Through #MyClimateAction, National Geographic is sharing amazing stories of guardians of the planet – people who are proving the power of one. This lesson plan is designed around a 5-minute short film telling a fascinating story of the Snow Guardian who has been fighting his own climate battle for over 40 years. In this lesson, students make predictions, watch a video and talk about climate change.

Language level: Intermediate (B1) – Upper Intermediate (B2)

Step 1

Tell your students that they are going to watch a video about Billy Barr who lives in Gothic, Colorado – a ghost town that was abandoned in the early 1900s and remains empty during the winter months now, except for Billy Barr. It is one of the coldest spots in the USA and gets plenty of snow. People call Billy Barr a snow guardian.

Think-pair/team up-share

Ask your students to think what their life would be like if they lived in a ghost town and were a snow guardian. (*You can use a ready-made worksheet, see the link below, or get your students to make their own worksheet). Get them to fill in the left column of the worksheet – “If I were a snow guardian and lived in a ghost town”.

(Click the following link to download the worksheet worksheet_snow_guardian)


Split students into small teams or pairs and ask them to share their ideas and describe Billy Barr’s life based on their notes.

Step 2. 

Have the students think of 3 questions they’d like to ask the Snow Guardian. Play the video. As the students watch the video, they should check how accurate their answers were and fill in the worksheet with facts about Billy Barr.

Step 3.

Get feedback from the whole class on what they have understood.

Step 4. 

Before you play the video again, get the students to discuss the following questions in pairs/small teams.

  • Why did Billy start recording snow levels?
  • Why are his records so valuable?
  • Which two trends does Billy mention?
  • Which advice does Billy give?

Play the video again.

Step 5.

Get the students to discuss what they have understood in pairs/small teams first and then hold a whole class discussion.

Step 6.

Hand out a sheet of paper to each student and ask them to write down one question to the Snow Guardian that remained unanswered. Then the students should rotate the worksheets and answer the questions (any question they like) and put ‘+1’ (or their ‘like’) under the answers they agree with until they get their worksheet back. Discuss the most liked/most interesting answers.

Discuss the most liked/most interesting answers.

Zoom in: refer your students to this article where they may find more information about Billy Barr.


Click here to download the Subtitles to the video.

Further activities:

Climate Change

Just Follow the Frog

Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, creative commons.



How much time do you give to your students to think about your question before asking for an answer?

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A bevy of recent research suggests that we’ve entered the age of impatience. We want it all and we want it now – instant success, instant wealth and instant coffee. According to the UMass-Amherst study that analysed the viewing habits of 6.7 million video viewers, they are likely to abandon a video if there is a start-up delay.

How long are viewers willing to be patient?

Two seconds.

How long are you willing to be patient before your students come up with an answer?


Myths and Legends of the Classroom

Myth 22

Students don’t know the answer to a question if they don’t respond quickly.


Learners process information at a different speed – some do it faster, some do it more slowly. After you’ve asked a question or set a task, there’ll always be learners who have already come up with an answer and those who have only started to process the question. Both types of learners need some wait and think time, though. The former would definitely benefit if they were given more time to think and refine their ideas while the latter would need this time to formulate their responses.

My today’s post describes a few strategies/techniques to give learners (more) time to relate and process the question or task before they produce an answer, help them overcome stress and come up with better ideas and develop a salient think-before-you-leap skill for life.


I. Allow time for learners to individually process their thinking


After you ask a question, get students to think individually about a particular question. (For teachers, if you feel your job is to fill all pauses possible during the class time, try to occupy your mind with something, e.g. say ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ 3 times or count sheep). Then, get students to pair up and discuss their ideas.

As a variation of this technique, after students have compared their ideas, get them to write down their responses.

II. Allow time for all students to get ready

Have you ever run to catch the bus? I’d done it a few times before I finally learnt that a) it’s against all common sense (read there’s 1 in a million chance I can manage it, and this chance depends heavily on whether I had lunch or not); and b) it’s not the last bus on earth. Similarly, when someone else has answered before you are ready, you might choose to stop and wait for another bus – it’s not the last question on earth, is it?

Thumbs up!

After you ask a question, have students give you a thumbs-up when they are ready to answer. Wait until everyone gives you a thumbs-up.

As an alternative, try the traffic lights technique. See 5 WAYS TO BRING COLOUR INTO LEARNING.

After they’ve given you a thumbs-up/green light, use index cards with your students’ names. Shuffle the cards and pick randomly a card with the name of the student who is expected to answer.

III. Use a more relaxed format

Some students just ‘freeze’ when the spotlight is on them. This might cause them to fail to give a well-formulated any answer when they actually can answer the question but in a more relaxed format.

All at once

On the count of 3, get students to all say their answer to the question at the same time.

Buddy buzz

Have students to share their answers with their partner (a ‘buddy’). Call on a student (‘buddy’) to tell you what their buddy buzzed.

Close Your Eyes

Assign numbers/letters to students, e.g. from 1 to 4. Ask students to close their eyes. Then name a particular number/letter and ask the students with this number/letter to open their eyes and read the question (projected on the board), then they should close their eyes again. Repeat the procedure for Students B, C, etc. After they’ve all got their questions, ask them to share answers in teams, or ask one student to say their answer to the question to the person next to/behind them.  That student then turns and says the answer to their chosen question to the next person.  Continue till all the students have said their answer to another student in the class.

Alternatively, have them write down their answer to their question on a post-it note and then post their notes under a particular question on the board. Then ask students to put their ‘like’ under the answers they agree with. If you have a large class, get them to stick their answers on a miniboard (a sheet of paper) and pass it around the class.

Give one – get one

Ask a question and have students write 3 ideas/answers. Then have them talk to at least 2 more students to get 2 additional answers and to give 2 of theirs ‘away’.

III. Allow time to think about ideas

‘Brain dump’

After you ask a question, get students to just write down all of the ideas floating in their mind and then share their ideas and add other ideas as they come to their mind.

Have students organise their ideas by using graphic organisers, e.g. the 4-square organiser (check GOING GRAPHIC: 4 SQUARES FOR BETTER SPEAKING).

IV. Scaffold

Frame it

Use a frame which students have to complete.

For example:

I’m not sure that  ________________ because  ________________.

I find XX ________________ because of 3 factors. First, ________________. One important reason why ________________ is ________________. Second, ________________, etc.

Word splash

Give to students a ‘splash’ of key words and have them write a few meaningful sentences using these words.

V. Let them rehearse

Smart rehearsal

Have students use their smartphones and record their answers before you choose a student to answer, e.g. ask all the students in the class to talk for a minute (to and for themselves). Then ask them to listen to their recordings and see whether they’re satisfied with their answers.

* * *

Happy teaching!

Image: Hourglass,, Creative Commons, TNS Sofres


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. (1).png

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!

* * *

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!

* * *

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!