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.



– 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!




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.

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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