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TESOL Teaching Ideas -Using Theater Games

June 2, 2016

At times it can be challenging to come up with fun, interesting, motivating and communicative activities for students to practice language. I have found that using theater games (activities typically used in acting classes to warm up the students) is a great way to get students thinking on their feet in a creative way. The following activities can be adapted to higher or lower level students; just consider the amount of language support the students would need to do the activity.

1. Activity: Ad-Lib Flashers

Hand each student two pieces of paper and tell them to write a word on each piece of paper.  It can be any word they like. Then, ask for two volunteers to come up to the front of the room.  Have the volunteers give their pieces of paper to someone else in the room. Set the scene: You need to borrow $1,000.00 from your friend – it’s urgent.  Ask him/her for it.  As students have their conversation, tell the other students (the audience) to flash their words randomly.  Students have to incorporate these words into their conversation as quickly as they can.

2. 4 Quadrants

Divide classroom or playing space into 4 quadrants (sections) and assign a different emotion to each quadrant. Players improvise a scene, but need to take on the emotion of the quadrant they are in. Encourage players to move about, in order to force changes of emotions. Don`t forget to have students justify emotion changes. You change this game up by assigning movie genres, physical actions, personality quirks or even types of weather to each quadrant instead of emotions.

3.Crisis Situation

This game requires a box of objects, photos of objects or names of objects written on strips of paper and a bunch of strips of paper. Give each student a blank strip of paper. Have students write a crisis situation on each strip (your car has broken down on the highway, your romantic partner has left you, you have lost your wallet…) and put them all in a bag. Have two students choose a crisis situation strip each and grab an object from the box. The students explain their problems to each other. After that, each student has to solve the other student’s crisis with their object.  Replies must be instantaneous. Two new students grab an object and a crisis each. Repeat the game until all strips have been used. To read more, click here.

Korea calling

December 9, 2014

Some great thoughts by Mike Griffin on the use of #ELTpics! I love this resource. If you haven’t already, check it out!

take a photo and....

Another great guest blogger, Mike Griffin is based in Seoul and is a key figure behind the blossoming #KELTchat, an ELT chat for teachers in Korea. He’s also got an unmissable, ‘must-read’ blog. I’m so glad he agreed to write for Take a photo and…, particularly as he hasn’t actually used ELTpics much, and it’s wonderful to see the thinking through of how he could actually incorporate the resource. Have a read and then please do add your own thoughts in the comments box below. How could YOU use ELTpics? Over to Mike:
I’ve  never even owned a camera. Well, there was that one time I borrowed an old one from my sister just before departing on a trip sometime in the late 90’s. I promptly lost it and have never gotten around to buying another one. I guess I am not really all that into photos or…

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ESL /EFL Teaching Tip: Productively Filling Time at the End of a Lesson

December 3, 2014


Do you find yourself with 5 or 10 minutes left at the end of the lesson?  It’s not enough time to start something new, but too early to finish the lesson completely.  Here are some things you can do to productively fill the time:

  1. Reflection on the lesson. In pairs, or as a whole class, students think and talk about what they learned, found difficult, found really useful, want to learn more about, etc.  This can be a great opportunity for peer-teaching!
  2. Reflection on the course. Students talk, in general, about their progress on the course or in your class so far.
  3. Preparation for the next lesson (or explaining what’s coming up in the course). If there is anything that would be helpful for the students to review or consolidate before the next lesson, it is useful to review this with them.
  4. Self-study tips (These can be shared by the teacher or the students). One way to do this is to ask students to think of one tip that they have found useful in their language development. Then have all the students stand up and mingle  to share ideas.
  5. Asking about future plans. This can be a nice personalized way to end class on a Friday. It is also useful for you to know what your students like to do, so that you can cater some of your future lessons to their needs/interests.
  6. Choosing language from the lesson to study further at home. For example, students choose 5 words from a reading text that they want to learn more about. You can then have students share their lists with a partner. You can also follow-up on this the next time you have 5-10 minutes left by having students share what they learned about the words on their lists. Give them a few days to do some research, though, and make sure the students know that you will have a follow-up activity involving their word lists!
  7. An extension on the previous activity. For example, a discussion on the topic of the activity, lesson or text.
  8. Model the homework. Do the first 1 or 2 questions from the homework in small groups or as a class. This can be a useful model – and students will appreciate having less to do after class!
  9. Setting up the next lesson’s first activity. Activate schema or set context for a reading or listening task, or pre-teach vocabulary before a speaking activity or grammar presentation that you plan to start the next lesson with. You can then do a quick review and get into the activity sooner the next day.
  10. Do a fun ‘filler’ activity. This would be similar to a warmer or ice-breaker.  It can also be a quick review activity e.g. hot seat, or a stand-alone game. This games can do wonders for your student’s motivation levels and also provide a nice opportunity to build group dynamics!

I hope you found these ideas helpful! If you have anything to add, please share your ideas in the comments🙂.



The Inside Scoop: Teaching English in Beijing

November 26, 2014


We often interview colleagues and graduates of our TESOL program about what life is like abroad. This month for The Inside Scoop we will hear from Mariam about living in Beijing, China. Mariam is an SIT alumni who returned from three years of teaching in Beijing late last year (2013).

Here is what she has to say:

“There are plenty of teaching jobs available in Beijing, with different requirements and salaries. I found mine online through the website. Another website with job postings is, basically a Craigslist/Yelp for everything Beijing. The major language schools are Wall Street English (WS) and English First (EF). You can apply directly to them. There are also International Schools (American, British, Canadian as well as schools like Beijing BISS International School) which run a co-teaching project pairing foreign English teachers with local English teachers as part of the Chaoyang English Project. I’m sure a Google search will easily give you a list of others as well as universities and international schools in the city.

The major language institutes, universities and international schools will arrange your visa before you arrive there (and reimburse you for any costs on your side). They will instruct you on exactly which documents and what information they need. However, it can take a long time. Once you get the job, sometimes it can take up to two months for the necessary paper work to get processed. This is mostly not the fault of the school or company that hires you, but due to the fact that they are waiting for the government to process things and the rules keep changing!

If teaching at a language institute you’ll most likely be working from afternoon to evening and weekends. Always on weekends because that’s the busiest time of the week since that’s when students are free from work and school to come to English classes. If you teach at a regular university or international school then expect to have ‘normal’ working hours as in Monday to Friday, morning to afternoon.

The types of students you will have depend on your job and what kind of school/institute you go to. When teaching adults at language institutes, the location in the city makes a big difference. You could be teaching mostly university age students, professionals or housewives or a mix of everything depending on where your center is located.

Universities usually pay only 7000 to 8000 RMB/ month, but then they also pay for housing and there’s tons of holiday time. EF schools usually start at 12,000 and WS at 16,000 before taxes. Paid vacations/holidays are about the same as the US but more flexible and if you plan it right you can get plenty of time off for travelling.

Rent is usually on the high-end like it would be for any big city. It can also be more or less depending on how central the place is and whether the apartment is new or old. In the best locations it’s usually about 3000-4000 RMB. Most basic furniture is included (bed, TV, fridge, washing machine, couch, and table). You pay for the electricity which is cheap (unless you have large electric heaters). You can find apartments on your own ( has many listings, and often, the school you work with will refer an agent or assign someone who’ll help you out with it).

There are plenty of expats in Beijing who only go out to English speaking places and hang out with other English speaking people. And at work, as an English teacher, you are always speaking English! Even going to the bank or post office you can get by with minimal Mandarin or find someone who speaks enough English to help you out. At popular bargain shopping places, they speak English (even Russian!). That being said, I’d advise anyone to learn at least the basics. Everyone appreciates it; you’ll get so much more out of your experience in Beijing.

If you’ve never been to China before, forget what you know about Chinese food. Food in Beijing is not only fantastic; it is also nothing close to what is served up as ‘Chinese’ food in the States. Beijing has a very strong food culture and you can try cuisines from the different provinces as well like Yunnan, Xinjiang, Sichuan all of which have their own distinct flavors…and it doesn’t stop there. There are always new restaurants opening up in the city. And whether you want a great burger, food from New Orleans, the best dumplings you’ll ever have, a satisfying bowl of chili on a winter’s day, Korean barbecue or lamb skewers (chuanr) you can get it and it will all be delicious.

Beijing is not the prettiest of cities, but what it lacks visually it makes up for in food and entertainment. There is something for everyone, from ‘hole in the wall’ places you’d only find in Beijing to venues that could be in Brooklyn. In addition, the cost of food is relatively cheap. It can be extremely easy to live in Beijing. You can get practically anything delivered to your door. Anything.

That being said, not everyone loves it. But then again, not everyone loves a big, noisy city. And I won’t lie–pollution is a problem. Some days are worse than others and you need to wear a mask even though you’ll see many locals and foreigners walking around like it’s nothing. However, there are also many beautiful days.

I say go with an open mind and you’re sure to have a good time. Try it. At least once.”

Reading Strategies (and Activities) to Improve Reading and Develop Critical Thinking

November 14, 2014

This post is based on the teaching tip from our upcoming newsletter. Reading is a great way to develop creative and critical thinking. Here are some activity ideas to get the students thinking as they read a text. I hope you find the following activities helpful and let us know if you try any of them out!

1. Using questions to pull out the main idea:

Students read and answer the WH~ questions to complete the chart (in note form only)

Then students write one-sentence that summarizes the text using one of these two formula:



For example: In his second year at Hogwarts (WHEN), Harry Potter (WHO) defeated Voldemort by destroying the horcrux (DOES WHAT) in the Chamber of Secrets (WHERE) with the sword of Godric Gryffindor (HOW).

2. Sequence Important Events (especially for narrative texts)

Using Sequence Words:

Give the students a list of sequencing words.  Students (working alone or in pairs) make a poster using their own words to summarize the basic events of the text.

  • First,
  • Next,
  • Then,
  • Finally,

Using Pictures:

Have students draw pictures to represent each event in the text. Each picture should represent one event and they should be organized in the order they happened in the text. After the students finish drawing, have them explain their pictures to a partner using sequencing words.


3. Summarize Text

Summary based on pictures: Low level

Students draw a sequence of pictures that summarize the story (see Sequence Important Events, Using Pictures above)

Students then write a summary paragraph based on the pictures.

Note: Be explicit in modeling transitional words, e.g.  guide the students to write them on the picture before they write the paragraph.

chart 2

Summary paragraph(s): High level

In pairs, students verbally summarize the main idea of each page or paragraph in 1 or 2 sentences in their own words.

NOTE: They can finish up on their own for homework.

4. Interact with the text

Making Connections:

Students make personal connections to the text either through a written assignment or verbally with a classmate:

What in the text has some connection to your life?

  • I can connect with ______because…
  • I understand why ______because…

Asking Questions:

This can be done verbally after reading or as a journaling project while reading. If students write and answer questions as they read, they can much more deeply interact with the message behind the text.

As you read, write and answer questions related to the motive of the characters.

  • I wonder (why/how/what/when) this character…
  • Why is he/she doing….?

Sensory Details:

Students describe what they (or a character) can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel in the text. This is another great journaling activity or it can be an ongoing discussion after students read a short portion of a text.

Stop reading after each paragraph and discuss with your classmate:

  • I (or character) can see ___________
  • I (or character) can hear __________
  • I (or character) can smell ___________
  • I (or character) can feel ____________
  • I (or character) can taste ___________

Finding Evidence:

Students find evidence in the text to support claims made about the plot or the characters. This is effective when done as a journaling activity first and then brought into class to spark discussion. This is a great homework assignment.

  • __________ is ___________ because _________.
  • The reason why ___________ __________is because_______________.
  • It states in paragraph ___ that ___________. I find this to be true because___________.

A Sneak Peak: Enriching Teachers: Strategies for Guiding Teachers to Deeper Self-Reflection

November 7, 2014
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We are preparing for the NYS TESOL conference here at Rennert, so for the blog this week I thought I would share something we are working on for the conference. Right now I am finishing up a session entitled Enriching Teachers: Strategies for Guiding Teachers to Deeper Self-Reflection. This session will focus on specific strategies that the observer can use to help support him/her through the reflective process with the teacher. Hopefully you will be able to join us in Albany, but if not here is a little taste of the session🙂.

In my experience, I have found that there are a few essential steps to effective pre- or in- service observation and feedback:

Step 1: Plan for the observation

Step 2: Observe the teacher

Step 3: Prepare for the feedback session

Step 4: Facilitate feedback and manage self-reflection

Step 5: Follow up with the teacher (if necessary)

These steps can take different incarnations depending on the context of your observation (a teacher training course, a yearly teacher observation, etc…), but I find that certain things hold true.

Let’s start with step 1: planning for the observation. This often includes a formal or informal meeting with your teacher in which you can both plan on what will be focused on during the observation. This can mean that the teacher asks you to focus on some things and/or you can inform the teacher of some things that you’ll be looking for while observing. There are quite a few benefits to doing this. First. it takes the mystery out of the observation for the teacher. It also helps you (the observer) pare down what you will be looking for so you can take more effective notes. It also empowers the teacher by making him/her an active part of the observation process.

Moving on to step 2, there are a few things you can do to make the observation go a little bit more smoothly for yourself. Utilizing the planning stage can help you pay attention to really key things so that you don’t get bogged down trying to notice everything. Also, make sure to write down as much student action and reaction as possible in your observation notes. This will give you the description you need to bring to the table in order to help your teacher develop reflective skills. Lastly, I know many of us love the feel of pen on paper, but consider typing your notes while you observe; it really saves so much time!

Next, to prepare for the feedback session (step 3) you’re going to want to make sure to highlight the important description you want to bring up to the teacher. This will make it stand out so it is easier to refer to your notes. After you have your description organized, prepare some guiding questions to help you lead the teacher to discover the key issues. It can be hard to think of good guiding questions on the spot, so support yourself by bringing prewritten ones to get the ball rolling. Also, you may have your teacher journal a bit or fill out a post observation form before the meeting to keep the lesson fresh in their mind. This also means the teacher has ideas to bring to the table.

For step 4, I often advise people to follow a specific order of questioning during the feedback session. You want to keep the flow of feedback as natural as possible and you need to adapt the session to account for what your teacher notices, but consider this order:

  1. Allow the teacher to speak first and share her ideas about the lesson in general.
  2. Then use the pre observation the post observation forms to help guide the reflection.
  3. When you want to explore a point to encourage self-reflection, ask the teacher a guiding question.
  4. If the teacher can’t answer, provide supporting description and ask another guiding question.
  5. If they still can’t answer, as a last resort, provide direct feedback.

Lastly, step five is the follow up. Following up with the teacher after feedback can be as simple as an informal chat in the hallway. However, it can also be as in depth as another observation followed by a feedback session. It really depends. Either way, it is important to have some kind of follow up to build a culture of accountability with your teachers.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Please feel free to share your current observation and feedback process in the comments. I would love to hear your ideas!

If you like what you read, come to our session at the NYS TESOL conference in Albany next week. I will be posting more details about this on Twitter so stay tuned🙂.

Hello, again!

November 6, 2014

Hello to all our followers!

The blog has been on hiatus for the past 4 months while I have been on maternity leave. I am back now and will begin posting regularly soon! I am excited to be back and sharing online once again.



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