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? 

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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!

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Looking for more videos and ideas?

Check this oddly unsatisfying video lesson plan and other great lesson plans and activities designed by

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.

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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

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

Back to School Ideas! by Maria Theologidou

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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”).

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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,


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?


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

Image: Julian Povey, creative commons,