Mental Health Hotline – vocabulary-building and speaking activity

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Képtalálat a következőre: „mental health hotline”

The lesson was a follow up of Unit 1C in New English File Upper-Intermediate where symptoms, illnesses, treatments are discussed. And although the topic is serious the whole idea of the lesson comes from a funny listening text.

Step 1.: I put „Mental Health Hotline” on the board. The students were put into small groups (3 students in a group) and they had to discuss what „Hotline” means.

Who might call such a hotline?

What kind of problems can be discussed over the phone?

Why is it a good idea to talk to a stranger about mental problems? Is it a good idea at all?

After some time in the little groups, the students presented the groups’ opinions in a plenary.

Step 2.: I put the names of the mental illnesses on cards as well as the definitions of those illnesses. At this point the students were given the cards with the names of illnesses only. The task was to define what the illness on the individual cards means. If they didn’t know the meaning, they tried to guess on the basis of the name.

Step 3.: Now the definitions were given to the groups and they tried to match the names to the definitions.

Step 4.: After checking the previous task, we discussed a little bit about „answering machines”. What happens when you phone an office and there is an answering machine with a menu system and the caller has to decide which menu number to choose to get to the right operator? At this point I revealed to the students that the following text is funny and not really serious, but a bit „wicked”. They immediately knew they didn’t have to take it seriously! J

So they were given a gapped text and the names of the mental illnesses had to be written. That was also done with a lot of discussion.

Finally we listened to the original text.

The follow-up activity was a set of „Doctor, doctor” jokes. They are usually just 2 lines: a question and an answer. There were two groups. Each group got either the first line or the second line of the jokes on slips. One group started by reading out the „Doctor, doctor” line of the joke and the other group had to find the corresponding second line, read it out – thus completing the joke.

The story of ‘Hamlet’ – in pictures

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We have been studying Shakespeare with a group of A2-B1 level students for some time and as it is the bard’s 400th anniversary this year there are really loads of materials to study the life and works of Shakespeare – basically at any level.

I wanted to make my students produce something of their own and having finished the discussion of ‘Hamlet’, I came across an excellent website for digital storytelling: StoryboardThat.

So, at the end of the project I put my students into groups of 3 and each group created their own storyboard of ‘Hamlet’. Here are some of the storyboards they created:

Hamlet 1

Hamlet 2

Hamlet 3

Hamlet 4

Hamlet 5


Simple activities with a text for lower levels

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This is a collection of ideas one can do with a text to improve students’ reading skills. And perhaps not only the reading skills. I was trying to do the activities when I thought we had exploited the text in every possible way “dictated” by the coursebook and the students ( weak A2 level) still had problems with it.

  • Actually there were three shorter sections to read, so I grouped the students so that each group was focusing on one particular text. The reading was written in the Simple Present tense first person singular, so the students first had to read it out in third person singular, taking turns to read out the individual sentences.
  • The question words were listed on the board, together with a general revision of word order in questions in the Simple Present tense. Students were now forming questions with those question wors, write them down and finally had to ask and answer those questions.
  • Key words of the three sections were put on cards. The students took a card from the pile placed face down on the desk and they had to define, explain the words to each other: the rest of the group guessed the words.
  • On a different lesson the questions were on slips placed face down on the desk, students took turns to look at a question on slips and answer them. Then placed the questions face up on the desk and simply by looking at the questions tried to retell the story the questions were based upon. Finally the questions were taken away and students had to remember the text they have worked with.
  • One member from the group reads out the text deliberately making factual mistakes. For example if the text says: “I live in Turkey”, the student could say “I live in Norway” – the other students in the group have to listen carefully, and if they spot a mistake, say “Stop!” and correct the mistake. The reader then carries on with the text.
  • As the tasks are very often based on cards, when the groups are ready with one particular series of tasks with a pack of cards or slips, they rotate, i.e. they stand up and move over to a desk, where they find hte cards of the other text(s).
  • Sentences from the texts were taken and cut up into words. The students were in pairs and they had to reorder the cards to make meaningful sentences. When they were ready, I quickly checked the sentences. If they were correct, they could mix/shuffle the word cards, and leave it on the desk, while they were walking to the next desk where another sentence was waiting for them to reorder (previously reordered then mixed up by their peers). With this technique, students move around the classroom, concentrate on the correct order of words, meaning of words, collaborate, and revise the story of simple reading texts.
  • Students took a word – anything they liked. They wrote a sentence demonstrating the meaning of the word, but leaving the word itself out – thus producing a gapped sentence. They fixed the papers with their sentences on the walls of the classroom. The sentences were numbered. The students walked around the classroom and tried to guess the missing words of each of the sentences, by taking note of hte number of the sentence and the word they thought fitted the sentence.
  • Pictures were placed around the classroom walls. Students had to associate the words with one or more of the pictures and explain their choices.

A Most Ambitious Experiment

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A Most Ambitious Experiment is the title of a science-fiction short story. The link is Unit 10C in Solutions Upper-Intermediate, but I think the lesson can be done with any B2 or B2+ group learning about books or short stories, different genres, especially science fiction.

Eastoftheweb.com is an excellent site for teachers or learners of English when they are looking for authentic texts to read. You can browse the site for short stories according to genres, subgenres, the length of the story, or specify if you are looking for something contemporary or a classic story, and many more aspects.

So, this is what I did with my students:

1.Pre-reading activity:

I put the students into mini-groups with the help of slips randomly taken with the names of some genres. They worked in those groups for the rest of the lesson. First they had to guess the genres of some short stories on the basis of the titles. After group discussion we compared the ideas in plenary.

Next, I revealed that we were going to read the last item on their lists: A Most Ambitious Experience by Mike Krath.

2. Reading

I chose to make my students read the short story in parts and discuss it bit by bit as it gets a bit complicated and I also found it a good source of conversation as the short story lends itself tos peculation, guessing and discussion.

So we started with reading just two extracts and discussing the main points of the story, e.g. why Robert wanted to travel to the future. Any comprehension question is appropriate here, the main aim is to make students understand what they are going to read about. The first extract was the following:

“Now,” Robert told his wife, “I am going on a long trip. You won’t see me for years, but I will come back and see you.”
“Where are you going?”
“I am going into the future. I am sure you will be angry when you see me, but it won’t be for long, because once I have seen you, I will then vanish again and you will see me standing in this very spot exactly five minutes from now.”

and having discussed it the second extract followed:

Robert’s wife was puzzled.
“I am curious what our 401k will do if I invest in certain options and leave them,” he said. “I’ve decided to go twenty years into the future and see the outcome.”
“What if you can’t come back?”
A slight pause – then, “I hope I made the right choice.”
“What do you want for dinner?”
“I wouldn’t make anything for me now, but, five minutes later, I will tell you what I want.”

Having understood and discussed everything students read the first part:

Robert left for the basement. His wife, still confused, but knowing that Robert was a puzzling man, went to the kitchen to make dinner, with or without her husband’s request. She was quite unsure what to make of all of it, but, after a few minutes, she quickly forgot the conversation.
Later in the afternoon, Robert’s wife walked over to the basement door and knocked. She waited. She knocked again, and, again, nothing. Finally, she opened the door and walked down to the laboratory. Robert was nowhere to be seen. She hadn’t heard him come up. Where had he gone?
When supper was ready, and the light outside turned a dim color, Robert’s wife called out his name, but no one answered. The house was quite still.
“I don’t like this,” she thought. “He’s never been late for dinner before.”
Robert’s dinner grew cold, and his wife placed it in the oven to keep warm hoping he would notice it when he came back. In the morning, Robert’s plate was still warm in the oven. He had never touched it. His wife looked for him once again and called out his name, but it was to no avail – he wasn’t in the house.

At this point the groups discussed some questions:

  1. Why wasn’t he back in five minutes?
  2. How long did he leave for?

The next, a bit longer part followed:

     After several days, Robert’s wife contacted the authorities and told them what had happened. They searched the house for clues, but all they could find was a slightly discolored spot on the basement floor.

     “Did he say anything before he left?” they asked.

     “I’ll be back in five minutes,” she said.

     After the authorities had left, and after several more days, weeks and months, the case was officially closed. Robert was missing, but since no foul play could be determined, it was decided that he had just deserted his wife. Robert’s wife was not pleased.

     Years passed, and Robert’s wife was able to secure a job that kept her living slightly above poverty level. Day after day, while working, she cursed her husband for leaving her. She would never forgive him. Never! Her face became more wrinkled and the pretty smile she once wore turned into a permanent scowl.

     Finally, twenty years to the day her husband had left, Robert’s wife was sitting at the kitchen table when she heard a noise coming from the basement. She immediately got up in fright. Who was down there? She heard footsteps slowly walking up the stairs and – finally – the door flew open and there, before her eyes, was none other than Robert. He didn’t look any different than when he had left.

     “You!” she managed to say.

     “Okay, what’s the value of our 401K?” Robert asked.

     “Where have you been?”

     “That doesn’t matter. What matters is the value of our 401K. I need to know if I invested wisely or not.”

     “You left me twenty years ago with nothing to live in and expect to find anything left of the 401k?”

     “You spent it all?” Robert asked. “Oh great – that’s just great. I’ll be right back.”

     Robert turned and went down into the basement.

     “Robert? Robert, where are you?” Robert’s wife said but suddenly saw a brilliant blue flash of light and then nothing. Robert had vanished once again.

     Robert’s wife went back to the dining table. She sat down and tried to think of what had happened. Her mind was muddled. She couldn’t think.

Questions for group discussion:

  1. When did they meet again?
  2. Why did Robert ask the questions?
  3. Why did he leave again?

The next part was shorter:

The 401k had been – had been – she thought – left untouched when Robert had first left, but now – she was beginning to remember different things. The 401k had been placed in a trust. A trust where she couldn’t touch the money for twenty years. Then, she remembered that when the authorities had informed her that Robert had deserted her and was never located, that she had him declared legally dead so the trust would be legally hers without waiting for twenty years.
Another flash of light in the basement, more footsteps, and Robert walked into the kitchen.
“The value?”
“I told you I spent it.”
“I put it in a trust.”
“I had you declared legally dead.” Robert’s wife said.
“Oh bother,” Robert said. “I’ll be back again.”

Questions for group discussion here:

  1. What happened to the money?
  2. Why did Robert leave now?

The next part of the short story:

A flash of light and Robert’s wife was again confused.
“Did I say spent it? Spent what?” she thought. She had tried to obtain some money after Robert had left her. When she had gone to inquire how much was in their 401k, she had found out that Robert had withdrawn the money and had hidden it somewhere – but where?
Another light and Robert was there in the kitchen again.
“Do you know how much you put me through? You left me nothing to live on.”
“This will all be a bad dream,” Robert said.
“If it wasn’t for some gold coins that I found buried in the backyard, I would never have survived.”
“You found the gold coins?”
“So that’s where you hid the money!” Robert’s wife said. “Good. I’m glad I found it and spent it all!”

The same questions can be discussed in the groups as the ones after the previous part.

After the following paragraph, the students had to predict what was going to happen. They managed to come up with the most imaginative ideas – this was my favourite part of the lesson! So, the paragraph:

Robert went back into the basement and disappeared. His wife sat still for awhile expecting him to appear, but he never did. She got up and went to cook. She thought of her husband and tried to remain bitter against him. She suddenly couldn’t think of what would make her bitter. Deserted her? He had never deserted. What an imagination she must have. As she opened a cupboard, Robert walked into the kitchen.

After the prediction activity I let them read the end of the story:

“Have you decided what you want for dinner?” she asked. “I haven’t started making anything yet.”
“Leave me alone, I’m not hungry,” Robert said and sat down at the kitchen table.
“What’s wrong?”
“Can’t you keep your grubby hands off our money for twenty years?”
“You can’t let me leave you for a measly twenty years without spending everything we have, can you?”
“What are you talking about, honey? You haven’t been gone for five minutes and already something is troubling you.”
Robert looked at the wife of his youth.
What if he killed her? He could strangle her now, go into the future, see what the 401k did, come back a few minutes before, and live happily ever after.
“May I see that dish towel for a sec?”
Robert’s wife handed it to him, and, much to her desperate surprise, he tied it around her neck and choked her, all the while telling her, “Don’t worry, this is just an experiment.”
Robert went back down into the basement, and twenty years later reappeared in a flash of light.
“Who’s down there?” a man asked walking down the basement stairs.
Robert hadn’t thought of this. He looked for somewhere to hide, but it was too late. The new owner of the house had a rifle.
“Say your prayers.”
“Wait! I can explain!”, but it was too late. Robert was immediately shot and fell backwards quite dead – a most miserable end to a most ambitious experiment.

The End.

3. Post reading activity:

The students discussed in groups why Robert killed his wife and what his mistake was. After each group discussion plenary followed, very often the students themselves asked other groups about their opinions, and a very lively conversation followed. The last point would have been to present a group opinion about the whole of the story , but I didn’t have to ask them for their opinions as it was a natural outcome of the surprising ending.

It was a really enjoyable lesson about A Most Ambitious Experiment!

Verb patterns – a board game

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board game 07

Verb patterns at upper-intermediate level – well, that is even more challenging than teaching it at lower levels. I posted some days ago a pre-intermediate task or rather a cooperative drill that proved to be useful and interesting for my students. Now I would like to describe a board game that made the students in my class experience such a flow that they were surprised and sorry when the lesson ended.

There had already been a lesson presenting the different verb pattern structures (verb + –ing form, verb + infinitive, verb + object + infinitive, verb + object + base form, verb + object + past participle) and some practice tasks. We also did some drilling following the example of the activity that I described in my previous post on verb patterns.


To prepare the board game I used the cards from the drilling task. It means that the verbs that are followed by the different structures were printed on different coloured paper cards and cut out. The students were in 4 groups, each group received one set of cards, dice and counters. The board was the students’ desk. They had to shuffle the coloured cards and place them face down in a way that they form the squares of a board game from ’start’ to ’finish’.
The game
The students then rolled the dice, moved the counters according to the number and turned up the card they landed on. The task was to give a grammatically correct sentence with the verb on the card turned up. If somebody landed on a card that had already been turned up, that card had to be placed at the end, i.e. before the ’finish’ – thus it became the last ’square’ of the board. The card then was replaced by one new verb card that each group received in a separate pack.
Although playing the game like that was a kind of „never ending story, the students enjoyed it a lot! And in fact it was only a „make a sentence with the different verbs” type of task, still, as a board game it was motivating and fun!

Difficulty with verb patterns


I have come up with the most imaginative activities and have given my students the funniest on-line tasks, the most creative exercises – still ‘verb patterns’ is the grammar point that is best practised with drills.

Old fashioned? Perhaps. Nevertheless in my view it is worth drilling sometimes to see some improvement – or am I just impatient?

Anyway, when I was speculating about some verbs and found that it was really easy for my students to use ‘to + infinitive’ after ‘want’ or ‘try’, I realised that the only reason is that they tend to use those verbs really often. So that would be the real argument for drilling – even if it is found old-fashioned by some methodology gurus.

So the simple task was the following:

– the students are in groups of 3 or 4

– each student receives one card (cut out from the page) with a verb but also indicating if it is followed by to + infinitive or the -ing (Gerund) structure

– in the middle of the desk I put a sheet with lots of different verbs – the verbs that I intended to be the “second” verb, i.e. the one that has to be put into the gerund or infinitive form

– one student from the group asks a question with the verb on their card plus one of the “second verbs” from the sheet in the approproate form. Every group member has to give an answer in a full sentence, making sure that they repeat the whole structure.

e.g. the verb on the card is ‘AGREE’ to

Student 1’s question: Do you agree to come to the cinema with me tonight?

Student 2’s answer: I agree to go to the cinema with you tonight.

Student 3’s answer: I don’t agree to go to the cinema with you tonight.

The students take turns to ask and answer with the verbs on their cards.

What is happening here? The students listen to the same structure lots of times thus creating the imprint of that verb pattern. After 3-4 questions with the same verb the students can take new cards (for instance change cards with another group)

Well, I am not saying that drilling is the most exciting activity in the world but with a little twist, like creating group work and a speaking activity it can help the students memorise difficult structures like verb patterns.

Presenting Vocabulary: Travelling and Tourism

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Each lesson in Longman’s Exam Accelarator starts with a lengthy vocabulary input. It is very useful but to make it interesting at the same time you need some creativity. This is what I have done to present vocabulary for Unit 7: ‘Travelling and Tourism”.


At the beginning of the lesson I put the students into the following four groups (according to what was written on the slips they had chosen): sea travel, air travel, road travel and rail travel. Each group was responsible for their own means of transportation.


The target vocabulary was put on cards spread on one of the desk. The students all went to the desk and took the words that they thought referred to their group. When they sat down they had to explain to the rest of the class what they had chosen and why. In fact they had to justify their choice explaining why a certain word or expression belonged to rail travel or air travel, etc. A little discussion began and even trading with words when groups realised the problem with their choice.


When every group had the right words the students stood up again and this time they had to select some gapped sentences on slips that had been blu-tacked on the classroom wall. They had to decide if the sentences on the slips are related to their means of transportation. Again there was some discussion and “trading” of sentences – especially when I made it clear that each group should have 3 slips with sentences on them.


Finally the groups had to fill in the gaps with the words on the cards they had previously taken to their desks. When that was done, they put the sentences into the correct order so that the little stories make sense. They read out the stories and the other groups decided if they were in the correct order or not.


Follow up: As a follow up activity on the next lesson the groups had to list all the advantages of travelling by air, sea, car, train respectively. After regrouping a discussion followed when they had to compare ideas about the best way of travelling.

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