Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Study Music Project

Not so long ago, I had some problems with studying because I couldn't concentrate and my motivation was nonexistent, so I tried to find something that would help me. And I was really lucky. I found a channel on YouTube called Study Music Project, which contains some instrumental music that is supposed to help you while studying. Numerous comments underneath the videos say that it really works, so I decided to give it a try. And I have to say that I liked it a lot. I just let the music play silently in the background and focused on my studying and somehow it became easier. 

So what exactly is so special about this music? Here is was the official site of the Project says:

The Study Music Project is an online musical experiment, founded by Dennis Kuo, a biochemistry major and music history minor at UCLA dedicated to compose, create, and produce music solely to enhance the student’s studying experience. The mission and vision of the Study Music Project is to provide students with the ultimate study music, invoking focus, clarity, relaxation, and concentration, while at the same time, attempt to collect some statistical data of the effectiveness of the music.

Every single piece of music from the Study Music Project is instrumental and possesses the optimal beats per measure (bpm), instrumentation, timbre, and melodies to help you focus. Study Music Project fuses classical, piano, jazz, electronic, hip hop, and ethnomusical elements to create a brand new genre of study music.


I don't know if this will work for you, but try it out and let me know what you think! You can use this is your classroom while your students are doing something on their own or suggest using this music while studying at home. If you let the whole playlist from the Study Music Project play, you'll get more than an hour of different music and study space.

When it comes to music in the classroom in general, I think that it's very important to play music without lyrics because your students will start to sing and won't pay attention to their actual task. This, of course, applies when you use music only in the background. 

Also, always adjust the volume to the situation in the classroom, it's better to have it play silently than rocking their heads out. If your students tell you that they don't like it, then stop it immediately. There is no use of music in this sense if it actually disturbs them.

So, how do like this type of music? Do you use music in your classes?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pictionary or How to Make Vocabulary Learning more Interesting

Have you ever been thinking of bringing your favorite Saturday-evening-with-friends distraction to your classroom?  I have, and I have decided to take advantage of this amazing game of quick draw called Pictionary.

The rules of the game are very simple – the players are divided into 2-4 teams and each team has a person who is drawing (not always the same player) and the others that are guessing. The drawers pull out cards with words written on them. The words are divided into categories, for example ˝object/person/place˝ or ˝hard˝ and there is a color for every category. The drawers have to draw the word that has a matching color with the field they are standing on the game board. The drawers have about a minute to draw the term and their teammates have to guess what they are drawing, i.e. guess the word. Of course, only drawing is allowed – no words or mime.

Are you already seeing how amazing it would be to play the game with your students?

Since the original game comes with a nice game board, a bunch of word cards, and is quite expensive, you can always make things simple and more classroom-appropriate, without the expense at the game quality. Divide your classroom into two groups and let them come to the blackboard and draw, or you can make more small groups of students who would sit around the table and play the game. You don’t really need a game board – decide upon the winning team by giving pluses or points.

I think it is a perfect activity for vocabulary revision, especially if you can find a way to divide the vocabulary into some sorts of groups (e.g. jobs and professions, body parts, adjectives, or even phrasal verbs and idioms). Write categories on the blackboard so that the whole class can see it, make a bunch of word cards written on colorful pieces of paper, with each color representing one category and watch your students use their little grey cells while thinking about how to draw, retrieve, and guess the word, and at the same time competing and having a blast.

I am sure your students would be grateful for a bit a classroom fun and that the words from the game would stay in their heads for a long time.

DISCLAIMER: This post was kindly written by my dear friend and colleague Dora Rolj, who is going to be an amazing teacher someday. Thank you, Dora, and I'm looking forward to more of your fabulous ideas. :)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Literary Circles

Here comes one more method for doing literature. It is great because it really makes the students examine the text to a tiniest detail. And if you use this as a form of a group work, you won’t regret it since everyone will be doing something according to their roles. No more hanging onto the strongest fellow students, even the weakest ones will be able to contribute.

So how do you start?

First you print out the roles, which you will assign to your students. Make sure that all the roles you decide to use can be played out with the text you have chosen. Then you give your students the text, tell them to work individually or in pairs and explain that each of them is given a role and has to work on literary text according to the role and the assignment he or she was given. After 10 min they have to present what their role was and what they found out.

Here are just some short descriptions of roles, but you can download the whole sheet with detailed description of roles if you click here, so feel free to use this method and have fun with your students!

TRAVEL TRACER: Find out where the things are happening in the story and how the settings may have changed. 

INVESTIGATOR (or RESEARCHER): Dig up background information on any topic related to your book: geography, weather, culture, history of the story’s settings.

CHARACTER CAPTAIN: Name and describe the characters (with additional questions).

SCRIBE: Take the notes of the discussion going on in the group.

DISCUSSION DIRECTOR: Your task is to make a list of questions your group will discuss in the class (with additional questions). 

ILLUSTRATOR (or ARTFUL ARTIST): Draw a scene from the story, or a sketch, diagram, flow chart, characters from the story or similar.

CONNECTOR: Connect the story with the world outside. 

SUMMARISER: Find the key words in the story and write a short summary of the story. 

VOCABULARY ENRICHER (or WORD MASTER): Find at least about 10-15 new words that you find necessary for the better understanding of the story. Write the definition from the dictionary and the translation if necessary. (with additional questions)

What's the most common method you use for working on a literary text in class?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Songs as a Lead-in for Tenses

When I think about my elementary and high school English classes, I remember I enjoyed the ones in which we listened to the songs and filled in some blanks within the lyrics or something like that most. That probably shows that my experience was pretty dull and I have to say that it really was, but it can also be a sign of how great songs are for use in class.

Besides movies, TV shows and internet, music is probably one of the most common things that makes your students exposed to the language. So use it as an advantage! Familiar songs can make them more comfortable with what you are presenting in class, it won't be so stressful and they will probably be much more engaged.

Here are just two songs (and one poem) that I think can help you with warming up your students for some grammar, but there are so many out there, you just have to do little researching. You can do whatever you want with them: make handouts with jumbled verses, so that your students have to put it in the correct order; give them only some of the lines from the song for them to try to guess the connection and maybe even the title of the song; make worksheets with lyrics with blanks in the place of relevant language structures, etc. There are no limitations - just be creative!

Click on the title of the song to download the lyrics and have fun!

U2 - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
 -  Present Perfect Tense 

- Present Simple and Simple Future

- Conditionals; this poem is so amazing on so many levels, you can really make your whole class around it!

Do you have any songs that you like to do in class and what for? Share your ideas!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Crosswords for Grammar Practice

I’m not really a crossword person, mostly because there’s always something that I don’t know, so I always get stuck with a blank field here and there. But I think crosswords are great for practicing pretty much anything in a foreign language. Vocabulary comes as a natural choice, but grammar can be done in this way too. Your students won’t feel as stressed as they would if you only gave them a worksheet with sentences to fill in and if you give them a time limit and promise a certain reward for those who finish first – they’ll even maybe start liking grammar.

What I had in mind for my crossword worksheets are irregular verbs in past simple. We all know how dull it can get learning these things by heart, but if you introduce it in a more creative way, you can make it a lot easier for them. They will probably only think about filling out the whole crossword and while doing that they won’t feel like they are practicing irregular verbs. 

I made 3 different crossword puzzles for this purpose, each one different from the rest, but mostly the same verbs are used. This also gives you a lot of opportunities for class organization – just be creative! You can even use this as a quiz at the beginning of the lesson (but keep in mind that correcting it might not be so fun).

The crosswords were made online, of course, and among many of the websites that serve this purpose, I find this one to be the best. On this site you can also make a word search, letter tiles, cryptograms and many more.

So, here you go and make your students like grammar! 

Monday, May 21, 2012


One of the methods I really like for working on a literary text is called dicing. It is a method that allows an analysis of certain topics from different aspects. All you have to do is make a dice with these six words written on it: DESCRIBE, COMPARE, CONNECT, ANALYZE, USE, FOR/AGAINST. By throwing the dice the students are required to write down about a certain topic - they either have to compare something, analyze it or use it, etc. After that students discuss the topic.

I used this method as a part of the analysis of the story Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. The lesson is pretty long (90min), but if you want, I can explain what I did in some of the next posts and maybe even give you the lesson plan. What do you think? I also used two more interesting methods, which I will explain in a few posts. 

The dice for Jonathan Livingston had the following things written on it:
  • DESCRIBE how Jonathan pursued his dreams!
  • COMPARE Jonathan with the rest of his Flock!
  • USE Jonathan’s story to describe a story of some famous athletes!
  • List some of the reasons FOR and AGAINST following your dreams!
  • CONNECT this story with the real life!
  • ANALYZE the relationship of Jonathan and his teacher!

To download the dice for Jonathan Livingston click on the picture.

Preparing for this method does take time because you have to make all the dices, but once you have them, you can reuse them several times. Luckily, there are a number of web pages from which you can download the template, and then just cut it out and glue the pieces together. I used this web site – it’s great, because you can write the things you want to appear on the sides of the dice on the actual site and it will generate the dice for you.

You can, of course, use this method for much more than just doing literature – I imagine it would be pretty awesome for practicing grammar in form of a game (irregular verbs, tenses, comparison of adjectives, passive, indirect speech…). And it could be great for some "get to know you" activities at the beginning of the school year.

So be creative, and have fun with it!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Embedded Strategies Game

One of the courses I'm taking this semester is called Language Learning Styles and Strategies. It is pretty interesting what you can do with different strategies and how they can help you be a better language learner, but during the course I realized that not much emphasis is put on LLS in the formal classroom here in Croatia and I think it's a shame.

So, for those of you who think that you can help your learners learn better, faster and more efficient, here is a short project (micro-lesson) that I have to do on Tuesday, which can be a great way to start LLS training.

The first thing you want to do with your students is raise their awareness of the fact that there are such things as LLS. How do you do that? You give them different types of questionnaires, do interviews with them, make them write a language learning diary, or comment in retrospective on a specific activity they do while studying; all of this depending on their language proficiency. You can also make a workshop or a game-like activity, which is what I'm going to do. (This activity is best for advanced students.)

While doing some research on which awareness rising activities would be the best, I found that the best ones in Rebecca Oxford's book LLS: What Every Teacher Needs to Know

There is a game called Embedded Strategies Game and it goes like this:

You give each of your students a piece of paper with language learning activities on them and a table with LLS system by R.Oxford and ask them to match the activities with the strategies. They can do this in groups and you can distribute pieces of paper with different strategies written on them around the classroom as well. Each group goes to one of the papers and writes down the names of the activities if they think they belong to certain strategies. Then they rotate in a clockwise motion and do the same thing on each paper until they come to their initial papers.

Now it is time for discussion. Ask them what they have put on which paper and why. It is possible to have more than one strategy in certain activities, so you should accept their answers as long as they have good arguments to support their choices. Ask them if they ever use any of the strategies and tell them that the aim of the activity was for them to see how many different LLS there are.

As a follow-up activity you can ask them to list all of the strategies they have used at least once in their life and with that you can switch onto language learning styles or anything connected to it. 

I only have 15 minutes to do this activity and there is only 12 of us in this course, so I had to adapt the game to fit my time-frame and number of people, but it is actually made for much bigger classes in terms of number of students and time at your disposal.

If you want to try out this activity, here is all the material you'll need: activities, strategies table, papers with strategy names.

Good luck!

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I thought I would use some of my own ideas in my first post, but I stumbled across an amazing web site, so I wanted to share it with you.

TED-Ed is a sort of a video library that allows its users to take any useful educational video and easily create a customized lesson around the video. It includes videos and lessons for every school subject and since they are all in English, English language teachers can make use of all of them. Users can distribute the lessons, publicly or privately, and track their impact on the world, a class, or an individual student. Here is a short website tour:


I love this video lesson on Shakespeare and his words. It deals with certain insults from Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet and explains them in a funny way. You can use it as a material for some listening activities or as an introduction to a lesson about Shakespeare or his work. It is most suitable for high school students, since they already have some preknowledge about literature in general. Also, take their proficiency level into consideration.


To see the full lesson around this video click here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why I Started This Blog

Hi, everyone!

I decided to start writing this blog to share my ideas for creative and interesting teaching. I am a student of English and German Language and Literature at the University of Osijek, Croatia and I'm currently doing a Master degree in Education, so this will be a great way not only to share my ideas, but also to practice my English skills. 

I hope some of the methods that I'll present here will be helpful for some of you and although they will mostly be connected to foreign language teaching, many of them could be used for other school subject as well. Please feel free to give suggestions, comments and your ideas and don't hesitate to ask any questions.

Looking forward to see what turns out of this blog! :)