There may be many reasons why some people talk a lot but rarely listen. Apparently, they enjoy the sound of their own voice. The hidden reason can be that that’s how they (were taught to) see communication. Talk. Talk. Wait for your turn to talk. Talk.

Active listening is probably the most needed skill in today’s age of alternative facts. We’ll never wind up understanding each other if we don’t listen.

In the microcosm of the classroom, this skill helps to build authentic communication and create a learning rich environment. In an ideal world, it is enough to ask learners to ‘talk to your partner and discuss …’ and listening will follow. In the real world, try and get your kids to listen to what their peers have to say. They will hear but will they listen?

Essentially, active listening starts with one’s genuine interest and curiosity in other people and their ideas.

Here’s a game that helps build a skill of active listening by getting learners to think of what others might say. It can be used as an individual activity (e.g. a get-to-know-you activity, a warmer, etc.) or complement a drill turning it into a genuinely communicative exercise.

A Penny for Your Thoughts

How to play: 

The game is best played in small groups of 4-5 players in each. One of the players reads out the card with the question. Each player uses their “Yes” or “No” answer cards to give their personal “Yes” or “No” response to the question and puts the answer card face down on the desk. Ask players to guess and write down how many players they think would answer “Yes” (or “No”) to the question. See how everyone answered. Players score 1 penny for accurate predictions about what the other players thought about the question (i.e. how many they thought would answer “Yes”). The first player who scores 5 pennies wins the game.

Level-up. You can make the game a bit more challenging by asking learners to guess the answers of each player. Each correct answer awards 1 penny.  The first player who scores 10 pennies wins the game.

* If you use this game as a drill exercise, get learners to ask each player the question before they reveal their answers. When the player reveals the card, the player gives a full answer to the question.  

Materials needed:

  1. A set of blank cards or a set of question cards.

You can either use cards made by your learners. Hand out blank cards to your learners and ask them to write down a couple of yes-no questions they’d like to ask the other players.

Or prepare your own set of questions in advance. These funny Facebook questions below might work really well for a get-to-know-you activity.

Have you ever…

Kissed any one of your Facebook friends?
Slept in until 5 PM?

Fallen asleep at work/school?
Eaten something you thought you never would?
Drank something you knew you shouldn’t?
Eaten something you didn’t know what it was?
Held a snake?
Been suspended from school?
Sang karaoke?
Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t?
Caught a snowflake on your tongue?
Kissed in the rain?
Sang in the shower?
Sat on a rooftop?
Been pushed into a pool with all your clothes?
Broken a bone?
Shaved your head?
Played a prank on someone?
Been in a band?
Tripped on mushrooms?
Climbed a mountain?
Run until you couldn’t run another step?
Forgotten your own birthday?
Found £5 or more in public?

Won something you wanted?
Been published?
Hit the bulls eye with a bow and arrow?
Walked barefoot in a stream?
Lost your cool in public?
Received a massage of more than one hour?
Meditated for more than 15 minutes?
Played football at a major stadium?

Been on TV?

Painted a picture?

For Yes/No answer cards, either give two blank cards to each player to fill them in with Yes or No, respectively, or use any colour or UNO cards (e.g. green for “Yes”, red for “No”).

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Check these activities to teach your learners how to show interest while listening FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT.

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Image: Andy Eick, Creative Commons, Flickr.com


It’s that time of the year when teachers can finally breathe again and take an inventory of their toolkits.

Brain breaks and time fillers

It’s always a good idea to have a few fun activities up your sleeve as a brain break or a time filler for early finishers.

Alphabet Race is a simple word game similar to the Build a Word Game or Scrabble, where players make new words by adding letters to a starting word and cross out letters of the alphabet. The aim is to ‘get rid’ of all the letters in the alphabet.

The game can be played in teams (2-4 players) or individually (against the clock).

Materials needed: a sheet of paper

How to play:

1. The players write the alphabet on the playing field or on a separate sheet of paper if you have more than two players.

2. Player One writes a starting word and crosses out the letters used in the starting word.

3. Player Two adds letters to the starting word to make a new word and crosses out the letters used (only the letters they used).


4. The players are not allowed to use crossed out letters again. If the player cannot think of any word, they skip their turn.

5. The game ends when one of the players has crossed out all the letters, or all the players skip their turn.  The player who has crossed out all the letters or has the fewest number of letters wins the game.

Happy playing!

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Are you looking for more word games? Check WORD GAMES or FOLDABLE WORD GAMES: 2 IN 1



– Can you teach me English fast? 

– What do you mean by fast?

– 3 classes.

– Do you believe in magic?

The term ‘magic’ (‘mageia’) came to Greece from the east and referred to rites and ceremonies performed by magi (‘wise men’). According to some sources, the magi were not only authorities for all religious matters but were also responsible for the education of the emperor-to-be. The Greeks believed in magi, however, they often looked upon them with disdain and tended to criticise them quite a bit. After the ancient government discovered a perfect mechanism of control – panem et circenses (‘pancakes and circuses’), magic shaped itself into something related to what we call ‘magic’ in the modern sense, i.e. the appearance of achieving supernatural effects.


Teachers are magi of the present day in a way. Their everyday magic often stays invisible, which leads to subjective interpretations of their performance and a daily portion of criticism. However, even the most die-hard sceptics like to believe in magic.

Learners believe in a magic teacher who has supernatural powers to make their learning effortless and super fast, ideally when they are asleep. The myth of a magic teacher is often intertwined with the myth of a native speaker with a backpack covered with magic dust who rubs off their native language on anyone who happens to be around. Parents believe strongly in the myth of kids learning languages like sponges, feeding their belief that their precious snowflakes might perform so much better if they had a magic teacher. Would they know if they had one?

– Hello, I’m Piff the Magic Dragon.

– What do you do? 

– What do you mean? I’m a magic dragon. I do magic.

(America’s got Talent, 2015)

Teachers’ everyday magic appears to be not much different from that of magicians. As Melissa from Teacher Hacks says, “like many things, it’s the result of intentionality, planning, practice and effort – all things that are invisible to the eye of the student or the classroom visitor”. (Teachers and Magicians). There is one crucial difference though: teachers’ magic acts reach their ultimate wow only when the process is made visible for learners.

Visibility is based on sharing clear and unambiguous learning intentions and success criteria with learners, i.e. ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ they learn what they learn and what success looks like.

Here are some practical activities that I use in the classroom.

– Get your learners to keep a portfolio of their work and invite learners to reflect on their progress over time. 

The portfolio may form a part of the activity. Here is an example of the requirements to the Company Game Portfolio that my students get before they start working on the Company project:



– Before and After

Have your learners make a list of words associated with the topic before the lesson. Get them to add new vocabulary (using a different colour) to the list as the final activity. How much did they learn?



Have you learners make a speech on a particular topic before they learn new skills/vocabulary, etc. (e.g. FOUR SQUARES FOR BETTER SPEAKING) and use their smartphones and record their answers. Repeat the task as the final activity of the lesson. Ask them to listen and reflect on their improvement.

Make a video: get learners to record their experiences over time.

– Engage learners in self and peer assessment.

Make learning more colourful

Colour highlighting gives learners immediate visual feedback showing where they have met certain criteria for successful task completion.

After your students have drafted their essays, ask them to highlight the parts showing they’ve met the criteria set. For example, to get a high score for coherence and cohesion, students should use a range of appropriate linking phrases/words. Before they hand in their essays, have your students highlight all the linking phrases/words they used and reflect on how they used them – Are there too few linking words? Too many? Do they serve their purpose?


Play the assessment game

Make a list of criteria for a good dialogue/speech/summary, etc., e.g. grammar, vocabulary, and structure. Split students into small teams (about 3 students in each), assign the criteria to the teams (one per team) and ask them to listen and assess the dialogue against the criteria they have. Ask them to give points: for example, for the ‘vocabulary team’, the criteria might be as follows: 3 points – at least 5 adjectives used; at least 3 phrasal verbs used; a few interjections used; no mispronounced words; 2 points – good, but there are several vocabulary mistakes; and 1 point – ‘at least you tried’. After the students have acted out the dialogue, get the teams to discuss a) what they liked about the dialogue; b) assess the dialogue against the criteria and c) decide on the number of points they’ll give. Ask each team to say what they like about the summary and give their points. You can also choose to discuss other language items after the teams have given their points. Assign other criteria to the teams in the next round. This way, your students will learn to assess tasks against success criteria, focus on particular language areas and listen to their peers. You can also introduce one ‘wow’ point to be awarded when the students really liked the effort and delivery.

To make the game more interesting, before the teams have announced the results, write your final score on a sheet of paper but don’t show it to your students before they announce the total number of points. Compare the points you awarded.

Differentiate and set individual learning targets

Silvana Richardson described a few practical activities in her IATEFL talk Beyond demand high: Making quality learning happen for all. I particularly liked the idea of getting learners to set their own targets (e.g. the target time as in the example below) and assessing their performance against the success criteria and the target time they set for themselves.


(Watch the talk here)

Make the progress of the whole group more visible.

Ask your students to give their answers using a special form (e.g. ‘ladders’). Collect the ladders and put them together on the desk, or stick them to the board. To make sure students do not experience any discomfort when displaying their results to the whole group, they are not required to write their names on the ladders (I usually ask my students to write their initials on the rungs (if they play the Ladder Game in pairs), or initials on the back side for me to design individual tasks for them).LC

Have a class feedback session: see which questions were most challenging. See more here HOW TO DO MORE BY DOING LESS. 

Ask your students to keep their ladders in their portfolio and reflect on their progress over time.

How do you make learning visible?


* * *

‘Just because we’re magic, does not mean we’re not real.’ 

Image: Julian Povey, creative commons, Flickr.com



Through #MyClimateAction, National Geographic is sharing amazing stories of guardians of the planet – people who are proving the power of one. This lesson plan is designed around a 5-minute short film telling a fascinating story of the Snow Guardian who has been fighting his own climate battle for over 40 years. In this lesson, students make predictions, watch a video and talk about climate change.

Language level: Intermediate (B1) – Upper Intermediate (B2)

Step 1

Tell your students that they are going to watch a video about Billy Barr who lives in Gothic, Colorado – a ghost town that was abandoned in the early 1900s and remains empty during the winter months now, except for Billy Barr. It is one of the coldest spots in the USA and gets plenty of snow. People call Billy Barr a snow guardian.

Think-pair/team up-share

Ask your students to think what their life would be like if they lived in a ghost town and were a snow guardian. (*You can use a ready-made worksheet, see the link below, or get your students to make their own worksheet). Get them to fill in the left column of the worksheet – “If I were a snow guardian and lived in a ghost town”.

(Click the following link to download the worksheet worksheet_snow_guardian)


Split students into small teams or pairs and ask them to share their ideas and describe Billy Barr’s life based on their notes.

Step 2. 

Have the students think of 3 questions they’d like to ask the Snow Guardian. Play the video. As the students watch the video, they should check how accurate their answers were and fill in the worksheet with facts about Billy Barr.

Step 3.

Get feedback from the whole class on what they have understood.

Step 4. 

Before you play the video again, get the students to discuss the following questions in pairs/small teams.

  • Why did Billy start recording snow levels?
  • Why are his records so valuable?
  • Which two trends does Billy mention?
  • Which advice does Billy give?

Play the video again.

Step 5.

Get the students to discuss what they have understood in pairs/small teams first and then hold a whole class discussion.

Step 6.

Hand out a sheet of paper to each student and ask them to write down one question to the Snow Guardian that remained unanswered. Then the students should rotate the worksheets and answer the questions (any question they like) and put ‘+1’ (or their ‘like’) under the answers they agree with until they get their worksheet back. Discuss the most liked/most interesting answers.

Discuss the most liked/most interesting answers.

Zoom in: refer your students to this article where they may find more information about Billy Barr.


Click here to download the Subtitles to the video.

Further activities:

Climate Change

Just Follow the Frog

Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, creative commons.


How much time do you give to your students to think about your question before asking for an answer?

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A bevy of recent research suggests that we’ve entered the age of impatience. We want it all and we want it now – instant success, instant wealth and instant coffee. According to the UMass-Amherst study that analysed the viewing habits of 6.7 million video viewers, they are likely to abandon a video if there is a start-up delay.

How long are viewers willing to be patient?

Two seconds.

How long are you willing to be patient before your students come up with an answer?


Myths and Legends of the Classroom

Myth 22

Students don’t know the answer to a question if they don’t respond quickly.


Learners process information at a different speed – some do it faster, some do it more slowly. After you’ve asked a question or set a task, there’ll always be learners who have already come up with an answer and those who have only started to process the question. Both types of learners need some wait and think time, though. The former would definitely benefit if they were given more time to think and refine their ideas while the latter would need this time to formulate their responses.

My today’s post describes a few strategies/techniques to give learners (more) time to relate and process the question or task before they produce an answer, help them overcome stress and come up with better ideas and develop a salient think-before-you-leap skill for life.


I. Allow time for learners to individually process their thinking


After you ask a question, get students to think individually about a particular question. (For teachers, if you feel your job is to fill all pauses possible during the class time, try to occupy your mind with something, e.g. say ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ 3 times or count sheep). Then, get students to pair up and discuss their ideas.

As a variation of this technique, after students have compared their ideas, get them to write down their responses.

II. Allow time for all students to get ready

Have you ever run to catch the bus? I’d done it a few times before I finally learnt that a) it’s against all common sense (read there’s 1 in a million chance I can manage it, and this chance depends heavily on whether I had lunch or not); and b) it’s not the last bus on earth. Similarly, when someone else has answered before you are ready, you might choose to stop and wait for another bus – it’s not the last question on earth, is it?

Thumbs up!

After you ask a question, have students give you a thumbs-up when they are ready to answer. Wait until everyone gives you a thumbs-up.

As an alternative, try the traffic lights technique. See 5 WAYS TO BRING COLOUR INTO LEARNING.

After they’ve given you a thumbs-up/green light, use index cards with your students’ names. Shuffle the cards and pick randomly a card with the name of the student who is expected to answer.

III. Use a more relaxed format

Some students just ‘freeze’ when the spotlight is on them. This might cause them to fail to give a well-formulated any answer when they actually can answer the question but in a more relaxed format.

All at once

On the count of 3, get students to all say their answer to the question at the same time.

Buddy buzz

Have students to share their answers with their partner (a ‘buddy’). Call on a student (‘buddy’) to tell you what their buddy buzzed.

Close Your Eyes

Assign numbers/letters to students, e.g. from 1 to 4. Ask students to close their eyes. Then name a particular number/letter and ask the students with this number/letter to open their eyes and read the question (projected on the board), then they should close their eyes again. Repeat the procedure for Students B, C, etc. After they’ve all got their questions, ask them to share answers in teams, or ask one student to say their answer to the question to the person next to/behind them.  That student then turns and says the answer to their chosen question to the next person.  Continue till all the students have said their answer to another student in the class.

Alternatively, have them write down their answer to their question on a post-it note and then post their notes under a particular question on the board. Then ask students to put their ‘like’ under the answers they agree with. If you have a large class, get them to stick their answers on a miniboard (a sheet of paper) and pass it around the class.

Give one – get one

Ask a question and have students write 3 ideas/answers. Then have them talk to at least 2 more students to get 2 additional answers and to give 2 of theirs ‘away’.

III. Allow time to think about ideas

‘Brain dump’

After you ask a question, get students to just write down all of the ideas floating in their mind and then share their ideas and add other ideas as they come to their mind.

Have students organise their ideas by using graphic organisers, e.g. the 4-square organiser (check GOING GRAPHIC: 4 SQUARES FOR BETTER SPEAKING).

IV. Scaffold

Frame it

Use a frame which students have to complete.

For example:

I’m not sure that  ________________ because  ________________.

I find XX ________________ because of 3 factors. First, ________________. One important reason why ________________ is ________________. Second, ________________, etc.

Word splash

Give to students a ‘splash’ of key words and have them write a few meaningful sentences using these words.

V. Let them rehearse

Smart rehearsal

Have students use their smartphones and record their answers before you choose a student to answer, e.g. ask all the students in the class to talk for a minute (to and for themselves). Then ask them to listen to their recordings and see whether they’re satisfied with their answers.

* * *

Happy teaching!

Image: Hourglass, flickr.com, Creative Commons, TNS Sofres


This post is based on the IATEFL opening plenary Connecting minds: language learner and teacher psychologies by Sarah Mercer (Day 2 of IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow). Watch the plenary session here.

The Human Element

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If it ain't broke don't fix it..png

If it ain't broke don't fix it. (1).png

If it ain't broke don't fix it. (2)

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This year I’ve decided to change my IATEFL blogging format and explore visual thinking tools.  All posts this week will outline some ideas from the Conference and feature a number of graphic organizers/visual thinking tools that may well be used in the classroom.

A paper tetrahedron is a fantastic visual tool to show a hierarchy of concepts or ideas, or follow the Rule of 3 (3 sides, 3 main ideas, 3 supporting ideas, etc.) to structure them. You don’t need any special skills or supplies to make it (watch the video below).

Instead of tape, you can use a paper clip and clip together the inner sides of the pyramid. pizap (3).jpg

Happy conferencing and happy teaching!


“Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I’ll never reach it. So what’s the point of utopia? The point is this: to keep walking.”                                                  

Here’s a (very) brief overview of the IATEFL opening plenary Empowering teachers through continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises given by Gabriel Diaz Maggioli on April 4.

Where are we in terms of professional development? Do we keep walking?

Problem- (3).jpg

If you haven’t watched this talk, you can find the recording here, and watch dozens of sessions and interviews of IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow here.

Happy conferencing!

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Practical ideas and tips for the classroom: 

This year I’ve decided to change my IATEFL blogging format and explore visual thinking tools.  All posts this week will outline some ideas from the Conference and feature a number of graphic organizers/visual thinking tools that may well be used in the classroom.

This post uses the A3 visual thinking technique. It’s very simple yet it has great potential as a learning tool.

A3 technique

Learn more about it here.