giovedì 27 marzo 2014

My Favourite Monolingual Learner's Dictionaries

"What do you call this in English?", "What do you call that in English?", "What does this word mean"?
If you are a non-native English teacher who teaches in a non-English speaking country you will be familiar with the picture below.
Now you are smiling, aren't you? We are teachers, not dictionaries, yes, but how can your students find dictionaries, especially the monolingual ones,  helpful in the learning process, when they are not in the classroom?
In this post I'd like to share with you my 5 favourite online dictionaries and I'll tell you why I like them.

What's a monolingual learner's dictionary?
It's a dictionary designed to meet the reference needs of people learning a foreign language. It deals with grammar usage and common collocations. 

Why I like it: The definitions are written in simple English accompanied by clear examples. Moreover, before its definition you find the CEF level the word belongs to. 
Here you are an example. As you can see you can also check the pronunciation and the forms of irregular verbs.

Why I like it: I like it for its boxes. Yes, boxes about collocations and word choice. The layout is clear and straightforward. 
Here you are an example of the word remember.

Why I like it: Students can easily use it at home. The layout is simple and clear. 
As you know, a word has usually different meanings according to the context it is used in. In the Macmillan Dictionary the contexts are shown in a list so the students can decide which one they are interested in. For example, there are 9 different contexts the verb to come is used in.
Moreover, I love the star system. Below every word you will find 1, 2 or 3 stars. The stars show how common the words are. 1 star indicates words which are used a lot, 2 stars indicate words which are used more and finally, 3 stars indicate words which are used the most. Below an example for the three types.

We usually think monolingual dictionaries are for students whose level is intermediate or more. However, the websites of these online dictionaries are full of resources such as language games. This game from the Macmillan Dictionary aims at the practice of irregular verbs. 

What I like: Another Dictionary website full of games useful for your students at any level is the Merriam Webster.  These games aim at practicing synonyms, antonyms, spelling and even your general knowledge. 

I especially like its Learner's Dictionary version because students can find a lot of examples, idioms, usage tips and some differences between American and British English. For some words there is also a visual aid.
This is the entry of the word cat

What I like: Last but not the least the Oxford Learner's Dictionary. I suggest this website if you are training your students for the FCE because it si full of collocations and grammar usage notes.

To sum up, when your students are not in the classroom they can improve their language knowledge just give them the right tools. 

giovedì 20 marzo 2014

Teaching for exams? Have fun! (Part 1)

Last week I posted two graphics aimed at students of the English language who want to do well in the Speaking papers of Cambridge PET and First. My blog post was so successful I decided to have a series of posts about teaching (aimed at teachers) and studying (aimed at learners) for English language exams. I will share my teaching ideas which worked in the classroom and some useful tips for students to smash their exams.


In this part of the test candidates need to read through one long text divided into sections or up to six shorter texts. The texts usually describe people's experiences and tastes.They have to find information in the texts that matches 15 short questions.

There is information in more than one section of the text which appears to match the questions.

I got this idea after reading this article

Materials for 6 students:
6 stick-on labels with the name of a famous person on
6 short texts
12 post-it notes with information on

1. Play the game Who Am I? 
- Write the name of a famous person on each stick-on card.
- Stick it on your students' forehead. (Or let them stick it by themselves but they cannot see what is written on the card).
- Choose a person to start the game. This person asks the group "yes or no" questions to figure out who they are. (E.g. 
- Continue around until everyone either has had a turn.

2. Once the students know which famous person they are, give them a short text about their character. Students read the text.

3. Gallery Walk - Students now go around the classroom to find two pieces of information about their characters.
This step is crucial because being the information pretty similar some students will "struggle" for getting the post-it note.
This method turned out to be effective because students realized they had to find synonyms or similar phrases in order to match the information with the character.

Students had a chance to make it practical and reflect on the ways they could do the exercise straightforwardly.
After the lesson I gave my students an exercise from the past papers of the exam and the number of correct answers was much higher than in previous exercises. Plus, one of my students came up with a technique to do this part of test: First read one section of the text/short text and then read the possible information which matches with it.

Note: This activity can be also used for a reading comprehension exercise at any level. You just need to adapt it to your students.

giovedì 13 marzo 2014

Useful tips for the Cambridge PET and FIRST Speaking papers

It doesn't matter whether you are teenager or an adult, speaking exams scare you, don't they? I came up with these two graphics to help my students and you face this overwhelming fear.
Dos & Don'ts and useful tips about the functional language to use in the different parts of the paper will support you to get trough the speaking exam.

 You can download the pictures and print them out!

giovedì 6 marzo 2014

If I Were A...Mayor: A Lesson Plan

When I plan my lessons for my groups of teens I always take into account:
1) Teenagers are creative and highly motivated.
2) The use of technology combined with real life is crucial in the classroom.
3) Teaching a language aims at communicating properly.
4) All the four linguistic skills must be introduced.

Considering these four points above I've created a series of lessons I call
I'd like to share with you the lesson plan If I were a mayor.
Politics is not my cup of tea. This is not a lesson about politics. My aim is giving my students a chance to use the target language in a communicative way and in a real context. 

Level: B1-B2
Time: 110 minutes (Ideal lesson plan for a 2 hour lesson)

Warm-up (5 minutes): 
Tell your students they are going to guess a profession. Give them key words.
You can write them on the board so the whole class will guess and have fun together or set a challenge by giving the key words written on a paper and 1 minute to think about the possible profession. At the end of the minute the students will tell you which is their word.

If they couldn't guess it you can play the Hangman. 

Lead-into Listening (5 minutes):
Ask the students:
How can you become a mayor?
Possible answers:
You need to be a politician./You need to win the elections./People must vote for you./You must run a campaign.

Some students are reluctant to speak so try to elicit the answers.

Listening (20 minutes):
Tell them they are going to watch a video of the mayor of London  when he was running his campaign.
Let them watch the video twice and hand in the following questions. Let them check their answers in pairs and then get feedback.

This video is aimed at the citizens of London and not English language learners. Monitor students while they are watching the video and check they have most of the answers done. If not let them watch the video once again.

Reading (15 minutes):
Students will now read a text I slightly modified from WRITING YOUR OWN CAMPAIGN SPEECH and they will answer some questions about it.
Give them 10-15 minutes to read and answer the questions.
You will find the handout here.

Lead-into Writing (5 minutes):
It's time to run for mayor. Let students brainstorm ideas about their own town, what they like and what they would like to change. Board their opinions so they can use them during the writing activity.

Writing (30 minutes):
Now students write their own speech. Monitor and try to give them extra tips. You will find the handout in the link above.

By reading WRITING YOUR OWN CAMPAIGN SPEECH students will be able to write their own speech but focus on weaker ones. Let them use their dictionaries.

Speaking (10 + 20 minutes):
Students will rehearse their speech in pairs for 10 minutes.
Depending on how large your class is you can choose to work with the whole group or divide students in small groups. Students will give their speech in turn. Then everyone will vote for one to be the mayor (of course they cannot vote for themselves) and at the end of the lesson there will be a "new mayor" for your town.

For some students this activity will be a chance to show off, don't be strict with them. Other students who are shy will feel ashamed to speak in front of the class/audience, give them more time to talk.

These activity will allow your students to review the 1st type conditional and the comparatives.

Try this lesson plan and let me know your feedback. I hope you will enjoy this lesson as much as my students and I did. 

Bye for now,