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.