Speed Date Warm-Up

Levels: strong pre-intermediate to advanced.
Ages: teens; adults.
Type: speed-date style conversations; “breaking the ice”.
Skills: listening; speaking.
Language focus: vocabulary – ways of introducing yourself/ turn-taking; informal spoken English vocab as it arises.

Preparation:
these questionnaires (one for each student);
enough classroom space to make two circles of chairs.

Procedure:

  1. Give out the speed-date questionnaire (see above).
  2. Ask students on their own to read through the questions, crossing out any they don’t like.
  3. Put the students in groups of three or four. Ask them to tell each other about the questions they most want to ask and to think of at least three more questions they’d like to ask members of the other groups.
  4. Ask students to arrange their chairs in two circles: one facing inwards and a smaller circle facing outwards. If possible, an equal number of students should be in each circle; otherwise, two students could pair up, and work as one for this activity.
  5. Explain that the students will have exactly three minutes to try and find out as much about the person facing them as they can. After that, the students in the inner circle have to move one space to their right.
  6. Monitor the activity, taking note both of good and problematic language used, and repeat the three-minute talks followed by moving seats until every member of the inner circle has spoken to every member of the outer circle. You could alternate moves if you like, so that the inner circle moves one space to their right, then the outer circle moves one to their right, etc.
  7. Put students back into their original groups and ask them to compare notes – what were the most interesting things they learned about the other students they spoke to?
  8. Whilst the students are doing this, write up ten or so sentences on the board, perhaps five to be corrected and five sound sentences (but don’t indicate which ones need to be changed). Number these sentences 1 – 10.
  9. Ask each group to choose a team name (perhaps the name of an animal they all like), explain that you’ve written (for example) ten sentences on the board and that five should be changed in some way. Allow the groups four minutes or so to read through the sentences and decide which ones should be changed, and how.
  10. When the groups are ready, call out a number, and elicit whether the sentence is good or needs correction (and, if so, what should be changed). Discuss and explain any difficult language points or confusions that arise, and award a point to the first team to answer correctly in each case. Add up the points at the end and award a small prize to the winners (maybe some paperclips, or a sweet each).

Now you’ve warmed the students up and (hopefully) created a strong class bond, it’s time to begin coursebook work, etc.

An “Agony Aunt” letter lesson plan

Levels: pre-intermediate to advanced.
Ages: teens; adults.
Type: reading and replying to agony aunt letters.
Skills: listening; speaking; reading; writing.
Language focus: revising/teaching grammar, register and vocab structures of informal letters.

Materials:
some “doctored” agony aunt letters (pre-intermediate examples are here, upper-intermediate examples are here and advanced examples are here);
the original letters (examples here);
some blank paper for students to write replies;
and some blu-tack.
You may also like to use the original agony aunt replies (examples here).

Procedure:

  1. Board “Agony Aunt column,” explain that this is a column in some British newspapers, and ask students if they can guess what an agony aunt is. Board their ideas.

  2. Sit your students in groups of three or four, preferably around a table, and explain that you will show them some examples from an agony aunt column, and they can check to see if they are right.

  3. Hand out the gapped texts – a different one for each group (see above) – and give students two minutes or so to quickly read the text. What do they think an Agony Aunt is now? Elicit the correct answer (an agony aunt receives letters from readers about their personal problems, reads the letters and replies. Note that the agony aunt may be a man, a woman, or a team of writers, and that replies are usually also published; also note that the students have the readers’ problems, not the agony aunt’s reply).

  4. Ask students to discuss in their groups what the problem discussed in their letter is, and elicit answers.

  5. Ask students to work together in their groups and fill in the gaps (note that only the pre-intermediate and intermediate tasks have words given in a vocabulary box; from upper-intermediate above, students should use the language clues given by the context to try and discover in the missing words.) Depending on the level and ability of the class, allow up to 12 minutes or so for this.

  6. Hand out the original letters (see above). How close did the groups come to the original? Make yourself available to answer any grammar or vocabulary questions as the students read the original letters.

  7. Ask students to discuss within their groups how they would reply to this letter. Give them about five minutes to brainstorm ideas and to write these down.

  8. Hand out the blank pieces of paper, one per group, and nominate a writer within each group. Explain that the students are now the agony aunts, working together in a team, and that they should reply to the original letters using the ideas they’ve just brainstormed. The student writing should pass the paper to his left after five minutes, so a new student can write. Explain that the writing must be legible! Set a time limit (15 to 20 minutes, depending on your students’ level and enthusiasm) and monitor students, offering encouragement and suggesting ways of formulating ideas as necessary.

    If you want, you can then hand out the original replies to the groups; ask them to quickly read these replies and see if their ideas are the same. Is there anything else they’d like to add to their draft replies?

  9. When the groups are ready, stick the original letters on different walls of your classroom, and ask each group to read those they haven’t replied to, and to brainstorm ideas on how they would answer them.

  10. Finally, ask each group to read out their replies; students guess what the original letter was and give feedback on the reply – did it address the problem? Was it the same as their solution? Do they think the advice was good? Do they think the reader will listen to the advice? etc.

  11. The students’ replies could then be collected and either marked by the teacher at home, or (in a later lesson) given to a different group to correct. If you choose this latter option, once the letters have been collected, they could be read again by the groups that wrote them, who can make any final changes they wish, and the original letters and the amended replies could then be published in a class magazine, or on the walls of the classroom.

Shakespeare – Julius Caesar lesson

Level: advanced.
Ages: older teens; adults.
Type: encouraging imaginative responses to and engagement with two speeches from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
Skills: listening; speaking; reading; writing; pronunciation (individual words, sentence stress & chunking, conveying emotion through pauses and intonation patterns).
Language focus: grammar and vocab as it arises.

Preparation:
copies of these pictures of Mark Antony, Julius Caesar and Brutus (one per 2 or 3 students);
copies of these speeches from Julius Caesar (one per student);
copies of these vocabulary tasks (one per student).

Note: The lesson before, I usually get permission to do this lesson – usually, advanced students are keen to look at some Shakespeare, but some are a bit intimidated and need reassurance that it won’t be too obscure.

Biographical note: The texts above come from Act III, Scene II of Julius Caesar; it is 44BC and Brutus, together with some other illustrious Romans, has just murdered Caesar, fearing that he was gaining too much power and the Roman Republic was under threat. Brutus stands outside the Forum, covered with Caesar’s blood, and must convince the Roman citizens that Caesar had to die. Mark Antony then enters the stage, carrying Caesar’s corpse; this is his chance to subtly convince the crowd that Caesar’s death was wicked and must be avenged (and to gain power for himself).

Procedure:

  1. A good way to start this lesson is with a quiz: I tell the students that I’ll board some words to do with what we are about to study and invite them to guess what the topic might be. I will then board, in turn:
    44BC
    Rome
    “Beware the Ides of March”
    Pompey’s Forum
    a bloody murder

    …at each stage, asking students if they can guess the topic. (44BC is the date of Caesar’s assassination, which took place in Pompey’s forum [or theatre] in Rome; the Ides of March was a Roman feast day dedicated to Mars [the god of war], which took place on March 15th – the date of Caesar’s assassination; “beware the Ides…” was a prophesy given to Caesar in the play [Act I, Scene II] before his murder)
  2. Once the topic has been guessed or given, and the items on the board explained, ask the class what they know about Caesar’s death: who murdered him and why (see the note above for the reasons given in the play). After some elicitation, board “Brutus”, “Julius Caesar” and “Mark Antony”, with a line separating each one.
  3. Put the students into groups of three or four and hand out the pictures (above). Ask them to work together to look at the busts and decide what the personalities of these people were. After a few minutes, elicit answers and board them under each character’s name.
  4. Now it’s time to set the scene (see the notes above for details), emphasising that Brutus loved Caesar and killed him to save Rome, and that Brutus appears before the crowd covered in blood; and also that Mark Antony was Caesar’s close friend, and appears carrying Caesar’s body and seeking revenge (it sometimes helps to cover Julius Caesar’s portion of the board in red pen to symbolise all the blood!).
  5. Divide the class in two (assuming no more than 12 students per class – in which case, you could have two or more “teams” on each side) and explain that one half will be Brutus and the other Mark Antony.
  6. Ask the students to think about their characters, their situation (standing before the citizens of Rome covered in blood, or holding Caesar’s bloody corpse) and what they want to say. Then allow the students about 15 or 20 minutes to write their speech to the Roman citizens.
  7. Once the speech is written, it’s time to practise it. I usually take one group out of the classroom, leaving the other inside, so that neither group can hear or be distracted by the other. Ask each group of students to imagine how they are feeling at each particular moment of their speech, and how this affects the way they say their words. Ask the group to divide up their speech equally and practise saying their lines to each other. I normally allow about 5 to 10 minutes for this.
  8. After the students have practised their speeches, ask them to sit in two lines facing each other. Board:
    intonation
    arguments
    overall effect
    …and ask students to copy this as a table, drawing vertical columns for each member of the opposite group. Ask them to listen carefully and make note of these things for feedback later.
  9. Elicit the situation and that Brutus speaks first. Each group takes it in turn to deliver their speech. The teacher should also make notes on each student’s delivery, and possibly the main arguments they make, as they speak, and then on the overall effect of the speech at the end.
  10. Each group delivers its feedback on the other, and the teacher also gives feedback here. Which speech was the most effective and why?
  11. Introduce Shakespeare’s speeches and give copies of Mark Antony’s to the Mark Antony group, and Brutus’ to the Brutus group. Ask them to read these speeches fairly quickly (perhaps 4 minutes) to see if the arguments used are the same as theirs. Ask students not to worry about any vocabulary they may not understand, but be available for any serious problems here.
  12. Give out the vocabulary quiz (see “materials” above) and ask students to work in pairs to choose the correct answers by looking at the context in which the words appear, and by deciding what part of speech the word is (i.e., is it a verb? A noun? etc.). Go through the answers with the class (Mark Antony: 1(b), 2(d), 3(b), 4(a), 5(c); Brutus: 1(b); 2(a); 3(d); 4(c); 5(c)).
  13. Now pair the students, one from each group working with one from the other, and ask them to compare their speeches and the main arguments used. Ask them which speech is written in verse, and which in prose (Brutus’ speech is in prose), and which they think is the more emotional speech (Mark Antony’s), which the more rational (Brutus’). Ask the students to compare the first few words of each speech: why does Mark Antony echo Brutus? What difference does the first word of Mark Antony’s speech (“Friends” instead of “Romans”) make? Finally, ask students to look at the repetition of “as” in Brutus’ speech – what effect does this have? – and the repetition of “honor” and “ambition” in Mark Antony’s speech: how does this change the meaning of what he’s saying? How do students think he would deliver these lines? What is he trying to say by repeating these words? Discuss the irony of his speech with your students and ask if they know of any politicians who use the same rhetorical devices as Brutus and Mark Antony (if the students have been paying attention, the answer should be a resounding “yes!”).
  14. Lastly, ask students what they think will happen next in the play and how the story will be resolved (in Shakespeare’s play, Mark Antony’s speech divides the crowd; his supporters and those of Brutus each assemble armies, and Brutus and his followers are killed in the following battles; Mark Antony then assumes power in Rome with two of his allies, Octavian and Lepidus, and the Republic is dead).

This is quite a long lesson, but it is a rewarding one, and students have invariably enjoyed it when I’ve taught it to them.