Japanese New Year – free lesson 'plan'

This is entirely user-generated content. You don’t even need to print out the sheet or give out the prompt cards. It’s basically a Task-Based lesson stewed in a Dogme-heavy sauce.
You have the learners explain and give mini presentations on different aspects of New Year. If you have international students, this will really help the others in their group as they will probably have tons of questions. They could also give differences and similarities between New Year in their countries and in Japan. Feel free to change it up, pass it on, etc. It is Creative Commons licensed.
There is a load of repetition so good chances for Task rehearsal and the tasks should be more fluent by the end. Find the sheet as a PPT and PDF in my Google Drive folder.

Actually Doing Task-Based Teaching

IMG_1650It’s hardly a secret that I love Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT). I think it gets learners using all the language they know, trying to use stuff they kind of know and provides chances for them to realise what they don’t know.
Saying all that, it has a rarefied image and the books that link it to SLA theory sometimes disguise the fact that it is straightforward to do in your ordinary classroom.


  • You are giving learners the space to use language as they wish. They may stick to overly-simplistic forms. You must correct this.
  • If you have a grammar syllabus to follow, TBLT may not be the best choice because you should be looking at task completion in an appropriate way both in how and what language is used. If you are looking at past continuous and set a task to tell a story, in Task-Based contexts your success criteria is telling a story appropriately; within a grammar syllabus you need to assess grammar. I’m not saying you can’t teach grammar with TBLT but you don’t expect students to use specific structures 100% correctly by the end of the lesson. You’re looking for appropriate communication and learners noticing things they can and can’t do. Monitor constantly.


The old chestnut of plan backwards. “What do you want the learners to do by the end of the lesson?” The answer to this should not be a grammar structure, though you might focus on this. “Use appropriate opening gambits to start conversations and continue conversations with appropriate questions” would be better. There are some tasks here.
Set the parameters of the task: how long, how many people, what does the output/input look like, expected level of fluency, accuracy, etc.
Is there anything that the learners definitely need to complete the task? Specialist vocab for topics and situations can be elicited as a pre-task before jumping into it. Planning and anticipating steps of the conversation may be another. If there are structures/patterns/collocations to be taught, do it in the Focus on Form.

Focus on Form?

Yes, this is according to Mike Long (2015) a focus on appropriate language use and its form rather than prescriptive grammatical structures.
I often base this on errors/avoidances, like a long error correction but going deeper into usage and further examples. Drills, ‘games’ and such might go here. Focus on form does not have to be just grammar: pronunciation, morphology, pragmatics (appropriacy), and anything the learners have displayed a need for might go here.


You can repeat tasks, report tasks, present tasks and so on at the end. Learners need to reflect on what they did in the task and what has been taught. This part should ideally have greater fluency/accuracy/complexity.

This Sounds Long

Perhaps. How much time have you got? I didn’t say it all had to fit into one lesson. Dave and Jane Willis (2007) have a bit about Task Cycles in their book Doing Task-Based Teaching.

The Normal Flow (for me)

  • Pre-Task (Elicitation or some kind of schema activation).
  • Pre-Task (Possibly an exemplar task, reading/listening for info).
  • Task.
  • Corrections/Focus on Form.
  • One of the following: Evaluate and report as a group, Repeat task with different partners, Use previous task info as part of a new task, Redraft/remake previous task output.

If there are glaring errors, let me know. No doubt this is not *best practice*. It is a quick guide. Teachers will find their feet. Play with your lesson timings, don’t be afraid to pause tasks, split or change them if your learners find them too hard. I hope you have fun.


Long, M (2015) Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching . Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
Willis, D & Willis, J (2007) Doing Task Based Teaching. Oxford, OUP.

Who's Driving?

I finished my DipTESOL last week, thus I have time to sleep (after I wean myself of 7,234 cups of coffee a day) and, well, blog.
I was in a conversation on Twitter last week with another teacher about bullying in the classroom. How can teachers prevent themselves from being bullied in the classroom by students. I’ve also been thinking about levels of classroom autonomy that I give.
Bullying of teachers by students happens more often than people think. It can happen with children’s classes, teens and adults.

Root Causes

My opinion, and reflections of classes where I’ve been bullied, is that there’s a difference in expectation for the classes. I’ve had a bunch of nine-year-old girls complain to the head of the school/franchise owner because I wasn’t ‘fun’, where fun was endless card games and hangman. I did play these but I also made them speak English in actual conversations, the cardinal sin. It was a relief to finish the contract.
There has been a university class where I had to “lay down the law” because only three of thirty five were on task, using English or even L1. I left the class, telling the students they would not be marked present unless they got on with the work they were supposed to do, but made it clear I would be outside if anyone had questions.
Now I have a better relationship with that class. Boundaries were re-established and the learners are aware of their responsibilities. There are parameters set at the start of the lesson that I will only mark learners present after I hear them speak English x times.

Parameters, Boundaries

I think all learners need boundaries and parameters to work within. I think it is one of the things that has helped me use Task-Based Language Teaching, too.
Make clear and negotiate what is OK and not OK at the start of the course (my mistake with the girls). If there is a reason, give it. “Endless hangman means you learn nothing.”
Set parameters and/or success criteria for every task. I do this for almost everything now, about expected language complexity if I know learners will use overly simple language, time limits (asking learners how much time they need), groupings, fluency, etc.

“Talk to each other about your best friend. I want two details about appearance,” (gesture by running hand from head down) ” two personality details,” (gesture by putting hands on your heart) “and three more interesting details. I think seven minutes is OK but you have ten minutes.”
Board “2 appearance details, 2 personality details, 3 other interesting details, 10 minutes”.

If you can negotiate success criteria with your learners, so much the better.

How About Ambiguity?

Some learners don’t deal with ambiguity and vagueness well, and perhaps won’t ask for clarification and then be paralysed by a fear of doing the wrong thing. The solutions are either rigid parameters and instruction checking (not my favourite, to be honest) or a looser, wider acceptable range of outcomes that foster autonomy of decision making, judgement and let learners follow an aspect of the task that interests them (very much my favourite). That isn’t to say it’s a free for all; you still need to monitor to ensure there’s learning and/or application of learning happening. Don’t be afraid to pause tasks for clarification and stop them when they turn out to be too easy or too difficult, (but have an idea about what to do next).

#ELTchat Summary: Authentic Materials for Low Level ESP Learners

Wow, my first #ELTchat summary. Go gentle on me!
I was really interested in this because of the authentic materials in ESP side than low-levels side of things because I don’t have many low-level students at the moment.
The first thing that was made clear by @Marisa_C was that analysis is important, for student needs, appropriacy, context, etc. One thing that she also said was that it’s important to save or curate these materials for future use. I’d agree but my choice of tool would be Google Drive (as a Chrome and Android user) or Dropbox whereas Marisa advocated Pinterest, Scoop and Facebook save functions among other things. I like Google Drive because you can print to PDF and save directly to your Drive folders.
Readability scales were used by some and not by others. Some mentioned by @angelos_bollas were Read-able and Online-Utility. These basically do Flesch-Kincaid analyses.
@Marisa_C also shared her Pinterest board (which I’ve bookmarked and subscribed to).
Genre was talked about by @angelos_bollas and @Marisa_C who also suggested looking at Google Books for genre. It was also suggested that all teachers could do genre analysis with authentic materials but that not many do.
@Naomishema told us all about using tickets with low levels and that they are particularly good for teaching comparatives, family members and also numbers and dates.
@GlenysHanson told us about having learners make how-to guides, e.g. how a gearbox works, how to give an injection. Very interesting stuff! @Marisa_C then talked about how-to videos on YouTube and that students could add subtitles to these or verbalise the instructions.
I then chipped in about realia (warning posters, financial reports) and stuff from linguistic landscapes and triggered a tangent about using L1. I don’t mind a bit of L1, especially for learners who do a bit of translation despite their level. For this, I normally have them talk about the translation in the material and whether it’s right and how they would improve it. I posted examples of photographs.
I have had tons of students who translate at work just because they are the only ones who bother to study English. A lot of this work is just to make sure that the learners can get the main gist of the text out in English, or get the main gist of an English text and wrangle it into Japanese.
I don’t use Japanese at this point but get the learners to give a quick translation if necessary, or just check their understanding before they might give a rough translation to their bosses. Otherwise, what might happen is that students translate Powerpoint slides into English as best they can and I check they make sense in the context.
I also talked about using my own email and Facebook as materials and @angelos_bollas said he used his Twitter, too.
You should also consider looking at this #ELTchat summary by Sandy Millin about authentic materials.
You might also be interested in my post about using authentic listening.
Here’s the transcript of the whole chat by @SueAnnan