the short poems
are the hardest
to write,
change one word
and the whole poem

– Atticus

Creating your own logic puzzle is no different. Forget one word, and your puzzle turns into the next Sphinx’s riddle.



Step 1. 

Draw a simple grid and make up a scenario.

For example,

5 company managers called the headquarters. I’ll pencil in the managers’ telephone numbers as something known, and the aim of the puzzle will be to deduct and fill in the following information: managers’ names, departments, where they are from (place) and why they’re calling (documents needed) and other information. The grid will have the following headings:


Now assign different values to each of the five managers, i.e. fill in the grid with particular information. To make your puzzle more learning rich, try to incorporate particular vocabulary you’d like your students to focus on.


Name: Marko, Jill, Basile, Steven, Alison

Department: Finance, Marketing, HR, Procurement, Legal, Sales

Calling from: Germany, Montenegro, Australia, UK, France

Documents needed: a certificate of origin, RFT, a balance sheet, TOR, a performance appraisal form

Other information: can see or notice details very well; very hard working and enthusiastic; sensible; has a lot of energy, drive and motivation; can speak easily, confidently and well


Step 2.

After you’ve filled in the grid, work backwards and create clues for your students to deduce the values for each character. My students are practising telephone conversations at the moment so I’ve included a couple of clues in the form of messages. For example,

“Hi, this is Alison. I have some questions regarding the tender documents for your project. Please call me when you are free. Thank you.”

“Hi, this is Alison again. I’m back to London. I’m not sure if you got my first message so I’m leaving one more. We need to straighten out the formal invitation to suppliers to submit a bid. Can you call me when you have a chance? Thank you.”

“Hi, this is Basile. I have some questions regarding the scope of work in the template you sent me on Monday. I might not be at my desk tomorrow – we’re celebrating La Toussaint, so feel free to call me on my cell phone.”

“Hi, this is Jill. I’ve double checked the documents you sent. Could you please check with the production department if they have a document declaring where the goods were produced? Thank you.”

“Hi, this is Marko again. I’m not sure if you got my first message so I’m leaving one more. I have some questions regarding your statement of financial position. Can you call me as soon as possible? Just in case, the country code starts with 3. Thank you.”

“Hi, this is Steven. We need some information on the last performance review by tomorrow. I might not be available till evening so please send an email instead. Please copy Alison from the procurement department.”

“Hi, this is Steven again. Please copy the financial manager from Montenegro. Thank you!”

“Hi. This is Basile again. Just in case, the country code is double three five.”

The procurement manager is a go-getter.

Jill is a natural salesperson; she has the gift of the gab.

The HR manager is a really down-to-earth person.

The HR manager’s phone number is nine digits long.

Basile is an eager beaver.

The financial manager has eagle eyes.

The sales manager is calling from down-under.

The United Kingdom country code +44 is followed by an area code.

To make your clues more challenging, mix in some clues that refer to several characters.

Test solve the puzzle to make sure it works, and get rid of redundant clues which lead to the same conclusion.

Step 3. 

It’s always a good idea to have someone test solve your puzzle for accuracy.

(A huge thank you to my courageous friend Tracy who kindly agreed to test my ‘Sphinx’s riddle’ with her students!) 

Puzzle it out:

Print enough copies of the grid and clues for your students – one set per 2-3 students. (If you teach business English students and would like to try my puzzle with them, click the Puzzle_grid and clues to download the clues). Cut the clues into strips. Give your students enough time to read the clues and fill in the grid (about 15-20 minutes).

Happy puzzling!



Are you looking for ways to build your teaching around job-specific authentic documents? Try the following seven activities that might help create more meaningful learning experiences and target real needs of your learners.

Low-prep; all you need is a business letter.

the art ofprocrastination (6)

Is your favourite activity missing from this list? 

* * *

Happy teaching!


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ELT-cation is turning 3 years old this month.

And that takes the cake.

Or a new post.

Last year I posted a few games to celebrate the occasion (see Play & Learn Games); this year I’ve decided to throw a “movie night” party and share my favourite worldess videos.

These films are:

  • short (about 2-4 minutes)
    • highly engaging, and
      • appropriate for learners of all levels.

Such films can be used to warm up the class before your lesson begins, during the lesson – you may tie them into your lesson topic or use them to give your students a break – or at the end of class to assign a “mission” to your students (read more in READY FOR A ONE-MINUTE MISSION?).

One film that is sure to break the ice and make your students give their eye teeth for yet another lesson with you is

Teeth by John Kennedy & Ruairí O’Brien

The most valuable feature of stories based on wordless videos is that they can be told any number of ways according to your learners’ interpretation of the story and their level of proficiency in English, taking the form of a dialogue, narration, comic speech/thought bubbles, as a story told by a particular character, in writing, etc. In a way, you will hardly ever feel trapped in a time loop, going through the same story with the same expressions again and again.

Trapped – A film by Joe J. Walker.

The film is ideal for problem-solving sessions. Stop the video at 0:37 and invite students to come up with ideas on what they’d do to escape the trap.

Everything will be okay in the end.

Unless they fall into a black hole.

The Black Hole – A film by Future Shorts.

Storytelling has never been more fun. Get learners to retell the story as a police officer writing up a report.

Money doesn’t buy happiness.

But it can buy Googly eyes, foil paper, Rubik’s cube, pick-up sticks, money, dice, post-it notes and rubber bands to make

Western Spaghetti by PESfilm

This film never fails with teenage classes. Similarly to the Chocolate Roulade, you can build a good videogloss activity based on it (see  VIDEOGLOSS: CHOCOLATE ROULADE).

Slightly absurd, but nobody will stay silent in the classroom.

Silent Film – The Man and the Thief. 

Stop the film at 3:55 and ask students to tell the story as the girl from the film. Ask students to predict what may happen in the rest of the film (ask them to think of a “happy” ending for the story and a “sad” ending). Compare their stories. Show the ending of the film.

And the last (nearly) wordless film for tonight shows the most powerful force available to us.

The Power of Words.

Pause the film and ask students to guess what the woman wrote. Get them to write a “flashback” scene for this film that tells us more about the man and his life.

Happy teaching!

* * *

Looking for more videos and ideas?

Check this oddly unsatisfying video lesson plan and other great lesson plans and activities designed by All.at.C.

10 absurd wordless videos that teach describing from Speech is Beautiful

tons of videos and exercises by iSLCOLLECTIVE

and the Short Film in Language Teaching e-course developed by the British Film Institute (starts tomorrow!)


Here’s a riddle for you: “How many words is a wordless video actually worth?”

According to Dr. James McQuivey’s ‘equation’, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a one-minute video has to be worth exactly 1.8 million words.

  1. 1 picture = 1,000 words
  2. 1 second of video (30 frames per second) = 30,000 words
  3. 30,000 words x 60 seconds = 1.8 million.

Following this logic, the activity I’d like to share with you today is worth 2,220,000 words as the video it’s built around lasts 74 seconds.

Wordless videos make a fantastic resource for language teaching and learning:

  • they can be used with learners of all levels;
  • it is learners who provide the language, i.e. the story can be told any number of ways according to learners’ interpretation of the story, and
  • they are typically highly engaging as they tell a story through visuals and music.

One of my favourite types of activity that works great with wordless videos is a videogloss. You are probably already familiar with a dictogloss (see more here). Though they share many similarities, a videogloss is essentially constructing a narrative based on a visual input and building on prior knowledge rather than reconstructing it.

A videogloss involves a high level of collaboration and is ideal for multi-level classes. In the process of constructing the narrative,  students might collaborate with students of different proficiency levels and develop more complex vocabulary.


Step 1. Show a short video to your students, e.g. this amazing chocolate roulade video recipe.

Step 2. Split students into small groups and get them to try to construct a summary of the recipe.

Step 3. Share and comment on those summaries together.

Step 4. Show the video again and pause at various stages to give the students the opportunity to discuss and add more details to their description. Get them to share and compare as a class, and help them out with any emergent language they might need.

*As a follow-up activity, have your students read the recipe of chocolate roulade and make changes/add more details to their recipes.

Bon appétit and happy teaching!



It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with the kids back to schooling and teachers so dear, it’s the happiest season of all.

Here are my favourite activities (this year 9+1, and a couple of new activities to try shared by other bloggers) to kick off the new academic year and transition back into the school environment and learning.







What’s your favourite activity? Please share in the comments below.

* * *

Looking for more alternative back-to-school activities? Check out these ideas and resources:

I, She, You by Jason Anderson

50-50 – a great adaptable PowerPoint quiz from Tekhnologic

More ice breakers for the ELT classroom by Rachael Roberts

Activities for first lessons by Clare Lavery at teachingenglish.org.uk

Alternatives to “What I did on my Summer Vacation” by Tara Benwell

Back to School Ideas! by Maria Theologidou

* * *

Happy New Academic Year!



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”).

* * *

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

* * *

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!

* * *

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