Saturday, 22 December 2012

Santa's Story - Videotelling Lesson (revisited)

I've made some adjustments to my Videotelling lesson from yesterday, as after refection I felt it needed a bit of a re-shape. Actually, if I am truthful, it wasn't wonderful.  

Read it here:

In this spirit, I have modified Jamie Keddie's ( technique slightly in the story telling stage. 

Instead of students responding to the teacher eliciting orally in the story telling stage, they write down their answers and then check these while watching the video. (Teacher should have 10/15 questions prepared for this task. Questions should be open ended if possible pushing students to be as creative as possible) 

The reason for this change is that sometimes shy students lose out in the oral eliciting stage, overshadowed by the more confident members of the group. Thus, with this slight adjustment, the former can get creative without the fear of their spontaneous responses being wrong or inferior to their classmates. 

This is not to say that shy students are discouraged from speaking, far from it; all students are given the opportunity to share their creative ideas with the class in a group feedback session after the video has been watched. At this stage, the teacher can really take the students' ideas apart and fully expand the emergent language to its fullest potential. 

For those of you who are not familiar with Jamie Keddie and Videotelling, I suggest you do. Below is a great example of his technique.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Santa's Christmas - Videotelling Lesson

Santa’s Christmas

Language Level: Elementary - Pre-Intermediate
Learner Type: Young teens
Time: 45 minutes
Topic: Christmas; kindness; love
Language: Christmas vocabulary; past tense

Preparation, materials and equipment

For this activity you will need to ‘Santa's Christmas: Learn English with subtitles - Story for Children’ 

From YouTube. (

Decide how you are going to show the video to the class.

Part 1: Introduction

Tell the class that you watched a visually interesting video about Christmas on Youtube. Get the students to speculate on what they think the video might be about.

Part 2: Visualisation

Tell the class that you want them to use their imagination to visualize what you tell them.

Say the following: 

“I want you to imagine that you are in the middle of a traditional Christmas scene”

What sights, sounds and smells do you imagine?

After feedback, tell the students the following:

There are snow covered trees, and the sky is a brilliant blue like a tropical ocean. In the background of the video there is small wooden building. Is has a chimney on the roof

“Why are chimneys important in cold countries?” (To provide warmth)

“What comes out of a chimney?” (Smoke)

“Where does the smoke come from?” (A roaring fire in a fireplace)

Outside the house two animals are playing.

“What animals are playful?”

Inside the building there is a large bed and a fire burns in the corner of the room

“Does that mean the house is going to burn down? No? Why not?” (It’s in a fireplace)

A bird sits on a set of drawers beside the large bed, and a bird sits glumly on it (Concept check ‘glumly’)

“What kind of bird do you think it is?” (Owl)

“Why do you think the owl is so glum?”

Give the students a clue: beside the owl on the drawer is a thermometer and there is a man in the bed. Beside the bed is a large sack which is overflowing with unread letters

“Who do you think the man is?” (Santa)

“Why is the owl glum? (Because Santa is too sick to deliver presents)

Ask the students how Santa feels and how children around the world will react when they find out this terrible news

At this point tell the students to orally summarise the story so far with their friend (1 minute on the stopwatch)

Tell the student that Santa hears a noise outside

“What has caused this noise?”

“Something is out of breath (concept check) outside the window; something that is of vital importance to Santa every year.” (Reindeer)

“What’s wrong with the reindeer? Why are they out of breath?”

Tell the students that there is something behind the reindeers
“What are they pulling?” (Sledge)

Tell the students that inside the sledge is something surprising (Kids)

“Why are the kids in the sledges?”

Explain that Santa hears all of these strange noises outside his bedroom window

“How does Santa feel?” (Curious)

Tell the students that Santa opens the door and in front of him stands a little girl

“What do you think she wants?” (To give Santa a gift)

“She gives him something soft and cuddly. What could it be?” (Teddy bear)

Tell student sthat the children come one by one (concept check) to give Santa a present

“What other presents do you think they give to Santa?” (Tree, cookies, socks, jigsaw etc.)

“How do you think Santa feels?” (Over the moon – concept check and explain what an idiom is)

Santa gets all the kids to stand in a big circle, and one little girl asks him a question

“What do you think the question is?” (What present do you like best?)

“What is Santa’s reply?” (Santa says the kid’s love and kindness is the finest gift of all)

“What do you think Santa does next?” (Gives all the children an big hug)

7. Now show the video to the class.

Follow up 1
Students are given a list of key words from the story and have to recreate the story in the past tense

Follow up 2
Higher level students could write an opinion paragraph on which is more important: love and kindness or gifts?

Follow up 3
Students can write a diary entry for Santa on the events of that day

Friday, 23 November 2012

Nai Yang Beach, Phuket, Thailand 2

Being only a stones throw from my house, I often go to Nai Yang on my day off. It's such a lovely place to relax and listen to the waves.

Coral on driftwood

The crabs roll intricate patterns of sand balls. I thought some time ago that they were eggs, but I have been told otherwise by a man in the know. Cool all the same.

God, he said quietly. Isn't the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. (Ulysses - Joyce)

You could catch some tasty dinner in one of those babies.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Collaborative Writing and Peer Correction

(William Turner: Landscape with a River Bay in the Backgraound.)

This activity is great for reviewing vocabulary as well as improving writing fluency and accuracy.

Language Level: Pre-Intermediate and above
Learner Type: teens and adults
Time: 30 minutes
Topic: Vocabulary Review; writing fluency; peer correction
Language: Vocabulary; general grammar review

Preparation, materials and equipment

1. For this activity you will need a blank piece of paper for each student. Alternatively, students can use their notebooks.

Part 1: Introduction

2. Spider diagram target previously taught vocabulary on the whiteboard; review and drill.

Part 2: Instruction

3. Tell students that they have to work as a team to make a story; this is done in 10 stages: in the first stage they have to write for 30 seconds and then pass the paper to their left; in the second stage they write for 1 minute and then pass; in the third stage one minute thirty seconds etc. Continue until ten stages have been completed.

4. Write a sentence starter on the whiteboard for each student in the class: eg. “Suddenly” or “And then something wonderful happened”. The teacher should be creative at this stage.

Part 3: Productive Skills

5. Students continue the sentence and then pass their piece of paper or notebook to their left.


Point out that students need to read and correct the work passed to them before adding their own work.

6. This process continues with the teacher timing the students on a stopwatch. The teacher should also encourage slower students to speed up.

7. The process continues until students have gone through ten stages.

By the end of the productive stage, students will be energized and attentive.

Part 4: Peer Correction

8. Tell students they have 30 seconds to correct the work in front of them using a red pen.

9. After 30 seconds, students pass the corrected work to their left and peer correct again.

10. This process is continued until students have their original starter word in front of them.

Part 5: Oration

11. Individually, students read each collaborative story and teacher records them.

Part 6: Vote

12. Students vote on which story they liked best and why.

Part 7: Teacher Correction

13. Teacher explains any common errors on the white board.

Follow up:

14. Email the most popular story to the students; students can use the video for intensive listening practice at home, writing the story as they hear it.

15. Students can translate the story voted best in to L1 and translate it back into L2 at home.

16. Students can continue the story at home and present it at the beginning of the next lesson.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

IELTS Writing Task 1 Lesson on Addictions

Introducing IELTS Speaking Task 1

Language Level: Intermediate +
Learner Type: High teens to adults
Time: 60 minutes
Topic: IELTS Speaking Task 1; Addictions; Deductive reading
Language: Questions forms; language of addiction; modals of deduction

Preparation, materials and equipment

1. For this activity you will need to copy a paragraph about internet addiction onto an A4 piece of paper. Tear a column 4cms wide down the left and right side of the page. Photocopy the remaining middle section of the page. Copy and paste the article from here:

Part 1: Introduction

2. Show the class the picture and ask students to discuss the person’s story with their partner. Students then write one sentence explaining who the person is and what has happened to him. (the man is addicted to the internet)

Link to photo:


Part 2: Feedback

3. Groups write their sentences on the whiteboard; teacher focuses on emergent language, and corrects sentences if necessary; drill; elicit when necessary.

Part 3: Deductive Reading

4. Hand out the prepared middle section of the paragraph. Students work together in groups to deduce the whole of the paragraph from the section they have. Highlight the need to use modals of deduction when conversing: might, could, must, may, etc.

5. After 10 minutes, the groups mingle and compare information.

6. Hand out original, read and make corrections.

Part 4: Useful vocabulary

7. Draw students attention to the language of addiction

Words and Expressions

to be addicted to
to be (get)hooked on
to kick a habit
to overcome an addiction


Internet addiction is a problem.
He is addicted to computer games.
He is a real television addict.
Gambling can become addictive.
She is hooked on gambling.
He smokes, but he wants to kick the habit.
It is difficult to overcome an addiction.

Part 5: Introduce IELTS Writing Task 1

8. Outline task 1 and model a question and answer on the whiteboard.
9. Outline answer structure: (Direct answer + extra piece of information explaining your answer + example)

Eg: “Please describe your apartment"

My apartment is tiny but functional. Presently, being a student, all I need is my computer desk and somewhere to put my head down at night.”

Part 6: Question forming

10. Write 5 question words on the white board and tell student to form some simple questions about internet addiction; draw their attention to useful vocabulary from part 4.

“How many…?”
“How often…?”

11. Monitor and correct when necessary.

12. In pairs, one student plays the examiner and the other the student. Tell student to pay particular attention to their partner’s answers as they will need the information later. Ask and answer questions in full.

Follow up:

13. Students write a summary of their partner’s answers
14. Student research and internet story about addiction and prepare a 2 minute presentation at home for the next lesson.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Ranting Under the Stars in Phuket

Painting by Pierre Koukjian (

Moving house is a tiresome business. Kay and I are tired, but this is not something to bemoan as we’re happy, settled and sensitive to the fragility of life and our place within it. Thus, tomorrow, being our day off we intend to rest and bathe in red wine. It’s the only way.

Currently, I’m wading my way through Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ and being a novel full of agonizing cruelty and deceit, it provides a soothing backdrop to my every day activities in Phuket. Daily contact with lies, theft, gossip, underage pregnancy, a revolving staff turnover, mosquito infestation, rats and wife beating all compete for my attention, but I feel reinvigorated by Russian tales infidelity and introspection.

“Long live Fyodor!”

Living in a foreign country has its moments of frustration. These can cause one to react in outbursts of spiteful indignation. Nasty caustic words are hissed and then regretted; people are offended and disappear never to be seen again. These undesirable occurrences are a result, as I see it, of cultural egoism and arrogance and it’s essential to recognize these traits to remain sane. In consequence, I have worked hard over the last few years to understand why confusion between cultures comes about; it has been an enlightening albeit laborious process. Over time, the bewilderment one feels when something doesn't fit your cultural experience, begins to melt away allowing to cultural patterns of thought and behavior to emerge. As a result, actions that were once seem as “irrational” are dealt with more level-headedly, and one becomes more in tune with how the other culture operates. Therefore, experience teaches which action is appropriate to achieve the maximum social harmony within a given cultural context and utterances of “wh” questions over trivial matters decrease in number.

These days I find myself reacting with an ironical smile rather than disgust when I get charged a ‘Farang price’ on goods or services in Thailand. For example, one day last year I fell victim to this unofficial dual-pricing at a local nature reserve. Consequently, I found myself at home, wriggling in my chair completely at a lost. Why did this happen? Did I not earn Thai Baht, too? Surely these people feel shame, dishonour, corrupt and degraded by such actions? Gloomily and reluctantly, I asked a Thai acquaintance why this crass system of daylight robbery occurred. His answer got me thinking: “Because Farang are rich” he said, his face beaming with sincerity. Suddenly, I felt a moment of spiritual darkness; vague expressions and phrases pulsated inside my head. Is my brain functioning correctly? Conscious of eyes watching me I said with genuine passion: “So why are rich Thais exempt from paying the higher rate?” He giggled like a school boy; his upper lip twitched as if in spasm. He stood up, excused himself and left the room. I now refrain from asking “why” questions in Thailand.

Presently, I feel rather more at home in Phuket. Whether this is due to me becoming more learned in the intricacies and nuances of Thai culture or something else, I am unsure. After all, it’s tough being objective a foreign land. Whatever the causal factors may be, I feel mellower now, less likely to plunge into darkness over a situation that I can’t relate to.

As a result, I've become aware that a position of cultural relativism is desirable when living in a developing country. What’s the alternative? Hang out in ex-pat bars, drink yourself to death and listen to Jimmy, a roofer from Essex, foaming at the mouth about how things wouldn't be done like this is England bla bla bla... Balls to that! I'd rather vomit. Not only are the majority of ex-pats lecherous, they are also disproportionately irritable over every trifle. Of course there are many upstanding exceptions to this, but few come to mind. Thus, I keep my distance and try with utmost precision to converse with constructive members of society. These, however, are thin on the ground.

In short, life is good: I live near the beach, eat nice food, drink average wine and don’t detest life. Moreover, my tug-of-war with Thai culture has reached a point of learned understanding and acceptance, allowing me to look to the future with a cynical, yet loving smile.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Videotelling Lesson Plan

Guinness Record

Language Level: Pre-Intermediate to Upper-Intermediate (A2-B1)
Learner Type: Young teens to adults
Time: 45 minutes
Topic: Guinness Record Breakers; unusual people; social exclusion; empathy
Language: Superlatives; present narrative tenses; various vocabularies

Preparation, materials and equipment

1. For this activity you will need to stream “Smallest man meets woman with longest legs.” From YouTube. (
2. Decide how you are going to show the video to the class.

Part 1: Introduction

1. Tell the class that you watched a visually interesting video on Youtube. Get the students to speculate on what they think the video might be about.

Part 2: Visualisation

1. Tell the class that you want them to use their imagination to visualize what you tell them.

Say the following:

“I want you to imagine that you are in central London, in a famous place called Trafalgar Square.

What sights, sounds and smells do you imagine?

There are many people going about their business (concept check “going about their business”) although it is a grey, dull day. The sky is full of clouds and it is threatening to rain. (concept check “threatening to rain”) In the background of the video there is an old, traditional building (concept check “traditional”) with Roman pillars at its front entrance. Inside the building there are many famous paintings. (What do you call a place where art is displayed?-art gallery)

What do you think the atmosphere is like in an art gallery?

On the roof of the art gallery there is a flag pole with a British Union Jack fluttering in the breeze (concept check “fluttering in the breeze”) In the foreground of the picture there are some very steep steps (concept check “steep”) and there are two people standing on the steps. The first person is an extremely peculiar woman.

What do you think is peculiar about her?

Then tell students that a part of the ladies body is too long; students speculate again. Once they have guessed that it’s the woman’s legs, move on) She’s a very fashionable (concept check “fashionable”) lady.

What clothes do you think this fashionable lady is wearing?

She’s wearing a fashionable blue party dress and gold high heel shoes. (Concept check “high heel shoes”) She is standing with her hands on her hips. (Concept check “hands on hips”)

Why do people sometimes stand with their hands on their hips? (elicit “to pose”)

Her hair is fashionable. In fact, it looks like she has been to the hairdressers that afternoon.

What hair style do you think she has? Describe it.

She has short, blonde hair and she must use lots of hairspray. (Concept check “hairspray”)

2. At this point ask students to summarise orally what they know about the video already in pairs. (speaking for 1 minute without stopping)

3. Continue the story: I told you at the beginning that there were two people standing on the steps. Let me tell you about the second peculiar person. He is standing between the ladies legs.

What do you think he looks like?

He is tiny. (ask students if they know what name is given to abnormally small people – dwarf) He’s wearing unusual (concept check “unusual”) green boots. The kind of boots with a pointed toe that one Santa’s helpers would wear. (Get a student to draw what they think the boots might look like on the board.) He’s also wearing a blue and gold traditional Chinese male suit and he has spiky (concept check “spiky”) hair like a punk. (concept check “punk”) An audience (concept check “audience”) has formed around the foot of the steps and people are taking photographs. Even a policeman has stopped for a nosey (concept check “nosey”)

4. At this point, tell the students that the dwarf is holding a large book, and many people are taking photos of him and the lady.

Write the question on the board:

What book do you think the dwarf is holding and why?

5. Feedback and write any emergent language on the board.

6. The dwarf is holding the Guinness Book of records as he is the world’s smallest man and the lady has the world’s longest legs.

7. Now show the video to the class.

Follow up 1

Students can write a first person narrative account of a day in the life or either the woman or the man.

Follow up 2
For higher level students introduce the concepts of isolation and loneliness and get them to write a pessimistic diary entry in 10 minutes. For homework they could write a diary entry from an optimistic point of view.

Follow up 3
The lady and the dwarf go for a drink after the photo shoot. Students write a role-play of their conversation.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Amphawa, Thailand

I was a little apprehensive before coming to Amphawa due to its tourist credentials; however, one can have a distinctive, dare I say, authentic experience with careful planning. In short, finding the right accommodation is the key.

The are a multitude of places to stay close to the main town; these are to be avoided. Do a little research and venture further up river. A long tail boat and merry captain with set you back about 700 Baht per day, allowing you to sail around the beautiful meanders of the Mae Khlong River sipping on a cold beer. Good times.

Just a couple of kilometres up one of the many tributaries houses stand on stilts, their back doors flirting dangerous with the water line, leaving one baffled at inhabitants desire to gamble with the elements. In fact, just last year the area was badly affected by flooding; however, the locals, undaunted by this mere trifle, continue to carry on as if nothing had happened. Braves souls if you ask me. I slept approximately fifteen metres from the waters edge and my dreams were filled with choppy seas and vaporous swamp lizards.

Here are some pics of the area:

This was the scene from the breakfast table.

Twats with snakes:

"You photo snake, no worry. Little money. Come come."

Ayutthaya, Thailand

"Only a fool could not take a decent picture in Ayutthaya."

These are the very words that I thought after doing some pre-trip wiki-research. Predictably true to form, I managed to take millions of pictures most of which could have been bettered by a blind chip wasted on ketamine.

Here are the pick of the pitiful bunch:

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

A chaotic place that wavers little in its intensity from dusk till dawn. The senses are tortured from all angles leaving you in someone of a spin. Enter Bangkok's Chinatown well rested and ready for action.

Due to my inability to take a decent photograph, I don't feel that the madness of this place was fully captured in my pictures, but never mind. Here are a couple of tasters anyway:

Sky Buffet, Bangkok, Thailand

If you have a head, and more importantly, a stomach for heights, then get yourself to the Sky Buffet in the Baiyoke Tower 2 in Bangkok's Ratchathewi district. Dinner on the 83 floor is a visual treat and the food is dam fine, too. when you have eaten your fill of the all-you-can-eat buffet, there is only one short flight of stairs separating you from the 360 degree revolving roof deck. Here you can observe a panoramic view of Thailand's capital.

Here's a minute selection of some of the food on offer:

Bangkok Cityscape, Thailand

Shot from the hotel room balcony.

And again.

Shot from the top of the Baiyoke Tower II:

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Tasty Thai Food

I arrived back this evening from a seven day trip in Central Thailand. Here are a few of the dishes that I enjoyed the most.


Pad Thai wrapped in an omelette and my holiday book, which is a dam fine accompaniment to any long trip.

Som Tam

And again.

Sexed up White Snapper

Moo Ma Now

Tom Kha Kai

Tom Yum Goong

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Rusian Honey Cake

It was my birthday recently and, in keeping with tradition, I received a cake, which I took great pleasure in sharing with my students and colleagues. To my surprise this was not your standard sponge and cream affair. I was informed that it was a 'Russian cake.' Now, a gastronome I am not, far from it, but I do like dabble a little in foreign cuisine, and what sat in front of me was uncharted territory.

The cake from above looked nothing more than a standard sponge with crushed biscuits sprinkled on top. How wrong I was. From the side, a multitude of layers were visible; white, cream and various shades of brown sat spaced delicately on top of one another giving it a look of great complexity, but at the same time it overall appearance was that of simple, honest home faire.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and in this case the pudding excelled. It tasted like nothing any of us had tried before. Subtle honey sweetness engaged the taste buds and this was followed by a creamy deeper honey essence once swallowed. It was a strange sensation. Rich, heavy and ultra sweet, three adjectives I would not usually desire for when cake shopping, were the elements that brought it into its own.

I found out later after a little internet gimping, that the dessert in question in ’15 Layer Traditional Russian Cake.’ Thus, in case anyone wants to have a blast at making it at home, I have included a recipe and a few photos of my birthday delight. Enjoy.



2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon liquid honey
100 g margarine or 100 g butter
2 cups flour
Cream Filling and Coating
750 g sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
250 -300 g crushed plain sweet biscuit crumbs, for coating
1/2-1 cup ground walnuts, for coating

1 Preheat oven to 180°C.

2 Beat eggs well with sugar; add baking soda and liquid honey (warm).

3 Melt the margarine/butter in a casserole or pot; add the mixture (margarine should not be too hot).

4 Put the casserole on a low heat, add the flour while mixing and mix until the mass is without lumps (the mixture will be very thick and very hard to stir). Remove from heat and cool.

5 Dip the dough in flour, divide, roll each layer very thin (1-2mm), cut circles as round as possible (approx 18cm diameter), and bake at 180°C for 2-4 minutes or until golden brown in colour; repeat with remaining dough and allow to cool before assembling.

6 Beat sour cream, sugar and honey until the sugar dissolves-the mixture will still be fairly liquid.

7 Coat each layer with a generous layer of cream; assemble the cake, coat the sides with cream and sprinkle top and sides with crumbs and ground walnuts. Allow to set at least 6 hours before eating.

Nutritional Facts for 15 Layer Russian Honey Cake
Serving Size: 1 (94 g)
Servings Per Recipe: 16
Amount Per Serving% Daily ValueCalories 282.4 Calories from Fat 14651%Total Fat 16.2 g25%Saturated Fat 6.5 g32%Cholesterol 46.6 mg15%Sodium 183.1 mg7%Total Carbohydrate 31.4 g10%Dietary Fiber 0.5 g2%Sugars 19.4 g77%Protein 3.7 g7%

Recipe from