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Beyond: What’s your lucky number? Icebreakers that help!

I often feel that  with most get to know each other activities, the learners end up sharing information that’s not particularly interesting or useful to develop a sense of community in the classroom. Their age, their parents’ names, their favourite food or lucky number and where they live does not provide the class with enough information to sympathise and get to know somebody, so I’d like to share this very simple activity with you all and see what you think.

My life in Cuisenaire rods

Objective:         To get to know interesting facts about your learners’ lives. To develop group dynamics, sympathy and empathy.

Materials: Cuisenaire rods (if you don’t have them: Legos or just drawing, but I’d certainly recommend Legos or Cuisenaire rods to somehow materialise someone’s life).

Level: This lesson was designed for B1+ but teachers can grade the input and do it with pretty much all levels.


  • Teacher shows a timeline of their life in Cuisenaire rods and elicits what learners think it’s about. By referring to the shape and what it looks like (hints: it’s a line…. It’s in order), the learners will eventually guess it’s a timeline (from now on we’ll use my timeline as an example)


  • T now helps learners guess one or two facts about their timeline as a whole class. E.g. “So, what do you think these blue rods mean?” (hint: all these things (point at vertical rods) happened there?) learners should guess it’s the country where I was born and raised.
  • T divides the class into groups and gets groups to guess what each rod refers to. Each group is allowed three –wh questions to help them guess.
  • Ss share ideas as a WC
  • T provides the learners with his/her biography. As a purpose for reading, the students have to match the events which appear in the text with the rods. (see appendix 1 for my own model)
  • Check if learners understood what each rod refers to.
  • Learners are now given time to create  their own timelines using Cuisenaire rods. (You’ll probably see that some have many ideas and immediately get on with the task. Others may be more hesitant, so get ready to monitor unobtrusively and help them on an individual basis (some back up questions: Can you think about the first time you travelled somewhere you really liked? Can you think about an important person you’ve met? Etc).
  • Finally get learners to share their timelines in groups.
  • As a follow up, teachers can ask students to write their own biography.

Here’s a picture of my own students conducting this activity, they really enjoyed it last year, and I’m certainly going to do it again. I’d like to thank Hannah Pinkham for inspiring me to try this out.


Please comment below and share more icebreakers that help!

Appendix 1:

I was born in Uruguay. I did both primary and secondary school there and during this time I met at least three very important people that have become my best friends and whom I still talk to and see. I cannot imagine my life without them.

While I was in secondary school my two nieces were born. Their birth was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I started University in Uruguay and soon moved to the United Kingdom, where I spent some months in Cambridge. I absolutely love this city. I won’t ever forget the times I spent studying at cozy café’s with a view of the river or outstanding buildings like King’s College. I also met fantastic people and went to pubs and night clubs. Besides, I was able to visit wonderful museums and I tried mouthwatering dishes. My personal favourite? Curry, especially chicken tikka masala!

When I came back from the UK, I went through a difficult time. I lost a very important relative and had some family issues. I did eventually get over these things and after finishing my studies, I decided to move to Buenos Aires to study for the DELTA, which is a post-graduate English teaching qualification. I went back to Uruguay, found out that my little cousin had been born in the USA and I was offered a job as teacher and Younger Learner Coordinator at IH Buenos Aires so I decided to accept it and move to this vibrant city.

Before moving to Buenos Aires, I went to my first international teaching conference: Braztesol. This was a life-turning point because it helped me to realise that I love my profession and I generated a wonderful network of good colleagues and friends who are passionate about teaching.

I’ve lived in Buenos Aires for the past four years, and I’ve been lucky enough to make really good  friends. I also saw two of my very close friends get married last year, which was absolutely amazing!



Blue – Uruguay

Purple – UK

Green – Buenos Aires


Purple: Primary and secondary, university (teacher training) & DELTA

Orange: friends and important people.

Pink: nieces’ birth, cousin birth, friends’ wedding.

Black: tough moment.

Yellow: first international conference


Beyond Gap Fills. Using songs to learn a language. Why, how and which?

At the beginning of this year, I was surprised to find out that many of my students, especially adults, stated in the Needs Analysis that they wanted to use songs. I must admit that I’m used to using songs in the YL classroom all the time (especially clapping games –  my personal favourite!) but I didn’t pay too much attention to the importance of music in the teen / adult class.

Why should we use songs?

I think we all know why, but here’s a couple of reasons I’ve come up with.

  • They can be fun.
  • They generate interest in the target language culture.
  • Some are catchy and students keep singing them at home.
  • Students can feel motivated to learn on their own by googling more songs by the same artist / similar genre.
  • Some songs can be used to teach language points.
  • Karaoke is fun and useful to acquire pronunciation features.
  • You can deal with the physical aspect of pronunciation; singers tend to move their mouths a lot. They are thus, excellent awareness raisers.
  • You can study a wide range of varieties of English.
  • Learners can bring their own songs!

How? (and not just gap fills)

  • Fist thing that comes to our heads? Gap fills?… fortunately, they’re not the only thing we can do with songs.
  • Get learners to draw a song only will the good drawers have fun with this, but you can also engage the whole class by encouraging them to use their computers, or even collage. The main advantage of this idea, is that learners are actually focusing on their own interpretation of the song, so unlike gap fills, this is not just listening for specific purposes.(see pictures of the Draw a Song Competition we’ve done at the school where I work). Another advantage of this one is that it is rather materials’ less in the sense that you are not bringing a worksheet. However, to scaffold it and get learners involved, you may want to start by showing really interesting models, so that they get really involved and want to create something meaningful. Monitoring is hugely important and getting learners to brain storm ideas before drawing is essential too.
  • Learners can also listen to a song and write down the words they think are the most important ones. As a follow up they should create their own Word Cloud. Finally, they can type the lyrics of the song into a Word Cloud generator and compare.
  • Another listening exercise, which is similar to gap fills is handing out a worksheet with some words in the song that have been changed. Learners have to listen, spot the words that have been changed and correct them. To make it easier, you can put the words in bold, and learners have to check whether the words in bold are correct or not. This one is particularly fun and as a follow students can change some words in the song to make it fun, sad, etc.
  • If you are a fan of gap fills, students can visit the site and fill in the blanks of their favourite songs. The advantage of this is that you can choose different levels and learners can try to beat their own record whilst learning the song by heart.
  • If your learners love apps like, exploit this to teach them exactly how to move their mouths to sing and look like their favourite singers. I’m a huge believer in the fact that pronunciation is something physical and using this app can help your students to understand the physical aspect of pronunciation e.g. see where in the mouth they have to place their tongue, and whether their jaw drops or is relaxed, among other things. With dubsmuch they’re not necessarily singing, sometimes they’re just mouthing, but this one technique is amazing to pick up pronunciation features.
  • If your learners enjoy singing, they can download karaoke apps and practice singing their favourite tunes. This helps with connected speech because they have to sing at the same speed as their favourite artists. There are many free singing apps e.g.
  • As a fun game, you can get learners to mime their favourite songs, yes MIME! All you need is a phone / mp3 player and headphones. Of course, you may want to show them many examples first, so that they get inspired. Again, scaffolding plays a huge role. Check out this example. (you can play it mute, so that they have to guess the title of the song, which makes it really fun).

Which songs can I use to teach language point ?

Songs are an amazing tool, and I’m a big believer in the fact that they shouldn’t just be used to teach language, but here’s a very short list of songs I love using to revise certain language points:

All I want is you – Barry Louis Polisar – Juno Soundtrack (to teach 2nd conditional)

El Condor Pasa – Simon & Garfunkel (Would rather and hypothetical structures) 

Wish you were here – Pink Floyd (wishes)

I want to know what love is – Foreigner (indirect questions) you can compare it with direct questions in the song: What is love? – Haddaway 

La Isla Bonita – Madonna (different past aspects – talking about holidays)

Which other song activities would you recommend? Is there any other song you use with your students to teach different structures / vocab? I’d love it if we could create a list together, so please comment below! 


How many poems must Dylan sing… A lesson plan

Learner aims:

To develop the sub-skill of making predictions based on clues.

To listen for gist and to check predictions.

To become better able to express opinions in the context of Bob Dylan’s song: Blowing in the Wind.

Level –  B1 plus and above


1)    Warmer:

T writes on the WB

Who’s won the Literature Nobel Prize?

Do you know anything about his life?

Discuss in pairs

(If students don’t know much about this topic, get them to look up information using their phones, a possible topic of discussion is the fact that a song-writer has won a Literature Nobel Prize). Don’t force the discussion based on what you want to discuss, try to elicit interesting ideas from students and their on-line research.


2)    Pre-listening: Reading as a springboard for discussion.

Tell students that the text you will give them is about Dylan’s interpretation of a song he wrote.

Ask them to guess the title of the song and choose three key words they feel summarise the main idea of the text.


Text: There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind — and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some … But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know … and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old and I know that there’s been too many … You people over 21, you’re older and smarter. (Dylan, Sign out, June 1962)

Students share answers in pairs and report to the whole group expressing their opinions.


3)    Reading parts of the song to predict content.

Tell students that you’re going to give them part of the song and they have to predict which words go in the blanks. You can use the first one as an example You may want to pre-teach cannon ball, or get them to google image it. Allow students some time to do this individually and then compare in pairs.


How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?


How many seas must a white dove sail

Before ___________________________________?

Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly



The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind


Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist


Yes, and how many years can some people exist



Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head

And ___________________________________?


The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind


Yes, and how many times must a man look up



Yes, and how many ears must one man have



Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’till he knows

That ___________________________________?


The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind


4) Listen twice or three times to check predictions and finally project or show the lyrics of the song.


5) Follow up 1: Expressing opinions

Get learners to choose their favourite sentences in the song and explain why they have chosen these sentences.

Follow up 2: Learners write their own idea using the structure…

How many times must…………….

My personal example: How many poems must Dylan sing, before they call him a poet?
If learners enjoy singing you can use all their sentences to create a song and sing along.


I’ll be teaching this in a few minutes! Let’s see how it goes, please post your comments below!




Those liberating learning moments


fullsizerenderThis afternoon I went into class ready to teach something new. I had a plan in mind and I was ready to get learners to talk about life experiences and introduce an aspect of the present perfect in that context. I must admit I do not choose to teach this, we follow a syllabus and the syllabus indicated that this needed to get done. However, nothing went as planned and our school allows for a great degree of flexibility…


This is a very small class of four 4 A2 young learners aged 10. One of these learners had been absent for two and a half weeks and now he was back! Obviously, a lot had happened during those weeks. We started the class as usual, with a lot of revision activities and the classmates soon picked up on the fact that the kid who had been absent was a bit lost. Immediately, I noticed that the other three students were being extremely collaborative. I had two choices, go on with the activities as planned or take another route and adapt it (or change it) to this one learner’s needs. Obviously, I hadn’t planned for this, but these words came out of my mouth “You three are responsible of teaching your classmate what we’ve learned” I guess I thought about that because I firmly believe that when people are engaged in teaching someone else, they understand things better. Moreover, as a student myself, I was absent a lot because my parents used to travel for work, and I remember it was my classmates who always ended up helping me.


No sooner had I said that, than they stood up and told me: “We have to play the acting out game we’ve played before so that he learns the words for different feelings and the difference between –ed and –ing adjectives” obviously they didn’t word it exactly like that, but I got the gist 🙂

Students were soon acting the words embarrassed and explaining the difference between feeling embarrassed and an embarrassing situation. This was obviously done partly in English and also in their L1. I was surprised that they had so much language awareness. They said things like: “Adjectives that end in –ed son como momentaneos, tipo algo que sentis un ratito” (-ed adjectives are used to express temporary feelings) and thus compared them with –ing adjectives. Would this be emergent learning? Possibly, we hadn’t analysed language like this, but by getting learners to think together, this is what emerged.


This was followed by an instance in which these 3 learners got the student who had been absent to add the new words to his vocabulary list, and in some cases started discussing possible translations for some of the adjectives e.g. “frightening” Was I anyhow upset by the use of L1 that was going on? No way! Language awareness is quite abstract and I understand that A2 learners may not be able to express such abstract ideas in L2. Do I think that the use of L1 enhanced learning in this case? Definitely! I know they were using mostly English, but when it was too difficult or they thought it was useful, they used a bit of their own language, and that’s absolutely fine by me.


As you can see in the picture, it was very interesting how students were doing something that I always do when I monitor, which is standing on my knees so that I can be at eye-level with them. They were also catering for learner training, as they themselves were getting this student to take good notes of the new language.

img_0199To my surprise, this didn’t finish there, one of the students said “Can I write some exercises on the whiteboard to see if he understands?” Soon, the three students who’d always come to class were coming up with exercises on the whiteboard (see picture). These exercises weren’t completely accurate but the target language was being tested successfully. They wrote down three sentences and the student they were helping had to look at his vocabulary list and choose an appropriate adjective to complete the blank. Finally, I gave them some feedback and expanded on the practice my students had designed by playing a game.


Now, what have I learned from this experience? I’ve learned that as teachers we panic a lot. As YL coordinator, I’ve been told many times “What am I going to do with X who’s been absent a lot?” “What revision activities can I give them?” I myself have panicked numerous times.  However, I have noticed that when you teach something well and you cater for students’ needs, the learners themselves pick up on good learning habits and may be able to put this into practice by helping someone else. With freedom and also careful monitoring and feedback when necessary, these learning moments can occur, especially if as teachers we choose to use our learners as the most valuable resource we have every single class. As stated by Paulo Freire, “Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information.”(Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed: 1972)

Waiting time before the teacher speaks and the purpose of silence in the classroom

This is my first #ELTchat summary. It’s a bit difficult to join the chat when you work in Argentina because #ELTchat usually takes place at times when we are busy teaching. However, whenever I can, I join in. It’s extremely motivating to take part in a discussion full of thought provoking comments by educators from all over the world, so if you’ve never joined #ELTchat, I suggest you do.

Now let’s cut to the chase and talk about silence and its role in the classroom.

Why are we afraid of silence?

The discussion kicked off with @Marisa_C asking why teachers are worried about silence and whether we’re worried about our silence or students’ silence. @SueAnnan mentioned Adrian Underhill who suggests teachers want to fill in the ‘emptiness’ of silence. @sandymillin pointed out that many teachers are afraid of silent moments when being observed. It seems teachers feel the observer may think nothing is going on if the learners are quiet. @priscilamanteini shared some teachers feel the learners are afraid of expressing their questions when they are silent so they decide to jump in. @ashowski told us there are educators who feel students don’t know the answer when they don’t speak. Various chatters also felt silence can be extremely intimidating in asynchronous learning environments. Finally, @theteacherjames raised a very important point by saying that in ELT we focus too much on talk, be it STT or TTT but rarely do we talk about silence. To read more about this click here.

The perks of silence

By being afraid of silence, teachers are missing out on its benefits:

  • “It is perfect for processing time. Students need quiet time to talke language in.” (@sandymillin)
  • It allows learners time to work out answers by themselves.
  • It can be seen as time to personalise. When you’ve taught a number of strategies or lexical items, you could provide learners with opportunities to use them in a context that’s meaningful to them (@natibrandi).
  • A silence break after 45 or 50 minutes of class can help learners relax and get ready to continue learning. (as suggested by @angelos_bollas)

 So how do we make sure we give learners enough thinking time before jumping in?

  • NLP suggests waiting until eye movements have stopped which show processing of information before continuing with conversation (@MarjorieRosenbe).
  • You could also wait until learners look at you again (@MarjorieRosenbe). However, @Marisa_C pointed out it’s difficult to follow eye movement when teaching on-line.
  • Many chatters also suggested counting when teachers notice they’re jumping in too often helps e.g. counting ten seconds by going “one thousand, two thousand…ten thousand” in your head.
  • Avoid allowing dominating students to jump in all the time. Sometimes teachers wait but dominating students jump in too soon. To prevent this from happening, you can use different techniques such as asking learners to look at you or put their pen down when they are ready. Do not allow them to speak until a good number of students show they are ready.
  • Give silence an aim and a time limit: e.g. time to copy from the board in silence and add examples, time to figure out a problem quietly (@natibrandi & @Marisa_C).

But sometimes teachers want silence and studnets won’t stop talking. What can we do?

  • With YLs you can clap or sing a song like: “One, two three, look at me” (@sandymillin) or “I touch my head, I touch my ears and I go silent” which can be accompanied by Total Physical Response (@natibrandi).
  • Other teachers prefer standing in silence and looking at the classroom or use different signs to indicate silence.


It was generally agreed that silence has many benefits, especially when learners are engaged in an activity and remain silent because they’re thinking, processing information and coming up with new ideas.

However, @Sue_Annan and other chatters agreed that sometimes teachers need to jump in to engage the learners when they are too quiet with no purpose. As @theteacherjames pointed out “there are many different kinds of silence, some good, some bad. Not all silence is equal.”





A teacher goes on holiday… AGAIN!

Recycle-Tag2015 was my third year working as Younger Learner Coordinator and teacher at IH Buenos Aires. Easy, right? Well, not really because I also became the head of the testing department for another IH School, I completed the IH teacher trainer certificate and I taught an on-line language development course for Uruguayan teachers of English as a foreign language. Fortunately, on Dec 30th these jobs were paused and I was officially on holiday.

But does going on holiday mean forgetting about teaching altogether? A Director once told me life starts when we close the school and go home. However, I believe that teaching is an important aspect of my life and even while on holiday I tend to have a couple of thoughts connected to our field. I embrace these thoughts because they are more reflective in the sense that I’m not busy and thinking about what I have to do next. So I thought I’d share the following with you.

Do it again!

I was watching a film with a friend and somehow we started talking about how she used to watch her favourite TV series again and again and she would learn the dialogues by heart with her brother. This lead to how children enjoy reading their favourite books more than once or even being told the same stories. And there, I started talking about how I’m a big believer in doing exercises again and repeating tasks in the classroom.

I often find that teachers like to innovate and most of us spend time planning and creating new activities. When these activities work, we are happy, and we may try them with other classes. But how often do we repeat the exact same activity the following class or week?

The perks of repeating activities

I feel that repeating activities (e.g. from word formation exercises or gap fills to projects) is more conducive to learning in the sense that when students do something for the second or third time, they can compare it with the first time they’d done it and measure their progress. It’s interesting how sometimes they make the exact same mistakes or even different ones. They can also analyse why they’ve improved or not.

Which exercises should we repeat?

When it comes to teaching, there’s never a one-size fits it all answer, but I think we need to repeat exercises which are at the right degree of challenge (neither too easy nor too difficult) and which students enjoy doing or at least understand the reasons why we are doing them and the benefits they have. This reinforces the idea that teachers need to share aims with their learners.

How can we add an element of fun?

If you’ve done a typical coursebook multiple choice exercise and found that students struggled with it and there’s loads they can learn from it, you can repeat it by uploading the questions to That way, learners can do the exercise in a fun way using their mobiles and they may even ask to do it a third time.

If you’re working with word formation exercises while preparing learners for International exams and find that they still struggle, you can make a list of the words learners struggle with and have them do the exercise again but playing with spongy letters or writing answers on a laminated board. Here’s a video in which my former FCE learners talk about this.

Do you usually do this with your learners? Is there anything you’d like to comment on? Please share your thoughts below.

Finally, I’d like to thank my friend and colleague @ashowski for encouraging me to start blogging.