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!




People see love in the simplest things like the scent of rain, the taste of burek, or the sound of ‘new’ words in their student’s answer…Well, the latter is probably more about teachers. Anyway, love is in the air. And so is Valentine’s Day. Approaching. Fast.

If love is the last thing on your agenda because a) you believe in everything anti-Valentine or you find it a tricky topic to raise with your teen students; b) it’s not planned in the curriculum – no time for love; c) you have limited resources – no money for worksheets; or any other de, f, g and h reasons, this post may help you plan a Valentine’s Day activity with zero preparation and resources to get your students to think and speak about love in a poetic form based on any text in their coursebook. With a creative twist.

Step 1. 

Ask your students to think what found poetry means and where they can find poetry.

Found poetry?

Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry (a literary equivalent of a collage).

Show a few examples of found poetry (e.g. see this pin board on Pinterest). Miguel from On the Same Page has a fantastic collection of ‘found’ stories in his post Rewriting Established Texts: The Day They Got Creative, where he describes how you can use this technique in an EFL classroom.

Step 2.

Ask your students to choose any text from their coursebook (or offer a particular text). This can be any text about anything – we can find love in any genre.

As I’ve planned to discuss brands with my students, my Valentine’s Day activity will be built around the text about Starbucks.


(Source: New Headway, Upper-Intermediate, Third Edition)

Now, the task is to find a poem.

There are two types of poems that are very easy to write and do not require any special poetic talent:

1 – Acrostic

In Acrostic poems, the first letters of each line are aligned vertically to form a word.

Ask your students to read the text and circle the words that may be used for the acrostic the subject of which is LOVE.


Get your students to pick the words they’d like to use in their poem and add a couple of words to each line. For example, they may pick Latte for ‘l’, offered for ‘0’, vision for ‘v’ and every for ‘e’.


Another easy poem to write is a poem based on the five senses – looks like, sounds like, smells like, tastes like and feels like.

Ask your students to read the text and circle the words/phrases that may be used in their poem. Pair them up and ask to share their ideas and write a simple poem.

Love looks like a coffee house
Love sounds like New York
Love smells like roasted coffee beans
Love tastes like Raspberry Mocha Chip Frappuccino
Love feels like a comfortable place 

They can elaborate their poem further, rearrange the lines and add more words to make the poem flow more smoothly:how-to-draw-frappuccino-step-3

This activity will not take much time but will give an excellent opportunity for your students to read the text again and again, and revise or learn new words. Lovingly.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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If you have more resources (time and money) for love, try this Scavenger Hunt activity VALENTINE’S DAY: SCAVENGER HUNT

Image: rossyyume,, Creative Commons



Roses are red, violets are blue, colour can be used with adult learners too.

Numerous studies have shown that colour breaks the monotony, adds variety, has a significant impact on our emotion and mood, helps us focus more and remember better. Colour is a powerful tool in the teacher’s toolkit and may have a profound effect on learning.

My today’s post describes 5 ways to use colour in the classroom. This is definitely not the ultimate list but I hope it will help generate more ideas and add more colour to learning.


Checking understanding

Instead of asking learners whether the task/material is clear so that you could move on, you can use the traffic light technique. Equip your learners with red, amber and green pencils/markers (which they may use for other purposes as well, e.g. take notes or highlight different parts in the text), and get them to raise the pencils to show how much they think they understand: red – “I don’t understand, please explain again”, amber – “I understand but would like to go over this again” and green – “Everything’s clear, I’m ready to move on.” This will give you quick visual feedback and help decide whether you need to go through the task/material with your learners again.

There are different variations of this technique. For example, see the post Traffic lights: A free resource for correcting errors and checking understanding, where Jason Anderson describes how he uses traffic light prisms for correcting errors and checking understanding.

This technique can be used as a great self-assessment tool. Watch this Teachingchannel video that shows how it can be used to get students to evaluate their work and receive peer support, rather than only relying on teacher’s assessment.


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? The same can be done for vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, etc.

Colour-coded error correction

There’s much discussion about using a different colour than the traditional red pen for error correction. Some educators call for throwing the red pen away and talk about the red pen effect, while others don’t really see the point in doing so (see more in this article). I doubt changing your pen colour alone might significantly affect feedback if it’s poorly planned and doesn’t support learning. Anyway, while rethinking the colour of your pen, you may go further and consider introducing several colours.

Instead of symbols indicating the type of error, try to use colour codes:

E.g. Colour code


Colour-coded correction may help provide quick feedback and show the pattern of errors to your learners highlighting the areas they need to work on.

Close reading

Highlighting in colour can be used as a visualisation strategy to facilitate reading comprehension. When going through comprehension questions, ask your students to highlight specific elements, such as key words, main arguments, unfamiliar vocabulary, etc. Highlighted parts or key words that contain the answers to comprehension questions serve as visual scaffolding, making words/phrases stand out in the text and thus more memorable.


Image: Robson#,, Creative Commons

Drawing and Colouring

Drawing and colouring are mainly employed with young learners, when they are asked to draw and colour or offered colour sheets with instructions for colouring, which reflects a traditional colouring-is-for-kids-only attitude. Meanwhile, it can be used with teenage and adult learners too. Equip them with coloured pencils and markers and get them to brainstorm ideas and think visually, or turn reading a text into a colouring exercise (e.g. see my recent post LEARNING IN COLOUR).


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Please leave a comment if you have some more ideas to share with us! 

Happy teaching!


A splash of colour may be all they need.

Colouring has become the latest most popular trend for unplugging and taking a break from life for a few minutes to create something artsy.

In ELT, colouring is mainly employed with young learners, when they are asked to draw and colour or offered colour sheets with instructions for colouring, which reflects a traditional colouring-is-for-kids-only attitude.

Colouring can become a powerful tool in our toolkit and help increase students’ memory performance and facilitate learning. My today’s blog describes an activity combining working with text and colouring. The colouring sheet is based on the popular British nursery rhyme This is the House that Jack Built (see here)


I ‘built’ the house using Microsoft Paint. You can also convert your texts into images by using ASCII generators. For example, I used Text-Image converter to wordify the images of the rooster and sun:

cock  sun

You can either print out the colouring sheet to use in the classroom (your students will need markers or coloured pencils or gel pens) or use the jpeg file and have students colour with their iPads. Click the following link to download the colouring-sheet.

Below are the instructions for colouring. They have been designed to revise parts of speech and introduce relative clauses. However, the possibilities are unlimited here. You may change the instructions and include particular questions to the text (What was the farmer doing? Where was the malt? etc.), or focus on other aspects, such as vocabulary or pronunciation.


You can choose to read out the instructions, or display them onto a large screen, or split students into small groups of 3 and hand out the instructions for the roof, walls and fence separately to each student and have them read them out in their groups.

This activity may be used as an excellent memory game. Get your students to repeat the lines in the section each time after they have completed the instructions.

Ask your students to pick any colour for the door and the rooster and add any details to their piece of art. This may be the perfect finishing touch.

If your students have followed the instructions correctly, they will get this image of the house.


Happy colouring!

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My blog 1 WORKSHEET – 10 GAMES has been shortlisted for the #TeachingEnglishBlogAward. Your like on the Teaching English-British Council page will be much appreciated!


Despite many studies suggesting that *fun* is required for learning, it does not seem to sit right with many teachers (and parents) who continue to stick to their belief that if students are enjoying the class they must not be learning anything, i.e. there is learning and there is fun, and ‘never the twain shall meet’.


There are a lot of misconceptions about what fun in the classroom actually is, which explains why we are caught up in all these ideas that ‘there’s too much fun in the classroom’, ‘I’m not there to entertain them’ or ‘there’s no time for fun, they are there to learn’. Many of them might stem from poorly planned and executed ‘fun’ in the classrooms, distracting students from learning rather than facilitating it.

*Fun* is an approach to make learning more enjoyable, which may take a lot more time and skill to plan.

Getting your learners to play a ‘fun’ game or do a ‘fun’ activity does not mean that learning will follow. The flowchart below may help you decide if your activity is *fun* or a waste of time.


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It’s that time of the year again. The time to decorate the Christmas tree, do Christmas quizzes, make Christmas dishes, browse through the history and traditions of Christmas, or do lots of other activities related to the ‘jingle bells’ time of the year has finally come, just as the time to share my favourite tried and tested activities to get students into the festive spirit.


This year the party will start with a highly engaging oldie but goldie

Draw your Wish or Chinese Whispers on paper.

Materials needed: an A4 sheet of paper per player

Special skills: Drawing skills; the worse, the better

Have everyone write their initials at the bottom of the page and think of a New Year wish they’d wish to themselves or their fellow students.

Language focus: Ways of expressing good wishes (in formal (may, let) and informal contexts), e.g. see different lists of New Year wishes here .

Everyone starts by writing a wish to someone in the room at the top of their paper. Once the players have a sentence at the top of their paper, ask them to pass their paper to the player to their left (or right). Then get the players to draw the wish given to them with a small picture under the sentence. After everyone has finished drawing their wishes, get the players to fold the top part of the paper over so it covers the first sentence. Then again, have the players pass the papers to their left (or right). When the players receive a paper, ask them to write the wish that is illustrated by the drawing.


Then get the players to fold over their paper so just the last sentence is visible and pass the paper to the player to the left (or right). Continue the game until the players run out of space or until the players get their papers back.

Ask the players to unfold the papers and read the wishes. Much laughter is guaranteed.

Chocolate Confessions

You’ll need an assortment of small chocolate bars, or candies (of different types). Have each student choose a chocolate bar (or a candy) from a variety of chocolates/candies that are displayed on the table. Once they have chosen their favorite, put up the chart for what they should do for each chocolate bar/candy.

Chocolate Confession Chart

Chocolate [1…e.g. Milky Way= tell about an embarrassing experience this year

Chocolate [2] = share any funny or embarrassing experience that you had  this year

Chocolate [3] = tell about a fun experience this year

Chocolate [4] = tell about a wicked person you met this year

Chocolate [5] = tell about something new you learnt this year

Chocolate [6] = tell about a prank you watched or played on somebody

Chocolate [7] = tell about your wish that came true this year

Chocolate [8] = share any funny or embarrassing experience that you had  this year

Chocolate [9] = tell about your achievement this year

Chocolate [10] = share any funny or interesting experience that you had  this year

Give your students some time to eat their chocolates and think about their stories. When students are ready, say that now they will play the Whisper Challenge.

Whisper Challenge

To explain the rules, show the following video with Andrew and Ashley playing the Whisper Challenge.

Pair up or split your students into small teams of 3 persons in each and ask them to wear headphones and listen to some music while the other student (or a story teller in the group) tells a story (ideally, we need sound proof headphones, but if your students listen to some music on their phone, the effect will be the same). The person/persons wearing headphones should try to understand what the other person is saying. Then when they think they understand, they take off the headphones and say what they think the story was about. Much laughter is guaranteed. This activity is a fun way to eat, share and bond.

A White Elephant Gift Exchange or Dirty Santa

A White Elephant Gift Exchange is a popular Christmas event where people vie to walk away with the best present. It also goes by Yankee Swap, Dirty Santa, and a plethora of other names. The White Elephant game is played by a lot of different rules – some dead simple and others confusingly elaborate. You can see the basic rules here.

We shall play a slightly different version of the game.

We need gifts.

Option 1: You may use small things that students have brought to give to their fellow students. Each gift is opened after chosen and before traded so everyone can see what they’re getting – or giving up!

Option 2: Fill in Christmas stockings. Get them to think of a present they would like to get for this Christmas and fill in their Christmas stocking (see the Christmas Stocking templates designed by Tekhnologic).

2. Now put all the stockings together, show the gifts you have (or get them to tell which gifts they’d like to get and why), shuffle the stockings and get the students to pick one stocking.

3.  Party time. Say they have to follow the instructions and exchange gifts. No. 1 might ask for his/her own stocking or ask for any other stocking from anyone.

* Students can keep using the numbers from the Chocolate Confessions game.

1.  Lucky you, you’re # 1 You get to start all the fun.

So grab a gift and grab it quick.

Cause you’re the one who gets first pick.

2. Number 2 you’re on the way. It’s time for you to have your say. It’s time for you to have your say.

Get your gift and when you’re done,

Swap it off with number 1.

3. Number 3 it’s plain to see. It’s your turn to pick which gift `twill be.

And when your choosing job is through,

Swap with 1 and then with 2.

4. Number 4 must use your head. So grab a gift that has some red.

If it doesn’t suit you to a `T’,

You may swap with 2 or 3.

5. Jump to 5, don’t drag your feet. Take your gift back to your seat.

Wonder of wonders, it’s yours for a spell.

But what comes next, you can never tell.

6. Number 6 it’s your time to go. Grab a gift and don’t be slow.

Now put on a smile so they won’t be sore,

Cause you must swap with #4.

7. Is a lucky number it seems, You choose a gift that has some green.

Poke it, and shake it until you get back.

Now trade with someone wearing black.

8. Number 8 it’s up to you. To get a gift that has some blue.

Now go quietly to your place.

Or trade with someone with a smiling face.

9. Nine, we haven’t forgotten you. So choose your gift and don’t be blue.

Consider well and when all is said.

Trade with someone wearing red.

10. Number 10 come to the front. For yours you shouldn’t have to hunt.

Now hurry back and look alive.

For you get to swap with #5.

If you would like to continue the exchange, or you have more students in your class, just make slight changes to this fun White Elephant poem.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Looking for more ideas?

Check wonderful Christmas resources from Tekhnologic: 2017 Calendar: A Class Calendar in PowerPoint or the Christmas Quiz

A fabulous lesson plan on Christmas from the BBC and British Council

Fun Christmas resources from Larry Ferlazzo

And a set of daily posted Christmas ideas from Theodora Papapanagiotou


Make drilling more meaningful and fun. All you need is a sheet of paper.


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This post shows how the use of game mechanics can help a teacher design better drilling activities and turn repeated practice of target grammar or vocabulary into a cognitively engaging exercise.

  • Focus on the material to be practised and learning outcomes for your group of students: e.g. irregular verbs

It is essential to clearly see the ‘why’ in terms of language learning and use games and game techniques as a means to an end, rather than for their own sake. Bringing a game from the external world, without adapting it to learners’ needs and expected learning outcomes, may be just a waste of time (and money, if the game requires numerous handouts) in terms of learning. Games most certainly add a fun element to the lesson. However, if the main focus is on the game rather than what needs to be practised, it is only logical to expect improvement in engagement or enjoyability, which may or may not lead to improvement in performance.

  • Form of interaction: two or three students alternating between the roles.

Learning irregular verbs requires much memorization, drilling and practice. Ideally, every student should be given an opportunity to see, write, say and hear verb forms again and again. If you teach a large class, the most ideal option would be to have students work in pairs or small teams of 3 students in each.

  • Work less: Engage learners in the process of preparation for the game

Teachers typically carry the full load of preparation. Do less to achieve more. The preparation for the game might significantly maximise learning. Hand out a sheet of A4 paper to each student. They have to fold it in half 4 times to get a 4 by 4 grid (16 squares). Choose the form of filling in the squares with verbs: dictate the verbs and have students give their forms and write the verbs in spaces on the grid (offer to choose squares – choice); or give a second form and ask them to write down the verb (challenge); or give a list of verbs and get students to fill in one verb at a time and rotate their grids until all the grids have been filled in with verbs (novelty).


  • Think of the game elements to add: points, levels, goals, competition, uncertainty, taking turns, specific rules, time limit, game pieces, etc.

There are different game mechanics you can apply to one and the same worksheet. For example:




This is not an exhaustive list of games we can play. Instead of points, you may use money (e.g. 10 cents per word guessed) and turn the process into a truly enriching exercise for your students.

Every game has certain unique features or basic game elements that may help you create gameplay with a particular worksheet or particular area of language in focus. Again, what you want to achieve will define the rules of the game. If, apart from memorization of the forms, you target fluency and more meaningful production – use of verb forms in speech – in addition to giving forms, have students make sentences with these verbs. For example, instead of calling out words in Bingo, set the following rules:

Bingo: To play the game, pick a certain verb and ask the other student a question. If they answer it with the verb (e.g. in its second form), cross it off the bingo sheet. 

– What did you write first in your sheet?

– I wrote “to write”.

With a 4 x 4 grid, this will provide a maximum asking and answering run of 32 questions with the target language.

Change the interaction pattern of the game, e.g. have students move in the classroom and approach and ask other students, and you’ll get a more interesting form of bingo.

You can play any game in the classroom. You don’t need glossy cards and expensive boards. All you need is one worksheet that your students will create themselves.

‘It ain’t what you use, it’s the way that you use it, and that’s what gets results’.

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This post is part of my workshops for busy teachers working in low-resource conditions. If you’re interested in more ideas or games, please check my other posts:



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And more ideas are yet to come – watch this space!

Happy holidays!