a more personalised approach to ING and TO

The gerund vs infinitive grammar has always seemed quite tricky for teaching to me: I have always felt there wasn’t enough really good materials, especially for the one-to-one situation.  Of couing to questionsrse there are all kinds of gap-fills and contextualised gap-fills (like short gapped texts and stories, where students have to choose right forms of verbs, then they can retell the story or discuss it). And that’s mosly it. Or I was looking in some wrong place.  To me these activities seem to have a serious drawback: not much room for personalisation.

Moreover, gerund and infinitive never seems to easy a thing to my students, so as I want to provide more practice for them, I have to expose them to more and more stories and gap-fills. Which is useful, but not terribly creative – the fact that usually brings some kind of excusing intonation into my voice. Something like “I know it’s not particularly creative or interesting to you, but you have to do it because you keep saying “I suggest to talk about it later” “. And that is actually another important point: even after having done tons of exercises they keep making the same mistakes when they speak – because they tend to forget the infinitive/ gerund grammar once they are out of the exercise frame.

So here is my little attempt to make the gerund/ infinitive grammar a bit more personalised and functional, fresh, from today’s morning class:

Is there anything you’d suggest /do to improve life in your city?
Is there anything you couldn’t afford/do 10 years ago but can afford /do now?
What do you think there is no point /do after the sanctions were introduced?
What do you wish you stopped/do but can not?
What do you want your colleagues /do this week?
Do you mind/talk about personal issues with business partners?
What do u regret /not do last weekend?

These simple questions served well as a follow-up on gerunds/infinitives, were a good lesson starter and invited some speaking at the very beginning of the class.

What do you think? And what do you do about gerunds/ infinitives apart from the standard things?

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“8 secrets of success” TED-talk lesson plan

here is the lesson plan based on the TED talk by Richard St John that I referred to in my previous post about my teaching in a field. Hope you’ll find it useful.

The talk itself conveniently takes only 3 minutes, but I’ve found there is a lot to discuss and to take away.

The lesson starts with refreshing some basic vocab and introducing some people the speaker mentions in his talk (he actually bases his talk on some utterances from famous and successful people), then proceeds to watching and discussion, and finishes with a look at some viewers’ comments and some vocabulary recycling.

I’ll be happy to get your feedback if you take the lesson to class!

8 secrets of success TED worksheet


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the most (?) unusual place to teach English

Have you ever taught English (or any other language) in the middle of a field? I have – now I can put a tick in “ELT experiences list” ;-)

it’s been some time before I published anything here. Well, the reason, of course, is summer and a lot of travel.,

First, we spent a month in Barcelona, which was great but went really fast, and then some other, less exciting directions followed. One of which was my mom’s country house where we came to visit for about 10 days. I was planning to rest and to have some time with an extended family, but also to continue teaching via Skype.

As it turned out, I was wrong to take good Internet connection for granted. I had properly  prepared for the visit: having bought a portable modem to insert into a notebook, I felt prepared for my Skype lessons that were scheduled for that 10 days. Hm, I had been terribly naiive.  the connection in the garden was very weak. The same with a different Internet provider – it was definitely not enough to have a Skype lesson.

we went to the nearest town (a bigger village, in fact), where all the providers seemed to work all right. That left me with a really (not) exciting choice: to have a lesson (and remember, that was not about only 1 lesson, 3 or 4 was the original plan) at a playground, right behind the Lenin statue, or in the only  restaurant, cafe bar (?) in the town. I imagined the bar would become quite creepy by the evening, especially as we found out it was some military forces day, so it looked like too much risk for an English lesson.

So I took my last chance, bought a different provider’s equipment (there was also a nice condition that I could return it within a week if I wasn’t happy with it) and went to the field that was just halfway from our village and the town, but was accessible on foot – which made it all a little easier. (As I don’t drive, going to town would also make my mom drive me, or I could take a taxi, but all “those” ancient Zhiguli didn’t look too trustworthy to me).

Thankfully, Yota (the last provider’s name) provided a good connection, which I tested dilligently with various contacts from my Skype.

And there I was – teaching English via Skype sitting literally in a field! I am sorry it didn;t occur to me to take a picture of myself teaching (almost) in the middle of nowhere. The Sunday lesson went down perfectly normal, although the next one had to be interrupted because of a heavy rain (yes, there is a down side to teaching outdoors)

But I’m happy to announce there is a special ELT outcome of this all (along with something to talk about here in this blog post): I had to change the teaching strategy from teaching business English using the board and a lot of materials (as we mostly had to do without video to make sure the connection wouldn’r beak down) to somehting different. Luckily, at a lesson just before my move to the country house we decided to take a break from business English and serious talk, so something different would be welcomed anyway.

The first (a “good weather”) lesson I based mostly on the lesson called “Words” from Film English, and in went down really well, resulting in a good vocabulary set, a pleasant talk, and memorable mind pictures.

but another lesson (a “rainy” one) was based on a TED talk about 8 ingredients of success and seems to me a good one (almost universal) tobe taken to different classes and at different times. I’m going to share it here in the next post.


What about you?

Have you ever taught English (online or face-to-face) from some unusual place? Did it make you change your teaching approach in some way?

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Grammar Guru

Originally posted on Idioma Extra:

I used to vs. I am used to…

used to

Take a look at the following two sentences. what’s the difference in meaning?

“I used to drink green tea.”

“I am used to drinking tea.”

I used to + base

“I used to drink green tea.”

“I used to drink green tea”, means that, in the past I drank green tea, but now I don’t. Used to describes an action that did happen, but doesn’t happen now. Check out these great examples:

“When I was young I used to play with dolls, but I don’t anymore.”
“Before I passed my driving test, I used to ride my bicycle everywhere.”

I am used to + noun or gerund

“I am used to drinking green tea.”

“I am used to drinking green tea”, means that, at first drinking green tea was strange and unusual, but now it has become familiar. Be used to describes an action that…

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7 habits of a highly effective teacher

this seems a highly attractive nsme for a webinar! i might try to attend if everything goes as planned

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How to ask questions to encourage more fluency in class?

How to ask the right questions to provoke more speaking&discussion in class?

You might have heard that to be good at (Business) English teaching, you don’t have to know all the specifics of our students’ business, you have to ask the right questions. to a certain point, sounds quite fair to me, but which questions are right?

I love asking these questions because they let me tap into the real feelings and attitudes of my students, instead of just getting the standard expected answers we often get.

here is my top-list, and I’ll be happy if you add more.

“Is it good or bad?” (or “is it good news?”)

Works best when discussing some news, be it politics or the coming changes in the company. The student would typically share what has actually happened or is about to happen, but it’s usually a goldmine to turn their attention to the implications and outcomes for themselves, the company, the country, etc.

Why is it a good question? the student will often have to stop and think in order to assess the change properly, then he/ she will have to formulate their opinion, which will bring a lot of highly useful and emotional vocabualry into the class. And as we all know, emotional content tends to be better remembered.

“is it the way it’s done in your company?” (or “how is it different in your company?”/ “would it work in your company?/ in our country”)

Why is it a good question?It’s an opportunity to personalise what’s being discussed and still to keep the discussion focused on the topic, and an opportunity to go through a topic for the second time – from a different angle. it also helps to get the students’ own perspective of a problem or issue, which is always interesting and can be used as a foundation for further work

What advice would you offer? (or “what would you recommend?”)

Why is it a good question? It lets our professional students (and that’s mostly who we teach BE to) be asked a natural question, the question that treats them as experts and encourages them to turn to their professional expertise and experience. works well with different case studies.

note: this question can be asked only when more or less realistic situation is being discussed (e.g. a candidate choosing the most appopriate job, with a number of detailed job descriptions provided; a company facing a crisis, when the background and the current situation details are given)

“Can you prioritise… (e.g. the actions to be taken, the ways of solving a problem, etc) / or“what is the best….., and why?”

Why is it a good question? Different kinds of ranking usually activates the memory. Moreover, it makes our students evaluate all the options on offer, explain why something goes to a higher or a lower end and sometimes even refer to their own experience and insights, which (again!) brings more speaking opportunities into class!


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how much personalisation is enough?

That’s the question that has been constantly nagging  me laltely. Don’t get me wrong, I am a true advocate of personalising materials for our students, basing the whole activities on their experience and expertise, and asking them for their professional opinions on the matters described in the materials, but recently I’ve been having some doubts: was I overdoing it?

I teach HR English to one of my students. We follow the “English for Human Resources” Express Series Book, which is fine to refer to as a course structure, but not in all parts appropriate for an active professional like my student, unlike for the pre-service trainees. usually a part of a unit would be quite appropriate and good to base a lesson on, and part of it would be OK, but actually just stating the obvious (especially in case of a professional and experienced HR person). In the latter case I would always try to find some alternative ways to teach what’s being taught by that “obvious” text or exercise, to adapt it to make it work for us, or in some difficult (=irrelevan) case I’d just omit that part.

The last time such fit of remaking all the activities, exercises and questions caught me, we were asked to do a whole bunch of activities (including listening, reading, writing and speaking)  based on job descriptions and person specifications. I was having serious doubts if we had to start discussing a topic at all, because I remember her telling me they didn’t use any person specifications as a particular document at all because all the stakeholders were in a position to judge if a candidate was right or wrong for their organisation.

First I decided to skip the person specification part – because why would we discuss it if they didn’t use them?  Then I had second thoughts, because even if they didn’t have an official document, they would still discuss their applicants and use the personality adjectives, which was one of the reasons the person specifications topic appeared in the book. the other reservation I had was that one day she could change her job and start working for a company where they did use person specification, so I didn’t have a right to deprive her of that material. We did the task, with my apologizing warning that as it was a standart thing in many HR departments, and that it was full of useful adjectives and why wouldn’t we take a look at it just in case.

I know such a policy (of following the book? No, it couldn’t be me!)  could sound very boring and not progressive at all. I’ve always chosen personalisation and student’s choice over the book’s contents, but I still feel there could be some benefit of doubt to it. Especially because my student is usually quite willing to discuss the matters far from her own HR situation.

I would even say that the more polarised the things are from each other (like the standard practice to write a rejection letter after an unsuccessful interview and the company’s policy not to write such letters), the more discussion points they offer (there is an opportunity for a student to explain why that’s now used in their company, why it would work for some other companies, comment on the advantages and disadvantes, as well as to tell about the alternative they choose)

Because if something is very far from our student’s circumstances, it’s even better – it’s a fantastic opportunity to see the contrast, to compare the text’s situation against the student’s reality, and possibly to give some advice to the “book people” from the other side. (which, to speak in practical terms, could be arranged as a discussion, a talk show, a writing task, etc).

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May holidays and an emotional worksheet

Рисунок1 In my country the first 2 weeks of May are not really very busy: first there is the Labour day (1.05), then the is the Victory Day (09.05), and in between a lot of people take some days off. As a result, I’ve almost never taught at this period. This year I spent this holiday period in the country too, so it feels like a real mini-vacation.

I suppose it feels like that to my students too, that’s why I decided to create a light worksheet, which is basically a framework nudging the students to remember their time off work (be it in May or in any other month) and to talk about it. I tried to use a lot of adjectives to make the talk emotional.

Hope you’ll like it too!

holiday memories

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It’s All Semantics

Originally posted on So, You Think You Can Teach ESL?:

I found this on Reddit. It is a good way to practice remembering changing the stress on a word can also change the meaning.


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The pyramid of lies

Svetlana Urisman (Englishteachingnotes):

the pyramid looking familiar..Although reading has always worked well for me – much better than the 10%…

Originally posted on Evidence into practice:

In my NQT year I found myself contesting the use of brain gym in my school (I even got sent on a course to ‘convert me’). The experience set me up nicely – as it reminded me to doubt everything I was told about education! Pseudo-psychological claims are like sharp nails on a blackboard for me. One of my earliest blogs was about the nonsense of VAK and it’s depressing to see that it’s still such a persistent idea despite its thorough debunking.

There’s something about education – it seems vulnerable to pseudoscientific ideas like no other professional field. It’s a genuine embarrassment for the profession, that there persists such credulity with regard to educational claims.

I was recently reminded of another piece of egregious pseudoscience that, like a virus laying dormant, seems to pop up every so often to infect teaching materials. It’s the idea that we remember only 5% of a lecture…

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