Denver the guilty dog

Last weekend I was at the TESOL Spain conference in Salamanca. A beautiful city and a great conference, thanks to all the organizers for a warm welcome.

This was one of the activities we looked at in my session on teaching teenagers.  It’s based on a favourite clip in our house, and I noticed that at least one other person in the audience had watched it as many times as me as she could recite the voiceover, word-by-word.  So, here’s introducing Denver, an internet sensation, also known as the number one guilty dog on youtube.


Just showing his photo on a projector brings a smile to the students’ faces.  Some may have seen him before.  They can all identify the emotion on his face.  The gist questions as we go into the first viewing of the clip are:  what has he done wrong?  What does his owner say to him to make him react like this?  You can elicit answers to both if you want, or just go straight into the famous clip which has garnered over 41 million views as I type this.

After watching the clip, we check answers to the two gist questions and then we turn to Denver himself.  What is he thinking?  What would he say if he good talk?  Students write down their ideas in pairs and groups and then watch again and spot where their phrases could fit in with what the owner is saying. Then a second brainstorming session in groups to shape the thoughts or words a little more.  Then there are a lot of possible directions the students can take.  Here are two options:

1 They can choose to speak for Denver, a kind of retro voiceover/commentary by the dog, recalling the experience from his point of view.

2 They can write a dialogue between Denver and his owner.  They can choose to interleave it with the owner’s words on the clip, or replace it with their own words.

Looking at practicalities, the classroom management of the group work will depend on a number of things; wifi connection or not, availability of students’ devices or not, time available, to name a few.

Viewing the clip during the writing stage

If your students can work with their own devices(phones, tablet, laptops, whatever) and you have a good wifi connection, they can watch the clip again in their groups, pausing and rewinding and timing their voiceover as many times as they want.  If not, then you can play the clip again a couple of times for the whole class at three or four minute intervals.

Presenting their work/the final product:

The students can then present their work in various ways.  They can choose to record it on their devices to play in synch with the clip; they can use a web tool like overstream  to add subtitles; they can add their own voiceover using a web tool like Weavly , an easy, accessible, free tool that lets students record their voiceover on sound cloud and add it to the clip.  In all these cases they can watch and listen to each other’s recordings and spot and comment on difference and similarities.  More simply, and just as effectively, they can stand up at the front of the class and read out their scripts as the clip plays with the volume on low. Again, they can comment on each other’s scripts, spotting differences and similarities.


Having worked with Denver and his dilemma, you can choose to explore the topic from a more personal point of view. Guilt, getting caught out, being told off, these are all situations and emotions that teens can relate to. You can brainstorm other relationships; parent/child, teacher/student, team member/coach and the kind of things that might have gone wrong. The students can then take one and write a new dialogue to fit the new context. They can choose to make it personal (the last time I got told off) if they want to, and feel comfortable doing that, or they can choose to play out different roles.

Exploring balance

In the session in Salamanca we discussed the following three balancing acts:

Fun vs challenge

Control vs choice

Structure vs creativity

It might be interesting to look back at the activities I’ve suggested here and see how it measures up in terms of each of these balancing acts.

For an alternative approach to the Denver clip, see Ian James lesson on ViralELT. 

Posted in conferences, using images, using video | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Into, through and beyond

 This weekend I’m going to be attending the Image Conference in Córdoba.  If you don’t know about The Image Conference, check it out here on the website.   It’s a great initiative and I really enjoyed the first event in Barcelona last year. It felt like a real luxury to be able to dedicate a whole day to exploring, discussing and reflecting on the role of images (still, moving, in class, on the move) in language teaching and learning in general.  Each session brings its own perspective, and each one builds on the other.
sam and bambina
This photo  is one of the many I’ll be sharing in my workshop on Saturday, but more as a totem than anything else!  Here’s a very brief taster of the session.  I’ll be coming back to add more detail (and more images) after the event.
into, through and beyond
In the session I’m going to be exploring the various roles of still images in the classroom by looking close-up at a series of activities and strategies. They will be roughly divided into the three categories of Into, Through and (you’ve guessed it!) Beyond.  We’ll be looking at how images can create contexts, scaffold production, aid retention and recall, support confidence building and a whole host of other things.  But we will also be looking beyond the activities and focusing on the language that emerges and at  how that language is captured, explored, shared and revisited.
If you’re going to be there, I hope we get a chance to meet and chat face-to-face.  If not, you can follow the conference on the facebook page or on twitter #imageconf.    Hoping to see you in one of those three places!
Posted in conferences, using images | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Is this flippin’ worth it?

ducks flipping

shared by carterse on flickr under a creative commons licence

In this post I want to look back at a series of activities I used with my beginners class last year with a couple of questions in mind.  First some back story:  this post has been languishing half-written in my drafts (and in the back of my mind) for months, never getting written, mainly I think because I’m not actually convinced it’s worth it.  But last week I joined in with the weekly twitter #eltchat discussion and the topic was flipping the classroom, or more specifically, the best use of classroom time in a flipped classroom, and these thoughts floated back to the surface (a little like the ducks in the photo will inevitably do sooner or later).

So, as I go through these activities, I’m going to be holding these two questions in mind:

Is this flipping?

Is it worth it?

Back to my class.  As a routine, after each lesson, I would send an email to the class, sharing a summary of the lesson, links to any videos we might have shared in class so they could watch them again and suggesting some possible follow-up tasks. These could be consolidation tasks, maybe writing a short text or dialogue putting the key language into context, or sometimes a link to a new video clip to watch for the next class.  I guess this is where the flipping comes in.

Let’s take a slight sidestep to reframe the first question: what is flipping?

Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

“Flipped classroom or flip teaching is a form of blended learning  in which students teach and switch roles with teachers. They also learn content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teachers and students discussing and solving questions more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing. “

And here is a link to an infographic from Knewton.  These were the two first sites that came up when I did a google search. The first is, as expected, quite wide open, the second (equally predictably) is pretty prescriptive.  Both focus on the content classroom, a classroom that is seen as being very traditional, mainly based on teachers lecturing or presenting information in class, and students applying this information at home in homework tasks or in tests.  It’s an interesting movement, with its pros and cons, its evangelists and its detractors, but I’d argue it isn’t actually directly applicable to a communicative language class. So, what does flipping look like in an ELT classroom?

Back to my class. Here are a couple of very simple “flipped” activities I tried with my students, I don’t know if they might answer the question in part.

1 Telling the time

The time came up in passing in one of our conversations. We were talking about coffee and coffee drinking habits, these were some of the key phrases I recorded in our notes:

I don’t like coffee in the evening.  I don’t have coffee after 11 o’clock. I can’t sleep if I drink coffee in the evening.  

We looked briefly at the phrase “11 o’clock” but we didn’t have time to go into time (sorry!) in detail so, as a homework task, I asked them all to look at this very simple video presentation.  (I’m sorry, embedding is disabled for this video) In the next class I showed the video on mute and asked the class to explain what they’d learned using the images to prompt them.  We paused and replayed where necessary, the students discussed and prompted and took it in turns.  They’d all watched the video at home and they could all tell the time using the clocks in the slideshow. It took about five minutes of classroom time.  We went on to weave times into the rest of the lesson adding on useful questions (What’s the time? What time is it? Do you have the time?) into situational conversations built up by the students.

So, was this flipping? I guess so, but only a very small section of the class.

Was it worth it?  I think it saved time. I think it boosted the students’ confidence in their ability to understand the video (listening comprehension was a huge hurdle for them), it boosted their confidence as independent learners and in their ability to display their learning. Each student had had time to process the information and the language in their own time, watching as many times as they wanted/needed to, pausing, replaying, generally taking control, and I think this brought added value. And the lesson got off to quite a hardworking, focused start.

2 Likes and dislikes

Prior to the coffee lesson above, we hadn’t really talked about likes or dislikes and we hadn’t looked at the use of the verb to like.  I knew that most of the students would probably be OK with it, but I also guessed that there was one student in particular who might “problematise” it if we looked too closely at the structure in class.  The verb like works differently from its Spanish counterpart, gustar.  In English the liker is the subject and the liked is the object :  I like you, but in Spanish the liker is the object and the subject is the liked :  me gustas .  This is the same in Italian with the verb piacere. In my first few months in Italy I found this verb really difficult to unpack.  Tu me piace made sense to me as You like me when actually it meant I like you. Or the opposite, Yo te piacio?   which means Do you like me?  I processed as I like you.  This lead to embarrasing silences and awkward pauses in the first encounters with my Italian boyfriend at the time!

So in order to side step this confusion and any possible contagion, I set the students a clip from the Hungry for English series on youtube on the verb like. 

There’s no overt teaching of the form, just a simple paradigm table at the end. The delivery may be stilted, but it’s very clear, as are the concepts.  In the lesson we didn’t watch the video, we mentioned it in passing (they liked this particular series of youtube lessons) but mainly we just talked about meals and food and restaurants etc we do and don’t like.  The one student I’d been worried about had very few problems. I needed to prompt her on the structures with like a couple of times, but on the whole she was just fine. Once she said, oh, yes, like the video!

So,was it flipping?  Well possibly as the presentation didn’t take up classroom time

Was it worth it?  I think so, at least for that one student. She was able to take part in the discussion tasks confidently whereas otherwise I think she’d have struggled.  They all enjoyed the video clip as it was so easy to understand (though I really worry that I problematised the whole listening issue with this class by dumbing down too much!)

So, that’s it. There are more examples of the same thing, but I won’t bore you with them!  As to the two questions, I don’t really know if it’s flipping, but I guess I’ll keep experimenting with it, ‘cos on the whole, yes, it does seem to be worth it.



Posted in #eltchat, lesson ideas, reflecting on teaching, thoughts on teaching | Tagged | 6 Comments

An autumn lesson

autumn herbst TausP

Look at the photo above (shared on flickr by TausP under a creative commons licence) and in your mind’s eye, add a person sitting on the bench.  Pay attention to what they’re doing and what they’re wearing, the expression on their face and what this tells you about them.  Now click on this link that a friend just shared with me on facebook (thanks for the reminder Nick!) and you may just find that you’ve created exactly the same character.  Or not.

The article is a few years old but it’s definitely worth dusting off and if you’ve got a B2 (+) class with a sense of humour I think it can work well in class.  Here’s a suggested lesson plan.

1 Kick off with the photo. You could start with my creative commons photo or go straight to Mr Autumn Man himself. I think I’d do the latter.  If you can, project it on a board, or if you don’t have access to a board, maybe your students can access it on their mobile phones/devices or if your class is small enough you can show it on your tablet or laptop?  If you’re photocopying in black and white you could ask the students to tell you what  colours they think are in the photo (this could be a good kick off whatever your tech context in fact).

Ask the students to work in pairs or small groups and point out and describe as much detail as possible. This can be done orally or you can ask them to write a list.

2 Field the information making sure it includes clothes as well as autumn/fall stuff.  Make a note of the details to refer to after the first reading task.

3 Students read the article (on the projector, on their phones, on paper) and see how much of their information is included in the text. 

4 At the end of the first reading ask ss to identify the purpose of the text (serious or tongue in cheek?) and ask them to identify phrases and extracts to justify their answer.  

5 On a second reading ask them to comb the text for lexical sets; clothes / freetime activities / words to describe or associated with autumn / autumn food – you could get groups/pairs working on different sets, they could use dictionaries for new words as they read, and then share the information with the rest of the class.  

6 Ask them if Mr and Mrs Autumn would be wearing the same clothes and doing the same thing in their home town(s). Use this as an opportunity to feed in any new vocabulary they might need.  

7 Optional follow-up: they write a similar text about a) autumn in their hometown b) another season (if you’re in the southern hemisphere you might want to brainstorm ideas and vocabulary for spring)  and if they can find a stock photo to go with their text, all the better!  And if you can, share the texts with other classes and other students. 

Let me know how it goes if you use it in class. I don’t have a class at the moment so I can’t try it out myself!

Posted in lesson ideas, using images | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Three things for a first class

three things flickr steve wall

by Steve Wall on flickr

I’d like to share a post I wrote recently for the British Council Teaching English blog site. It may be a bit late for some of you, or maybe not really relevant at this time of year, but hopefully some of you are gearing up to meeting new students over the next couple of weeks.

Three things for a first class 

For a few years now I’ve been experimenting with sharing lesson summaries with my classes and here I’d like to share a summary from a typical first class. This was an intermediate class of adult students at a private language school in Cádiz.  I’ve changed the names, but nothing else!

Going into a first class, from a selfish, teacher-centred point of view, I have three main objectives (apart from gauging the level and confidence of the students).

  1.  to learn and feel comfortable with the students’ names, and make sure that all the students know each other’s names too – I think this is really important if the group is going to gel and work well together, being able to call someone by their name really helps break the ice (I always feel so much shyer when I’m not sure of someone’s name)
  2.  to find out about the students’ language learning background, personal aims and expectations
  3.  to find out about the students’ day-to-day use of technology, what apps and tools they use and feel comfortable with, in order to be able to create some kind of online hub for each class where we can share information and to be able to direct students to resources that can help them continue to study and learn beyond the classroom


Here’s an extract from the summary I shared with my students after out first class (in three stages):

Lesson 1 14/09


We learnt each other’s names and talked about them a bit. We talked about names that run in the family (= are used a lot in the same family) and patron saints and great grandparents (both paternal and maternal). We talked about the origin of surnames and parents and families, and noticed quite a strong link between Cádiz and the North of Spain (and France in Julianne’s case), and of fathers moving south, falling in love and staying ;)

At the end of the discussion we looked at the pronunciation of the vowels in uncle, cousin and aunt (can you remember them?)

This stage took about twenty minutes. I started talking about my own name, the problems I have with people mispronouncing my first name, how it can be both a boy and a girl’s name, how my surname is really common in Wales and how there were three Ceri Joneses in my class in secondary school. I asked one of the students to talk about their name, if they liked it or not, whether it was  a family name (traditionally names run in families in Spain with daughters, mothers and grandmothers – and sons, father and grandfathers – sharing the same name across generations).  I asked them where their surname came from, if it was common locally and then the conversation took off with all the students volunteering their personal information, asking similar questions, telling tales about their parents and grandparents – as you can see from the summary above.  By the end of the activity, we were all very comfortable with each other’s names and the students were communicating and initiating conversation comfortably and confidently.

In the summary I highlighted in bold the key language that emerged from the conversation and prompted some revision of the pronunciation we’d focused on.


You interviewed each other about your past (and present) English learning experiences. I learnt that Julianne is interested in taking the First Certificate exam (Julianne, I’ll send you some links to useful websites later this week), that Javi is moving to Philadelphia at the end of September, that both María and Carlos are enrolled at EOI schools, that María uses youtube and podcasts to practise English, that Nacho has just finished his university studies and has been on holiday all summer, well, not totally on holiday – he was also a student at the summer courses in the morning with Javi and María.

We talked about the difference between primary and secondary schools (and looked at how to pronounce those two words – remember?). We also looked at the difference between job-hunting and head-hunting, and how sometimes being unemployed is good because it gives you a chance to study or travel.

In this stage we moved away from whole class discussion to pairwork which was very fluid after the initial ice-breaking stage talking about names. The students worked well and happily in pairs and reported back on their partners’ answers quickly and efficiently. The feedback session evolved into another whole group discussion where we dealt with the language points highlighted in the summary.


You found out about each other’s day-to-day use of technology like mobile phones, tablets, email, the internet, ipods/mp3 players and digital cameras. I learnt about some new apps, and Juan explained how he uses Skype with his son in Córdoba. We all use email on a regular basis and we shared email addresses. We also looked at the pronunciation of the alphabet (can you remember how to say H, J, G, I?) and how to spell out email addresses. (can you remember how to say _, @ and . ?)

In this third and final stage, we first brainstormed devices the students used on a daily basis and then the students worked in groups to find out what, how, where and when.  Juan, the oldest student in the class, was the least tech-comfy, but it was great when he got to talk about how he used Skype with his son – some of the younger students had never used Skype. They all went away feeling they’d learnt something new (how to spell out email addresses) and I had the tools I needed for the first step in creating our online learning community. (Here’s a link to our class blog where we shared the lesson summaries and interesting links from inside and outside the class)

This lesson summary comes from a class I taught four years ago, but I find these three focuses are still very useful in shaping almost all my first classes.

You can see the original post here. 

Posted in lesson ideas | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Breaking the silence

Sometimes work just gets in the way! I have recently finished the final draft of a project which has been taking up most of my time for the last year or so and I’m hoping to make up (at least a little ) for lost time by sharing posts I’ve written for other blogs over the last couple of months.

This is one I wrote for the Richmond Share blog, a blog written by Brazilian teachers and educators.  I’ve tweaked it slightly for this blog.  (You can see the original here).

What’s in a word?

Try this little experiment. Open Google and type in the name of your home country, hit search and see what you get. I did this with Brazil just two days after the World Cup had finished (July 15) and guess what the first ten images I saw were? Oh yes, you’re so right! But I guess that by the time you’re reading this it’ll be different, and of course, thanks to our personalized algorithms it’ll be slightly (or maybe even completely) different for everyone of us.   What does the search show for your country (if it isn’t Brazil)?  Any surprises or more or less what you’d expect? Now open up  flickr site type in your home country again. What do you notice about the difference?  Why is this?  What makes the results on Google and on flickr so different?  One more step. Now choose the “creative commons only” filter. Any differences?  Any surprises?

This is what happened when I tried the same experiment with my home country. I can only share the last step, the flickr creative commons images,  for obvious reasons!

flickr Wales for close up

[thanks to The_Chauffeur, Micolo J, Stephen Curtin, RGR image collection and Berit Watkin for sharing these photos]

This is a fun exercise to share with students, and it’s also a good way in to discussing issues of bias, sources, copyright and other aspects of visual and digital literacy in our English classrooms.   I follow the steps as above, but before hitting search the first time, I ask students to predict what they’re going to see.  This can be made into a game if your students appreciate a competitive edge, with students scoring points for each correct prediction.  You can do this with a projector or an IWB as a whole class, or ask students to work in groups and use their mobile devices to search for the images. This can throw up interesting results if their images are very different.

At each step they should make a note of the kind of images they’re shown, maybe the first five or ten, and then analyse the differences.  If they’re working in groups they can compare with another group at the end. If you working as a whole class, remove the projector image after they’ve had a short time to look at it and ask the students to remember as many of the images as they can (they can do this individually or in pairs or groups) and  then check against the image on the board.

Then ask them to discuss why the images are different. If you’re working as a whole class, ask them where they think each image comes from ( a magazine, a professional photographer, an amateur) before checking the source.  In groups they can do this by themselves.  They should be able to see that the Google search throws up more commercial or corporate images, possibly more stereotypes, whereas the flickr creative commons search produces something more personal and eclectic.

You can then ask them which image is their favourite, which they’d use to accompany a text they might write about their home country.  Then ask them if they’d be allowed to share that same image online. They may already be familiar with the ins and outs of copyright laws, in which case, they’re getting a chance to talk about it.  But they may not, in which case they’re learning a little bit more about digital citizenship.

Other terms I’ve experimented with include:

  • business (interesting for working with collocations)
  • food (a scary contrast between fast food on Google and healthy veg on flickr!)
  • winter (in this case it was a question of contrast between the images of snow and the reality of winter in the south of Spain)

If you ever give it a go yourself, I’d love to hear the results of your experiment.

Posted in lesson ideas, using images | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

looking back, looking forward

looking backYesterday was the last class of term with my beginners class.   The night before I sat at my computer and went through our lesson summaries from the last three months. I wanted to take stock of what we’d done.  As I went through I picked out the main language areas that had emerged from our conversations.  I copied and pasted the notes from the summary into a separate document and I was quite pleased with the 11-page result.  There were ten core structures and a list of “saying of the day” expressions that had started to feature as a regular slot.  I pruned and edited and printed them off, with each area forming a kind of revision card and that’s what I took to class with me the next day.


In class I set up my room, looked at my revisions cards and wondered what best to do with them.  I wanted to look back with my students over what we’d done, I wanted them to feel good about how much they’ve learned, about the progress they’ve been making and I wanted to talk about what they could do over the Easter break.  I didn’t want to make copies of my 11 pages (enough paper wasted there already!) and I didn’t want to lead, I wanted to follow, but I also wanted to share my excitement about how much ground we’ve been covering together. So I decided to cut the papers back to post-it notes, each with the heading of the topics. I set them out on the table and wondered what to do with them.


I had twelve post-its and the logical thing to do seemed to be to draw a grid with twelve numbered blocks on the board, and the message to the right, with the icons in blue for looking back and looking forward. This is what was on the board when the students walked in.  We had the usual opening chat, talking about what the students had been doing the day before ( a beautiful, sunny spring day).  It was difficult to rein them in and get down to business. I explained that the grid represented what we’d done together over the last three months and that I’d been reading back over our summaries  and I asked them to draw up a list of the main areas they could remember .  I turned my back on them and left them to it.  When I turned back to them, I fielded the list in black on the left hand side of the board.  The interesting – and of course, inevitable – thing was that their list and my post-its were pretty different.  Not completely, there was common ground, but what they remembered (and I hadn’t fished out) were specific contexts e.g. meeting a friend in a bar.  We talked briefly about each area, remembering key phrases and key conversations. Then I started to put up my post-its, starting with the common ground first: the past simple, the confusing area of do/does/did, we tied there is/are in with talking about the local area, and like/would like with role-playing taking an English-speaking friend to a bar.  And then I added the post-its that weren’t on their list and we talked about the contexts where each had emerged.  I sat down at the table with them and we went through the revision cards very quickly checking they remembered. I thought they might ask questions, want to go back over explanations, but they didn’t. On the table we sorted the “cards” into columns, the ones they felt confident about, the ones they wanted to go back and do more work on.  We took this back to the board and I started annotating each box in the grid with their comments. I added a tick if they felt happy with the underlying concept. Sometimes this was qualified, mainly with the feeling that they needed more practice, with the simple past with the frustration they felt at not remembering irregular verbs.  Others got smiley faces which meant they felt confident and autonomous using the language.  It left us with three areas to look back at and move forward with next term.


The conversation opened out, as it always does, and when I asked them which areas they found more difficult, they escaped from the limits of the grid. They talked about specific problems: pronouncing final consonants, using pronouns and possessives, getting the noun/adjective order wrong.  They also spoke about the gap between processing the language and expressing themselves and the frustrations they felt when they had to think too hard to find their words and craft an utterance. By the way, the wording on the board is theirs not mine. We then switched from difficult (below the board) to easy (above) and here the conversation became much more interesting. They talked about feeling much more confident when faced with new language. They said that the work we had done on morphemes helped them decipher words as they read (they’ve started reading graded readers outside the class), that now they know how to identify words from the same word families, and that they could see the word endings –ly, -er/or, -ing, -ed  and use them as clues.  They said they felt they were getting a feel for the bigger picture (my words now, not theirs) and they nominated the “saying of the day”:  I know what I don’t know!


Having identified weak points and strong points we looked at what they felt they needed, and again the answers surprised me.  They weren’t asking for things from me (extra homework, more video clips etc), they were thinking about the conditions they need to learn:  a strong context for meaning (and we looked at the bar conversation in particular and the language embedded in that situation); and the opportunity to practise the grammar (back to their words now!  I guess I would have said language areas or structures or patterns myself and avoided the G word!) in “normal conversation”, by which they meant our conversations in class.  I wanted to push this further and see if they could provide these conditions for themselves outside the classroom. We talked about them talking the areas they wanted to work on and writing short texts, conversations if they wanted to, that provide a rich context for meaning and then practising talking about them, or rehearsing the texts until they felt comfortable with them.  This was their task over the Easter holiday. Tomorrow I’ll send them an email with the photo of the board and a reminder of our plan and we’ll see what happens.

Posted in reflecting on teaching, thoughts on learning, thoughts on teaching | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments