read more here.

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WORD GAMESspacescan 20002

One more collection of pen and paper games that require next to no time to prepare and might be used to get students to look through their word lists again and again, and help them retain new vocabulary: Squares, Stairs, Categories, Stop!, Battleship, Build a Word, Word Twist, Hands.

Materials needed: a sheet of paper per student/group of students

Read more here.

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These are games that involve t16419582702_3589e44d1c_khe English alphabet and can be played to fill  in the time before the bell rings, or when you’d like to focus on a particular skill, grammar or vocabulary, or when you just want to ‘wake ‘em up’ a bit. They are all highly engaging and very easy to arrange. They include: Human Typewriter (spelling; vocabulary; pronunciation / transcription),  the Curious Cat (vocabulary; speaking; writing), Desert Island (vocabulary; speaking) and Alphabet Aerobics (grammar; speaking).

Materials needed: some games might require a sheet of paper per student/group of students

Read more here.

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I’ve made this Think Positive Game to cultivate an optimistic outlook, devel2016-06-28 09.39.33op a habit of positive self-talk and learn phrases to encourage someone
to put more effort or to not stop trying to do something. The aim of the game is to score maximum points as a team. Challenge them to score more than 30 points. Students simply go around in a circle drawing one card on their turn. Depending on the card they pull, they perform the task given and score a point for the team. Each card represents a different task.

Materials needed: cards, or 2-3 A4 sheets of paper per group

Read more here.

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It’s been two years since I embarked on my blogging adventure. Happy birthday to ELT-CATION and happy teaching to all of us!


Our planet holds a wide variety of unexplained phenomena, including the Sphinx, Bermuda Triangle, a Mayan crystal skull, the Great Pyramid, and now the Red Truck. Why on Earth the Jackson Hole Town Square livestream place became one of the most ‘watchable’ spots will probably remain a mystery forever. As of this moment, it’s hovering at around 2,115 viewers from different parts of the planet scrutinizing each and every person and vehicle passing by and waiting for the infamous red truck to appear.



A screenshot from the Jackson Hole Town Square livestream (with the RED TRUCK!) (Screenshot: Youtube)

Livestreams are probably not so widely explored for ELT purposes as a resource, yet they have a really good potential as they

  • Bring the real world into the classroom

The very fact that we may view what’s happening at a particular place in the target culture in real time takes us to a completely new level of working with realia in the classroom. These are no longer still images of situations familiar to the target culture, these are the situations themselves.

  • Serve as a springboard for a variety of activities

One of my favourite activities is to get students to look out of the window and make as many true sentences as they can about what is happening (ideal for teaching Continuous forms). This might have many options: a) all students watch and note down/discuss what they see; b) one student watches and tells the others what he/she sees; etc. With livestreams, this exercise might be more engaging (they can see more things happening) and have a cultural-added value.

Here are a few livestreams that your students might find interesting:

Abbey Road Crossing

Abbey Road is one of the most iconic roads in the UK. It is a popular hot spot for Beatles fans. The street camera is focused primarily on the Zebra Crossing area and depicts a clear view of this frequented street.

Piccadilly Circus

The camera is focused on one of the busiest squares in the very heart of London with a consistent flow of both pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

The Times Square

This unique aerial look at the Times Square captures what this great city is all about.

The Vancouver Aquarium 

There are several cams featuring penguins, belugas, jellies and sea otters. You pick.

Las Vegas 

These cams are placed in the middle of the action in Las Vegas – view the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, Vegas casinos, and the wedding chapel.

Please leave me a comment if you have any tips on the use of livestreams in the classroom.

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October 5 – 9, 2016 – the British Council Teaching for Success Online Conference for teachers and teacher educators. See the schedule here.