Wednesday, 21 October 2020

I Want To Break Free. 5 Wonderful Ways to Use your Breakout Rooms


Since so many of our classrooms have moved online we've raced to learn what we can about the new technologies and platforms at our disposal. Something I've heard a lot about and seen in my own classes is the popularity of breakout rooms. In a recent session I gave one teacher spoke of his fear at losing control when sending students off on their own others said it had become an essential part of their class, as much for them as for the students. 

So how can we make the most of these breakout rooms. I've come up with my 5 favourite ideas to keep the students on task and the breakout rooms relevant, and not just an excuse to run off and grab a coffee. Let's be honest we've all done it. 

1. Investigation 

I'm amazingly lucky to have such a fantastic wife for many reasons. One of which being she is a wonderful teacher and I can use her ideas whenever possible This one is very much her creation.  She would put students into groups and get each one to investigate a celebrity of some variety. It is then up to the students to find out as much as they can about said celebrities and report it back to the class. This is a great way to get mixed abilities working together.  The ideas below are from the music section of Pearson's secondary course book Real World 1. 

2. Presentations   

Never before have we had such a relevant tool to help with real life learning. Asking students to do presentations in the past was often an incredibly tough task. Today's students are now acutely aware of the need to be able to communicate ideas over great distances without the face-to-face side of things being necessary. 

Breakout rooms offer a huge opportunity for you to work with pairs and groups on their presentations and then set them to task sharing their ideas with the class. My last group did a presentation on their own efforts to combate on climate change. Each of the 3 groups chose something different (Saving Water, Transport, Agriculture) After using their breakout room to talk over ideas and do a number of run throughs they were each ready to present to the class. That fear of standing in front of your peers had disappeared and I saw some of the best presentations.I've seen in nigh on 15 years teaching. You can take these presentations to new levels.

Don't simply set tasks. Ask them to present their favourite YouTube video (within reason). Take this chance to get students used to presenting in English in a virtual environment because it's a unique one that will serve them for the rest of their lives. 

 3. Prepare Role plays  

This works in the same way as the presentations do. It simply gives students proper time to prepare on a more intimate basis. In my next video project, I'm going to get my students to have a go at making a mini film with each group preparing a different scene. 

These are just a couple of the ideas I've used and seen used in classes. I do have a separate post on the joy that is the breakout room and some great ideas to keep it fresh and relevant. 

4. Alibi

This game is a class classice but seems to fint even better into the online environment. 

The first step is to describe the crime that has been committed. E.g. The Teacher's favourite mug was broken. Provide the students with useful vocabulary then split your class into two groups.  

The Detectives and The Accused.  

The dectective group has to figure out what questions they're going to ask the accused group and see if they'll slip up. The accused have to decide upon their alibi to the situation. 

After a brief spell (5 to 10 minutes) in their group breakout rooms bring the students back into the main room. Explain each of the accused will be assigned an interviewer. Reset the breakout rooms and give each interviews 2 minutes to cross exam the accused. 

When the students all return to the main room the results of the cross examinations can be discussed and a decision as to who broke the teachers mug can be concluded.

5. Group Writing

Something I found always worked in a face-to-face classes were group writing activities. The wonderful thing about breakout rooms is any type of team activity goes completely undisturbed. If you're in a traditional classroom you can be easily distracted and, perhaps notgive as much in put as possible. You're much more accountable in a breakout room. 

I've found this to be a successful activity with all ages. It works particularly well when doing writing "training" for exam classes. It's wonderful for creating role plays. The place Iv'e found it most useful is when writing a story, or the plot to a film. It encourages all areas to be creative and creates a great sence of teamwork. Obviously when doing a writng in the real world students won't have their partners to fall back on but its a great way of encouraging students to work with their peers and makes writing a lot less dull for them, 

I hope this has been at least mildy useful in helping you make the most of the Breakout room. 

Stay safe 

Monday, 17 August 2020

A Whole New World

 Good Afternoon one and all,

I hope ths finds you well and in good health. 

After such a strange year 2020 has brought about a whole new way of life, especially in the world of education. Classes are up in the air and distance learning is now a normality as opposed to a last resort. 

With all of the changes I've aso decided to take a new direction. For 13 years I was a teacher/teacher trainer and recently worked as an ELT Consultant for Pearson. This new job has taught me an awful lot not only  about the world of education but also about myself. Travelling to many different schools and academies I saw the wide variey of styles for both teaching and the way in which educational institutions are set up. It left me with a feeling that I could really help. I've enjoyed learning about how differnet people teach and learn. For that reason I've decided to focus my attention on the area of teacher training for both the online and physical classroom. 

If you or you insitution is interested in training essions for teachers or students I can provide a wide variety of classes. A list of my most popular sessions are below. 

New Normality Based talks:

How to Hybrid. A guide to setting up your hybrid/extended classroom with some fool proof activities to boot.

The Masked Classroom. 13 Games and activities to take on the in a socially distanced classroom

Zooming around. A whole raft of tried and tested activities to keep you online students fully engaged

I Wat to Break Free. My favourite 7 ways to use the Breakout room.

General Classroom ideas

STRIP: A bluffers guide to pronunciation

A Fistful of Fillers: A raft of ideas to fill your class with fun packed learning

Breathe Some Life into your Online Classroom: Some simple tips to making your online class more engaging for your students

Getting the Most out of Video Materials

Speaking Exam Training, Without the Exams

Cambridge Exam Masterclasses

I've done each of these session plus many more at conferences from TESOL Spain to ACEIA not to mention in academy sessions. 

If you'd like to get in touch about any of the above sessions or if you have anything more specific in mind please contact me at 

Happy Teaching one and all. Here's to a brighter tomorrow.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Musical Exams

I had an idea this week. That's not exactly a rare occurance but it did happen. It actually happened last week too but I never got round to writing about that one. 
Anyway, I digress. This week's idea was relevant for EVERY. SINGLE. CLASS. The debate went deeper the higher the level but the core idea was relevant from 7 years old all the way to adult. The example I'm going to give today is with the FCE exam but it can be adapted to any activity, be it worksheet or book based. 
I started the class by telling students they were going to participate in a psychologial experiment based around the effects of music on concentration. At no point did I mention the fact they would be doing 4 seperate Use of English part 2 activities. 
I told them they would listen to 4 different songs and complete activities whilst the music was playing. This served as both a distraction and a time limit. The 4 genres were. Drum and Bass, Rock, Pop and Classical. I informed the students it was to see which type of music was best for concentration and which was worst and we'd hold a plenary after we'd finished the activity.

The next step was to rehash exam technique for part 2. When doing this I always use this from I also make a list of the most common words that come up, just in case they are lost and need to fill a gap.  At the end we double check the 4 different exam parts and see how many of those words came up. 

Next I handed out the first part 2. I told students not to start until the music had begun. 

Students then complete the task. We don't correct it. We move straight on to the next task accompanied by the greatest band of all time the foo fighters. 

After that we quickly move on to a pop song of the moment. I went with Love Someone by Lukas Graham because all of the students know it and they found it espacially hard to concentrate because they were so distracted by the song they knew and loved. 

Finally we did Pacelbel's Canon

This last tune was a bit longer and gave them a bit of calm time to double check all their answers.

After we'd finished the final task we had a quick discussion. 
The basic questions I asked were: Which music was most difficult to concentrate with? Why?
Which was easiest? Why?
Which did you find most stressful? why?
Which did you find most relaxing? Why?
Which one do you think you got the best score on? 

Now obviously there is very little science behind this as some student may do better on different tasks, some tasks may be easier and also by the time they're doing their forth exam part they are well into the groove of things and it sohould be much easier by then. 

That said, we then corrected everything and took down the scores.  In general it wasn't a great shock that the best scores came out with the classical music, the worst, however, were with thethe pop music as students were too busy singing as opposed to doing the activity.  We then checked which words came up most frequesntly. 

This was a great activity for the students not only to help with their debating and discussion skills but also as pure exam revision. When doing 4 UOE part 2s they noticed that the word SO came up every single time. 

Hope this helps


Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Character Build

Good Afternoon,

As the term has been dragging on for what seems like an eternity and a bit, I decided this last week before the break I'd do something a little more light hearted. Although it wasn't that light hearted, but it was fun. I used this with classes ranging from A2- B2. It was a simple character build but rather than just put in random characteristics I asked them to act as if they were that person and truly, honestly try and expess what they might be feeling.
The class is basically 3 fold and for once I didn't tell them why they were following the powerpoint and thus, the class.

Part one I took notes on which groups they joined.
Then when they got a picture I focused on their reaction. A number of them asked to change.
The next part was what was most interesting. It was watching how the students approached te task. Some of it quick horrifying to be honest.

Keep an eye on where they go with the task.

The key is the reflection. When looking back at their work and reflecting upon their snap judgements and their hugely stereotyped responces actually got a few students to stop and think for a moment. I recommend spending quite a while on both the linguistic benefits of the activity and the morality based self review.

Hope it's of use. Here is the powerpoint


Friday, 8 March 2019

FCE Reading Part 7 Made Fun.... well, slightly less boring at least

In my experience this is the part of the reading exam where students do best. They tend to get at least 6 or 7 right, becuase it's usually quite obvious. I created this class to make it more interactive and for students to think individually but then also as a team. I also used it to enable students to improve their paraphrasing and as a way of retelling what they'd learnt. In the end it was really successful and every group, even with the weakest students got at least 8 correct answers.

So what's the process.

First up I find a vaguely interesting reading. With something, at least mildly, relatable to the class. Something to do with sport perhaps.
I find any tricky or complex vocabulary and preteach it. I draw students attention to the wide range of collocations used in the text and allow them to reflect for a moment or two on their own speaking and writing. It gives the students time to digest everything before the task.

Next I ask students to get into groups of 4 or 5 and have a quick talk about the topic of the text their about to read. (Perhaps it's one person speaking maybe it's 4/5 differdent people. There is, however, a central topic that can be discussed at length. I try and ensure students use some of the vocabulary taken from the text in order to solidify its meaning and useage.
In the example below I picked out
Big Grins
unstoppable Appitite (I also mentioned insatiable as a collocation)
Rolling Waves 
Vast Amounts
Hang Around
Itching to do something
A drop in temperature
To blossom
never be bothered

Next tell them the title of the text they are going to read and get students to hypothesize about what they are going to read.
In this case the title was from the online handbook sample paper:
Walking On Waves
Sarah Whiteley talks about her love of surfing and how it began

After they've spoken for 4-5 minutes tell students they are each going to get a paragraph of Part 7.

But first they are going to read through the questions, paying close attention to key words and underlining them (here they're in bold).
  1. feeling satisfaction that her determination resulted in better performance?
  2. the problem of having to wait for conditions to be favourable for surfing?
  3. a change which helped her to pursue her hobby?
  4. continuing to surf even when the conditions were unfavourable?
  5. the pleasure she gets from seeing others succeed?
  6. being aware that it would take time for her abilities to be recognised?
  7. her enthusiasm for the sea being recognised by someone else?
  8. an admission that she doesn’t think about what she is doing when surfing?
  9. not being concerned that she stood out from others?
  10. people appreciating her serious attitude towards her surfing?
This is when I give each student a different part of the exam.
Person A in each group gets:
Person B: 
Person C: 

Person D:

Person E:

When students have finished reading they tell each other abou their paragraph. Not only what it was about but also any interesting language or collocation they came across. EG: Person D might say, it mentions vast amounts of hanging around. Which is a better way to say we had to wait a long time.
Person C might mention something not happening overnight, which means it takes a long time.
Person B could talk about the collocation to be exceptionally good at something and how they'll try and use it in future. 

After the students have talked about their paragraphs they again go over the questions and decide which paragraph pertains to which question. They then have to underline the relevant text.
When it's all finished they report back to the class.  Low and behold most of them will get 8 or 9 at the very least.

My final step is to then give students 15 minutes to do a different part 7 of the exam. This tends to calm them down.

A worksheet is avilable here Walking on Waves.

Below are the answers for the about take.
2) D
3) A
4) B
5) E
6) C
7) A
8) E
9) B
10) D

Friday, 22 February 2019

Question Formation KET

I've got this class you see, well, I've got about 10 of them. In this class we've got a really wide range of abilities. The battle for me is finding activities that keep 25 students engaged and learning at the same time when they're all of such varying levels and, of course, concentration spans.

This week I've been working with my 5th and 6th grade classes (both studying for A2 level exams KET and FLyers in this case). The biggest issue I've found with both levels is their inability to form a question. It stems from the fact Spanish uses intonation to signal questions and there is no rewording involved.

In the second part of the speaking exam (for now at least) students need to form questions with prompts and their partner needs to answer. Up until the other day we'd simply been using exam sample. I decided that students should design their own club/class/shop and make a pamphlet for said activity.  I modeled it, gave them and example and let their imaginations do the rest.

I told students they needed:
A name for the club/class/shop
An address
What can be learnt/bought
Opening times
A phone number
An email address
An age range
and a price. 
I then posted my example on the board.

After students had seem my example I elicited questions out of them. Without the use of prompts with 6th grade, with prompts with 5th grade. 

We came up with:
What's your class called?              (called)
What do you do in the classes?        (Do)
What do you do in the class start?   (time/start)
When are the classes?                        (When)
What time does the class finish?       (time/finish)
How much are the classes? or how much do the classes cost?   (How much) 
Where are the classes?              (where)
How can I get more information?    (more information)
Is it for teenagers?                (teenagers)
What number should I call?    (Phone number)
Is there an email address?      (email)

When modeling I tried to encourage students to not only ask the questions but to respond to their partners answers. 

A: What is the call called? 
B: It's called Cool Down Dragon
A: Ahhh, that's a... cool name. haha. What time do the classes start?
B: They start at a quarter past seven, in the evening. 
A: That's great, I'll have time for a snack first. How much do the classes cost?

and so on. 

If you want a handy worksheet version just have a little look here: Create Your Own Club Question Formation Worksheet.

It gave students a personal investment in the activity, it got them thinking about what was going to be asked in the KET exam and it gave them ownership. 
The students then spent 20 minutes goinjg round asking their partners what they had created and all about their classes. 

The biggest winner for me in this was that my weakest students got to feel on a par with the strongest students as the language was very simple and they could use their creative side. 

All in all a winner. Give it a shot. 

Now even though the KET exam is changing next year this is a great way to work on question formation. SO don't throw it out just yet. 

Have a lovely weekend one and all. 


Friday, 30 November 2018

Talk to the Stars, Class Idea

Image result for whitney houstonNot so long ago I was driving along, at my usual pedestrian pace, singing as if I were the star of diva. It soon occured to me that perhaps I wasn't Whitney Houston reincarnated. I was, and am, in fact a 34 year old bearded English teacher whose range when it comes to singing isn't even close to that of the late great songstress. Anyway, I decided instead of singing along I'd simply ask Whitney some question, which she could then answer from beyond the grave. 
Between the point of laughter and annoyance my wonderful lady wife told me that what I was doing would be a good activity for the students in my class. From that moment on it crept into my classroom. First as a filler and later I developed it into a full hour long (or longer) class. I've since presented the idea at a couple of conferences and a nuimber of language academies. Each time the feedback has been great, upon using it with their classes a number of teachers have got back to me and told me it has been very motivating for their students. 

It is particularly good for question formation but it's also great for using more natural language.

The way I've developed the class is as follows. I'll give instructions and examples.

  • Split the class into 2 groups. 

Get each group to come up with as many different musical genres as possible in 2 minutes.
Next students come up with as many artists as they can.  (Encourage students to use language of disappointment at this stage "ohh yeah, of course" or "I can't believe I didn't get that one." It's a great opportunity to work on their tone)

  • Now split the class into pairs. 

Students then come up with a list of their favourite songs of all time. Allow 3 or for minutes.
Ask each group for a top 3 songs and get them to expalin to another pair as to why they like those songs and what they are about.

These two warmer activities should take between 10 and 15 minutes.

  • When everyone has finished discussing their favourite songs get each pair to choose one of their top 3 and write it on the board.   
Have a vote amonst the students as to which song they want to work on throughout the next section of the class.  

  • I'm going to pretend my class voted for  I have nothing  by Whitney Houston. I have nothing They usually go for something like Perfect by Ed Sheeran, or Happier, by Ed Sheeran. And sometimes Photograph...... by Ed Sheeran.
  • The next step depends on whether you have a multilingual class or a mono lingual class. I teach in Spain and thus the class is monolingual.  I next get the students to take the first (or any) 5 or six lines and translate them one by one. SO they can fully understand the meaning of the song. 

Share my life
Compartir mi vida
Take me for what I am
Tomame por lo que soy
'cuase I'll ne ver change
Porque nunca voy a cambiar 
All My coulours for you
Todos mis colores para ti

The translation may not be 100% accuate and there may be phrasal verbs or phrases that don't always work in the students´given tongue but it does give them a general idea of what the song is about and what the singer is trying to say. 

  • The fun really begins now as you tell them they're going to interview the celebrity. They have to (as a group) come up with questions that will be answered by each line of the song. This is a wonderful place to introduce some more natural language and make the activity more exciting. 
Here is a quick example. You need to be ready with your youtube link queued to pause and un pause giving the celebrity a chance to answer. 

"Hi, Whitney, thanks for joining us today. I've got a few little questions for you. Firstly, what would you like me to do?"

(Unpause) Share my life

"Wow, we've only just met that's very forward. What should I take you for?"

(unpause) Take me for what I am.

"I'll bear that in mind, Is there something you'll never do?"

(unpause) 'Cause I'll never change

"Change what exactly, and for whom?"

(unpause) All my colours for you.

You get the gist. Rather than simply working on the questions it really helps students become more natural. I also did it with Adele's hit Hello, in the form of a phone call. 

  • When you've gone through the activity with the class, the next step is to let the students go off on their own and work on their own song. I f you have time remaining in the class do it then and work with them on corrections, or simply send it as homework and check it in the following class. Ther interviews only tend to last between 10 and 30 seconds. Those students who want to do more let them do more. 
To close the class I use Lyrics Training to see how much they've learnt from the song and to give them a chance to hear the whole thing again.   

In the following months this activity can be used as a simple 10 minute filler and is great for students struggling with quesiton formation. 

I hope this comes in handy over these cold winter months. 

I'll leave you with my phone call to Adele, Let's see if I have time to upload a video in future. 

"Hi, Who's calling?"

Hello, it's me 

"Ohhhh, Adele, Long time no speak. What have you been up to lately?"

I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet

"Ok, no problem my dear, why do you want to meet?"
To go over everything

"Wow, everything, that is an awful lot of things. You know they say time is money. Will we have time for that? 
They say that time's supposed to heal ya But I ain't done much healing

"Ok so they say more than just time being money they also say it heals. Well get well soon Adele". 

So there you have it a nice class based on music, revolving around questions and ending in fun.  

It's only been 18 months

Good day one and all.
After a brief period of radio silence I'm trying to get back into blogs again. My talk at ACEIA has inspired me to get right back to it. Also the fact I'm, slowly, writing my first book.  It's been difficult with the time pressures of adapting to a new job and parenthood but hey, ho. I'll get down to business again very soon with a rewrite and redeveloped, reworked and remastered class that started as merely a warmer and has now evolved into one of my all time favourite classes for ages 9-99.

Watch this space. It'll be here very soon.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017



I spent last night, as I often do. Lying awake pondering some of life's great mysteries and how, exactly I could shoehorn them into my classes. 
I'm amazingly lucky, as a teacher to have one wonderful class not burdened by the weight of constant exam pressure and it has allowed me to really look at aspects of life that are genuinely useful. So last night, I was looking at ways to really make students think, not just about how to coach them through an exam but to really think about their morals in life. We've recently talked about honesty but this was a chance to go a little deeper.  It dawned on me that students would like to know how to look for a job, how to apply for a job and how to conduct themselves in an interview. I also added a bit of exam style speaking practice.
The class starts out by setting out what morality is and posing a number or questions set to test their moral fibres.
Task two is a FCE/CAE speaking part 2 style activity. Whereby students have to discuss the importance of various different morals.
In task three students are given two specific job offers for 2 very different companies, who the students are allowed to do some research into.

In task four students then decide which company they'd work for and debate the morals behind each one.  It ends with an application and then, if time permits an interview in the form of a role play. Obviously questions need to be written so this might be best saved for the foll0wing class.

Task five is a Letter of application.
My next step is to get students to write their letter of application. Students read each other’s letters and make any corrections or improvements they see necessary.
Task six is the final task and the last step towards getting a job. The Interview
In the next class/sections half the class are bosses and the other half applicants. Students conduct interviews with each other. Using both traditional and non-traditional interview questions. 

Below are all the materials. They're all shoved nicely on this here document.
 Morality Plan and materials