Wednesday, August 3, 2011


The old back-to-back game, excellent as a listening exercise.

Insert any pair work into the equation, have your student turn their chair around so your are back-to-back and work on finding the answers.

This works particularly well with pair-based gap fill activities, giving instructions or practising telephone drills.

Love it!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Warm up games

There are loads of great EFL/ESL resources for teachers out there on the web, so to fill the time between me posting my own ideas I thought I'd share this excellent page with you; it offers 11 zero preparation ideas to get students warmed up and ready for class. My favourite is 'What does your name mean?' - Tenacious Original Beautiful Yuppie!

Happy teaching!

Monday, February 21, 2011

I 'used to' be happy

Teaching 'used to' is pretty straight forward, but getting students to actually use it is another matter.

Start your class by showing a picture of a person with 'today' written on it. Ask the s to tell you about them.

Show them a picture of another, completely different person with 'last year' written on it. Tell the s it is the same person. Ask them to tell you about the person last year.

Ask s to point out what has changed. What is not true about the person any more.

At this point demonstrate using 'used to be'/'used to do' etc. Remember, Did you use to...? (Not 'Did you used to...?)

Feed in a practice activity at this point.

Now get the s to draw two columns. Head one 'today' and one '1965'. Ask s to brainstorm things that were better/worse today and in 1965. i.e. music (1965), technology (today) etc... Adapt this activity to your knowledge, needs, interests etc.

Role play: A is a middle aged person who used to have a relationship with B in the sixties. You are meeting up for the first time in 40 years, having gone your seperate ways. A thinks everything today is wonderful and hates the sixties. B thinks everything today is aweful and loves the sixties. Use the ideas in the column to provide ideas during the role play. A should try to bring B around to their way of thinking, B the same. (in a 121 situation the teacher will have to be one of the pairs) Target the use of 'used to' and correct later.

Likely errors: missing the to, using a gerund instead of infinitive.

For more advance students you can tie in the teaching of 'would' as well as 'used to'

Monday, August 23, 2010

Talking routines

A lesson plan for talking about routines in the present simple might look something like this:


- an invented weekly schedule filled in with the times given, but with some blank spaces also with the times given.
- an empty weekly schedule template

1. You may need to preteach the word 'schedule'. In this case you could do a number of things. One would be to bring a dictionary. For more capable learners, try offering the S four words like Schedule, Plan, Routine, Diary and ask them to select the odd word and tell you why.

2. Teach/revise the prepositions on/at/in by drawing three circles on a piece of paper headed on/at/in and ask you S to breifly write down as many words about time in the circles. Check, correct, add.

On - days of the week eg. Monday, special days eg. birthday
At - times of the day eg. 9 o'clock, the weekend, night, festive holidays
In - years, months, seasons, parts of the day

2. Give S a copy of (eg. Tom's) weekly schedule (can be invented) in a table-type format, including the specific time Tom does things but without including the verbs eg. Monday - office 9am. Also leave some blank spaces in the schedule with only the time given.

3. Ask S some meaning check questions (MCQs) - eg. Is it the same as your schedule? What's the same/different?

4. Play hangman with the question: 'What does Tom do on Monday at 9am?' Write a number of horizontal lines equal to the words/letters. Try to elicit the correct question, work through it together. Do the same thing to elicit the correct answer, concentrate on the correct verb conjugation. 'He goes to the office at 9am'.

5. Continue with the other days until the S is clear about the structures you are using.

6. Now the S asks you about the blank spaces and writes down your answer eg. 'What does Tom do on Wednesday at 9am?'

6. Ask S to write down their own weekly schedule (can also be invented - if S is young learner, necessary) onto Tom's schedule. S must now describe his routine to you. eg. 'On Monday I also go to the office at 9am'.

7. Quiz S's memory - Without showing S the schedule, ask S 'What does Tom do on Monday?' Then change roles.

8. Draw a few circles on a piece of paper and the dates on each one Monday 1st January, Monday 8th January, Monday 15th January, write 'office 9am' in each circle. Ask S 'What does Tom do every Monday at 9am?' S answers 'Tom goes to the office at 9am'. Repeat with months, seasons, until you feel happy your S has got the concept.

9. Give S the empty weekly schedule and tell S to imagine they are a celebrity and fill it in. Tell student to include one free time during the week.

10. Role play: S is the personal assistant of an important celebrity. You are a journalist who wants to know about the celebrity's schedule. Ask lots of questions and the student must answer with the correct structure. Try to find a good time to have an interview with the celebrity.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Conditional troubles?

For drilling the 1st Conditional (If+present tense/will+infinitive), ask your S to write down as many things as they can think of about their dream holiday destination in ooh say 3 minutes. Don't worry, they can think of more later. You should do the same (or have something prepared). The idea is you are friends and you want to go on holiday together but you both want to go to different places. Try to get your S to convince you to go to his/her place with "If we go to Tenerife we will eat tapas" and you do the same "But if we go to Norway we will visit the Fjjords". Continue until you both run out of ideas, repeat the same ideas, summarise (all this will drill the correct grammar structure) then make a choice.

A nice little one for teaching the 2nd conditionl (If+past simple/would+infinitive) Write down about 8 sentences, cut them out, put them in a bag, pull out one and start talking about what you would do in that situation without saying the actual sentence. For example, written on the paper is "If you could fly...." so you could say things like "I would fly into the supermarket and buy a beer." Obviously make it harder, that was just a dumb example. The aim is to take turns guessing the exact sentence written on the piece of paper by saying as many things as and your S can think of. It's great for drilling the 2nd conditional structure and they don't even realise it.

3rd Conditional is a pain (If+had+past participle/would+have+past participle) Tell your students a horrible regret story orally (that time you spilt wine on your friends new jacket). When you're done, ask the to repeat it back to you. Write the senteces down together, and then ask what would have happened if you hadn't done A, which led to B, and to C etc. After the grammar structure is clear you can have fun with a Chain of Consequences. Start the Chain with 'If I hadn't come to English class today, I would have (eg. stayed at home) - If I had stayed at home, I would have (eg watched a movie)' etc etc etc. Get it? Keep going until something funny happens in the story. Write it down. Discuss all the funny things that would have happened if you hadn't come to class (this would also be a good time to introduce 'might/could have' as a replacement for 'would have')


Friday, August 20, 2010

Lesson 1: Introductory class

This is the all important first lesson between you and your student. It's an opportune moment for you to get to know your student, for them to get to know you, and for you to find out what they need as far as English goes so that you can gear your future sessions together towards their needs. Obviously this is totally dependent on their level. It goes without saying that Beginners will need everything! But the more advanced your student (S), the more they will have specific ideas about what they want to learn. Or not, as is often the case. That's your job as a teacher, to find out. You can do this in a number of ways. Speaking activites help you see how fluent they are, but standard 'interview' type questions can get a little tiresome. So here's a few ideas to give your first class some flare!

For young learners (8-12 years) a nice activity is the 'Passport Control game'. Take your passport or ID card to the class. Show it to the S. Ask them to tell you what your name, age, nationality, place of birth is. Elicit the questions needed to find out these facts i.e. Where are you from? Next ask your S to make their own ID card or Passport, complete with beautiful self-portrait. Add fantasy categories to the passport like 'Favourite flavour ice cream' etc. When they are done, elicit the questions needed to find out these facts. Drill the questions a few times. Now send your S out of the room with their Passport and close the door. Put your chair infront of the door. Open the door and say 'Welcome to...(insert fantasy place)' to create a Passport control context. Ask 'Can I see your Passport please?' and say there's a problem. Really create a scene. Then say you need to ask some questions. Holding the passport info page away from the S, ask them the questions your drilled. If they answer any questions incorrectly, say 'Sorry but you can't come in' and send them out again for ten seconds. Repeat the situation until they answer all questions correctly. When they've done that, they become the Passport control officer, so now they ask all the questions and can send you out of the room.

You could also play the sleepover classic Truth or Dare. You might need to demonstrate what 'Dare' means, and prepare some appropriate dares (if you have time put them on little pieces of paper and drop them in a bag). Ask your S 'Truth or Dare', if they look at you strangely just encourage them to answer one or the other. Through playing the game your S will understand what to do. Remember, keep the questions and the dares appropriate to level and age.

A good speaking game for teens and adults that keeps the conversation focused, is language specific to Wh questions, and can be easily adapted to the level of your student is the 'Cloud Game'. Start by writing any brief, interesting facts about yourself on a piece of paper and draw a cloud around them, thinking about what the question would be to find out this information, like that gameshow in the US, Jeopardy. i.e. You write 'Tony', the question would be 'What is your name?' Hardly rocket science. To demonstrate that this is what you want the student (S) to do, draw horizontal lines equal to the number of words (or letters for lower levels) in the question you want them to ask, like Hangman, but with a whole question. Ask your S what the question is. Work through it with them. Once they have filled in the spaces and arrived at the question, they will know what you want them to do. Now write about six to eight facts about yourself in clouds and elicit the questions from your S. If they struggle you can tell them how many words etc. If they find even 'What's your name?' impossible, then you better make the next lesson about simple question formation in English. You're done. Now it's their turn to draw clouds. Repeat the same thing. After 40 minutes hopefully you've both learnt a lot about each other.

If you have a more advanced teen or adult S, say pre-intermediate or above, you can play the Tell the Truth game. Dictate three sentences to your S about yourself. They must all be quite strange facts. One of them must be a lie. The idea is the S will act as investigator and try to find out which is the false fact. You must be able to back up all three facts, even the false one, so a little pre-thought is required. Your S needs to try and catch you out by asking your multiple questions about each fact, attempting to trip you up in the process. When you're done change roles, so that you are asking the questions.

As far as correction goes during these activites, you need to decide what's appropriate, however nobody likes being interrupted mid sentence, so if your S is making all kinds of mistakes just write down the most common/frequent ones and go over them at the end of the class.

For homework on the first day, set your teen or adult S a writing task. A good one is 'Write your Autobiography' or if they snarl and hiss at this suggeston write a short story that starts and ends with the same sentence/word or if that fails give them the first and last sentence of a story and tell them to fill in the middle part. For young learners, homework should be colouring in and labelling of some sort.

Have fun!

A new ear, I mean era, in 121 teaching?

Hello teachers and learners of English. I've been teaching for three years and in that time have given a few private classes. Yet I have been disappointed so far to find that so little free online material and ideas exist that is specifically designed with one-to-one classes in mind. So this blog is basically my response to this deficit. I will strive to provide fresh ideas weekly, suitable for both adults or kids or both, but I would also like to encourage teachers to submit any of their own lesson plan ideas to me and I will post them here (send them to or to start their own blog with the same idea in mind (we can swap links). I aim to provide ideas for lessons plans that require as little preparation as possible (as I know that as a private teacher it isn't always possible to get to a photocopier) but maybe from time to time I'll upload a simple MS Word file for you to take to the printers. I hope you enjoy using the blog, and I look forward to receiving your feedback!

UPDATE: I stopped updating this blog a while ago, apologies. But the current will stay up forever so feel free to use.