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. (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?

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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.


Here’s a new addition to my WORD GAMES collection (see some of the games in my WORD GAMES post) – the Foldable Word Builder-Word Search Game. It is a Build a Word version with a twist. Instead of traditional 7×7, 9×9, 11×11, or 13×13 grids, players build words while unfolding parts of the 4×8 grid, which makes the game more dynamic to play.

Materials needed: 1 sheet of A4 size paper per two players.

How to make a playing field


Fold the sheet in half, then fold both sides towards the middle. Turn the paper and fold the sides towards the middle. Then repeat the procedure the third time. The (4×8) field is ready.


How to play

The game is played in pairs. Players take turns and fill in the squares with words. The players start playing on the 4-square field. The number of points corresponds to the number of letters in the word. The aim is to make a long word and get more points. The player with more points wins.


After all the four squares have been filled, the players unfold the field and continue playing further; this time – on the 6-square field. Words can run horizontally, vertically or diagonally.

After all the six squares have been filled, players unfold the field further on and continue playing.


After all the eight squares have been filled, players unfold the 12-square field.


And the 16-square field.


After the players have filled in 16 squares, they finally unfold the field with four squares to be filled. The points for words with letters in the four squares double.


The players count their points and determine the winner.

You may choose to finish the game or have your students play Word Search using the resulting field. Have them rotate the fields and search the words built by their fellow classmates.


Happy playing!

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Would you like to learn how I came up with the idea for this game? Check BEHIND THE SCENES OF ELT-CATION


What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘manpower’?

A. Working men

B. The Marlboro Man

C. Working women. Really?

On the International Women’s day, the British Council ran a fantastic webinar NON-GENDERED LANGUAGE: HOW TO TEACH IT, SHOULD WE TEACH IT? with Jemma Prior (you can watch the recording here) to discuss why dealing with gender-biased language is important in the English language classroom and give some practical tips on how to teach non-gendered language.


There is basically no language input in coursebooks “to help learners deal explicitly with using non-sexist language”, which might present many issues when using the language in real life situations.


My today’s post offers some ideas based on Google search games (see my post JUST GOOGLE IT), which might help get your learners thinking about the issue of gender-biased language and redraw the balance.

Image Search

This game helps identify the issue of unconscious gender biases in the language.

Pair up or split students into teams. Hand out cards with (gender-neutral) words (different words for different teams) and ask students to use the Google Image Search and choose 3 images (3 levels of difficulty) to show to other students. The task is to guess the search word.

Example: a nurse

Image 1 (10 points)


Image 2 (5 points)


Image 3 (1 point)


(Images – screenshots of Google search by image)

Cards (click Cards to download them): 4.jpg

* If you want to extend this activity, check the ‘Scenarios’ activity suggested by Jemma Prior during the webinar or watch/try the following social experiment with your students)



You can find it here. This game is highly addictive. Pair up students and ask them to think of gender-biased words and their neutral versions. You may suggest the following words:

Chairman Chairperson
Fireman Firefighter
Stewardess Flight attendant
Waitress Waiter/Server
Businessman Business executive
Newsman Reporter

See more examples of gender-biased words and their gender-neutral substitutes by categories here.

Ask your students to enter the keywords in Googlefight, and see comparative results in the bar graph. The student whose word returns the highest Google search results is the winner.

Guess the Google Search

This is the activity with Google autocomplete suggestions for words or phrases. Ask your students to give 3 guesses for the word starting, for example, with ‘man and’ or ‘women and’. Type them in the search field and read out a series of suggestions. Award one point per word guessed.

This game might help raise awareness of ‘man firstness’: men and women; male and female; sons and daughters; brothers and sisters; uncle and aunt; boys and girls; he or she, etc.



 * See more activities suggested by Jemma Prior during the webinar.

It seems highly unlikely that every gendered word will get entirely removed from the language, but we could make small changes to raise awareness and teach gender-neutral words to make our communication more inclusive.

Thank you for stopping by and happy teaching!




– Are there any games to teach the Present Simple tense? My kids forget it so quickly.

You can turn any drill into a game by using game mechanics (see a few tips on how to do it in my post 1 WORKSHEET – 10 GAMES).  Similarly, you can turn any game from the external world into a teaching tool.

My today’s post shows how to adapt Finger Twister to provide repeated practice of the Present Simple. Finger Twister is like a Twister but for a hand, which makes the game suitable for large classes.

We’ll design two version of the game – a low-resource version (half of A4 size paper) and a version that will require more resources rather than just a sheet of paper.

Option A

Materials needed: half of A4 size paper

Hand out a sheet of paper to make a play board.

Make a square by folding one corner diagonally as shown below.


Fold the excess paper and fold the square 4 times. Unfold the sheet. In the squares on the left side, put in personal pronouns. As a visual scaffold, ask students to put in a dollar symbol in the squares with the pronouns he/she/it (usually, it is the third form singular that is problematic to remember for students). The dollar symbol may serve as a visual mnemonic that might help learners remember “he+verb$, “she+verb$ and “it+verb$ structures better. The 16 squares are the actual playing field. You may use a simple version with numbers in the squares


or a more colourful one, with 4 colours.


For each number/colour, write a verb (or 4 verbs) on the whiteboard.

E.g. I’ve chosen the following verbs to practise simple present and talk about sports


On each ‘spin’, count to three – one player calls out the pronoun and the other player calls out the number/colour. Alternate who calls what. After the player has put the finger on the number/colour, they should make up a sentence with the verb in the Present Simple tense. Have your students alternate positive and negative statements, yes/no questions and wh-questions.

Make it more challenging and have your students make up a sentence about themselves/somebody they know, i.e. replace the respective personal pronoun with a noun/name. Players may not lift their fingers between turns. The player who keeps their fingers down the longest wins.

Make it more challenging and have your students make up a sentence about themselves/somebody they know, i.e. replace the respective personal pronoun with a noun/name. Players may not lift their fingers between turns. The player who keeps their fingers down the longest wins.

Option B

This option requires more resources. Finger Twister, just like Twister, is usually played with a color spinner. You spin the spinner and let the player use any finger on the correct color. Inexpensive solutions might include: a) making your own spinner (see here), or b)  using a die (or a set of dice), c) using the Spinning Wheel in PowerPoint designed by Tekhnologic.

This Spinning Wheel has 7 colours. We can introduce 3 additional rules for the 3 colours that are not used on the Twister board:

Orangerepeat the last two sentences. Skip your turn if you don’t remember them.

Pink one finger off the spot.

PurpleYour Choice – make up your own move.

Before your students play the game, add particular verbs to each segment of the wheel and print out the ‘boards’.

Twister Board

Now point your fingers and do the twist.

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Finger Twister can be used to revise other grammar units or vocabulary. Check this fascinating version of vocabulary Finger Twister from Did You Moji Today.

If you have Wi-Fi in the classroom, you could also make use of this online Wheel Decide (thanks to Lesson Plans Digger for sharing this resource).


Remembering and using new words in speech is often a challenge for language learners. Quite often, this causes them to shy away from speaking.


I’ve described 10 strategies that may help language learners make words “sticky” in my new article on the British Council’s Voices blog 10 WAYS TO LEARN NEW WORDS. Please check it out!