domenica 26 gennaio 2020

Creativity in the EFL classroom: a task-based activity

Hi everyone!

Another week has just gone by and here I am again to share a teaching activity I carried out with a group of my students with you.

I'd like to start this post with a quote by one of my favourite writers. 

Creativity is one of the four 21st skills (along with critical thinking, collaboration, and communication) that students need to have in order to succeed. Moreover, according to Bloom's Taxonomy of Cognitive Development creativity is considered one of the higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). In particular it is defined as the ability to put parts together to create something new and unique by giving major emphasis on the formulation of new patterns or structures. (If you'd like to read more about Bloom's Taxonomy, I suggest that you visit this webpage).

Some time ago I read Creativity in the English language classroom edited by Alan Maley and Nik Peachey from the British Council series. You can find fantastic ideas here to use in your classrooms.
What I decided to do was to collect some of the definitions of 'creativity' which are true for me. I printed out a poster and put it on the wall of the room where I usually plan my lessons. I came up with the idea I'm sharing with you in the paragraph below while I was staring at it one day when my mind had gone blank. 

Level: B1 - upwards
Time: 2 hours
Linguistic Skills: Speaking, Listening, Writing
Soft Skills: Creative thinking, Problem Solving

Warm-up activity
I showed my Ls this picture, I told them it was the sign of a shop and they brainstormed ideas about which type of business it could be and then I asked them, 'What is special about this cafe?'

In order to check their answers, Ls watched this video up to 00:35. Some of my Ls were really surprised about this business model and one of them even said that it was not worth it since anyone can eat everything up.

Listening activity - Running 'question' dictation
In order to improve my Ls' listening skills without making some of them stressed about it I decided to carry out a peer-learning activity. Instead of giving them the comprehension questions I wrote them on post-it notes and put them on the classroom walls. Ls were divided in groups of four, but only one member could stand up and read the questions on the walls (of course everyone had a go) and then report them to the other members of their groups.
Ls watched the video till the end twice and then answered the questions.

These are the questions they had to answer.

1) What's the English word for Ziferblat?
2) Is the owner disappointed about people eating a lot?
3) Why do customers enjoy going to this cafe?
4) What's the shortest time someone spent at Ziferblat?
5) What's the longest time someone spent at Ziferblat?
6) What's the feedback the owner gives about his own experience?

Creative activity
Ls had to create their own business idea about a special cafe.
What's the name of the place?
What's special about it?
What are special features about its interior design?
What's its sign like?

By working in groups, I had the opportunity to monitor them better. Lots of new language came up and everyone was engaged in the task.
Plus, what I loved about the classroom setting was that I could challenge them with possible problems they could have in their businesses and ask them to think about how they might solve them.
For example, one of the cafes, 'The Dice Cafe' gave the chance to their customers to pay half price for their coffees if they rolled a dice and got 6. I asked them, 'What if the customer were a gambler, s/he wanted to roll the dice again and an argument arouse?' They discussed about it and then decided to hire a bouncer.
Also, two groups chose the same name, 'Once upon a cafe', for their businesses. I asked them to explained their cafes to the other groups who had to decide which group was going to keep the name.

Here you are some creative cafes my Ls were working on.

When they finished, they presented their ideas to the class.

Through a blinding voting operation :), they decided which idea we were going to upload in a crowdfunding website such as

That's all for now, folks!

domenica 19 gennaio 2020

What if you spent a night at ‘Hotel California’? A ‘song-telling’ activity for advanced learners

We are all more than aware that music is a great tool in the classroom. In particular, Murphy (1992), who analysed the discourse of pop songs, stressed their effectiveness in the foreign language classroom for their highly affective and dialogic features. He also added that pop songs present vague references (he also referred to them as ghost discourse) which allow listeners to use them in personally associative ways. Ding dong. Yes, it does ring a bell to you too, right? These are some of the reasons why we love using songs in class.  
Starting from the ideas above I decided to create a lesson plan based on the song ‘Hotel California’. (Yes, I went back to the Seventies). It was pretty successful because my learners had had bad experiences (well, not as bad as in the song, of course) at hotels during their holidays. 
Happy to share some of my ideas with you!

(In order to engage Ls).
Show Ls this text and these two pictures and ask them to match the text with the picture they think it is describing. (Remember to ask, 'Why?')
*The word 'colitas' might put you in trouble, sorry!


1) Ask Ls to answer the following questions in pairs.
1. Who do you think the person speaking is?
2. Where is s/he?
3. What is s/he been doing? Why?
4. What do you think s/he going to do? What would you personally do? 

2) Now you can tell Ls that our ‘friend’ is actually going to stop over at a hotel. 
Show Ls the following picture and ask them to brainstorm ideas about what can possibly go wrong there. (E.g. no hot water, too much noise, etc.)
picture taken from 
3) Ls listen to the song 'Hotel California' and check whether the problems they brainstormed are the same or different the singer experiences. 

4) Ls listen to the song again, this time with the support of the lyrics.

Elicit or explain new vocabulary.

5) Tell them that the singer was not happy with the hotel services. Thus, he decided to write a complaint letter.
I found useful phrases for writing a  (Cambridge CAE exam) complaint letter in this website. Hand out the worksheet you can download from the page. Ls go through the expressions in small groups. Provide them with translation if necessary.

6) Ls complete this text with phrases from the handout. 

What will the manager of the Hotel California do when he gets the singer's complaint letter? This type of task will let Ls be autonomous and go for either a writing or a speaking activity.

My students really enjoyed this lesson and I hope so do yours. If you use these activities or change them a bit, please let me know!

Bye for now ;)

domenica 12 gennaio 2020

GenZ and viral papal slap: teaching ideas

It’s been ages since last time I blogged. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more ‘social’ and share my teaching ideas, so here I am! Back to tell you about my class experiences. 
At the moment I’m working with teenagers (mainly) at ‘Liceo’ in South Italy and I find it really interesting and exciting teaching Generation Z. If you are wondering about who Generation Z members are like, well, let me give you a quick description about two of their main features. 

GenZ - Open-minded people with a witty sense of humour
According to Seemiller & Grace (2019) more than 70% of today’s teenagers have described themselves ‘as loyal, thoughtful, determined, compassionate, open-minded and responsible’. The word that most caught my attention was open-minded and Seemiller & Grace go on saying that ‘their open-mindedness may help them look at situations and issues from multiple perspectives and in unconventional ways’.  Moreover, ‘growing up alongside YouTube, the hub of entertaining videos, it makes sense that those in Generation Z would seek out and use humour as a way to balance the more serious concerns they have in life’. The other day I was able to confirm all the above-mentioned characteristics through a lesson about an incident that happened on New Year’s Eve and whose video went viral. 

What I planned, what actually… happened in class… 
My lesson plan was all about the Pope and what happened with the pilgrim who grabbed his arm in St Peter's Square on New Year's Eve. I wanted the learners to watch this video and then do a series of activities (I am going to share with you). However, when I arrived in class I realised that Internet was not working. ‘No panic’, I said to myself, ’Let’s show off my entertaining storytelling abilities’. I started by saying that I was going to tell them the story of a famous man and an unknown woman. Then I asked them who they thought the man was and they yelled, ‘Trump’. (See? They are into the news). But I said no and I added that he was neither British or Northern American. Here we go, a storm of nationalities came up. (Really good exercise to revise pronunciation of countries and nationalities). When they realised he was from Argentina, one of the boys immediately said, ‘Messi’. Once again I put on my ‘sorry face’ and I said they had to try again. That was when they asked for more hints. So, I added he often wears white and they exclaimed, ‘Oh, yes! It’s Pope Francis’ and they bursted into laughter. They went on telling the story themselves and asked for some new vocabulary such as ‘grab’, ‘pull’, ‘slap’ and ‘yank’. I felt so proud of them!

Ideas to take away and use in your classrooms!

2. What did the pilgrim tell the Pope? What did he reply? In pairs, Ls act out a dialogue between the two characters. (Remember to give Ls preparation time and ask them to vote the best performance according some criteria, e.g. the funniest dialogue, the most grammatically correct dialogue, etc.)
Make it different - Get Ls to create comic strips. You can use the picture below. (If you use a WhatsApp group with your class, they can use their smartphones to carry out the task.)

2. FOCUS ON LANGUAGE: Functional language - How to apologise
Elicit the meaning of apologising (e.g. If I say, ‘I am sorry’, I am apologising).
Elicit forms from Ls and board them. Take a look at this webpage for more ideas. Suggest also forms to respond to apologies (visit this page).
In pairs Ls act out a dialogue in which the Pope apologises and the pilgrim accepts (or maybe not) his apology. 
Here you are one of the performances. (Spoiler alert: the learners in this video felt embarrassed.)

There is an eyewitness of the incident, who is he? The bodyguard! 
In pairs, once again, one student is a journalist and the other one is the bodyguard. The journalist interviews the bodyguard about what happened. I asked Ls to write and act out a five-question interview. 
Make it different - What would the bodyguard tweet? Use this fake tweet generator to make your Ls carry out the task.

‘That’s all folks’ from me for now.

Have a great teaching year!