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TEACHER ZONE - Teaching Tips

Phase 1 Speaking | Phase 2 Vocabulary | Phase 3 Listening Comprehension |

Phase 4 Reading | Phase 5 Writing | Phase 6 Verbs and Tense Sequence




The aim here is to encourage the student to use the second language and to develop confidence and fluency.

TEACHING MATERIAL: tape recorder, newspaper, slips of paper


There are two parts to this phase (controlled conversation and freestyle conversation)


i)  This instructor prepares a list of topics, mostly current events.

ii)  The instructor gives each student a topic and asks him  or her to comment.
     The comments are taped.

iii) The recording is then played back one sentence at a time for correction
                   a. by the student
                   b. by the group
                   c. by the instructor

iv) The student comments again for one minute without being recorded.

v) The instructor comments and gives his/her evaluation of the progress achieved.


i)  Preparation

A good conversation class requires preparation on the part of the instructor who must choose the subject(s) carefully keeping in mind the varied interests of his/her students.

Whatever background material there is should be distributed to the class ahead of time in order to give each student time to prepare for the topic.

ii)  Conversation

During the discussion the instructor is more a facilitator than an instructor.  His/her interventions should be limited to a strict minimum.  His/her work consists of taking notes of the recurring errors made by the members of the group and maintaining an even flow of  conversation by asking questions or bringing up new points  if students do not have the necessary skills to keep the conversation going. Don’t belabour the point, though, if students do not appear to be interested in the topic.  At this point either end the freestyle activity or introduce another topic.
To be interesting, a conversation period must have variety.  The topics must be of special interest to the group as a whole and the approach must also be varied. The instructor should use different formats to make the class interesting: panel discussions, interviews, role playing, debates, individual presentations etc.        

iii)  Feedback

Once the period is over, there should be a feedback session in which the instructor tells students what types of errors they have made (e.g. not pronouncing the final s or ed, problems with prepositions, etc).  This is an excellent way of focussing the students’ attention on specific verb tenses or grammatical structures. The instructor can assign specific exercises to help the student overcome these problems, and/or plan a lesson around them for the next class (e.g. pronunciation drills, reading out loud, review prepositions, etc.).  




This phase aims at enriching the passive and active vocabulary of the students.  Various types of exercises are used to enable them to acquire and practice a wide variety of words and expressions.

The importance of this part of the program cannot be overemphasized.  Once an ESL student gains a good command of vocabulary and idiomatic expressions he or she has made great progress towards using that language in work-related and every day situations.

TEACHING MATERIAL: lists of vocabulary to be studied or reviewed


Preliminary remarks:

There are two essential phases in each vocabulary exercise:

A) The first phase consists of conveying to the students the exact and complete meaning of the words or expressions being taught.  The instructor gives the word or expression and asks students to attempt an explanation, to give a synonym, an antonym etc.  Should the word or expression be completely foreign to the students, the instructor then proceeds to explain the word him or herself and give examples of the word or expression used in different contexts.

B) Once the explanation phase is completed, the instructor must check to make sure that the students really understand what they say they understand. This is achieved by asking the students to reuse those words and expressions in sentences or paragraphs.
If used often enough this new passive vocabulary will become part of the students’ active vocabulary (i.e. they will go from being able to recognize a word to being able to use it in conversation).


Exercise 1:

Once a number of words or expressions have been presented, participants are asked to re-use each in a sentence.  No actual preparation is needed for this type of exercise. It's really popular with instructors.

Exercise 2:

Similar to exercise 1, it consists of asking students to prepare, orally or in writing, a paragraph in which as many of the words or expressions learned are used.  Instructors should have a model paragraph prepared in advance.

Exercise 3:

Matching exercises.  The instructor gives a series of definitions and a list of the words defined.  Students must match words to definitions.

Exercise 4:

One of the participants chooses one of the words or expressions studied and the rest of the class attempts to discover the chosen word or expression by asking questions.  The participant holding the clue can only answer by a yes or no (20 questions).

Exercise 5:

The instructor suggests a theme corresponding to the group of words or expressions previously presented (e.g. idioms using parts of the body, or travel words).  The participants brainstorm the vocabulary and then they  make up a story (monologue or dialogue) using as many of the words or expressions on the list as possible.  Each word used correctly counts for one (1) point. The winning team or individual is the one with the most points. Variation on Exercise 2.

Exercise 6:

Fill in the blanks. The instructor prepares sentences or paragraphs leaving blanks corresponding to the list of words or expressions previously taught. You can easily adapt articles from the web for this purpose or use the traditional white-out on a hard copy.

Exercise 7:

“Password” game. Participants are split up into teams.  Each team, in turn, tries to guess the word or expression that a designated member of each team has been given.  The same word or expression is given to both teams.   For ten points, the first team attempts to identify the word or expression.  The selected member of team A who knows the word or expression gives his or her team member one clue which could be a synonym, a homonym or any other type of clue that he or she may think up.  The rest of the team has 30 seconds to guess the word or expression.  For example, if the word is “submarine”, the clue could be “underwater boat.” If the team guesses correctly they get 10 points and another word or expression is given both teams, with B now playing for 10 points. If team A is not successful in guessing the word team B gets a crack at it for 9 points. If they can’t guess it, Team A gets a second chance for 8 points, and so on.
This type of exercise is better suited for reviewing vocabulary already taught in class.  If not enough words or expressions are involved the game becomes too easy.  You can also use this type of exercise to review synonyms, antonyms, words of the same family, etc.  This is another type of exercise that does not require formal preparation on the part of the instructor.

Exercise 8:

Snowballing.  A student chooses a word or expression from the suggested list and makes a sentence.  A second student chooses another word or expression from the list and makes a sentence that adds to the first. Then a third student chooses another word etc.  The idea is to make a cohesive story or comment so all the sentences have to be connected in some way. This requires no preparation time from the instructor other than setting up the list of words and expressions, and because the words have to string together to make a story the results can be amusing.

Exercise 9:

Variation on Exercise 6.  Instead of the preparing a fill in the blanks exercise or paragraph, get the students to do it for you. Ask the students to prepare a short exercise paragraph with blanks. Students then exchange copies and do two things:  a) fill in the blanks b) correct the sentences (structures, spelling etc) if necessary.

Notice how this exercise starts from a simple vocabulary practice and graduates to a much more complex exercise involving extra vocabulary, grammar, syntax, verbs and tense sequences.  Note also that students are active and involved during each stage of the exercise.  As an added bonus, this activity requires very little preparation time, if any, on the part of the instructor and if the corrected exercises are picked up at the end they provide good material that can be used with other groups.

Exercise 10:

Multiple choice.  The instructor prepares multiple choice type of exercises from the list of words or expressions that have been studied.  These can be definitions, synonyms, antonyms, words of the same family, etc.

a) definition: glasses
                               i) window pane
                               ii) mounted lenses used to improve eyesight
                               iii) containers to drink from
                               iv) both ii and iii

b) synonym: work
                               i) toil
                               ii) make
                               iii) rest
c) antonym: construct
                               i) build
                               ii) make
                               iii) destroy           

d) words of the same family: sell
                               i) cell
                               ii) sale
                               iii) buy

Exercise 11:

Chain reaction.  The class is divided into two teams.  One student of Team A is given a word or expression.  He or she must incorporate this word or expression in a sentence.  A student from team B must now make a sentence that will start with the last word of the sentence given by the students of Team A. Another student of Team A then makes a sentence starting with the last word of the sentence given by the student of Team B.
Starting word: diet
                     1.    He must go on a diet to lose weight.
                     2.    The weight of that stone is 50 lbs.
                     3.    The pound sterling is what the English use for currency.
                     4.    Currency is a word with more than one meaning.
                     5.    Meaning well, he unplugged his friend’s life support system.

Exercise 12: 

Just a Minute. The instructor prepares lists of words ahead of time.  These can be
words previously seen in class or else common words that should be known by
students at that level. For example, a pre-intermediate level class probably knows
quite a few words relating to animals, colours, the weather, food etc. The teacher
gives each student a list of about six words.  Ideally, the words should all have a common theme
(e.g. things found in a kitchen, or parts of the body, or words beginning with the letter S).  The students take turns to go before the class.  When it is his or her turn, the student has to give a definition for the first word on the list. If the other students guess the word, the student goes on to the next word. Set a time limit of one to two minutes per student. This way each student has to give as many definitions as possible in order to get points, because for every word the class guesses, the student gets a point.  When the time is up, the student sits down and the next student has a turn.  This is great for developing fluency as students are so eager to get points they forget they are speaking English.




The objective here is to train students to understand spoken English whatever the source, the accent or the correctness of the language used.  Students should be exposed to as many mediums as possible in situations as realistic as possible: television, radio, songs, video and cassette recordings etc.

TEACHING MATERIAL: videos, tape recorder and prepared cassettes


From pre-recorded material, such as talk shows, radio programs
1.  Students listen to a short segment.

2. The instructor asks general questions on the segment to check overall comprehension (sometimes it helps to put the questions on the board first so students can refer to them as they listen).

3.  Students listen to the same segment but sentence by sentence. The instructor can:

a) Get the class to reconstruct the sentence phonetically, point out contractions, etc.
b) Explain words and expressions.

4. Students listen to the segment for a third time and make a personal evaluation of their degree of comprehension.

5. Once Steps 1 to 4 have been applied to every segment of the recording, students listen to the whole recording for the last time and again make a personal evaluation of their degree of comprehension.


This procedure is especially good for advanced students who need to sharpen their comprehension skills.  In the case of weaker students a more global comprehension exercise is suggested. If you do this exercise, keep in mind that the students will be listening sentence by sentence, so keep the overall listening piece short.


1. Songs are a great way to promote listening comprehension.  One approach is to choose a song that you think your students will enjoy and give them a copy of the lyrics, but with some words missing.  The students then listen to the song and try to fill in the missing words. Play the song twice and then go over the lyrics.  This is also a good way to teach pronunciation, contractions and even grammar. Old Beatles songs are great because the words are easy to understand and they are grammatically sound ("If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be true") The Bare Naked Ladies are also good for conditionals ("If I had a million dollars I would buy you a house"). Afterwards, you could follow through with a discussion (e.g. "What would you do if you had a million dollars?", "Is our society too materialistic?", etc.).

2.  Reading out loud is also a good way to encourage comprehension skills.  Read a short article to the students and get them to answer a series of comprehension questions.  Better yet, choose two short articles and divide the class into pairs (or three articles if you have an uneven number of students) Get Student A to read to Student B, and then Student B summarizes the article or else answers comprehension questions set by Student A, and then Student B gets to read an article and ask the comprehension questions.




The purpose of this phase is to increase the participants’ ability to read in the second language.
The material used for this part of the course must be chosen by the group and the instructor and take into account the varied interests of the members of the class.  The instructor must make a special effort to choose varied and interesting topics from different sources: newspaper articles, magazine articles, short stories, trade magazines, company memos, newsletters etc


1.  Silent reading.

2.  Summary by the participants or general questions by the instructor.

3.  Students prepare  a series of questions on the text, either individually or in pairs.

4. Each participant asks the class his/her questions, listens to the answers   and makes the necessary corrections as to content and correctness of English.

5. Discussion / vocabulary study.

6. Oral parallel presentation if text is short (optional).

7.  Written parallel presentation if text is short (optional).


If the articles are short, you should prepare whatever vocabulary exercises are necessary and appropriate.  Better yet, get the students to do it.  Divide the article into paragraphs and assign students or pairs of students different paragraphs to read.  Students choose words they don’t understand or think the other students may have difficulty with and, using a dictionary, prepare definitions and challenge other students. 



COMMENTS: Students wishing to take writing classes need to have a basic level of English and are usually put into specific writing classes. However, for students in regular conversation classes, who want occasional written reinforcement exercises, here are a few suggestions:

Exercise 1 (grammar dictation) :

The instructor prepares a short text of about five or six sentences, usually based around a grammar point (e.g. comparatives, present perfect tense, use of conditionals, etc.). Then the teacher reads the text out loud, at a normal speed. The students won’t have time to take down every word. Instead,  they will only have time to take down notes, much like students at a lecture.

The instructor then reads the text a second time. Then the students are put in pairs or small groups to compare their notes. They then have to write a few sentences summarizing the text based on their collective notes.  Note that the aim of this activity is not to reproduce the dictation exactly as it was spoken, but to write a short but grammatically accurate précis. While the students are writing, the instructor can go around the class helping and pointing out problem areas. The groups then compare their finished paragraph with the original.

Exercise 2 (round robin dictation):

The instructor dictates a short passage, again one that is chosen because of its relevance to the class (e.g. it may contain a lot of appropriate business vocabulary, or focus on a grammar point). The students each have to write down what they hear. Then they pass their paper to the student on their left and the instructor dictates another sentence, which they  write down and then pass their paper to the student on the left.  This continues, with the instructor dictating a sentence and the students writing and passing until the dictation is completed.  At the end of the dictation, each student has a piece of paper that was written collectively.  The instructor then goes over the dictation with the class, writing the correct text on the board.  Students like this because it is anonymous.

Exercise 3 (writing storm):

Brainstorm a topic with the class.  Pick a subject the students are interested in or elicit one from the class. Everybody brainstorms as much vocabulary as possible related to the theme, and the vocabulary is put on the board. Then ask students to each write something, in class, about the topic (e.g. an opinion, a memory, a factual report). Set a time limit of 15 to 20 minutes. While the students are writing the instructor can monitor and assist individual students.



Use the Time Line to introduce, review and drill verb tenses.  Students may need more time to grasp the more complicated tenses (e.g. the perfect tenses and the conditionals). In those cases, the instructor can prepare a more detailed lesson for the structured teaching section of the class.  The Azar books have excellent exercises for verb tense reinforcement. Remember to keep these activities as oral as possible. Newspaper articles can also be used to review / practice verb tenses.

TEACHING MATERIAL: newspaper or magazine article


1.   Get the students to circle the various tenses in the article and discuss why they were used.  Ask questions.  For example, “Is the action completed or not?  Is it a fact or habit? Is it ongoing?  Is it a real situation or is it hypothetical?”

2.   As a drill, get students to circle the various tenses and then change them.  For example, put all the verbs in the simple future, or any other verb tense you wish to review.

3.   For a real challenge, white out some of the verbs in the article (not all of them, that would be too discouraging).  Then replace the verb with the infinitive. Give the article to the students to read silently.  Students then must decide how to conjugate the verb ( i.e. what tense to use).  Then students can take turns reading the article out loud and conjugating the selected verbs as they go along.